At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available
evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy—the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic—that most resembles a virus?
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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Thursday, April 02, 2015
These questions have become centrally important in recent days as the furor continues to pour forth from Indiana's passage of their Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The statute is modeled on the versions passed overwhelmingly by the Federal government and signed into law by Bill Clinton, yet detractors state the Indiana law is a license to discriminate against homosexual patrons. Such a leap hasn't ever happened in all the other states that have similar laws, but such trivialities seem to matter not to those who are outraged.
However, if the RFRA is a bad idea, then how do you fight against it? In previous years, we had a word we used for one who thoughtfully approached his choices. We would call someone who exhibited good judgment a discriminating man. When seeking to resist bad ideas, one can become a discriminating individual. You may choose to not patronize an establishment who holds the idea with which you disagree. Or perhaps as a business owner you may choose to no do business where it could imply that you support such an idea. Tim Cook seems to feel the Apple boycott of the state of Indiana is his right because he simply standing for "what is just and fair." He is being a discriminating man in his business choices.
Ideas versus PeopleBut here's the thing in all this. There is a difference between discriminating against ideas and discriminating against people. Ideas have merit based on their claims and how they best represent the world. Sane people should always discriminate when weighing ideas. We need to know the facts and we need to see if the idea plays out the way it is said to play out. There may be ideas that are bad and there may be ideas that are evil.
But there is a real difference between being discriminating and being a discriminator. The charge of discrimination carries with it the concept that you are excluding a group for no good reason. It is an unwarranted bias that drives your selection. That's a big difference from being selective about ideas based on their merits. The difference between being discriminating and being a bigot are vast, but those differences are getting lost in the Indiana controversy.
Who's discriminating now?As I laid out the attributes of being discriminating above, they could be equally applied to those who support the RFRA as well. What if legislation that undercuts religious freedom is the bad idea that needs to be fought against? What if the business owner isn't Tim Cook but a photographer or baker that simply doesn't want to be forced to participate in an event with which he doesn't agree? Where is the difference?
People should have the right to discriminate against ideas; otherwise there would be on recourse left to us whereby we can fight the bad ones. Don't mix that up with bigotry. The two are wholly different.
Monday, March 30, 2015
There's No Escaping BiasThe charge of bias is an easy one to make, but because an author is biased doesn't mean we can't have a certain level of assurance that the events he described did indeed happen. We are all biased in our views; there's no way to escape bias on one type or another. Mike Licona notes that it is common practice for those who record history to "select data because of their relevance to the particular historian, and these become evidence for the building the historian's case for a particular hypothesis."3 Licona compares such actions with a detective as a crime scene who "survey all of the data and select specific data which become evidence as they are interpreted within the framework of a hypothesis. Data that are irrelevant to that hypothesis are archived or ignored. Historians work in the same manner."4 There's no escaping bias.
Bias Doesn't Mean UnreliableEven though all ancient historians had a bias, it doesn't mean that their writings are unreliable or useless. Indeed, if we were to reject ancient historical sources because with writers were biased, we would have to reject pretty much all the accounts of history that have been left to us by folks like Josephus, Herodotus, Pliny, Lucian, and every other author from antiquity. The ancient historian Lucian himself complained about the lack of emphasis one person gave to a significant battle in his memoirs. In his The Way to Write History, he levels charges of bias when he complains, "There are some, then, who leave alone, or deal very cursorily with, all that is great and memorable… and loiter over copious laboured descriptions of the veriest trifles… For instance, I have known a man get through the battle of Europus in less than seven whole lines, and then spend twenty mortal hours on a dull and perfectly irrelevant tale about a Moorish trooper." 5
Because the gospel accounts of Jesus are seen today by most scholars as a subset of the ancient biography genre (known as bioi)6, each Gospel writers would have selected certain accounts of Jesus's life and actions to pursue a particular point. Richard Burridge, whom Licona quotes, states the Gospels "have at least as much in common with Greco-Roman [bioi], as the [bioi] have with each other."7 Licona states that for biographies in antiquity:
Each biographer usually had an agenda in writing. Accordingly, they attempted to persuade readers to a certain way of political, philosophical, moral, or religious thinking about the subject. Just as with many contemporary historical Jesus scholars, persuasion and factual integrity were not viewed as being mutually exclusive. It was not an either/or but a both.8The question of bias isn't then will any kind of bias will appear in historical narratives, but whether the writers were so biased that they unreasonably or intentionally distort the events they record. Licona sums up the Gospel writers' motives by quoting David Anne, who states: "While the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adopt the Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicated that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened."9
It doesn't follow that just because the authors of the gospels were Christians that they were going to be liars any more than it follows that the man who spent some twenty hours describing a Moorish trooper was lying to Lucian. One who assumes so shows his or her own bias against the Gospel records.
2. Martin,1991. 78.
3. Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 34.
4. Licona, 34.
5. Fowler, H. W., and F. G. Fowler. "The Way to Write History." Works of Lucian, Vol. II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1905. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl2/wl210.htm.
6. Licona, 202.
7. Licona, 203.
8. Licona, 203.
9. Licona, 204.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The plea came in from a girl who was taking a required undergrad English course where the professor assigned an analysis of the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, which presents a fictionalized account of the famous Scopes "Monkey" Trial held in Tennessee thirty years earlier. For those of you that don't know, substitute teacher John Scopes was put on trial for violating Tennessee's Butler Act, a law prohibiting any state-funded school from teaching that "man has descended from a lower order of animals."1
Inherit the Wind – Not HistoryThe play (and the subsequent 1960 movie with Spencer Tracy) proved immensely popular at the time. However, there are some real problems with the events in the way the play presents them. While the broad points are the same, the play changes so many details that the authors acknowledged their play isn't history. In the play's preface they wrote:
Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely its own.While this disclaimer may help, I don't think it makes things clear enough. Most people don't realize just how slanted and biased the caricatures are in the play when one compares it to the real-life events. Therefore, I would like to take a bit of time to explore some of the misconceptions that usually occur when the play or movie is viewed.
Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the actual transcript of the famous Scopes Trial. Some of the characters of the play are related to the colorful figures in that battle of giants; but they have life and language of their own - and, therefore, names of their own.2
Inherit the Wind – How the Bias ShowsIn both the play and the film, Christianity and its proponents are nothing more than straw men that authors Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee knock down with ease. Lawrence and Lee state, "Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as 'Not long ago.' It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow."3 Lawrence in an interview stated the motivation for writing the play wasn't religion versus evolution, but the intellectual stifling he saw in the anti-Communist movements of the 1940s and 1950s, ""We used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control. It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."4 Yet, it's more than clear that Lawrence and Lee place those who hold to something other than an evolutionary account of human origins into the "mind control" camp. For example, take two characters Lawrence and Lee create who didn't exist in the actual trial, Reverend Brown and his daughter Rachel, who is engaged to the Scopes character, named Cates in the play. During the play, Rachel, explains "You see, I haven't really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think, so it seemed safer not to think at all" but then sees that she must change and begin to see things Cates's way.
In her very comprehensive article that takes down many of the foibles in the play, Carol Iannone observes "While Inherit the Wind remains faithful to the broad outlines of the historical events it portrays, it flagrantly distorts the details, and neither the fictionalized names nor the cover of artistic license can excuse what amounts to an ideologically motivated hoax."5
Inherit the Wind – More Factual ErrorsOther factual errors abound, and all of them are strategically created to make those who want the Butler Act upheld to look bad. Dr. Richard M. Cornelius, who is one of the foremost experts on the Scopes trial wrote the book William Jennings Bryan, The Scopes Trial, and Inherit the Wind. Below, he provides a quick overview of some of the pore egregious errors perpetrated by the play:
Here are some of the instances where Inherit the Wind differs from the historical facts of the trial record and the events surrounding it. (For convenience, the names of the historical characters which the play supposedly involves are used.)6
Tomorrow, I will explore the background behind the original trial and show why it isn't the draconian groupthink it's portrayed to be.
- The trial originated not in Dayton but in the New York offices of the American Civil Liberties Union, for it was this organization that ran an announcement in Tennessee newspapers, offering to pay the expenses of any teacher willing to test the new Tennessee anti-evolution law.
- When a group of Dayton leaders decided to take advantage of this offer, their main reason was not so much defense of religion as it was economics, for they saw the trial as a great means of publicity that would attract business and industry to Dayton.
- Others responsible for the trial were the media, who worked hard to persuade Bryan and Darrow to participate in the trial.
- John T. Scopes was not a martyr for academic freedom. Primarily a coach of three sports, he also taught mathematics, physics, chemistry, and general science. He agreed to help test the law even though he could not remember ever teaching evolution, having only briefly substituted in biology. He was never jailed, nor did he ever take the witness stand in the trial. The people of Dayton liked him, and he cooperated with them in making a test case of the trial.
- William Jennings Bryan was not out to get Scopes. Bryan thought the Tennessee law a poor one because it involved fining an educator, and he offered to pay Scopes' fine if he needed the money.
- Bryan was familiar with Darwin's works, and he was not against teaching evolution—if it were presented as a theory, and if other major options, such as creationism, were taught.
- The trial record discloses that Bryan handled himself well, and when put on the stand unexpectedly by Darrow, defined terms carefully, stuck to the facts, made distinctions between literal and figurative language when interpreting the Bible, and questioned the reliability of scientific evidence when it contradicted the Bible. Some scientific experts at the trial referred to such "evidence" of evolution as the Piltdown man (now dismissed as a hoax).
- The defense's scientific experts did not testify at the trial because their testimony was irrelevant to the central question of whether a law had been broken, because Darrow refused to let Bryan cross-examine the experts, and because Darrow did not call on them to testify. But 12 scientists and theologians were allowed to make statements as part of the record presented by the defense.
- The topic of sex and sin did not come up in the trial. Neither did Bryan believe that the world was created in 4004 B.C. at 9 a.m.
- Instead of Bryan being mothered by his wife, he took care of her, for she was an invalid.
- Scopes was found guilty partly by the request of Darrow, his defense lawyer, in the hope that the case could be appealed to a higher court.
2. Lawrence, Jerome, Robert Edwin Lee, and Alan Woods. The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1995. Print. 9.
3. Lawrence, Lee, and Woods. 1995.
4. "Garfield Center Announces Open Auditions for Inherit the Wind." The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre. Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. http://www.garfieldcenter.org/garfield-center-announces-open-auditions-for-inherit-the-wind/.
5. Iannone, Carol. "The Truth About Inherit the Wind." First Things. First Things, Feb. 1997. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. http://www.firstthings.com/article/1997/02/002-the-truth-about-inherit-the-wind--36.
6. "Inherit the Wind" (2002). Theatre Productions. Book 25. http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/theatre_productions/25
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
What is a bias?Just what is a bias? The word has become associated with the concept of prejudice or, as Wikipedia puts it, the inclination to "hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view."1 Yet, that's not the only definition of what bias is. Bias can be any leaning or predisposition towards a point of view as the Oxford English Dictionary definition notes.2 In other words, anyone who leans towards one position over another in any field will have some kind of bias. But that isn't a bad thing. For example, Jonas Salk had a belief that the same approach to developing an influenza vaccine could be applied to polio, even though prior polio vaccination attempts had been disastrous, causing paralysis and even death in those who had taken it.3 Salk assembled a team and worked for seven years creating a dead-virus version of the vaccine that ultimately proved hugely successful, and it was Salk's bias towards the vaccine method that drove him to keep trying.
