Conservative Theology

July 29, 2008

Missions and Evangelism / The Logical Necessity of Belief in Christ for Salvation

JB

During a conversation about possible paths to salvation, my wife pointed out to me something I hadn't thought of before - that declaring Christ your sovereign is not only a Biblical prerequisite for salvation, but it is also a logical one.  That is, if we view salvation as participation in the new heavens, new earth, and new Jerusalem, which is under Christ, then, as a necessary precondition for being in this new kingdom, one must first assent to the King, which is Christ. 

This isn't to say that it is logically necessary that this must happen before death (though I think one can say so Biblically, at least for the most part), it is logically necessary that this must happen before salvation. If someone has not assented to the Lordship of Christ, then their faith is inadequate for admission to the kingdom, for they have not yet acknowledged the King.  So for one to say that all faiths are equal paths to salvation, I think logically this is incorrect.  If Christ is King, then there is one path into the kingdom.  Perhaps the other paths lead you to the gates, and even participate in activities which are similar to those in the Kingdom.  But in order to fully enter in, one must pledge obedience to the King.  For a Christian, this has already occurred, and therefore they are already within the Kingdom.  But for one who isn't, even if the possibility of salvation is offered after death, admission into the Kingdom isn't possible on earth unless they acknowledge the King.

July 26, 2008

BrewBlogging / Ruth 2:11

JB

Translation:

And Boaz answered1, saying2 to her, "It has been made perfectly clear3,4 to me all that you have done5 for your mother-in-law after your husband died6.  You left7 your father, your mother, and the land of your kindred and journeyed8 to a people which you had not known9 before."

Notes:

  1. Qal Imperfect 3ms + vav-consecutive - from ענה
  2. Qal Imperfect 3ms + vav-consecutive - from אמר
  3. Hofal Infinitive absolute - from נגד
  4. Hofal Perfect 3ms - from נגד
  5. Qal Perfect 2fs from עשה
  6. Qal Infinitive Absolute from מות - also see Williams 2007 - 207b and 210
  7. Qal Imperfect 2fs + vav-consecutive - from עזב
  8. Qal Imperfect 2fs + vav-consecutive - from הלך
  9. Qal Perfect 2fs - from ידע

Vocabulary:

  • נגד - to make known
  • עזב - to leave / to forsake / to loose
  • חמה - mother-in-law
  • אם - mother
  • אב - father
  • מולדת - kindred
  • תמול - yesterday (usually in a metaphorical sense)
  • שלשום - the third day
  • תמול שלשום - idiom meaning "formerly"

July 25, 2008

BrewBlogging / Ruth 2:10

JB

My translation:

And she fell1 upon her face and she prostrated2 before him towards the ground.  And she said3 to him, "On what account have I found4 favor in your eyes to give me recognition5 when I am a foreign womain?"

  1. Qal Imperfect 3fs + vav-consecutive - from נפל
  2. Qal Imperfect 3fs + vav-consecutive + 3ms suffix - from שחת
  3. Qal Imperfect 3fs + vav-consecutive - from אמר
  4. Qal Perfect 1cs - from מצא
  5. Hifil Infinitive Construct + 1cs suffix + ל prefix - from נכר

The hardest part about this one was all of the wierd verbs - שחת does a consonantal inversion, and there were two first-נ verbs, one in a not-often-seen form.

Vocabulary:

  • נפל - to fall / to lie
  • שחת - to prostrate / to go to ruin
  • מצא - to attain or to find
  • מדוע - wherefore, on what account, literally "what being known"
  • חן - favor / grace
  • נכר - to regard or to recognize, same in the Hifil 
Took longer than I thought, but wasn't bad.

July 23, 2008

General / Shermer and the Church on Science and Theology

JB

Michael Shermer has an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen criticizing Intelligent Design, or any theological understanding of science.  He says that you can believe in both science and God as long as you keep them in "logic-tight compartments".  How nice for the atheist to throw us a bone.

His main point, which has been repeated by him and others like him, is that science is about mechanism, and saying "God did it" isn't a mechanism.  But what Shermer misses is that understanding something in terms of its logical causes actually minimizes the importance of the physical causes.  For instance, if I write a computer program, there will be an interaction of both my purposes for the computer program, and the biochemistry in my body that allows me to write it.

In fact, the most important cause for the computer program is not the biochemistry.

