Saturday, June 28, 2008

Plug for learning German

To encourage my friends who are trying to learn German, here are 12 reasons to keep you going. And here's a blog to help you out.

HT: Dave Black

Sermon on the Myth of Adolescence

Get it here.

HT: Dave Black

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Peter, if you love me, get fed by the best shepherds out there

How many times I have thought to myself: "I would really be a stronger Christian if I could meet with THAT church over there in ____. And becoming a stronger Christian is important right?" Now that I've opened the window for you and shown you the mindset I have at times, you're prepared to understand how hard Alan Knox's last post hit me. His post starts off about walking, but by the end it was speaking to me more about kneeling. I realized this: that when I begin to think the way I mentioned above, I'm really viewing my brothers and sisters as hindrances-to-me when I should be viewing myself as a helper-to-them.

Be sure to read Alan's thoughts.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dennis Rainey - what is the hope that is in you?

Dennis Rainey's daughter recently gave birth to little Molly Ann, who died at one week old. How did the family respond to this tragedy? I wept when, reading their letters (before and after) at Tim Challies' blog, I learned the answer: supernaturally. As one who just celebrated his daughter's 1 week birthday I asked myself, how would I have responded? HOW would I have responded? I don't know. But I do know that I won't be able to read 1 Peter 3.15 for a long time without thinking of the Rainey and Mutz families.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Greek Vocab Tips

I've been asked recently about how I learn and review my (limited) Greek vocabulary. I more or less follow the approach recommended by Alan Knox, which you can read here. I try to review the Stack #3 pile once every week. And it's important to work both ways, English to Greek and Greek to English, although I have found that English to Greek generally suffices for words once I have grasped them well.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

God - that's not fair!

One of the applications we could make from Jesus' parable in Matthew 20.1-16 is that we should always check ourselves before we determine what is fair or unfair for God to do.

On a slightly related note, Craig Blomberg writes
But we are fools if we appeal to God for justice rather than grace, for in that case we’d all be damned. Nor will it do to speak of salvation begun by grace but ever after preserved by works. True salvation will of necessity produce good works and submission to Christ’s lordship in every area of life, or else it never was salvation to begin with. But all who are truly saved are equally precious in God’s sight and equally rewarded with eternal happiness in the company of Christ and all the redeemed. Jesus has now finished his answer to Peter’s question of 19:27 (New American Commentary).

UPDATE: Sorry, I had given the wrong reference. It is now Matthew 20:1-16, as it should be.

Science - Mr. Ford's Undertaker?

I deliberately did not complete my post on chp 2 of Lennox's book. That's because I wanted to spend an entire post quoting the section with which Mr. Lennox closes that chapter. See if the distinctions Lennox makes in the following are helpful; I know I found them helpful one busy day in Ukraine.

God – an unnecessary hypothesis?

This section is a strong finish to the chapter and so I will quote most of it. The explanatory success of science has led many to believe that, because “we can understand the mechanisms of the universe without bringing in God, we can safely conclude that there was no God who designed and created the universe in the first place” (p.44). To show the logical fallacy behind such reasoning Lennox brings out an illustration he has also used in Christianity: Opium or the Truth (coauthored with David Gooding):

Take a Ford motor car. It is conceivable that someone from a remote part of the world, who was seeing one for the first time and who knew nothing about modern engineering, might imagine that there is a god (Mr. Ford) inside the engine, making it go. He might further imagine that when the engine ran sweetly it was because Mr. Ford inside the engine liked him, and when it refused to go it was because Mr. Ford did not like him. Of course, if he were subsequently to study engineering and take the engine to pieces, he would discover that there is no Mr. Ford inside it. Neither would it take much intelligence for him to see that he did not need to introduce Mr. Ford as an explanation for its working. His grasp of the impersonal principles of internal combustion would be altogether enough to explain how the engine works. So far, so good. But if he then decided that his understanding of the principles of how the engine works made it impossible to believe in the existence of a Mr. Ford who designed the engine in the first place—in philosophical terminology he would be committing a category mistake. Had there never been a Mr. Ford to design the mechanisms, none would exist for him to understand.

It is likewise a category mistake to suppose that our understanding of the impersonal principles according to which the universe works makes it either unnecessary or impossible to believe in the existence of a personal Creator who designed, made, and upholds the universe. In other words, we should not confuse the mechanisms by which the universe works either with its cause or its upholder.

Michael Poole...puts it this way: '...there is no logical conflict between reason-giving explanations which concern mechanisms, and reason-giving explanations which concern the plans and purposes of an agent, human or divine. This is a logical point, not a matter of whether one does or does not happen to believe in God oneself.'

