Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Resources for Kuhn's philosophy of science

Here are some resources on hand, for those who are interested. There are others, some of which are on my Amazon.com Wish List. If anyone wishes to buy those books for me, I'm more than happy to accept.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical Interview. Edited by James Conant and John Haugeland. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Lakatos, Imre and Musgrave, Alan, editors. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London 1965 volume 4. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Defending the "prosperity gospel"?

Are Christian critics of "prosperity" arguing that faith and prayer are absolutely unconnected from material realities? ... In such matters, ordinary African or Asian believers (in the prosperity gospel) are not too far from the mindset of the biblical worlds they read about, in which there is a strong presumption that God will reward his faithful, in this world as well as the next. ... For a Northern world that enjoys health and wealth to a degree scarcely imagined by any previous society, it is perilously easy to despise believers who associate divine favor with full stomachs or access to the most meager forms of schooling or health care; who seek miracles in order to flourish, or even survive. The Prosperity Gospel is an inevitable by-product of a church containing so many of the very poorest. [Philip Jenkins, The New Face of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), 96-7]

I challenge Dr. Jenkins to tell the poor widow who just gave her 2 cents to the prosperity preacher so that the charlatan can enjoy his private jet, that the fact that she is swindled by what little she has is because that charlatan is "an inevitable by-product of a church containing so many of the very poorest." Go tell the poor believers who has just given out of their poverty, because they have been promised a 100-fold return from God, that their increasing poverty is just a "by-product" of being poor in a church that is poor.

I sometimes wonder where scholars put their brains when they defend the "prosperity gospel."

Monday, April 14, 2014

The New Faces of Christianity: Syncretism?

But other modern Christians [in the Global South] explore the Bible in order to justify coexistence and cooperation between faiths and cultures. ... When modern Christian thinkers consider these faiths (e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism), they find it difficult to believe that God was not in Asia before the missionaries brought the gospel. In various ways, it seems, perhaps the Spirit was working in the other religions. (p. 85)

Asian theologians commonly hold that Christianity needs to engage in a triple dialogue — with other religions, with other cultures, and (throughout the process) with the poor. (p. 86)

- Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Even when I was younger in the faith, the whole idea of "Asian theology" sounds absurd to the extreme. God is one; Christ is one; there is only one truth. In the Apostles' Creed, a creedal formulation of ancient origin, we confess the one, catholic (small "c") and apostolic church. Yet, it seems, we have in many places false Christians promoting falsehood and heresies against the Christian faith. No one for example can deny the exclusivity of Christ and be a Christian! Whoever do so are false believers and are not be treated as believers, but rather as pagans needing to repent of their sins.

In this section, Jenkins moved to the Asian context, whereby the existence of other ancient religions poses obstacles to the Christian faith. Jenkins speak about how some professing believers have decided to engage in syncretic dialogues with other faiths. Now, there is nothing wrong with dialoguing with other faiths. The problem is never with dialogue, but the goal and purpose of such dialogue.

If syncretism of any kind is part and parcel of the new face of Christianity, Jenkins can count me out of this new faith. I don't care what their motives are. The reason why the Gospel is exclusive is because God is. If one refuses to acknowledge the fact that God created the world and all cultures, including Asian cultures, if one refuses to acknowledge the making of a Covenant of Works with all peoples (inclusive of Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Indians, Vietnamese etc.) in Adam as their federal head, if one refuses to acknowledge the universality of sin and the inability of all peoples to be righteous before God, that is one's prerogative. But one shouldn't then call oneself a Christian. Call yourself something else, whatever you fancy, but a Christian you are not! And it is plain ridiculous that one thinks pluralism has never been encountered before in Church history. What else was the Greco-Roman world at the time of Christ, but a pluralistic world? Was the Apostle Paul a bigot in his sermon at Mars Hill, stating that he is proclaiming the unknown God to a people with many gods? If your religion is diametrically opposite Paul's, may I suggest you are the one who does not know what Christianity is? Perhaps, Paul does not need to repent, but you do?

So far, I have been totally unimpressed with Jenkins' trumpeting of the "Global South." Unless and until those people repudiates their false theologies for the one catholic apostolic faith, there is nothing more that can be added to the conversation.

Theology matters: The bane of extreme biblicism and reading Scripture literalistically

In his book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Philip Jenkins trumpeted the rise of a global (South) Christianity, a theme that follows from his previous book The Next Christendom. For those who think that Christianity is growing alive and well and thriving in the non-Western hemisphere, one would be sadly disappointed. The number of "professing churches and Christians" do continue to grow exponentially. But unless one were to derive encouragement from mere numbers of professors of the faith, instead of actually counting the number who confess the one catholic (small "c") and apostolic faith, one is hard pressed to find much to be encouraged in Jenkins' blowing of the trumpet of a "southern" Christian revival.

In this post, I would just like to comment on the extreme Biblicism and literalistic reading of Scripture of the indigenous African churches as recounted by Jenkins. Jenkins claimed that the Global South is especially tuned towards the world of the Old Testament, which is not surprising since the context of the Old and New Testaments is that of pre-modern society. He shows how the indigenous African Christians appropriate the entire Old Testament and contextualized it as African theology and African experience. Now, having first hand experience of famine, drought and agricultural imagery is one thing. What Jenkins recounts however is the African version of Anglo-Israelism. The Old Testament is made relevant in some African Christian circles even to the extent of contextualizing the Levitical sacrifices and the kosher food laws! The theocracy that is Israel complete with blessings and curses is appropriated by Africans. In page 81, Jenkins even recount a sermon in Malawi that speaks of the AIDS epidemic as the last plague sent by God because "God is fed up with our sins" when people "don't change their bad behavior"! Contemporary African prophets litter the African religious landscape, where, just like the Old Testament, such "prophets" receive direct revelation from God for the people.

There is so many things wrong with the theological mess in African theology. Of course, it could be due to involuntary ignorance and probably is. Yet, it is known that the emergence of these "third-world theologies" as a reaction against so-called "western theologies" is a willful rejection of all things considered "colonial" in origins. Whatever the mitigating factors, it is the case that the emergence of "third-world theologies" is a willful decision of indigenous people that they know more about the Scriptures than the "white man" after they have read parts of it. In other words, pride and unteachability surely lies at the root of part of the problem within indigenous churches.

Ultimately, the reason why theology is important is because theology works itself out in real life. Theology matters. Here, the literalistic hermeneutic of the African indigenous churches that are recounted by Jenkins will bear terrible fruit. Since we know from Scripture that the blessings and curses belong to the Mosaic Covenant and theocratic Israel, it does not apply in the same way to any African nation. Imagine the amount of needless guilty and fear when a natural disaster affects the country. Preachers would be (mis)reading providence to claim that the natural disaster must be due to some great national sin, real or imagined. But perhaps for example a spell of famine is purely natural due to failure to diversify crops to protect from pestilence, or something to that effect, such a false interpretation of providence might possibly result in false guilt. Or take the example of the AIDS epidemic. Perhaps, the reason why AIDS is such an epidemic is because sexual immorality is rampant. After all, there are only two main ways HIV is transmitted: blood (especially transfusion or sharing needles), and sex. It might be God's judgment on sexual immorality, but it is a false reading of providence to think that it is the last plague (like the last plague on the Egyptians) because God is "fed up with our sins"!

To put words into the mouth of God is to become a false prophet. To interpret the Scriptures falsely is to make God into a liar. So why is it that such an unbiblical hermeneutic in the African churches is celebrated by Jenkins? Theology matters, and all such hyper-spiritualization does more harm to the faith than good. It might be nice to see an angel on every blade of grass and a demon hiding behind every rock, but there are consequences for such false theology. What does it profit the Church when the African Christians are merely adding a Christian façade to their former animistic African outlook? What would happen when those reared in extreme spiritualism meet the real world? Will "Christianity" just become the successor to the African medicine man? The problems are too many. How is Christ exalted when those who claim to be His followers create their own "Christianity" which leads people astray, all in the name of contextualization? Is Christ glorified when "believers" resurrect the Levitical sacrifices, the food laws and the Saturday Sabbath? How would Paul have reacted to such, knowing what he thought of the Galatian Judaizers?

Theology matters! Reading Scripture literalistically might feel native and "African," but it is still wrong. The sheep are misled, scattered, all because some people think they know better than the one catholic, apostolic church and just go and invent their own "Third World theology."

Science! Part 2

[continued from here, here and here]

Dr. R Scott Clark in his most recent Heidelcast did a part 2 on the issue of science. I appreciate the podcast and its explication of some of the opposition to the YEC position, while at the same time I think that the fundamental issues I have previously raised regarding the inability of much of Reformed Christianity to adequately deal with origins remain. As preparation for my response, I have written 2 prior posts on science and the philosophy of science.