If, for instance, I got a spinal chord injury and was unable to type, and started using voice-based typing, you would still wind up with the same program in the end!  Thus, there are multiple possible physical causation sequences, each hideously complex, having little to do with each other, which all lead to the same result.  Why?  Because the physical cause is relatively unimportant compared with the purposeful for which I am writing it.  In fact, after it is written, discovery of the process of engineering it becomes impossible from the code itself, especially since, as I just pointed out,  there are multiple, radically different, sequences of biochemical activity which took place.

So, if life is designed, then the quest to search for the mechanisms the designer used may be missing the point entirely!  That's not to say we should prevent them from trying, only to say that the idea that physical causation is the only avenue which is legitimate to search is stupid.

Unfortunately, Shermer also sees ID as a science stopper - as if the questions stop if "God did it" was determined for the cause.  In fact, the whole scientific enterprise arose from people who said "God did it" and then wanted to know more!  Christians tend to be fascinated with the things God has done, and that encourages the study of it, it doesn't discourage it.  Let's look, shall we?

  • Geology as we know it started when Nicholaus Steno decided to investigate the Biblical flood.  He believed "God did it", and wanted to know what happened after.  And so geology was born.
  • All of the astronomers believed that "God did it", and so studied the night sky intensely in order to understand the movements of these beautiful objects God gave us.   "God did it", and so astronomy was born.
  • Linnaeus was fascinated with all of the types of creatures that God had made.  He wanted to know everything that God had made, and how it relates to the other things God made.  "God did it", and so the modern persuit of biology was born.
  • Gregor Mendel wasn't satisfied with the idea of continuous evolution, and sought to show the differences between things that were made compared to the variations that occurred in nature.  "God did it", and so genetics was born.

That's just a sampling.  In the history of science, "God did it" has been the number one cause for innovative breakthroughs in science.  To say that "God did it" is a science stopper is laughably stupid.

He then goes on to make the following argument:

The problem with all of these attempts at blending science and religion may be found in a single principle: A is A. Or: Reality is real. To attempt to use nature to prove the supernatural is a violation of A is A. It is an attempt to make reality unreal. A cannot also be non-A. Nature cannot also be non-Nature. Naturalism cannot also be supernaturalism.

In order to drive his point home, Shermer makes what he thinks is a deep theological point:

If there is a God, the avenue to Him is not through science and reason, but through faith and revelation. If there is a God, He will be so wholly Other that no science can reach Him, especially not the science that calls itself intelligent design.

This is quite interesting theologizing from an atheist!  If Shermer is certain there is no God, how does he think he knows how to reach God?  I think it is simply a case of imposing his wishes on reality - Shermer does not want God to have anything to do with science, and therefore proposes that if there is a God, he cannot possibly have anything to do with reality.  How convenient for Shermer.

Those of us who actually do believe in God believe that God is active within reality.  Even those with a more "spiritual" notion of God's actions (i.e. that God doesn't do physical miracles but only heart miracles), still have a God who is actively at work within reality. What's interesting is I think most Christians who embrace evolution in order to be "pro-science" don't really understand what it is that many of the evolutionists like Shermer are really asking of us.  By simply saying, "we agree with science" (especially those who follow Gould's NOMA philosophy) and then actively trying to maintain the same science/faith distinction Shermer does, they undermine themselves unknowingly, because such air-tight compartmentalization means that God has nothing to do with the world as we see it.

Unfortunately, many denominations take to the mythology that science is a unified voice, and that it is free of theological influences.  They speak of religion and science not being mutually exclusive.  Well, earth to out-of-touch theologians, no one - that is, not anyone that I've ever met - thinks that religion and science are mutually exclusive, except for anti-IDists like Michael Shermer. There are certain scientific theories that are objected to, but why should that be cause for concern or considered out of place?  It is well within theology's realm to both criticize and contribute to science, and on theological grounds.  Many of the great scientists of history have used theology to shape their scientific inquiry.  The only reason why this mode of reasoning is considered invalid is because of a group of people who are trying to irradicate religion.  

Therefore, while I am not a fan of molecules-to-man evolution, it doesn't bother me nearly as much that there are churches that believe in that, as it is that these churches are playing the appeaser not to science, but to atheists and skeptics who are trying to destroy religion.  And these churches are playing the science card not by the logic of scientific inquiry, but instead on the logic of atheistic materialism, while at the same time denying that materialism.

And they don't even know that it is happening.  Because of their own lack of understanding of science, they simply take the skeptic's word for it that "this is what science says," and they go with it.

