Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Descriptive Cultural Relativism

One type of moral relativism found in our postmodern times can be called descriptive cultural relativism. (This view is called 'Society Does Relativism' by Frank Beckwith and Greg Koukl in their excellent book, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.) According to adherents to this view, we used to think that there existed a set of moral laws that held true for all humans in all places at all times. But that was only because of our own provincialism and naivete. Once we got out more, we discovered that other cultures held strikingly different moral values than our Western mores. Now that we know this to be the case, we can rightly dismiss the old idea that there is any one overarching morality toward which all humans should strive.

This view constitutes an anthropological description, and denies objective morality on the basis of a recognition that different cultures exhibit different moral stances. While this view may sound valid, it has at least two problems, one of which (the second one I'll discuss) is fatal.

First, it is not clear that different cultures really do have significantly different value systems. In most apparent cases of conflict, it is facts--and not values--that provide the differences.

Even in the highly charged abortion debate, all the parties share a value system that says that taking innocent human life is wrong. The debate turns on a question of facts, the issue being when does an innocent human life begin?

We believe that cannibalism is wrong, but that other animals are legitimate sources of food for us. In India, by contrast, it is taboo to eat beef. Big difference in moral values, right? Well, not really. You see, in India, they believe that the cow in question may be the reincarnation of a human being, and so their refusal to eat beef has its foundation in the same morality that prevents us from cannibalism.

Well, then, what about human tribes that really do practice cannibalism? As it turns out, cannibalism doesn't come naturally to these tribes, and learning such a practice involves a period of great emotional stress for the children of each new generation. In other words, even where the behaviors contradict more conventional mores, those behaviors are inculcated with difficulty for the very reason that they go against what seem to be universal moral norms among humans.

The second problem with descriptive cultural relativism is that it involves a fatal logical flaw. The argument looks like this:
Premise: Different cultures exhibit different moral codes.
Conclusion: There is no single morality that holds for all human beings.
The argument is fallacious, as it involves a non sequitur. The conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. This can be seen by a similar example. Let's say that my wife and I seperately attempt to compute our income tax liability, and we come up with different answers. It would be tempting to conclude that this indicates that there is no correct answer (and that, therefore, the IRS is asking us to do the impossible, and we are justified in not bothering with taxes this year). Obviously, the conclusion is wrong. There is a correct answer, even if one or both of us failed to arrive at it. In the same way, the observation that different humans or human groups do not exhibit or even profess the same moral code does not in any way demonstrate that there is no universal moral law.

Descriptive cultural relativism is logically flawed and an inaccurate assessment of the true situation with regard to morality.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

No Ultimate Morality

Yesterday, I pointed out that scientific naturalism and postmodernism begin with very different epistemologies (or views of what we can know and how we know). Indeed (I argued), the latter is in some ways a reaction against the former. Nonetheless, these two worldviews are very similar with regard to morality, as both end up undermining or denying the traditional view--held throughout most of Western history--that there exists an ultimate morality that is the same for all humans.

I will spend several posts describing (and demonstrating what is wrong with) three different types of moral relativism associated with postmodernism. For now, though, let me just state that scientific naturalism likewise leads to a denial of morality.

Let me be clear here--I am not saying that atheists or materialists cannot be or are not people with high moral standards and behaviors. Many can and are. My simple point is that if there is no God--no transcendent Lawgiver--then there is no ultimate logical foundation for ascribing to any moral values. If--as on the materialist view--humans are the accidental result of purposeless evolution, then no good rational justification exists for discussing (much less enforcing) any particular moral viewpoint.

This, of course, is just one of the many lines of evidence that can be brought to bear to show that naturalism is an inaccurate depiction of reality. We all have moral intuitions--beliefs and thoughts about right and wrong, about how things ought to be--that are so foundational to who we are that we hardly even think about them. I'll develop this argument more as we examine the brands of moral relativism brought to us by postmodern thought, but when I do, try to keep in mind that that argument cuts equally against the claims of scientific materialism. The traditional "moral argument" remains powerful evidence for the existence of a transcendent God, as I will hope to demonstrate in the next week or two.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Naturalism vs. Postmodernism

I think the two most important worldviews opposing Christianity in our day and culture are naturalism and postmodernism. Both end up at the same place (at least, relative to the Christian understanding) with regard to morals (which is what I want to discuss in the next few days). This is somewhat ironic, however, in that these two worldviews are really quite different from one another, especially in their opposite epistemologies. So let me interact with that for a bit...

(Warning: I'm about to make some very simplistic and superficial statements about the origin of postmodern thinking. The actual case is much more complex. Nonetheless, I think there is validity to what I'm going to assert.)

Epistemology is a two-dollar word for the study of knowledge. When we discuss issues of truth, knowledge, and how we know things, we are talking epistemology. And materialism/naturalism and postmodernism begin with quite different epistemologies.

By and large, the naturalist has a very high view of science and of truth. Most naturalists are rational realists, believing that science makes statements that are true--that correspond to the real world 'out there.' Postmodernists do not affirm a correspondence view of truth, but suggest that our beliefs are separated from any reality 'out there' by impenetrable barriers of language and/or senses. (Some postmodernists used to claim that "There is no truth," but the self-refuting nature of that statement was all too obvious. Most now make more contorted--but, unfortunately, no less self-refuting--claims about their view.)

In a very real (though, as I've already admitted, simplistic) sense, postmodern epistemology is a reaction or defense against scientific truth claims. Here's how that works.

Science has enjoyed immense success in the past century, curing illnesses, eradicating some diseases, placing men on the moon, and generally increasing the quality of life and the understanding of our universe. In academia and in the minds of the many-headed, science is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Science is the best--if not the only--way of discovering truth and of knowing anything. In particular, the hard sciences (like physics and chemistry), with their rigid experimental design, repeatability, and predictive power, have the monopoly on truth. And this understanding is reflected (in academia, for example) in the amount of research dollars and grant money that flows into these disciplines.