It makes sense that bias would be necessary for advancement in a field like medicine. It is simply unreasonable for a person who after years of study and research and to remain neutral and uncommitted about his or her specialty. We expect experts in their field to have some bias towards certain theories or procedures. Bias in this sense is a good thing. As Robin Collins puts it:
Not every bias distorts: some biases can help us decided ahead of time what's worth paying attention to and what is not… I am biased against the possibility that the number of puppies in a litter has anything to do with the number of legs the father has, so I would never pay anyone money to study what the relationship is."4
The myth of being "bias-free."Of course, the corollary to the "bias is always bad" myth is that there are certain disciplines that are somehow bias-free. Folks assume that journalistic standards or the scientific method can provide unbiased observations about the world. This simply isn't true, either. I've written before about how one man's bias became scientific dogma that we are only now finding to be false. His resilience influenced other scientists, and his bias was accepted as the scientific consensus, shaping national dietary guidelines and doctor recommendations for some fifty years. That's just one example. In any experiment, one cannot measure every aspect of a scenario, so scientists look to measure the "relevant" factors and exclude any "irrelevant" ones. But it is one's previous biases, as with Collins' dog litter example above, that shape what one considers relevant. Thus, he notes "Some biases can distort: people who think that all human behavior can be explained by our genes have a bias that blinds them to moral realities. So, we cannot promise that science is without bias; and we have to assess—by critical thinking—whether that leads to sound or unsound conclusions."5
Looking for the truth valueSo, bias is not the determining factor in finding out truth. Some biases, like Salk's, help us to discover new things. Others are unwarranted and lead us away from the truth. The big question is the one Collins asked: can we use our critical reasoning to weigh these things and determine if the biased are appropriate or simply prejudice? That means examining the facts, something that tends to be missing from the conversations of those who seek to shut you down with the simplistic objection of "you're just biased."
2. "Bias." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, Jan. 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18564?rskey=S5Ld2w&result=1#eid.
3. Brodie, M., and W. H. Park. "Active Immunization Against Poliomyelitis." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 105.14 (1935): 1089-093. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1154662.
4. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
5. Collins, 2003. 31.
Image "Research Bias" courtesy Boundless.com and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.
Tuesday, February 03, 2015
Become an Educated ObjectorOne of the first pieces of advice the article offers is that atheists seeking to defend their view is to:
Educate yourself. The key to reasoning with someone is to understand their position as well as your own. Read everything you can about atheism, Christian apologetics and religious history. A number of Christians, for example, don't know the origins of their religion outside of a biblical context so having an understanding of the history can be beneficial.1I think this is actually a good piece of advice. I have too many times run across people who object to my beliefs but hold to a caricature of both Christianity’s history and what the Christian faith teaches. Historic claims such as religion is the cause of most wars, Christianity expanded through violence, Christians in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat, and the supposed pagan origins of Christmas and Easter can all be dismissed if one were to dig into the historical sources.
Asking people to read about not just atheism but also Christian apologetics and religious history is proper and important. I would add, though, that in order for this task to be effective one shouldn’t limit themselves to atheist authors and what they have said regarding those subjects. Read about Christian apologetics by reading the articles of Christian apologists. Find religious history articles by religious historians. Go to the sources. I have read popular atheists like Carrier, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Peter Boghossian, but I’ve also read sophisticated works by David Hume, Michael Ruse, and others.
Reading from the "horse’s mouth" if you will can cut down on misunderstandings. One can see the argument in its larger context. By educating yourself on the arguments of views contrary to your own, you are in a better position to argue for or against that point. Both Christians and atheists should follow this rule. It’s interesting that in the very next step the article advises, "Learn common arguments leveled by theists and the best rebuttals" yet links to only Wikipedia articles and Internet Infidels responses. Such reading may reinforce one’s view, but you won’t really learn much about the beliefs of others.
Guard Against BiasIn offering steps #4 and #5, I think the author tips his hand a bit. Step #4 reads "Examine your own myths, urban legends, and superstitions and learn why people believe stories backed by anecdotal evidence. Understanding something about belief as it pertains to psychology will better prepare you for the challenges ahead."2 Notice that he or she is attempting to bias the reader into grouping beliefs with "myths, urban legends, and superstitions." But belief isn’t as simple as a psychological response. People will believe things based on facts, too. In fact, most beliefs are not psychological responses but rationally based. Christianity is a belief system that roots itself in history, not psychology.
A better suggestion would be to "Examine your own biases." Since everyone has biases, perhaps recognizing what those are would give you a clearer picture of others’ beliefs and why they can reasonably hold to a certain view. It would also help clear up problems that may arise from step #5: "Read and understand their holy book cover to cover. The Bible contains not only contradictions, but also stories that have historical people, places and events that are still up for debate as to their authenticity. For example, the story of Tyre and how the city was destroyed."3
I’m not certain what kind of debate there is over Tyre being destroyed (it was), but reading the Bible would be a good start. Cover to cover may be ambitious initially. How about reading the New Testament to get a better understanding of Christian theology? The claims of Jesus, the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, the command to pray for those who persecute you all can help the non-believer understand the heart of Christianity and who Jesus really is. But one shouldn’t read with the sole intent of seeking out contradictions. That mindset will lead you to many misunderstandings, not only within the biblical text, but in most historical or literary works.
There are ten mores steps listed in the article; some are short-sighted and others I disagree with. I'm still not sure why #13 advises atheistrs to "stay away from love." Why is love so scary? But those that focus on building relationship and understanding are appropriate if they are taken in an honest spirit. Both Christians and atheists need to see one another as real people and not simply adversaries or opportunities to show off your argument skills. By sincerely seeking to understand the other's position, both sides will go a long way to better interaction, better comprehension, and being better people.
2. WikiHow, 2015.
3. WikiHow, 2015.
Image courtesy Flicker.com/emdot and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Throughout the King James Bible, people "worship" many things. A slave worships his owner, the assembled of Satan worship an angel, and Roman soldiers mocking Jesus worship him. In each of these instances, the word does not mean "praise God's glory" or anything like that; instead, it means to bow or prostrate oneself. But English Bibles adopted later—the New International Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the Living Bible and so on—dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus.1He then claims that the change was intentionally misleading to support a view of Jesus' deity that would otherwise be absent for the scripture. He concludes, "In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse." 2
Playing Fast and Loose with LanguageEichenwald is wrong on several counts. First, the fact that there is a single Greek word that can have more than one meaning doesn't meant the translators wouldn't be able to know when to translate it worship and when to translate it bow down. That's like saying one cannot tell if someone tells you "Sam is blue today" you couldn't tell if he was referring to his feelings or his color. Context is king and reading the context of the passage will give you the appropriate English word.
Secondly, it simply isn't true that translations like the NASB "dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus." In Matthew 4:9, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms in the world if he would just "fall down and worship" Satan. In Acts 10:25, it reads that "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him" and in Revelation 13:15, the people are commanded to worship the image of the beast or be killed.
