Saturday, December 10, 2011

Work Before the Fall

Now that I have laid some groundwork on economics and our current situation, we can examine the Biblical points on work and the economy.

There is little known about life before the Fall, but what we have is instructive.

First, we have God's work in Creation:
"And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made." (Gen 2:2)
The Hebrew word here is מְלַאכְתֹּ֖ו (mel-aw-kah).  It can be used for ministry, or deputyship in addition to "work".  It is not used for servile work.  It is used again in verse 3 (repeated reference to rest from His work).  After that, it does not appear until Exodus.

The work for the man (Adam) is described differently:
"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." (Gen 2:15)
The word dress here (עָבְדָ֖)(aw-bad) is usually translated "serve" (also in the context of work).  In fact, in 290 uses, it is translated "serve" 227.  It is translated "dress" only twice (Deut 28:39 being the other one).  Usually "dress" comes from a different word, meaning "do".

("Keep" here means "guard", which is the subject for another day)

Finally, at the Fall:
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground" (Gen 3:19)
So we see a difference in the work of God, and the work of man (not surprising).  The man's work, even before the Fall, is servile (in service to God) - possibly even hard.

At the Fall, we see man's work changed.  Now it is literally "sweat" (zay-aw) to get bread.  This might refer to conditions changing to cause sweat when working (perhaps due to a change in diet - garden vs. bread), but seems to more refer to "frustration".  Before, the work was rewarding and pleasant - now it is tedious and often spoiled.

Man's work was created on day 6 - before God rested, saying everything is good.  The Fall has brought frustration and sweat.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Next Review

There is a new biography of William Tyndale coming out.  It should arrive in a week or so, and will probably take a few weeks to read...  Looking forward to it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Artificial Scarcity

As I said before, economics is the science of managing scarcity.

In an agricultural or industrial economy, this makes perfect sense.  There is only so much food, or physical goods to go around.  Some will have, and some will have not.

But the industrial economy has been slowly giving way to an "information economy" - where the people most in demand produce ideas (be it stories, movies, insightful commentary, whatever).

Information is not a physical good (although it requires physical goods to store and manipulate).  It can be transferred quickly and easily, and every transfer is an opportunity for copying (distribution is nearly free, and scales well over huge numbers of people).

At the same time, the industrial side of things have become immensely cheap and efficient.  China produces all the computers we can possibly need, each more powerful than a room size super computer from the 80's.

How do we handle this?

From very early on, the answer was "artificial scarcity" (it's in the Constitution!).  This is usually in the form of "patents", and "copyright".  A patent grants a monopoly to the inventor of a design for some time.  Copyright grants a monopoly to the author of a creative work.

It's unclear how well this ever worked (it has always sort of muddled along).  But in the age of the Internet, it is clearly failing badly.

Charles Stross eloquently identifies how the cure has been worse than the disease.
"As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six's insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy[*], it has locked customers in Amazon's walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon's leverage over publishers."
 Charlie is noting the problem in the publishing industry, but we see similar things in music (ruled by iTunes).  Movies suffer similarly, although no one agent has managed to corner the market (there have been huge upheavals - witnessed by the rapid move of new releases from theaters to DVD (to forestall piracy)).

The obvious solution is to not charge for distribution.  Money would need to be gathered beforehand (like the patronage system).  Obviously, a lot of kinks need to be worked out of the system, but it doesn't seem anyone is thinking this way...
(for example, why do we even need money)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Skin Map

"The Skin Map" (Stephen Lawhead)(audio) - This book was provided for me by the publisher.

The Skin Map is the first book in a series very much like Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia".  You can also compare it to the purely secular "Merchant Princes" (Charles Stross).

The world is like our own, but there are "ley lines" which provide access to alternate Earths.  Like most alternate Earth settings, some worlds are behind in time (although, apparently you cannot move to a world ahead of your own time).

The main character is a young man (Kit Livingston), who has not made much of his life.  Kit is coming to that conclusion himself when everything changes.

The story follows Kit, his girlfriend, Kit's grandfather, and a mysterious man - who has the "skin map" tattooed on his person (as a flashback).

The ending is somewhat of a cliffhanger, but the book is satisfying in itself.

In the audio format, it is very accessible.  The reader has a soft, pleasant, English accent and the pace is steady (not too fast or slow).  His inflection is well modulated to indicate different speakers, with unique voices for all the characters.  There are only four or five tracks per CD, so if your player has trouble keeping your current place you might have some difficulties getting back to where you left off.

That covers the basic outline, but how does it look from a Christian perspective?

First, anyone who has problems with magic, or druidic sorts of things will not be happy.  Things like Stonehenge and ancient mounds form the basis of Kit's "ley line" travel.  It is really pretty time, in my view, but I want to give fair warning for the sensitive conscience.

Second, I didn't really see anything that promotes or encourages a Christian worldview, nor any Christian themes.  Again, that's not a problem for me.  It is much like Tolkien or Lewis.

Finally, I am most grateful that it is lacking in the gratuitous sex and course language that permeates most authors today.  I did notice one weird usage of part of Numbers 22:21 (KJV) ;)

Overall, I prefer Lawhead to Stross ("Merchant Princes").  It promises to be an interesting and well done series, and I will definitely read the next book.

Pro-life Failure

Excellent post from Al Mohler.
"Voters in what is believed to be the most pro-life state in the union overwhelmingly voted down a statement that declared personhood for every human being from the moment of fertilization onward. The horrifying reality is this — the scare tactics used by abortion rights activists included some truths that even pro-lifers evidently do not embrace."
I often wonder why our politicians do not do something about the life issue, it seems they are actually representative of the people...

Monday, December 5, 2011

What is Christian Fiction?

I'm into disc 8 (of 9) of "The Skin Map".  This has led me to think about "Christian Fiction", which is what it is labeled as...

Several possibilities:
  1. Written for Christians
  2. Written by a Christian
  3. Written from a Christian worldview (hopefully goes with #2)
  4. Written to promote Christianity
This is not an area I have a lot of experience with.  A good second hand account is "The Shack", which many people permitted because "it's just fiction".  However, it was written from the point of view of aberrant theology - so it is hard to see any way it can be called "Christian" (unless you mean #1 or 2).

The only examples I can think of that I have read are the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, and the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) books by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Both authors are Christian (as much as we can tell).  Not theologians, or rock solid on every doctrine, but seemed to hold the faith until the end.

The Space Trilogy seems to appeal to Christians more than non-Christians, and is reasonably consistent with the Christian worldview (although, more allegorical than literal).

But what about LOTR?

There are actually a lot of Christian themes in the books.  However, when I read them, I didn't see them (they are not explicit).  Furthermore, Tolkien pretty much created the whole industry for high fantasy (D&D, etc.) - which many Christians oppose.

I'm not sure where to place The Skin Map.  It is certainly not overtly Christian, but that cannot be seen for sure until the conclusion.  It is fairly Molinist so far, which is where a lot of Christians are... (although I would consider it heterodox, and potentially dangerous).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The End of Jobs

(continuing my series on economics)

Finally getting around to another news article which triggered this whole thing...

He has many insightful points.  It reminds me of thoughts I had when I first read about nanotechnology (Drexler's "Engines of Creation") - that there could come a time of "vacation for everyone".  This is the world of Star Trek (particularly Next Generation) - fantasy twenty or thirty years ago, now suddenly upon us.
"And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs -- as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there's something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned... Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff." (emphasis added)
This captures the problem succinctly.

Economics is the science of managing scarcity.  As an engineer, I like to think the purpose of engineering is to make more stuff more efficiently, and to make jobs obsolete (even our own).

This is the goal, but we operate under the assumption that it can never be attained (like an asymptote).  Further, we expected much greater heights (a space faring civilization).  Now it seems we have peaked sooner.

The problem is twofold:
1) (As seen by Drexler) The frightening conclusion is that the wealthy can simply eliminate the underclasses (who are no longer needed to sustain them).  Or similarly, the underclasses eliminate the wealthy (and probably start in on each other).  If you only need a handful of people to run the economy, eliminate the rest.  (This is why even atheists should be against abortion, on principle).

