Monday, July 28, 2008

Ancient Greek Science

(This post is reprinted from one of my earliest, when I first began blogging.)

Arguably the first important underwater archaeological find was a shipwreck discovered in 1900 off the Aegean Sea island of Antikythera. The ship was Greek, dated from the time of Christ, and carried a wealth of statues and pottery.

Also aboard this ancient ship was a heavily-encrusted instrument, which little-by-little came to be recognized as a navigational device. It wasn't until the 1950's, though, that with x-ray and gamma-ray examination of its internal structure investigators recognized it as a sophisticated instrument that accurately mimicked past, present, and future movements of the sun, moon, and planets. Some early Greek had developed an analog computer 2000 years ago!

Historians of science recognize that several ancient civilizations besides Greece--Mesopotamia, China, India, Egypt, and Islam--made impotant contributions to modern science (especially in mathematics and astronomy, but also in other areas). In the case of each of these cultures, however, such contributions (and the individuals that effected them) were rather anomalous. They weren't followed by further progress, or by a succession of like-minded individuals and similar innovation and advance. Science historian Stanley Jaki has argued that science was "stillborn" in these other cultures. Why?

Worldview. These cultures each had worldview inadequacies, aspects of their overall view of reality that stifled scientific advance. Modern science was conceived, was born, and flourished only within the Judeo-Christian worldview of 16th and 17th century Europe. All of the founders of modern science were either devout Christians (Boyle, Newton, Pascal, Kepler, Bacon, Descartes, Leibnitz, Linnaeus, Mendel, Cuvier, Agassiz, Pasteur, and others) or at least operated within a Christian understanding of reality (Copernicus, Galileo, van Leeuwenhoek, and others).

And this was not just a coincidence. The very philosophical presuppositions that allowed the scientific revolution come from a biblical understanding of the world. What's more, science only makes sense within a theistic--and specifically Christian--worldview. While science can be (and increasingly is) conducted by atheistic naturalists, naturalism fails to provide a rational foundation for science. Naturalists engaging in science do so on capital borrowed from Christian theism.

(The Antikythera Device was in my local paper today, which is what prompted this repost. New research indicates that the device was also used for organizing the calendar with regard to the four-year cycle of the ancient Olympic Games.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spontaneous Generation

Looking for something to do to prepare yourself for celebrating next year's 150th anniversary of Darwin's Origin of Species? I suggest sitting down with a copy of Giuseppe Sermonti's Why is a Fly Not a Horse? It was originally written in Italian, and its title, Dimenticare Darwin, means "Forget Darwin." A geneticist, Sermonti writes interestingly and persuasively about the need to dump Darwinism as completely out of touch with reality and with the latest findings of science. The rest of my post today comes from reading Chapter 1, "Achilles Inspires Redi."*

For many, modern biology had its start when Francesco Redi--in 1688--disproved the notion that the origin of maggots in meat was due to spontaneous generation. He showed experimentally that maggots came to be in meat only when flies were allowed to lay their eggs in it, and generalized his conclusions to all living things--"all life comes from the egg."

But the idea of spontaneous generation did not go away, and has had to be refuted over and over again. Louis Pasteur extended Redi's principle to include the very smallest microbes (which others of his day excluded from Redi's principle), demonstrating that adequate sterilization could prevent the origin of any life. According to Sermonti,
Biology has advanced in status with every new confutation of the spontaneous generation thesis.
Despite, however, the conclusive experimental evidence (of Redi with worms, of Lazzaro Spallanzani with protozoans, of Pasteur with bacteria), belief in spontaneous generation remains a necessary part of Darwinian (and neo-Darwinian) evolutionary theory. Sermonti again...
Darwin, though a great admirer of Pasteur, regretted that the Frenchman had denied spontaneous generation. "If it could be demonstrated," he was to write to Haeckel in 1873, "this would be very important to us."
This led, of course, to the field of origin-of-life studies, of efforts to produce living things in laboratory test tubes, of the zealous teaching of perceived successes (the Miller-Urey experiments) and relative silence about the overarching failures. To this day, however, the spontaneous generation of living things from non-living chemicals remains a necessary corollary of neo-Darwinian evolution, though all of the evidene would lead to an opposite conclusion. Sermonti:
There will be only one way to refute spontaneous generation. That is to take note of the astronomic complexity of the simplest organisms, and to show that the minimum conceivable life form calls for structures so elaborate that no fortuitous accident can bring them all together. But we had to wait until the second half of the twentieth century for the proof.

