Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Rank of Religion in Colorado

In a lot of circles, Colorado Springs is thought of as a kind of evangelical mecca. After all, with several mega churches and several internationally known parachurch organizations in town, how many people could be left here that are not Christian?

As it turns out, a lot. And not just in Colorado Springs, but in all of Colorado. As a church planter I was subjected to a lot of demographic information several years ago, and was shocked to learn that according to a couple of different surveys, as much as 80-85% of Colorado Springs considers themselves “unchurched.” And now, according to a Pew Forum study, Colorado ranks 41st in a study ranking the importance of religion in peoples’ lives. Barna, the religion writer for the Gazette reports a couple of the details, and is understandably surprised.

I was once in a conference in Denver where one of the speakers was a pastor. He had pastored in Denver and moved on to pastor in several locations around the world. His comment about Colorado was that it was some of the hardest ground to plow for a church.

What does this mean for the life of the church in Colorado? In Colorado Springs?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dentists and Pastors

I heard a commercial for the umptheenth time this morning on the radio. It was a testimonial for a local dentist. The patient was saying, “What I want in a dentist is someone who can relate to me…make a personal connection…make me feel better.” Now, I can appreciate the need to not be intimidated by the dentist, but…seriously? Don’t you want certification? Licensure? A degree from a non-Caribbean university? Experience and insight?

And then I wondered if this is part of what is wrong with evangelicalism today. I could easily imagine that commercial changing ever so slightly and becoming a testimonial for a church. “What I want from a pastor is someone who can relate to me…make a personal connection with me…make me feel better.” Why not biblical wisdom and expertise? Why not experience with the presence of God in this broken world? Why not a proclaimed of truth in a world of error?

Maybe I just had too much of a headache on the way to the office this morning.

Emergents (De)constructing Houses

I have stated in the past, and will continue to argue that the emergent church movement (and whatever forms it takes on now) is, well, silly. And by silly, I mean without any real grounding in substantive reflection or biblical work. Most emergent types have a passion to reach a world without Christ, and that is obviously a good thing. But they tend to hitch their stars to orbit-less asteroids. Emergent would rather ask questions and deconstruct than be so intolerant and reactionary as to provide an answer or two to very straight-forward questions or issues.

The latest case in point is a pair of blog posts at Christianity Today’s Out of Ur. The first is by a leading emergent pastor, Dan Kimball, who admits he was wrong in the past about church buildings. He used to think them out of date and a relic of Christendom, and now (surprisingly he now has a healthy church meeting in a building), he sees their value. I’m glad Kimball has leveled off a bit about church buildings – clearly lots of good churches do a lot of good, God-honoring things with buildings.

But we can’t leave it there.

Ken Eastburn, a house church movement leader (one of the latest evolutions of the emergent movement), wrote back. Though Eastburn respects Kimball, he corrects several points Kimball made in favor of house churches. Very heady stuff indeed.

The result? A really silly and totally unnecessary exchange. A mouse masquerading as an elephant. A conversation that has a simple and obvious solution, but which will not reach said solution given the starting points of the emergent mind.

The root problem in this little debate is that a lot of the emergent movement and its off-shoots haven’t bothered to ground themselves theologically or philosophically. By their very DNA, they would rather not. So, as a result, we get tempest in teapots about the relative merits of church buildings and house churches, with each claiming their pitcher’s mound as the high ground.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nazareth - Archeology and the Bible

It has been common for skeptics to point to the lack of a first-century Nazareth in order to chip away at the authenticity of Scripture. Recently, however, it has been found.

Israeli archaeologists said Monday that they have uncovered remains of the first dwelling in the northern city of Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus.

The find sheds a new light on what Nazareth might have been like in Jesus' time, said the archaeologists, indicating that it was probably a small hamlet with about 50 houses populated by poor Jews.

The act of pointing to a lack of archaeological evidence as a kind of proof that the Bible is historically inaccurate is a little dangerous. By the very nature of the science, the lack of archaeological evidence is not yet hard proof for anything.

