Monday, June 25, 2007

Intelligent Design - Darwin's Black Box

Our church has started an Intelligent Design book club, and we chose Darwin’s Black Box as our first book. As someone who has been a fan of ID for a while, I feel a little ashamed to say I haven’t read this seminal book until now.

But now that I have started it, I have a couple of simple observations right off the bat. First, I am enjoying how non-religious the argument is so far. There is a chapter at the end of the book about “Science, Philosophy, and Religion” but so far the argument is nothing but biochemistry. It has always irked me that the ID argument is rejected out-of-hand, labeled a “religious argument.” That kind of a priori and ad hominum maneuver is indicative of a position that does not want to be debated in public. In addition, that kind of labeling keeps the real issues – the scientific and philosophical issues – from being dealt with seriously.

The second issue is related to his famous notion of irreducible complexity: the idea of minimal function. In part this states that not only do all the parts of an organism need to be in place all at once for it to function, but all the parts need to be the right parts. The fact that not just any set of amino acids will do for the construction of proteins is a rather powerful addition to irreducible complexity. Using his analogy of the mousetrap, it cannot be constructed from a tongue depressor, a crowbar and a ballpoint pen spring. To function, the mousetrap needs to have all its constituent parts be the right parts. This reality makes the chance origin of life without intelligent direction all that more improbable.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Endnotes, Academic Pressure, and Darwinism

Some books take a long time for me to get through because I get all caught up in following endnotes and tracking down other resources. I think I read the best endnote I have ever read in a tremendous book I am reading, For The Glory of God, by Rodney Stark.

In his chapter on “God’s Handiwork: The Religious Origins of Science,” endnote 179 occurs in a section introducing evolution, Darwinism and science. In the middle of critiquing the thin science of Darwinism, these sentences shows up: “My reluctance to pursue these matters is based on my experience that nothing causes greater panic among many of my colleagues than any criticism of evolution. They seem to fear that someone might mistake them for Creationists if they even remain in the same room while such talk is going on.” The first sentence was tagged with endnote 179, which intrigued me because there was no direct quote.

The endnote: “I was advised by several colleagues that to criticize evolutionary theory would damage my ‘career.’ This merely hardened my resolve to suffer no more of this arrogant occultism.”

Yeah, baby. Yeah!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Irony of Postmodern Power

I don’t mind being a little alarmist from time to time. After reading one of the latest Breakpoint Commentaries by Chuck Colson, I feel like sounding one of those alarms. The essay dealt with a now “old” story about rampant relativism among our churched youth. What caused Colson to write this essay was a story that linked that relativism in some middle school kids to their parents and pastor. Speaking for one of their worldview trainees, “Centurions,” Colson relates this story:

Everything was going fine until the group reached lesson 10 [in their youth worldview training course]. Lesson 10 leads the kids through a series of choices to learn to recognize the difference between matters of truth and matters of taste. One of the choices, “believing Islam, Buddhism or Christianity,” flashed on the screen.

Our Centurion—I’ll call her Joanne, told me what happened next: “The students went nuts. All but one of the eight leaders completely balked at the concept of distinguishing Christianity as true and other religions as false.”

Joanne learned that several of the seventh graders had talked to their parents or pastors over night. But the result of those conversations was shocking. One girl had written a paper that night on “why we shouldn't hurt others feelings by claiming our way is right.” One young lady had met with her pastor, who told her no one can be sure of truth. “It is all perspective,” he said. The students agreed that they should not offend others by saying Christianity is true. Only one was prepared to teach it.

I think it is very simple: a person who has lost a sense of truth either becomes the pawn of power or a power-player himself or herself. When the concept of a truth that exists outside a person or a culture is lost, all that is left is propaganda and power.

It is one of the great ironies of postmodernism. Pomos are quick to say they react against the power plays of Enlightenment truth with something more able to listen, dialogue, and flex. Though truth has been used as a concept to oppress in the past, there is absolutely no necessary connection between the concept of objective truth and coercion. Conversely, where there is only culture, convention, or personal conviction to appeal to—as is the case with postmodern relativism—there is only power. As a brief example, I may argue that my view of justice and fair play is superior to yours, and the evidence I muster in support of my claim has nothing to do with who is closer to reality. The only way to implement my view is to become more powerful than the other. There is no convincing or argumentation in a postmodern, relativistic world, there is only emotivism and assertion. As a result, there is a necessary connection between postmodern relativism and coercion.

Young people who grow up with the mush of relativism have doomed themselves to insignificance. They have condemned themselves to being pawns in propaganda games with nothing substantial to appeal to in order to counter the views of others. “I don’t feel that way,” is not a counterview—it is a feeling.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sermons for Sale!