2) We have no path from here to there.  We have 1% of the people with most of the wealth.  We still have some jobs that have to get done that people don't want to do.  We have little or no (or mostly negative) science, experience, and skill in distributing things needed and requiring things get done apart from the system of jobs and money.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Mind of God

"The Mind of God" (Paul Davies) - I seem to recall the name Davies in Christian apologetics.  Hopefully, it is referring to some other Davies, but this was not really solidly Christian.

The book is fairly short (232 pages to end notes), but took me a long time to get through.  It is basically a survey of different cosmologies, with some of the history.  Davies is never really clear on which he favors.

He does make some things clear:
  1. The Bible is not to be taken seriously in matters of origins
  2. Evolution is true
  3. He has faith that mankind can come up with all the answers
 His openness towards mysticism was probably the most disappointing.  I will probably do a separate post for that.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Review Coming

You know you're taking too long for a review when the company goes through a name change and it still takes you a year to get your review done :)

The Nelson Blogger Book Review program is now under the Book Sneeze name.

I became eligible for a new book as soon as my review for the last one was done, but I had held off.  I am behind on my reading, and I wasn't sure what to read next.

Then I received notice of a new audio book available: "The Skin Map".

This should be ideal.  It is Christian fiction, which I have read very little of, but would like to read more.  And it is audio, so I can listen to it during my commute, without interfering with all the other reading I need to do...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Orthodox Study Bible

(finishing my (three year!) review of the Orthodox Study Bible)

This has been the hardest part to write...

The Orthodox Study Bible is very beautiful, and filled with insight into the Eastern traditions.  The English translation of the LXX is very interesting.  It is certainly an excellent resource for those in Eastern rite churches.

My worry is for shaky Evangelical Protestants, who will see many Roman Catholic traditions fortified in these pages.  The Eastern view of Mary is very much in line with the RCC view (possibly even more extreme, if that is possible).  It saddens me that the Orthodox view Protestants as a branch of the Roman church, further from themselves, rather than closer to the teachings of the apostles.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

180 Movie

Just finished watching this!

30 minutes that could change your mind about everything.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Case for the Rapture

I) Surprise
My main focus is on Jesus' description of the Day of the Lord coming “as a thief in the night” (Matt 24:42, Luke 12:40 – there is no reference in Mark or John; Jesus refers to it again in Rev 16:15).

The apostles continue using this phrase in 1 Thes 5:2, and 2 Pet 3:10.  (2 Thes 2 also talks some about the Coming of our Lord.)

Matthew says "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Luke is similar in content).

It might be argued from 1 Thes 5:4 that Christians can know the hour (that it is non-Christians who are taken by surprise), but verse 6 still calls for us to be watchful – there is no mention of any events for us to look for which would signal the Second Coming.

We see the opposite in 2 Thes 2.  Apparently, some false teachers told the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord was upon them (v2, they had been in effect “left behind”).  Here Paul proves to them they are not in the last days, as there would be several very clear signs.

The other possible counterpoint is Rev 3:3 (letter to Sardis).  Here the context is not the Day of the Lord; but related – judgment against a local church.

II) The Fullness of Wrath in Judgment
This is counterbalanced by the giving of several very specific time frames for events during the Great Tribulation, as God's wrath is poured out through many specific, supernatural signs.

For example:
Rev 9:5  - 5 months
Rev 11:3 - 1260 days
Rev 13:5 - 42 months

Additionally, there are the events of the 21 judgments which are played out sequentially.  Many charts have been drawn up which detail much of this period, and which could be used to reliably determine the coming of Jesus.

III) Contradiction?
So then, we have an apparent contradiction – Jesus comes as a thief in the night, totally unexpected.  Yet, we have Jesus' coming preceded by very specific, well-timed events (of unmistakeably supernatural proportions).

How can we resolve this contradiction?

The Rapture comes as a thief in the night, where we are “gathered unto Him” for we are “not appointed unto wrath”, and at some point after, the well-timed events begin their march to the close of history.  The wrath of God poured out unto judgment.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Debt, Deficit, and Growth

(continuing my series on economics)

Some important definitions:
debt - money that is owed (like a mortgage or credit card balance).

deficit - a shortfall in your budget (losing money each month or year).

Obviously a family can deal with some amount of debt, and it can be good.  Borrowing for a home can be a way to get a home now and pay for it over your lifetime.  Borrowing for a car is probably less wise, and running up your credit card is just foolish.

In the same way, government debt is not necessarily bad.  As long as the economy is growing, the debt is controllable (you will have more future earnings to cover the interest payments).

Deficits are a whole different story.

Clearly, a family cannot survive for very long with debt and a deficit.  Eventually, the credit cards will run out, and you will be bankrupt.

With the government, things are more muddy.

The economy (as it is currently formulated) is dynamically stable - like a bicycle.  As long as it is running, it will stay upright.  If it stalls, it will fall over, and is difficult to restart.

The government can take action to keep the economy running (running a deficit to pump money into the economy and make it grow).

But this doesn't make sense in a static economy.  You're trying to restart an engine which has nowhere to go.  You can continue to print money and hand it out, but there are not any more goods being produced.  That will lead to inflation.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Coming Static Economy?

(continuing my series on economics)

When I look at current events, I wonder if we are looking at a transition to a static (non-growing) economy (although I am a pessimist, so it just might be me).

As I mentioned before, the primary factor of the economy is people. With abortion rates approaching 25%, we must admit that we have fewer people now (the producers and consumers of today's economy have been murdered). Also, reproduction rates in the West have fallen below the replacement rate (in America, you must overlook the first generation immigrant rate to see this trend). It is highly unlikely the population in the West will double in 40 years, or ever. It is possible the population will decrease (and will become heavily weighted toward the elderly).

When you look at the events of the Arab Spring, they are fundamentally economic (young people realizing they have no jobs). This is also somewhat present in the West, although to a lesser degree (although we are seeing some contraction of welfare states).

Interest rates are an indirect indicator of people's belief about growth in the economy. The government can lower rates to try and drive growth, but when rates stay low for long periods of time (record low rates on 30 year loans, for example) - this is an implicit statement that the economy will not grow.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Limits of Growth

(returning to my series on economics)

We finally come to one of the articles which triggered this whole thing...

His analysis is belaboring the obvious. Exponential growth, while exciting, is ultimately unsustainable. It's like the people who extend computing growth graphs to say that a hard drive can store the atomic state of a person for transporters in 2400 (Star Trek timeline), or show the temperature of CPU's reach that of the surface of the Sun.

At the same time, much of our economic wisdom is based on continual growth (see the previous post in this series).

Fifty years ago, it seemed certain that growth could be sustained through advanced technology (fission and fusion), and additional resources would come from expansion into space.

Today, that is far from certain.

The most important factor in the economy is people, and a growing economy requires a growing population.

Population has grown at about 2% (doubling every 35-40 years). This compares favorable with economic growth of 4-5%. Every forty years, you have twice as many people and four times the goods and services. There will not be equal distribution, but there is plenty to go around.

The most important good is food. The last hundred years have seen remarkable progress in this area. We produce more food with less people and land than ever before. Part of the cost of this is increased use of energy and fertilizer.

Similarly, modern conveniences require power (mostly electricity). Power production and distribution has not been spectacular, but has managed to provide what we need.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Twilight of Atheism - pt 3

(finishing my thoughts after reading McGrath's book)

My main concern is with McGrath's discernment (which is reflective of the kind of discernment we see in a lot of people).
"[in] the 2001 census of Great Britain... 72 percent of the population defined themselves as Christian. Relatively few of these attend church - a pastoral problem" (p 241)
I don't think that's a pastoral problem. It's a sign that most people have no idea what Christianity is. Most people are inoculated against the Gospel. This is not reassuring in any way.
"One of the most important elements in this new evaluation of the situation is the growing attention paid by sociologists to Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing worldwide form of Christianity." (p 192)
"One of the reasons that Pentecostalism has succeeded is that mainline Protestantism has failed to meet the needs and aspirations of the marginalized and disadvantaged." (p 196)
It appears McGrath laments the decline of mysticism and superstition which accompanied the rise of Protestantism, which Pentecostalism is bringing back (c.f. p 203, 216).