And as has been seen in the last century, time and time again the sites and people skeptics said did not exist came crawling out of the desert floor.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nagel and Intelligent Design

At the Discovery Institutes's blog, Evolution News & Views, they make note of the philosopher, Thomas Nagel's view specifically on the Dover legal battle, and generally on ID and science. An excerpt from the blog (and a simple argument that ID is science):

Prominent philosopher and legal scholar Thomas Nagel, an atheist, endorses an argument that is obvious: if the argument against intelligent design in biology (Darwinism) counts as a scientific argument, then the argument for intelligent design in biology must count as a scientific argument, because the two differing conclusions are just the negative and affirmative denouement of the same argument. That is of course not to say that one or the other argument about design is true; it is merely to say the obvious: that for either to be true, the question of intelligent design must be a scientific question.

For the full post.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Taking Christianity Seriously?

I have often wondered why our culture at large reserves special distaste for the Christian religion. It tends to come to the fore this time of year, but it exists year-round. How do political commentators get away with claiming that Christianity is the most dangerous religion on earth? How is it that Christian symbols seem to be singled out as targets during holidays?

I have a new theory – it is because Christianity is the only religion our culture takes seriously.

Every other faith is viewed as a matter of personal spiritual fad. None of them, according to popular culture, make objective claims on a human life and none of them are exclusive. Now, all of this would be news to all these religions, but our American culture has reduced them in this way. As a result, Christianity stands alone in the eyes of the populace as the religion that makes objective moral and exclusive religious claims.

If I am right, maybe we have something to celebrate: a few of the core truth claims of the Christian faith remain.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Berlinski’s book is a masterful romp through the pretentions of modern secular atheism and scientism. It is surprising on many levels. First of all, though Berlinski claims no religious affiliation, he is no water-boy for scientific naturalism or Darwinism. Then his broad grasp of the science involved is impressive. Someone who clearly keeps up with the literature (knows several Nobel laureates in the sciences) and who understands it all, Berlinski has a useful perspective as he critiques everything from gradual Darwinian processes to string theory to molecular biology. And on top of it all, his dry and cutting sense of humor adds to instead of detracts from his philosophical acumen.

As I progressed deeper into the book, I was reminded of the boy who famously cried out that the emperor had no clothes. Not only does Berlinski deny the general, and often unsupported, claims of the secular Darwinian project, he skewers it. He deals with the usual suspects – Dawkins, Harris, Dennett (he reserves special distaste for Dennett), and Hitchens – and he deals with the real mathematicians, biologists, physicists and so forth. Sometimes critiques of the New Atheists suffer from the vapidity of their subject matter. If the book you are critiquing is without real substance, what else can be said? But Berlinski has the capacity to discuss and analyze on every level.

As an interested follower of the subjects Berlinski covers, I appreciated his ability to make the complex understandable without making it sound simplistic. His firm grasp of the details enables him to talk of the grand scheme with authority and insight. If you are interested in the issues raised by the New Atheists or the Darwinian project, this is a wonderful and insightful read. If you would like to have a fresh perspective on the place of science in our culture from someone who considers himself “part of the church” of science, Berlinski’s book will not disappoint.

Great Advice on Reading Good Books

Douglas Groothuis has some good advice on reading books.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Global Warming and a Planetary One-Child Policy

Much has been made of this piece of journalistic tripe over the last couple of days, so I thought I would go ahead and read it. Mercifully, it is short. The basic claim is the same uber-radical claim made by progressives over the past several decades – the real problem with humans is humans. There are just too many of us, and we are slowing killing the planet and each other (and those are ranked in the right ontological order for them). In her frighteningly titled “The real inconvenient truth,” Diane Francis reports:

The "inconvenient truth" overhanging the UN's Copenhagen conference is not that the climate is warming or cooling, but that humans are overpopulating the world.

A planetary law, such as China's one-child policy, is the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate currently, which is one million births every four days.

Whether Francis knows exactly what that entails, you ought to know. China’s one-child policy is in practice a recipe for three things: millions of state-sponsored and enforced abortions, a severely declining female birth rate, and hundreds of thousands of abandoned malformed and disabled children. In other words, a state-enforced one-child policy means in actuality that girls and “unwanted” children are aborted and abandoned at unusual rates. But, it seems, none of this is a problem for Francis. And as is typical, we humans need to take a cue from our intelligent plant and animal ancestors.