Before I begin, let me once again voice my appreciation with Dr. Clark's interaction with some of my position (around the 6-7 minute-mark), as it drives me to explicate my position better.

The Nature of Science

In the response to my article, Clark portrays part of my response to involve some sort of "turf war" contrasting scientists between the two camps (YEC and non-YECs) at the 6 to 7 minute mark. In his response, Dr. Todd Pedlar refreshingly does acknowledge that such is in some sense right that "people do interpret evidences differently." It seems that the contention is not with the fact that some YECs are scientists, but rather the objection lies in the nature of the scientific method. According to Pedlar,

"... one of the things that, I think, is most heavily criticized of the Ken Ham fellowship of scientists, as it were ... do they propose models that are testable? Do they propose ideas that will bear more experimental fruit. One of the hallmarks of science in general is that observation leads to model-building, and model building leads to prediction, and prediction leads to verification, or falsifiability, to use Karl Popper's term - philosopher of science. And so, most of the scientific world have very little to say that is positive about those who, umm.... have a model they are trying to fit everything into, as opposed to building a model out of observation (7:37-8:38)

It goes without saying that the philosophy of science and scientific methodology that Dr. Pedlar here espouses is the mainstream view of science in the scientific community. It is also clear that the implications of Popper's philosophy of science has not been worked out yet, for it is not sufficient to think that it merely involves changing the process from one of verification (logical positivism) to one of falsification. Verification is not the same as falsification after all. As I have pointed out, the implications of changing the view of science from one of verification to one of falsification is that science is no more about getting the truth but about refuting falsehood.

But back to the main point. Dr. Pedlar speaks about the necessity of model building. To the extent that this is what scientists do, it is true that scientists work in this manner within the scientific community. The question for us however is not what scientists do or think they are doing, but rather what is actually happening regardless of the perception of scientists. It is here that we have to disagree with Dr. Pedlar on the way science works. Observation does lead to model-building, that is true. But why one model is chosen instead of the potentially infinite other models that will fit the observations? After all, affirming the consequent is a logical fallacy regardless of how many times people do it. The model chosen might be simpler to another potential model and thus eliminated by Occam's Razzor, but since when has simplicity become a virtue in science?

Pedlar's view of observation leading to model-building, which then give rise to predictions which can be verified, is a simplistic view of how science works. First of all, he does not differentiate between a "model" and a "paradigm." Secondly, this type of simplistic view does not account for how science can absorb lots of abnormities before the reigning paradigm breaks down. For example, the Lamba-CDM Big Bang model predicts a huge quantity of dark matter and dark energy, which simply has not been found. Assuming the simplistic view of science advocated by Dr. Pedlar, shouldn't the absence of dark matter and dark energy imply the failure of the standard Big Bang model? Yet why do most scientists still hold on to the theory? Or in biology, why do biology textbooks simply assume that abiogenesis occurred, even though no model has been able to make it even halfway plausible for life to arise out of non-life? How about the fact that both the absence and presence of transitional fossils in the fossil record are both considered evidences for evolution? Surely if science were to proceed in the simplistic manner of observation-model-testing, then much of what considers itself science today should be relegated to speculation?!

As I have said, the issue in the origins debate is not one of science per se, but one of paradigms. Paradigms by their very nature are not testable or falsifiable. The only thing that would break a paradigm is absurd complexity, as in the case of Ptolemaic astronomy. But let us look into the specific charge of Dr. Pedlar.

The specific charges in this short citation is that scientists in general have been fruitful in the construction of scientific models which yield results, whereas YECs in general are guilty of having an a priori model that they try to fit the evidence into. This is a misleading statement for the simple reason that the relation between science and evolution and Big Bang theory is not clearly elucidated. Furthermore, I am not interested in the "Ken Ham fellowship of scientists." It is noted that Creation Ministries International for example have scientists that do not do all of their "science work" in creation science, for the simple reason that most of science can be done without reference to the origins issue. Most of science is what we call "operational science" as opposed to "historical science." Pedlar's statement is thus misleading because it is a comparison of apples to oranges. True YEC scientists do a lot of their science work without having to throw in "YEC phrases," whatever those are, in their scientific research. In other words, their scientific research at points is indistinguishable from non-YEC scientists, precisely because one does not have to bring in the origins issue into most scientific research.

If Dr. Pedlar wishes to do a fair contrast, then the contrast must be between YEC scientific models versus models that are explicitly evolutionary, i.e. in paleontology, evolutionary biology etc. One must compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. In evolutionary "science," it is surely the case that one has a "model" where one is "trying to fit everything into," so surely Dr. Pedlar should reject the mess that is paleontology for example? The fact of the matter is that "historical science" is not really science but rather historical reconstruction using science (among others) as a tool. One cannot accuse YECs for having "a model that they are trying to fit everything into," without at the same time not accusing paleontologists and evolutionary biologists of committing the same. If the claim is made that paleontology and evolutionary biology have multiple models, then so do YEC. The issue is now how many models they might construct, but that the models are themselves tied to a certain narrative of how things actually are.

A new gnosticism?

"one of my long term concerns about creation science, young earth science, is that the message I get from them is that, well, it seems like it takes billions of years for light particles to reach us (if that is even the right way to put it), but really that's an appearance, not a reality. And so that strikes me as being a little bit gnostic as well -RSC (9:48)

Another concern that is especially germane to the discussion regarding YEC science is the idea of apparent age, and the lightspeed question. That is why I have dedicated one entire post to the issue just to show that fear of the questions and the solutions supposedly offered by YEC science is totally unfounded. To put it nicely, if one were to know the current level of YEC science in this area, one would have seen that such fears are baseless. It has been decades since any YEC scientist, if they had ever done so in the beginning, postulated such stupid theories to solve the question of starlight.

The issue before us is that starlight does not come with an age tag. The "age" of the light is a calculated figure from distance divided by the absolute velocity of light in vacuum (c). The simple way out is to just assume those and therefore infer that light from an object 13 Giga light years away must take 13GYrs to arrive to earth. However, here is where paradigms come in. Why must we be constrained by simple models regarding space-time? One viable alternative postulated by Moshe Carmeli has come up with a potential solution to the starlight question without compromising the integrity of the information from distant starlight. It must be said here that it is likely that Carmeli is not a Christian, just as Kuhn is not a Christian. It is after all not whether the people behind the theories are Christians so much as that their theories help us to re-think beyond the current reigning paradigm.

Dr. Clark worries about some version of gnosticism in YEC science. I think that such worries are decades out of date, and do not reflect contemporary YEC thought.

Christians and intellectual credibility

One concern Dr. Clark has is with YEC thought and intellectual credibility. He mentioned his experience sitting in meetings of a creationist organization in the Midwest (around the 12:10 mark). On the one hand, he has a point, but only if those organizations were actually claiming to be doing science. Informal student discussion groups discussing evolution for example function likewise with talks and discussions by students. It seems to me that such a "creation science organization" is more about apologetics than about science. That is why when I talk about YEC scientists, I do not mention any Tom, Dick or Harry, but refer to credentialed scientists. "Lay" creationist organizations are not so much about science but about apologetics. If we were to see them as similar to any informal science discussion groups, then we wouldn't be so uptight about them.

On the other hand, believers generally do discern the threat posed by the general evolutionary theory. If they wish to voice objections, I don't know why we would want to speak about "intellectual credibility," since after all, these are not scientists. Do we see evolutionary scientists speaking of intellectual credibility issues when some zealous evolutionists misrepresent certain teachings of evolution? No, because the ignorance of zealous evolutionists do not reflect on the intellectual credibility of evolutionary scientists. So why is it that Christians are so embarrassed by the lack of acumen in "lay" creationist organizations? Furthermore, while certainly we should not be anti-intellectuals, intellectual credibility can often be a mask for the craving for recognition from the secular world. If gaining respectability involves compromising the faith, should Christian pay that price? I should hope not!

Lastly, the way out here to transcend the reigning paradigm. While this phrase has been misrepresented and misapplied, in the interests of using the phrase not exegeting the verse, why is it that Christians are always followers two steps behind the world when it comes to science? Instead of parroting the scraps the world offers, shouldn't Christians "be the head, not the tail"? We should be attempting to think ahead and blaze new paths in the scientific field. Instead of being reactionary, we should be pro-active in investigation. Science is (or should be) about free enquiry, so why should we feel constrained by the reigning paradigm with its failing models? Be imaginative! Explore! Question assumptions! Think outside the box! Do not be afraid of going where no one has thread, if indeed you wish to do science.

The YEC echo-chamber?

