Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Friday, July 31, 2009

family news

It's been a while since I last saw my cousin Mary, but I've learned that her youngest son has landed a leading role in a theatrical production that opens tonight here. If you happen to be in the area, come see it!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

eugenics in context: reading ecoscience, part 1

In a recent post I wrote about the allegations blogger "Zombietime" has made against the new Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren.

Zombietime makes ten allegations, based on quotes from Ecoscience a book Holdren co-authored with Paul and Anne Ehrlich. You can see the quoted passages, along with full page scans of the pages on which they appear, at Zombietime.

According to Zombietime, Holdren advocates a world in which:

  1. Compulsory abortions would be legal

  2. Single mothers should have their babies taken away by the government; or they could be forced to have abortions

  3. Mass sterilization of humans though drugs in the water supply is OK as long as it doesn't harm livestock

  4. The government could control women's reproduction by either sterilizing them or implanting mandatory long-term birth control

  5. The kind of people who cause "social deterioration" can be compelled to not have children

  6. Nothing is wrong or illegal about the government dictating family size

  7. A "Planetary Regime" should control the global economy and dictate by force the number of children allowed to be born

  8. We will need to surrender national sovereignty to an armed international police force

  9. Pro-family and pro-birth attitudes are caused by ethnic chauvinism

  10. As of 1977, we are facing a global overpopulation catastrophe that must be resolved at all costs by the year 2000

Through my employer I have obtained a copy of Ecoscience. I have looked at each of the passages in question; of the ten, at most three have any substance behind them.

I'm going to provide some context for all ten quotes, and show why most of them are not positions favored by Holdren and the Ehrlichs. In some cases, the mitigating factors appear in the material quoted by Zombietime, but Zombietime fails to see it.

I'll be going through these in a different order than Zombietime, and I'll be referring to them according to the numbers in my list above. If you want to see the original passages quoted by Zombietime, you'll have to go there.

I'm going to start with #10, because that is the easiest to verify. As Zombietime notes, this is the closing sentence of the book. It is clear that the Ehrlichs and Holdren believed that a crisis was looming, and that policies must be changed immediately. This "sky is falling" mentality can be seen in numerous places throughout the book. More than 30 years later, we can see how wrong they were.

This leads us to the context of #2, #3, and #4. These quotes are all taken from a section entitled "Population Control: Direct Measures", which begins on page 783 and ends on page 789. Zombietime has scanned images of pages 786, 787, 788, and 789.

On page 783 the authors introduce the subject of population control as policy. In the second paragraph of that section, they say:

People should long ago have begun exploring, developing, and discussing all means of population control. But they did not, and the time has nearly run out. Policies that may seem totally unacceptable today to the majority of people at large or to their national leaders may be seen as very much the lesser of two evils only a few years from now. The decade of 1965-1975 witnessed a virtual revolution in attitudes toward curbing population growth among LDC leaders, if not necessarily among their people. Even family planning, easily justified on health and welfare grounds alone and economically feasible for even the poorest of countries, was widely considered totally unacceptable as a government policy as recently as 1960.

(LDC is the authors' abbreviation for "less developed countries")

Here again, we can see the "sky is falling" mentality — "the time has nearly run out." The authors point out how quickly attitudes can change. They mention this latter fact again on the following page:

Moral acceptability is very likely to change as social and economic conditions change in most societies, as demonstrated by the reversal of abortion policies in many countries between 1967 and 1975.

The struggle for economic development in the LDCs is producing considerable social upheaval, which will particularly affect such basic elements of society as family structure. Radical changes in family structure and relationships are inevitable, whether population control is instituted or not. Inaction, attended by a steady deterioration in living conditions for the poor majority, will bring changes everywhere that no one could consider beneficial. Thus, it is beside the point to object to population-control measures simply on the grounds that they might change the social structure or family relationships.

Among proposed general approaches to population control are family planning, the use of socioeconomic pressures, and compulsory fertility control. Maximum freedom of choice is provided by traditional family planning; but family planning alone should not be regarded as "population control" when it includes no consideration of optimum population size for the society and makes no attempt to influence parental goals.