In total disregard of this logical point, a famous statement made by the French mathematician Laplace is constantly misused to buttress atheism. On being asked by Napoleon where God fitted into his mathematical work, Laplace, quite correctly, replied: 'Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.' Of course God did not appear in Laplace's mathematical description of how things work, just as Mr. Ford would not appear in a scientific description of the laws of internal combustion. But what does that prove? That Henry Ford did not exist? Clearly not. Neither does such an argument prove that God does not exist. Austin Farrer comments on the Laplace incident as follows: 'Since God is not a rule built into the action of forces, nor is he a block of force, no sentence about God can play a part in physics or astronomy...We may forgive Laplace – he was answering an amateur according to his ignorance, not to say a fool according to his folly. Considered as a serious observation, his remark could scarcely have been more misleading. Laplace and his colleagues had not learned to do without theology; they had merely learned to mind their own business.'

Quite so. But suppose Napolean had posed a somewhat different question to Laplace: 'Why is there a universe at all in which there is matter and gravity and in which projectiles composed of matter moving under gravity describe the orbits encapsulated in your mathematical equations?' It would be harder to argue that the existence of God was irrelevant to that question. But then, that was not the question that Laplace was asked. So he did not answer it (pp. 44-5).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

God's Undertaker - The Scope and Limits of Science


Defining science

Michael Ruse: science “by definition deals only with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law” (p.31). This definition is helpful because it distinguishes between astronomy and astrology. The problem is that it rules out much of cosmology.

What does Ruse mean by “the natural”? Certainly he means that the things science bothers itself with are all things found in nature. But it may imply more. For many science's dealing only with the natural means, that all of science's explanations for these things found in nature must be natural explanations. If they're not, the explanations are not scientific (p.32).

Massimo Pigliucci: “The basic assumption of science is that the world can be explained entirely in physical terms, without recourse to godlike entities” (p.33).

Christian de Duve:
Scientific enquiry rests on the notion that all manifestations in the universe are explainable in natural terms, without supernatural intervention. Strictly speaking, this notion is not an a priori philosophical stand or profession of belief. It is a postulate, a working hypothesis that we should be prepared to abandon if faced with facts that defy every attempt at rational explanation. Many scientists, however, do not bother to make this distinction, tacitly extrapolating from hypothesis to affirmation (p.33).

Paul Kurtz: “What is common to naturalistic philosophy is its commitment to science. Indeed, naturalism might be defined in its more general sense as the philosophical generalizations of the methods and conclusions of the sciences” (33).

Which comes first – science or philosophy?

Kurtz would view the philosophy of naturalism as arising from his science. But the impression of the scientist going about his enterprise with no bias or philosophical precommitments is a myth. It could very well be the other way around, with naturalism preceding and shaping one's science.
George Klein: “I am not an agnostic. I am an atheist. My attitude is not based on science, but rather on faith...The absence of a Creator, the non-existence of God is my childhood faith, my adult belief, unshakable and holy” (p.34).

Richard Lewontin:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated” (p.34-5).

Lewontin goes on to say, “Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door” (p.35).

Lennox responds: “I am not so sure that Dawkins would be as enthusiastic about eradicating this kind of 'blind faith' in materialism as he is about eradicating faith in God, though consistency would argue that he should” (p.35).

Following where the evidence leads – always?

Lennox comes up with a novel suggestion: Let's avoid begging the question by “defining science to be essentially applied naturalism” and instead “understand it to be investigation of and theorizing about the natural order so that we give weight to what is surely of the essence of true science—that is, a willingness to follow the empirical evidence, wherever it leads” (p.37).

Summing up so far

Two extremes to avoid: (1) Seeing science's relationship to religion as one solely of conflict; (2) Seeing “all science as philosophically or theologically neutral” (p.38).

The limits of scientific explanation

Science has explained so much and so helpfully. How much can it explain? Scientism answers: “ Basically everything.” Peter Atkins: “There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence” (p.39).

Richard Dawkins' quote in the book dedication of The God Delusion: “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?” (p.39).

Lennox doesn't think much of this: “It [the above quote] gives the game away. For it shows that Dawkins is guilty of committing the error of proposing false alternatives by suggesting that it is either fairies or nothing. Fairies at the bottom of the garden may well be a delusion, but what about a gardener, to say nothing about an owner? The possibility of their existence cannot be so summarily dismissed—in fact, most gardens have both” (p.39).

Regarding the claim that only science can deliver truth, this is ridiculous. Can science determine what is a poor poem and what is a good one? What about evaluation of art? And matters of morality? “Science can tell you that, if you add strychnine to someone's drink, it will kill them. But science cannot tell you whether it is morally right or wrong to put strychnine into your grandmother's tea so that you can get your hands on her property” (p.39-40).

Finally, the assertion of scientism is self-refuting, a fact easily seen by examining Bertrand Russell's assertion: “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know” (p.40). But the 'truth' of Russell's assertion is not itself a discovery of science which means, by Russell's own way of stating things, that the thing he has stated is unknowable.