Similarly, there are people who fall down before Jesus where the word proskyneo is explicitly not translated worship. Matthew 8:2 reads, "And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.'" Matthew 15:25, in the story of the Canaanite woman who sought help for her daughter, reads that she "came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'" The phrase "began to bow down" shows action and it's thus translated that way, even though the action is directed towards Jesus.
So, Eichenwald's claim that the word is somehow intentionally manipulated to get a result holds no water.
The Jehovah's Witnesses resistance to the word worshipI've had conversations with Jehovah's Witnesses who try to argue a similar point to Eichenwald's. They hold that the word proskyneo shouldn't be translated worship when applied to Jesus. But that argument actually begs the question. We know that the Jehovah's Witnesses would agree that God alone deserves worship. They would agree with us that Jesus even says so in Matthew 4:10 when he rebukes Satan's offer and quotes from "it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Even a created angel should not be worshiped. In Revelation 19:10, John was so overwhelmed by the visions that he saw that he "fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God.'"
Here, we can see the context of the word implies worship, even when it is referring to an angel. We also see that in both instances, the command it to worship God alone. Hebrews 1:5- is therefore especially vexing because God the Father commands the angels worship the Son:
For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him."The word proskyneo is translated in Hebrews 1:6 as worship and it is clear, unlike Eichenwald's claim, that it isn't the word worship that implies Jesus is divine. It is verse 8 where we read, "But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'" The Father calls the son God. We have a clear claim to Jesus' deity and a command that every created angel should proskyneo him. Given that context, the word worship is appropriate.
Both Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the New Testament translations are biased, yet neither of them offers the proper context for the word worship, acknowledges that the word's two meanings may be differentiates appropriately given the context of the passage, nor recognizes that there are clear texts that make the claim of Jesus's divinity elsewhere in the New Testament. The fact is that John 1:1 to 1:3 explicitly defines Jesus as Creator God. It seems to me that the charge of disingenuity doesn't fall on the translators of our bibles but on Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves.
2. Eichenwald, 2014.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Understandably anticipating an enormous crush of reporters, cameramen, and others, the court duly set out to reserve seating for all the press during the trial. Except no one came to cover the trial. According to JD Mullane, himself a reporter with a local New Jersey paper, there was some local press, along with a few blog site reporters. No one else showed up.4 You can see Mullane's picture of the empty seating yourself below.
Given the sensationalistic nature of the story and the horrific evidence of the crimes, it simply doesn't make sense that a real life drama with all the markings of the most gruesome Criminal Minds episode wouldn't be covered daily. Until you understand that the defendant was an abortion provider and his crimes uncover the lie that legal abortions somehow make women safer.
Kermit Gosnell was a late-term abortion doctor operating with a legal license in a city where late term abortions were illegal. He would commonly deliver babies alive and then kill them afterwards. This "procedure" was so common that they were considered "standard procedure" and prosecutors estimate that hundreds of babies had been murdered that way.5 Gosnell's wife would perform the despicable act on Sundays if he were not around.
The women who sought Gosnell out were also in danger. According to the Grand Jury report:
Instruments were not sterile. Equipment was rusty and outdated. Oxygen equipment was covered with dust, and had not been inspected. The same corroded suction tubing used for abortions was the only tubing available for oral airways if assistance for breathing was needed. There was no functioning resuscitation or even monitoring equipment, except for a single blood pressure cuff in the recovery room.At least two women died as the result of seeking Gosnell's abortion services. The only surprise is that there weren't many more—that we know of.
There were cat feces and hair throughout the facility, including in the two procedure rooms. Gosnell, they said, kept two cats at the facility (until one died) and let them roam freely. The cats not only defecated everywhere, they were infested with fleas. They slept on beds in the facility when patients were not using them. 6
One worker described the abortions as "literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body" and said "it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place."7 All while Gosnell made millions.
Abortion Hides Misery and DeathCases like Gosnell's highlight the inhumanity of abortion in our country today. The only difference between what Gosnell did to those babies and what happens in clinics where late-term abortions legal is Gosnell's "snipping" was done a few seconds later than theirs. Other justify their actions by delivering all of the baby but the head. They seem to feel those last ten centimeters offer some kind of moral justification for their actions.
As far as I'm concerned, the press's negligence in covering the Gosnell story makes them somewhat culpable. They don't want to tell the real story because it negatively impacts an agenda they want to promote. The reality is that abortion is the business of death. It is soaked in blood and it doesn't care about the well-being of the women as much as it cares about turning a profit. Not all the abortion clinics are a dirty as Gosnell's. He is an extreme case. But we really don't know much about what the status of most abortion clinics are, given the reluctance of both the regulating agencies and the press to check them out with a critical eye.
As I write this, it is the 42nd anniversary of the Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortions across the country. It is a scourge upon our nation, not to mention terrible law. We must remember the Gosnell case and share it with others to show that making abortion legal makes it neither right nor safe.
2. "Box Office Performance for Horror Movies in 2014." The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. http://www.the-numbers.com/market/2014/genre/Horror.
3. Msnbc.com Staff and News Service Reports. "'House of Horrors' Alleged at Abortion Clinic." MSNBC.com. NBCNews.com, 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41154527/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/house-horrors-alleged-abortion-clinic/.
4. Hemingway, Mollie. "WPost Reporter Explains Her Personal Gosnell Blackout." GetReligion. Patheos, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2013/04/a-wapo-reporter-explains-her-personal-gosnell-blackout/.
5. Msnbc.com, 2011.
6. Williams, R. Seth. Report of The Grand Jury. Rep. no. 0009901-2008. Philadelphia: In the Court Of Common Pleas First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Criminal Trial Division, 2011. Office of the District Attorney. City of Philadelphia, 1 Jan 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf.
7. Araiza, Karen, and Emad Khalil. "Gosnell Abortion Worker: It Would Rain Fetuses." NBC 10 Philadelphia. NBCUniversal Media, LLC, 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Gosnell-Abortion-Clinic-Trial-Unlicensed-Doctor-Chaos-201515061.html.