At Holdren's confirmation hearing, he was questioned whether he still believes that the government should be in the business of determining "optimum population size". He said he does not believe that is a proper role for the government. But you can see from this passage why the question might arise.

The authors continue:

The use of abortion and voluntary sterilization to supplement other forms of birth control can quite properly be included as part of family planning and made available at costs everyone can afford. This, of course, has been done in a few countries with considerable success (Table 13-4). Moreover, there is still a good deal of room for expansion of family planning services in LDCs, where they are not yet available to more than a fraction of most populations. Family planning programs not only provide the means of contraception, but, through their activities and educational campaigns, they spread the idea of birth control among the people. These programs should be expanded and supported throughout the world as rapidly and as fully as possible, but other measures should be instituted immediately as well. Given the family size aspirations of people everywhere, additional measures beyond family planning will unquestionably be required in order to halt the population explosion—quite possibly in many DCs as well as LDCs.

The italics are in the original. The italicized sentence contains an important verb—should—attached to family planning. That verb is a strong indication the authors are endorsing this idea. This verb appears twice in the quotes mined by Zombietime, and I'll take a close look at both.

But first, I'll note that the authors of Ecoscience say that family planning is not enough to save us from the falling sky. But they are not . On pages 784-785, after having noted that U.S. tax laws provide tax incentives for marriage and childbearing, they list some alternatives:

In countries that are affluent enough for the majority of citizens to pay taxes, tax laws could be adjusted to favor (instead of penalize) single people, working wives, and small families. Other tax measures might also include high marriage fees, taxes on luxury baby goods and toys, and removal of family allowances where they exist.

Other possibilities include the limitation of maternal or educational benefits to two children per family. These proposals, however, have the potential disadvantage of heavily penalizing children (and in the long run society as well). The same criticism may be made of some other tax plans, unless they can be carefully adjusted to avoid denying at least minimum care for poor families, regardless of the number of children they may have.

The authors are clearly aware of the limitations of using punitive tax measures as a means of coercive population control. Next, they look at new tax incentives:

A somewhat different approach might be to provide incentives for late marriage and childlessness, such as paying bonuses to first-time brides who are over 25, to couples after five childless years, or to men who accept vasectomies after their wives have had a given number of children.

These measures would be much less coercive, and would allow people to choose whether to voluntarily limit their contribution to population growth, without imposing a penalty on those who don't.

The authors also take a positive view of adoption:

Adoption to supplement small families for couples who especially enjoy children can be encouraged through subsidies and simplified procedures. It can also be a way to satisfy couples who have a definite desire for a son or a daughter;

I'll get to the rest of this sentence in a moment. But first I want to point out how radically this differs from the totalitarian picture painted by Zombietime, who has made a concerted effort to see only one side of the picture. Ecoscience contains many positive ideas for controlling population growth while still preserving, or even enhancing, individual liberties.

But not all is rosy:

…further research on sex determination should be pursued for the same reason.

Though Zombietime does not draw attention to this one, in my opinion this is one of the worst suggestions in the book. The authors apparently are advocating improving ultrasound technology (which at the time had been in widespread use for only a few years) to determine the sex of a child so the parents can make a decision to abort. And the word "should" makes it clear that this is no mere description of possibilities. For the record, though, this policy puts the decision in the hands of the parents, not the government, and that's the issue at hand.

The authors also look at expanding opportunities for women, noting that:

With some exceptions, women have traditionally been allowed to fulfill only the roles of wife and mother. Although this has changed in most DCs in recent decades, it is still the prevailing situation in most LDCs, particularly among the poor and uneducated. Anything that can be done to diminish the emphasis upon these traditional roles and provide women with equal opportunities in education, employment, and other areas is likely to reduce the birth rate. Measures that postpone marriage and then delay the first child's birth also help to encourage a reduction in birth rates. The later that marriage and the first child occur, the more time the woman will have to develop other interests. One of the most important potential measures for delaying marriage, and directly influencing childbearing goals as well, is educating and providing employment for women.

Women can be encouraged to develop interests outside the family other than employment, and social life could be centered around these outside interests or the couple's work, rather than exclusively within the neighborhood and family. Adequate care for pre-school children should be provided at low cost (which, moreover, could provide an important new source of employment). Provision of child care seems more likely to encourage employment outside the home, with concomitant low reproduction, than to encourage reproduction. Women represent a large, relatively untapped pool of intellectual and technical talent; tapping that pool effectively could help reduce population growth and also would provide many other direct benefits to any society.

