Thursday, 28 June 2007

Newton on chronology

A letter from Isaac Newton states that the world would not come to an end until after 2060. He was not setting that date as the end of the world but rather that it could not end until at least then. This was based on his understanding of Daniel. And he was trying to put to an end speculation on dates in his day.
This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.
While I have not seen Newton's dating of creation, his work on ancient chronology would be consistent with being a Young Earth Creationist. While this was not unusual at the time I find it interesting that my views on origins are in line with the greatest scientist who ever lived. Other creationists were Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo.

It was frustrating to read this comment in the article:
Luckily for modern scientists in awe of his achievements, Newton based this figure on religion rather than reasoning.
It is bad enough that Newton's religiosity was kept hidden from centuries while his scientific musings were published. They just don't get it: Newton's chronological theories were based on his reason, not an absence of it. He reasoned with scripture, not despite it. I happen to disagree with his chronological conclusions but that is beside the point which was he weighted certain scriptures and interpretations and the logical consequence of this led to his conclusions; if he was wrong it was in his incomplete or inadequate premises.

Theology is the queen of science and reason is one of her tools. Science arose in Christian society and was a consequence of an immutable God of whose thoughts we can think after. Science is losing its way as it disregards theism and it is becoming subservient to political ideology instead.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Can does not equal should

UK parliament is to debate the Human Tissues and Embryos (Draft) Bill. The document is 247 pages long (not the bill). From pages ix-x
1.10 ...The White paper also proposed that the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos in vitro should not be permitted but that there should be a regulation-making power allowing exceptions to this prohibition. The Bill as currently drafted reflects this position....

1.11 Following the publication of the White Paper.... The report of the Committee concluded that the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos is necessary for research.

1.12 ...we intend to accept the principle that legislation should provide for the following inter-species entities (hybrids and chimeras)...:
  • cytoplasmic hybrid (cybrid)—an embryo created by replacing the nucleus of an animal egg or a cell derived from an animal embryo with a human cell of the nucleus of a human cell)
  • human transgenic embryos—a human embryo that has been altered by the introduction of any sequence of nuclear or mitochondrial DNA of an animal
  • human-animal chimera—a human embryo that has been altered by the introduction of one or more animal cells.
I have not waded thru this but is appears the proposal is these entities will be prohibited as per 1.10 with exemptions as deemed necessary. Of course all this will be debated.

And recently in the news a British group is stating that somatic cell nuclear transfer should be allowed
Making human-animal embryos for scientific experiments should be allowed because of the benefits to science and medicine, British experts said in a report released for Sunday.
As there is no bill currently against this they are asking for it to remain legal. The proposed bill will address it. It is good that the issue is being addressed. One hopes for the right outcome.

I am not completely opposed to all genetic experimentation. I am of the opinion that scientists think they know much more about DNA than they actually do, so my view is one predisposed to caution.

There seems to be an argument concerning scientific experiments that involve aspects of questionable morality, one of this knowledge is required to advance science or find cures to disease. But this is a muddying of the waters. If these experiments go ahead I think it is likely that increased knowledge will come of it. The question is not: will this lead to increased knowledge? rather: should we do this?

Just because something is possible does not mean that it should be done. This is the temptation Jesus faced and resisted
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If [or Since] you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written,
"'Man shall not live by bread alone,/
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:1-4)
Was the temptation? "Can you turn the stones into bread?" or was it? "You are the Son of God and you are hungry so use your power to make bread and sate your hunger." The second option is consistent with Jesus' rebuke to Satan; Jesus comments that it is not for him to do his own will but that of the Father.

This temptation of Satan continues to come to us: since you can you should. We best learn from Jesus: it is not "whether we can" that determines our course of action it is the will of the Father.

And if it is God's will, ability counts for less—God's ability is unlimited.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Christian differences

Following Jesus is the key to being a Christian as I have previously posted on. I am not convinced that any particular doctrines are required to be believed for salvation, except maybe the literal resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).

However correct doctrine is important. Right beliefs are more likely to lead to good consequences and wrong beliefs to bad ones. Wrong doctrine can damage one's, or someone else's, faith in the short and long term.

In terms of doctrinal differences an obvious split is the conservative/ liberal divide. Given that many liberals don't believe in the resurrection or even claim to follow Jesus as a person (as opposed to his convenient teachings) it is unlikely they are even Christian and this is not what wish to address. Also the conservative/ liberal divide is represents a collection of beliefs rather than specific doctrines; the Catholic/ Protestant/ Orthodox difference is similar example of collections of beliefs. While beliefs may fall into more "natural" groupings I would like to look at the example of specific doctrines.