* The title of this chapter of Sermonti is interesting. What apparently inspired Redi to conduct his experiments was a passage from Homer's Iliad in which Achilles recognizes that maggots arise in a corpse only if flies are allowed access to that corpse. In other words, Homer understood what Greek philosophy, medieval science, and neo-Darwinism did not, that spontaneous generation is not an accurate understanding of the origin of living things.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Church and the Homeless

So, in that last series of posts, I tried to demonstrate that true followers of Christ would be channels of grace to the poor and suffering, whether the homeless and the prisoners in our own communities or the orphans and slaves across the world. What I struggled to articulate in blogland was powerfully shared by a guest speaker at Antioch last Sunday. Mike Yankoski is the author of Under the Overpass, which chronicles his five months living as a homeless person. I highly recommend the book (as life-changing), but for now would first suggest that you hear and see what he shared with us last week. Go here to download either the video or an audio-only version of that sermon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Busy in a Good Way

It's been more difficult to find time to blog lately, but that's been a good thing. It means I've been in the field a good deal, and I love that. What's more, I've been in a number of different habitats most weeks, seeing different trees, different flowers, different mammals, and different birds.

Within the past couple of weeks, what's occupied my time has included a young Swainson's Hawk in Gilliam County, a fledgling Spotted Owl in Jefferson County, a brooding Common Nighthawk and a rare paintbrush in Crook County, Yellow-breasted Chats (for you non-birding types, I'm not making that name up), Black-throated Gray Warblers, a cougar(!), and golden currants in Wheeler County, and White-faced Ibis and a western rattlesnake in Harney County. And that's just confining myself to Oregon. To top it all off, I'm (mostly) getting paid to travel around this great state communing with nature (and its Creator)!

So if a few days go by without a new blog post, don't worry about me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Motivation for Justice

There's one more strange line of reasoning to which I need to respond regarding the issue of Christians and justice...

There are those who jump to the conclusion--when they hear of a church like Antioch being involved in human rights issues--that the motivation for such activity is an effort to earn our own salvation. This, of course, is a non-sequitur: the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. As an argument, it would look like this...
Premise: Christians are showing compassion to the poor and outcast.

Conclusion: These particular Christians must be trying to earn their way to Heaven; they must not understand the grace of God in Christ.
I know, it seems pretty silly when I write it out in its logical form. Nonetheless, this is the sort of thinking engaged in by those Christians skeptical of their brothers and sisters who are active in the area of human rights and social justice.

Obviously, there's an alternative, a quite different motivation for loving others and extending to them grace, mercy, and justice. And that is that we understand Christ's grace and mercy and desire for justice. As His close friend and follower the apostle John had it,
We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
The apostle Paul spelled it out pretty clearly...
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God... For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
In short, God has in Christ adopted us as sons and daughters. Further, He has called us (throughout Scripture) to love and show compassion to others. We therefore do those things in order to obey and to please Him. It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Justice and Eschatology

So, I've been taking issue with the view--popular among the last couple of generations of American evangelicals--that says that doing justice (meeting the needs of the world) has little place in what Christians are called to do. I've been interacting with an author who defends this view (without naming him). Another misconception he has involves eschatology--one's understanding of end-time events, of the ultimate disposition of this planet (among other things).

He discusses two eshatologies (again, as if these were the only options): what he calls Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology. According to that author,
In general, the Covenant churches emphasize social and cultural involvement. The Dispensational churches emphasize evangelizing and discipling people out of the world. The contrast was probably best stated by D.L. Moody, who said, "Don't spend too much time polishing the brass rails on a sinking ship."
For the author in question, Moody was right, Dispensational Theology is right, and that eschatology dictates that we spend little of our time concerning ourselves with issues of justice.

Now, I think there is a great deal that could be argued for the other--Covenant-- view and against the Dispensational one. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that the author is correct--that things in this world are only going to get worse , that the world is a 'sinking ship' and that the "new heavens and new earth" (of Revelation 21) are to be taken concretely. The problem remains that we are not given the time of the end, nor are we given license to ignore all of the biblical mandates to do justice, love our neighbors (and our enemies), and do unto others as we would have them do to us.