Once again, this is the diametrical opposite of the totalitarian state alleged by Zombietime.

The authors continue:

Social pressures on both men and women to marry and have children must be removed.

They don't go into any of the details on how this might be achieved, other than to suggest that this is likely to happen naturally as women have more opportunties. This is on page 786, and you can follow the links above to see the rest of this discussion.

I will only note the word "must" in that sentence, which contrasts sharply with the "might" in the next paragraph:

Although free and easy association of the sexes might be tolerated in such a society, responsible parenthood ought to be encouraged and illegitimate childbearing could be strongly discouraged. One way to carry out this disapproval might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption—especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone. If a single mother really wished to keep her baby, she might be obliged to go through adoption proceedings and demonstrate her ability to support and care for it.

Here is where Zombietime starts quotemining this section. Up to this point, Holdren and the Ehrlichs have focused mostly on positive steps toward controlling population growth, but from this point they look at more coercive measures.

However, the authors end this section by clearly stating their preference:

Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying. As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control. A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences, while redoubling efforts to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time. If effective action is taken promptly against population growth, perhaps the need for the more extreme involuntary or repressive measures can be averted in most countries.

This quote is taken from the bottom of page 788 and the top of page 789. You can see it in Zombietime's scanned pages. The authors have clearly stated their preference for non-coercive measures, and their fear that others might put the stricter measures in place.

In their discussion on pages 787-788, the authors name people who had already by 1977 proposed schemes to implement coercive measures, and had noted that China and India had already tried to write such measures into law. So the phrase "most countries" above is an acknowledgement that it was already too late in some places.

I've tried to provide enough context for these passages to demonstrate that Zombietime completely misunderstood the intent of Holdren and the Ehrlichs, and misrepresented their words to portray a much harsher worldview than the one the authors of Ecoscience truly endorsed.

I've still got six passages to look at from Zombietime's list. I'll get to them in future posts.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

jimmy carter and the southern baptist convention

In a recent article for the Australian online news site The Age, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter explained his reasons for cutting ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This was reported on several blogs I follow, and I was surprised because I remembered hearing the same thing several years ago.

But now, Beliefnet reveals that there may be much less to this story than first appears:

But I have this question: What does it mean for Jimmy Carter to resign from the SBC when (1) individuals aren't members of the SBC but of local churches that are associated with the SBC? And, more importantly, (2) when he continues to be a member of his SBC church and teaches Sunday School there?

I have a great deal of respect for Jimmy Carter because of his humantarian work since he left office, but I have no idea what he is trying to do here. Maybe it's a Baptist thing that I just don't understand, but how can a person cut ties with his denomination while continuing in a leadership position in a church that still belongs to that denomination?

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

is jesus a sinner? an etymological survey

The ninth chapter of the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. Because the healing happens on a Sabbath, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a sinner. The man who was healed tells them a sinner wouldn't be able to cure blindness. The Pharisees tell the man he can't possibly know that; his blindness is a sure sign that he is a sinner too. The story ends with Jesus telling the Pharisees that they are the ones who are truly blind.

According to Gary Amirault of Tentmaker Ministries, most of us are the blind Pharisees. Amirault's logic is as follows:

The word "to sin" in the Hebrew is the word "chata" which literally means "to miss," as in missing a target with a bow or sling. The Greek word is "hamartano" which means "to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), to err." It means to fall short of a goal or a purpose.

Amirault explains that Jesus' goal or purpose was to save everybody. So, if even one person is not ultimately saved, Jesus missed the mark; he "sinned". Therefore, if we don't believe in universal salvation, we must believe Jesus is a sinner.

