Sunday, March 29, 2009

Updated Reading List

I'm currently working on two books. I thought I'd recommend them since they are both excellent reads, and well-thought-out. Here they are:

Poking at Atheism


I was just reading an article on The Christian Post and realized that I was getting quite irritated. Here's the reason why: I don't like it when snobbery masquerades as concern. I'm pretty sure everyone would agree with me on that point. If you're going to be concerned, make sure you're not simply contriving a concern; it comes across as disingenuous.

Here is an example of what I mean.

"And as Jesus had done, many are going out and reaching to those labeled by society as the worst of sinners."

The trite sentimentalism of such a comment blows me away. First of all, which society are we talking about in this over-generalization? The religious society? Or the secular society? If we say the 'religious' society is labeling the unsaved as the 'worst of sinners' then we can be sure that the religious society is in serious need of a theological overhaul. At what point did the religious society suddenly forget the fact that they are people saved by the same grace of Christ that these 'worst of sinners' needs? At what point were, and are the 'religious' societies not themselves the 'worst of sinners'? I get the impression when I read Scripture that Jesus had a few things against the religious societies of His day (Pharisees, Saducees, etc.). St. Paul remarked that he was the chief of sinners, the foremost sinner of all (1 Tim. 1:15, 16)! So if the two greatest religious figures in all Christendom recognized the rotten sinfulness of the religious, who are these societal rejects discluded from the religious camp? And how are the religious somehow sub-par in the 'sin' department?

On the other hand, if we say the 'secular' society is labeling some the 'worst of sinners', well that would just be strange, since secularism doesn't make room for religious concepts such as sin. Well, perhaps with the exception of archery. But I'm pretty sure that's not why missionaries are going out sharing the gospel: to save archers from a bad shot!

Aside from evaluating the superficiality of the comment I quoted above, let's dig a little deeper. What exactly did Christ do with the people around Him? Did He label people 'sinners'? He certainly referred to them as sinners -- He referred to all of us as sinners! There were no eschelons amongst sinners. So unless you've got your head twisted in Roman Catholic notions of a hierarchy of sins, you probably recognise that Christ simply reached out to people around Him, and loved them. The 'sin' wasn't the focus, but His love was. Or, to put it another way: it was more important to Christ to give Himself to others than to label their status apart from Him.

And because Christ's focus was to love, we are totally off-base the instant we point our finger at someone else and label them the 'worst of sinners'. Christ's perspective didn't come with a full-index jab; it came with a genuine love for people. Not to show them how wretched they are, but to show them how welcome and worthwhile they are. So, if you take the perspective of the quote in the article I've linked, then from where I sit, you've not taken Christ's perspective. Because when it comes down to it, we're all part of the same human race; we're all 'the worst of sinners' together. The Fall wasn't worse for some than others. So, we all need the same thing just as much as the next person: love and forgiveness.
As unimportant as it might cause the sanctimonious to feel, we're indistinct. That is, we're not worst, not best; we're just the same. God shows no partiality (Deut. 10:17).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

What Is A Debate?

Verbal discharge, disambiguation, and incindiation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Corrections

It seems that a little perspective is in order on this blog. A couple of people have become rather upset at the use of sarcasm and irony on the site. In fact, at least one of those people has taken the wry humour of the board much too personally. In light of that, I have decided to write this latest article to correct what seems to me to be two mistakes:

1) This board is a place where ideas/topics/discussions are 'safe'; that is, free from criticism, and the occasional jeers, sneers, and punchy remarks that would naturally be implied from a title like St. Cynic.
2) That this board does not respect differences of opinion.

St. Cynic was not created to be a 'safe' place, a place where conversation can happen without fear of criticism. As anyone who has spent time in any academic circles will know, criticism helps drive improvement, and can also cause the less emotionally stable to feel as if they don't measure up, or are somehow less than others. Having been one of the people who was less emotionally stable during my formal academic years, I can vouch for the fact that criticism can hurt. However, having come through that, I have learned to enjoy the benefits that criticism can engender: sharper thinking, more varied perspectives, keener intuition, and a deeper ability to relate to others even if we hold to different opinions.

Lately though, it seems as if some people I have criticized, or *gasp* attempted to correct here at St. Cynic have become overwrought. I have received nasty emails, and been scolded in the comments sections. I'm not too concerned about this because I figured it would happen eventually, anyway; telling what you perceive to be the truth, or throwing a few grains of sarcasm at what you perceive to be an absurdity really angers people, it seems. Even more, proposing a view that seems interesting, but that you don't necessarily hold, infuriates some.