See the thing is, the theologians don't understand that a substantial part of evolutionary theory comes not from evidence, but instead from a different kind of "faith".  See what Shermer said in a debate recently:

You see at some point you have to have some bottom up natural forces to answer the question where did life come from, where did all this complexity come from in the first place. Positing something from the top down simply begs the question, yeah interesting, but where did that come from? And where did that come from? At some point to do science you have to have some bottom up forces at work here.

 By "top down" he means design, and by "bottom up" he means naturalistic forms of evoltuion such as natural selection.What he's saying is that "top down" isn't valid as a cause at all.  This is the understanding that is problematic.  If you want the church to legitimately participate in the intellectual discussion of the day, it must must must speak to these sorts of theological assumptions in scienc, or else the church will simply fall victim to the theologies of atheists by promoting those theologies themselves. And then, in order to be intellectually responsible, it must go back and examine current mainstream theories in science on that basis, and be discerning on what it keeps and what it doesn't keep, and have good reasons for doing so - not just because "science" says so.

UPDATE - for more problems with Shermer's faulty reasonings, see this discussion at Uncommon Descent.

July 20, 2008

BrewBlogging / Ruth 2:9

JB

Here's the translation:

Let your eyes be1 upon the field which they will harvest.  And walk2 after them.  Have I not commanded3 my men not to smite4 you?  If you thirst5,6 then walk7 to the vessels and drink8 from that which my men will draw9.

Notes:

  1. This is a verbless clause - the jussive-ness is deduced from context
  2. Qal Perfect 2fs + vav-conversive - the vav-conversive can be used to continue the action of the imperative (Williams 2007 #179), so we are continuing the imperative-ness of the verbless sentence prior.
  3. Qal Perfect 1cs
  4. Qal Active Participle masculine singular + 2fs suffix (used as an infinitive)
  5. Qal Perfect 2fs + vav (for real condition)
  6. Just to make Hebrew more ambiguous, the ו prefix can be used to prefix the if part of a question (Williams 2007 #512)  :]
  7. Qal Perfect 2fs + vav (acting as a conversive and a "then" clause together!)
  8. Qal Perfect 2fs + vav-conversive
  9. Qal Imperfect 3mp + 3fp suffix (not sure what the suffix is referring to)

Vocabulary:

  • צוה - Piel - to command
  • עין - eye
  • בלתי - not
  • לבלתי - not to / so that not / because not
  • כלי - vessel / implement / baggage / equipment
  • שתה - to drink / to enjoy
  • שאב - to draw (water)
 

July 18, 2008

BrewBlogging / Babylon - the Hebrew Dictionary

JB

If anyone wants to practice reading modern Hebrew, I suggest using Babylon as your dictionary.  This is especially useful for reading something like הארצ.

July 17, 2008

BrewBlogging / Ruth 2:8

JB

Here is the translation:

And Boaz said1 to Ruth, "Why don't you listen2, my daughter?  Don't go3 to glean4 in an other5 field, and don't pass6 from this one.  And thus you will stay7 them8 with my women."

My notes:

  1. Qal imperfect 3ms + vav-consecutive
  2. Qal perfect 2fs
  3. Qal imperfect 2fs - negative commands use the imperfect
  4. Qal infinitive construct + ל preposition
  5. This messed me up for a while.  I did not know that אחר could mean "other" - I thought it only meant "after"
  6. Hifil Imperfect 2fs - negative commands use the imperfect
  7. Qal imperfect 2fs + fp suffix
  8. I have no idea what the feminine plural suffix was doing on there, so I just translated it as "them"

Vocabulary

  • גם - also
  • עבר - to pass, pass by, or pass through
  • כה - thus
  • דבק - to cling, to keep, to close, to stay
Todays was challenging to put together, and I did not do a very good job - I had to rely on other translations a lot to see what everyone was saying.

July 16, 2008

General / Thank God for Evolution

The Next Wave of Science and Theology

JB

 I've been reading Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution, and at the same time reading about what's going on at the Altenberg 16.  It is pretty clear where the next wave of science and theology is going, and sadly, it looks like its going to be another 150 years of chasing our tail.

