Truth and Happiness

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pascals pensees

“We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find  only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.”   -Pascal

A friend of mine recommended the book Christianity for Modern Pagans, a book on Pascal’s Pensées, out lined and explained by Peter Kreeft. This friend, a pastor, has said he has read it over twenty times and could not stop saying how good it was. I bought the book, but was thinking it couldn’t be that good. Forty-five pages in, I think it is that good. Pascal, a contemporary of Descartes, is considered the first apologist to the modern world, sitting on top of the Christian Middle Ages as the Enlightenment took root in Europe. The wisdom of this book is striking and compelling. Today, I am going to just share some excerpts from the book.

“[Concerning the above quote], these are the four fundamental truths, the data, about the human condition always and everywhere. No philosophy that ignores them is worth a first glance; no philosophy that has no explanation for them is worth a second. Ultimately, no philosophy except Christianity is worth a third glance and our belief, because only Christianity has a satisfactory explanation for these four facts. This is another way of summarizing Pascal’s fundamental overall argument in the Pensées.

Truth (our head’s food) and happiness (our heart’s food) are the two things everyone wants, and not in crumbs but in great loaves; not in raindrops but in waves. Yet these are the two things no one gets except in little crumbs and droplets.

…Since no one can change human nature, no one can make us stop desiring truth and happiness; and no mere human being can give us truth or happiness. We may mediate these two things, but we cannot create them; we are aqueducts, not fountains.

…Science and technology shield modern man from a clear knowledge of these four fundamental truths of Pascal, for science (or rather scientism) offers us the illusion that we now know the Truth when in fact we only know some truths, and technology has given us comforts but not contentment. “

Discipleship’s Nested Rewards

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a while for me since I have written anything here, due primarily to a busy family life and secondarily to a mind not entirely prepared to write. I met my goal in 2012 of reading over 50 books (52), with over 17,000 pages. The subjects have been varied, from The Hunger Games to Peter the Great to Signature in the Cell. I feel so much more enriched and my mind more active, but my writing experience was more a cerebral “stew” than an organized essay. I found it stressful to write, and so I decided to just read, think, connect, reflect, repeat. In fact, I just finished a book on the history of philosophy, and I am reminded that philosophers do no jump to conclusions. This is what I felt with writing…I didn’t feel I had proper time to reflect and draw a reasoned, objective conclusion. So, I have been reading as my interest led, for personal enjoyment and to layer my home “education”.

But today, after reading a few posts from some blogs I follow, I felt like sharing something I learned last fall. It was from the very fantastic book “The Weight of Glory” by the equally fantastic C.S. Lewis, and it has helped me to put in proper perspective (I think) the place for Christian works. In the first essay in the book, titled “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis talks of the different kinds of rewards in life and how it applies to the Christian life. He says some would call Christians mercenaries because we live for the promise of rewards in heaven, to which Lewis writes:

“There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not a mercenary for desiring it.”

There are rewards that are not naturally connected to the thing earned (money for love), while there is the reward that is connected (marriage for love). But Lewis says there is also a third case of reward that is more complex. The example he gives is that of reading Greek poetry in Greek. To get to the place that one can read the poetry and enjoy it in the original language cannot be reached immediately. It requires work and study, and the reward for this work is at first “disconnected” from the pleasure of understanding the Greek mind inside the Greek poetry. The motivation doesn’t come from the actual reward, which cannot really be known to the student. One studies the language either just to learn it, or because it is required, to get good grades, etc.

“His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.” [emphasis mine]

Here I was struck profoundly that this is the proper role of discipleship and obedience to God. Christianity can appear to be a list of do’s and don’ts. Or, why worry about works when we are saved through faith alone. Works, though, are the proper path for connecting to the God of creation and realizing the benefits of His law. For instance, there is no practical or immediate benefit to me to be patient with people who do not (in heat of the moment) deserve it, other than to sort of “get myself under control”. But consistently practiced, I have seen patience yield great benefits in my home that I could not have foreseen beforehand. These “works” we do as Christians don’t save us. Faith does, but if we do not obey, or “learn the Greek”, as grueling as it can be at times, will we ever get to really know the mind and heart of God? And I do not believe our hearts necessarily have to be “in it”, either, as I have heard and read. I don’t have to have a pure heart to practice patience. In fact, when patience is needed most, I am least likely to practice it all! Yet, if I practice patience anyway, there is the nested reward of knowing God is within it.

“Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward… But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as a tide lifts a grounded ship.”

Bioengineering Ethics

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Can scientists bioengineer people with better ethics? Are there genes that switch us from wretches to saints? Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, says yes and advises that parents have a “moral obligation” to select for the best personalities for their children so they can be “ethically better”.