What I find interesting about this reality, however, is that these same people would most likely sit down and laugh with me at more direct attempts at entertainment. For example, if I were to share some viewing time with these people watching a movie like, say, Dogma, or Religulous there would be no concern about the criticism those movies offer. There would be no upset with the cynicism, sarcasm, and sometimes even outright hostility brought to bear on the religious via the aforementioned movies. In fact, they would probably provoke some interesting and humourous conversation, and help unveil some mutual perspectives. But open up a blog and deal with religious and philosophical topics with the same eye toward playful sarcasm, and jocular remarks -- well, that's just going too far!

Now those same people who would probably laugh at the movies I listed, once the hot-seat is under them, call my wife and I 'arrogant' and that we 'need to belittle' and cannot be 'civil', and deal with 'theological lightweights', are unable to avoid 'beating around the bush', and are, in fact, 'obtuse'.

Personally, because the intended ironic nature of the board St. Cynic seems to have been lost on these accusers, I have no problem dismissing their concerns as what they are: ad hominem attacks. I don't feel personally liable for their emotional outbursts about the contents of this site, and don't see any reason to change the trajectory of the blog simply because a couple of people don't seem to have the emotional security to deal with responses they may not like.

I do think it is necessary to bring up an old addage, however: if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Which is apparently what they've decided to do. Fair enough.

But then I question myself, "Am I treating others the way I would expect to be treated?" Yes! And if the people who have taken offence would care to notice, I haven't (to the best of my remembrance) leveled a derogatory remark, a personally biting comment, or launced an ad hominem attack on them at all. Given that, I would find it entirely fair if they were to deal with me in the same teasing, satirical, and punchy way. It's always a welcome opportunity, from my perspective, to laugh at myself and all my missteps, quirks, wrong-headedness, and general asininity.
So, is St. Cynic a 'safe' place? Heavens, no! And it was never intended to be. It has always been my intention with this blog to spur people on, level criticisms, make sarcastic commentaries, and satirize people, places, events, and topics. At the same time, while doing so, I hope to remove some of the barriers to the ways we think by calling down the absurdities of our culture, the religion I participate in, and some of the tripe-filled social conventions we (strangely) trap ourselves in. If you get any of that from this site, great! But if you find a scathing comment, or a mocking picture that happens to hit on something to do with you, don't hold me accountable to how you choose to feel about what I write. And especially don't insult me with petty ad hominems when you run up against your personal limitations. As a wise friend once told me, "sometimes it's good to be offended: it lets you know where you are."

That brings us to the second misconception about St. Cynic: it does not respect, and is even a 'hostile environment' for differences of opinion.


The fact that so many differing opinions have been hosted on this site, examined, questioned, culled from, and dismantled at times is proof to the contrary. St. Cynic, with the intentions I have noted above, is a place specifically for dissenting opinions. And the person who accused me of hosting a 'hostile environment' to different opinions knows my wife and I to dissent from many, if not most, conventional opinions.
That same person has also made regular comments that note a radically different perspective than mine, and they have all been treated with welcome, even complimented at times, and given the same zinger-or-two that anyone can expect from this site. More, some of the readers of this site, who occasionally comment, have remarked that they're happy to have a place where they can air their dissenting perspectives without having to fear ostracization. So it would seem that the evidence stacks against the accusation that St. Cynic is a 'hostile environment' to different opinions. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that St. Cynic openly welcomes different opinions.
So, as the crass saying goes, "opinions are like assholes: everyone's got one!" If you want to share (an opinion, that is), you're welcome to. Just understand that everyone is equally fodder for fire. If you can handle that, then all will be well at St. Cynic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Umm, Wow!

This pike was caught in a lake not 45 minutes from where I used to live in Pickle Lake, Ontario. What a massive fish!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Science and the Burden of Proof

Some people claim God exists.  Many scientists say, "the burden of proof is yours to show that's the case."  Well, I have a few things to say about this kind of rhetorical shove-off.

I see it this way (and I'm open to correction): if science wants to place the burden of proof on the person making the positive assertion, and simultaneously administer empiricism as the rational standard, then it should uphold that same standard to prove what it denies -- deity. Thus, if a scientist wants to deny the existence of any form of deity then one of two things need to happen:

1. S/he must admit his/her denial of deity is an honest leap of faith in the absence of evidence;

2. Provide evidence for the lack of a (or all) deity.

But I think you'll agree with me when I say that neither of those two options is really satisfactory. Not only because we agree that scientific empiricism is not the only way to know something, but because the sword cuts both ways: theists cannot hold to faith while simultaneously administering dogmatisms as the rational standard, and all the while deny the use of empiricism as a form of proof.