This, of course, leaves professors in English, history, sociology, and such on the outside looking in (with what is known colloquially as "physics envy"). Unable to challenge the chemist on his own turf--discovering truth through scientific means--these professors in the humanities have taken a different tack--they have sought to discredit even the existence of truth. When the scientist says that only he has the methodology for discovering truth, the literature teacher responds, "Truth? What's that?"

So, whereas the naturalist has a very high view of truth and of our ability to discern truth, the postmodernist denies the existence of truth or our ability to discover it, or both. Tomorrow, I'll examine the ironically similar conclusions about morality to which these two different views arrive.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Golf Apologetic

Yesterday's post struck a chord (two comments!), so I think I'll write a bit more about morality. But tonight, I want to do one more short sports piece.

During last week's British Open, there was a stir caused by comments made by Gary Player (veteran South African golfer). Player apparently said something to the effect that he suspected steroids were probably already on the pro tour (presumably the PGA Tour and/or the European Tour).

Now, as a Christian, I believe that all men are fallen, and so I'm not going to suggest that Player was entirely wrong in his comments. Nonetheless, I'm going to take a one-post hiatus from being a Christian apologist in order to be a golf apologist. Specifically, I'm going to give you four reasons I think golf is perhaps the least likely sport to have to worry about illegal steroid use.

Reason #4. Male professional golfers come in a variety of body shapes. Most tour pros do not conjure up the buff-ness associated with steroid use. Tiger is a very fit exception, but you'd have to think awhile to come up with another. Meanwhile, you can think of many that you just know are not benefitting from steroid use (or even the weight room). Think John Daly, Fuzzy Zoeller, or (on the other end of the spectrum) Jesper Parnevik, Charles Howell the 3rd, or Aaron Baddely.

Reason #3. Whereas a primary reason athletes in other sports take steroids is to increase strength, golfers require a delicate balance between strength and flexibility. Indeed, making it to the PGA Tour is such a difficult task that no player--having accomplished that task--would risk throwing it away by upsetting the balance (of strength and flexibility) that helped get them there.

Reason #2. The other thing steroids do for athletes is to decrease the time required for injuries to heal. Evidence that pro golfers are not currently using steroids is the simple fact that every week they withdraw from tournaments (with million-dollar purses) because of seemingly minor injuries of the sort that we 18-handicappers (who have to hold down more conventional jobs) play and work through on a regular basis.

Reason #1. This is the main one. Personal integrity is still at the very heart of golf. Professional golfers invariably report their own infringement of some obscure rule even though no one else would ever have known and even though the resulting penalty can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. I guess that's a part of why I'm a golf fan.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sports Bloopers

I'm planning to do a series of posts about the philosophy of science. But first, the sports world seems to be demanding some attention. I'm a sports fan myself, so it is without pleasure that I turn the bloglight on some unseemly situations...

The Tour de France (which is, along with March Madness, my co-favorite 3-week-long sporting event) has been contested this year under a cloud of suspicion. Despite riders being tested every day of the race (including the overall reace leader and the stage winner without fail), only two (out of more than 180 racers) have been caught cheating. But then today, the rider otherwise destined to win this year's race was fired from his team for lying to them about his whereabouts the last two months.

The big three American sports are currently reeling from (shall we say?) 'issues.' A star NFL quarterback is in court charged with conducting dog fights at one of his homes, an NBA referee is alleged to have bet on games in which he had a say in the outcome, and a hallowed baseball record is about to be broken by a man whom almost everyone this side of Aunt Bea believes took illegal steroids throughout his prime.

But isn't sport--in this issue as in many others--just a reflection of culture at large? Why should we be surprised that high-paid athletes (and officials) cheat to make a buck or prolong a career, or when they think they can live above the law (in the case of the quarterback, Michael Vick)? The same thing is going on in corporations throughout our nation; remember Enron? (I have friends whose life savings went down the drain in that case.) When the best business schools in the land no longer teach that there is such a thing as truth, as right and wrong, why wouldn't some of the brightest students cheat others on their way to a fortune? Indeed, if what the schools are teaching is true, it's those of us who still believe in morality that need remedial instruction.

More than half of Americans think that when the President of these United States cheated on his wife (had an adulterous affair), it in no way diminished his qualifications for leading the world's most powerful nation. What we have here--not only in sports but in all of our culture--is a moral crisis, and that, quite simply, is what is to be expected in a post-Christian society. As Dostoevsky's character Dmitry Fyodorovich has it,
Without God... all things are lawful.
I think he was right. Having banished God from our nation's classrooms and public places, we should not be surprised when we see whole generations living without any moral compass. If naturalism is true (as is taught in virtually every subject area, not just biology), or if there's no such thing as truth, then the question becomes not "why do these athletes cheat?" but "why don't all athletes cheat?"

Monday, July 23, 2007


I'm back from L.A. What a wonderful time I had getting to better know the bright and caring folks that are my fellow students, professors, and visiting lecturers. Each of these groups includes men and women that are defending the truth claims of Christianity in almost every imaginable forum. They are teaching, writing books, maintaining websites and blogs, lecturing, writing curricula. They are some of the very best thinkers, authors, and speakers of our day. And all of this is critical in the times and culture in which we live.

But every bit as important as the arguments they are making and the books they are writing are the lives they are living and the people they are. Through listening to taped lectures, reading their books, and participating in on-line discussions, I had already gained a deep appreciation for the intellect of these folks. Time together these past couple of weeks enabled me to learn in greater depth what people of integrity they are, each and every one.

