Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Coming Ice Age

From the April 28, 1975 issue of newsweek. I found it at Sweetness & Light.

The Cooling World
By Peter Gwynne
28 April 1975

There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production — with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas — parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia — where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.

The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually.

During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree — a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 13 U.S. states.

To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.

“A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

To the layman, the relatively small changes in temperature and sunshine can be highly misleading. Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin points out that the Earth’s average temperature during the great Ice Ages was only about seven degrees lower than during its warmest eras — and that the present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average.

Others regard the cooling as a reversion to the “little ice age” conditions that brought bitter winters to much of Europe and northern America between 1600 and 1900 — years when the Thames used to freeze so solidly that Londoners roasted oxen on the ice and when iceboats sailed the Hudson River almost as far south as New York City.

Just what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery. “Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,” concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. “Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.”

Meteorologists think that they can forecast the short-term results of the return to the norm of the last century. They begin by noting the slight drop in overall temperature that produces large numbers of pressure centers in the upper atmosphere. These break up the smooth flow of westerly winds over temperate areas. The stagnant air produced in this way causes an increase in extremes of local weather such as droughts, floods, extended dry spells, long freezes, delayed monsoons and even local temperature increases — all of which have a direct impact on food supplies.

“The world’s food-producing system,” warns Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAA’s Center for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, “is much more sensitive to the weather variable than it was even five years ago.”

Furthermore, the growth of world population and creation of new national boundaries make it impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields, as they did during past famines.

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects.

They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.

Can anyone say, "radical theory change in science"? More on this to come.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Carl Sagan and the Matrix

You might think I don't like Carl Sagan but that wouldn't be the case. I do kind of like the guy. He reminds me of those sort of smarmy teachers I had in the gifted classes I took in elementary school in Southern California as a kid. He just sort of epitomizes the 70s and science for me. Anytime I see one of his old Cosmos shows coming on one of the nerd channels I watch it. But his voice, speaking tone, and teaching manor just beg to be mocked, don't they? I ran across this little gem this morning on YouTube and absolutely loved it. You gotta watch it.

Ever wondered if scientist Carl Sagan and Agent Smith from The Matrix might be the same person somehow?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carl Sagan Was Naive - part 2

"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."--Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot.

I think what I should do is just pick apart this statement piece by piece. I shall try to be merciful but justice demands swift punishment of such blatant and willful ignorance in a man professing to be so full of knowledge and wisdom.

And one other thing before I do that. Blaming the ignorance quoted above on marijuana use is just too easy an out for me to give Mr. Sagan. I am certain he believed this way all the time, not just when under the influence. But it was fun giving him the jab.

Sagan: "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, . . ."

I doubt if Sagan knew much, if anything, about any major religion. The appalling ignorance in this particular quotation is prima facie evidence of this.

Why would religion spend its time looking to science? Religion looks to the God of science, not to science. It deals with things that cannot be tested with the scientific method.

Sagan: "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'?"

Is he asking why religion has not elevated science to the status of religion like he has?

I can't speak for other religions, but I can for the Christian faith. I can think of no biblical prophet who downgraded the universe. They conceived of a universe as grand, subtle, and elegant as their limited capacity to understand it would allow them. What they did understand they praised and pointed to its grandness as proof of the greatness of God.

At least two major religions could point Sagan to Psalm 8:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
. . .
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Or the prophet Amos:
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the LORD is his name;
Or how about the oldest book in either the Christian or Hebrew canon? Read as Job quotes God on the wonders of the universe pointing to the greatness of God (and the humility which should be displayed by man in the face of it and Him.)--Job 38

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground sprout with grass?

“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?

I could go on . . . and on . . . and on. But my point, I think is made. The prophets proclaimed a grand, subtle, meticulous, orderly, wonderful universe and used it as evidence to point to the greatness of its God. For the Christian (or the orthodox Jew for that matter) the bigger science can demonstrate the universe to be, the more wondrous the world around us, the more praiseworthy is our God. All of this just renders Sagan's comment, well, stupid.

Sagan: "Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'"

It would be nice to see some evidence of this negative assertion about the major religions. Again, I cannot speak for all of them, but I can certainly speak for the Christian faith and perhaps the Jewish one as well. We have the grandest view of God imaginable. That is why we conceive of him in terms that begin with "omni-" and "all-". You know, like omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, all-seeing, omnipresent, etc. In fact, it is impossible to conceive of a God more grand than the Christian God and the larger science discovers the universe to be--the more complex, the more subtle, the more wondrous--the greater this God becomes in our conception.

Sagan: "A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."

And how would Sagan know this has not happened or is not happening seeing he had nothing to do with the major religions his entire adult life? And did he (and does Dawkins) really believe that science holds a monopoly on reverence and awe for creation?