The conversation has to move past the bifurcation of "nonoverlapping magisteria" (Stephen J. Gould) and into a more wholistic appraisal of reality. Neither science nor religion needs a magisterium; we need useful conversation, and helpful perspectives from each other in the reality that we both share.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This Just In

From Tracy at K-9 Crazy, and a long-time personal friend of mine, we have this donation to our friendly on-going discussion about evolution. Look on and laugh.

Why Do People Hate Evangelicals?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Internet Monk, you really must venture on over to his site.  He is a man of great insight, and keen creativity.

In this particular article, IM scopes out the climate of evangelical Christianity and beats out a masterful pummeling to those groups most non-believers nickname 'fundies'.  That is, the all-talk-but-no-consideration-because-I-refuse-to-think-through-my-assumptions kind of Christians that make up the bulk of the North American Christian population.

His article is not mean-spirited, or rude.  In fact, it is quite polite, concerned, and gentle.  But for anybody who isn't inclined to reflect on their faith beyond simple platitudes, this article will come as a well-needed wake up call.  I think, in this article, IM has quite beautifully captured the poignancy of Serge LeClerk's philosophy of ministry to "comfort the inflicted, and inflict the comfortable."

So, as my old professor, Dr. John R. Stephenson used to say in his owl-toned English accent, "read, learn, and inwardly digest."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Farewell, Suneal

Suneal has decided to retire from authorship at St. Cynic.  We wish him the best in everything he does in the future.  We will miss you, Suneal.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Christians have a tendency to believe that living a holy life means strict adherence to a brace of rules hosted by their local denomination, affiliation, or tradition. The psychological pressure exerted by sincere believers on themselves and others to, say, not dance, avoid secular music, stay clear of bars and pubs, refuse communion with other traditions, be pacifists, make regular Sunday attendence, etc. must crush the joy of a hopeful heart. Who could enjoy the freedom of Christ just knowing that your local congregation and its many para-church connections act as an implicit spiritual gestapo? Be sure to clear the salt stains from your shoes because if you don't Mrs. X will complain to the pastor about how distracting it is for her and others to receive the Body of Christ from a man who has salt stains on his shoes (actual example).

Christians love law. We love making laws. We love imposing law on others, arguing about laws, canonizing law, interpreting Christ's words through a lense of law, basing entire affiliations on a select group of lifestyle preferences as if they were laws (e.g., Brethren In Christ and the law of pacifism), and we certainly have this cockeyed notion that a pastor/priest/bishop represents the law (though we prattle on with titular sentiments like, "representative of Christ", even though we treat him as the man weilding the stone tablets of the denominational constitution; not to be crossed but only submitted to).

But what is the good of being a Christian if it means bunging up your soul with imitations of Old Testament practice all the while professing New Testament grace? Why live under Moses and sing about Christ? Why parade about in the light of the Pharisees while drawing a curtain over the Son?

There seem to be no real and decent answers to any of these questions. It is one thing to admonish fellow believers to consider their leaders and imitate their way of life (Heb. 13:7). It is an entirely different thing to constrain fellow believers to preferentialisms and surplus moralisms in an effort to force conformity to a leader's way of life; in effect, to mass-market Percy Byshe Shelly's terrifying vision of a doppleganger, all-the-while ordaining it as 'holy' and proper.

Rather, where Christ is, there is freedom. Where grace reigns, legalisms are unnecessary. Where the conscience of the believer is discipled to Christ through His Word and continuous prayer, moralizing becomes the providence of cheap grace and the spiritually inept.

Inspired By a True Story

I am not certain about the biblical story told about Adam and Eve. I am certain that the message as it was intended remains intact today. I am certain that it has been told for innumerable generations in order to share the message of it. I am not certain though, what sort of story it is.

It isn't as simple as concluding that either it is literal- reporting factual information as it unfolded in real-time in a specific point in history- or allegorical/metaphorical. Whether *the* Adam and Eve of the story existed as they are portrayed or not seems somewhat irrelevant to me, but it is clearly very important to many people that a side is taken on the issue of the veracity of the historicity of the story and its characters. I make no such promise to allay the anxiety of anyone hoping to see me resolve my own position on the matter.

I'd like to share another option. What if Adam and Eve did exist, and the story was also told in an allegorical way with many real-time details included, and the message of the story left intact, even though the story in its entirety isn't completely accurate? We have a genre for this sort of story even now. It's called historical fiction, and in movies, they call it 'based upon a true story' or 'inspired by a true story' so that we know that the message and purpose of the story is supposed to remain intact, but license has been taken for whatever reason (artistic, pneumonic purpose, ease of delivery, etc...) in the details likely including timelines and exact dialogue replication, sometimes characters are omitted or added in order to tell the story more effectively, etc....