The second statement is particularly distressing. Mainline Protestants failed to protect the authority of the Bible, and sacrificed the true Gospel for a false gospel of "meeting felt needs" and helping social situations.

Pentecostalism is on the verge of losing the Gospel in the name of feelings and emotions (also through obsession with certain "gifts" of the Spirit). On the flip side, atheism is giving way to mysticism and New Age spiritualism (c.f. Sam Harris).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Twilight of Atheism - pt 2

(continuing my review of Alister McGrath's book)

I am always looking for the theology behind things. For McGrath, it is hard to find. The closest is probably pages 175-178, where he recounts his testimony of being an atheist before becoming a Christian:
"By 'atheist', I mean precisely what the word has always been understood to mean - a principled and informed decision to reject belief in God." (p 175, emphasis in original)
"I began to realize how little I knew about the history and philosophy of the natural sciences, or the nature of Christian belief... To cut a long story short, I discovered that I had rejected what I did not really understand... I began to discover a dimension to life that I had hitherto suppressed." (p178)
This is worrisome. Where is sin and repentance?

Also, McGrath seems to favor the atheist definition of faith (although it is conditional, he doesn't expand):
"If 'faith' is defined as 'belief lying beyond proof'" (p 180)

That said, McGrath does shed some light on why outward atheism had such a strong presence in Europe, but remained a minority in America. Atheism, as formulated in Europe, is a static attack on the Christianity of Europe - the mixture of Church and State. State Churches where leadership is a political appointment, and where Christianity is associated with nationalism and "the old way".

By rebelling against old, corrupt, and inadequate ways - and offering a new "global membership" (to eliminate nationalism) - atheism attracted many people who were oppressed under the old ways. Rebellion against kings and entrenched power became rebellion against the Church and, ultimately God. Where "Christendom" had been an instrument of oppression, atheism offered freedom.

In America, there was (and is) no tie between Church and State. Indeed, the local churches were often reactions against State Churches from Europe. When rebellion came, the churches were fully integrated into the spirit of rebellion.

This is why McGrath sees atheism in its twilight. The State Churches of Europe have been broken for more than a generation. The atheism of the last generation is no longer relevant for today. It cannot stand on its own, it is totally reactionary.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Twilight of Atheism

"The Twilight of Atheism" (Alister McGrath) - I had been told to read McGrath by some people at Biologos. Earlier, I read his "The Reenchantment of Nature". I was tired of the Biologos stuff, so this title seemed a good change.

McGrath connects the "empire of atheism" to modernity. He sets its rise at the fall of the Bastille, and its decline at the fall of the Berlin wall (p1, the same dates Oden uses for modernity, although McGrath does not cite Oden).

I'm finding myself annoyed with McGrath's style. He does not present things from a Biblical basis - there are no references to Scripture. His stand on key doctrines is often unclear, and sometimes hinted as being heterodox.

This is seen in his treatment of Hell:
"Darwin's rejection of God actually has little to do with the specifics of evolution, and much more to do with a general cultural dislike of some of the more noxious aspects of the hell-and-brimstone preaching of certain Victorian evangelicals " (p 104)
I can assume he means noxious to Darwin and the Victorians...
He sets this aside, until its sudden reappearance later:
"The most fundamental criticisms directed against Christianity have to do with the moral character of its God, and often focus specifically on the issue of eternal punishment. No theological issue posed greater difficulties for Victorian England." (p 274)
His advice?
"Christianity must provide answers - good answers - to such fair questions and never assume that it can recycle yesterday's answers to today's concerns." (p 274)
In charity, I can read that to say that we must always be careful to contextualize the Gospel message for our hearers. We must work to have the message make sense.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Growth, Debt, and Investment

(Continuing my series on economics)

The world economy has been growing steadily for hundreds of years. Usually at a rate of 1-4%, but any continual growth is exponential.

This is the incredible power of compound interest. 4% growth seems low. You have $100 now, and you'll have $104 next year - big deal. But, in 20 years, you'll have $219.11. In 40 years, $480.10.

These investments are needed to counteract inflation, and to provide for yourself after you are unable to work.

Investments also provide the funds involved in debt.

Some people have a knee jerk reaction against debt ("all debt is bad"). This is because a lot of people misuse debt, and are enslaved to it.

There is nothing inherently wrong with debt. It provides a way to access future earnings. A person with an idea for business takes out a loan, and starts that business. The gains from the business pay back the interest on the loan. The lender gains interest, which protects their savings against inflation.

Debt and investment are two sides of the same coin - as long as the economy is growing, and has win-win situations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Last time we spelled out the fundamentals of the economy: specialized labor, trade, and currency (money).

1 Timothy 6:10
"For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
This verse is often misquoted as "money is the root of all evil", but it clearly love of money (elsewhere greed is identified as a form of idolatry).

The Kingdom of Israel (as spelled out in the Old Testament) made use of currency (the shekel). Through most of history, money was in the form of precious metals (gold, silver, and copper or bronze).

Many people today bemoan the move off of the gold standard (where paper currency is tied to physical goods, usually blocks of gold) (Ron Paul, I'm looking at you).

However, it is important to realize currency is simply the "working fluid" of the engine of the economy. It's like only putting 1 quart of oil in your engine, because 1 is such a good number - being neither prime nor composite.

A growing economy needs more money to keep transactions going smoothly. This is also the source of inflation (increase in the cost of goods). As more money chases a limited number of goods, prices increase. As long as inflation is predictable, it can be handled. As long as it is low, it can be handled. Unpredictable inflation is a serious problem, unpredictable high inflation can be deadly.

The real problem is that money is also a proxy for power.

Money is related to time, but not exactly comparable. Wages are paid out per hour of labor, but everyone gets the same amount of time (168 hours per week).

If you imagine power and influence coming through the use of one's time (getting people to agree with you), then money allows you to achieve the same purpose in little or no time.

This allows some people more influence in proportion to their money.

Now, this is ratio thing. If I am a millionaire, and everyone else is only millionaires then we are all equal. But if I am a billionaire, and everyone else is millionaires - I have an edge. We see this in the rising cost of political campaigns. People will spend millions (I seem to recall the last presidential election approached a billion from all sides) for these jobs. Callous people believe this is an investment which will be paid back, but not necessarily so. Once you have enough money, you can effectively view power as the end, and money as the means (power becomes a "good" which can be bought, rather than an investment with a return).

This is a problem outside of economics. It is a political, and ultimately, theological problem.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fun Econ

(In college 200 level courses where called Fundamentals of subject, so we called them Fun)

Fundamentally, economics is about the management of scarcity. You only have so much goods, and time, and you need some plan for utilizing them. That's it.

The basic input to the economy is work, human labor. Now, God created work in the beginning, before the Fall. So work is good. However, the Fall has cursed it. For now, work is unpleasant and people need some motivation to work.

The measure of effective work per person is called "productivity". When economists talk about "productivity increase" they mean the same amount of people are doing more work, or fewer people are doing the same amount of work.

The bare minimum is "sustenance farming". This is where everyone produces everything they need. There is little or no trade, and no opportunity for specialization. With low population density, life can actually be pretty relaxed (I recall hunter gatherers had the shortest work day). Productivity is very low, since everyone must each learn every possible task. Also, individual talent is not utilized to the fullest (if I am good at growing plants, but poor at managing animals - I still spend time doing both).

Specialization requires trade (I produce only goats, and I need wheat). And trade works much better with currency (money). I have a cow and want shoes. I can't use 100 shoes, and I don't want to give up the cow for less. I can sell the cow to a third party for money, and use some to buy shoes.

Capital is the means of production (it can also refer to large investments of money). This might refer to land or animals, factories, etc.

Production can be of durable goods (things that last, perhaps further means of production - a factory that produces factory parts), or consumables (things used up; food, paper towels). There is also service - things like waiters and cooks, accountants, etc. And energy (gasoline, electricity).

A "good" is anything produced for the economy. It is usually reserved for physical items, but might be used for anything. There are no "bads", but any production has waste outputs and often "externalities" (negative side effects which fall on third parties).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Christian Economics

Because it deals with people, economics is a "soft science". The science is in the formulas and mathematical principles which can analyze trends and give some predictions for the future based on policies.