Aunt Matilda' cake

The author proposes a simple illustration. Aunt Matilda makes a cake, which is then examined by world-class scientists of various disciplines. But no matter how good their expertise, they are not able to go beyond answering the how questions to supplying answers to the why question (why as in purpose). Does that mean that it is impossible to know why Aunt Matilda made the cake? According to Russell's earlier statement, yes, it is impossible. But this shows us how mistaken Russell is, for all one has to do is ask Matilda. Peter Medawar in Advice to a Young Scientist writes: “There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare—particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for—that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking...” (p.41).

Yes, science has its limits. To suggest otherwise is to elevate science only ostensibly. Saying that science can figure out everything might appear to give it unique pride of place amongst all other disciplines, but in actual fact its reputation would fare better without such statements because they self-destruct. Lennox puts it well: “For, the statement that only science can lead to truth is not itself deduced from science. It is not a scientific statement but rather a statement about science, that is, it is a metascientific statement. Therefore, if scientism's basic principle is true, the statement expressing scientism must be false. Scientism refutes itself. Hence it is incoherent” (p.42).

To make such “exaggerated claims for science” makes “science look ridiculous” (p.43). To say that “science is limited is, therefore, no insult to science” (p.42).

Lennox notes that although revelation—not science—must determine the purpose of Aunt Matilda's cake, this does not mean that reason is not involved. No, reason must be involved. “The point is that in cases where science is not our source of information, we cannot automatically assume that reason has ceased to function and evidence has ceased to be relevant” (p.43).

One More Section

There is one more section, but it is too important to tack onto the end of an already long post. I shall quote it (almost) in full in a subsequent post.

Size Limits of Very Small Microorganisms paper

In the discussion thread of my post on the Preface of Lennox's book, Margaret suggests I post a link to a book. I'm happy to oblige:

Read this FREE online!
Full Book PDF Summary

If it's easier for readers send me an email and I will email the book to you as an attachment.

NOTE: you can download this book for free by clicking the above link and then signing in (painlessly) on the right hand side of the page.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

God's Undertaker - War of the Worldviews (chp 1)


[Please note that the following headings are often mine, not Lennox's. They do not necessarily represent Lennox's flow of thought or emphases.]

The relationship between faith and evidence

Lennox has a tidy little dust-up with Dawkins over Dawkins' representation of faith as being proudly independent of evidence. Dawkins takes the first jab:

It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease and many others, but I think that a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion (pp.14-15).

Dawkins takes another by quoting Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) approvingly:
When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion (p.15).
So Dawkins defines faith as “being belief that isn't based on evidence.” Elsewhere he says that whereas “scientific belief is based upon publicly checkable evidence, religious faith not only lacks evidence; its independence from evidence is its joy, shouted from the rooftops” (p.15).

Lennox Lewis responds, first by conceding that if Dawkins' definition of faith is correct, then maybe it should be classified as smallpox. And there certainly are those who believe in God who are anti-intellectual and anti-scientific who could benefit from a lesson from Dawkins at this point. However, the faith that the Bible speaks of is certainly not a blind faith. Rather, it is a faith that is a response to evidence. It is clear that Dawkins has not done his homework here.

Lennox takes time at this point to note an inconsistency on Dawkins' part by reminding readers of words Dawkins has said earlier:
Next time that somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: “What kind of evidence is there for that?” And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
Here's Lennox's application:
Dawkins' idiosyncratic definition of faith thus provides a striking example of the very kind of thinking he claims to abhor—thinking that is not evidence based. For, in an exhibition of breathtaking inconsistency, evidence is the very thing he fails to supply for his claim that independence of evidence is faith's joy.

Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science

Regarding some of the statements by scientists repeated above, Lennox reminds us that “Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science”. He says further that the earlier assertions by Dawkins “are not statements of science but rather expressions of personal belief, indeed, of faith—fundamentally no different from (though noticeably less tolerant than) much expression of the kind of faith Dawkins expressly wishes to eradicate” (p.18).

The forgotten roots of science

With these introductory comments behind him, Lennox then leads us into a discussion of the history of science. He argues in “The forgotten roots of science” that “the conviction that the universe is orderly”--without which science would be impossible—comes from the ancient Hebrew view “that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods...This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science” (quoting Melvin Calvin, p.19). C.S. Lewis's famous words are also quoted: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver” (p.20).

Lennox also provides an impressive list of men who have been “towering figures of science” who were all of them theists, and many of them Christians: Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin and Clerk Maxwell. “Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so” (p.20).

The author is quick to acknowledge that “just because a religion has supported science does not prove that the religion is true” (p.22). But ditto for atheism.