Also from the most recent edition of my denomination’s journal, comes a small news piece concerning the proliferation of websites dedicated to producing sermons for pastors. (Unfortunately, this item is not on-line.) The basic concern of the piece is plagiarism among pastors. I have written about pastors and plagiarism before, and what caught my attention this time was the number of sites out there dedicated to this sort of thing, how creative and detailed they have become, and lucrative some of them are.

Among the sites listed are,,,, and The article notes that earned 1.7 million since its inception in 2004.

The author ponders whether copying a sermon off a website is plagiarism, and though he doesn’t come down hard in one direction, he notes that many do not feel plagiarism is committed if the pastor pays for the sermon.

Though that might be technically correct, I think there is more at stake with the integrity demanded between a pastor and congregation than whether they paid for the sermon or not. I believe the rightly implied and inferred subtext to a sermon given by a pastor is that it is the pastor’s work for this congregation at this time. I believe that copying a sermon or buying a sermon breaks this implicit relationship, and is thus unethical behavior.

One line in the journal article said that a “time-strapped” pastor might need resources like these websites to create their sermons for them. I think this comment betrays a fundamental problem in the pastoring world—pastors who are too busy being executives to pastor. The biblical role of shepherd/pastor is unfortunately only a subtext in the world of advice to pastors in the current evangelical world. One of the primary jobs of the pastor is to prayerfully and as expertly as possible handle Scripture. Something might have gone awry if a pastor is too “time-strapped” to do that from week to week.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What to do with Spare Embryos?

A great biotech watchdog organization, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, recently put out this press release regarding legislation and the use of “spare” embryos.

June 7, 2007 – Chicago, Illinois – The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD) calls upon the President to exercise both his moral resolve and his presidential prerogatives and veto immediately the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007. This bill unhinges any restrictions on funding embryonic stem cell research derived from “discarded” embryos that result from excessive fertility procedures.

The debate over this bill misleadingly presented the source of embryonic stem cells as medical waste and thus of no consequential value. The growing number of Snowflake children seriously questions the nature of this assumption. CBHD Director, C. Ben Mitchell, PhD, comments: “Human embryos belong in nurturing wombs, not in dissecting dishes in a research lab. Killing human embryos for their stem cells is a form of biotech cannibalism that we must not countenance as a civilized society.”

While the Center applauds the House for rebuffing recent efforts to legalize human cloning research, we strongly urge members of Congress to examine the overwhelming evidence of successful trials of non-embryonic derived stem cell treatments. Mitchell comments, “We cannot permit good intentions to blur the moral boundaries of science. Compassion must be informed by ethics.” Thus, the Center calls upon Congress to approve legislation upholding its own interest to “prioritize research with the greatest potential for near-term clinical benefit” by supporting proven non-embryonic stem cell research initiatives that offer genuine medical assistance to those suffering from these difficult conditions.

I must admit a personal wavering from time to time when it comes to the use of “spare” embryos that are simply wards of the local utility company. But the more I reflect, the more I object to the notion of “spare embryos” itself, and am worried about the direction legislation is taking toward them. Since when has any human being been “spare”?

As the release notes, the number of snowflake babies is growing, and should be seen as not just a viable option, but as the primary objective. What we should be doing with these frozen embryos is finding ways to encourage their adoption, not their destruction.

There is no distinction Here

I am right now sitting in a bagel/coffee shop in my neighborhood taking care of my Monday work. The gal sitting directly in front of me sat down with her coffee and work, and when the young lady showed up with her bagel she asked her if there was anything else she needed. Without even looking up, the older gal dismissed her with a condescending wave of her hand.

This caused me to reflect on a passage we dealt with recently in church. Colossians 3:11 states:

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

In addition, Galatians 3:28 says:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In addition to the obvious sense that God created us all, no matter our position in the world and sees us all through the same eyes of love and forgiveness, I am struck by the first word of Colossians 3:11: “Here.”

The world is supernaturally efficient at erecting barriers between people, but here there are no barriers. The world loves to draw ad hoc distinctions between people, but here they simply do not belong.

The Church is an amazing thing. Here all that matters is Christ and the grace he has shown to each and every one of us. In here we tear down barriers that dominate the world around us.

If I don’t pay attention to it, I will become a child of my culture and will see people through the lenses of discrimination and prejudice. How have my eyes been tinted in this way? What barriers within me need to be broken down, so that when I encounter the world as a Christ-follower, or when I walk through the doors of the church, there is no distinction here?

UPDATE: The gal sitting across from me is now on the phone talking about her church experience this weekend. Lord, help me be an honest and genuine witness to your love!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Genes, Environment and Moral Determination

My denominational journal, Enrichment Journal, has a wonderful article on the issue of genetic makeup and behavioral determination in general, and on the search for a “homosexual gene” specifically. The article does a wonderful job of dealing with the state of the science on the issue. Though there have been a handful of rather publicized studies done that purportedly show that homosexuality is a genetic (and by strong implication unalterable) trait, none of them have stood up to scrutiny. (The video link gives you more information than the article excerpt.)

