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.