Tuesday, May 24, 2005

An Official State Dogma?

Georgia Textbook Evolution Stickers Removed

Much has been said about this issue, but reading this article this morning, a familiar phrase caught my attention all over again.

Six parents sued to remove the stickers saying the disclaimers violated the principle of the separation of church and state. A federal judge in January agreed and ordered the stickers be removed.

Are we happy with there being an official state dogma on a scientific theory-a scientific position that is determined and mandated by the state? According to the logic of this ruling, not only is a non-Darwinistic theory inherently religious (a non sequitor itself), but the reigning Darwinistic theory is the only theory allowed in state run schools.

Are adherants to theistic evolution content with this state of affairs?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Still Morally Confused Over Stem Cells

The world of embryonic stem cell research has reached a fevered pitch in the last week with the announcement by the Koreans that they have successfully cloned an embryo and harvested its stem cells. These activities have been going on for some time now, but the “open” announcements are now coming to the surface.

First, I think it needs to be understood that in order to harvest stem cells from embryos, the embryo must be destroyed. So, if we were to translate what the Koreans (among others) have done into morally clear language, they have arbitrarily created a human and promptly murdered it.

But so many right now are supporting what has been done because of the potential benefit ESCs have for disease research. The catch, of course, is that it is still all potential whereas adult stem cells are already having clinical applications as well as showing pluripotent promise. FOX News Sunday recently interviewed a couple of people on this issue, and the public myopia and confusion regarding stem cells was readily apparent.

The first guest was formet NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason who has a son who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Here are a string of quotes that exemplify quite a few of our culture’s moral misconceptions. Chris Wallace is asking the questions.

WALLACE: So far, what does the research indicate about how helpful stem cells might be in treating cystic fibrosis?
ESIASON: You know, well, we don't know….Stem cell research is, you know, many people think in the scientific arena that there are answers there, that we might find a way to cure these diseases.

So Esiason recognizes that the promises are all potential at the moment.

WALLACE: How do you respond to that argument: that it's destroying life in order to save life?
ESIASON: Well, you know, I'm disappointed by that.

Esiason is disappointed that the fact that an embryo is a human being might dissuade some people from allowing their wholesale destruction. Wow-I have never heard of anyone who is “disappointed” at laws against the murder of innocent babies.

What needs to be learned from this part of the dialogue is that Esiason has bought the line that embryos are not human in any way whatsoever. The very next thing he goes on to say:

And with what the South Koreans have come forth with this past week, it just goes to show you that whether or not we support it here in this country, other countries are going to after this. And whether it be in Singapore or South Korea or even in Britain, it's going to be done, whether we support it or not.

It is going to be done anyway, so we might as well be the ones doing it. It’s a good thing the Western world didn’t think that way when it came to the attempted genocide of the Jewish people.

The next exchange was great to see. Esiason avoided answering the question about the personhood of the embryo, so Wallace called him on it-most journalists these days don’t know when they are being given the ol' soft-shoe.

WALLACE: But how do you answer the question? As you well know, there are a lot of very well-meaning people, just as well-meaning as you are, who view the destruction of those embryos as a destruction of life….how do you balance out science and legitimate moral concerns?
ESIASON: Well, when you are affected by a disease like we are, then certainly that's the balance that tilts you in favor of stem cell research.

And here lies one of the more powerful deceptions surrounding this issue-your emotional connection to one side of the problem gives you the moral latitude to “override” murder. Esiason goes on to say that if you were only in his shoes you would also favor embryonic stem cell research because of the emotional toil it causes. No doubt it is difficult, and no one is minimizing that, but it is not a moral trump card. If it were, than people in his position could morally legislate in favor of the vivisection of people with Down’s Syndrome in order to find a “cure” because a cadre of scientists is the former Czech Republic think it “holds a great deal of potential.”

Again, the very next thing out of his mouth:

I don't believe in human cloning. I'm not looking for Mini-me's to be running around with all of us.

Ah, but you do, Mr. Esiason. Its how this is being done even as you speak. What you don’t believe in is the science fiction version of adult-sized clones. But what is the actual, metaphysical difference between what has been done in Korea and what Boomer is allegedly against? Nothing.

Then Wallace brought on someone who is supposedly on the other side of the debate, and the answers didn’t get any better. Governor Mit Romney represented another point of view.

WALLACE: But if I may ask you, governor, specifically, you don't see, as I understand it, the use of these leftover embryos in fertility clinics as destroying life?
ROMNEY: That's right. I believe that when a couple gets together and decides that they want to bring a child into the Earth, and they go to a fertility clinic to do so, and if they're going to be through that process a leftover embryo or two, that they should be able to decide whether to preserve that embryo for future use or to destroy it; to have it put up for adoption or potentially to be used for research and experimentation, hopefully leading to the cure of disease.

This and the rest of his answer represents another gigantic fallacy that has permeated the whole right-to-life debate for over a decade. Romney’s argument is that humanity is tied to the value other people put on a life. So, it could be argued that if we all voted and decided that Romney’s life had little to no value to us, then scientists in the Ukraine could be allowed to run disturbing, but potentially useful, experiments on his devalued, and hence nonhuman, life.

I am sure that there would be all kinds of potential gains from such experimentation, and that plenty of emotionally upset people would see personal relief from such work. I am not seeing a down side here…

Monday, May 16, 2005

Reclaiming Moral Language: Part 1

In a recent post on stem cell research, I made reference to the reality that our culture is adept at euphamizing its way out of morality. We give palatable and semi-scientific names to technologies and actions that, if called by their real names, would raise ethical concerns. Jeff from Dawn Treader posed an important question: how should we go about combating this loss of moral language and reestablish a moral language in the church? Good and vital question indeed.

