Friday, November 25, 2005

Head On A Platter

The recent “Brouhaha” has caused me to add my two-cents, perhaps unwisely. A more general look related but not on this topic can be found on JollyBlogger discussing Frame’s paper, Machen’s Warrior Children

I first come to “know” Phil many years ago. (although he doesn’t know me from spit) I spent quite a few hours lurking on IRC (circa 1993 and later) watching him and David Ponter logically disassemble challengers’ arguments. At that time, although I had regularly attended a typical Southern Baptist church all of my life, I had never, and I mean NEVER, considered that Christianity may be intellectually stimulating. I was quite new to the whole idea of the Doctrines of Grace and in no small measure ignorant of any kind of systematic theology. Inevitably this led me to repeatedly and unwisely break from the lurking, pop my head up to disagree; only to have it unceremoniously handed back to me on a platter. Were they gentle? No! Were polite? No! Was I as mad as a hornet? Yup! Were they correct? Well…let me put it this way… in my quest to learn enough to prove them wrong (a quest consuming years), I was usually persuaded to most of their views in my searching of the Scriptures.

What have I learned from this? How should we contend for those things that we believe? How do we properly respond to correction from other Christians?
  1. First and foremost, submit to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Do not persist in defending you position for pride’s sake when you know you are wrong.
  2. If you are clearly academically outclassed, you would be best served to spend some time studying the scriptures. It is pointless to debate from a position of ignorance unless it is an exercise for learning with an elder or a mentor who you are being discipled by.
  3. Don’t be a candy-britches that can’t cope with a little contention. Our culture has so feminized itself that a good wrestling match among brothers is viewed as “violence” rather than iron sharpening iron. Skip the pop-psychology teachings of conflict avoidance/resolution and concentrate on the Biblical concept of constructive controlled expression, while avoiding unbridled passion. See my post on Christian Anger
  4. Over the years you will find, in your searching of the scriptures, that certain individuals, authors, and teachers will demonstrate themselves to be exceptionally trustworthy in understanding Scripture; deviate from their path with extreme caution, especially if you have not mastered the subject at least as well as they have.
  5. If you are forced because of time or inability to rely upon another’s scholarship that you have found trustworthy, do not do your cause a disservice by engaging opponents that you are clearly not equipped to debate.
  6. Our pride and our actions are not worthy of contentious defense. Scriptural truths are. If you find yourself defending yourself rather than Scriptural truths, humility is probably the best course of action. Often conceding offense and making an apology for ones actions is preferred, even if you had not acted inappropriately.
  7. If a brother’s behavior or actions are unjustly maligned, be quick to defend him so that he does not have to. If he is being justly accused, your silence will speak volumes. If the brother is particularly close, work for his restoration.
  8. Naturally, we have an affinity for and seek to defend those who have mentored or discipled us in a powerful way. What we all too often forget is that “the master” can take care of himself, and we end up doing more harm than good.
  9. When we find ourselves in a debate with someone who has mentored or discipled large numbers of people over and extended period of years (i.e. James White), they will necessarily have less spiritually mature disciples who will seek to defend them. Remember, they are not your target or concern. Convince “the master” and his disciples will follow. You are unlikely to “convert” them by direct confrontation and it takes your emphasis away from the task at hand. Rest assured that they are closely following the debate between you and their mentor.
  10. And finally, correct those you mentor if they become too rancorous.

I realize that Phil Johnson is only at the periphery of this “Brouhaha” and this post is not intended as a commentary on his actions or anyone’s in particular. I am using this post to demonstrate that through contentious debate, in spite of the immediate tension, that fruit of the spirit is produced. I am using my experience with Phil as an example of how, even though I was as mad as the bloody blue blazes at him, Christian contention is a refiner’s fire. It may make us uncomfortable and temporarily separate us, but over the long run God is using it to grow the church, of this we can be sure.

I am sure that Phil has no idea of the lives he has touched. He probably doesn’t get to hear very often that the Lord extends the work He does through him beyond his wildest imagination. Even though I am sure that Phil would/will unceremoniously hand me my head on a platter in the future, I feel greatly indebted to him for all that he has unknowingly taught me. For better or worse, I guess you could call me one of Pyromaniac’s Warrior Children…

Thursday, November 24, 2005

IDiots and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The biggest smirks in society today are on the faces of participants in the rhetoric of ridicule known as the "Flying Spaghetti Monster." We should not let this dishearten us; it is something from which we should gain encouragement and confidence. The very fact that the most popular and influential defense of the naturalistic theory of origins is a pop culture fad reminiscent of juvenile schoolyard taunts is evidence of which side of the debate will likely have the last laugh.