As is starting to be admitted, Darwinism got us nowhere.  The point of Darwinism was to remove God entirely from the process of diversification of life, and perhaps even from Creation itself.  The hope of Darwinism has always been the three pillars of natural selection:

  • Heredity - traits get passed on
  • Overproduction - we have too many offspring
  • Variability - the traits that get passed on differ from their predecessors

The problem is that, in the normal case, these get you absolutely nowhere.  In fact, this usually leads to a down-sloping of fitness, not an up-sloping (UPDATE - I have clarified this below).  Darwinists have been starting to realize this fact, and have been desperately searching in vain for a new set of pillars to achieve natural selection nirvana.

The problem can be readily seen in the application of genetic algorithms to computer science.  They are almost always used for tuning algorithms, not creating them.  And, when they are creating algorithms, they are usually very simplistic (see what sorts of things Avida has been making, for instance).

The problem is that variability requires a direction for it to be productive. This is why natural selection can be useful in genetic algorithms for optimization - the optimization parameters focus the variability only on a limited set of parameters which are likely to be selected precisely because the programmer thought that they might be useful for evolving.

Added onto that, genetics has not given us any theory of form.  That is, as far as we can tell, genetics says very little about the form of an animal.   Hox genes may contribute some, but they are not the big picture for the form of animals.  And, since the primary impetus for evolution is the fossil record (which are merely forms, not genes), if a theory doesn't explain the origin and evolution of form, it doesn't explain evolution.

So Darwinism/neo-Darwinism seems to have been a complete failure except for certain, limited circumstances.  It certainly isn't sufficient for a theory of evolution.

So what's next?  

The reason everyone liked Darwinism is because it supposedly gave design without a designer.  Provided you had some self-copying system, natural selection would do the rest.  Happenstance occurrences would shape the "code" which was transmitted, some of those changes would be lucky, and viola - we have adaptation and the ability to increase complexity without having the messiness of getting God involved.  

However, since evolution without God has failed miserably (just like cosmology without God already failed in the early 20th century), science is looking for a way to at least shove God out of an interactive role in the universe.

And thus, the theory of self-organization was born.

The idea is that complex systems arise naturally through the interaction of certain types of pieces.  That the whole of a system is more than its constituent parts, just like snowflakes and tornadoes.  Thus, there doesn't need to be any sort of gradualism - things can just appear through self-organization.

The first problem, which should be pretty obvious, is that this will either:

  • Require that the idea that evolution takes a long time to be abandoned entirely, or
  • Completely remove the theory of evolution from testability into the realm of magic

The reason for this is that if such evolution can be observed, it will be happening extremely quickly - perhaps immediately, and therefore the idea that this takes any amount of time will be completely wiped out.  If we can't observe it, then the lack of proper environmental triggers will be blamed.  Of course, we won't know what these are.  But self-organization will be the magic word that will be sprinkled around instead of natural selection.

Of course, the idea that self-organized systems are actually organized has already been shown to be wrong. But let's not let that stop a new evolutionary theory.

So what does that have to do with God?  Oh yes.  What this means is that if we can't get rid of God, we can at least push God out of our daily business, and move His work to the origin of the universe.  What happens is that the emergence of everything through self-organization is the way the universe is built so that these structures will occur.  So physics itself will enable these structures to emerge, and therefore we can say that, no matter when a structure emerged, it was encoded in physics by God at the beginning of the universe.  You can see this in the title of Conway-Morris's book - Life's Solution - Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.

So, God did actually create, but we can rest assure that it was a long time ago.  If God is doing anything today, it is only because the universe is a part of God, which means that we are God.

It also leaves people to weave hogwash theology based on whatever fairy tales the evolutionists are trying to tell, which is basically the content of Dowd's book.  He even praises himself for it.  So, basically, the new theological method will go like this:

  1. Scientists make up stories about evolutionary emergence using rules that make less sense than the neo-Darwinian ones we just abandoned
  2. A certain subset of these are published for the public in science magazines based on what science reporters find interesting
  3. Theologians pick and choose which of the ones from step #2 can be woven into a sermon on something they think is a worthwhile message, and then claim authority from "the universe". 

Note that it will be too much to ask theologians to actually verify that there is any evidence for the stories they find (hey, I heard a scientist say it, it must be true!), or to see if there are conflicting interpretations, or to *gasp* make criticisms of scientific arguments.  No, instead, theology will simply become telling the "story" of the universe in a way that elicits a worthwhile response.

Welcome to the new world of theology.  We're just going to make up crap that sounds good and then justify it by calling it scientific and relating it to something we read in Popular Science.  Be ready.