These doctrines may be mutually exclusive, they may not; they may be dichotomous or there may be several competing theories. Some examples are
  • Young Earth Creationism/ Old Earth Creationism/ Theistic Evolution
  • Calvinism/ Arminianism
  • Believer baptism/ paedobaptism
  • Pentecostalism/ Cessationism
  • Futurism/ Preterism/ Historicism
  • Eternal Security/ Apostasy
  • Leadership confined to men/ open to women
  • Dispensationalism/ Covenant theology
My question is why do these differences arise and why to some Christians believe them when some of them must be wrong?

For starters many Christians adopt a lot of what they have been taught and may not have considered the alternatives. However many Christians have thought thru at least some of these thoroughly. And while all these beliefs may have some basis in Scripture they are different enough that it is likely that one side is predominantly correct and the other is not. The supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit thru individuals either ceased at the completion of the Apostolic Age or it didn't, Cessationists and Pentecostals cannot both be right. The earth is thousands of years old or billions. Conversely, eschatology may have elements of preterism and futurism but there may still be conflicts, the 1000 years Satan is bound is literal or not literal; it could be both literal and figurative having a double meaning, in which case those who insist it does not have a literal meaning would be incorrect.

I wonder whether the answer lies in what we bring to the Bible. I realise that we all have our suppositions and we need to be able to read (or speak) to understand what is taught. We also bring elements of our cultural background and even if we are aware of this it can still be difficult to see from outside one's culture. But there are 2 things we bring which we should be far more careful with. These are logic and experience.

This may seem surprising coming from someone who thinks most people are not logical enough. Someone whose hermeneutical method is to find a solution that allows all passages to be true. Someone who thinks the (operational) scientific method is valid and should affect peoples decisions more. The problem is that we are fallen.

Logic

Logical principles are important in reading the Bible. Being fallen we need to realise that we still bring many assumptions, often un-Biblical assumptions, and there is the rub. So when we reach a conclusion from Scripture plus our reasoning of this Scripture we need to compare that conclusion to other Scripture. And if our conclusion contradicts Scripture we need to strongly consider the assumptions in our logical process.

Experience

We experience our Christian life in a certain manner. When this does not seem to match the Bible we ask whether the Bible really means what it seems to say. Now it is okay to ask these questions, and there may be times that new information on koine Greek or ancient Hebrew or new manuscripts may change what a particular verse means, but we must remember we are bringing our experience to the Bible; and in doing so we must be very cautious if we seek an interpretation that fits our experience. The reason for this is that we are more likely to think this interpretation to be true by virtue of it conforming to how we think the world works. Our fallen natures would rather alter the Bible than allow the Bible to alter us.

How can we avoid this and come to true belief? I think there are several things we can do.
  • Be aware of our presuppositions
  • Remember we are fallen
  • Be cautious about favouring positions that conform to our experience
  • Have a hermaneutic method that attempts to be honest with every passage that touchs on a subject
  • Be familiar with the entirety of the Bible
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth
The last is the most important but you need to be willing to alter your belief if that is where he leads you with Scripture.

If you are a staunch Arminian are you prepared to become an Calvinist? If you are a futurist are you prepared to drop some aspects of this in favour of preterism? If you are not, the Holy Spirit may still choose to convince you otherwise. But he may not, and he leave you in your (willful) wrong belief for a time and that may have negative consequences—belief has real consequences.

Right belief is important, but Christianity is firstly about following Christ. If you do that with all your heart he will show you what to believe and more importantly, what he wants you to do!

Monday, 11 June 2007

The design argument

The heavens declare the glory of God,/
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
In essence this is straightforward. In everyday life it is apparent that many things are designed by men. We recognise design. And we know that designed objects have a designer. The parallel is that we see many other things that are not designed by men but are clearly designed.

We recognise design by purpose or intent. While a splatter painting may have been drawn by an artist there is no clear intent so whether or no it was designed is not clearly apparent. However the more intent something has the more clearly it was designed.

Information content is a helpful way of assessing design. The higher the information content the more obvious it is designed. Information is based on specification and complexity. So if something is ordered it is not particularly complex. If something is complex based on the number of bits to store it, it is may or may not be specified. So storing 100 addresses is specific, 100 random letters is not. A measure of information can be made by the the storage capacity required to hold the generator of the data. For a story it is the data (ie. every single letter, though thru lossless compression it may be possible to minimise information content) as a story is specified and not predictable. However large quantity data that is predictable (⅓ in decimal), calculable (π, e) or random has a low information content.

The issue with random numbers or noise needs more explanation. It is low information because describing a random number generator requires little information. To describe any single random number will require as much data as an equivalent length story. The reason this is not high information is that it lacks any specificity. The binary data that describes a jpeg picture may appear random but it is specific, it stores data about a specific object.

People don't perform these calculations rigorously but as information content ranges over multiple orders of magnitude design is easily recognised. A smoothed rock is easily distinguishable from a carving. We can tell a painting from spilled paint (usually). We know that a book has an author.