I was especially blessed to get to know the family of one of the visiting lecturers. This man is on the front lines of the battle to reclaim science from the naturalism that has derailed it, and his every lecture and book is necessary and powerful. Nonetheless, it seems to me that just as effective an apologetic--for the validity of the Christian faith--is his beautiful and loving family. Families--like this man's and those of my other professors and fellow-students--that manifest the love of Christ and exemplify His plan for the family are a powerful testimony to the truth of His existence and the presence of His kingdom among us.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Soccer Update

A few items of news from the soccer world...

David Beckham made his long-awaited American debut, playing the last ten minutes (he's nursing an ankle injury) for the Los Angeles Galaxy in a sold-out friendly with Chelsea (of the English Premier League). Chelsea won, 1-nil, on the strength of a beautiful goal off of both posts by their captain, Jon Terry. Moments later, Landon Donovan missed a sitter that would have tied it, when he sent a wide-open header from near the penalty spot about a mile too high.

Also in the City of Angels, Nathan (my eldest, 16) coached youth soccer camps the last couple of weeks with the Southern California Seahorses, a Christian ministry with a competitive team in the Pacific Developmental League. It was a good way to have at least one member of the family with me as I spent two weeks taking classes at Biola University.

The bigger news yet is that Nate has been invited to go with the Seahorses to Peru next month on a missions trip! This is exciting stuff, the kind of opportunity we've been desiring for him. It will be a great chance to share both his love of Christ and his passion for soccer. It's come on short notice, though, and he'll be scrambling to raise support. Feel free to contact me (rick@antiochchurch.org) if you want to learn more or to support Nathan financially or in prayer.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Achievable Goal

I have shared in several posts my firm belief that naturalism is a flawed worldview, and that to the extent that naturalism has commandeered modern science, science itself is artificially limited in its ability to arrive at truth. With that understanding in mind, I long for the day that science is freed from such artificial restraint, where theists are allowed to openly share their research and the conclusions to which that research logically leads. This would, of course, entail the ability to critique evolutionary theory (in particular) without fear of tenure denial or other recriminations.

Often, when I (and others) have thought about such a paradigm shift, it has involved the notion that evolutionary teaching would be replaced by the teaching of, say, intelligent design. Or, as seems to be the goal of some school boards members and concerned parents, we would 'teach the controversy,' we would be allowed to put competing explanations before students and weigh their respective merits.

But while these issues are being argued within the university (where the folks qualified to dispute them are primarily not scientists themselves but philosophers and historians of science), I have come to believe that a more modest goal is achievable right now--overnight, if you will. The goal I have in mind is in perfect keeping with any and all understandings of the "separation of church and state." It would liberate the high school biology teacher, the naturalist at the nature center, and the curator of the natural history museum, to educate in the most objective way possible. It would emphasize a cardinal aspect of science--objectivity--and focus on 'just the facts,' the observable data from which the various (contrary) explanations arise. It would do away with the need for parental watchdog groups, "freedom-from-religion" suits, and thought police within the academy.

What I envision--in high school classrooms, nature centers, and natural history museums and documentaries--is presenting the panorama of living things in metaphysically neutral terms. Both the theist and the atheist agree that living things exhibit complexity, adaptation, and ecological interaction that can only be described by words like 'marvelous' and 'wonderful.' How easy it would be to simply present the factual aspects of this panorama without committing to any of the controversial explanations for how it came to be this way.

I'm not suggesting that scientists themselves avoid the controversy. What I am suggesting is that--until the academicians sort the explanations out in a much more open and satisfactory way than they have to date--popularizers of biology (the study of living things) would do well to stick to the observational evidence (abundant, varied, and awe-inspiring as it is) and avoid unneccessarily taking sides in what is a very legitimate metaphysical debate.

In very practical terms, this is as simple as describing an animal, a symbiotic relationship, or other aspect of living systems with a word like 'adapted' rather than the metaphysically-charged words 'created' or 'evolved.'

I suspect, by the way, that this is exactly what goes on in many high school biology classrooms, where the teacher is expected to teach evolution but skips over it for pragmatic reasons. These latter include the recognition that (macro)evolution is generally irrelevant to understanding the rest of the course content and because it is an unnecessarily volatile element to add to an already demanding task.

I'm just thinking out loud here (er, rather, typing my thoughts as they come). Anyway, feel free to interact with what I'm suggesting (that is, if it made any sense at all).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Busman's Holiday

Readers of my blog will recognize that I'm a Christian apologist. I'm other things, too, of course--husband, father, biologist, and others. But apologist is one of those things I am, and this manifests itself in daily/weekly life in such things as this blog, directing the Acts 17 ministry (including maintaining a website) and teaching at Antioch, and simply defending Christianity in conversation.

But this week I'm on holiday, in Southern California (which happens to be much cooler right now than it is back home in central Oregon). So what am I doing? Apologetics, of course. Specifically, I'm taking classes as part of a Master of Arts program (at Biola University) in Christian Apologetics. The folks lecturing to us are first-rate, and the information content* well worth the time and expense involved. (It's tough being away from family, but this time I brought Nathan with me--he's coaching soccer camps for the Southern California Seahorses in the morning and golfing in the afternoon.)

But what I've enjoyed most about this busman's holiday is spending time with my fellow students. A small sample of these would include a human resource manager from near Buffalo, NY, with whom I've golfed in some of our little spare time, a psychiatrist from the D.C. area, a hip-hop deejay/youth pastor from north of Seattle, a baseball fan from Lincoln, NE (go figure), with whom we took in (what else?) a baseball game (Rangers at Angels), an airline pilot from Sacramento, a Blackhawk (helicopter) pilot from Anchorage (but previously serving in Afghanistan), an evangelist from north of London (but south of Oxford), and a flash designer, song writer/musician, and author from Nashville.