However, it cannot be separated from theology.

This comes into play with ideas like morality (what activities are right and good and should be encouraged), teleology (purpose), and anthropology (theory of man).

One of the big assumptions is that people are rational when it comes to economic decisions.

This ignores the fact that sin is irrational.

I recall after one of the recent bubbles, Alan Greenspan reported that he was surprised that greed could cause people to make bad decisions.

On the opposite side, there are those who believe that any notion of property, or that some might have more than others is inherently evil.

I am not so much interested in the ideal, as what Christianity has to say about economics in the presence of sinful actors.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ASC and Gene Therapy

A fascinating article from Science Daily:
"They used synthetic proteins called zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) to target a corrective gene at a specifically defined location in the genome of the X-CGD iPS cells. The iPS cells were then carefully screened to identify those containing a single copy of the corrective gene properly inserted only at the safe site. The researchers observed that some of the gene-corrected iPS cells could differentiate into neutrophils that produced normal levels of hydrogen peroxide, effectively 'correcting' the disease."
Taking defective blood stem cells, and patching their programming!

Monday, June 20, 2011


One of the classic complaints against Christianity is "the church is full of hypocrites".

Let's overlook the obvious problem with this statement (you are turning down God's offer of forgiveness and eternal life in Heaven - because some people who claim they will be in Heaven are jerks).

First, I must say, if a local church is full of hypocrites, you should avoid that church.


Two possibilities:
  1. They say they are evil, but are actually good. I don't think anyone would have a problem with this. It'd be like super-humility.
  2. They say they are good, but are actually evil.
If they say they are good, they don't have a very good grasp of the Gospel (we are evil, God is good - we can get forgiveness for our evil, and get credit for God's goodness).

Ok. But what about atheists who are hypocrites?

Atheists cannot believe in anything greater than themselves. That is because everything dies with us (entropy). There can't be anything greater than ourselves, as individuals. At most, they can sponsor some sort of utilitarianism, which sees to the maximization of utility (although that has some problems).

So, any atheist who argues in favor of their belief system over any other - "because it is true" - is a hypocrite. Truth doesn't matter (under their system). Only our own purposes - which means theists can have their own purposes, and atheists shouldn't try to dissuade them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Felix Manz - Martyr

This is another series I've wanted to work on... I've had troubles locating a copy of Fox's (or Foxe's) Book of Martyrs. Although there seems to be one online...

"Martyr" is from the Greek word "witness". The early Church was famous for witnesses who were true to the end (death by persecution). There were so many, that martyr became synonymous with death for the faith.

This is very different from those who die while killing, as in Islam. The ideal Christian martyr is peaceful and gentle, like a lamb led to slaughter.

Felix Manz is in line with our recent coverage of Baptism.

During the Reformation, there were people who pressed for more thorough reformation. These people are generally known as the "Radical Reformers". The best known of these are the anabaptists (a derogatory term from their enemies, meaning "re-baptizers").

Anabaptists have only a idealogical connection to modern Baptists. Their more direct descendants are the Mennonites and related groups (now know more for non-violence and strict separation from the world).

The anabaptists believed that baptism should follow belief, which is what the systematic reading of Scripture shows. They also believed in non-violence (particularly the avoidance of military service) - largely because, at that time, military service was connected to religious warfare.

From Wikipedia:
"Felix Manz became ... the first Swiss Anabaptist to be martyred at the hands of other Protestants."
The baptism (and religious warfare) issue is very tightly connected with Postmillenialism, which I will address in a separate post.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


An interesting set of posts from AOmin (the first, which points to the second).

In the first Jamin says:
"consistent Dispensationalism is (or at least, should be) Hyper-Dispensationalism"
This is a very interesting statement. It's been a long time, but I have mentioned my own leanings towards dispensationalism. Hyper-dispy is definitely heresy, let's take a look...

Jamin sums it all up in one block of the second (older) post:
"Hyper-Dispensationalism teaches that there are two gospels in the New Testament, that Jesus and Peter taught works-righteous salvation, that all forms of water baptism are unnecessary and 'dangerous,' that the Great Commission in Matthew’s gospel is inapplicable for anyone today, and that the teaching in Paul’s epistles are the only relevant sources for doctrine in the church."
This is a remarkable statement (on the HD side, I assume Jamin is representing them accurately).

The only online source is the "Berean Bible Society".

Here we see the "other" aspects of dispy I mentioned in my post - "central interpretive motif". From fact 1:
"The reason for a right division of the Bible is because of God's two distinct purposes: (1) His purpose concerning Israel and the world according to PROPHECY, and (2) His purpose concerning the Gentiles in this present age according to the MYSTERY revealed to Paul. God doesn't want us to confuse the teaching of these two purposes. He has very graciously given us the key for a proper understanding of this. "
This definitely seems to be the root of the problem. They are assuming two purposes for God, which I don't think can be exegeted directly anywhere. God has one purpose - to glorify Himself.

Fact 2 is just wrong:
"This proves conclusively that Paul did not preach what the 12 Apostles preached."
This sets the Bible against itself. I'd need to read the academic works to see where this is coming from and how it is reconciled. It doesn't seem like it could stand for long.

Everything else seems to follow naturally from these foundational errors, leading to "fact" 7:
"That the COMMISSION the Church, the Body of Christ, is to work under, is found in II Corinthians 5:14-21 and Ephesians 3:9. The Kingdom commission of Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-18 does not belong to God's present grace purpose."
2 Cor 5:14-21 speaks of our mission to preach the reconciliation of God and man through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew 28 is the Great Commission ("go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.")

I think this sets things more in context.

The HD seem to be trying to break free from postmillenialism (the idea that the Church should be reconstructing the world into Christ-likeness). This makes sense for the original authors' timeframe (before 1940). That was in the midst of the great meltdown of postmillenialism (which peaked during World Wars I and II).

It is important to realize one can have both 2 Cor 5 and Matthew 28 without postmillenialism.

What Jesus commanded was not obedience to the Law, and theocracy. He taught the Law as a schoolmaster (which is what Paul says), to drive us to repentance. That is the "command" - "repent".

We are obedient to the command when we repent and trust that Jesus has paid the price of sin for us. We are baptized (just as the Gentiles in Cornelius' household were) as an outward sign of this obedience, which has worked an inward change.

This (HD) is an overreaction to a problem that didn't exist (as many heresies are).

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Baptism Problem

(I've meant to write on this for some time, since my original posts on baptism. A recent post on Internet Monk makes this a good a time as any.)
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" Matthew 28:19
This is Jesus' direct command for us to baptize people. Apparently a tiny minority of people believe that baptism is no longer necessary, but the vast majority of Christians believe baptism is for today.

However, there is much disagreement about the how (or mode) and why of baptism. I have little concern for the mode (because of the why).

I am going to group everyone into one of two categories by "why":
  1. Paedo-baptists (literally "child baptizers"): those who teach some form of baptism for children (especially infants), for whatever reason
  2. Credo-baptists (literally "creed baptizers"): those who teach only those who can declare allegiance to some creed should be baptized
Interestingly, the New Testament only gives examples of adult converts to Christianity. There are no teachings for what to do about children. This makes it very hard to determine the best doctrine.

Tradition is certainly on the side of paedo-baptists. By about 400, paedo-baptism was the norm. This continued until the radical reformers (anabaptists), who were disliked even by the other reformers (Calvin and Luther).

An interesting note from Wikipedia:
'Although there is some modern controversy about the form of baptism, there is overwhelming evidence, and an impressive consensus, that the early Christian baptism was by immersion, and only for those old enough to make a profession of faith.' (North, 'A History of the Church: From Pentecost to present', 1983), p. 26

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Against Empricism - Main

Continuing from last post.