I cannot resist one more sripture quotation, this time from the prophet Isaiah (chapter 40):

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
Comes across as a small God, doesn't it? Small universe, small God. Right. Gotcha.

(all Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Carl Sagan Was Naive

In chapter one of The God Delusion Richard Dawkins quotes Carl Sagan in an effort to demonstrate how science and scientific knowledge provide a better platform for awe and wonder than does religious faith. Before getting to the quotation, I wish to reflect a bit on the deceased Mr. Sagan.

Surely you remember him, do you not? He co-wrote and hosted the television series Cosmos which first aired on PBS in 1980. Sagan did much to popularize science, including several books, essays, the television show noted above, and frequent television appearances. He was known for his belief that extra-terrestrial life existed in the universe and for his efforts to bring about its discovery. In addition he was a political activist, being one of the first to advocate the theory of a nuclear winter taking place in the aftermath of a nuclear war and also an early advocate of the idea of man-made global warming. His leftist activism led to his arrest on more than one occasion.

But Sagan was also a noted and accomplished astronomer. He was one of the first to postulate that the surface of Venus was mostly hot and arid. He conjectured that Jupiter's moon Europa might have sub-surface oceans, a theory that was later indirectly confirmed by the spacecraft Galileo. By most measures Sagan led a full, active, and productive life.

But enough of that.

Sagan was a pantheist. I remember about two years ago they were airing those old episodes of Cosmos on the Discovery Science channel. I vaguely remembered having seen some of those shows as an adolescent. Intrigued, I watched several of them in a row. Sagan, I noted, had a gift for teaching, for making complex ideas understandable. I laughed at his hairstyle and clothing which were reminiscent of the time-period. I was enjoying myself and, yes, learning. Then came the episode where Sagan was discussing the Big Bang theory. Though Sagan did not mention this in the show, I happened to know that some scientists are a bit uncomfortable with one aspect of the Big Bang theory (and this is why it was slow in ascending to supremacy among the physicists at the time of its first being postulated), specifically that the Big Bang points back to a beginning of time and matter. This idea supports theism--not pantheism. Pantheists view matter and the universe as eternal--having no beginning or ending. Most scientists are pantheists.

So anyway, in this certain episode which I am recalling Sagan takes us to India to show us a religious world-view which he could support--pantheism. He did not name it as such, but I wasn't born yesterday and I knew where he was going with it. Then, he goes on to postulate that the universe is eternal, that it is an endless cycle of expansions and retractions. Right now, the universe is expanding; one day it will begin retracting. Then, when it is back to square one, bang, it starts all over again. His evidence for this? The Brahman religion.

I'm not kidding. That was all the evidence he cited. This was compatible with what the ancient Brahmans believed.

And the facts involved, the experimentation, the logic used to prompt me to accept Brahman pantheism over, say, Christian theism? All he gave was a simple, "Why not?"

That's it. And, yes, that passed for logic and science and sound reasoning in Carl Sagan's world.

But enough of my television memories. Let's get to that Sagan quotation in Dawkins' book. Here it is:

"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."--Carl Sagan as quoted by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, paperback, p.32,33.

You know, my knee-jerk reaction to that quotation is to ask, "What has this guy been smoking?" Turns out my knee-jerk reaction may hit closer to home than you might imagine. Sagan was, indeed, a child of his times and once wrote an essay (under a pseudonym) defending the use of cannabis in a book entitled Marihuana Reconsidered. In the essay he credits the mari-hoochie for helping to inspire some of his works and for enhancing sensual and intellectual experiences. Suddenly I know where the inspiration for this particular quotation came from. The only thing left to learn is whether it was rolled in paper or inhaled through a bong.

But that's too easy, isn't it?

In a near-future post look for me to rip Sagan's naive statement and Dawkins' gullible embracing of it in his book. It is amazing to me how these guys can make such ignorant assertions and still try to pass themselves off as the epitome of logic and reason.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Like Dawkins

The thing is I like Richard Dawkins. I disagree with him vehemently, don't get me wrong. And I look forward to ripping him apart, in so far as I am able, as I dig my way through The God Delusion. But I have to tell you that in some ways Dawkins is a breath of fresh air. At least he believes something and what he believes in he is passionate about. People nowadays don't believe in anything passionately neither will they state anything about those beliefs forcefully for fear of offending someone. Enough of the political correctness already! Who cares if people are offended? If Dawkins is right and I am a fool for believing in God then I need to be offended, knocked upside the head rhetorically; perhaps it will bring me to my senses. And if Dawkins is wrong and playing the part of the fool (as I believe) then why shouldn't I unload verbal salvos upon him and his stupid arguments? Plain speech is a virtue!