Church planters and youth pastors are well-represented in our numbers. I think this is because these folks are daily and personally reminded that the souls for which they care are being continually bombarded by naturalism and postmodernism, demonstrably false worldviews that nonetheless present obstacles to understanding and accepting the truth claims of Christianity.

But what do all of these folks--with different vocations, avocations, ages, home towns, denominations, and histories--have in common? Just this... a passion for Christ and a confident Christianity (to borrow from the title of the blog of a homemaker from Houston). Each finds the Christian world- and life-view to be uniquely, rationally defensible, and each feels called to be engaged in that defense.

And that shared passion and shared calling mean that it's a pleasure and honor (for me) to spend time wih these folks, learning together, challenging and encouraging one another.

*The phrase 'information content' prompts me to add the tangential comment that we'll be having tea with and a lecture from William Dembski, whose book The Design Inference identifies how we recognize specified complexity (like the information in the genetic code) and offers the "explanatory filter" for determining whether something is designed or not.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Yesterday's post was my 100th! I started blogging on the last day of January, and reached 100 posts on the 13th of July. In the five full months during that period, I've averaged 18 posts per month.

These posts have wandered across a variety of topics. It turns out, though, that nearly 1/4 of them (23% to be exact) have dealt with evolution, naturalism, or the closely related subject of 'what is science?' I didn't set out to write so many posts on this subject, but the fact is that naturalism is such a prevalent worldview, and the support for it so logically flawed, that I couldn't help myself.

Next in frequency (at 18%) have been natural history posts, generally brief posts (often with pictures) about particular birds, reptiles, mammals, or insects as I encounter them. These have been fun, and I hope that they give my readers a glimpse into my life (and that of my family) and the depth to which awareness and appreciation of God's creation is imbedded in the fabric of that life.

Twelve percent of my posts have dealt with literary quotes, and these from a variety of authors and reagrding different subjects.

Eight percent of the first 100 posts dealt with a defense of the reliability of the Bible. An equal number presented classical arguments for the existence of God (cosmological, teleological, and moral), and three posts dealt with a defense of the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Interspersed were four posts about the undertaking of apologetics, six posts on Christian living/doctrine, and six about critical thinking or logic.

I did a short series (of five posts) on environmental stewardship (the week of Earth Day), and the remaining (7 or 8) posts don't fall easily into any particular category.

I have no plans to stop blogging, and I hope that some have enjoyed, been encouraged by, or had their faith strengthened by the peregrinations so far recorded here. I hope you'll keep reading. More importantly, let me take this opportunity to express my appreciation to those who have read (either regularly or intermittently).

Thank you!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Alligator Lizard

The largest naturally-occurring lizard in my immediate area is the Oregon Alligator Lizard. Nowhere common, this species is encountered infrequently, unexpectedly, and individually. Adults attain 12 inches in total length, and they are quick, with elusive, snake-like movements. They are also feisty, administering a painful bite if not handled rightly and often spewing foul feces on the hand of their captor. For all of these reasons, guys like me (and both my sons) go out of our way to find Alligator Lizards and--once found--to grab them.

The Oregon Alligator Lizard is a subspecies (scincicauda) of the Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata). The entire species is a very western one, being confined to a narrow range in the Pacific states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja California. Its range reaches its farthest inland point in the John Day River drainage of northcentral Oregon. And that's precisely where the individual pictured above was encountered, captured, and photographed by my son Nathan.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More on Gigantoraptor

I feel kinda bad for Xing Xu and his fellow paleontologists. They're the team of Chinese scientists that made the exciting discovery of a new fossil dinosaur, one that was 25 feet long and probably weighed 3,000 pounds. It was classified as a member of the family Oviraptor, the "bird-like" dinosaurs, and was all-the-more unusual because it had even more bird-like characteristics than many smaller members of the family. It was such a notable find that it warranted not only the designation of a new species but its own new genus, Gigantoraptor. Heady stuff, the dream of paleontologists. And indeed, the official documentation of this find was rightly accorded the honor of appearing in the prestigious journal Nature.

So why do I feel sorry for these folks? Well, to tell the truth, this wonderful discovery hasn't received nearly the attention and excitement it deserves. It hasn't come close to receiving the notoriety that other, similar dinosaurs (members of the same dinosaur family) have received in recent decades. And this is for one simple reason... this find doesn't fit the evolutionary paradigm.

According to a New York Times article, paleontologists admitted that
the discovery contradicted widely-held theories that carnivorous dinosaurs got smaller as they evolved more birdlike characteristics.
But paleontologists were also quick to assure us that
the new specimen [does] not challenge the theorized dinosaur-bird link.
Oh, really? I would submit that the lack of enthusiasm for this fossil species belies this confident stance. The way science is supposed to work is that new evidence that contradicts a current theory, by falsifying predictions of that theory, is greeted with great enthusiasm. Such contradictory evidence provides great opportunity to reconsider, to tweak or--where warranted--even to replace the current theory. It should help us to stop wasting time seeking to verify a false theory.

In this case, however, there is too much at stake. That birds evolved from dinosaurs is seen as a necessary aspect of neo-Darwinian theory; if birds appeared fully-formed (as the fossil record actually suggests), then evolutionary theory is wrong. Neo-Darwinism--the theory that the diversity of life can be explained by strictly natural means--is the only thing supporting a naturalistic approach to science in general, and naturalism is the worldview that most effectively enables us to avoid wrestling with issues of morality and self-control. Acceptance of naturalism--entailing as it does the absence of an absolute Law-Giver and thus of any basis for morality--has (in turn) allowed us to elevate personal autonomy (especially in the area of sexual behavior) to the highest of all values. (There are, of course, significant ramifications of this autonomy, including the death of millions of unborn human beings, the death of millions of adults through epidemic sexually-transmitted diseases, and a robust world-wide sex-slavery trade, to mention a few.)