There are a couple of very important points that are not often dealt with when the issue of the behavior of homosexuality and genetic make-up are raised. First of all, if we want to morally justify some behavior based on the genetic foundation for that behavior, it is logical to extend our justification then to other behaviors that have a stronger genetic base than the first behavior. For example, there is more evidence connecting certain genetic markers to violent behavior than to homosexuality. If we want to use genes to justify homosexuality, it is reasonable to expect us to justify violent behavior to a greater degree. If I am OK with homosexuality based on the science, then I am really OK with violence.

The fact that most people don’t want to take that logical step—even those with a vested interest in the connection between genes and homosexuality--means the real issue is not about genetic make-up at all. The question of behavior (outside of extraordinary cases of pathology) is irreducibly a moral question.

Genes are not destiny. They may predispose someone to be an abuser given the right environment, but we rightly hold that person to a higher moral standard, and consider them morally responsible for their actions. This moral standard necessitates that we assume the person genetically predisposed to violence has the wherewithal to obey a higher, non-physical law. We expect him or her to overcome genes and environment and obey a moral precept.

Even the language we use to describe this moment of moral decision is revealing. We may colloquially rephrase that last sentence to say, “We expect him or her to disobey genes and environment and obey a moral precept,” but that would be technically false usage. “Disobey” in the first usage is loose in its meaning while “obey” in the second is strict—we equivocated. We cannot obey something that does not give binding orders. Cancer does not order (in a moral sense) cells to reproduce uncontrollably; civil governments do order citizens to not kill each other.

When encountering this very touchy and sensitive issue in the public square, we need to be clear on our moral reasoning. Though there clearly are genetic and environmental predispositions, those do not necessarily predetermine behavior. If they did, moral culpability would be a completely different notion than we rightly hold it to be.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hitchens, The Great God Debate, and Evidence

There is a wonderful post at STR concerning Hitchens' recent book and debate about religion and the existence of God. If you don't know, Hitchens' book is God is Not Great, and is the latest is a string of anti-Christian books. (A wonderful pastor who has engaged him in debate blogs here.)

One of Hitchens' claims, as Melinda notes at STR, dates back to Hume--extrodinary evidence is needed for the "extrodinary" claims of Scripture. The implication is that the evidence required to support Scriptual claims cannot be produced. STR quotes a former philosophy professor of mine (Dr. Gary DeWeese) dealing with Hitchens' remark. It is worth a careful read.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ted Haggard, A Tell-All Book, and Evangelicals

The man with whom Ted Haggard had his affair, Mike Jones, has written a book describing their liaison and the fall-out that resulted from the “outing.” His book tour begins soon in New York, but then he quickly makes his way to Denver. But not to Colorado Springs. The two major bookstore chains here have denied book signings. According to the stores here, the decision is about business and even community health.

“Although the (Colorado Springs) stores will be selling the book, they did not feel that there was enough community interest to support holding a book signing,” said Carolyn Brown, director of corporate communications for Barnes & Noble.

A Borders spokeswoman said bringing Jones to Colorado Springs “would have opened up a wound just healing. This would have not created a comfortable environment for the author, our customers who live in this community or our staff who also live in the community.”

The article in The Gazette details Jones’ feelings on the subject, and in all honesty, the whole thing is awful.

Being a pastor in Colorado Springs, I am asked from time to time what life is like in the wake of Haggard’s fall. (It was interesting enough before it.) I typically respond in honest regret about several things, but the wake of this tragedy is clearly larger than just being a pastor here. Jones himself is of the opinion that this story raises larger issues about the evangelical church itself.

“But the biggest thing in this book is that this is much more than Ted Haggard. This is about the evangelical church in America.”


There is a rash of “hate evangelical Christians” out there, and it is a highly-contagious condition. Evangelicals are easy and socially-acceptable targets in our culture today, but is it really true that the actions of one man say something about the evangelical church at large? The complex answer in this case, I think, is “yes,” but not in the way Jones means it. But complexity and nuance might get me in trouble.

The straight-forward answer is, “no.” The actions of one man do not comment significantly on evangelicalism. Though he was relatively influential, his actions were his own. To the extent that he agreed to or diverged from orthodoxy is also his matter, and not a reflection on a larger movement. Though there are many like Jones who would like to comment on evangelical belief and homosexuality through the lens of Haggard’s double-life, time and reality won’t let that stick. God’s truth, whether spoken by an evangelical pastor, a Quaker wife, or an Orthodox priest, will always be true no matter the cultural context, or the latest scandal.