"I think that what happens within the creation science community, an echo chamber of sorts ... the community tends to be very small... tends not to be open to much investigation by anyone who disagrees." -Pedlar (14:12)

Here, we see a rather skewed view of the YEC community. If by the "YEC community," one refers only to explicit "lay" creationist organizations, then I wouldn't be surprised if that applies. That YEC science in general is not open to investigation by anyone who disagrees is a rather disingenuous statement. In the sense that it applies to "historical science," there is no real difference between it and its evolutionary equivalent in paleontology and evolutionary biology, both of which have an overarching metanarrative that cannot be questioned. In the sense that it overlaps with operational science however, YEC proposals are open to investigation by anyone who disagrees. In the example I have probably hammered to death, Caremelian cosmology is evidently open to investigation. In taxonomy, the idea of "kinds" or "baramins" is also open to investigation. And who can forget the evolutionary idea of phylogenetic recapitulation, which creationists have long repudiated? If all these sound narrow in scope, that is because most YEC science is catered to counter its evolutionary "historical science" counterpart. So is it an "echo chamber"? Perhaps the counter to this is to enquire whether paleontology or phylogenetics is an "echo chamber" since it is not open to investigation by anyone who disagrees. Try disagreeing that (macro)evolution actually occur and see whether you can work in those two fields!

Michael Polanyi

Lastly, Dr. Clark raises the person of polymath Michael Polanyi in the later part of his podcast. While I do not have the sources here to do so, or the time, it is my contention that Polanyi and Kuhn are not saying the same thing, regardless of surface similarities their systems have with each other. Polanyi can be said to be truly post-modern, as his personal knowledge is neither objective nor subjective, whatever that is supposed to mean. Kuhn recognizes the subjectivity of scientists but acknowledges it as subjectivity (not "personal") and subsumes it within paradigms, which are meta-structures for enquiry. Kuhn's paradigms are objective phenomena, not neither-objective-nor-subjective-but-personal phenomena. In my opinion, Polanyi is way over-rated. I much prefer Kuhn's historicist approach than Polanyi's "personal" approach.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think I have vindicated my position on YEC science. Christians should understand more about the nature of science, and know more about the direction YEC science is going. Ignore the chaff produced by run-of-the-mill creation science organizations. Focus on the actual advanced and developing scientific thought within YEC scientists, and whether one agrees or disagrees with all that they propose, know that any such theory is developing within an alternate paradigm and is just as much science as research done within the current reigning paradigm.

Science, paradigms, and the age of the earth and universe

[continue from here]

The implications a robust philosophy of science has on the origins question is huge. Now, for sure, Kuhn might not be the last word on the issue of how science works. Nevertheless, one has to grapple with the insights he has into the nature of science. Note also that I do not claim Kuhn as a friend of creationists; he is not. Kuhn is an evolutionist after all. But it is with regards to his theories that it seems to me a more robust philosophy of science would be helpful.

In contemporary Christian discussions, attacking materialism is easy. Attacking evolution, through for example the Intelligent Design (ID) route, is still tolerable. But the age of the earth and universe remains a sore sticking point. To be sure, some of the YEC answers are ridiculous. Talk about creation of light in transit is nonsense, for why would God create light in transit that actually conveys information about its supposed source? If the light is just plain light, it would be conceivable for God to create it in transit, but not when the light conveys information (i.e. redshifts).

The history of science is fascinating, especially as to how the calculated age of the earth and the universe steadily increased over time. Now, there are many reasons why scientists think that the universe is old, but a major sticking point for almost everyone is the issue of starlight. We know, or rather it is measured, that the speed of light in vacuum (c) is about 3 x 108 m/s. From Einstein's theory of special relativity, the speed of light in vacuum is fixed. Light cannot increase its speed. Furthermore, the speed of light is always fixed relative to all bodies. Even something traveling at 0.9c sees light travelling at c. The speed of light, c, seems to be a fixed universal, and it also seems to be the limits of how fast any object can be. When an object accelerates towards light speed, the mass of the object increases towards infinity, thus requiring more energy to increase the velocity of the object further. Reaching light speed would therefore require an infinity amount of energy and the object reaching infinite mass, therefore light speed is taken to be the limit for how fast an object can aspire to (Although mathematically, it is possible to reach speeds faster than light speed, just not reach light speed itself).

In light of all this, it seems therefore that the time taken for starlight to reach the earth can be calculated using the equation time, t = Distance/ Velocity. Distance can be approximated using methods such as parallax, while the velocity is absolute speed of light. Assuming that the absoluteness of light speed is correct, the calculated time for distant starlight to reach the earth is something in the neighborhood of 13GYr (13 x 109 years). Now, such starlight must be genuine starlight. Therefore, it seems incontrovertible that the universe must be at least 13GYr old, for otherwise, given what we know of light, how can the light from the distant parts of the universe reach us? This is the starlight problem, and it is a big problem for YECs.

This is where a robust philosophy of science comes in. If we understand how science works, then for sure the scientific theories at work here are working within a paradigm. This does not mean the theories postulated are necessarily wrong, but it is something that we need to take note of. We should then ask ourselves whether we should keep ourselves to the parameters of the debate in the modern times, or is there something more that we are missing out on. Granted what we know of the problems with the standard Big Bang model, with all the fudge factors introduced into it, perhaps it is time to be a bit more skeptical and see if there are other models not tied to the conventional (meta-)model that actually works.

It should be noticed how philosophy of science is informing my view concerning the topic. Precisely because we understand the nature of paradigms and their controlling power, we should exhibit a healthy skepticism towards mainstream scientific meta-theories, since those paradigms are neither testable nor falsifiable. Thus, while the starlight problem is indeed a problem, it is better for us to acknowledge our ignorance on the issue while having faith in God's Word (which incidentally does not directly tell us how old the earth is anyway), than to join in the rest of the world in their error.

Thankfully, not all YEC solutions to the starlight problem is dumb. The most recent YEC cosmology latches on to the work of the late Israeli physicist Moshe Carmeli. He has almost single-handedly created a new alternate cosmology with the idea of Cosmological General Relativity. Now, I do not pretend to be a physicist, although I was a triple science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) student before I entered university, so I can't properly evaluate his proposal, but the way it is presented, through John Harnett, sounds plausible. If his proposal actually works, it has great predictive power and it does not require fudge factors like dark energy and dark matter to work. Furthermore, it removes the need for the generalized Copernican Principle because it does not have the idea of a 4D hypersphere, but rather that the universe has a center. In Carmeli's cosmology, the rejection of the Copernican Principle and the introduction of a new (5th) dimension called spacevelocity allows for the passing of around 6000 years on earth while the rest of the universe experienced up to 13GYr physical time, through time dilation occurring in the vicinity of Earth due to strong gravity within the initial mass.

So now we have a plausible YEC cosmology. Is it right and should we hang our faith on it? It might be right, but no, we do not hang our faith on anything besides God's Word. The whole point of putting forward Carmelian cosmology is to show that there are viable alternates out there. When one actually transcend the current paradigm, it may be the fact that a much better scientific model is there, but the reigning paradigm blinds those in it to the possibility of the radical alternatives. One really wonder how long the standard Big Bang model will continue on with all its manifold problems. After all, even scientifically, isn't a model that does not require dark matter and dark energy, which we have not observed in sufficient quantities anyway, a better model?

Science! A lot of people think too highly of it. Yet understanding the nature of science helps us to see its limitations and how science itself is not neutral. Once we understand that, we can hope to transcend the current paradigms, and realize that science in itself is no threat to Scripture at all.

[next up: Science! Part 2]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Science, models and paradigms

Science as a field is the empirical discovery of how things work. Normally, science works through models. In logical positivism, scientific theories work by means of verification. In this model, one has a model, a theorem, or a hypothesis. One tests the model through doing experiments. Depending on the data one receives from the (empirical) experiments, which ideally should be double-blind (especially in clinical trials) and repeated as many times (to minimize variation in the results as much as possible), the results either prove or disprove the model/ theory/ hypothesis. This is what most scientists think they are doing: they are validating a model that they propose. They have a null hypothesis (H0), and an alternate hypothesis (H1), which could be simply the negation of H0. In the ideal experiment (which seldom exists), the scientists can run enough tests to generate more than 30 results, so that he can plot the results on a normal distribution curve to test the null hypothesis. In science, there are no bad results. Even negative results say something, although whether that is helpful or not for his research project is of course a question the individual scientist has to think over.