Let's talk turkey. Taken objectively, the existing evidence overwhelmingly refutes the notion that the birdlike dinosaurs represent an evolutionary step between dinosaurs and birds. All such dinosaurs existed in a relatively brief period of time that came much later than the first birds. In addition, a mass extinction event (one that saw the extinction of the vast majority of life on Earth and all larger and higher life forms) seperates these fossils from the modern birds. Moreover, birds (every last one of them, whether hummingbird, ostrich, or Archaeopteryx) possess feathers. There is absolutely no evidence that any of these birdlike dinosaurs possessed feathers; the only place feathers appear in association with these fossils is in the artists' renderings and the imaginations of the journalists and headline writers. And this absence of feathers cannot be attributed to the fact that these animals lived too long ago to preserve feathers--Archaeopteryx, after all, predated the oviraptors by more than 100 million years.

Were we able to view the fossil record objectively, Gigantoraptor and other dinosaurs like it would be recognized as very interesting, extinct creatures, dinosaurs that had beak-like mouths, long tails, and pelvic bones and legs that adapted them for fast running in the late Cretaceous. The idea that this 3,000-pound dinosaur was evolving into a bird is ludicrous, absurd. The relative silence about this exciting find is testimony to the fact that even evolutionists recognize this, that some even suspect that it implies the same about the other (smaller) oviraptors.

I long for the future day when science again becomes the objective search for truth it is meant to be. In that day, a startling fossil discovery like that of Xing Xu and his colleagues will be marveled at in the way it deserves.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Four-Fold Defense

Just thought I'd mention four different aspects of apologetics, four components of the reasoned defense of Christianity. (These come from one of my mentors, Professor Kenneth Samples.)
1) Presenting and clarifying the truth claims of historic Christianity
2) Presenting positive evidence for the faith
3) Answering questions and objections
4) Critiquing alternative (non-Christian) systems
Now, I've been using this rather new medium (blogging) for engaging in apologetics for several months. As I look back, I trust that I have from time to time presented and clarified the Christian truth claims (#1 above). I know that I have presented positive evidence for the faith (#2), and I have certainly spent quite a few posts critiquing alternative systems (#4).

I suppose I have also addressed #3, answering questions and objections, especially during my interactions with Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. But this sort of answering third-person objections is not particularly satisfying (to me). I would much rather have some direct interaction with questions and objections from my readers.

It's rather easy for you to comment or ask a question in this medium. This can be done anonymously (indeed, that seems to be the default way to leave a comment), though I naturally prefer to know something (a first name at the very least) of the person with whom I'm interacting.

So, consider this an invitation to you personally to ask a question or to raise a doubt or objection (particularly with regard to the truth of Christianity). My hope is that in the next few months, some of what I will blog about will be those things about which you--my readers--have raised questions or concerns.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Lactose Tolerance

I want to interact with another science article from a recent New York Times. Titled "Spread Globally, Evolved Locally," this piece (by Nicholas Wade) discusses some truly exciting research from the field of human genomics. Researchers have identified parts of the genome where differences exist among human populations and discovered that such differences include adaptations for lactose tolerance, malaria resistance, and salt retention (to name a few).

I want to focus on the lactose tolerance. But first, a couple of general comments. While the article is liberal with the use of the word 'evolution,' let's start by acknowledging that it's talking only about 'microevolution,' the changes that occur over time within a species. We might further emphasize that we're discussing a species that originated only tens of thousands of years ago. The article itself recognizes that
The ancestral human population is thought to have originated in northeast Africa about 50,000 years ago.
All of this is consistent, of course, not only with a theistic understanding but also a specifically biblical one. I could, therefore, quibble with the use of the term 'evolution' (with all that it is meant to connote), when 'microevolution' or (better yet) 'adaptation' would have more accurately described the research findings.

My real issue with the interpretation of these research results, though, is two-fold: the unsupported inference that natural selection is the driving force and the assumption that the genetic differences involve random mutations. These two ideas form, of course, the standard neo-Darwinian dogma, but the evidence of these studies--if considered objectively--would seem to suggest design or purpose rather than the randomness and chance associated with naturalism.

According to the article, lactose tolerance arose in (at least) four different human populations in four different parts of the genome. So far, so good. Identifying the genome differences and accurately describing the adaptation with which those differences are associated--that's great science. But it is really naive to expect us to believe that those genomic differences are the result of random mutations. For one thing, we now have an idea of how truly rare are instances of beneficial mutations compared to fatal or harmful (those that lead to natural abortion, death, or reproductive unfitness of the individual), or neutral mutations. We can also demonstrate that humans (like all other higher animals) are not good candidates for mutational advance on the basis of demographic parameters--few offspring, long inter-generational times, low population numbers (again, to name but a few). Moreover, other geneticists would be quick to suggest that the differences herein identified likely represent not so much a new gene, but a differential activation (by a sort of 'controller gene'), a turning off (or on), an effecting of a potential that was already (always?) in the genome.

On this (more objective) view, this latest research offers evidence against the random mutation idea and for the notion that the human genome exhibits even greater design--call it 'inherent potential' if your worldview can't accept the idea of design (and then make a note to upgrade your worldview before too long)--than was previously recognized.

But this research would seem to undermine not only the idea that the mutations are random but also the other half of the evolutionary paradigm--that natural selection is the driving force. On the dogmatic view of the author (and, apparently, the researchers themselves), natural selection is not only a very powerful force but the only mechanism that need be invoked (that, after all, is still the textbook explanation). In the case of the origin of lactose tolerance, does this really make good sense?