The world's other species, vegetation, resources, oceans, arable land, water supplies and atmosphere are being destroyed and pushed out of existence as a result of humanity's soaring reproduction rate…. Humans are the only rational animals but have yet to prove it.

On one level the only appropriate response to this is a good chuckle and casual dismissal. On another level, Francis is allegedly one of “the only rational animals” but apparently needs a quick lesson in reason. Francis is wrong on every assumption – she assumes the entire planet’s human population is growing at an unsustainable rate, she assumes China’s policy is environmentally driven and successful, she assumes it is a good thing to have this kind of “planetary law,” and she assumes the moral high-ground belongs to population control advocates.

It is flatly false that the planet’s population is growing out of control. The smart (and outside the inner circle of politically correct scientific coercion) view is that most of the world is in a demographic winter. Only certain segments of the world’s population are growing. Most of them are deeply religious groups and countries in the developing world. So, as argued before, population control like this on a planetary level is de facto eugenics.

China doesn’t care one whit about the environment. They force families to have only one child because their command and control economy can’t keep up. It’s an old story, really. When Stalin’s Five Year Plans couldn’t feed his entire population, he decided the best thing to do was stick with the Plan and slaughter tens of millions of peasants. Francis might be on-board.

Without going too long, it is simply not true that the population control advocates have the moral high-ground. First of all, the radical predictions over the last 50 years have failed to come true. Obama currently has a Science Czar who predicted in the 60s and 70s that the East Coast would be unlivable and the Mid-West would be an arid dust bowl – all by 1985. And we still listen to these people? Secondly, the plans advocated by population control advocates are, pure and simple, an effort to eliminate “other people.” Eugenics is eugenics is eugenics.

By the way, Diane Francis has two kids.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wisdom Calls

Proverbs 9:1-6

1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
4 "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!"
To him who lacks sense she says,
5 "Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight."

Wisdom built a house. Where do I dwell?
Wisdom set a table and prepared a banquet. Where do I eat?
Wisdom sent messengers to get my attention. To whom do I listen?
Wisdom calls me in. Who has my attention?
Wisdom asks for the simple. Am I too arrogant to heed?

How my daily life answers these questions determines whether I will live and walk in the ways of insight.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines

Dr. Francis Collins is an intriguing if not complicated figure. He is a self-proclaimed evangelical, ardent proponent of theistic evolution, former head of the Human Genome Project, and now the director of the NIH. He and the NIH recently announced the approval of 13 human embryonic stem cell lines suitable for federal funding. Those who are worried about the implications of using human embryo stem cell lines will probably not be set at ease with the vague language Collins employs. In the NIH press release, he states:

"In accordance with the guidelines, these stem cell lines were derived from embryos that were donated under ethically sound informed consent processes. More lines are under review now, and we anticipate continuing to expand this list of responsibly derived lines eligible for NIH funding."

According to an interview in the Washington Post, there are dozens more lines in the pipeline waiting the vetting process. In response to ethical concerns, Collins stated:

"I think that there is an argument to be made that what is being done is ethically acceptable…even if you believe in the inherent sanctity of the human embryo."

I would be pleased to see an argument for this very thing that does not rely on utilitarian calculations, and that takes seriously the claim that human embryos are human persons with all their human rights intact. To my knowledge, and in the literature I have read on this announcement, Collins does not make any such case. So then, as a scientifically responsible position, I believe Collins’ statement falls flat.

Ultimately, what continues to confuse me is the very issue raised in the NIH release.

“Researchers hope that eventually cells differentiated from hESCs may be used to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities and to test the safety of new drugs in the laboratory."

So far, no clinical treatments have been documented as a result of human stem cell research whereas adult stem cells have been successfully applied to dozens of different diseases and conditions. And the creation of Chemically Induced adult Pluripotent Stem cells (CiPS) has, in my mind, settled both the scientific and ethical debate.

HT: Albert Mohler