With that in mind look for four things as I slowly plow through The God Delusion. First, look for me to take it slowly. I may read each chapter two or three times before moving on to the next. This will enable me to grasp his thoughts and subtleties well and give me time to distill my thoughts and responses and answer him well. I may be dull enough not to have oversome my childhood indoctrination into Christianity, but I have enough wits, I think, to participate and participate well, in polemical discussion. Second, look for me to be fair to Dawkins and treat him honestly and fairly whether he does the same with theists and/or Christians or not. Dawkins is not Satan. He is created in the image of God and in no more or less need of God's grace than any of us. Stupid, sinful, holier-than-thou attitudes toward people like Dawkins, which I fear are the norm in our shallow age, do nothing but fan the flames of their hatred of religion and give them justification for that hatred. Third, look for me to praise those ideas and attitudes of his with which I agree. Some posts in this line-up will be exactly that. And, last, look for me to treat him roughly, just as roughly as he treats others, when it comes to points of disagreement. Dawkins obviously likes it rough so rough is how we will have it.

Dawkins is far more educated than I am, is far more accomplished, and has much more experience. For that I respect him. He has also brought this debate down to the popular level as opposed to leaving it on the academic level and for that I am thankful. I am a big first amendment guy in case you haven't noticed and I think that hashing these things out in the popular, public sector is good for society. The fact that we can discuss these things on the level of the people and leave the discussion with our lives and liberty intact is a reflection on the goodness and rightness of the American ideal. People need to be interested in events and venues which cause them to think. I hope they will. That's why what Dawkins is doing cannot be seen as ultimately bad from a Christian perspective. If he challenges us and we rise to meet that challenge then what he has done is ultimately good--good for us and good for those who are given the opportunity to hear our defense of our faith. Truth will win the day. I believe that. Don't you?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Radical Theory Change in Science

Alister McGrath brings up an interesting observation in Chapter three of his Dawkins' God--Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. In that chapter he has a section entitled "The Problem of Radical Theory Change in Science." Here is a quotation:

When I was learning physics at school, I gradually became aware of an awkward contradiction within what I was being taught. On the one hand, I was being assured that the theories of modern physics were completely reliable, the most secure form of knowledge that humanity could ever hope to possess. Yet every now and then, we would venture into a strange, twilight region in which it would be explained to us, in hushed, conspiratorial tones, that "physicists once used to believe this, but don't now." . . . At first, I thought that these old-fashioned views dated back to the sixteenth century. But the awful truth soon became clear. The acceptance of these new ideas dated from about forty years earlier. "Once" turned out to mean "quite recently."--Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God, p.102, paperback, Blackwell Publishing.

Yep. I've noticed that sort of thing myself. No, I'm no scientist, but I am a television nerd--which means I watch all the nerd channels. You know what they are--the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, NatGeo, Discovery Science, History International, etc. I watch shows dealing with astronomy, cosmology, dinosaurs, you name it. One cannot watch many of these programs without coming across statements like the one McGrath notes above. Scientific theories are always changing, always being revised, many being completely discarded and replaced. They are always getting it wrong.

Now is that a bad thing? Of course, not. Scientific discovery is a road paved with wrong ideas, but as we learn and discover further, we grow. Isn't that wonderful?

There's something else I've noted in the scientific community from watching those nifty little nerd channels. Scientists are always arguing with each other. They seldom all agree on their theories and some are even ridiculed for their ideas by their colleagues. Sometimes even, the ones who are ridiculed turn out to be right. Sometimes a scientist comes along who challenges the prevailing opinions, is ridiculed, but in the end, through his diligent experimentation and research, it turns out that he was right and he changes the face of science for a few decades (until the next guy comes along doing the same thing).

All of this is easily evident to the untutored layman like me. Yet at the same time it is astounding how arrogant the scientific community is. Imagine, for instance, a guy like Richard Dawkins. An intelligent man by all accounts, well-learned, articulate, funny, thorough, logical, Dawkins is also arrogant--arrogant to the point of expecting people to radically change their worldview because of a scientific theory. Of course, as McGrath points out, even if one were to accept the theory of evolution as genuine it does not then necessarily follow that one's theism or Christianity be discarded.

Nevertheless, here is Dawkins--who cannot prove his theory. He may be able to point to a mound of scientific evidence, yet the necessary proof is as of yet unproduced. But Dawkins ridicules those who do not accept the theory as fact, even though scientific theories have a way of being found wanting and, after being replaced by new and better ones, being cast upon the forgotten heaps of antiquated errors that litter the landscape of scientific history.