A recent read of mine dealt briefly with this issue. In his book, The Revenge of Conscience, J. Budziszewski lists a handful of means we can use to confront the loss of moral language; in the context of his book, it is a loss or suppression of moral memory. The book as a whole is a great read. His style of writing is abundantly clear and almost disarmingly straightforward. I recommend it as a thoughtful and clear piece of moral reasoning. Near the end of the work he lists several ‘tactics’ he sees as helpful in trying to help people regain or remember moral realities. The book deals with the establishment of moral language in the public square, and that is what I want to note here, but I also want to address the concept of reclaiming moral language within the church in another post.

He calls the first the act of dissipating smoke. Most people’s objections to Christianity are masked in pseudo-philosophical language, and many times helping them recognize their deeper issues can be illuminating. The next two are connecting the dots and releasing the catch. These refer to the acts of helping people see their way through their own denials or the logical extensions of their own train of thought. More and more I think it is a truism that many people have trained themselves to think poorly so they can feel justified in their own conclusions.

Budziszewski labels the next two approaches playing back the tape and calling attention to the obvious. By these examples he means to tell us that when we discuss with people in the form of well guided questions and questions that fold back on their own comments, we may be able to open them up to their suppression of moral issues. The Socratic method is a powerful tool, and for some of us, it is a difficult tool to master.

The last item on the list besides prayer is what he calls tightening the noose. There will come times in our discussion with people that we will be able to press an issue philosophically and talk our interlocutor into their own corner. Probably the most common form this kind of discussion may take in our cultural climate it the matter of truth. Many commentators on this blog, for instance, have disputed the existence of anything like absolute or objective truth. Those comments are easy to dispense with-if those writers really did not believe in objective truth, they literally could not, and therefore, would not disagree with me.

Pentecost Sunday Reflections

Being a minister in a Pentecostal denomination can be an interesting ride from time to time. I believe in Pentecostal doctrine, and what is sometimes called the "Pentecostal Distinctive," but I wonder from time to time if we charismatic types really get what being charismatic actually means. Because there are spectacular things that sometimes surface in our gatherings, I think many (inside and outside the Pentecostal circle) have put the cart in front of the horse, and equated being Pentecostal with the manifestations of the gifts instead of the empowering presence of the Spirit of God.

My last two weekend services were dedicated to asking ourselves what it meant to be a Pentecostal church, and to avoid answering in terms of spectacular manifestations. I fully believe in those, but I think the point of being Pentecostal is that they follow, not lead, in our theology and ecclesiology. (You can read the notes of the services here and here.)

I am interested in the development of a full-blooded Pentecostal theology and what it means for the life of the church. If you know of any good theological works along those lines, please pass them on!!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

McLaren and Arguments-What Kinds are Necessary?

Brian McLaren has some interesting thoughts in one of his latest columns for Leadership Journal. The article, “Avoiding the Argument Party” makes the point that the church probably bickers too much over the wrong things in the wrong way. McLaren’s point is not that we simply should not argue and allow for a fuzzy tolerance of diverse opinions, but that we should argue in a more healthy fashion, possibly lay down old and divisive arguments, and pick up new and more useful issues to discuss.

At the end of the column he states:

Think of arguments bitterly dividing us today. (I won't mention any specifics, but we could all probably name the top three.) Then think of arguments that we aren't having, but probably should—like whether classic just-war theory needs to be re-appraised in light of nuclear and biochemical weapons, or what Christians should do if another genocide begins as one did in Rwanda a decade ago, or how to persuade people to better morality when legislation fails to do the trick, or how Christians should care for God's creation. Perhaps there are some uncomfortable but healthy arguments we should be guiding.

I wholeheartedly agree that the church should be a lot more careful and thoughtful when it comes to some of the doctrinal arguments it has, but I don’t think the answer is to replace the old issues with newer ones.

If I am guessing correctly, by older arguments, McLaren is probably referencing things like Calvinism/Armineanism, Pentecolstalism/Dispensationalism, Exclusivism/Universalism and other denominational distinctives. While these debates can become quite well-worn and divisive at times, they have survived through time exactly because of their necessity-they confront the fundamental questions of, “Who is God?” and, “What is our relationship to Him?”. These are hardly the issues that should be replaced. All these issues should be handled wisely and intelligently in the life of the church-and here I am going to sound a little emergent-it is a both-and situation, not an either-or.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Links Sans Context 5/3

Catez at Allthings2all has another review of the wonderful book, Total Truth. It is worth checking out the review, and if you are looking for a good worldview book, Total Truth is defenitely worth checking out.

Blogicus continues to cover the advance of adult stem cells. Who doesn't see what is going on in the world of embryonic vs. adult stem cells?

Joshua at Razor's Kiss posts some interesting thoughts on a Post-Christian culture. We all need to come to terms with these kinds of realities.

The ID Wedge Report has an entertaining piece on loose lips and the blantant attempt to squeeze theists out of the public square.

As for me, I am trying to get into the habit of blogging given my new work schedule, and it has been harder than I expected. I have read a couple of interesting books lately I hope to do reviews on, and I am reading a McLaren book that I want to review as well to keep up my reputation of being a critic of the emergent church.