As further evidence for encouragement, even when the an attempt is made to intellectually defend naturalistic origins (cosmological and biological) it is done in such a shrill, mean, hateful manner that the argument is obscured by the explosive behavior from the Darwinian Jihad. The tenor of Darwinian Fundamentalists has become so rancorous that many are beginning to doubt the credibility of the priests of the Darwinian religion. In fact, the childishness, overt deceptions, and intentional mischaracterizations, and lack of intellectual dialogue have been so commonplace that elements of pop culture have even noticed. For example: Scott Adams, who specifically said he is not a believer in Intelligent Design, said over at the DilbertBlog:
    I’ve been doing lots of reading on the subject, trying to gather comic fodder. I fully expected to validate my preconceived notion that the Darwinists had a mountain of credible evidence and the Intelligent Design folks were creationist kooks disguising themselves as scientists. That’s the way the media paints it. I had no reason to believe otherwise. The truth is a lot more interesting. Allow me to set you straight.

Dean Esmay, a self avowed atheist and science geek over at Dean’s World, said:
    Adams, who appears to be about as religious as a bowl of Cheerios, recently committed the crime of being less than absolutely condemning of the idea of Intelligent Design, and, even worse, of suggesting that maybe they raised some valid points worth considering. He was, predictably, avalanched with ugly criticism.

Click here for More Fallout from Scott Adams’ ID Post

The failure to recognize the Intelligent Design proponents as serious intellectual challengers will only serve to inhibit the humanistic evolutionists from mounting an intellectual response. The use of the rhetoric of ridicule and the law as a bludgeon has had its short term successes in shaping political debate; don't knock the mock. Nonetheless, it always fails to “move armies or pull down empires. Intelligent design is already more than a simple matter of academic speculation, it has matured well past being a mere scientific hypothesis and is well on its way (if not already) a genuine scientific theory.

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that Scott Adams also directed his statements at the proponents of Intelligent Design. Even if he is “just a comic strip artist,” we have to take heed of what he says because most of what he says is correct. He says:
    To me, the most fascinating aspect of the debate over Darwinism versus Intelligent Design is that neither side understands the other side’s argument. Better yet, no one seems to understand their own side’s argument. But that doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.

Here is some direction that I would like to leave you with. It is what I believe we should understand about this topic and some of how we need to precede to be relevant and creditable.
    Now we Reformed Christians are wholly in earnest about the Bible. We are people of the Word; Sola Scriptura is our cry; we take Scripture to be a special revelation from God himself, demanding our absolute trust and allegiance. But we are equally enthusiastic about reason, a God-given power by virtue of which we have knowledge of ourselves, our world, our past, logic and mathematics, right and wrong, and God himself; reason is one of the chief features of the image of God in us. And if we are enthusiastic about reason, we must also be enthusiastic about contemporary natural science, which is a powerful and vastly impressive manifestation of reason.

    To think about it properly, one must obviously know a great deal of science. On the other hand, the question crucially involves both philosophy and theology: one must have a serious and penetrating grasp of the relevant theological and philosophical issues. And who among us can fill a bill like that? Certainly I can't. The scientists among us don't ordinarily have a sufficient grasp of the relevant philosophy and theology; the philosophers and theologians don't know enough science; consequently, hardly anyone is qualified to speak here with real authority. This must be one of those areas where fools rush in and angels fear to tread. Whether or not it is an area where angels fear to tread, it is obviously an area where fools rush in.
    - Alvin Plantinga

We need for our theologians and philosophers to more diligently pursue the study of science. We need for our scientist to more diligently study philosophy and especially theology. We need to learn not only how to construct an argument, but the purposes, responsibilities, and consequences of engaging in one. Ours should be a rhetoric of logic, humbly applied to an area where we cannot foolishly rush in, even if we are reasonably well informed.

Finally, as a simple hillbilly southern boy (actually more redneck than hillbilly), I know full well the power of being underestimated and the ridicule that comes with it. My advice is to own it, enjoy it, and use it.

Viva la FSM!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Nonrational Fantasy World of Experience

Atheism (a=lack of or negation, theism=belief in God/gods) is a lack of belief in a God or gods.

The atheist either denies that there is a God or gods (strong atheism), or denies that there is a ground for theism (weak atheism).