Having established that the only way to dismiss a worldview is to adopt it and check for internal consistency, let us run the numbers on empiricism:
"The only reliable basis for knowledge, the only route from subjectivity to objectivity, is to relentlessly subject a belief to doubt, then to allay the doubt (or confirm it) by gathering evidence that’s independent of one’s commitment to the belief."
We must subject this statement to itself. Where is the evidence that this is true? At best, we have only pragmatism, "It has worked in the past". By the same logic, I will live forever, since I haven't died yet. (And no, proving I will die doesn't address the point - pragmatism is not an empistemology)

There are more internal ironies:
"science as it’s commonly practiced manifestly does not make any commitment to naturalism"

"scientific theories rule out any appeal to an explanatory agency or power, whether it be God, the soul or free will, for which there is no good evidence or testable specification."
"Ruling out any appeal to a Higher Power" is naturalism. Again, where is the evidence that God is subject to test? God specifically says, "Do not put me to the test".
"we must find evidence for them outside private subjective experience, evidence that’s publicly observable by those who haven’t experienced God’s embrace"
Again, where is the evidence that "public observable evidence" is the only way of knowing? God says that He intentionally darkens those who are wise in their own eyes - blinding them to knowledge of Him.

Some choice quotes:
"there’s no epistemic space in which to construct such an alternative [as supernaturalism]"
"any deliberate departure from [empiricism] is immoral since it jeopardizes the well-being of the entire community"
"any ideological bias against the necessity for empiricism, such as faith in God’s providence, should be seen as a disqualification for public office"
Ahh, now we see the violence inherent in the system!
"To imagine that one’s worldview, whether religious or secular, is beyond disconfirmation helps to license an absolutism which brooks no dissent and countenances the demonization of those with different ideas."
Wait, didn't they just argue empiricism is beyond disconfirmation? Don't they license an absolutism which brooks no dissent and countenances demonization?

Empiricism is false under its own assumptions. It is hypocritical and self-righteous.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Myth of Neutrality

Continuing my series.

Closely related to objectivity is neutrality. From the article:
"Non-empirical ways of knowing fail to meet worldview neutral standards of epistemic adequacy, which is how we judge between competing ways of knowing."
When two parties disagree, we seek a neutral third party to arbitrate. Ideally, there would be some third way between naturalism and supernaturalism.

However, an appeal to "ideally" is really an argument from desire. "I want this, therefore it exists" - which is faulty.

The simple fact is there is no neutral worldview. You are either for God or against God (Matthew 12:30).

So, their "worldview neutral" point is really against God. Then, it is no surprise when they come to the conclusion there is no God. It also allows them to dismiss the theistic position, as "not neutral".

Again we see the underlying idolatry, "which is how we judge". God is the ultimate judge. We seek to usurp His judgment and impose our own.

The only way to judge a worldview is to (provisionally) adopt that worldview, and apply its arguments to their logical conclusions. If the worldview is internally contradictory (it reaches conclusions counter to each other, or counter to its assumptions), then that worldview must be false.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jesus and Empiricism

Today my pastor was preaching from John 8:12-20, and I thought it relevant to the current series.

It begins:
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' The Pharisees challenged him, 'Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.' Jesus answered, 'Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going...'"
Now this is interesting. First we have Jesus comparing Himself to light.

The religious authorities reply that the Law requires the testimony of two witnesses for any account to be considered true.

Jesus replies that His testimony is true in and of itself.

How does this relate to empiricism?

The empiricist desires confirmation of results ("the testimony of two (or more) witnesses").

But that is for explanations (theories). No empiricist would deny the existence of light, he simply measures it.

Jesus is saying the same thing - "Here I am, measure me."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Against Intersubjectivity

(continuing from last post)

Now we come to the crux of the argument:
"beliefs worthy of being called knowledge must submit to the tribunal of intersubjective, that is, publicly observable, evidence. Objectivity is only gained through intersubjectivity."
First of all, this statement is arbitrary. There is no basis. Where is the author's authority for such a requirement? While it sounds nice, there is no guarantee that intersubjectivity will lead to objectivity. Nor is any reason given that intersubjectivity (the experience of many) is better than individual experience.

Now I agree that the experience of many is superior to the experience of one. But that is because I believe in sin. A singular sinner becomes great in his own eyes. He overlooks his sin - that is nature of sin. Multiple people can see sin in others, that is also part of sin (I focus on your sin, and overlook my own)!

There is also a core failure here. It is the assumption that many eyes make for perfection (or truth). The problem is that a core design defect will be present in all eyes.

It's like the Pentium FDIV bug. This bug was present in all the first generation parts. You could run your problem on one computer, or a thousand. They would all fail in this regard. You can actually get slightly different results using equivalent algorithms due to the vagaries of floating point arithmetic. For most problems, you can accumulate the results to get a better answer. But for a select set of inputs, the answer would be just way off.

Similarly, intersubjectivity ignores man's Fallen nature. The Bible says the mind of the natural man is the enemy of God, and dysfunctional. No number of Fallen men working together will ever find God, understand God, appreciate Him, etc.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Against Experientialism

(Continuing from last post)

The empiricists make a good point:
"Haught then attempts to establish that religious experience – the felt presence of God – is trustworthy evidence of God’s reality"
The problem with "religious" experience is that there is no way of determining what is true or false. Mormons feel a burning of the bosom; I've talked with Adventists who feel peace, having accepted the Sabbath into their hearts (not those exact words, but similar). Even Muslims can cite miraculous experiences relating to the Koran. Similarly, I have my own experiences I can point to.

Experience is not definitive, but it can be instructive. Indeed, what are scientific results, but experiential (I witnessed these measurements on these devices).

So experience must be accounted for, but it does not have ultimate authority. Authority lies elsewhere, as we shall see (soon).

Also, many "religious" practices shut off the brain. The Bible has nothing good to say about these practices.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Against Empricism

One of the good things about Biologos is that it is a honey pot for atheists. Sometimes being right brings forces against you from two extremes, and sometimes you get crushed between the two extremes even when you're wrong :)

One of the atheist commenters there directed me to a link on empiric epistemology. This is quite a long read, but worth analysis.

To jump ahead a little:
"We must put epistemology first and get it right, and make no bones about it."
Amen. Now, to the beginning!

The introduction talks about the differences between our understanding and reality. How our mental models might be wrong, and that can lead to disaster for us. I would agree, and include theology as the most important mental model.
"that unregulated mortgage-based securities could coexist with a stable financial system, that they represented real wealth, but in reality they didn’t."
This reveals a real problem for the rationalist - why are so many people irrational? And given that we agree that many people are irrational (while believing themselves to be rational), how can you claim to be rational? If these others have blind spots, how can you know of your own log in the eye?

As a Christian, I really have no problem. Sin is irrational.

Then we come to the main argument:
"The only reliable basis for knowledge, the only route from subjectivity to objectivity, is to relentlessly subject a belief to doubt, then to allay the doubt (or confirm it) by gathering evidence that’s independent of one’s commitment to the belief."
I would agree, that apart from God, this is the only way for us to know anything. Of course, it is primarily an inverse way of knowing - we can never be sure of anything. This is the heart of postmodernism, which has overthrown modernism.

I'm running long here, so I will pick this up tomorrow...

Let me give a peek at the end:
"This certainly seems a recipe for nihilism, so those wanting to press the epistemological question in service to empiricism should have a response to such fears. This involves providing reassurance about the existential, ethical and practical viability of worldview naturalism: that without God, the soul and free will we’re still moral agents bound by ethical norms, fully capable of leading meaningful lives and fully engaged with our human communities and concerns"
That is an odd conclusion. What is morality without God?

Further, it is a failure to apply one's worldview to it's logical end (teleology and eschatology). If everything, everywhere will die - then what we do now is meaningless. Our actions and have no effect on the end state.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Evolution is True

"Why Evolution is True" (Jerry Coyne) - I was somewhat disappointed by this book. I didn't expect to be convinced, and it certainly wasn't convincing.

Of course, I am interested in the theology. I know of Coyne only by reputation - that is, he has a reputation for being an angry atheist who hates Creationists (and probably most Christians).

His disrespect of Creationists certainly comes through, but let's go in order...

Coyne seems to understand that evolution really is about replacing our creation story:
"Evolution gives us the true account of our origins, replacing the myths that satisfied us for thousands of years." (page xv)
Frustratingly, he constantly talks about how teaching Creationism is illegal. It is not.