Picture a population of northern European cattle-herders 5,000 years ago (when this adaptation is seen to have arisen). One herder develops a gene mutation that enables him to drink the milk from his herd without a rash or other negative side effects. On the naturalistic evolution view, this adaptation is so significant that his ability to survive and reproduce so exceeds that of others of his generation and clan that his progeny soon outnumber theirs by 10 to 1. (On the traditional view, a mutation arises in one individual and is dependent on reproduction to spread through a population generation by generation. On the more recent view--that the capacity for this genetic change was inherent in the genome, and 'switched on'--the right conditions could cause many individuals in the same generation to have this same adaptation.) We are meant to believe that those who still could not drink milk (without developing a rash on the inside of their elbows) died before having children, while this one adaptation endowed the milk drinker with overwhelming survivorship and productivity. In other words, environmental factors somehow dictated that the ability to process milk efficiently was the make-or-break characteristic for this population of humans (though they had been surviving and reproducing up until that point).

But we must not stop at believing that this was the case for northern Europeans. The research shows that three other human populations experienced similar environmental conditions in which a gene change (albeit a different gene in each case) that conferred tolerance for lactose was likewise the make-or-break characteristic. According to the article...
That lactose tolerance has evolved independently four times is an instance of convergent evolution. Natural selection has used the different mutations available in European and East African populations to make each develop lactose tolerance.
Authors (and researchers) who cavalierly mention convergent evolution seem to be unaware that the discovery of more and more "instances" of it argues against the naturalistic paradigm. If there is no purpose or design associated with these changes within a population, then it should be rare indeed that environmental conditions "select" for a similar adaptation in different populations.

Here's the bottom line... These exciting research discoveries--when viewed objectively--support a theistic or design understanding of the documented adaptive changes within recent human populations and undermine the 'natural selection acting upon random mutation' paradigm. That the author and researchers are unable to recognize this is a testimony to their lack of objectivity and of the extent to which they have chosen to work within the artificial constraints of naturalism. While some marvelous research is taking place, their naturalistic misinterpretation of the results stifles the scientific advance toward truth to which such research might otherwise lead.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

An Immaterial Soul

So, I want to return to the article I was discussing a couple of posts ago, "Science of the Soul?" I have argued that the naturalism with which it begins and ends represents a faulty, artificially-constrained approach to science that actually limits our ability to discover truth about the world in which we live. Now, I want to get a bit more specifically critical, to show that this particular article is grossly imbalanced in its treatment of this controversial subject.

The conclusion of this article is the party line among naturalists, that mind and consciousness are merely emergent properties that have evolved in higher animals, including humans. This is meant to convince us that physicalism is true, and that there are no immaterial aspects to reality (God, angels, souls). And this, of course, would have to be true if naturalism is true. We've already discussed the circular nature of this sort of argument. But this article also comes nowhere near giving an accurate depiction of the state of research in this area of science.

Once Darwinism gained wide acceptance (despite the abundant evidence that continues to present huge problems for it), researchers in nearly all fields of science (and history, economics, sociology, and other disciplines) began to adopt a naturalistic approach. Thus, neurobiologists and brain physiologists (for the past many years) have begun with a working belief in naturalism and physicalism (and a denial of any immaterial component). But the evidence has inexorably caused objective researchers to come to the opposite conclusion.

A case in point is Wilder Penfield, considered the father of neurosurgery.
Through my own scientific career, I, like other scientists, have struggled to prove that the brain accounts for the mind.
In the end, the evidence (primarily from brain stimulation experiments) caused Penfield to give up the struggle:
To expect the highest brain mechanism or any set of reflexes, however complicated, to carry out what the mind does, and thus perform all the functions of the mind, is quite absurd. What a thrill it is, then, to discover that the scientist, too, can legitimately believe in the existence of the spirit.
Likewise, Sir Charles Sherrington, Oxford physiology professor and Nobel Prize winner, after a career of pioneering research in the workings of the brain and spinal cord, said (five days before he died)...
For me now, the only reality is the human soul.
Even affirmed naturalists acknowledge that the physicalist position is unsupported:
We don't have an adequate theory of how the brain causes conscious states, and we don't have an adequate theory of how consciousness fits into the universe.
Another area of research that has caused scientists to abandon the physicalist view is the study of near-death experiences and the continuance of consciousness after death. Sam Parnia, a physician conducting such research says that it
would support the view that mind, 'consciousness,' or the 'soul' is a separate entity from the brain.
Anthropologist Marilyn Schlitz makes a similar summary of the evidence...
I would take the position of a radical empiricist, in that I am driven by data, not theory. And the data I see tell me that there are ways in which people's experience refutes the physicalist position that the mind is the brain and nothing more. There are solid, concrete data that suggest that our consciousness, our mind, may surpass the boundaries of the brain.
In light of this glimpse of the actual situation in this field of scientific research, the New York Times article can be seen (at best) as a very poorly-balanced piece of jounalism. At worst, it represents a mere insistence that physicalism must be true (because 'I don't want to make room for God in my worldview'), with no more convincing evidence and argumentation than that of the child who screws up his face and balls his fists and repeats unendingly "but I want that one!"

(Most of what I've shared in this post--including all of the quotes--can be found in chapter 10, "The Evidence of Consciousness" in Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator. I also recommend Beyond Death by Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland.)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Rare Chance

A rare opportunity was afforded me today, one I don't anticipate ever happening again. I had the chance to band several nestling Swainson's Hawks (Buteo swainsoni), a nestling Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), and a fledgling Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis).

The circumstance that made this unlikely was that the Ferruginous Hawk was anomalously late (most fledged a month ago). Then too, I had to cover a lot of ground (though that can be all in a day's work this time of year). The hawks were in the shrub-steppe habitat in the northeastern part of the 10th largest state; the owl was in the forests of the east slope of the central Oregon Cascades.

Swainson's Hawks are the latest nesters among all of Oregon's raptors. This is in part because of their long migration to Argentina and back. Most of the nests were farther along, though, than the one pictured above.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Is Science Naturalistic?