Please, guys. Keep studying, keep learning, keep discovering. I shall watch with an interested eye. But, at the same time, how about adding in a dash of humility to that theoretical cauldron? The stew you are offering will go down much better if you do.

A little more from McGrath:

Historians and philosophers of science have produced long lists of scientific theories, each of which was believed by one generation to be the best possible representation of reality, yet which were abandoned by later generations, in the light of new discoveries and increasingly precise measurements of what was already known. Some theories have proved remarkably stable; many have been radically modified, and others abandoned altogether.--Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God, p.104, paperback, Blackwell Publishing.


Scientific theorizing is thus provisional. In other words, it offers what is believed to be the best account of the experimental observations currently available. Radical theory change takes place either when it is believed that there is a better explanation of what is currently known, or when new information comes to light which forces us to see what is presently known in a new light. Unless we know the future, it is impossible to take an absolute position on the question of whether any given theory is "right." What can be said--and, indeed, must be said--is that this is believed to be the best explanation currently available. History simply makes fools of those who argue that every aspect of the current theoretical situation is true for all time. The problem is that we don't know which of today's theories will be discarded as interesting failures by future generations.

If theories are thus subject to erosion, what of worldviews that are based upon them? . . .
Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God, p.104,5, paperback, Blackwell Publishing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

For My Muse

My paltry prose is always read by you and what life its flame contains was fanned by your encouragement. So in the midst of all my poor attempts at punditry I take this opportunity to diverge from my regular line of postings and make this trifling offering to you. May your love for me be requited a hundredfold and may God's grace be forever yours. When I think of you I feel like Shakespeare must have felt when he penned sonnet #29:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For my sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Peter's Blunder--and mine

I was busy preparing the next new sermon for the Spurgeon Archive Addendum this morning when disaster happened. The sermon is No. 1823 "Peter's Blunder: A Lesson to Ourselves" and it will be the next one up. It would have been up this morning before church but half way through editing it something happened to reset my computer and, no, I had not saved it up until that point. That's my blunder.

But it is an excellent sermon and I can't wait to make it available. Here is a quotation from it which will serve as a teaser:

"'But I am strong,' say you. Nonsense, you are weak as water. You dream of perfection, but you are a mass of wants, and infirmities, and conceits; and if it were not for the infinite mercy of God, who deals tenderly with you, you would soon have most painfully to know it to your own dishonor, and to the grief of your brethren round about you. Peter is Peter still, notwithstanding what grace has done."--CHS

Let that thought sink in and I shall have the entire sermon up, if not this afternoon then perhaps tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Smell a Set-Up

My first reaction to Richard Dawkins is that he comes across as an arrogant ass (in the King James sense, of course). I am sure I am not the first who has thought that or even verbalized it, but there it is. Of course, it has nothing to do with whether he is right or not. It is not an argument, it's an observation.

I will say this for him, his prose is written in a pleasing style. He is quite the penman.

I can tell it is going to take me a while to read this book because on every page or so I find something about which I want to protest or point out. That's what brings us here, after midnight, when I have to get up early and go to work in the morning. But I won't be able to sleep unless I blog this now.

It starts with Dawkins' stated purpose for writing this book. To do justice to his stated purpose would entail quoting the entire Preface. However, I believe the reader can get the general idea from the third paragraph of the Preface which goes like this:

"I suspect--well, I am sure--that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you. It is intended to raise consciousness--raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled. That is the first of my consciousness-raising messages. I also want to raise consciousness in three other ways, which I'll come on to. . . ."--Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Preface, paragraph 3.

So there you have it. Mr. Dawkins wishes to convert us, right? Wrong. He only wishes to convert "open-minded" people. He knows, on the other hand, that fundamentalists--"dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads"--are incapable of being converted. They are not open-minded. Rather, they are victims of indoctrination--and lacking the intelligence to overcome it.

From page 28 of the paperback version (emphasis mine):

"If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism! Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design). Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan. But I believe there are plenty of open-minded people out there: people whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn't 'take', or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it. Such free spirits should need only a little encouragement to break free of the vice of religion altogether."--Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.28, paperback.

I'm being set up. Can you see it? If at the end of this book Mr. Dawkins has converted me, that means I am "intelligent" and "open-minded" and a "free spirit" who was able to overcome the insidious indoctrination I received as a child. If, however, I remain unconvinced by Mr. Dawkins' impeccable logic then I am most certainly some "dyed-in-the-wool faith-head" who is just too stupid or too stubborn to bow to the great Oxford professor's wisdom. It is an appeal to pride and elitism. All the smart, beautiful people are atheists!

Hogwash. What if someone reads Dawkins' treatise and finds it (gasp) unconvincing? What if, when read, the logic is found to be full of holes? What if, when weighed in the balance, the book is found to be, in fact, very light on the logic side and very, very heavy on the rhetoric side?