Atheism is not about knowledge, but about belief. The strong atheist simply believes that it is impossible for there to be a god. The weak atheist believes that unless theism can be proved in some way then atheism is the preferred position. Weak atheism is sometimes confused with agnosticism; this is a natural conclusion because in application and practice there is little difference. The word agnosticism is derived from the Greek a- (negation) and -gnosis (knowledge). Simply put, an agnostic is one who says: "I don't know".

Both weak atheism and agnosticism are victims of the logical fallacy called “Appeal to Ignorance.” An appeal to ignorance is an argument for or against a proposition on the basis of a lack of evidence against or for it. If there is positive evidence for the conclusion, then of course we have other reasons for accepting it, but a lack of evidence by itself is no evidence.

The atheist will sometimes try to wiggle out of this difficulty by claiming that it is reasonable to argue from a lack of evidence for a proposition to the falsity of that proposition, when there is a presumption that the proposition is false.. Likewise, sometimes the atheist will try reason from premises about what one knows and what one would know if something were true. Clearly, both of these arguments quickly degenerate into circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is any form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premises, or a chain of arguments in which the final conclusion is a premise of one of the earlier arguments in the chain. Usually, an argument begs the question when it assumes any controversial point not conceded by the other side. In this case, “what one would know if God exists.”

Another tactic the atheist will use is to claim an omniscient completeness of information or make the assumption of reasonably complete information. This is often called the "closed world assumption". Obviously, the claim of omniscient completeness is without merit because claiming omniscience presupposes oneself to be a god. However, when it is reasonable to accept the “closed world assumption”, it may not be a fallacy of appeal to ignorance to reason this way. But when is it reasonable to accept the “closed world assumption?” This assumption can only be validly made when the boundaries of the system or “world” being observed can be clearly delineated and external factors isolated. Certainly, it is difficult if not impossible to clearly delineate, without presupposing the thesis, the boundaries of the universe or isolate it from external factors, i.e. God. As weak as this tactic is, the methodological naturalist understands it is the most stable sand upon which he can build his foundation and place his faith in.

In the words of Paul Draper, naturalism is “the hypothesis that the physical universe is a ‘closed system’ in the sense that nothing that is neither a part nor a product of it can affect it. So naturalism entails the nonexistence of all supernatural beings, including the theistic God.”

If upon this sand is where the methodological naturalist wishes to build his religious home, then upon it they must stand to face the storms of conflicts, paradox, and dilemmas that accompany it.

Van Wylen and Sonntag, in the college textbook Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics say:

    The final point to be made is that the second law of thermodynamics and the principle of the increase of entropy have philosophical implications. Does the second law of thermodynamics apply to the universe as a whole? Are there processes unknown to us that occur somewhere in the universe, such as “continual creation,” that have a decrease in entropy associated with them, and thus, offset the continual increase in entropy that is associated with the natural processes that are known to us? If the second law is valid for the universe (we of course do not know if the universe can be considered as an isolated system), how did it get in the state of low entropy? On the other end of the scale, if all processes known to us have an increase in entropy associated with them, what is the future of the natural world as we know it?

    Quite obviously it is impossible to give conclusive answers to these questions on the basis of the second law of thermodynamics alone. However, we see the second law of thermodynamics as a description of the prior and continuing work of a creator, who also holds the answer to our future destiny and that of the universe.

Of course, as stridently as many modern scientists claim to hold fast to that shifting sand, they know, and all of society unconsciously knows, that they have lost their logical moorings. The only escape is an escape from reason and that is what they have done. Francis Schaeffer explains this best in the book Escape from Reason:

Man is dead. God is dead. Life has become meaningless existence, man a cog in a machine. The only way of escape lies in a nonrational fantasy world of experience, drugs, absurdity, pornography, an elusive "final experience," madness...

A million so-called scientists can in irrational rage continue to ridicule and claim with authority that Intelligent Design is not science, but that does nothing to justify their own religion of self worship.

"In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual." [Galileo Galilei]

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is Christianity Rational?

Book and GlassesThere are two incorrect ways to look at Christian doctrine. One is to take an anti-intellectual approach; the other is to take an overly rigid rational approach

Unfortunately, too many modern Christians have made it all too easy for "evangelical humanists" to level the charge against Christianity of being irrational. I addressed this problem in a previous post called Battling Evangelical Anti-Intellectualism

Anti-Intellectualism has become the scandal of evangelicalism. Over the course of two hundred years, it has gradually become part and parcel of our evangelical identity. Yet today the failure to love God with our minds as well as our hearts is not only a sin - it’s a crippling cultural handicap in an age when ideas have greater consequences than ever.- Os Guiness

Fortunately, it has not always been this way. The Puritans in the early period of America were renowned for their impeccable logic and a scholastic emphasis that permeated to every person in society. They considered religion a very complex, subtle, and highly intellectual affair, and their leaders (both Civil and Religious) thus were highly trained scholars.