In the early 20th century, Karl Popper proposed an alternate way of how science is thought to work. Popper recognized, quite rightly, that the verificationist theory of scientific methodology is logically fallacious. Holding to that view of how science works mean that every scientist has been committing the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent (If p, then q, q; therefore p). Now, it is certainly possible for science to discover true things despite having a flawed view of scientific methodology. However, it also means that it is possible to think that one has proven a model when that model is actually false. After all, if two models predict the exact same empirical result, how can one choose between the two unless one can come up with another experiment to which the two models will predict different results. While this sounds easy to do, such testing is harder in practice than it is said. For example, a key component of the mainstream Big Bang theory, ΛCDM, is the (generalized) Copernican principle, which states that the universe has no actual center. [The "explosion" is not a explosion of mass into a 3D space. Rather, it is the explosion of space and matter in a 4D hyperspace. To use a balloon analogy, the surface of the balloon is the 3D universe we are in, while the "air" inside the balloon signifies "hyperspace," and as such both 3D space and time "ballooned" into being.] According to observable data, most of the universe is red-shifted to us, implying that those objects are moving away from us (to be clear, it is thought that it is the space that is moving or expanding, not the object that is actually accelerating away from us). Now, if everything we observe is moving away from us, then it could imply that we observers on earth are at the center of this movement. That is where the Copernican principle comes in. If all space is like the surface of a balloon without a center, then the mere observation of almost everything being red-shifted away from us means nothing. The Copernican principle states that anywhere in the universe, any observer will see a general red-shift of most stellar and extra-galactic objects moving away from us.

The question before us is: just how are we supposed to test the Copernican Principle? Yes, Geocentrism is out. But how does one prove or disprove galactocentrism? The issue of quantized red-shifts for example seems to suggest some form of galacto-centrism.

The key point I want to drive at is that testing between two competing models is not as easy as it sounds. But I still haven't discussed Popper's alternate proposal. Popper's proposal is to replace a theory of verification to one of falsification. Instead of having science prove something, the purpose of experiments is to disprove something. Science according to Popper disproves models, not proves models. By disproving an alternative, the scientist can show that his model is more likely, or even most likely.

It is safe to say that most scientists have not progressed to the Popperian stage. It is not sufficient to use Popper's vocabulary of falsification, but to also understand that Popper's philosophy of science places a significant limit to the ability of science to decipher truth. If Popper is right, then science can only discover workable data that are likely true, not "truth."

The last theory to be looked is that of Thomas S. Kuhn. Kuhn's idea of paradigms and paradigm shifts has unfortunately sometimes been misunderstood by large swaths of the public, most notably C. John Collin in his book Science and Faith: Friends or Foes. Kuhn's theory, at least the initial part, is elegant yet simple. Scientists come to their inquiries with a certain frame of mind; i.e. they are not tabula rasa. A paradigm is a general worldview or mindset that informs and influences scientists, and that is conditioned by the prevailing scientific culture (or "academic culture" pre-Enlightenment) among other intellectual and social factors. The frame of mind influences scientific research, directing the questions to be asked and the burden of proof required, as well as which models are seen to be more likely. Paradigm shifts occur when sufficient outliers and unresolved problems with the current models are present to induce a shift to another paradigm. Note here that paradigms are NOT models. They can rather be termed a "meta-model" if you wish. And while the earlier Kuhn speak of times of crisis during paradigm shifts, the later Kuhn admits that the shifts might not be some earth-shattering transition with a clear temporal demarcation.

The implication Kuhn's theory has on science is huge, which is probably why most scientists aren't too keen on what he has to say. He is almost, as it were, the "post-modern" philosopher of science. But it is very likely that Kuhn's philosophy of science is in fact true. The climate science scandal is one such clear example whereby those who deny Global Climate Change (at least in its current apocalyptic form) are censored because of a prevailing paradigm for Global Climate Change. More pertinent to our discussion here, and back to our example, why is the Copernican Principle in the idea of a center-less universe accepted when there is, at least currently, no way to prove it? Or let's take another example going back to biology, why is abiogenesis affirmed even though every experiment done has failed to prove it? The Miley-Urey experiment after all does not count since (absent the discussion of the exact constitution of the primeval atmosphere and "soup"), a racemic mixture of amino acids is far from evidence for even the natural constitution of the basic blocks of life (which requires D-sugars, L-Amino Acids, and D-nucleotides for starters).

There are a lot of problems with the naturalistic evolutionary narrative of the universe, but we are not even at the point of discussing them. The issue is that the evolutionary narrative itself as a paradigm (a "meta-model") is to a certain extent not falsifiable. That is Kuhn's contribution to our discussion and the philosophy of science. Because of a reigning paradigm, science itself is not neutral in the way it is portrayed by scientists. A telling example is in the evolutionary metanarrative, both the presence and the absence of transitional fossils are considered proofs for evolution. If one accepts the former, one holds to Gradualism. If one accepts the latter, one holds to Punctuated Equilibrium. Thus, at least on the subject of transitional fossils, evolution is not falsifiable. Such manner of rendering the meta-theory unfalsifiable is not limited just to transitional fossils, but is pervasive. Note the controversy or rather non-controversy over the Big Bang model, even when the expected amount of dark matter and dark energy were not found as expected by their models. Instead of jettisoning the Big Bang [meta-] model, scientists went back and proposed modified models to try to account for the observations, even while keeping the Big Band paradigm. Stories like this show that the paradigm is not testable and not falsifiable. Thus, at the back of scientific models lies the reigning paradigm, which by its nature is elastic enough such that only extreme stress on the paradigm would cause a transition to another.

Putting the various philosophies of science together, we can see that many scientists think of their work like logical positivists. Most of them hopefully work like Popperians, while in actual fact the scientific enterprise work in Kuhnian paradigms and paradigm shifts. Christians ought to recognize this, because otherwise we will always be on the defensive against the supposed claims of science.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Ephesians 4:11 and gifts to the church

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.(Eph, 4:1-16 ESV)

καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, (Eph. 4:11 SBL GNT)

While growing up, I have heard Ephesians 4:11 stated to be one of the passages discussing spiritual gifts, alongside other passages like 1 Corinthians 12. Over time, I have felt uneasy with the categorization of this verse as one speaking of spiritual gifts, as if there were the gift of apostleship, the gift of prophet (not necessarily the same as the gift of prophecy), the gift of an evangelist, and the gift of shepherd and teacher, or pastor-teacher. The passage interpreted as such contributes categories into the mixture of gifts that are supposedly available to believers, and each Christian was to discern his or her spiritual giftings (usually involving some form of personality testing or something to that effect), and then operate and serve in the church with the gifts they have. After all, Ephesians 4: 12 speaks of "every member ministry" for building up the body of Christ, or so they interpret that verse.

The context of Ephesians 4:1-16 is that of the Body Life of the Church. It speaks about Christ giving gifts to His people. In this passage, Paul in verse 8 cites Psalms 68:18, but switches the verb from one of receiving (לָקַ֣חְתָּ)to one of giving (ἔδωκεν). Instead of the King ascending and receiving gifts among men, Christ the King ascends and gave gifts to Man. The switch speaks of the change in the stage of redemptive history, plus it gives us the context. Christ give gifts to His people as a result of His conquest over sin and death, and His ascension procured all the benefits He is giving His Church.

It must be noted here that the context is the Body of Christ, the Church, not just individual Christians. In verses 4 and 5, we see emphasized the oneness of the Church, having one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Christ is thus giving gifts to His Church. The purpose of the gifts are for building her up (vv. 12-16), not some idea of personal edification however important that might be.

The focus on the Church implies that the gifts are not given to individuals per se, but to the Church. Such is clearly seen in verse 11 itself. God in Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Note that those officers are the direct object of the verb of giving. So Christ gave the apostles etc. He did not give the gifts to the apostles and other officers of the church , which would require rendering the officers as the indirect objects. No, Christ gave the officers, to... the Church, for that is what the entire context is speaking of. In other words, it is not that Christ give, for example, Paul the gift of apostleship so that he might be an apostle. Rather, Christ gave Paul the Apostle to the Church.

Ephesians 4:11 therefore is not about individual spiritual gifts. In fact, since "spiritual gifts" is normally seen to be various individual believers, Ephesians 4:11 is not speaking of "spiritual gifts" at all. Both the context of Ephesians 4: 1-16 and the grammar of the text militates against that common Evangelical interpretation. Christ gives officers to His Church. Therefore it implies that officers are not something one grows into, but a special calling by God. It implies that ordination is required for officers, since it is not a mere role someone takes up when one has the "appropriate gift."