Amirault, on the other hand, is above all that:

I once was blind to the Truth and like most Christians, I declared Jesus a sinner like the religious people in Jerusalem did. I said He was not going to save everyone. Then one day He opened my eyes and I saw clearly that He had to save everyone in order to fulfill His mission of doing the Father's will. My eyes were opened to the Scriptures in a new and exciting way. I saw Jesus not "missing the mark," but perfectly completing everything He planned from the foundation of the world. "If I be lifted up from the earth will draw (drag in the Greek) all mankind unto Myself." (John 12:32)

It all sounds beautiful. In the end, love conquers all and everybody goes to heaven, where we all live in sweet harmony. Unfortunately, there are so many flaws in Amirault's logic, it would take several posts to deal with them.

Today I'm going to consider Amirault's definition of sin. Is Jesus a sinner unless he saves everyone?

Amirault defines sin as, "to fall short of a goal or a purpose," based on the etymology of the word. But how reliable is etymology as a guide to a word's meaning?

Let's look at a few words to see:

cabinet: From Old French cabinet meaning "small or private room". It's not hard to see how this could morph two ways into today's terms "kitchen cabinet" (which is rather smaller than a room) and the Cabinet, the President's top-level advisors (who meet with him in a private room). But the original definition no longer matches either sense of the word.

sunrise: From Old English sunne meaning "sun" + risan meaning "to go up". This one looks fine, until you consider that the sun does not rise the way an airplane or a rocket rises into the sky; the earth spins on its axis creating the optical illusion of the sun's movement. It would be a mistake to take the meanings of the two words as evidence of a geocentric universe.

tofu: From Chinese dou, "beans" + fu, "rotten". OK, that one's probably accurate.

strike: From Old English strican, "pass over lightly, stroke, smooth, rub," or "go, proceed". None of the modern definitions of the word quite match; the closest is probably the baseball term for a swing and a miss. But the same word "strike" has acquired many additional meanings: to hit with a fist, to mark something out, to collide, to stop working, to knock down all the pins in bowling. These are all derived from strican; the etymology is completely unreliable as a guide to meaning.

Etymology can be dangerously misleading: The word pedophile is derived from the Greek words for "child" and "loving", but I wouldn't recommend hiring one as a babysitter.

And sometimes even when a word does mean the same as the term it was derived from, it doesn't. We get the word neighbor from Old English neah "near" and gebur "dweller", someone who lives nearby. But in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, neighbor has an entirely different meaning.

So is Amirault being fair when he claims that to say Jesus will not achieve his goal of saving everybody is to say that Jesus is a sinner? My answer is a word derived from the Old English na, meaning "no, never".

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

evil ecoscience?

John at the Zeray Gazette is all up in arms about the alleged policy views of President Obama's "science czar" John Holdren.

A blogger who uses the name Zombietime alleges that Holdren was once a proponent of extremist population-control measures such as involuntary sterilization and forced abortions. These allegations are based on statements from the 1977 book Ecoscience co-authored by Holdren with entomologist Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich.

Zombietime pulls quotes from Ecoscience and add his (her?) commentary. John suggests Zombietime's evidence makes Holdren the moral equivalent of the Nazis, and offers:

In a civilization that still believed in itself, men like John Holdren would be outcasts on the fringes of society, unable to hold a job or keep friends, let alone become senior government officials.

I'm not convinced, for many reasons. First, Zombietime's sloppy reasoning and shaky command of the English language do not inspire confidence that these allegations are true. What's more, I'm sure these issues would have been thoroughly discussed in Holdren's Senate confirmation hearing, had there been a real issue to discuss. Apparently Holdren's views on population control were briefly touched upon in the hearing:

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) questioned Holdren using a selection of a handful of statements Holdren has made on climate and other environmentally related issues over the last 35 years, challenging Holdren on each one. Vitter was the only senator who struck an oppositional pose at the hearing. Holdren answered each of the questions, some by clarifying issues for Vitter, some by clarifying or modulating his earlier statements (some of which dated back to the 1970s), and some by indicating that, over the years, he has come to change his views as his understanding of various issues has developed.

I haven't found a complete transcript of the hearing, but evidently Vitter asked Holdren whether he believes population control is a proper role for government, and Holdren said no. Vitter did not follow up. But if Holdren's book really advocated draconian population control measures, there certainly would have been more than just the one question.