The quote I shared yesterday (which came from a New York Times article about scientific findings with regard to the human soul) articulates a view found commonly in our day and culture...
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.
The fact is that there are indeed credible challenges, but that by redefining science as naturalistic we can dismiss such challenges as "unscientific." So the question before us today is, "Is there justification--historical, philosophical, or scientific--for allowing as science only naturalistic theories?"

Is there historical justification for equating science with a naturalistic worldview? Clearly, the answer is no. Modern science was founded by men and women who shared a monotheistic worldview. While other, more ancient civilizations made scientific advance (as in astronomy, navigation, and paper-making), science was 'stillborn' in those civilizations because their worldviews did not adequately provide justification for scientific pursuit. That rational justification came uniquely from the Judeo-Christian worldview of mid-second-millenium Europe. Indeed, for most of the time during which modern science has flourished, a supernatural (rather than natural) understanding of reality held sway among scientists. There is no historical justification for seeing science as naturalistic.

Is there philosophical justification for defining science in naturalistic terms? Again, the answer is clearly no. The question "What is science?" is best answered not by scientists themselves, most of whom have had little or no training in the philosophical basis for their pursuit. The experts on this question are philosophers of science. And they are unanimous in recognizing that there is no clear line of demarcation between science and non-science. Specifically, whether a theory is naturalistic or (conversely) involves an appeal to an intelligent designer does not mean that one is less scientific than the other. Naturalism is not a necessary criterion for adjudging a theory scientific, nor is appeal to the supernatural a sufficient criterion for rejecting a theory as unscientific.

Moreover, the historical case discussed above provides further insight into this question of philosophical justification. The same philosophical presuppositions that made modern science feasible--those that were uniquely present in the Judeo-Christian worldview and absent from that of other civilizations--are likewise absent from the naturalistic worldview. Let's consider just two. Christians have reason to expect (and a good explanation for) order, pattern, regularity, and purpose in the universe. They see these things as a natural (i.e., logical) expression of the transcendent Creator, who is Himself a rational, personal Being. On the naturalistic worldview, order and the fixity of natural laws are unexplained, brute facts, and it is taboo to even discuss the concept of 'purpose.' On the Judeo-Christian view, humans can discover the order in the universe because we are made in the image of God and thus likewise rational beings. Moreover, in His revelation to us (the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments), the Creator commands us to study the universe around us. But on the naturalistic worldview, there is no rational justification for believing that our reasoning or our senses are reliable for discovering truths about the most distant galaxies or the innermost workings of the cell. If our senses and brains are merely the result of a purposeless process whose selective mechanism worked only toward our survival to reproduce, then the ability to ask and answer esoteric scientific questions would seem to be outside the purview of evolution. Doing science still makes sense only within a Judeo-Christian worldview, whereas a naturalistic view provides no ultimate rational foundation for scientific endeavor.

If there's no historical and no philosophical basis for defining science naturalistically, is there a scientific justification for doing so? Is a naturalistic approach to science so successful that it merits acceptance as the best approach? Obviously not. We have already seen that the only reason a naturalistic explanation for the diversity of life (neo-Darwinian evolution) remains the dominant view is that its proponents have successfully (in school boards, courts, and media) excluded competing theories from the arena by wrongly appealing to naturalism as a necessary criterion for science. But the point I want to make here is that the diversity of life is only one of the many big questions about the reality of our universe that science ought to attempt to explain. Others include 'Why is there a universe?', 'Why is there order in the universe?', Why does the universe, our galaxy and solar system, our Earth exhibit the extremely fine-tuned characteristics necessary for life?', 'How did life come to be in the first place?', and 'How did consciousness arise?' Naturalism provides no reasonable explanation for any of these questions, while scientists operating from within a Judeo-Christian worldview do.

Indeed (to look at just one of these questions more closely), the latest science with regard to the origin of the universe undermines the naturalistic view in (at least) two ways. Not only does naturalistic science offer no reasonable explanation for the origin of the universe*, but the finding that the universe had a begining a finite time ago is at odds with a basic premise of Darwin's theory (the premise that the universe itself is eternal, that natural selection had a near-infinite amount of time with which to work).

Throughout most of western history, it has been perceived as irrational to adopt a naturalistic view of reality. Only with the acceptance of Darwin's theory for the diversity of life has naturalism attained even a modicum of reasonableness. And yet, there is a great deal of evidence that can be (or could be were it not artificially ruled out as 'unscientific') brought to bear against naturalistic evolution as a satsifactory explanation even for the single question it addresses--the diversity of life. More importantly, a theistic understanding provides a far better explanation (than a naturalistic one) for all of the other big questions about which science is interested.

It is high time that science was ransomed from the religious worldview--naturalism--that has commandeered it in our generation, and freed to once again be what it originally was--a search for truth about the way things are. Naturalism does nothing but artificially constrain the range of possible explanations, preventing us from discovering truth.

There simply is no justification for adopting a naturalistic approach to science, much less for insisting that all scientists adopt such an approach.

* Most naturalists end by appealing to the idea that ours is one of an infinte number of universes, and just happens to be the one that exhibits the parameters conducive to life. This view faces huge philosophical and scientific problems. Logically, such a view merely pushes back the problem of first cause, and most philosophers recognize the need for a self-existent Being behind either the universe we see or the multiverse we can only speculate. Of equal importance, appeal to an infinite number of universes concedes that on this most important question ('Why is there a universe?') science is impotent. Were there any other universes, we could never find the least bit of evidence for the existence of any of them, according to a simple (and long-known) mathematical theorem (proof).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Circularity of Naturalism

Readers of Sunday's Bend (OR) Bulletin's science section were treated to no less than seven articles describing new research and assuring us that evolutionary biologists have proven that there is no God. Much of the actual research shared in these articles was fascinating, and much of it has real potential for advancing our understanding of the ways things are. Unfortunately, in each case, the authors of the articles and the researchers themselves begin with the uncritical ("faith-based," if I may borrow a term for my own use) acceptance of naturalism and common ancestry (macroevolution). Not only is the real value of the studies lost in a metaphysical mantra ("Evolution is the only God, and Natural Selection is his greatest Prophet"), but the entire project is an exercise in circular reasoning.