The argument against design is, fundamentally, theological (although Coyne doesn't seem to realize it):
  1. If there was a Designer, He would do things this way
  2. Things are not done this way
  3. Therefore there is no Designer
But how do we know what a Designer would do or not do? Of course, there is an underlying idolatry here:
  1. If I were like God, I would do things this way
  2. Things are not done this way (this is the fact, the truth in the whole argument, which everyone agrees on)
  3. Therefore there is no God
Basically, the old, "I am most like God (or would like to be God), I am not God, therefore there is no God".
Good examples of this are on pages: 54 and 81.

An interesting tidbit:
"the average rates of evolution seen in colonization studies are large enough to turn a mouse into the size of an elephant in just ten thousand years!" (page 141)
Remember, most creationist models require more evolutionary change than evolutionists. Which is exactly what experiments show.

Some good data for my friends at Biologos: on pages 158 and 159, Coyne tells us that only 2% of mammals are monogamous. Further, 90% of birds are "socially monogamous" (outwardly monogamous) - yet, in 75% of those species, individuals are adulterous.

More data on rapid speciation, page 180 - showing speciation taking place in tens of generations.

Most frustrating is Coyne's double standard.

Every creationist statement is examined, and if anyone is ever wrong, it is damning to all. If creationists disagree, it is a sign of the weakness of the thinking.

But when the evolutionary story changes, that is progress! Science marching forward. When evolutionists disagree, that is the sign of healthy science. This is highly visible on pages 208 (where Coyne mocks creationist disagreement) and 209 (where he praises biologists disagreeing).

Of course, you have to wade through the whole thing to get to some conclusions:
"Pearcey argues (and many American creationists agree) that all the percieved evils of evolution come from two worldviews that are part of science: naturalism and materialism" (p 224, Coyne seems to believe nat-mat is the only viable worldview)
And then he undoes himself:
"Now, science cannot completely exclude the possibility of supernatural explanation."
What argument can he offer against supernaturalism?
  1. Supernaturalism is not needed (p 225)
  2. Supernaturalism is the end of inquiry
To the first, all I can say is "So?" Where do our needs enter the picture? Are not God's needs highest priority?

To the second, all I can say is "So?" Why is pursuit of inquiry the highest good?

You must offer some standard of goodness.

Here is where Coyne fails the most. He proposes goodness for goodness sake. On page 231, he blandly promotes "cultural evolution" - that things are slowly getting better.

Perhaps the most ironic is his reference to the end of human sacrifice.

About 25% of pregnancies end in abortion, so have we really done away with human sacrifice? Or have we just made it neat and clean, and gotten it out of sight? At least the ancients performed their sacrifices in public, for the atonement of sin and the good of the community. Now we make our sacrifices in secret, for our own pleasure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Pope and Mary

(continuing from the last post)
The middle questions don't concern me too much. I did want to analyze the last one:
"At the cross we witness a poignant dialogue between Jesus and his mother in which Jesus says to Mary: 'Behold your son”, and to John, 'Behold your mother.'"
This is entry into what could cause a big debate on the role of Mary. But it starts out well:
"These words of Jesus are, above all, a very human act. We see Jesus as a true man who makes a human act, an act of love for His mother, entrusting the mother to the young John so that she might be safe. A woman living alone in the East at that time was an impossible situation. He entrusts his mother to this young man and to this young man he gives his mother, therefore Jesus actually acts as a human with a deeply human sentiment. This seems very beautiful to me, very important, that before any theology we see in this act the true humanity of Jesus, his true humanism."
That is very true. The first application is always to those people at that time, in that context. We must cross connect many different things to go further.

But he goes on:
"it is also true that this Mother expresses the Church. We cannot be Christians alone, following a Christianity based on our own ideas. The Mother is the image of the Church, the Mother Church, and entrusting ourselves to Mary means we must also entrust ourselves to the Church"
Of course, this is not new. The Eastern Orthodox are even more extreme in their Mariology (if that is imaginable). It is of course, very hard to understand Biblically. Nowhere in the Bible is the Church referred to as Mother. In fact, nowhere is there talk of a "Church" that is separate from either a local body of Christians or all Christians everywhere - that is, people are the church. Thus, "the church at Corinth" refers to "the called out ones of Corinth" or "the saints at Corinth" (where every believer is a "saint" - holy, set apart to God).

The word "mother" is used 8 times from Romans to Revelation:
  1. Romans 16:13 - this is in the final salutation, where Paul says hi to Rufus' mother
  2. Galatians 1:15 - Paul refers to God's purpose for him, "from his mother's womb"
  3. Galatians 4:26 - "Jerusalem is the mother of us all" (as opposed to Hagar). This is part of a great exposition on Sarah and Hagar - the mother of freedom, and the mother of slavery. Here, Hagar represents the burden of the Law, while Sarah represents the freedom of grace (which is ironic, since it was a descendant of Sarah's child who received the Law).
  4. Ephesians 5:31 - "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother"
  5. Ephesians 6:2 - "Honor thy father and mother"
  6. 2 Timothy 1:5 - referring to Timothy's faithful mother
  7. Hebrews 7:3 - "without father or mother" (referring to Melchizedek, who is a type of Jesus)
  8. Revelation 17:5 - "Mystery Babylon the mother of harlots"
There are other references ("mothers", "daughter(s)", "nurse"), but they don't fit. For example, 1 Peter 3:6 says that faithful Christian women are the daughters of Sarah. 2 Corinthians 6:18 says we are sons and daughters of God the Father.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Pope and Suffering

An odd post from Ignatius Insight:
"the first question that comes from a seven-year-old Japanese child who says:'My name is Elena. I am Japanese and I am seven years old. I am very frightened because the house where I felt safe really shook a lot and many children my age have died. I cannot go to play at the park. I want to know: why do I have to be so afraid? Why do children have to be so sad? I'm asking the Pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me.'"
Ok. Japan is the least Christian first world nation I can think of (unless one counts Russia as first world). This little girl has very likely never heard the Gospel, or about sin, or anything Christian. We need a strong proclamation of who God is, and what Jesus did.
"I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side. This seems very important to me, even if we do not have answers, even if we are still sad; God is by your side and you can be certain that this will help you. One day we will even understand why it was so. At this moment it seems important to me that you know 'God loves me' even if it seems like He doesn't know me. No, He loves me, He is by my side, and you can be sure that in the world, in the universe, there are many who are with you, thinking of you, doing what they can for you, to help you. And be aware that, one day, I will understand that this suffering was not empty, it wasn't in vain, but behind it was a good plan, a plan of love. It is not chance."
Let me start by saying that I am not the right person to witness to a seven year old girl who just had thousands of people killed nearby. You need a nice, motherly lady - not a troll who lives in a basement! :)

That said, there is a nice way to say what I say - not a dumbed down, watered down, or vacuous thing to say - to deliver the truth in love, with full truth and full love.

With that disclaimer, what this girl needs to hear about is sin and God's righteousness, and His demand for justice. How the world is in rebellion against God, and how we must surrender to Him.

That Jesus' death wasn't just a senseless act against an innocent.

That Jesus paid the price for sin.

And, if we turn from sin and trust Him, we can have our sins forgiven.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

David Koresh

An unusual article at CNN about survivors from the cult of David Koresh.

It is tempting to dismiss Koresh as a nut (which he certainly was). Atheists will use him as an example of how "religion poisons everything".

But this is a real life example of how theology matters, and we should take advantage to learn as much as we can (for many people paid a terrible price, we should not squander it).

The article doesn't address theology directly, but it is there to be teased out:

Page 2: "[believers are] resurrected so they can travel to a kingdom cut off to nonbelievers".

This is a fairly common (and mostly Biblical) belief. Mormons have a mult-level afterlife, where believers get the best and unbelievers get second best. Only the truly evil (in man's eyes) need to be relegated to Hell. It doesn't say what happens to nonbelievers, we would assume it is comparable to the Mormon idea.

Page 3, Doyle says "You don't have to believe as I do". This is interesting. First, what is the fate of unbelievers? If it is Hell, then you are doing a great disservice not to warn them. If not, I would assume the "believer's kingdom" is better than whatever nonbelievers get. Do you not want to share?