Just to show that this is not a novel interpretation, I post here from two commentaries:

Note, The great gift that Christ gave to the church at his ascension was that of the ministry of peace and reconciliation. The gift of the ministry is the fruit of Christ’s ascension. And ministers have their various gifts, which are all given them by the Lord Jesus. The officers which Christ gave to his church were of two sorts—extraordinary ones advanced to a higher office in the church: such were apostles, prophets, and evangelists. The apostles were chief. [Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (2313). Peabody: Hendrickson. Logos]

The first gift is, his apostles. It is not meant that he gave to some the gifts needed to constitute them apostles, though that is true; but that, having qualified some to be apostles, he gave them to the Church.[Ephesians. 1909 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.). The Pulpit Commentary (148). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Logos]

It is noted here that both writers do not dispute the fact that God give gifts to office bearers, but that the focus is God giving officers to His Church. Here is where I would like to be more precise, for the passage does not speak of gifts to the officers of the Church. Therefore, while they would certainly possess gifts, the gifts and the officers are distinct. In other words, one might have various gifts which would qualify one to be an apostle, but there is no particular "gift," for example, of "apostleship." "Apostleship" demarcates an office, not a gift. The office is the gift to the Church, not one particular gift for the office.

Christ gave gifts to His Church for her benefit. The Church is to receive them as good things from her Lord, and receive them with joy, for if they labor with groaning, "that would be of no advantage to you" (Heb. 13: 17ff).

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Creation days as upper-register time?

In the developed Framework view, the idea of Genesis one being a literary framework is not just promoted, but it is promoted to the exclusion of other alternate theories of origins, theistic evolution excepted. In a handout I had prepared for a friend on the differing views of creation days, the point was made that the Framework view was merely the belief that Genesis One is a literary framework, and therefore one could theoretically hold on to Framework and YEC, Framework and OEC, and anything in between. I now see that while that is true for a generic Framework view, it is not true for the true hard-core Framework proponents, with people like Lee Irons and Meredith G. Kline basically stating that other views like YEC and Day-Age are unacceptable and promoting a much stronger and fleshed-out version of the Framework view, one which actually states more than just the belief that Genesis One is a literary framework.

One place that shows it is more than a mere literary framework is in its cosmology. Framework cosmology is a two-register cosmology. The Upper Register is "the invisible dwelling place of God and His holy angels, that is, heaven" (p. 236). The Lower Register is called "'earth,' but includes the whole visible cosmos from the planet Earth to the star-studded sky (Col. 1:16)." The Upper Register where God is is called the "archetype," and the Lower Register the analogical replica (p. 238). The relationship is one of analogy, where what happens in the Upper Register has an analogous reflection in the Lower Register. Irons and Kline see this pattern of analogy reflected from Genesis 1:1, which is not a summary of the subsequent creation account but a statement about God making the "heavens" (Upper Register) and the "earth" (Lower Register), following which the "earth" is analogically divided into the star-studded heavens and the earth (p. 240). Irons and Kline see the two-register cosmology in Genesis 1:1-2:3 in the following pairs (p. 242):

1:1 1:2 Days 1-6 Day 6 Day 7
Upper Register Heaven Spirit Fiats Divine Council God's Rest
Lower Register Earth Deep Fulfillments Man as Image Sabbath Ordinance

Having established this two register cosmology, Irons then argued for the creation days being upper register days, which have some unknown relation to the Lower Register which "God has not chosen to reveal" (p. 246). That is sortof convenient. Nevertheless, we press on. The reason why they are Upper Register days is because they are bracketed in front and in the back by Upper Register time periods. For the front bracket, Irons claimed that Prov. 8:22-30 proves that the phrase "in the beginning" is upper register time (p. 241). For the back bracket, Irons claimed that the conclusion of creation week is the upper register heavenly rest of God. Since both bookends are upper register, thus the creation days themselves must be upper register.

According to Kline, Prov. 8:22-30 "explicitly places the events of the six days after 'the beginning'" (p. 243. Emphasis original). Therefore, 'in the beginning' "cannot be interpreted as an ordinary, lower-register time statement." However, such is a strange way of understanding the passage in Prov. 8:22-30. First of all, it rests upon the interpretation that Gen. 1:1 is not a summary statement of the subsequent verses. Secondly, there is something "before" the beginning, namely, God and all that He is including His plans. God's decrees, being His decrees, are temporally coextensive with Him and thus exist from eternity. Thus, in the beginning was God's decrees, because the decrees is coextensive with God and thus before the beginning in eternity past. God's attributes are before time, and there is nothing really controversial about that!

Furthermore, there is no reason why stating the "in the beginning" is upper register would necessitate the days being upper register. If we take Irons' understanding of Genesis 1:1, then from Genesis 1:2 onwards we are in fact dealing with "Lower Register" realities; we have descended into the "earth." So even if Irons' point regarding the front bracket were true, it does not prove anything concerning the creation days.

The idea of God's Sabbath rest being an upper register moment seems easier to defend, since it is God who proclaimed that He rested that day. Irons then links this with the concept of the eternal Sabbath spoken of in Heb. 4, which did cite from the Genesis account. The seventh day for God is thus continuing from Creation until even after the Eschaton, and specifically God's day.

A major problem however arise when we read Rev. 4-5 concerning the events in Heaven, the "Upper Register." Here, we read of the first round of worship being given for the glory of God the Creator, and then the second round of worship to the Lamb for the glory of God the Redeemer. This seems to imply a dual work for God: Creation, and Redemption (or New Creation). In other words, God in His works does not after Creation continues on an eternal Sabbath rest, but Redemption is a work like Creation. The rest spoken of in Heb. 4 therefore must imply the Sabbath rest of the Lamb when His people are all saved, which is analogous to the rest of God the Creator when His creating work is done.

Scripture therefore speaks of two main works of God: Creation, and New Creation. As such, God's Creation Sabbath rest is not unending. It can be said to "end" when Adam and Eve fell.

Till now, we have just established that God's Sabbath rest is not unending. But is it Upper Register, or Lower Register? Here, we notice that if we state that it ended when Adam and Eve fell, then it is somehow tied to the creature and thus seem to be Lower Register.

Before we continue on this thought experiment further, it must be stated that the whole "two register cosmology" has never been proven. That there is an invisible realm where God and the angels primarily are, which is called heaven, is not controverted. The point of contention is the supposed analogous relationships between the "archetype" and the reality. First of all, it is revealing that the creation days have no correspondence to anything in the lower register in the Framework view, which is interesting since all the supposed pairs are matched. As evidence for this theory, we can discount the examples of the commands of God, since under any and every theory, God's authoritative commands always result in fulfillments. We can discount the Heaven-Earth pair in Genesis 1:1 since their pairing is a circular argument presupposing that it is referring to the Two-register cosmology in the first place. The Image of God is not plural, so we can discount that. What we have left are insufficient to support a theory. Since other theories can account for the relation between God's rest and the Sabbath ordinance, why is there a need for a two-register cosmology at all? As the stake in the corpse, how does one decipher which part is upper register and which part lower register when one goes through the creation account, since anything lower register (like days) might actually be upper register? It seems very convenient that the "inconvenient parts" like "days are "upper register" while the Garden of Eden, the various animals etc. are "lower register."

The notion that the creation days are "upper register time" therefore seem to be grasping at straws. The entire cosmology might look beautiful in its structure, but it does not come from the text and there is no necessity for making it with the exception of holding to the strong Framework view. In other words, the whole cosmology look more to be a system made to flesh out a theory, and thus at best is one possibility to understand Scripture, and at worst the imposition of a foreign system to determine biblical exegesis (i.e. eisegesis).

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Because it had not rained, and providence in the process of creation?

וְכֹ֣ל שִׂ֣יחַ הַשָּׂדֶ֗ה טֶ֚רֶם יִֽהְיֶ֣ה בָאָ֔רֶץ וְכָל־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה טֶ֣רֶם יִצְמָ֑ח כִּי֩ לֹ֙א הִמְטִ֜יר יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאָדָ֣ם אַ֔יִן לַֽעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃ וְאֵ֖ד יַֽעֲלֶ֣ה מִן־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְהִשְׁקָ֖ה אֶֽת־כָּל־פְּנֵֽי־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃ (Gen 2:5-6)

In their contribution to the book The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (ed. David G. Hagopian; Mission Vejo, CA: Crux Press, 2001), Lee Irons with Meredith G. Kline presented and defended the Framework view of the creation account so aptly they virtually demolished the opposition. One of their arguments which was left unanswered (in the book Ligon Duncan and David Hall tried but their response was garbled c.f. p. 261) was the argument from Gen. 2:5-6. They appealed to Gen. 2: 5-6 to establish the "principle of continuity between the mode of providence during and after the creation period" (p. 229). Since there is a such a principle of continuity, therefore ordinary providence as opposed to extraordinary providence must be operative during the creation "days." It is noted here that the topic here is providence, not miracles. The divine fiats are miracles, but the maintaining of the "stuff" already present is providence.