Science writer Chris Mooney says that has read Ecoscience, and that Holdren and the Ehrlichs were not advocating these policies; they were merely describing what might happen if the population spiraled out of control:

In one vast 66 page chapter devoted to “Population Policies,” the authors surveyed a gamut of measures that had been undertaken or considered to control human population growth—including the most extreme. Those included coercive or “involuntary fertility control” measures, such as forced abortions and sterilizations.

However, to describe these measures is different from advocating them. And in fact, the Ehrlichs and Holdren concluded by arguing that noncoercive measures were what they suppported: “A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences”—such as birth control and access to abortions.

I'm trying to obtain a copy of the book to verify this. Perhaps the chapter has a disclaimer or an introductory paragraph stating something like, "This is what could happen if we don't take measures to reduce population growth now."

But even if that's the case, Holdren doesn't come out of this looking like a saint. At best, he and the Ehrlichs were engaging in fearmongering to to make their own views on population sustainability seem more reasonable. The authors of Ecoscience warned that the U.S. would have trouble sustaining a population of 280 million; we are now about 9% higher than that level, and no one is calling for the draconian measures described in Ecoscience.

There is a danger in presenting the worst-case scenario as a plausible future: Your words can come back to haunt you.

Update: I've got more commentary on Ecoscience after borrowing a copy of the book.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

on following human leaders

I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. I had a comment deleted from another blog.

It happened with Adam Smith's post on the dangers of following human leaders rather than Christ, where I left a comment that he considered inappropriate and argumentative.

Not only did he delete my offensive comment, but he has evidently also removed comments I've left on his previous posts (see, e.g., here, where Kevin Jackson and David Barnett both reference one of my comments).

Now I'm not upset about the censorship. Mr. Smith has every right to determine what content appears on his blog, and he was probably right to delete my comment. If I want to call him a cultist, I have my own blog.

Smith, in his post, tries to draw a distinction between Christianity, which "does not have a human leader," and other religions, which do have "human leaders and/or false gods, and that makes them false religions."

In his list, Smith includes:

Catholicism – The Pope

Emergent Church – Brian McLaren

Now I am neither Catholic nor Emergent, but I don't think it is either accurate or fair to label these groups as non-Christian religions that follow human leaders. Especially when you call yourself a five-point Calvinist.

If I had phrased my original comment like that, it might not have been deleted.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

no respect for john calvin

Kevin Jackson presents an essay by Roger Olson on Calvinism. Olson pulls no punches:

Above all I want to make clear that I admire and respect my Calvinist friends and colleagues. We disagree strongly about some points of theology, but I hold them in high esteem for their commitment to the authority of God’s Word and their obvious love for Jesus Christ and his church as well as for evangelism.

However, I do not admire or respect John Calvin.

It's not just Calvin's role in the murder of Servetus that Olson finds objectionable, though that itself is enough reason not to hold the man in any esteem.

But Olson also objects to Calvin's theology, which

…elevates God’s sovereignty over his love, leaving God’s reputation in question. What I mean is that Calvin’s all-determining, predestining deity is at best morally ambiguous and at worst morally repugnant.

Calvin's teachings on predestination are harsh:

God decrees that the sinner shall sin while at the same time commanding him not to sin and condemning him for doing what he was determined by God to do. To Calvin this all lies in the secret purposes of God into which we should not peer too deeply, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who regards God as above all love.

Any being that sets up people to fail this way is not worthy of worship. Olson notes that this theology makes it hard to tell the difference between God and the devil.

I'll have more to say on this in a later post.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

small step, giant leap

Forty years ago today I was at my grandparents' house. The whole family gathered around the television to watch Neil Armstrong step out of the lunar module onto the surface of Earth's only natural satellite. My Dad kept telling me what a historic event this was.

I don't remember a bit of it. I was only ten months old. I do remember the house, though, and I am able to recreate the entire scene in my mind.

I was only four years old when Apollo 17 made the last of the six U.S. manned moon landings, but growing up in the 1970s I was captivated by the wonders of space exploration.

Today, as a professional computer programmer, I am amazed at how NASA managed to accomplish so much with such primitive technology.

But the wonder and amazement is tempered by the reality that in the last 36 1/2 years, we've never made it back to the moon. This wistful quote is attributed to science fiction author Jerry Pournelle:

I always knew I'd live to see the first man walk on the Moon. I never dreamed I'd see the last.