Dawkins is fond of pointing out the worst in religious faith and peddling it as the norm. Thinking people, however, shouldn't buy that nonsense. For an example see the second paragraph I quoted above. Is it true, as Dawkins states, that many religious people will be warned away from his book, convinced not to read it, because some religious leader(s) will pronounce the work as a work of Satan and therefore, by extension, those who read it as participating in some evil act? Yes, that's true.

And let me also say (and I think Dawkins would agree) that if the Bible is true, then what Dawkins has produced is an evil work. In fact, it constitutes a high crime against heaven. That is, if the Bible is true (and I certainly believe that it is). Dawkins does not. In fact, he laughs at a bumper sticker which he once saw which refers to blasphemy as a victimless crime.

But it does not then follow that to read his work is an evil act. In fact, I would argue that it is a good and necessary act to read his work and engage it on an intellectual level (yes, Mr. Dawkins, some dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads do that sort of thing). This sort of diatribe needs to be answered, and answered well--with reason.

"Test everything; hold fast what is good"--St. Paul.

"Buy the truth and sell it not."--Proverbs

The Christian faith is a well-reasoned and reasonable faith which has stood the test of time--as well as an endless barrage of attacks from well-educated elitists like Dawkins. Those attacks have been traditionally answered and refuted by well-educated, thinking, reasoning men of faith who hold to the truth with such tenacity that they are not afraid to be engaged by high-minded, holier-than-thou (yes, I think it is an appropriate description of Dawkins' demeanor) zealots. Truth does not fear error. There are answers to the questions and apparent problems which the skeptics pose and Christianity is a thinking man's religion, completely intellectually and logically satisfying.

And neither will I fall prey to Dawkins' set-up. Dawkins will have to do more than merely assert that reasonable and intelligent and open-minded people will succumb to his wisdom and logic. He will have to prove it.

I have another thought which occurred to me while reading Dawkins that I will blog about later today. It is a tie-in to the religious liberty posts. I hope you will come back for it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everybody's Headed for the Weekend!

I just finished Alister McGrath's Dawkins' God. McGrath makes some excellent points and seems to dissect some of Dawkins' more inept assertions rather nicely. Of course, I haven't read Dawkins himself yet, but his The God Delusion is next on my list. More thoughts on this later.

Hopefully I will be able to blog something later tonight. The evenings this weekend are looking rather busy, though. My boys and I are going to play basketball tonight. Tomorrow night I have the girls. Then I am spending the entire weekend with all four of them, so I am looking forward to some reading of Tolkien, no doubt, along with a quiz being given to my oldest boy over a book he is supposed to have finished by Friday night (the bio of David Livingstone published by Moody).

So . . . we have on the agenda some 19th century missions, some Tolkien, some Disney, and some twenty-first century atheism. (Is there some sort of subconscious bridge there, some sort of step-by-step progression?) Speaking of the latter, at least Dawkins, for all his flaws, is colorful and, I am told, an interesting writer who holds a disdain for post-modern thinking. A fundamentalist atheist (or would he be an atheist fundamentalist?) . . . should be a blast! I am looking forward to being shocked and offended at his over-the-top rhetoric and I plan to answer some of his points here on the blog as I know he will get my juices flowing. I only hope I can match his rhetoric and enthusiasm.

BTW - here's a rather poor photo of a large-mouth bass my son caught the other day in his grandfather's pond.

It weighed in at 3.5 lbs. Not bad.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Baptist John Leland on Religious Liberty

I found this interesting little page on-line and decided to link it here. The page belongs to Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D. I recommend you go over there and read the entire paragraph as it further supports what I have been blogging here. This is one aspect of my Baptist heritage of which I am particularly (ahem) proud. Here is a teaser:

During the summer of 2001 my family and I took a trip to Virginia and North Carolina to do family tree research and visit some historic locations. As we were traveling "the Constitution Route" on highway 20 in Virginia, I came across an interesting monument about seven miles east of Orange. On it was the embossed head of John Leland, the influential Baptist preacher and champion of religious liberty. It is believed that the monument marks the location where James Madison and John Leland met to discuss Madison’s candidacy for Virginia delegate to the Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution. . . .
Below are some of the quotations I promised from John Leland on religious liberty.
Let it suffice on this head to say, that it is not possible in the nature of things to establish religion by human laws without perverting the design of civil law and oppressing the people (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

Is it the duty of a deist to support that which he believes to be a cheat and imposition? Is it the duty of the Jew to support the religion of Jesus Christ, when he really believes that he was an imposter? Must the papist be forced to pay men for preaching down the supremacy of the pope, whom they are sure is the head of the church? Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

To say that religion cannot stand without a state establishment is not only contrary to fact (as has been proved already) but is a contradiction in phrase. Religion must have stood a time before any law could have been made about it; and if it did stand almost three hundred years without law it can still stand without it (from The Connecticut Dissenters Strong Box, Number One, New London 1802).