At the end of page 3 and into page 4 we are introduced to the horrors of this theology. It is interesting that things almost always devolve into either sex or money (and, for some reason, rarely both). That no one would stand up to him is sad. That Doyle would say "I couldn't argue because he'd show you where it was in the Bible" shows the importance of hermeneutics.

Page 4 also gives us this odd (singular) statement of Koresh's theology:
"There are three crucial points to understanding the Branch Davidian brand of religion.
First, God can appear in the flesh as a man. Second, that man doesn't have to be a good person. Third, if you question whether that man is God, then you are questioning God. In other words, the devil is responsible for your doubt."
There's a lot of problems here, but I am trying to be concise.

The first point is taking the special and making it general (as people do with the gift of tongues). Just because it's in the Bible doesn't mean we should do it! Many of the stories there are instructional ("These people did X, then they were destroyed").

The second point is just wrong. In John 8:46, Jesus challenges the crowd to convict Him of sin - and there are no takers. That people could be deceived in this matter is a troubling point for rationalists, but all too common as a result of sin (here people may feel unwilling to speak up out of their own wrong fears).

The third point shows the danger of human authority, particularly the authority of an individual or small minority. Human authority must always be spread out (a local church needs many elders, with no one of them elevated above the others). Human authority must be challenged, and accepted only when supported with Biblical arguments. Tradition and history are excellent guides here - both for what is right, and for what will destroy us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Secular Confusion

An interesting article from CNN:
"The argument that criminals could abuse the niqab is not compelling enough to deny the fundamental freedom of religious expression to a group of French citizens"
This is an excellent point (among many in the short opinion piece). How can the secular state claim to be all in favor of human rights, then forbid a right - all the while claiming it is to "protect people's rights".

As the author rightly says:
"And the irony and hypocrisy of claiming the ban protects women from oppression is glaring: Freedom must be 'protected' by denying women their freedom to choose how to dress."
The underlying problem is that secularism has no foundation, it is adrift in the sea of ideas. They want to assert some things are "right" (correct) and other things are "wrong". At the same time, they have no standard for right and wrong - so it must be "anything goes" (at least, anything the majority can agree on).

Of course, the majority is currently against a takeover by Islam. But anyone can run the numbers, and see that soon the majority will be a minority...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Evolution of Language

One area I have little exposure to is the history of language. This is something I would like to look into more. If the evolution of language supposedly began as soon as the development of the physical structures for making sound and brain capacity (that is, well before the time for "Out of Aftrica") - then there should be one root language (common ancestor).

From Ars:
"The authors were able to identify 19 strong correlations between word order traits, but none of these appeared in all four families; only one of them appeared in more than two. Fifteen of them only occur in a single family."
This was only examining a single feature (subject-verb order).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Death and Evolution

An interesting study at Ars (ignore the stuff about bottomonium, or not, I guess):
"Have an undergrad ponder death and, suddenly, anything they learned in intro to bio doesn't look so hot; they'll feel less inclined to accept evolution (or want to hear about it from Richard Dawkins), and more prone to find intelligent design appealing. The same held true in a random population recruited over the Internet. This didn't hold true for students in a natural sciences program, though.

The authors went on to show that it was possible to reverse this effect with a dose of Sagan (an experiment controlled with what the authors termed a "no Sagan" group). Have people read a passage from Carl Sagan in which he celebrates the wonder of the natural world, and the appeal of intelligent design faded into the background."

So thinking about death is protection against evolution - very interesting!

Also, those in the natural sciences have in some way had their consciences seared (or something).

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Impact of the Gospel

Following up on Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, I have repeatedly read through the second.

The topics are, unsurprisingly, very similar. Tradition holds that the church at Thessalonica was founded during Paul's second missionary journey. He clearly spent some time there personally teaching them (2 Thes 2:5, 3:7). The letters may have been written in 50 and 51 AD.

The first letter offers encouragement and hope in the face of persecution (including tantalizing information about Jesus' return for the Church).

For the second letter, it is clear that the persecution is still ongoing (chapter 1). On top of this, there seems to be some sort of false teaching going on (2:1-3a). Apparently, someone claiming inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and falsely claiming the support of Paul has told them that they are living in the last days (the Great Tribulation, although Paul does not use those words).

What is Paul's response? That the Great Tribulation is only metaphorical, that things will get progressively better as the Church renews the world?

No. He tells them that there will be a great rebellion (probably spiritual, but possibly physical or both), that a "man of perdition" (or destruction) will rise up, and that all the unsaved will be deceived.

Paul here tantalizes us again:
"Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And now you know what holds back, for him to be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already working, only he is now holding back until it comes out of the midst. And then the lawless one will be revealed..." (2:5-8a)
Um, no Paul I don't remember, I wasn't there!

The King James has "he who now lets will let", which shows the importance of updating translations. "Let", to us, means "allow". But at the time of the KJV, it meant "deny" (or block). Thus, the Modern King James has fixed this to be "he is now holding back". The second "will let" was actually added - it is not in the Greek. But the idea is confirmed by the later "until he is taken out of the way (or midst)".

Dispensationalists hold that this is the Church being taken away, reducing the mediating effects of the Holy Spirit in the world. It makes a lot of sense, but it is not an open and close case from just this passage.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Language of God

"The Language of God" (Francis Collins) - For those who are unaware, Francis Collins is part of the founding team of Biologos. I'm somewhat surprised it has taken me this long to get around to reading something by him.

This book is largely a testimony of Collins' faith journey. His background is chemistry and biology, so he has held onto evolution as compatible with Christianity (much of his argument is basically, "I'm a Christian and an Evolutionist, therefore they are compatible").

I took very few notes on this one. Not much new, not a lot of deep analysis or theology. Collins' testimony is pretty solid (conviction from the moral law). Although it's clear he hasn't thought through all the theological ramifications of evolution.

Some of this shows up in the appendix. His thinking is clearly fuzzy on the use of embryonic stem cells for research (which we have seen before), and similarly for therapeutic cloning (pages 250-252, 253, and 256).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Science and the Trinity

"Science and the Trinity" (John Polkinghorne) - I picked up this book because Polkinghorne is a guest contributor at Biologos. It is very short (180 pages), but a very slow read (Polkinghorne likes big words).

Biologos says its goal is to get conservative Christians to accept evolution. I don't think this goal is served by having liberals address the issue! (It does lead me to believe that no conservatives really support evolution, or at least, are not willing to publicly support it. One of their favorite conservatives, BB Warfield, is dead!).

Polkinghorne is a scientist, not a theologian, which makes it difficult to pin down exactly what his theology is. But it is obviously very far from orthodoxy. Some examples, just on page 46:
"It is not surprising, therefore, that we find attitudes expressed in the Bible that today we neither can nor should agree with. These include an unquestioned patriarchal governance of the family... an unhesitating acceptance of slavery" (emphasis added)
"Those who attribute no abiding significance to these timebound attitudes are recognizing that the canon of scripture is not of uniform authority." (He actually goes on more in this vein...)
"the many New Testament passages that speak of fearful and fiery judgement [sic] are rightly interpreted as implying that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ requires the punishment of unending torture for those who have not committed themselves to some kind of Christian orthodoxy in this life." (into page 47)
That's just in two pages, fairly early! It doesn't get better.

Polkinghorne seems to embrace open theism, at least to some degee:
"God does not use the prophets to provide a detailed preview of what must inevitably come to pass... God does not yet know the unformed future" (page 54)
"cosmic history is an unfolding improvisation and not the performance of an already written score" (page 80)
"God does not have that future available for perusal beforehand." (page 108)
I could go on. Polkinghorne manages to pack a lot of error into a small space. I am concerned mostly with the consequences of his theology, and its impact on the Gospel.

First we see the embrace of a sort of universalism (or at least, conversion after death):
"Yet the divine love will surely not be withdrawn in that world [death], but will continue to seek to draw all people into its orbit." (page 158-159)
He also seems to deny "absent from the body, present with the Lord":
"The soul, as I understand it, possesses no intrinsic immortality. The pattern that is me will dissolve at my death... we have no naturalistic expectation of a destiny beyond death... It seems a perfectly coherent hope to believe that the pattern that is me will be preserved by God at my death and held in the divine memory until... the new creation."
This is comparable to the belief of Jehovah's Witnesses, that God will recreate someone very much like you in the resurrection.