I sincerely hope we haven't seen the last.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

listen with the ear of the heart

Christine at Abbey of the Arts is hosting a photo party this week.

Photo Party Theme: Listen with the Ear of Your Heart

ears listen, eyes look,
hearing, seeing below ground
to the sacred source

I'm a little late to the party, but here is my entry:

It's actually just a slot in the rocks, but it looks like a cave entrance, perhaps not too different from the cave where Jesus was buried on that Friday long ago. For three days, there in the ground lay the sacred source of all life.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

does the creation museum support evolution?

Kenneth Chang says yes.

The descendants of the ark dog include foxes, states one of the museum signs. This is pretty incredible if you don’t accept the theory of evolution. Dogs (and wolves) have a genome of 78 chromosomes. The red fox has 34 chromosomes. By most any measure, dogs and foxes are different species and yet here in the Creation Museum, it was stated that foxes had diversified from dogs, with major changes in appearance and genetic make-up, in an incredibly short time of less than 4,500 years — far, far faster than an evolutionary biologist would claim.

So I suppose this would be called evolution, of a kind. The Creation Museum faces many difficulties in putting its chronology together in such a short time frame.

In a separate article, Chang notes:

Tamaki Sato was confused by the dinosaur exhibit. The placards described the various dinosaurs as originating from different geological periods — the stegosaurus from the Upper Jurassic, the heterodontosaurus from the Lower Jurassic, the velociraptor from the Upper Cretaceous — yet in each case, the date of demise was the same: around 2348 B.C.

2348 B.C. is the creationists' date for the Great Flood. According to the musem, some 50 species of dinosaur apparently were included on the ark, but afterward were unable to cope with the changed environment and soon died off. Why God would order Noah to load these behemoths onto the ark, knowing that they would not survive anyway, is left to the imagination.

The scientists' visit to the museum was the idea of Arnold Miller, professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati.

“Too often, academics tend to ignore what’s going on around them,” Dr. Miller said. “I feel at least it would be valuable for my colleagues to become aware not only of how creationists are portraying their own message, but how they’re portraying the paleontological message and the evolutionary message.”

Dr. Bengtson noted that to explain how the few species aboard the ark could have diversified to the multitude of animals alive today in only a few thousand years, the museum said simply, “God provided organisms with special tools to change rapidly.”

“Thus in one sentence they admit that evolution is real,” Dr. Bengtson said, “and that they have to invoke magic to explain how it works.”

To me, that's the most inexplicable thing about today's creationists. They essentially acknowledge that evolution occurs, but they remain skeptical about the well-understood and well-documented driving forces behind it. What's the point?

I'm not alone in failing to understand:

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

the problem of suffering

It's been said that the difference between theory and practice is this: In theory there is not a difference. In practice, there is.

A blogger who calls himself Stan offers a solution to the problem of suffering. His post illustrates the difference between theory and practice.

Stan begins with a bold statement:

The Problem of Suffering states that the theodicean attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence) contradict observation (the experience of suffering by creatures). Here is a solution.

The idea goes something like this: God originally had a desire to provide "maximal freedom and welfare" to all people, and a plan to achieve this. However, maximal freedom and maximal welfare are logically contradictory. We all, at times, use our freedom in a way that diverges from God's will. If God's will is perfect, acting against it yields less than desirable results.

So far, it all seems plausible. Now the controversial part:

According to Stan, God's plan is designed to take this into account. Knowing in advance that humans would not live up to expectations, God altered his plan to take all our failings into account, and thereby to produce the best possible world. Our freedom and our welfare are balanced and maximized to give us the best we can possibly expect under the circumstances. The suffering that exists is the minimal possible suffering necessary to give us the maximal possible freedom.

Now I could argue with some of Stan's assumptions, but there's a much more glaring problem here. As Stan acknowledges, the problem of suffering is that our theology does not match our observations. So his answer is destined to fail: No amount of philosophizing can ever reduce the suffering we see around us. The problem remains unsolved, no matter how many logical propositions we can string together.

Even if it looks good on paper, it will never sound right in a children's leukemia ward or a Darfur refugee camp. It will never sound right to a husband who has spent 4 1/2 years watching his wife battle a chronic illness, or to their six-year-old son who has no memory of his mother ever being healthy, or to the wife and mother who desperately wants to play a bigger role in family life, but can't.