Let me give you an example. One of the articles (by Cornelia Dean of the New York Times News Service) is titled "Science of the Soul?" Its thesis can be found in this quote,
The idea that human minds are the product of evolution is "unassailable fact," the journal Nature said... on new findings on the physical basis of moral thought.
(As an aside, I was startled to learn that the journal Nature had evolved to the point of saying things itself; I suspect that the reality is that some individual--an intelligence--actually said these things in the journal Nature, but that citing this nameless someone would not have given us the same sense of authority and credibility as does crediting the journal itself.)

The actual evidence offered to support this bold thesis statement falls far short of doing so. It consists of two sets of observations. One is that feelings (including those from which moral senses seem to arise--empathy, disgust, joy) have a physical component in the brain. The other set of observations is that these sensations and their physical component are not unique to humans but seen also in higher animals, birds and mammals.

This entire article is a thinly-veiled attempt to address the problematic (that is, to naturalistic evolutionists) argument for the existence of God known as the "Moral Argument." The latter says that the only reasonable explanation for the universal moral intuition unique to humans is that there is an ultimate Lawgiver (the Christian version going on to make explicit that humans are uniquely "created in His image"). But theists have always been willing to grant both that higher animals have soulishness--share with us such things as mind, will, and emotion--and that there is a physical basis for these things.

The Christian view is that we are souls who have bodies, and further, that there is an immaterial (spiritual) component to our souls (which likely is not an aspect of the souls of higher animals). The view of naturalistic evolutionists is that all is physical and that there are no immaterial components to reality (whether souls or minds or God or angels). The problem is that this article provides no evidence that would distinguish between these two views, but then adds a great deal of absurd rhetoric claiming a scientific success on behalf of their view.

As is the case with each of the evolutionary articles in Sunday's paper, this one suffers from the fallacy of special pleading, in which only selective evidence is given and contrary evidence suppressed. In another post, I'll share some of the research that has led formerly naturalistic scientists in this very field (brain physiology) to abandon their naturalism and acknowledge the existence of an immaterial soul.

But the point of this post is to demonstrate that evolutionists are so trapped in their faith that they cannot recognize either the limits of their evidences (dealt with above) or the fallacious, circular nature of their reasoning processes. As to the latter, here's another quote from the article:
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.
The problem here is that the author wrongly confuses science (the supposedly objective discipline) with naturalism (the metaphysical or religious philosophy). The statement would be perfectly true if the author redressed this error, and replaced the word 'scientific' with the word 'naturalistic':
There is no credible naturalistic challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.
There are (and always have been) credible scientific challenges to the theory of evolution. But they are inadmissable if we first redefine science to be naturalistic. In tomorrow's post, I'll (once again) show that there is neither an historical, a philosophical, nor a scientific justification for so redefining science. But for now, let me reiterate: to declare in advance that naturalism (physicalism) accurately describes reality, then to offer only naturalistic interpretations of your research, and finally to conclude that you have bolstered the proofs for a naturalistic theory, is nothing more than a self-deluding exercise in circular reasoning.

So watch for it--circular reasoning by evolutionists--coming soon to a newspaper, classroom, or television near you.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Lord's Favor

At Antioch today, we had a guest preacher, Scott Ross, who is preparing a church plant for Redmond, Oregon. He presented a great testimony and a powerful challenge, and I look forward to hearing stories of how God uses Scott and his wife. One of the Scriptures Scott read was from Luke 4, and I want to use this passage as a springboard for some thoughts that relate to my last post (on hypocrisy).

Jesus was in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, early on in His 3-year ministry. He stood up to read, and was handed the scroll of Isaiah. This is what He read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
As all eyes were still upon Him, Jesus then said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus was saying that His ministry was the fulfillment of this prophecy (and a large number of other ancient prophecies). As we learn more about His message, we find that the central teaching of it was that He was here to usher in the kingdom of God. The Isaiah passage included important aspects of that kingdom, and it was all good news. It was a message of the Lord's favor, as He ushered in through Jesus an age of grace and mercy.

So what has this to do with the problem of hypocrisy in the church? I'll get there now. If you check out the Isaiah passage (61:1-2) from which Jesus read that day in Nazareth, it goes on to say
...and the day of vengeance of our God.
Now, I find it significant that Jesus stopped where He did, and didn't include this part of the old prophecy. (Many of His hearers that day would have known the prophecy by heart, and would also have found significance in where He ceased His reading.)

If I understand this aright, we are still living in the age of grace and mercy ushered in by Jesus' incarnation. And yet, ask most non-Christians in our day and culture what Christianity is, and they are likely to say that it's a different, stricter morality that we seek to push on others, even as we fail to live by it ourselves. And the problem is not just our failures, our inconsistencies (and therefore our hypocrisy). The main problem is that we've missed Christ's central message, that we are supposed to be proclaiming not judgment--not God's impending day of vengeance--but mercy--God's present age of grace.

Don't misunderstand me here. I believe that Christians, of all people, need to stand firm on issues of morality, defending the God-given rights (to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) of the unborn and the aged, fighting for justice, truth, and beauty in a culture gone far astray. But what I'm saying is this: that to the extent that we are seen primarily as judgmental rather than gracious and merciful, to that same extent we have failed to accurately proclaim the central message with which Jesus charged us.