In fact, the most educated and best-informed scientists in history have been humble believers in the Scriptures (e.g., Francis Bacon, Copernicus, Sir Isaac Newton, Pascal, Pasteur, Kepler, Thomas Bayes, and others). For these great thinkers, the search for the laws of nature and understanding a rational order was an act of devotion that would reveal the glory and grandeur of God’s work. This is the paradigm for the great majority of all scientific discovery, even today.

However, the overly rigid rational approach is not a proper Christian perspective either. It is wrong and intellectually arrogant to think that we can explain every aspect of Christian doctrine. There are some things that are simply beyond our finite, human ability to grasp or understand, to speak nothing of our fallen nature which has corrupted our ability to always possess perfect reason. That is not to say that we can or should accept paradox, but we must, at times recognize those things which are a mystery. In a previous article I have stated that two ways to gain knowledge are through reason and experience, a third method is from the Bible. God reveals himself in us, being created in his image (a priori). He reveals himself in nature which we can search out via objective scientific observation/evidence (a posteriori). And finally he reveals himself in the Holy Scripture, the truth of which he confirms to us directly by the Holy Spirit.

When we find ourselves confronted with a mystery, it is at those times that we must cling to the Scriptures. Sola Scriptura! Monergism List of Articles

Colossians 2 (ESV)
1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

You see, the proper Christian view is a balanced one. It is humble and does not claim to "know-it-all." But the Christian faith is not irrational, nor is it anti-rational. It does not go against reason, but it does sometimes go beyond it.

Nonetheless, even without Scripture or the work of the Holy Spirit, the honest person must admit that while the there is more reason to believe in Christianity’s core doctrines than not to believe.

C.S. Lewis perhaps said it best: "the weight of the evidence" for mere Christianity--Christianity's core doctrines--is on the side of the Christian.

Bottom line: Christianity is overwhelmingly the most rational system of belief (or unbelief) in this world. Ours is a reasoned faith. It is not a blind faith but is, in fact, faith in based in reason, evidence, and revelation.

Next Post: The irrationality and the increasing irrationality of the post-modern scientific faith: methodological naturalism.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Side Note From Yesterday's Topic: Abortion

Nascar BabyIn the epistemological discussion posted yesterday, there are some truths that arise that I wanted to post today as a side note:

As discussed yesterday, we know that rational knowledge exists before experience. Assuming that someone with no experience could exist, we still could not say that they had no knowledge. The possession of knowledge necessarily implies that the person has existence. Therefore, it cannot be said that just because an individual does not or has not yet experienced the world that the he is not a person, does not exist, or is not alive.

These truths are monumental when you consider abortion. It is with certainty that we can know that if a fetus reacts to his environment, then he is alive, because to react you must be able to perceive, and to perceive implies empirical experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Intelligent Design, Science, & Epistemology

Mankind has sought knowledge since the very beginning. Like never before in history, people seek to understand the world around them. Unlike ever before in history, many people simply seek to add to some segment of the 'body of knowledge' without seeking an overall understanding of it. To begin to understand, we must first ask: What is knowledge? What do we really know for sure? Can we ever know something to be absolutely true?

Knowledge based on reason, such as mathematical truths (e.g. 2+2=4) can be said to be absolutely true. They are true by definition or by epistemological necessity. Philosophers refer to these truths as rational or a priori truths, meaning that they are true prior to experience. These statements can take the form of two equal sides, like an equation, as in the statement "A bachelor is a male and unmarried". They may also take the form of describing properties of a definable or theoretic concept, such as 'all triangles have three sides'. The equation or logical construct itself is a form of knowledge which is necessary for the definition to make any sense at all.

Again, knowledge based upon correct reasoning is absolutely true and cannot be otherwise. It is significant that we could not say this of something we empirically observe in the world. We could not say 'All bachelors are bald' and know it to be true. Even if we could examine every living bachelor we could not say that the statement is true, because we cannot examine every bachelor that ever was or ever will be. Thus, because we can know rational truths without having to experience or empirically verify them in the world, then by definition, they give us a foundational structure to deal with the world as we experience it.