But perhaps there is a solution to the problem of evil, after all; a solution that is teleological, not philosophical.

Weekend Fisher suggests that trying to solve this problem with logic is like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

If the key point is how we defend God on paper, instead of how God defends us in the real world, then we’ve already conceded the most essential point.

The evil and suffering of this world will never make sense, and can never be logically defended. But it can be overcome:

No, make no mistake, the only thing that defeats the problem of evil is the world being set straight again. The meaningful defeat of evil includes not only the end of evil, but the restoration of any good that was lost to evil. That includes not only the end of death, but the reversal of death for those who have died, and their restoration to life.

So the solution is, in a word, hope.

I thought I was going to end there, but I've realized that this doesn't quite solve the problem either. In the midst of prolonged suffering, it's hard to find a reason to hope. The longer we struggle, the more superficial all this God-talk seems. I have no idea where this is leading, but at this moment the destination does not look like hope.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

did jesus believe in creation?

That's the title of a Ken Ham vignette appearing on the Institute for Creation Research website.

According to Ham:

In Christ's day, the prevailing philosophy on origins included evolution and long ages of earth history.…The same was true for the philosophy of Moses' day, as he prepared the book of Genesis.

Ham clarifies that he is not referring to Darwinian evolution, but pagan mythologies that taught:

[T]he earth and the universe, acting on itself by the forces of nature (which were given names by some) had organized itself into its present state, and was responsible for all of life.

Ham says Jesus rejected this evolutionary thinking. To build his case, Ham takes a snippet from Mark:

…from the beginning of the creation which God created (Mark 13:19)

a snippet from Matthew:

…such as was not since the beginning of the world (Greek kosmos) to this time (Matthew 24:21)

a snippet from John:

…for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24)

a few more from Matthew:

…He maketh His sun to rise (Matthew 5:45)

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles (Matthew 7:16)

Behold the fowls of the air: …your heavenly Father feedeth them (Matthew 6:26)

a couple more from Mark:

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27)

From the beginning of creation God made them male and female (Mark 10:6)

and some more from Matthew:

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh (Matthew 19:6)

Have ye not read that He…made them male and female [quoting Genesis 1 :27], and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: And they twain shall be one flesh? [quoting Genesis 2:24] (Matthew 19:5)

and concludes that these snippets,

when coupled with the total lack of any reference to evolution or long ages

prove Jesus to be a modern Young-Earth Creationist (YEC). Personally, I don't think the case is that clear at all.

In between snippets, Ham's vignette provides a running commentary on how these half-sentences fit together to build the YEC doctrine. But the way I see it, the Bible ought to be able to stand on its own.

What do you think? Does Ken Ham have a solid case, or is he imposing a foreign structure on a set of teachings that were really talking about something else?

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Monday, July 06, 2009

bible translations, english and otherwise

Bible translator Eddie Arthur has a bit of a rant on the disparity between the amount of attention given to English Bible translations and the amount of attention given to the more than 2000 languages that are still waiting for their first translation of the Bible.

…it frustrates me that people can’t see that while we argue about the finer points of the ESV and NLT, so many people don’t have any Scripture. We are like rich people arguing about the finer points of different caviars when there are people starving outside our houses.

Eddie works for Wycliffe UK, one of many fine organizations dedicated to giving people Scriptures in their native languages. Wycliffe offers many opportunities to get involved with translation, through prayers, gifts, or volunteer work. If you're an English speaking Christian who appreciates the freedom of having so many versions available, please take some time to consider what you might be able to do to help give others the opportunity to read even one translation in their own language.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

westboro baptist video

The Westboro Baptist Church choir has made a music video, "God Hates the World" (to the tune of the 1980s relief anthem "We Are the World").

Here is a sample of the lyrics:

God hates the world
And all her people
You every one face a fiery day
For your proud sinning
It's too late to change His mind
You've lived out your vain lives
Storing up God's wrath
For all eternity

I'm still holding out a desperate hope that this is a hoax, but I'm afraid it's not. I have a pretty good nose for satire, and this smells like something else entirely.

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