This principle of continuity is explained by Irons with Kline slightly later:

If our [Irons' and Kline's] exegesis of Genesis 2:5-6 is correct, then it informs us that the Creator did not originate plant life on the earth before He has prepared an environment in which He might preserve it without bypassing secondary means and without having recourse to extraordinary means. As such, Genesis 2:5 contains an "unargued presupposition," namely, "that the divine providence was operating during the creation period through processes which any reader would recognize as normal in the natural world of his day." If God had so decreed, there would have no obstacle to His creating the vegetation prior to establishing a normal providential support system. He could have created the plants and sustained them supernaturally even before He created the soil. God in His omnipotent creative power could have done these things. Yet Genesis 2: 5-6 tells us that in planning the order in which He would call the various creatures into existence, God did not rely upon supernatural means to maintain them once created. (p. 231. Emphasis original)

Since Irons and Kline see the creation account in Genesis 2 as essentially a recapitulation of Genesis 1, the statement about the vegetation in Genesis 2:5-6 is also a statement about the creation of vegetation in "Day 3" of Genesis 1, and then this "principle of continuity" is extended from plants (vegetation) to all the other aspects of creation.

In response, we need to ask why we think that Genesis 2:5-6 refer back to the "Day 3" event. We note here the object is not just vegetation in general as in Day 3 (דֶּ֔שֶׁא , עֵ֚שֶׂב - Gen. 1:11), but specifically the "shrub of the field" (שִׂ֣יחַ הַשָּׂדֶ֗ה), or "herb of the field" (עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה). While differences in words used do not necessarily imply a difference in meaning, here the adjectival phrase "of the field" seem to suggest a qualitative difference between what is discussed in Genesis 2:5-6, and what is discussed in Genesis 1: 11-12. If we discount the framework interpretation and see Genesis 2 as an expansion of Day 6 of the Creation week, then it is clear that the context, as Irons and Kline have pointed out, is for the cultivation of crops by Man. In other words, these shrubs and herbs of the fields are cultivated plants, as opposed to the generic vegetation of Day 3. It is a different episode altogether from "Day 3" but rather focuses on the Day 6 planting of Eden as the background for the creation of Man.

Once we see the events in Genesis 2 this way, then Irons' and Kline's point here falls apart. Since Genesis 2:5-6 does not pertain to "Day 3" of creation, therefore it says nothing about that episode, including the "principle of continuity." The Day 6 creating of ordinary means for watering for the cultivated plants and so on was due to the fact that Man must live by ordinary providence in his everyday life. Thus, this "principle" applies only when Man comes into the picture in Day 6, not prior to that.

Irons' and Kline's case here for the Framework view falls apart. In fact, that principle is actually question begging. For only if one holds to the Framework view can one claim that Genesis 2:5-6 to be a recapitulation of "Day 3" of creation, and only if one sees recapitulation will one argue for the "principle" which in turn proves the Framework view. When one actually looks at the details however, the supposed recapitulation however doesn't hold up.

Reformed ministers, and Science!

Dr. R. Scott Clark in one his more recent Heidelcasts posted on the topic of "Science," with a particular focus on the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate. In summary, Clark was not particularly impressed with either man, seeing them as entertainers rather than actual scientists.

In his book Recovering the Reformed Confessions, Clark poked at the idea of 6-24 creation days. Clark does not so much address the issue whether 6-24 days is right or wrong, but rather that the insistence that each day must be 24 hours, using 6-24 as a boundary marker for orthodoxy, is a symptom of what he terms the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) (pp. 47-50). Clark in that book demurs from stating his position on the creation days, but rather thinks that 6-24 cannot be a boundary marker because its insistence stems from Seventh-Day Adventism and Fundamentalism, and it would exclude Reformers teachers like Charles Hodge while including Seventh-Day Adventists (p. 50).

The point of this post here is not to address the issues of confessionalism and boundary markers, except to point out that it is possible to have 6-24 as a boundary marker without excluding people like Charles Hodge as being "non-Reformed." The point here is rather to state something which seems to me to be a big problem within Reformed circles: a rather strange ignorance of the modern YEC (Young Earth Creationist) arguments. It is one thing to reject YEC as a position; it is another to be ignorant of what its proponents are teaching.

My seminary, WSCal, teaches the Framework Hypothesis, alongside other views. The professor who teaches it is convinced of the truth of the Framework view, and that is fine. As someone who rejects the Framework view, it is my obligation to understand that view fairly and represent it fairly, and I have tried to learn as much as I can. That said, the portrayal of YEC in return, or even just 6-24, has been rather abysmal. I have read the OPC Creation Report, and have recently purchased a book entitled The Genesis Debate where J. Ligon Duncan II and David Hall presented the 6-24 position. Every single time so far, I have been sorely disappointed in the portrayal of the 6-24 position. The basic argument for 6-24 is presented, but they are seldom the strongest arguments, neither are the rebuttals to the opposing viewpoints strong and convincing. Against the "Day-Age" proponents Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer, Duncan and Hall might as well roll over and play dead. Such is the quality of their "response" that it might as well have not been written.

To be sure, the YEC camp does have a lot of anti-intellectuals and a lot of entertainers within her. Much of what considers itself "YEC literature" is not worth the paper it is printed on, or the memory space it is stored in. Even publications by ministries like Answers in Genesis (AiG) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) are often shallow, which is understandable given they are appealing to the masses. For those of us who want something solid, we have to sift through much of the "chaff" to get the wheat of actual substantial scientific argumentations. But once we actually get the substantial arguments, they actually do pack a powerful punch for 6-24 in particular and YEC in general.

Dr. Clark picked on Ken Ham as an entertainer. I am not going to defend Ham, because in actual fact, he is in some sense a sort of entertainer. Of course in mitigation, he is a popularizer of Creation Science, so I guess entertainment comes with the territory. That said, if one wants to actually deal with the YEC position, Ken Ham is a soft target. Why not deal with YEC scientists who actually are scientists? Let me introduce a couple to Dr. Clark:

(1) Jonathan D. Sarfati, Ph.D (Spectroscopy, Physical Chemistry)

Some 'secular' publications:

  • J.D. Sarfati, G.R. Burns, and K.R. Morgan: ‘Tetraphosphorus tetraselenide: crystalline and amorphous phases analysed by X-ray diffraction, Raman and magic angle spinning 31P NMR spectroscopy and differential scanning calorimetry’, Journal of Non-Crystalline Solids 188(1-2):93–97, 2 July 1995 | doi:10.1016/0022-3093(95)00093-3.
  • J.D. Sarfati and G.R. Burns: ‘The pressure, temperature and excitation frequency dependent Raman spectra; and infrared spectra of CuBrSe3 and CuISe3’, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular Spectroscopy 50(12):2125–2136, November 1994 | doi:10.1016/0584-8539(94)00176-6.

(2) A/Prof John Harnett, Ph.D. (Physics)

Some 'secular' publications:

  • Hartnett, J.G., The distance modulus determined from Carmeli’s cosmology fits the accelerating universe data of the high-redshift type Ia supernovae without dark matter, Found. Phys. 36(6):839–861, June 2006.
  • Hartnett, J.G., Spiral galaxy rotation curves determined from Carmelian general relativity, Int. J. Theor. Phys. 45(11):2118–2136, November 2006.
  • Hartnett, J.G., Tobar, M.E., Properties of gravitational waves in Cosmological general relativity, Int. J. Theor. Phys. 45(11):2181–2190, November 2006.

(3) David Catchpoole, B.Ag.Sc. (Hons), Ph.D. (Plant physiology)

Some 'secular' publications:

  • Catchpoole, D.W. and Blair, G.J. (1990). Forage tree legumes.; I. Productivity and N economy of Leucaena, Gliricidia, Calliandra and Sesbania and tree/green panic mixtures. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 41(3):521–530.
  • Silsbury, J.H., Catchpoole, D.W. and Wallace, W. (1986). Effects of Nitrate and Ammonium on Nitrogenase (C2H2 Reduction) Activity of Swards of Subterranean Clover, Trifolium subterraneum L. Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 13(2):257–273

The main point, and the sad point, is that Reformed literature on the topic of origins show little if any familiarity with the modern YEC position. It is a strange thing indeed when a bunch of ministers come together to discuss science and the issue of origins, without any of them (so far) showing sufficiently knowledge or familiarity to even deal with the issues fairly. In point of fact, many Reformed ministers have little knowledge of science, being trained in the Arts. As someone who had studied for a career in science before switching, I am appalled at how the origins debate is carried out.