Given that the Genesis account of the creation and fall (and other important stuff) was transmitted orally, could aspects of the actual story have been altered to allow for ease of delivery and memorisation for tradition? Could the whole story have been transplanted into a context that would allow for the message to be better understood than it would have been if it had been told as it occurred? I've never met anyone who had the book of Leviticus memorised, and if the original account of the creation was similarly complex, and therefore ordered and presented, who could tell it, let alone remember it?

What truly compromises the story?

Did Adam and Eve have to be the only people on the earth when the fall happened in order for the story to be understood and valid? Perhaps they were the only ones who initially sinned, which would warrant the story being told with them in leading roles, but is the story compromised by other players having also existed? I just wonder because God seems pretty concerned with who can procreate with whom, and sister-brother and child-parent couplings are a no-no, so who made the next generation?

There are many questions I have about this, but mostly, I wanted to point out that while I am not convinced of the real-time, detail-exact reading of the story of Adam and Eve, that doesn't mean I must therefore also discard everything within it as false or imaginary. There is a pretty wide margin for fence-sitting and even a badminton game with a fence-net. In either case, as usual regarding this subject, I am neither inclined nor intending to set up my tent, I just enjoy the company, the view, the discussion, and appreciate the fresh air. :)


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Addressing Theistic Evolution

I am here continuing to comment on Chris’ latest post, “Re-hashing Nicely an Old Debate.” In comment 4, the following quote is given which is a theistic evolutionary concept of evolution, more or less. I will continue to comment back at Chris’ post, but am putting this here because of length, importance, and to specifically address theistic evolution.

"It is possible to believe that God created the world while also accepting that the planets, mountains, plants, and animals came about, after the initial creation, by natural processes. In theological parlance, God may act through secondary causes. Similarly, at the personal level of the individual, I can believe that I am God's creature without denying that I developed from a single cell in my mother's womb by natural processes. For the believer the providence of God impacts personal life and world events through natural causes. The point, once again, is that scientific conclusions and religious beliefs concern different sorts of issues, belong to different realms of knowledge; they do not stand in contradiction."

(Ayala, Francisco J. Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2007. p. 175)

Given the analogy above, the single cell in the womb is irrelevant to the topic at hand. Why? Because, that speaks of what the Bible speaks of before any human philosophy tainted reality, that we are each after our own kinds (Gen 1:11, 21, 24, 25, 28). “For Thou did form my inward parts, Thou did weave me in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:23-24). There is no “evolution” for us to grow into children and adults, that is growth that God created from the get-go, “each producing after their own kinds.” The “natural processes” of this growth are here DECEPTIVELY being attached to “natural selection” and “natural processes” which evolution claims drives and creates our world. Furthermore, this quote is theologically terrible, for it is totally confusing God’s creative acts which were “finished” the seventh day and from which God rested from all His labors saying, “It WAS (past creative event) VERY good;” (Gen 1:31)- with God’s providence. God’s creative acts are miraculous for sure, meaning God employed in them either a suspension of natural law or a replacement of natural law with a higher temporary law of God’s power. Either way, natural processes, although they very well may have been a part of God’s creation as recorded in Genesis 1, are not the primary means of that creation. And, creation is finished and good before the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Providence on the other hand is God currently working through natural processes towards us and to fulfill His purposes. However, there is nothing implied in Scripture that says this creates something entirely new such as a new species, and there are valid reasons as I mention here to say it contradicts Scripture. Mountains forming are just that, a reformation of something already there, but still identified as the same thing. Certainly, a far cry from “evolution.” In other words and to sum up using the womb analogy, David was crediting God with “creating” him after “his kind,” or with continuing the replication of God’s finished acts of creation as described in the 6 day creation. The “creating” of David in his mother’s womb was not a new species!!!

Theistic evolution maintains that God’s creative work was accomplished by means of ongoing evolutionary processes. There is therefore no clear beginning and therefore no clear end, creation and providence are muddled into one. As I have pointed out above, THAT is Scripturally unsound. It is fair and correct to think that God’s providence lies in the realm of what Hebrews 1:3 says, “He upholds all things by the Word of His power.” God is so immanent in this it is astounding! But to confuse that immanence with God’s initial creation is theological ineptitude and the work of the devil. I will explain myself further for such strong claims, if you bear with me. By the way and to credit Sarah, I think we can much re-think what providence is, and realize we have hardly probed its depths. It is certainly not a prescribed existence we live out without risk, care, love, interaction and freedom between God and ourselves. I don’t pretend to understand the Providence of God.