“Professor Julian Savulescu said that creating so-called designer babies could be
considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better

He said that science is increasingly discovering that genes have a significant influence on personality – with certain genetic markers in embryo suggesting future characteristics. By screening in and screening out certain genes in the embryos, it should be possible to influence how a child turns out. In the end, he said that “rational design” would help lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society in the future.

“Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?” wrote Prof Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor in practical ethics.”

But is it really our genes that are the problem? If we design the next generation to be better ethically and morally, so that the next generation is then better, and so on, isn’t that the same as bioengineering a human robot? If you minimize, and then eliminate, the biological influences (supposedly personality flaws) on decision-making, essentially removing our desire for wrong-doing (defined as “bad for self and society”), you have removed free will. How does one genetically select for “good” free will? This is the logical conclusion of a naturalist explanation of human existence. The bad that humans do is simply a result of bad genes and bad environments, and it removes completely the any act of free will.

That begs the question: couldn’t God have made us with perfect genes? Why did he create such flawed personalities in the first place? C.S. Lewis writing in “Mere Christianity”, sheds some light:

“‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of–the cleverer and stronger and freer it is–then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best–or worst–of all.”

Savulescu doesn’t understand that no matter the genetic make-up, humans still have free will and can exercise it to good or evil. He obviously does not believe that there is any Moral Law, is a complete naturalist, believing that perfect genes would produce a perfect being. But in essence, in the attempt to bioengineer superheroes, we will still end up with supervillians.

In the book Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson speaks to us through the reflections of the character of Imlac, when he and Rasselas finally arrive at the pyramids.

“For the pyramids, no reason has ever been given adequate to the cost and labour of the work. The narrowness of the chambers proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and treasures might have been reposited at far less expense with equal security. It seems to have been erected only in compliance with that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some employment. Those who have already all that they can enjoy must enlarge their desires. He that has built for use till use is supplied must begin to build for vanity….I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyments.”

This is the lesson of history. People in perfect health and wealth will still choose self-glorification, and will make miserable others to achieve their selfish ends.

I had (sadly) never heard of Samuel Johnson before I started reading Not with a Bang but a Whimper by Theodore Dalrymple. The book is a collection of essays about the decline of Western culture, and its emphasis (so far) is directed at the decline in moral character. It is not the genes that make us better men, it is our moral decisions that do. And that comes from living a life of flaws.

Of Johnson, Dalrymple writes that “at every moment [he] reflects on the moral meaning and consequences of human life.” In his biography of Richard Savage, Johnson reflects on the faults of the poet. Dalrymple asks, “Who could fail to recognize a common human pattern in his delineation of Savage’s greatest failing?”

“By imputing none of his miseries to himself he continued to act upon the same principles and to follow the same path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune from falling into another. He proceeded throughout his life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness which were dancing before him, and willingly turned his eye from the light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion and shown him, what he never wanted to see, his real state.”

There is only one path to wisdom. It is spiritual, and it is open to everyone of all genetic make-ups.

Note: I have since downloaded the free Kindle version of Rasselas and plan to read it soon.

Therapeutic and Conditional Forgiveness

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Last week I was challenged to think about the ideas I have on forgiveness. There were a few things in this post by Kevin DeYoung (which I was directed to from this post) that made me pause and consider my ideas, ask a few questions, and then spend some time studying the Bible.

Therapeutic & Conditional Forgiveness?

 “Many Christians, influences by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. But if we start with a biblical notion of God’s forgiveness, we see that such a view falls short.”

First, I thought “therapeutic” was a very interesting way to view forgiveness. I had never even considered it, and I truly wondered what I do. I know that I am to forgive others, and that I want to be forgiven. I know that God expects me to forgive, and that my own forgiveness depends on it (Mt 6:12-15). I wondered, since I don’t really pay attention to how or why I forgive, what is my motive for forgiving others? Is it with a motive of self-preservation, with a grumpy ‘Fine, I’ll forgive’ but only because I myself want forgiveness? Is that my deepest motive? I had to consider whether I forgive “therapeutically”, with my motive being just to get my emotions under control, jettisoning my offended feelings so I can move on with a very happy day. Or, is it that, when I look at all those ugly emotions swirling in my mind and heart, I get rid of them because they make me ‘look bad’ to God? Do I just take a “breather”, compose myself, looking at all those toxic feelings of anger and bitterness scattered throughout my mind, the elevated fight reflex coursing through my blood, and ffoorrggiivveeee…. Ah, I feel much better.

DeYoung was commenting on a selection from “Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns. Brauns writes:

“In the therapeutic line of thinking, forgiveness is a private matter that means shutting down anger, bitterness, and resentment. In other words, Christians should always forgive automatically. Because therapeutic forgiveness is based on feelings, it posits that people may even find it necessary to forgive God.”