While I am not a Framework advocate, I can see one reason why someone might hold to it: It solves the problem of dealing with the scientific issues involved, by removing Genesis 1 from being subject to any form of verification or falsification. This is not to say that this is necessarily the motive behind anyone who holds to the Framework position, but it would definitely be an appealing one for those who are basically scientifically untrained. That said, the way forward should be for the Reformed churches to acquire people who actually know the science involved, and deal with the issues head on. Having a podcast to throw pot-shots on soft targets like Ken Ham doesn't actually advance the discussion. So what even if Ken Ham is discredited? YEC does not live and die with the credibility of one popularizer! And even if one were to use the SDA and Fundamentalism origin canard, it is a mere genetic fallacy. Despite the misrepresentations of Marsden and others, YEC in general did not come into being through SDA and Fundamentalism. Such is historical revisionism. Was Bishop Usshur a SDA, or a Fundamentalist? Read the Reformation and post-Reformation literature, and you will find many who subscribe to the idea that the earth was about 6000 years old. Usshur was NOT an abnormality in his dealings on the Age of the Earth. That does not say that the Reformation and post-Reformation scholars were necessarily right, but it shows that the historical development of the various positions concerning the length of the creation days and the age of the earth is much more complex than the simplistic picture painted by people like Marsden.

It would be great if one day the YEC 6-24 position is better represented. Until then, I think ministers should stop throwing pot-shots at "science."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Evangelicalism another religion altogether

When dealing with Evangelicals, it is useful to take a step back and ask how did we get to where we are now. The Church of 2000 year has been reduced to a bunch of worldly ahistorical believers, which bear little resemblance to the historic Christian faith (besides formal adherence). Just where have we gone wrong?

This question was brought near to me earlier in my life in the crisis sparked in the church I was raised in. In a crisis, you start to question everything. What if I was wrong in my perception of Christianity all these years? What is truth? The years of searching has led me to reject Evangelicalism in toto. Evangelicalism bears little resemblance to the historic Christian faith; it is a bastardized corruption of true Christianity. As such, I needed to undergo radical change in my beliefs. I threw out, or began to throw out, all I thought I knew about what Christianity is, retaining only the new stuff I have learned and the memorized verses from my earlier days. When I say "everything," I mean everything I could think of. I desired no part in the corruption that is Evangelicalism, although I do acknowledge that to some extent it has had formative influences on me, and I can't eradicate my past.

Existentially, that is why I am not troubled by denouncements of so-called "Christians." I knew how it was from thee inside, and basically, transitioning from Evangelicalism to Reformed is a paradigm shift. It is not a mere "add the 5 Solas and TULIP" to one's theology, as John Frame and the other "Reformed Evangelicals" think. No, it is a fundamental shift in the foundation of one's view of the world. Adding the 5 Solas and TULIP does not make you Reformed, neither does adding any of the Reformed Confessions as a statement of faith (as opposed to a confession of faith). One has to, as it were, undergo, radical heart surgery. One has to pierce the shroud of pietism, rend down the walls of the dialectical swing between mere reason and experience, and rest in the tension between the visible confessing church and the coming church triumphant. Theology is intellectual, but the intellect is not a category alongside others, but a category that informs all the others. Theology IS praxis. What is practical is what God says. We do not apply theology, we live theology. We are the historical Christian Church, not the modern church.

Evangelicalism therefore is almost another religion altogether. Certainly, this is not to deny there are many believers within her, but there is a difference between the individual, and the church. There are true and false churches. Within the true churches, there are purer churches, and churches that are so impure they are almost synagogues of Satan. Evangelicalism belongs in the latter category, very impure churches that are true but almost synagogues of Satan.

Thus, when Evangelicals say anything, they can be treated almost as if it was interaction from another religion. And if one were to consider practice, then this point should be conceded. While in doctrine Evangelicalism is rather biblical, in practice the divergence is so vast from what the Scripture teaches in terms of piety that it literally seems like another religion. In practice, Evangelicalism is almost like a cult, in that they have the same Scriptures but yet are circling the borders of biblical Christianity. When Seventh-Day Adventists can be considered "Evangelicals," when the Word-faith cult can be considered "Evangelicals," then it can be seen that Evangelicalism is closer to those movements than it is to the Bible.

Evangelicals should be treated no differently from how John Calvin and the Reformers treat the Roman Catholicism of his time. Many believers are within her, we recognize their baptisms, but we will strive to call people out from her. There is not found a church worthy of the name, and where the three marks of the true Church are absent, we should call people out from her to join an actual biblical church.

Philokalia and Eastern Orthodox spirituality

In modern-day Evangelicalism, the issue of contemplative spirituality has come to the fore. People like Thomas Merton, M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating (Roman Catholics) and Richard Foster (Evangelical) have turned to the East in their search for spirituality. One possible stop point is that of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, with its idea of centering (contemplative) prayer and spiritual directors. Eastern Orthodox spirituality has a veneer of being Christian since it is practiced in the "Christian East," which for non-discerning Evangelicals means it is an acceptable Christian alternative.

The sourcebook for Eastern Orthodox spirituality is the Philokalia, a collection of writings from theologians and mystics in the East in the Hesychist tradition till the 18th century. Beginning with the Desert Fathers, and also the orthodox Eastern teachers like the Cappodocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus), the evolving Eastern spirituality soon had a center at Mt. Athos, where generations of monks practiced and refined the monastics practices from its Neo-Platonic root.

Just because something has a long history and tradition does not mean that it is right. As heirs of the Reformers, we Protestants hold to the principle of Sola Scriptura. Unfortunately, I would have to post this caveat in light of the many Radical biblicists in the modern church: Sola Scriptura is a principle of appeal to authority. It is NOT an appeal to methodology. Many biblicists practice Solo Scriptura, in which there is an appeal to Scripture without the actual need to engage with what it says IN CONTEXT. They think that the mere citation of verses with some surface similarity to their position(s) is sufficient, a method used by the heretic Charles Finney for example to deny doctrine such as total depravity. My latest interaction with biblicists has shown me how terrible the situation is within the corpse of Evangelicalism.

The main issue here is that Eastern spirituality is essentially heretical. It is a Neo-Platonic scheme of ascension towards God. The only difference between that and the Neo-Platonism in Western spirituality is the distinction between God's essence (being) and His energies (works). Deification or theosis, which is the end game for Eastern spirituality, is participation in God's energies not in His essence, thus there is no ontological fusion with God's essence per se, although it is to be questioned how much this distinction holds in practice.

Eastern Orthodoxy has a relatively simple story. Humanity is made after God's image and created good. However, Man chose to sin. This "ancestral sin" however is not original sin and is not transmitted to Adam's posterity as such. The faculty of beholding God is the nous, or the mind's "eye of the soul" [Allyne Smith, Philokalia, The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts: Selections Annotated and Explained (trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Bishop Kallistos Ware; Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, 2012), xi], which is darkened by the Fall but otherwise still functional. Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy is not to avert God's wrath, but rather to behold God through the usage of the spiritual discipline of contemplative prayer, which would bring one to theosis.

The contrast between the Scriptures and Eastern Orthodoxy can be seen as follows:

  Eastern Orthodoxy Biblical view
Goal of Man Theosis: Participation in the Divine (p. xiii) Glorification: Enjoy and worship God in our transformed yet still creaturely bodies
Nature of the Fall Darkened mind (nous), but only impaired; sickened, not dead (pp. xi, 178) Radically depraved sinners totally corrupt in all their faculties
Nature of Sin Sin is only in sinful acts, alien to human nature (pp. 28, 126); moral Fallen nature of Man; forensic
How to be saved Grow towards theosis, through spiritual disciplines and contemplative prayer Justification by grace alone through faith alone
Individual or Corporate Corporate setting. Spiritual directors required for growth towards theosis (p. 21) Individual
Nature of salvation Synergistic (Man needs to cooperate with God) (p. 96) Monergistic (God alone saves)
How Jesus saves Invoking Jesus' name in the "Jesus' Prayer" results in Christ burning up the impurity within the nous of the sincere believer practicing the prayer in order to grow towards theosis. (p. 113) Meriting the righteousness in His life and death on the Cross, so as to die as an expiation and propitiation for the sins of all who repent and have faith in Him as their Savior
Our part in salvation Believers ought to purify the nous from sin, and keep it from sin in the future (p. 52). Also, imitating the life of Christ in this world is needed (p. 209) Empty hand of faith, i.e. nothing

Eastern Orthodoxy is fundamentally Pelagian, and it makes little difference if they do not think in those categories. Just like sin is objective meaning sin is sin regardless of what others think about it, Eastern Orthodoxy is Pelagian even though Eastern Orthodoxy do not have the categories for thinking in that manner. In other words, it is Eastern Orthodoxy's fault for misreading the Scriptures so badly they cannot think in forensic categories.