Image courtesy Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada and licensed via CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, December 11, 2014
However, as what came to be known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem entered the popular culture, it seemed to be turned on its head. Many people seem to think that the analogy shows that absolutely nothing is impossible given enough time. The problem is m the analogy was used to show just how improbable a particular theory on gas movements really is by comparing it to something more easily pictured in people's minds: monkeys producing works of literature. That's why Eddington finished his version of the analogy with "The chance of the monkeys doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel."3
The folks over at Uncommon Descent have written a detailed response to the Infinite Monkey Theorem and how it applies to the origin of life, but that isn't my reason for writing this post. The more interesting point in my opinion is the assumptions that are carried along with the analogy itself. In Borel's day, there were no such things as computers that could generate purely random outputs of letters, so he used a theoretical monkey to make his case. But the folks over at the University of Plymouth were intrigued by the concept, so they thought they'd give it a try on a much smaller scale.
Real Monkeys and a Word ProcessorIn 2003, researchers placed a computer with monitor and keyboard in a cage of six monkeys at the Paignton Zoo for a month. The Associated Press report quoted lead researcher Mike Philips who said, "At first, the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard." 4
Eventually, the simians figured out that the screen would respond to a keyboard touch. Would this be the breakthrough to have the monkeys produce a word or two of English? Unfortunately, no as the primates only "produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in."5
How Our Assumptions Color Our Beliefs
The Infinite Monkey Theorem is interesting on several levels. While it is mathematically possible to generate something like Hamlet using an infinite number of computers for an infinite time, such actions would require more time and more matter than has been estimated in our universe since its beginning. It is therefore zero for all practical purposes. So such word pictures don't help on issues like the origin of life.
More importantly, it demonstrates how much we color scenarios with our assumptions. Most people picture putting a keyboard before a monkey and the animal will be pushing buttons before too long, not using it as a lavatory. Our humanity assumes that others will act like us. It's why many animal researchers make the mistake of anthropomorphizing animal behavior and what's responsible for the Clever Hans effect.
So, it's important to examine your own beliefs. Sometimes your biases are harder to spot than you think!
A big thanks to Guillaume Bignon for providing me with his translation of Borel's analogy from : "Let's imagine that one trained a million monkeys to randomly hit strokes on a typewriter, and that, under the watch of unlettered slave-drivers, these typist monkeys work painstakingly 10 hours every day with a million typewriters of different types. The unlettered slave-drivers would gather the blackened sheets and bind them into volumes. And after a year, these volumes would contain the exact copy of the books of all natures and all languages, found in the riches libraries in the world. Such is the probability that during a very short instant, in a space of any given length, a notable spread occurs (away) from what statistical mechanics considers to be the most probable phenomenon."
2. Kairosfocus. "ID Foundations, 11: Borel's Infinite Monkeys Analysis and the Significance of the Log Reduced Chi Metric, Chi_500 = I*S – 500." Uncommon Descent. Uncommon Descent, Inc., 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/id-foundations-11-borels-infinite-monkeys-analysis-and-the-significance-of-the-log-reduced-chi-metric-chi_500-is-500/.
3. Eddington, A. S.. The Nature of the Physical World: The Gifford Lectures, 1927. New York: Macmillan, 1929. Print. 72.
4. Associated Press. "Plymouth Experiment's Monkeys Type No Shakespeare-like Text." Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 10 May 2003. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/051003/ent_051003027.shtml
5. Associated Press, Ibid.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
That's the story, but that isn't science. It's scientism. Fundamental to science is the concept of questioning the facts we think we know, even what can be considered well-established facts. Newton's laws were thought to hold in all applications for centuries until quantum mechanics came along and threw a fly in the ointment. Other assumptions, such as the steady state model for the universe, have also been upended.
But many of those ideas are too esoteric for the average man on the street to really grasp. However, there is currently a paradigm shift happening in the health sciences that perfectly illustrates how accepted science can be flimsy, biased, and based not on facts but strong wills and politics. The story is fascinating and illustrates how just one man can create a belief that is so strong, it affects the viewpoint other experts, changes government regulations, and becomes an embedded belief by the general population.
In her article "The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?" author Nina Teicholz summarizes her findings of a nine year investigation into the commonly-accepted belief that the more saturated fats you eat, the worse it is for your heart. I recommend you read the entire article, or if you would like even more detail, grab her well-documented book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. However, here are a few quotes of how the myth of the unhealthy high fat diets became the unquestioned standard:
1. One man's assumption led to bad conclusionsTeicholz writes that the idea to link saturated fats to heart disease was proposed by Ancel Keys, a pathologist who was "an aggressive, outsized personality with a talent for persuasion."1 Keys' studies on this link "violated several basic scientific norms,"2 according to Teicholz. For example, Key's findings were based on a single study, claiming to look at the diets of some 13,000 men across seven countries. However, Teicholz reports that Keys did not select random nations, but only those that supported his hypothesis, and he ignored others. She writes there were other problems with the study as well:
Due to difficulties in collecting accurate nutrition data, Keys ended up sampling the diets of fewer than 500 men, far from a statistically significant sample. And the study's star subjects — men on the Greek island of Crete who tilled their fields well into old age and appeared to eat very little meat or cheese — turned out to have been partly sampled during Lent, when the study subjects were foregoing meat and cheese. This must have led Keys to undercount their saturated-fat consumption. These flaws weren't revealed until much later. By then, the misimpression left by the erroneous data had become international dogma.3
2. One man's push led to accepted dogmaThe second factor that led to the widespread acceptance of Keys views was a combination of good timing and Keys' dominant personality. Teicholz reports:
He found a receptive audience for his "diet-heart hypothesis" among public-health experts who faced a growing emergency: heart disease, a relative rarity three decades earlier, had skyrocketed to be a leading cause of death. Keys managed to implant his idea into the American Heart Association and, in 1961, the group published the first-ever guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on saturated fats, as the best way to fight heart disease. The US government adopted this view in 1977 and the rest of the world followed.4Once the idea became ingrained, it became a foregone conclusion.