Many are the times in the history of the church when things were bleaker than today, times during which Christians had more reason than we to expect the imminent return of Christ because 'things couldn't get much worse.' When barbarian hordes had overrun all of Christian Europe, followers of Christ kept His teachings alive and ministered to their conquerors, eventually winning the right to share with them the good news of Christ's desire for their reconciliation to Him.

When William Wilberforce recognized the inhumanity and cruelty of the British slave trade, he did not consider that the promise of new heavens and a new earth somehow justified his doing nothing to abolish such injustice.

When (again) Europe was overrun by the Nazis, Christians could well have refused to harbor Jews, or to enlist to go to war against the Nazis. Those would have been the sorts of decisions that this eschatological view would have logically produced. Thank God that throughout church history, Christians have not succumbed to the poor reasoning of Moody but have remained at their posts, doing those acts of justice to which God called them.

Indeed, on the view put forth by this author, Martin Luther King, Jr, should have stuck to simply preaching the gospel of eternal salvation and ignored the fact that black people were still being treated as second class citizens.

My point is this... even if Dispensational Theology is the more accurate understanding of Scripture (and I have serious doubts about this), it does not provide justification to disobey the Scripture-wide call upon God's people to do justice, and to have compassion on people (all of whom are made in God's image).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Justice and a False Dichotomy

So here's a question posed by a Christian author who has some of the misunderstandings about justice issues that I mentioned in the last post...
Should the Gospel be defined as receiving Christ or should the Gospel be defined as meeting the needs of the world?
Of course, this represents a false dichotomy. There are certainly more than just these two options and, in fact, neither option is satisfactory. The Jewish men who penned the New Testament would never have defined the great redemptive work accomplished by the Messiah as narrowly as modern evangelicals have. Throughout the history of God's dealings with humanity, His focus was not just on individuals but also on families, tribes, nations, and the world. The same is true of that ultimate act of reconciliation that is the focal point of both human and cosmic history--the atoning death and subsequent resurrection of His sinless, eternal Son.

In defending his own answer (that the Gospel should be defined as receiving Christ), the author grants that we should care for our world and the needy. As part of this admission, he cites Jeremiah 29:7, which says,
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
But if one were more open to the idea that justice is at the heart of God's desire, one could cite a vast number of Scripture passages. One of the most succinct summaries of God's requirement of His people was originally written on stone tablets. This summary included ten commandments (see Exodus 20), five of which deal with man's relationship with God, and five of which deal with man's relationship with one another. Through the prophet Micah (6:8), God spelled out His requirements even more concisely:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Then Jesus Himself was asked what the greatest commandment was and what one must do to inherit eternal life. His response?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
This prompted the question "And who is my neighbor?", to which Jesus explained (through the parable of the "good Samaritan") that anyone in need is our neighbor. If we want it condensed to just one sentence, how about (from Matthew 7:12)...
So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.
In our day, this means that when we find a young girl who has been sold into sex slavery, we do what we can to free her and get her back to her home and a better life.

I cannot imagine how an honest reading of the Bible or of the Gospels could ever lead to reducing the Gospel to merely the future salvation of individual souls. It's as if the 'great commission' ("Go and make disciples") were the only thing Jesus meant for us to remember, and that it somehow annulled all of His other teachings and commands.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Doing Justice

I want to do a couple of intramural posts, on a subject that frankly shouldn't be controversial among Christians. It's the subject of engaging in human rights issues, of doing justice at home and around the world.

At my church, Antioch (of Bend, Oregon, a church plant in October of 2006), we care about such issues of justice. We help feed and clothe the homeless in our own city. We have a partnership with a ministry in Uganda, where we will be adopting a very poor region, helping with providing water and education, and sponsoring children orphaned by AIDS and by rebel attacks. We're helping with efforts to free Nepalese women and girls from sex slavery and to provide them with a new life. One of our number is establishing schools in an earthquake-ravaged region of Pakistan. We're helping women in Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda to make a living for themselves. And the list goes on.

But here's the problem. Believe it or not, there are many Christians who are skeptical of--or even opposed to--such efforts. Both the skepticism and the opposition are ill-founded, and each requires a response. But for now, let me lay out (as best I can) how these Christians tend to articulate their position.