If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise let men be free (from The Connecticut Dissenters Strong Box, Number One, New London 1802.

To read in the New Testament, that the Lord has ordained that those that preach the gospel shall live by its institutions and precepts, sounds very harmonical; but to read in a state constitution, that the legislature shall require men to maintain teachers of piety, religion and morality, sounds very discordant (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

In the second article [of the Massachusetts state constitution of 1780] it is said, 'is the right and duty of all men publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being.' This article would read much better in a catechism than in a state constitution, and sound more concordant in a pulpit than in a statehouse (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

...[A]nd the reason why public worship is enjoined (required) by authority, and private worship is omitted, is only to pave the way for some religious establishment by human law, and force taxes from the people to support avaricious priests. (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

What leads legislators into this error, is confounding sins and crimes together -- making no difference between moral evil and state rebellion: not considering that a man may be infected with moral evil, and yet be guilty of no crime, punishable by law. If a man worships one God, three Gods, twenty Gods, or no God -- if he pays adoration one day in a week, seven days or no day -- wherein does he injure the life, liberty or property of another? Let any or all these actions be supposed to be religious evils of an enormous size, yet they are not crimes to be punished by laws of state, which extend no further, in justice, than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

In a well regulated state it will be the business of the legislature to prevent sectaries of different denominations from molesting and disturbing each other; to ordain that no part of the community shall be permitted to perplex and harass the other for any supposed heresy, but that each individual shall be allowed to have and enjoy, profess and maintain his own system of religion, provided it does not issue in overt acts of treason against the state undermining the peace and order of society. (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

* "The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever...Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians." - A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia.

* "Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense — it will stand upon its own merits." - Right of Conscience Inalienable.

* "Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free." - Right of Conscience Inalienable.
Make no mistake. The idea of the separation of church and state is something for which Baptists fought for a very long time. Leland was perhaps one of the most vociferous, but he was certainly not alone (as I hope to demonstrate as I continue to expand upon this theme).

And I agree with John Leland and those early American Baptists. The marriage of church and state is an insufferable evil and a plague upon genuine religion and will remain so for as long as this world remains in its fallen condition. I will attempt to provide more history on the subject first, then I will attempt to demonstrate why I believe this to be so using Scripture and sound reason. Then later, I plan to make some arguments supporting my opinion that our current federal government violates this first amendment principle and usurps the role of the individual and church in its current day-to-day operations. For now I would just like you to think about an old adage that distills quite succinctly my viewpoint, then come back later for more.

"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Revival Sermons

Last night I was blessed with my girls and a slumber party and so I did not get as much blogging done as I would have wished. I did manage to get that brand-new Spurgeon sermon done at The Spurgeon Archive Addendum, however. The sermon is from Habakkuk 3:2 and I have a hard copy in a book called Revival Sermons which is a collection of Spurgeon's sermons selected and edited by Rev. Dr. Charles T. Cook. My edition was published in 1958 and sold for $2.95 hard-back. I also had the unedited version of the sermon on a CD-Rom from Ages software. This is a great resource but is notorious for its copying errors. So what I did was copy & paste the sermon from there, then edit it using the hard copy as a reference. It took me about an hour and a half. Hopefully I'll get faster.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Great Reading

I managed to finish Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ over the weekend. This is an excellent resource. For me there was not a lot new as far as arguments and information, but what took me years and years to discover through my own private reading and research, Strobel put in one concise and easy-to-read volume that can be read in a day or two. Kudos. I recommend it to anyone and everyone. What? Are you one of the only about a hundred and fifty evangelicals who still haven't read it? Go ahead! Bite the bullet. Dew it! You won't regret it. Besides, you'll want it on your shelf as a reference. I promise you my kids will read this book when they are teens.

Since finishing that one up I have begun devouring Alister McGrath's Dawkins God--Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. No light reading this. However, it is not a long book, my copy being about 160 pages minus the reference sections. It is worth it. We would all be better off if we turned off the television and pop culture from time to time and spent some quality hours with a good tome--thinking and developing discernment--learning. Besides that, here you have one Oxford professor taking on (and taking out) the arguments of another--an academic free-for-all! Check out what McGrath says about Dawkins and this debate in the Introduction:

"Yes, Dawkins seems to many to be immensely provocative and aggressive, dismissing alternative positions with indecent haste, or treating criticism of his personal views as an attack on the entire scientific enterprise. Yet this kind of overheated rhetoric is found in any popular debate, whether religious, philosophical, or scientific. Indeed, it is what makes popular debates interesting, and raises them above the tedious drone of normal scholarly discussion, which seems invariably to be accompanied by endless footnotes, citing of weighty but dull authorities, and cautious understatement heavily laced with qualifications. How much more exciting to have a pugnacious, no holds barred debate, without having to worry about the stifling conventions of rigorous evidence-based scholarship! Dawkins clearly wants to provoke such a debate and discussion, and it would be churlish not to accept such an invitation."
Let's get it on!