There were subsequent trials, of course. In the 1970s, half a dozen important experiments pitted a diet high in vegetable oil — usually corn or soybean, but not olive oil — against one with more animal fats. But these trials had serious methodological problems: some didn't control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results were unreliable at best…
When Ronald M Krauss decided, in 2000, to review all the evidence purporting to show that saturated fats cause heart disease, he knew that he was putting his professional career at risk. Krauss is one of the top nutrition experts in the United States, director of atherosclerosis research at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and adjunct professor of nutritional studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkley. But challenging one of his field's most sacrosanct beliefs was a near-heretical act.
Challenging any of the conventional wisdom on dietary fat has long been a form of professional suicide for nutrition experts. And saturated fats, especially, are the third rail.
3. The power of intimidation affects consensusFinally, Teicholz states that Keys himself was not as interested in advancing the science as he was in keeping his findings in the center of belief. He would belittle and mock those who would oppose his theory:
Keys aggressively criticised these observations, which were like missiles aimed at the very heart of his theory… In response to a prominent Texas A&M University professor who wrote a critique of Keys, he said that the paper "reminds one of the distorting mirrors in the hall of jokes at the county fair".The parallels between this and modern paradigms like global climate change or neo-Darwinian synthesis are striking. Each was formed at the right time by those looking to dismiss a creator or in a time of significant environmental sensitivity. Each has had high-profile proponents. Each has claimed the scientific high ground to the degree that any deviation from the accepted consensus would be mocked and belittled, and considered professional suicide.
Rolling over the opposition by sheer force of will was typical of Keys and his acolytes in defending their saturated-fat hypothesis. Keys was "tough and ruthless and would argue any point", Oliver, a prominent opponent, said. Since Keys's allies controlled so many top government health posts, critics were denied research grants and key posts on expert panels. As retribution for defending the healthiness of eggs, despite their cholesterol content, Oliver was publicly branded by two of Keys's main allies as a "notorious type" and a "scoundrel" because "he opposed us on everything".
In the end, Keys and his colleagues prevailed. Despite contrary observations from India to the Arctic, too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Keys's hypothesis. The bias in its favour had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense.5
Many good scientists would speak authoritatively on the saturated fat-heart disease link, even today. However, the consumer needs to be more dubious of any connection between the two. While many Keys's critics gained some clout by having a well-respected journal (the Lancet and the British Medical Journal) willing to publish their work, and thus began to crack the saturated fat myth, one wonders how long it would have persisted if the British medical professionals had not investigated the claims.
The tale of saturated fat and Ancel Keys should serve as a warning to those who claim that "consensus" and "accepted science" are good enough to keep scientific claims from being questioned. They show exactly the opposite. After all, scientists are people, and people are prone to be biased. So, don't accept the tale that science is above reproach. It can be a flawed belief system, too.
2. Teicholz, ibid.
3. Teicholz, ibid.
4. Teicholz, ibid.
5. Teicholz, ibid.
Friday, August 22, 2014
The reason the persecution charge is thrown so easily is because it holds some hidden premises. People who feel persecuted because of the rejection of an idea believe they're right. They think that their beliefs are obvious, and there are no rational positions contrary to their own. Therefore, any kind of dissent must be some kind of ignorance or bigotry. They believe "Those people who dismiss my view have been infected with wrong thinking."
But it isn't just those who knock on doors who feel this way, but certain atheists as well. Just this week, evolutionary psychologist Sue Blackmore posted an article on Richard Dawkins' site complaining that 100 students walked out of a talk she was giving at Oxford Royale Academy on memes. Blackmore explains:
Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls' by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn't gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?' There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,' and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.
…By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard's fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind', the lecture hall was looking rather empty. 1
Blackmore said that she "was still shaken by yesterday's lecture and its aftermath." She even reports on calling out to some of the departing students as they were walking out, "Can't you even listen to ideas you disagree with? In Oxford, of all places, you should be open-minded enough to hear alternative views." 2 She ends the article by claiming the high ground:
Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I'd learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer — when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren't so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?3
Modeling What You Claim to DespiseBlackmore wants to claim bewilderment on why her talk went so badly. While I'm sure there are some who may left because they didn't want to hear any criticisms at all, given Blackmore's own descriptions of her talk I probably would have walked out, too. She was condescending while at the same time being ignorant of the facts. She caricatured religious belief and belittled it, having volunteers mock the Christian Bible, and lumping all beliefs together as if they were equal to one another. She created a flimsy straw man and began knocking it down, taking joy in the discomfort of her listeners as she did.
Such actions would have told me that this woman is not worth listening to and I would have gotten up and left. My actions would have been a result of my thinking for myself and not passively letting a person make bad arguments and get away with ridicule on my dime. The Oxford Royal Academy is an optional summer school program where parents pay for their high-school age students to attend and explore topics more deeply to "gain an academic edge" over their peers.4 Given that, leaving is appropriate.
But Blackmore simply can't understand why some 17 and 18 year olds would choose to walk out of her offensive lecture instead of engaging the instructor in an impromptu debate. Even if their facts were strong, the man with the microphone will usually win that debate. Afterwards, Blackmore talked with some of the Muslim students outside. "I was angrily told that I'd made them feel ignorant." Instead of trying to hear them and understand that they were talking about their feelings as human persons who have inherent worth, Blackmore sought to justify herself. "What should I have done? They are ignorant aren't they?" (emphasis hers.)
Blackmore here shows that she cannot think past her atheistic, memetic worldview. She's a bright, after all, smarter than some kids. In damning those who walked out of her talk, she has become what she claims to despise—one who will not consider a contrary opinion or the fact that she may be wrong on whether she's worth listening to. The reaction by so many "bright, but ignorant, young people" should have told her she was wrong somewhere, even after she "prepared carefully" by delivering the talk to one relative and adding Internet trends to her slides. But I get the feeling that Blackmore believes she couldn't be wrong. She can't think of anything to do differently, categorizing any apology as cowardice.