So it is clear that design can be seen even if the designer is not known. The existence of a designer can be inferred from design. So when one sees all the design in this world that is not from the hands of man the logical conclusion is that a designer exists and he is other than man. One may claim this designer is other than the Grand Designer; whether that be an angel, a lesser god of a pantheon, an extraterrestrial being. But whatever the immediate source, these beings are still creatures and the ultimate source must be the Creator.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

The moral argument

Humans acknowledge they are moral beings. That is they have a sense of "ought" as C.S. Lewis put it. There is no denying that virtually every person has a sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. So there is a universal sense that morality is a real phenomenon. That is not to say all people have the same set of morals. While an innate sense that there is right and wrong exists, being fallen creatures we may not always recognise all that is truly right or wrong. We may so dull our senses that we struggle to hear our conscience. Or we may need clarity as to God's rules. There are persons who have a strong sense of obligation to conscience and they limit themselves from doing legitimate things for their conscience's sake. While this behaviour is still honourable it shows that sense of "ought" is not the same as the true "ought."

Scripture shows us what this true ought is and in societies where Christianity has not yet had significant influence the distinction between Christians and non-Christians in their approach to morality can be quite marked.

The general sense of ought in a person is a pointer to God. If God exists then there is the possibility for an objective morality; the objectiveness coming from God's character. It is objective because it is obligatory and applies to all men. The obligation comes because we are owned by God.

If God is non-existent then there can be no objectivity. There is no true obligation. There is nothing that allows us to say this is how it should be for all men. All is personal opinion and competing preferences. But a personal preference is not an "ought", it is preference. A preferred behaviour is the same as a preferred food or a favourite tie.

So without God how do we explain this universal trait? And even if an explanation is forthcoming it does not answer the question of why we should obey the "ought." If we recognise it as a quirk of nature then we are under no obligation to obey it, even if we can explain its reason for coming into existence. So without God, that is, without objectivity we realise that this is not true morality, it is merely an apparent morality. Something that confers survival value but it derives its importance from what it offers, not what it intrinsically is.

However this is not how we see morality. When we examine ourselves we know it is not a preference. In us there is a sense of objectivity. Not all moral codes are equal. Some choices really are better than others. We may argue morality is subjective in the abstract but when faced with certain behaviour it becomes clear that not all is equal. We appeal to some standard which must be external to us. By judging competing systems and claiming some systems are better than others we are appealing to objectivity. Objectivity can only come with a moral God.
  • If there is no God then morality is subjective
  • If there is a God then morality may be objective
  • If morality is objective then there must be a God.
Should atheists still behave morally? Yes. Because morality is real there is a moral giver who has stated he will judge us. Atheists will be judged as will all men. Better they obey the sense of ought which they have no reason for than to be consistent with their (false) philosophy and glory in their shame.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Evidence for God

Romans introduces us to how general revelation can point people to God.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:18-20)
What is the form of this revelation? His eternal power and divine nature. So there are things (perceived) in this world around us that point to attributes of God which in and of themselves are not visible.

What points to God's eternal power? Those things which may suggest to us God is powerful. The size of the earth, the stars of space, the creatures of this world. Creations that speak of design.

What points to God's divine nature? Those things in this world which reveal the image of God in creation. The behaviour on animals, the behaviour of humans, love, goodness, the hatred of murder and falsehood. Attributes that speak of morality.

I have left out the distortion of these due to the Fall as this is not of God's doing. So broken design and immoral actions while in existence may not point to God directly, though they may do indirectly.

Now there may be other aspects further than design and morality that Paul is alluding to here, but these seem to me to be the 2 that are enough to convince men about God. And while there may be many proofs of God's existence, it is possible that these 2 are the most powerful.

There is another reason to suspect that design and morality are the 2 classes of evidence that Paul is referring to, further in the passage Paul states the results of denying them. Romans continues
So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

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, who is blessed forever! Amen.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:20-25, 28-32)
In not acknowledging God people now sin in the areas that they deny. They reject design so they worship the designed rather than the designer and they reject morality so they act immorally but claim their actions are eumoral (morally good).

So it is possible the strongest evidence for God's existence and our obligation to him come from the existence of design and morality. These are not the only arguments that could be made for God's existence, but they are arguments that all have some appreciation of. The kalam argument (all effects need a cause) is a strong argument but it relies more heavily on philosophy and abstract logic; therefore it is less easily grasped by all people. Whereas we are forced to face the moral argument by our consciences daily, and design is apparent in many things of varying complexity which, again, we see daily.

And it is possible that the reality of design and objective morality are the aspects of the general revelation of God that is most attacked.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Random quote

Believing in Jesus counts for very little until belief becomes obedience

Trevor Geddes

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