The source of rational knowledge is independent of experience and these truths remain equally true whether an individual is aware of them or not. However, we can learn by experience, and as such experience is another source of knowledge. However, experience is a less reliable teacher because there is always the possibility for statements from experience to be false. Philosophers call these statements empirical or a posteriori truths, meaning true after experience. Plato called them a "true belief" and did not even ascribe them the level of truth.

Rational knowledge provides the structure, empirical knowledge provides content. Knowing rational truths gives us reliability and certainty. We can expand rational truths and use them as tools, for example if we know A=B, and B=C, then we necessarily know that A=C. However, while these truths provide us with much general information, they provide very little precise information about the world in which we live. Because of this, the empiricist says that rational truths are of little relevance in day to day living. This ignores the fact that any empirical truth is foundationally based upon rational truths and how a person lives his life. If all a person wants to do is get through the day and does not care how he is blown about by the winds of every fad philosophy or manipulated by the authors of popular culture, then rational truth indeed matters little.

Experience allows us to survive, acquire skills and to hone those skills as we gain more and more experience in using them. However, whilst experience has great utility, it does not explain the scale of human knowledge compared to animals that experience the world.

Granted, there is relatively little that we can know based upon pure reason alone. As a source of knowledge the strength of rational statements lies in reliability and predictability, but not in breadth or applicability. However, when we look not just at single rational statements, but at rational arguments (premise + premise = conclusion) we can see that the logic/reason is immensely useful. For example, if the premises are not true then, even though the construct is rational and logical, the argument remains false. This methodology allows us to perform logical operations on our empirical knowledge and in doing so arrive at potentially new knowledge. Also, empirical experience allows us to test the truth of logical arguments.

Full knowledge comprises both rational and empirical knowledge and thus is not complete without both of its parts. While we can conclude that reason is the stronger/foundational source for knowledge, it must be stated that complete knowledge must come from both sources because they are inextricably linked in the acquisition, storing, manipulation, and use of additional knowledge. Therefore, by applying rational and logical methods to experience we can accelerate the acquisition of empirical knowledge.

This is the approach taken in science. The scientific method involves making a logical prediction based upon previous observations. We do not know that it is true, but we can test this hypothesis with further experience. In order to record and communicate this experience logical systems or mathematical models are used to describe the experience, for example by applying a mathematical formula to match the results of an experiment.

Intelligent design involves making a logical prediction for an intelligent designer of biological organisms based upon previous observations of manifestations of irreducible complexity and specified Shannon information (concept in information theory). The prediction that an intelligent designer is uniquely responsible for certain types of order found in complex systems can be and has been proven countless times with items all around us. Enough proofs that anyone should be able to legitimately call the hypothesis a "theory." Nonetheless, even a hypothesis is certainly a valid scientific concept that should be taught and scientifically considered. Clearly, the intelligent design approach is undeniably "science."

The honest scientist cannot dismiss ID by ridicule or the logical fallacy of authority. He must deal with the problem both rationally and empirically.

First, the methodological naturalist must deal with logical inconsistency of his own beliefs. He subscribes to a deterministic world-view in which the universe is nothing but a chain of meaningless events following one after another according to the law of cause and effect. This world-view gives rise to the logical inconsistency of the inability to posit a first cause. Furthermore, he rejects any form of metaphysical volition which undermines the ability to think or do anything other than that which physical and chemical processes determined anything he thinks or does. This logical inconsistency undermines rationality itself.

Second, Methodological naturalism lacks empirical foundations for an evolutionary progress emerging from undirected random events. Nowhere in nature can it be proven that specified and irreducible complexity has come about by anything other than direct influence by intelligence. In fact, the opposite is universally found. Without the influence of intelligent interaction, order naturally proceeds to disorder and a lower energy state. (I actually had a Ph.D. physicist say to me, the evolutionary process is directed by undirected random events.)

Third, the modern form of strictly empirical scientific investigation into nature is plagued by an inevitable confusion over a central philosophical issue, that of knowledge. By rejecting absolute truths derived from a priori rational knowledge, they necessarily reject the very foundations of the scientific method.

However, the Christian cannot be satisfied by simply demonstrating how "unscientific" that methodological naturalism is. We must test our hypothesis/theory. We must document, record, and communicate this experience with logical systems and mathematical models. We must demonstrate the validity and repeatability of our mathematical models by predicting the results of future experiments.

The price for our ignorance of these subjects will be more than cultural ridicule and irrelevance; it almost certainly means severe judgment from our Sovereign Lord, Himself. The Scriptures are very clear concerning the price of ignorance. The prophet Hosea said that God’s people perish for lack of knowledge.

Hosea 4:6