Even the chairman of the unit, who invited Blackmore was not pleased, yet she chalks this up to nothing more than the fact that he was a Christian. ‘After all, he must have known when I was invited that I was a vociferous atheist, and since I was invited to talk about memes he must have expected me to mention religions." Yes, I'm sure he did. But perhaps he anticipated something more academic and less acerbic. But I guess Blackmore cannot offer any kind of religious believers (you know, those who make up the vast majority of people on the planet)5 an ounce of respect for their views. She mocks them and then uses their umbrage to make herself feel more enlightened. It is Blackmore who wants to put her hands over her ears and not listen to dissent, dissent in the form of people walking out on her.
2. Blackmore, Ibid.
3. Blackmore, Ibid.
4. "Why Choose ORA?" Oxford Royal Academy. Web. http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/ora/why-choose-ora Accessed 22 August 2014.
5. "Religions." The World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency. Web. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2122.html Accessed 22 August 2014.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I was reminded of this just recently. When I used to commute to Los Angeles, I would pass a recycling facility. At one corner of the facility's yard is a large mound of debris that was compiled many years ago. The rubble is weathered and mature weeds grow from the artificial hillside. None of this is particularly worthy of note, except that there is a chain link fence surrounding the pile with both barbed wire and razor wire protecting its cache from any trespassers.
I thought it kind of interesting that a trash heap would be fenced off and protected to such a degree. Letting my mind wander, I thought "What would an archaeologist make of this discovery in a thousand years? He might assume that the contents of that pile were very valuable at one time, seeing as it's so well protected." Of course, I realized that the fence and wire were there to protect wayward explorers from injuring themselves and possibly suing the facility. But if someone didn't have that cultural understanding of our society, they could look at the same evidence I saw and come to a drastically different conclusion.
I further imagined that if this scenario came about the contents of the rubble pile would be cataloged and examined. Academic papers would be written, debates over the importance of this stone versus that one would surface and countless hours would be devoted to rebuilding whatever was supposed to have been originally housed at the site.
A Big Mistake Identifying a Little AnimalNow, this may sound a bit extreme; surely the science of our day is too sophisticated to make such an error! But the skirmish over a little mouse in Wyoming, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer underscores my point.(1) In 1954, Professor Philip Krutzsch identified a new subspecies of Meadow Jumping Mouse from examining the skulls and skins of several samples. The new species was named the Preble's mouse. In 1998, this study was offered as evidence to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help list the Preble's mouse as an endangered species, which the agency did.
Now, according to the Post-Intelligencer, "after six years of regulations and restrictions that have cost builders, local governments and landowners an estimated $100 million, new research suggests that the 'threatened' Preble's mouse in fact never existed." The newspaper reports that recent mitochondrial genetics studies, performed by a team from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science show that the mouse is identical to the Bar lodge mouse, a species common enough not to need protection at all.
Now the critic might say that this proves nothing since modern science caught its own mistake. However, I find it interesting that the only way we could have caught such an error is because we have existing specimens today. We're able to do such things as DNA testing. Remember, Krutzsch's original findings were based on skeletal and skin samples and they were considered acceptable at that time as the article points out. If no live samples of the so-called Preble's mouse were around to be tested, I wonder if the error would have been caught at all.
Evolution's Identity ProblemsIn fact, that's the whole reason for this discussion. Evolution as a field of study is based pretty much on the evidence of skeletal remains. We have some fossilized skin patterns, footprints, and such. But most of all the advances in evolutionary theory are from fossilized bones. If a modern day professor got it wrong about a mouse that he was able to observe, than how much more likely is it that paleontologists make mistakes interpreting fossils. In fact, author Luther Sunderland asked David M. Raup, a noted evolutionist and Curator of Geology at the Field Museum of Natural History at the University of Chicago, about the practice of naming the same creature by different species names when it's found in different period rocks. "He acknowledged that it used to be a very common practice and still occurred… it was done purposely because of an a priori theoretical mode, but he thought most of these had 'been cleaned out now'."(2)
So here we have evidence that the bias of the scientists come into direct play when they seek to identify a new species. In fact, Raup noted that many times this was done on purpose to try and make the evidence conform to the theory instead of the other way around. He later tells Sunderland that "approximately 70 percent of species described are found to be the same as existing species, so 70 percent of the new species named should not have been, either through ignorance or because of the rules used by taxonomists."(3)
As the debate over evolution continues to heat up, Christians have recurrently been accused of ignoring the evidence because of their beliefs. Is this charge true? Perhaps in some cases. However, the history of paleontology shows just as large a bias on the part of the evolutionists. So, the next time you are discussing the issue with a friend or colleague, make sure you're sensitive to the assumptions that lie behind the assertions. Their facts may be as tenuous as a rat in a trap.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Friday, June 11, 2004
2. Sunderland, Luther D. Darwin's Enigma: Fossils and other Problems
Master Books, El Cajon, CA 1988 p.131
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Just how does one go about changing a belief, anyway? Realize that a belief is an idea a person takes to be true. In other words, if someone holds to the belief that Jesus was created by the Father, then that person thinks the statement "Jesus is a created being" is true. No person can be said to believe something that he consciously acknowledges is not true. If he knows it isn't true, then he doesn't believe it, even if he may continue to act as though the belief is true. The contradiction is between his belief and his action, not between the truth value he holds and the belief itself.
Two Ways to Change a BeliefThere are only two ways that I can think of to change a belief. You can either provide new information that the person hasn't yet considered, or you can show how their current beliefs are contradictory and therefore cannot both be true. Because beliefs reflect the truth value of a proposition, one cannot simply decide to hold different beliefs, to change statements from false to true. Beliefs don't work that way.
I've demonstrated this many times when I've spoken to groups in the past. I've asked "How many of you believe that there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street from this building right now?" Consistently, my audience responds incredulously. I then modify my question. "How many of you would believe that there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street if I offered you a million dollars to believe it?" Of course, a few hands go up, but then I ask, "Do you really believe that's true or are you just assenting to the proposition to get the money, even though you don't believe it?" Everyone agrees that they are just acting out the agreement, but they don't really think there is a pink elephant in their vicinity.