He also embraces "the best of all possible worlds" (the idea that God created the world with natural evil, because He is too weak to do any better):
"The existence of free creatures is a greater good than a world populated by perfectly behaving automata, but that good has the cost of mortality and suffering." (page 165)
Yet again, the god of human free will calls for the sacrifice of God's power and knowledge (also, I have reference to the sacrifice of God's holiness on page 94). I will stop here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

JP2 on Evil

Some good points from John Paul II:
"Evil always exists in what is good."
This is awkwardly stated, a better phraseology would be (borrowing from C. S. Lewis) - "evil is a twisting or rejection of what is good". That is: good can exist in a vacuum, evil cannot. There is no "being evil for evil's sake" (despite the villains on Captain Planet). He says this later:
"Evil thus is not a thing but the lack of a good in a being in which what is lacking should be present."

"Suffering normally, however, is a sign that something is wrong in a real world."
That's precisely what I said in "The Problem of Evil".

It is interesting how Arminian he was:
"The possibility of evil is contingent on the possibility of freedom and love."
"Those who refuse the gift of grace, however many there be, are left with their choice. God cannot take that away from them. This is the limit of the divine mercy."
I thank God that He overrode my choice to reject Him! That He chose me, even when I was His enemy (Col 1:21).

Monday, February 7, 2011


"Thus Spake Zarathustra" (Friedrich Nietzsche). I must admit, this book was terribly painful to read. I first checked it out before Thanksgiving, so it has taken the better part of two months...

The translator is Thomas Common, and he has gone with a sort of KJV version. It didn't really work for me.

On top of that, the style is all in parables. When Jesus tells a parable, you can figure out what He is talking about. Nietzsche just kind of mumbles.

It's sort of like Robert Heinlein's social commentary - is he seriously putting forth an idea, or is he playing straight with his ridicule? Hard to tell.

Nietzsche is always held up as the ultimate atheist (Ravi Zacharias says he was true to his beliefs - he died cold, alone, and insane). It must be me, but it is sufficiently vague that you can read a lot into it...

Page 8:
"Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman"
The most important idea in Nietzsche is that of the "Superman" (ubermensch). This is not a guy in tights, but a stage of evolution. The ubermensch, as it is usually retold, is the next stage of human evolution (I am unconvinced, but I am probably wrong).

His statements about Jesus seem to place him thoroughly in the unbeliever camp (page 77):
"He [Jesus] died too early; he himself would have disavowed his doctrine had he attained to my age!... But he was still immature. Immaturely loveth the youth, and immaturely also hateth he man and earth."
What about "God is dead"? He does say that (first on page 6). He also says (page 294) to "the ugliest man":
"thou art the murderer of God" (italics in original)
It is not evolution or rationalism which has killed God (elsewhere, he says "pity" killed God) - it is man's ugliness (what I would call sin).

And did God remain dead? Page 320:
"Only since he [God] lay in the grave have ye again arisen."
I am reminded of Galatians 2:20 "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me".
And as the book closes (page 366-368):
"slowly seated himself [Zarathustra] on the big stone... The doves, however, were no less eager with their love than the lion "
"'I come to seduce thee to thy last sin' [says the soothsayer]"
And with that, I believe, Zarathustra died (seated on the Rock, with the Dove, and the Lion).

So is the "higher man" the rational atheist? Or the man born from above?

I don't think Nietzsche understood Christianity. I think his intent is more mocking (he comments on laughter being a weapon). But I think he was familiar with the language and ideas. Also, he has harsh words for the preachers of his day. Yes. So would Spurgeon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Models Again

Denis Alexander, at Biologos, has taken an aside from his model talk (which I commented on previously).

Alexander gives us a lot of insight into his thought processes, but I didn't find any compelling arguments for his case...

"We have the possibility of fellowship with God through freely willed choice. Our nearest cousins, chimps and bonobos, to the best of our knowledge, do not."
I think this reveals a lot about his underlying assumptions (Arminianism). This is creating more problems for the Gospel at Biologos - as their train comes further off the tracks, and heads deeper into "trainwreckville".

He does seem to get something of the point:
"It is not Genesis that poses the questions, though Genesis is clearly relevant, but rather the Christian theology of creation, sin and redemption."
"the Retelling Model doesn’t do a very good job on the biblical notion of sin... the tendency is to think of sin more as unfortunate sociobiology, poor humans in thrall to the dictates of their genes, but fortunately ‘saved’ by evolutionary theories of altruism... But I think such accounts are profoundly deficient from a theological perspective. "
"In biblical thought, sin is a theological concept which only makes sense in relation to God and to God’s will. If there is no God then there is certainly no sin, and what you’re left with is human misbehavior, certainly not ‘evil’ except as a socially convenient label."
This seems to be his main point. That sin is sin because God says so (which is true - consider the eating the fruit of the forbidden tree).

However, the Law is supposed to be an expression of God's character - what pleases Him. So, how is it that when animals (and human animals before "Homo Divinus") do something, it is pleasing to God - but then afterward, it is not?

An interesting point on federal headship:
"the first sin impacting upon the world not through inheritance (as in Augustine), but via the theological notion of Federal Headship, involving a lateral rather than a linear fall-out."
I actually don't have much of a problem with this. As Jesus' perfect account is credited to us (without us being His physical descendants), so can Adam's faulty account be charged. I think the biggest problem is one of freely giving grace vs. unjustly accounting law breaking... (but this is actually one of the smallest problems in these Old Earth models!)

"both Models have to give account as to how/why/when sin entered the world and in what sense sin ‘spread’ or ‘became relevant’ to the rest of humanity."
I hope Alexander goes into more depth in the future. This is actually a serious problem for the Gospel according to Biologos. As you spread the Gospel (including God's definition of sin) - you are making people previously exempt from the Law suddenly beholden to it!

Given historical conversion rates, this makes spreading the Gospel a very bad idea indeed!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Doctrines of Creation

An interesting introductory post to a new guest series at Biologos.

It's just making an outline at this point, little argument or conclusions. The big points I see:
  • it [creation] has the kind of nature and functionality God intended it to have
  • God could have made any kind of creation He wanted but chose to make this particular creation
The first will be the sticking point. Is a world full of death and sinful analogue behavior in animals the world God intended? If so, how does this relate to the Law? (Why does God give us a sinful nature - which is good in animals - then tell us it is bad, and not to obey that nature?)

The second is a good counter to those who preach a "best of all possible worlds" - that God was limited (usually by human free will) from creating a better world.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Imagination Failure

What amazes me most about the commenters at Biologos is how their imaginations function.

A man in the wilderness of Siberia finds a tooth! Their imaginations runs wild! They come up with a whole back story (and end story) for a whole race of peoples. Complete with language and dress, diet, mating and burial customs. They give them all names.

A Creationist suggests that there was no death before the Fall. Total brain-lock. "Where would all the animals live after a while?" There are more galaxies than there are people today, each with that many stars - I say. "How would the animals get to the planets around those stars?" Well, how about a nuclear powered rocket ship? And a space elevator.

I don't get it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anthropology at Biologos

(matching my first post on this subject)
Biologos has posted a continuation of their anthropology series. This one covering their "homo divinus" model.

This model fails to answer key questions, just like the first:
"In this model the Fall then becomes the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the expressed revealed will of God"
Here we must ask, "how is it that the revealed will of God is contrary to the 'good' behavior of all other humans at this time". That is, either Adam and Eve were particularly monstrous (which no one is suggesting) - or they were just like everyone else. And if everyone else is "good", why is God telling A&E to do differently?

An interesting point to draw in the previous post:
"According to this model, God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East"
Most Old Earth models have a fairly stable human population - never less than maybe 100k, and usually 1e6 to 1e7.

Across 1e6 years, at 20 years per generation: that is 5e4 generations. At 1e6 people per generation, that is 5e10 people (50 billion). So you have 50 billion people living and dying before God decides to say anything to anyone.

In the Young Earth model, taking into account exponential growth (under exponential growth, the sum of all previous generations is equal to the current generation), roughly half the people who have ever lived are alive today.