Now, herein is a bigger problem, the fact that theistic evolution is self-contradictory. The premise of the evolutionary concept is that current natural processes can account for the entire geosphere and biosphere, and once this essence is denied, which it is by theistic evolution, evolution collapses. This is why I think Francis Collins denies Intelligent Design, because it brings out into the light the inherent self-contradiction of a theistic evolutionary position. Basically, theistic evolution co-opts God’s intervention such as might be argued with abiogenesis or the creation of energy itself, or the existence of matter, or the forming of complex systems, or the coding of DNA, or the teleological inherent order of the cosmos toward more complex systems despite the second law of thermodynamics for such “closed systems” to degenerate. Or to use the example given above, “It is possible to believe that God created the world while also accepting that the planets, mountains, plants, and animals came about, after the initial creation, by natural processes.”

Science fails to explain natural law, yet alone the religion and philosophy of evolution trying to do so (which it doesn’t of course). Science merely observes natural law. In other words, science can not speak of that which is the parameters of its own existence. Without natural law, there would be no science, no testability, for there would be no yard stick of measurability. The low entropy of complex systems in the universe is directly maintained by natural law. “Natural processes” are merely an outworking of natural laws exerted on God’s finished creation, which laws can not at all be explained by science, and truly is the parameters of choice of our God for our universe. The Law of gravitational force states that the mass of two bodies divided by its distance squared, gives the measurement of its gravitational force. We know this merely by observation and testability. But God could very well have made it the distance cubed rather than squared or some other variable. Further, nothing is actually scientific unless it can at present be disproven. Evolution and many of its axioms (I say axioms because it is a philosophy more than a science), are not testable. Anything neither provable nor unprovable can be called science.

Chris, what you are proposing here by using this quote, is theistic evolution, wherein lie many theological and Biblical concerns. You have not yet addressed the issue I have proposed to you of biblical literalism as posed and propagated by Christ Jesus and the New Testament regarding Genesis. Furthermore, by trying to “solve” the seeming problem of “scientific conclusions” which obviously to the minds of some, negates the truth of the Old Testament’s historicity, you and anyone subscribing to such theistic evolution, create more problems than you solve. The intent may indeed be good, with the spirit of it done with “reasonable pragmatism” in a scientific world, but nonetheless, greater problems remain. This may not be evident to you as of yet. But I want to suggest some rather astounding realities of the god of this world, who has taken much of Christian philosophical unity in all disciplines, and shut us Christians up to private inner lives only as the paradigm of our faith and of truth.

I want to do this by looking to the final concluding statement of the quote from Ayala;

"The point, once again, is that scientific conclusions and religious beliefs concern different sorts of issues, belong to different realms of knowledge; they do not stand in contradiction."

Is this really true? Is Genesis 1-3 historical or fiction or allegory or just spiritual? The God who saved us is historical in our own lives. Many of us testify to outright “miracles,” wherein in our specific “histories” supernatural realities and events take place in and toward us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Israel experienced its God in its history. That history can not be watered down to half truths at a historical level. Genesis is clearly a historical document as far as the Bible and Jesus Himself are concerned. (Granted Genesis 1 does have flexibility, though not the kind Francis Collins goes ballistic with). That settles it for me. If that does not settle it for other Christians, well, they have to answer to God for that when they meet Him. Anyway, we are all suffering as Evangelicals from isolation, fragmentation, abuse, and post-modernity. I want to give a few quotes from David Wells book “No Place for Truth” and then relate the consequences of the kind of thinking that says “The Bible over here,… science over there,..great, no contradiction.” What they don’t tell you is, “No contradiction, just so much pressure, silently, so much isolation, so much keeping your faith to yourself, because, YOU IDIOT, THE BIBLE IS NOT SCIENTIFIC!”

David Wells;

“The great sin in Fundamentalism is to compromise; the great sin in Evangelicalism is to be narrow.”

“The impulses of modernity have generally sundered private from public. The result of this among evangelicals was that their characteristic beliefs were increasingly limited to matters of private experience, increasingly shorn of their distinctive worldview, and increasingly withdrawn from what was external and public. Being evangelical has come to mean simply that one has had a certain kind of religious experience that gives color to the private aspects of daily life but in which few theological elements can be discerned or, as it turns out, are necessary. Evangelical faith is pursued as a matter of internal fascination but abandoned as a matter of external and public relevance, except in the areas of social relief, where evangelicals have a more exemplary record than any other religious group according to Gallup’s polling.”

“Good works are seldom offensive in the modern world; it is the belief in truth that is troublesome.”