Other Blog-related Info

Tomorrow night look for me to get that list of John Leland quotations on the separation of church and state added to this blog and also look for the first sermon to be web-published to The Spurgeon Archive Addendum.

Friday, July 4, 2008

John Leland, Patriot for Liberty

When we think of patriots we think of men like George Washington, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Ben Franklin, and so on. But I bet you never stop to contemplate the effect on our liberty made by a Baptist preacher by the name of John Leland.

John Leland was a Baptist evangelist, a Calvinist, and an outspoken political activist. His issue? Separation of church and state.

Although we were all taught that our forefathers came to this land seeking religious liberty, in truth religious liberty was not law in the thirteen colonies. With the exception of Roger Williams' Rhode Island, each colony had its own state church. Yes, the pilgrims and puritans did come seeking a place where they could freely worship--and everyone else was forced to worship that way too.

We look at that and think how horrid! But we are the recipients of a moral code in this vein that was unheard of in the 17th century world. At that time there was religious liberty virtually nowhere and the idea was morally repugnant to the religious thinkers of the day (it had been for thousands of years). If the government does not enforce religious practice then the public will go wild, said they. Have you never read the Law of Moses and the Old Testament?

But in the new world that thinking was to change and that change had been coming about since the early 1600's and the appearance of the Baptists in Holland and England. Baptists were non-comformists and, as such, had been suffering at the hands of the established churches (read: state churches) since their beginnings. But they persevered through all obstacles and flourished. In the colonies, and especially in Virginia, they suffered greatly at the hands of the colonial government.

When the time came for a new nation to be born and a new government to be formed it was the Baptists, with their doctrine of liberty of conscience, who led the charge for a bill of rights which would guarantee, among other things, religious liberty--through the separation of church and state.

I read an interesting article published on-line by Homer Massey of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I would encourage you to read the whole article, but I wanted to quote him on this next part. He writes:

"The Constitution of the United States was submitted to the various states for ratification on September 1, 1787. Each state dealt with the pros and cons on a grass-roots level, with public discussions and debates between candidates for that state’s own Constitutional Convention.

In two states--Virginia and Massachusetts--there was considerable opposition to ratification because, in the minds of many, it had no specific guaranty of religious liberty. James Madison was the primary author and he felt confident that there was no major problem. As he was returning to his home in Orange County just prior to the election there for the Convention, he stopped at Fredericksburg. There he received “an urgent warning that he should be sure to visit an influential Baptist leader and convert him from the idea that the Constitution (as it stood) menaced religious liberty.”

The influential Baptist leader was John Leland, who lived outside the town of Orange on the road to Fredericksburg. Madison discovered that Leland had garnered sufficient support to keep him out of the ratifying convention, so he and Leland met in an oak grove six miles outside Orange in the Spring of 1788. Instead of converting Leland, however, Madison was the one who was converted. As a result of this meeting he agreed to introduce amendments to the new Constitution that would spell out specific items Lelad and the Baptist were concerned about. In the county meeting shortly thereafter Madison was elected to the Convention with Leland’s support.

A local Baptist association has preserved the spot where the two men held their historic meeting, calling it “Leland Madison Park.” A fine memorial marker now stands in the small park on Highway 20 in Orange County, briefly telling the story of how the Baptists played a crucial role in securing religious liberty in America.

In June of 1789 James Madison introduced his promised amendments to the new Constitution. The first of them reads in part, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…’

This, when eventually adopted, embedded in the fundamental law of our country the historic Baptist principle of the separation of the domains of religion and civil government.”

So when you go to church this Sunday, whatever church you attend, think of John Leland and give God thanks for him. And for those of you who don't go to church and don't worship God in any form or fashion, please take some time to contemplate that it was, in part, a Baptist preacher who vehemently fought for you that right. Tomorrow I will post some quotations from John Leland on religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

Senator Jesse Helms--American Statesman

On this, the 232nd anniversary of the birth of our nation we mourn the death of an American statesman--Jesse Helms of North Carolina. How fitting that he should die on this day.