Eastern Orthodox spirituality flows from its anti-biblical teachings. It is a fundamentally Neo-Platonic ascent towards God. The problem is impurity of the mind's eye or nous, which is not much different from the Neo-Platonic problem being that of finitude. Sin is a creaturely problem, and the solution is clothing finitude up with the divine. We see here the rather obvious difference between Eastern Orthodox view of theosis and the biblical view of glorification. In theosis, one participates in something divine, which even using the essence-energies distinction, still has the creature in some sense participating in the Creator. In the biblical view of glorification however, the glorified saint does not ever "participate" in anything divine. Rather, he is made like Christ as the perfect image (ectype) of God. Christlikeness is the eschatological telos which Adam was made for, if Adam had not fallen, he would have progressed to be the perfect image and likeness of God. In glorification, the saint is made into the perfect eschatological image of God. An image however is still an image. We are like Christ in His glorified humanity, but His divine nature is always out of bounds to us. Finitum non capax infiniti; the finite cannot contain the infinite. Even in our glorified state, we are still creatures. It is easy here to see what's wrong with theosis. Even with the qualifications made by the essence-energies distinction, there is still a disturbing idea of participating in the divine, instead of in the image of the divine in Christ's glorified humanity.

The practice of Eastern spirituality arise from their unbiblical view of sin and salvation, and thus cannot be just taken and "contextualized" for Christians. Here are some choice quotes about the nature of prayer:

"The essence of prayer, then, is the mental ascent to God from the heart." -Theophan the Recluse, The Duty Also of Those Living in the World (p. 32)

"Prayer is a great blessing, and it embraces all blessings, for it purifies the heart..." -St. Hesychios the Priest, I,On Watchfulness and Holiness, Sec. 62 (p. 41)

For through unceasing prayer and the study of the divine Scriptures the soul's noetic eyes are opened" -Abba Philemon, II, A Discourse on Abba Philemon (p. 87)

Prayer in Eastern Orthodox spirituality is a human work required for salvation, not a means of grace. The "Jesus Prayer" is normally a single phrase in which the person praying it says "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me" (p. 108) and then repeats it over and over again like a mantra (p. 107). As the chart shows, the Jesus' Prayer basically is their idea of how they can invoke Christ's name for Him to save them, a practice which totally misunderstands the idea of calling upon Jesus' name for salvation in the Scriptures.

Eastern Orthodox spirituality is integral to their unbiblical system of doctrine, and thus the practices cannot be divorced from the underlying theology. Evangelicals who think they can take those practices and use them are playing with fire. There is simply no way one can say that they trust in Christ's work alone for their salvation, and then deny it with these practices which are intended as cooperative work towards one's own salvation. There is little difference between the idea of one's "ascetic efforts in prayer" being "designed to earn merit," and "our cooperation with God in protecting the grace of prayer that God gives to us" (p. 96). Both ways, Man has to do something to be saved, and thus Eastern Orthodox spiritual disciplines are still meritorious. Anyone who borrows from those practices therefore has mocked the death of Christ, and spat on His face, and needs to repent of this grievous sin against God.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thinking with their kidneys...

Over at a previous blog post, some guy called "Darrel" decided to take pot shots at the entire post. The fascinating thing for me in the entire exchange is how much he is trying to make it all about me, while I want to focus purely on the issues. It fascinates me that someone thinks he can claim that the entire post is "mostly useless philosophical nonsense," and then begin to whine over and over again when I actually push back and call him on the mat for such accusations. One side it seems can make ALL the accusations they want, but then of course, the same privilege is not to be extended to me. After interacting with him, and seeing how he sees the exchange as "beneficial," I wonder if I should have applied Prov. 26:4 since he is now wise in his own eyes, but then, I don't begin interacting with my critics as if they were fools from the beginning.

The problem with at least some if not many professing believers is that they have bought into the zeitgeist of this era. Thinking has now been replaced with feeling, of which the kidney is the organ of emotions in the OT (And for those who want to dispute that, go look at the word in Hebrew in places like Job 19:27, Ps. 7:10, 26:2). Whereas the proper way is to deal with the substance of the arguments, now all one has to do it seems is to deny the proposition(s) without putting forward a viable counter-argument, and then go immediately to accusations of "hate" etc. Am I always right in what I claim? Probably not. But that's not the point. The point is that one actually has to deal with the real issues, not passive-aggressively claim that one is teachable yet refusing to actually deal with what the text is saying. In our current real-life example, "Darrel" has refused to actually deal with the brief exegesis of Eph. 4:11, as if asserting over and over again that the text is about individual spiritual gifts is enough as long as one does it over and over again. This is the same tactic the homosexual lobby does in society, and it seems at least some professing Christians have imbibed on the very same zeitgeist.

The sad fact is that it is highly likely that such people make up a majority of professing believers. That is why the Church as a whole is in such a sorry state. People it seems can't actually deal with actual arguments. They don't know logic, and thus they can't even parse out a syllogism even if their lives depended on it. We see this very clearly in our example, that when I briefly exegeted Eph. 4:11, the argument I posted was that it speaks about God's gifts to the Church, the Body of Christ. That is the entire point I was making, and "Darrel" completely missed that point. When I speak about the distinction between "gifts" and "offices," I first used the example of women as an example, and then, when he didn't get it, I spoke of gifted men living in sin. The main point I am driving at is that the qualifications for ministers goes MORE than mere gifts, and thus there IS a distinction between "gifts" and "offices." Yet, "Darrel" continues to miss the point. Do others also see the problem here? The problem is that "Darrel" totally missed the syllogism I was constructing. This shows how strangely illogical at least some if not many people are. It seems that even if I were to lay out the syllogism in clear propositional form with premises and conclusions, those same people will still miss the force of the syllogisms. That is why I say that some if not many people can't even parse a syllogism even if their lives depended on it.

That brings us back to the sad fact that many people can't think. They think with their feelings, they confuse people with issues, and then violate Mt. 7:1 over and over again as they emote, and emote, and emote, all the while portraying their ignorance for all to see. (It is one thing to disagree with me. I do not claim to have all the answers and I may be wrong. But it is another thing when one cannot understand the points I am making, and then through irrational incomprehension misrepresent them and attack me personally.) The real question therefore is: How can ministry be done to a people like these, a people irrational and illogical? To a people thinking with their kidneys, only God can work the miracle of giving them new sight, and we must pray for that to happen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The devolution of the New Calvinism

When the YRR movement started, I was excited. Finally, people would turn to biblical Christianity. It wasn't too long before I grew disheartened over the trends within the movement. Is God using it to grow his church? Likely. But that is not the issue. God always can use and has used crooked sticks to draw a straight line, but that doesn't mean that being crooked is a virtue!

For those of us who are conversant with recent church history, the evolution and devolution of the New Calvinism looks remarkably like that of the New Evangelicalism of the 1950s-60s. Reading George Marsden's book Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Iain Murray's book Evangelicalism Divided and Ronald Nash's book The New Evangelicalism, and then comparing the trends there with the trends in the New Calvinism gives one the feeling of déjà vu. The governing impetus is the same: reaching the world. The tactics are similar: more publicizing, more seminars, more sounds and hype. The attitude is the same: be winsome and focus on the Gospel as the center (what do people think "evangelicalism" is supposed to mean other than being "Gospel-centered"?). The ecclesiastical slant is the same, i.e. none. The manner of dealing with doctrinal controversies is the same: Back-door private conversations and quietly asking the offender to leave the organization. The manner of dealing with critics on the right remains the same: Ignore (and perhaps sometimes demonize). The manner of dealing with critics on the left however remains the same: Polite disagreement while trying to show appreciation for their "insights."

Back in 2009, I wrote against the idealized positivity of the New Calvinism, and the beginning doctrinal compromise especially seen in John Piper's endorsement of the "orthodoxy" of Federal Vision heretic Douglas Wilson. Of course, since then, things have only gotten downhill. But just focus on this one issue: When was the last time anyone heard John Piper repenting of his endorsement of Douglas Wilson? Or how about endorsement of Rick Warren in the DG2010 conference? The silence is deafening. It's not like nobody has told Piper that these guys are not orthodox, but Piper just plain refuses to listen. In other words, it's the same New Evangelical modus operandi again: Ignore one's critics, even if the one critiquing your actions is a seminary professor and a minister in a Reformed denomination. The New Calvinists as a whole refuses to interact with critics; they are close-minded and only listens to the voices they wish to listen to. How does one even begin to deal with such people when all of them, while professing openness, are in fact just the opposite when those who were initially excited about the movement critique them with a view towards their correction?

I was once excited about the New Calvinism. The continual downgrade of New Calvinist leaders, and the movement as a whole, has disheartened me. My excitement has long since left. What I have left is a lament of how things could be different. Instead, we have a movement, which looked so promising, with its witness in tatters, a big tent with high sounding rhetoric and little substance. I grieve for what the New Calvinism could have been, for the still-birth of something that could have actually brought about change.