UPDATE

A few readers misunderstood what I meant by the statement "The problem is that, in the normal case, [natural selection] get you absolutely nowhere.  In fact, this usually leads to a down-sloping of fitness, not an up-sloping"

If you read below this point, you will see that what I'm talking about is that natural selection only works when it is directed.  If you take an arbitrary computer program, and make arbitrary changes, the result is not going to be an increase in the fitness of the computer program.  Instead, the mutational load will eventually build up without being damaging enough to select out, which will make defect mutants the rule, and not the exception.  Eventually this will more likely lead to extinction, rather than a "more fit" program.  Thus, heredity, overproduction, and variability are not sufficient for natural selection to occur.

What is additionally needed is a direction for the variability so that it tends to favor beneficial changes.  However, this will also prevent the changes from being able to arbitrarily adapt to new circumstances.  I will go into the reasons for this in more detail in a few weeks.

Successful evolutionary change in life, for the most part, is the result of front-loading, just like most successful evolutionary change in genetic algorithms is in selecting the appropriate variables for tuning, and then leaving out the ones which give chaotic effects with little chance for benefit.

July 16, 2008

BrewBlogging / Ruth 2:7

JB

Ruth 2:7 was a little rough with both the syntax and vocabulary.  Much of this is probably wrong:

[the deputy is still speaking] 'And she said1, "May I please glean2, and I will gather3 from the fallen grain after the harvesters?"  And she entered4 and stood5 from the morning until this time.  She tarried6 in the house a little.7

  1. Qal Imperfect 3fs + vav-consecutive
  2. Qal Jussive 1cs + נא
  3. Qal Perfect 1cs + vav-conversive
  4. Qal Imperfect 3fs + vav-consecutive
  5. Qal Imperfect 3fs + vav-consecutive - this one threw me a little bit because it has a vav in the spelling instead of just a holem.
  6. This one is whacked out.  As far as I can tell, it should be a 3rd-ה verb, though I'm not sure what the mappiq is in there for.  This would make the root שבה and the stem the Piel.  However, this is being listed as a 1st-י verb everywhere I look, and is listed as a Qal in BDB.  What gives?  
  7. Largely because I couldn't figure out the verb, I never could put this sentence together on my own, so this is largely the product of looking elsewhere :(  Also, most translations add in "except" to the front of the sentence to show how it is being used.  I think that the switch from vav-consecutives to perfect is probably the justification for this.

Vocabulary:

  • לקט - to pick / gather / glean
  • אסף - to gather
  • עמיר - a row of fallen grain
  • עמד - to stand
  • אז - then
  • מאז - from then / from the time of
  • בקר - morning
  • ישב - to dwell / to sit / to tarry (accusitive of location)
  • עתה - time / now
  • עתה זה - now / this time
  • מעת - a little / fewness / few / small
That took me a little longer than I wanted.

July 15, 2008

The Bible / Is the Bible Scientifically True?

JB

One thing we need to be careful of in interpreting and translating ancient documents (such as the Bible) is the categories in which people speak, because there is no objectively true set of categories.   I don't believe the Bible is true scientifically, not because I think it is in error, but because the Bible does not use the same categories as science does.  I think it can be used within science (that is one of my personal research interests), but when doing so one always has to remember the categories that people are using.

For instance, let's say I said "the meteor came in out of the ether and glowed for several minutes until it's phlogiston ran out."  To someone in the 18th century, that statement makes a lot of sense.  To someone in the 21st century, that makes no sense whatsoever.  It may be a true _historical_ statement, but the categories being used in the 18th century are not the same ones being used in the 21st.

Are the categories inerrant?  The problem here is that the question itself is non-sensical.  Categories are neither true nor false.  They are simply the conception of reality you are dealing with.  The "ether" hypothesis might be true, but it is no part of 21st century science.  Even if it is not true, it is still a useful category in discussion as a placeholder for other unknown concepts.   In the 22nd century we might come back to "ether", or have a whole new set of categories that make 21st century science seem archaic.

Even if there were a complete set of objectively true categories (which I doubt they exist), it would be stupid for the Bible to use them, as it would cause the Bible itself to be meaningless to us who aren't familiar with those categories!

And, as such, I don't treat the statements in the Bible as scientifically true, though I certainly think that they can be used to inform scientific topics.  Going back to the example of the meteor "coming out of the ether" - if I am doing a scientific study on meteor observations, I can safely include this 18th century description as a valid description of the event, just knowing that his categories for description need translation.

I have blogged on this topic before, though this is a slightly more thorough treatment of the matter.