History and the conflict thesis

This historical journey continues by examining two oft-mentioned confrontations: the one between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church; and the other between Huxley and Wilberforce. These two accounts are often used to support the conflict thesis—the notion that “science has been constantly at war with religion” (p.22). Turns out the conflict thesis is not well-served by these accounts at all. In the case of Galileo and the R.C. Church, Lennox makes the following points:

  • Galileo WAS a believer in God and the Bible
  • His first opposition was from secular philosophers, and he was receiving support from some religious intellectuals (if this was a science vs. religion debate, these guys sure didn't know what side they were on)
  • The RC Church hung on to its cherished Aristotelianism against Galileo's pushing and tugging, unable to afford a serious challenge to Aristotle when it was already feeling the Protestant Reformation's challenge to its authority
  • Galileo could have used some improvement in the PR department

Regarding the Huxley-Wilberfore debate in 1860, Lennox notes that: (1) Wilberforce was no ignoramus. Darwin regarded Wilberforce's review of his (Darwin's) work as “uncommonly quizzes me most splendidly” (p.25); (2) Wilberforce was no obscurantist. Determined to keep the debate as science vs. science (not religion) he wrote

We have no sympathy with those who object to any facts or alleged facts in nature, or to any inference logically deduced from them, because they believe them to contradict what it appears to them is taught by revelation. We think that all such objections savour of a timidity which is really inconsistent with a firm and well-intrusted faith.

(3) Thirdly, objections to Darwin's theory also came from leading scientists (enter Sir Richard Owen and Lord Kelvin) and not just from the church. (4) Wilberforce was successful in his own right in the debate; the outcome was far from one-sided.

Conclusion: “two of the main props commonly used to support the conflict thesis crumble” (p.26).

Two lessons

We'll be done with this chapter once I've mentioned two lessons that Lennox draws out of the Galileo account. First, for those of us “who are disposed to take the biblical account seriously” (p.24), we must “be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretation of it. The biblical text just might be more sophisticated than we first imagined and we might therefore be in danger of using it to support ideas that it never intended to teach” (p.25). If we were to get this into our heads once and for all, and the idea that faith is cut off from evidence out, oh how much better the Christian witness would be served!

Lennox has a lesson for the other body of people he belongs to: scientists. In light of the Bible-believing Galileo “who was advancing a better scientific understanding of the universe” against the oppositions “of the secular philosophers of his time”, so the “philosophers and scientists today also have need of humility in light of facts, even if those facts are being pointed out to them by a believer in God” (p.25).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

God's Undertaker - Preface


A popular enough notion today is that modern science has killed God. While the early founders of science—men such as Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton—may have believed “in an intelligent Creator God whose brain-child the cosmos was”, science “has moved on from such primitive thinking.” Science has “squeezed God into a corner, killed and then buried him by its all-embracing explanations. God has turned out to be no more substantial than the smile on a cosmic Cheshire cat” (p.8). It is this popular view, that science has triumphed over God, and the view behind it, that science was ever at war with God in the first place, that John Lennox wants to challenge in this book.

Of course, in challenging this view, he'll have to challenge its proponents. And there are plenty of them. Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg writes: “The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion...Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization” (as quoted by Lennox, p.8). Then there's good ole' Richard Dawkins: “I am utterly fed up with the respect we have been brainwashed into bestowing upon religion” (p.8).

So we have science on the one hand, and God (religion) on the other, and it's science, we are told, that has the upper hand of the two. However, when we speak of science in this way, we must be careful to distinguish between science itself and the philosophy or worldview behind it. When we make this distinction we come across a curious thing: that many of the men in whose hands science flourished were men, as already mentioned, who held a theistic worldview. And many scientists still hold that worldview today. Dawkins and company obviously hold to a naturalistic worldview. It is here that the issue lies. The battle between science and God has been falsely construed. This is not a debate between scientist and preacher. It's a debate between preacher and preacher, or between fellow philosophers at least. The assumption is that science and naturalism go together like a hand in a surgical glove, but is that a valid assumption? Is it not true that great scientific pioneers of the past found that science fit rather nicely with theism? And do not many scientists testify the same today? As Lennox asks:
Is naturalism actually demanded by science? Or is it just conceivable that naturalism is a philosophy that is brought to science, more than something that is entailed by science? Could it even be, dare one ask, more like an expression of faith, akin to religious faith? (p.9).

These are the types of questions Lennox dares to ask and tries to answer in this book. And he claims to be willing to follow the evidence, wherever it takes him:
The question that is central to this book turns out to be in essence a worldview question: which worldview sits most comfortably with science – theism or atheism? Has science buried God or not? Let us see where the evidence leads (p.13).

Paul and Silas...then comes Wesley and Bray

Charles Wesley's entirely unprofessional prison ministry. What increased the savour of this article for me was remembering that Wesley was a Methodist and Piper is a Calvinist. How appropriate are Spurgeon's words, "I do not try to reconcile friends."