“The evangelical form of separation is as real as was that of the Fundamentalists; it is simply not as effective, and it is much more damaging to the Protestantism of which they are the heirs”
(pages 129-131; chapter- Things Fall Apart).

Now let me take a step back for a second. I think Wyatt has identified, (he has a beautiful way about him and his concerns), the fact that as Evangelicals there is a desire to “come out of the closet” so to speak. When Sarah mentioned this could be her “coming out of the cave” back at her Evolution post, I think the sentiments are similar. We all have multiple reasons for personal exploration of our world views which includes our “faith.” I have mentioned in my mind, many atheists are driven by emotional issues more than logical ones, with regards being atheists. Evangelical Christians, first off all have our emotional baggage from our childhood, then from the Church (which ain’t what it’s cracked up to be), then from the world at large. Secondly, we are often “driven” by the spiritual orthodox reasons of our faith. But in the “real world,” as David Wells so nicely puts it, we are “irrelevant.” Why? Well, many reasons exist, such as post-modernity and materialism and the “purposeless” implied. But, we also have a world philosophy the likes of which the world has never seen, purporting itself not as a philosophy or as a religion requiring incredible faith for its “true adherents,” but as SCIENCE. Behind this theory lies humanism, which for all intense purposes, wants nothing to do with God. Now, I ask, is it any wonder, Ayala is chanting (unknowingly I imagine) the mantra of the god of this world, and selling it to Christians as “theological parlance?” We bite because we are tired of the separation in our lives of church and state, or rather church and “the world,” or “church and science.” We ache for more than an impotent inner world of belief, useless to the world at large, which drives us into further isolation. Therefore, I believe we think this is not within the realm of acceptability to “stand on God’s Word” as it is clearly written. We find ways to harmonize Scripture with the bastardized science of evolution which has run rampant like a computer virus through the whole scientific community. We have accepted the deceptive and false tenant of their faith, “this is science.” Once we accept this, what choice is there but to be a theistic evolutionist? Let me be clear, we do not reject this claim because we have to based on Scripture, we reject it because scientifically it is false. At best evolution is an untestable scientific hypothesis with myriads of philosophical axioms, not scientific ones. Therefore, it should not be taught in classrooms as anything more than a philosophy or a religion. Why should we teach it here or speak of it or accept it as “bona fide” scientific theory?

Now, getting back to what David Wells has identified as a large part of the spiritual problem plaguing evangelicalism, I would like to say this, “truth” as Jesus said He was, is not confined to “spiritual” only. Now to be fair to Ayala’s quote, yes, the Bible is not a science textbook and neither is science descriptive of spiritual reality.

I will now quote a Christian scientist, Professor Andrews who says something strikingly similar to David Wells but as a scientist, rather than as a theologian.

“The divorce between science and religion is one of the most significant aspects of our modern philosophical scene. The unity of truth and knowledge, which has always been a prime objective of thinkers down the ages, has been all but abandoned by our Western culture. It has been replaced by a schizophrenic world-view which divorces the ‘real’ pragmatic world of science (the material world) from the insubstantial thought-world in which philosophy and religious belief are permitted to function, like birds imprisoned in a cage of subjectivity. The dichotomy between our inner and outward lives is bound to introduce serious tensions to both the personal and social levels” (Prof EH Andrews; God, Science, Evolution).

The parallels to Wells are striking such as “inner-outward lives” and worlds, and such as “subjectivity,” fragmentation of science and religion akin to the sundering of private and public lives as mentioned by Wells. Who is the author of all this? Is it merely Darwin? Am I really to consider Darwinism a “gift?” “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Well, in this case it’s not “perfect”, it’s “evolving” and it’s not from “above” and it’s definitely not a “non-variable.”

So what about it? Let’s get back to “the unity of truth and knowledge.” But as Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Is it theistic evolution?

“Awake, awake,
Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city.
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Will no longer come into you.
Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
Loose yourself from the chains around your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1-2).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Re-Hashing Nicely an Old Debate

It's certainly no secret that the evolution/creation debate has been coming out here at St. Cynic. It is, undoubtedly, a very important topic to many people. We all enjoy knowing where we come from -- e.g., family trees, human genome mapping -- and I'm sure we'd all like to have our ultimate origins known.

It's a topic that fascinates us, puts some of us in very awkward positions, divides political loyalties, and garners unending attention from popular media. Atheists -- at least the New Atheists -- seem to hang their biggest arguments on the notion of evolution and even go so far as to anthropomorphize (give human characteristics to) nature with such descriptors as "nature chooses," or "evolutionary reasons", or "evolution saw fit to..."