Those skeptical of Christian efforts at justice generally offer one of two justifications. One, they may be confused into thinking that when we say "human rights" we are somehow thinking of abortion rights or homosexual rights. It is, of course, to be regretted that proponents of the homosexual agenda and of abortion-on-demand have successfully hoodwinked the general public--including Christians--into seeing these as issues of human rights. They are not, which is why many blacks take great offense at attempts to equate same-sex marriage activism with the civil rights movement of the 1950's. (But that's another post.)

Second, some Christians equate 'social justice' with liberal churches (those who don't really believe the truth of Christianity) or with secular organizations. Indeed, theologically speaking, some jump to the conclusion that we 'do' human rights thinking to earn our own salvation.

Those Christians opposed to such humanitarian efforts often come from a particular eschatological interpretation, one that says that things will only get worse (and that they can't get much worse than they already are), that Jesus will come back very soon and do away with this Earth and create a new heaven and a new Earth. On this view, the only worthwhile endeavor for the Christian is to evangelize--to teach people that the end is near but that there is salvation for their eternal souls. Thus, any attempts to make living conditions better (for the poor, the orphan, the man dying of AIDS) is like (in the words of D.L. Moody) "polishing the brass railings on a sinking ship."

These, then, are the illogical views that I'll take a stab at addressing in the next few posts.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Regaining Consciousness

Steven asks,
So how does an unconcious human being regain consciousness? Does God work a miracle every time somebody comes out of the operating room? Does God have to remember not to restore consciousness until the anaesthetic wears off, or else people will be able to see a miracle?
I suspect that Steven thinks he's either being clever here, or else coming up with penetrating and difficult questions that somehow jeopardize Moreland's conclusion (see preceding posts) that the origin of consciousness is better explained by Christian theism than by naturalism.

As an aside, it continues to amaze me how often it is the defender of theism who wants to deal with reason and evidence and the person taking the side of materialistic science who tries to bring in theological considerations. The answers to Steven's questions here depend upon one's definition of miracle as well as one's understanding of the degree of God's sovereignty. And these are issues upon which even Christians come to different conclusions.

But none of these questions address the real issue (yes, these too are red herrings), which was the origin of consciousness. In fact, the subject of regaining consciousness further highlights the problems with a materialist view of personhood (and the superiority of the Christian view). Let me offer (in support of this claim) three lines of argument, two evidential and one logical.

There is a vast and growing body of data that clearly demonstrates that the person/mind exists independent of the human body. That is, in cases of lost consciousness or (especially) near-death experiences, the human mind can relate verifiable events from elsewhere that occurred while the unconscious or lifeless body remained in one place. (The best source I know for this sort of evidence is Beyond Death by Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland.)

Another field of research that leads to the same conclusion (that mind/consciousness is independent of or separate from brain) is neurosurgery, specifically brain probing done with a conscious patient. In such cases, the surgeon can cause the patient's toe (say) to move by innervating a particular portion of the brain. The patient will frequently say (in effect), "You did that--it wasn't me." These sorts of results have led many of the leading neurophysiologists to abandon the naturalistic views with which they began and to accept that we are more than just physical beings, that we have a mind/soul/spirit.

Of course, philosophers have been skeptical of the materialist view since long before that skepticism was verified by empirical proofs. Simply put, consciousness and related things (thoughts, memories, desires, emotions) are categorically different than physical things like gray matter, neurons, brain cells. That is, we can--in discussing the latter--refer to their mass, or color, or electrical charge. But such physical characteristics are absurd for describing memories or consciousness.

This is not to say, of course, that our brains (and eyes and ears) have no role to play (at least at present) in our ability to access memories or to articulate sights and sounds. But the fact is (as science is increasingly demonstrating), persons (that is, conscious minds) can see real events while those persons are no longer associated with their bodies. The strangest examples include blind people, some of whose 'minds' acurately desribe events that their sightless eyes would have prevented them from accessing had they still been in their bodies.

The point is, human consciousness exists apart from the human body, a scientific finding that is fatal to a materialist understanding of the world. Steven's facetious attempt at raising the issue of 'lost consciousness' strengthens the theistic view espoused by Moreland in his new book (and weakens the materialist view Steven seems to want to defend).