“Compromise, hell! ... If freedom is right and tyranny is wrong, why should those who believe in freedom treat it as if it were a roll of bologna to be bartered a slice at a time?"--Jesse Helms

We have too many politicians--men who govern by polls and fear the press and are bought by special interest groups--and too few statesmen--men of principle, men of backbone, men of courage, men of character. God rest his soul and in His grace give us more men like him.

The American Empire

I just read a fabulous article at National Review Online entitled "If America Is an Empire, then Why Is Gas So Expensive?--Imperial considerations" by Thomas F. Madden. Here is a teaser:

"America has become an empire. Everyone says so.

This is a surprise to most Americans, since few imagined that they were building such a thing. But, as historians such as Walter Nugent and Robert Kagan have recently taught us, Americans have been at this imperialist expansionism for quite some time — really since the beginning of the republic. How else to explain that the United States has gone from a handful of agrarian colonies to a world-spanning colossus in the space of only a few centuries? As you read this, American military might is deployed across the planet. The U.S. Navy is literally larger than all of the other navies in the world combined. The United States military accounts for almost one-half of total global military expenditures. Never before in human history has there been such a disparity in power among sovereign states.

So, I have a question. If America is an empire (and everyone says that it is), then why is gas so expensive?"

Go read it. You will get a chuckle and you will also learn something.

The Spurgeon Archive Addendum

Introducing The Spurgeon Archive Addendum--a blog which will help supplement some of the missing sermons from the famous Spurgeon Archive which highlights the work of the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I will be adding, hopefully, at least one new Charles Spurgeon sermon to the cyber-world per week, sermons not available at The Spurgeon Archive or anywhere else on the web. This work will hopefully help to complete that wonderful resource in the future.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Morning Musings

Independence day is coming (Friday) and I am planning at least three blog posts for that day. One will be about our Christian heritage and the part it played in the formation of the Bill of Rights. One will be about the American Empire and how we differ from the historic empire model. The last will be a post on defining the American dream. Don't miss that last one.

In the meantime you might have noticed the list in the side-bar of books I am reading right now. A word on those:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is considered one of the best biographies of TR available. Edmund Morris received, I believe, a pullitzer for it. If I'm not mistaken it was also made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCapprio which would explain why I haven't bothered watching. But the book is excellent and I am taking my time with it. Not that it isn't a page-turner, it is that, but I have so much on my plate that I only read it on weekends when I'm at my folks' house and I set a course to complete it by the end of the year. It covers T-Rex's life from birth through his election as President. It is the first volume of a planned trilogy of which only the first two have been written thus far. The second is called Theodore Rex.

The Hobbit I have read at least four times already--once as a 7th grader, again as a young adult, then aloud to my oldest son when he was in kindergarten, and now to my younger son who will be in kindergarten next year.

The Confessions of St. Augustine is a classic which everyone should read. My copy was published by Moody. It is the edition edited by Dr. Paul Bechtel in 1981, working primarily with an edition translated from the Latin by Anglican clergyman E.B. Pusey (1800-1882). Those of you who grew up with the King James Version of the Bible will feel right at home with this translation for it has the same style of language. I will blog more on this book.

The Case for Christ I have mentioned in a previous blogpost. Nearly done with it I hope to put it back on the shelf this weekend.

Pawn of Prophecy--pure escapism. I read this series of books when I was a teenager and completely taken by the fantasy genre. I picked it back up to see if it could still maintain its captivating spell now that I'm a more mature reader. So far not bad. Better than some I have returned to after twenty-plus years.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Church and Politics

I've been a bit short on blogging time but hope to be able to get to something of substance later this evening. In the meantime I ran across a topic of interest on another more populated blog and I thought I would pass it along here. Phil Johnson of The Spurgeon Archive fame posted some interesting thoughts on what may happen when the Church mixes and mingles in the political arena and how that may affect its overall witness. I rarely read the comments over there because there are so many, but I would be interested in anyone's thoughts on the post. I will also be opining along these lines in the near future, though I may be hitting at it from a different and, perhaps, odd (unique?) angle.

Just to give you a small taste and perhaps kindle your fire a little let me tease this future line of posts by saying that I am adamantly FOR the separation of Church and State. I know that specific terminology is not used in the Bill of Rights, but I wish it had been. Evangelicals often frighten me in their inability to grasp this very important and Christian concept. The marriage of Church and State was a marriage made in hell. Though probably all of our founders were theists and many of them Christians, and though their theology cannot help but to have seeped into their writings, they set out purposely to set up a system of government that was a-theological in its institutions--not favoring one theological creed over another. My gripe, however, is not so much the Church's foray into politics (though I tend to agree with Phil) but the government's intrusion into things that properly belong in the private sector, specifically to the Church. I think as a layman I am perfectly suited to opine on this subject.