At the same time, Creationists (more specifically, young earth creationists) tend to depend on the current work of secular science to make their theories, question missing information, and spin out wild speculations.
All the while, none of the participants that I've seen are actually engaging in a decent conversation. Instead, an international fued prattles on with no end in site. And to top it all off, Christians, regrettably, chant their vitriol at each other if this-or-that other person doesn't subscribe to the evangelical consensus that the earth is 6,000 years old.
So, in an effort to engage in this conversation in a much more charitable, and open way, let's move the topic to these boards and see what happens.
Now it's your turn.

Addendum:  Suneal has graciously pointed out that my initial comments in this article were overbalanced in favour of evolution, and evolutionary science.  The truth of the matter is, that while creationists tend to rely on the work of scientific endeavours, and sometimes manipulate information to support their cause, evolutionists are no less guilty of equally prejudicial manouevers at times.  For example, Richard Dawkins's attempts to erase the existence of God through observations in evolutionary biology while believing aliens may have populated the earth through a 'seeding' project.  Or, for another example, the Piltdown Man hoax.

On both sides of the divide, there has been a lot of tampering, manipulation, and mistreatment of information.   None of it is justifiable, and hopefully we will all be creative enough to evolve past such nonsense.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dear Toshido:

Since you've been able to stir up some conversation here at St. Cynic and provoke some thoughtful responses from us, something has come to my attention: you seem to think you understand how Christians ought to be, while not being one yourself. It seems you have taken up a highly presumptuous position wherein you feel free to swing down your gavel in judgement, and "fix" our perspectives with your own.

For example, you consider the notion that understanding the word יוֹם (yowm) as a 'span of time' is a deviation from the English definition 'day'; id est (abbr.: i.e. --> that is), a literal 24 hours. Hence a real Christian can only view God's creative act as happening in 6 successive 24 hour periods. And you think that anyone holding to a different view has deviated from Scripture, and is not listening to the actual words of God.

Meanwhile, almost 2000 years of scholarship from ingenius Christian and Jewish academics have noted the metaphorical nature of Genesis. Their work, based on the ancient Hebrew texts and, in particular, in the past 150-or-so years, has focused largely on the use of the word יוֹם as an indication of the consonance between the historical aspect of the creation story, and scientific data that boldly proclaims a very long creative process via evolution. So, given the fact that textual examinations of Scripture can work in focused purpose with scientific research, are you purposefully putting yourself at cross-purposes with reliable scholarship?

On another note, you seem to have taken it on yourself to adjudicate between what I have come to understand about the context of my Christian life under God, and what you would estimate must be what a real Christian is, or would look like to you. You accuse me (and Sarah) of 'cherry-picking' the Scriptures and importing our own meanings for this-or-that word, or principle. Yet, you fail to realise that part of biblical literalism is mapping out historical contexts, metaphors, and symbolism. I am not cherry-picking if I realise that I don't have to stone my wife if she disobeys me because the Bible, at that point, is quite literally, a historical document. That is (i.e.), Israel, under the expectations of the old covenant, and without a consummate propitiation, had to literally act under such expiatory responses to law-breaking*.

However, since expiatory measures were superceded via Christ's consumate propitiation in the New Testament era (or, 'days', as it were), those particular ordinances were fulfilled. They are no longer necessary under the new covenant. So, am I cherry-picking if I follow the content of Scriptural narrative through its context to its literal conclusion? The only logical answer is 'no'.

However, by speaking out of ignorance and expecting us to cater to your expectations of what it must mean for a Christian to be 'literal', you have actually cherry-picked Scripture yourself -- because you have not taken the time to understand what it says, and therefore have come up with a wrong conclusion due to your faulty premise. And then, on top of that, you have used particular pericopes to back your lack of understanding. That, my friend, is cherry-picking.

So, without taking up too much space on my blog for this, I'd like to invite you to take this one-time opportunity to correct Christianity to your way of thinking. Be prepared to meet some resistance along the way, but if you really think certain Christians are wrong for taking up a view alternate to your interpretation of what you think their view ought to be, then it should be worth it to you to prove yourself against them, yes?

* Theological terms like propitiation and expiatory (expiation) are included for your own personal benefit and learning.

Addendum: Before you address the topic of biblical literalism (if you actually choose to), please be aware that one of the nuances of biblical literalism -- at least since the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth -- is that the Bible is not God but contains the word of God. Hence a person doesn't follow the Bible but the Christ to whom the Bible testifies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dawkins, Memes, and Bus-Ads

Here at St. Cynic, I have posted several articles relating to the on-going atheist bus-ad campaign happening in the Atlantic Isles, and America.