1. Providing New InformationThe first way to change a belief is to provide new information to a person, or perhaps highlight information that they may know but have neglected to consider. Going back to my pink elephant example, I usually ask my audience, "Would your beliefs change if I told you that driving in today I saw a fleet of Ringling Bros. trucks also parked across the street?" They will nod in agreement that the new fact helps open them to the possibility of an elephant nearby. I follow with something like "What if I also told you that albino elephants will appear pink when wet; would that increase your ability to believe the statement?" Now, they have two new facts and the ability for them to believe the statement is increased. I can then continue to build my argument, but I've eliminated some of their resistance to the idea already. You can clearly see that additional information helps people believe things they may not have held before.
2. Showing a ContradictionThe second way one can change a belief is to demonstrate that the person's current belief isn't valid. Let's use "Jesus is a created being" as an example. Whenever I talk with Jehovah's Witnesses about the nature of Jesus, they always tell me they believe that the Bible is true and the Bible teaches that Jesus is a created being. I then ask, "What if I can show you where the Bible explicitly denies this idea? Would you still believe it?" Usually the reply is, "Well, it doesn't." But as I press, they usually relent, mostly because they think I will be quoting from John 1:1 or something like that.
I preface my remarks by asking if they agree that everything we know can be categorized into two compartments, that is placed in one of only two "buckets" if you will: there are things that began to exist and there are things that never began to exist. Everything you can think of falls into one of those two categories. There simply is no third choice. To this I've had no one disagree.
I then take them to the book of John, chapter one verse three. (I skip John 1:1 altogether). In the NWT the verse reads, "All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence." I ask, "Is the 'him' in verse three referring to Jesus?" to which they answer "Yes." I then explain, "Here, in John, it says that every single thing that came into existence, it came into existence through Jesus. Jesus made every single thing that had a beginning. The NWT explicitly says, "apart from Jesus not even one thing came into existence." If that's true, then Jesus must exist before the very first thing that began to exist. Jesus put everything into the "came into existence" bucket. But that means that Jesus must be in that other bucket. Jesus must have existed eternally. He cannot be a created being because John 1:3 doesn't allow that option."
You can see the problem the Witnesses have here. If they hold to their belief that Jesus is a created being, then their own Bible, the thing that informs them about who Jesus is, is wrong. If they want to hold that the Bible is true, then they have to give up their belief that Jesus is created. They know they cannot believe a contradiction, but they don't know what to do at this point.
Tomorrow I will end my short series on beliefs by talking about how these techniques play out in the real world. In short, there is no magic bullet that is going to make someone believe But realize that these tools are necessary when we are engaging others in the battle of ideas. Let's not go into battle unarmed.
Monday, August 05, 2013
|Rachel:||Guys! Guess what, guess what, guess what, guess what!|
|Chandler:||Um, ok... the fifth dentist caved and now
they're all recommending Trident?
Our society has a love affair with the idea of science. If you turn on the television, there's always a man in a white jacket telling you how this product will relieve you headache better than any other. Women are sold skin cream that is "doctor recommended." We're always hearing how our kids are falling behind other nations' high test scores in science. If you're from the United States, you may take particular pride in the fact that your nation is the only one to ever put a man on the moon. Science, it seems, is the way we will conquer the plagues of our day.
And why shouldn't we hold the highest regard for such a field of study? Look at the advancements that have been made in recent years simply by having scientists investigating and making wonderful discoveries. A prime example is smallpox. Smallpox was a disease unique to humans, afflicting them since 10,000 B.C. It was considered the most dangerous disease through its existence; it's estimated that smallpox killed about 400,000 people every year throughout the 18th century! Many more were blinded or disfigured. It was responsible for more deaths than any other communicable disease. But smallpox was number one in other areas, too. Small pox was the first disease to have a vaccine developed against it. It was also the first disease to be eradicated from the planet through vaccinations.
Because of science we live in a brave new worldSmallpox is only one example of the many benefits we enjoy as a result of science. The only word to describe the way science has changed the way we live is "amazing." We live at a time unparalleled in human history, a time where we can do things considered unthinkable just a few decades ago. Scientific progress has produced changes as important as increasing our life expectancy or as benign as having an iPod hold 15,000 of your favorite songs.
Given that the many advancements we see today can be taken for granted, it may be helpful to step back and get a better perspective of how different life has become. Pick three points in history: say the time of Israel's zenith, the time of the Revolutionary War and today. If we start some three millennia ago when King Solomon was on the throne, we notice that people could only travel as fast as the speed of their horses. The quickest way of communicating with each other over long distances was a message written out and carried by a messenger to the recipient. And their houses and clothing came from natural material that were either gathered or harvested: buildings were built from mud, trees or rock and fabric made from plants such as cotton, animal skins, or wool.
Now, let's move the timeline up 3200 years to George Washington's days. People still could only travel as fast as horseback, they could only communicate as fast as a messenger and they still lived and clothed themselves by fashioning what they grew or found around them. But just 200 years later, humans travel at the twice the speed of sound, we communicate routinely at the speed of light, and we go into a laboratory to reassemble molecules and make the materials we want for clothing or construction. In fact, today we do more than lean on science to make our lives easier. We rely on the application of scientific discoveries to survive. Most people wouldn't be able to live through a New England winter if they were forced to use only the technology of the Puritan Settlers. We've simply lost that skill set. This is one reason science holds such high esteem in our culture.
You can see how easy it is to make science out to be some type of superhero; and many times our society does just that. People elevate science to the level of a Superman in a white labs coat, able to fix just about anything. We see this portrayed often in popular movies and television shows, such as the original Star Trek series. Creator Gene Roddenberry felt that only science held the answers for mankind, and his vision of the utopian future of Star Trek were the natural outgrowth of scientific achievements. There is no economic system in the Star Trek universe; people explore for the sake of knowledge alone. There is no more class warfare, bigotry, or any of the social ills that plague us today. Science has wiped them all out.
Of course, the real world is a much different story than Hollywood, where one can craft a tale that leaves out the realities of the human condition. The real world has shown that people are sinful, and that fact pervades all aspects of our lives. Scientists are not immune to bias, deceit, greed or the quest for fame and power any more than the rest of us. In fact, scientists ARE the rest of us! They're just people. You see, science really doesn't tell us anything—scientists do. Science is a field of study people take to learn more about their world. And as long as the world gets its science from scientists, we will also need to caution ourselves against imbibing "science" with virtues that it doesn't hold.
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