I find the whole enterprise entertaining -- which is, admittedly, an evolution in my viewpoint, since I was, at first, a little irritated about the whole affair. Nevertheless, continued articles about the subject has brought about some decent conversation, and I have softened. Since the campaign appears to be more of an exercise in political rights, rather than serious philosophical engagements, I support atheist groups in utilizing their civilian rights. And even if atheist groups were attempting this bus-ad campaign purely for philosophical reasons, there are no reasons I can think of that should trump their democratic rights to engage their surrounding culture in on-going dialogue.

Nevertheless, I do have to wonder what a series of well-written assertions will do to mark serious reflections in people's minds. Take for example, Richard Dawkins notion that the old testament God is "arguably one of the most unpleasant characters in all fiction." What can this statement do to generate any serious conversation? From the years of experience I've had dealing with people in many demographies, I'm willing to bet that a conversation brought on by the Dawkins's quote would devolve very quickly into rapid-fire assertions about God being real, and God not-existing; followed by headstrong assertions that the old testament isn't a fiction, that the old testament is just a fiction, etc.

That kind of dialogue doesn't get anyone anywhere -- except inflamed, of course. That is not to say that there is no possible chance that open-minded conversation will happen. However, how likely is it that an open-minded conversation can come of a close-minded assertion to begin with? And isn't that one of the largest complaints of the non-religious: that the religious are not open-minded and just say things with haughty finality? That's been my experience. And that makes me wonder about advertizing Dawkins's statement as an attempt at a brute-given: why shut-off dialogue with such a close-minded statement? Given that Dawkins is an atheist, and that he, like many of the nouveau atheists, prize reason above all things, wouldn't it be more reasonable to represent him with a more flexible, open-minded comment?

Still, I think I can understand why the people funding these kinds of advertisements (Freedom From Religion Foundation) would want to cut-off conversation: it isn't politically expedient. That is, if you want to free people from the misguided concepts of religion, then you want to cut the chains that bind them, as it were, and flee to the safety of rationality. Opening the grounds to talking about the validity of assertions such as Dawkins and McQueen have made might run the risk of people disagreeing. And when you're a fundamentalist batch of atheists, any possibility that you may be wrong is just as upsetting to them as it is to fundamentalist Christians being told they're wrong. It's just not possible!

So this begs the question: is the 'Freedom From Religion Foundation' fundamentalist? Do they preach a dogmatic version of atheism? It would seem from their inelegant bus signs that they consider themselves fully in command of what is right, of what is true. Namely, that faith is beneath human dignity, that we should evolve beyond belief, and that God is simply a fiction. Questioning the possibility that they may be wrong could lead to heady conversation, even mutually beneficial conversation. But from the calibre of the bus signs on their site (and advertised in this article), conversation is not the order for the day; accepting their point of view is.

And this leads me to another thought on the bus-ad campaign. Citing catchy quips, such as Mark Twain's quote above, is an effective marketing strategy. Being able to plant a thought in someone's mind such that it poses an on-going inner-dialogue, or possibly an emotional tension is a very popular way of selling a product. In this case, the product is doubt. There is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of doubt, but attempting to market doubt via memetic phrases poses an interesting connection in this bus-ad campaign.

The connection, in short, is this: Richard Dawkins is credited as introducing the term "meme" in his landmark book The Selfish Gene (1976). Memes, essentially, are bits of information, and ideas that self-replicate, and evolve via selective cultural pressures. The atheist bus-ad campaign is the brainchild of the British Humanist Association, and backed by -- who else? -- Richard Dawkins.

So, given that Dawkins introduced the notion of memes, and is the backer of the bus-ad campaigns, I have to wonder if professor Dawkins hasn't utilized his theory of memes in a brilliant attempt to invigorate a crafty bit of social engineering. If by having compact, memorable phrases puckered up in our brains, phrases that question, even outright deny the existence of God, and the validity of faith, enough people come to reject any form of religion, then the atheist bus-ad campaign would prove to be an insanely intelligent undermining of the hopes of millions.

I cannot be certain of the connection I think I see, but I do find it very interesting, to say the least, and will continue to look on as the ad campaign grows more popular. As for now, even though I find the campaign somewhat entertaining, and support atheists in their use of civil liberties, I will also feel free to doubt the benign intentions of their crusade. This is not an unreasonable position, I think, since I would be suspicious of anyone attempting to convince me to buy into something I don't actually want.

And to echo a phrase that pressured itself into my mind, I respond to atheists and free-thinkers in the words of G.K. Chesterton, "With all due respect to free-thinkers, I am still free to think." The close-minded atheist crusade, dolled-up as a campaign, may pose some reasonable doubts, but I seriously doubt it is a reasonable crusade.