The other part of this article that made me pause was this:

“The offer of forgiveness is unconditional (for God, and it should be for us), but forgiveness itself is conditioned upon repentance. We must always be open–and even, in God’s grace, become eager–to extend forgiveness, but we (like God) can only forgive the truly penitent. No bitterness either way. No revenge. But forgiveness, and the reconciliation that should follow, is a commitment to those who repent. (emphasis mine)

Chris Brauns explains:

This book has argued that forgiveness should be defined as a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”

Conditioned upon repentance? Those words really took me off guard. Is that true? At this point, I was becoming very aware of how fuzzy my knowledge is on forgiveness. Is this true? Or, since I try to distance myself from church divisions, is this controversial and debatable? I scrolled down to the comments section to see what other people were thinking and saying. Some were saying things like “finally Biblical teaching”, while others were asking for scripture and clarification. At this point, I decided that was where I should turn: to scripture.

Investigating Scripture

I spent some time studying the Bible to get at what God has said about forgiveness, and I discovered that is very clear that God does place conditions on Christians.

(1) Mt 6: 14-15 tells us that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we don’t, God will not forgive us. It seems that this condition is placed on us so that we recognize the seriousness of our own sin. The note in my Bible (Apologetics Study Bible, HCSB) states:

 “Forgiveness is an attitude that follows from recognition of the seriousness of our sin. A person with an unforgiving heart toward others shows that he does not take his own sin seriously and has not appropriated God’s forgiveness.”

(2) Within the church, the offended person must confront the offender. Mt 18:15-17 and Lk 17:3-4 are clear about this, and this has got to be one of the most difficult things to do. It depends a great deal on relationships. If you know the people well, it is much easier to bring something like this up. Then there is the gray area of church acquaintance, where you know people, but you really don’t know them well enough to confront them with sin. Or that they would confront me with sin, either. Honestly, I don’t really obey this, and it is just because I am a social coward. It is much easier to do the “therapeutic” part, scrub the ugliness off my consciousness until I ‘feel’ right, and then move on. But I if I am honest, I know that there is a barrier of varying thickness between me and that other person.

(3) Within the church, the offender must repent before receiving forgiveness. Mt 18:15-17 and Lk 17:3-4 are clear on this as well. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” I have to ask myself, do I do this? If I (or we) don’t act on the first command to confront the offender, will we ever hear the words ‘I repent’? It is almost as if, by being non-confrontational, we short circuit God’s plan for refining his people in the church.

And we don’t even need to see any action (repentance) at all to forgive. Just so we are all on the same page, “feeling sorry” is only part of repentance.  I grew up thinking this was all there was to repentance. The other part is “to be disposed to change one’s life for the better.” God expects penitence and a desire to change and make things right. Zaccheus repented when, to those he extorted money from, he paid back four times.

If someone came to me seven times in one day ‘repenting’ of sin, I would have to question his definition of repentance! God knows this, of course! That is why he tells Peter in Mt 18:22 to forgive seventy times seven, and then tells the parable of the unforgiving slave. It sounds ludicrous to accept ‘I repent’ that many times (490) and to forgive, but it must be exactly what God sees. He is the master and we owe him 10,000 talents1. The “actions” of repentance seems to be what God is looking for—not the work, not at first, but the humility to acknowledge our sin and speak about it to who we have sinned against. If I imagine myself sinning that many times in a day and having to progressively return to confess my sin, I see myself getting more and more embarrassed and alarmed at myself. This reminds me of Paul’s description of godly sorrow in 2 Cor 7 and how it leads to repentance. This alarm at myself, at my ineptitude and stupidity, though, mixed with pride can lead worldly sorrow, to giving up and, ultimately, to death.

(4) I also read the emotions and virtues associated with forgiveness. Eph 4:30 and Col 3:13 tell us to remove bitterness, anger, insult, slander, and to put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience—then forgive others as the Lord forgave you. Here I can see where a therapy mentality could develop. We are to scrub out the ugliness, we are to be kind, but it is from the viewpoint of our relationship to God. Utterly destitute, God forgives us based on an immaterial ‘I repent’, a promise only. This is the comparison, the condition: as the Lord forgave us.

(5) There is one point that Jesus forgave the mass of people that were executing him. He asks God to forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing. There is no rebuke, no conversation with them, no reconciliation sought, just a plea to God based on the offender’s ignorance and slavery to sin. If people are just mean to us, in whatever way, I don’t think we necessarily have a responsibility to ‘make it right’. I don’t think we can expect or demand repentance prior to forgiveness.

Concluding Thoughts

So, I think what I have discovered is that God does command us to get control of the ugly emotions we feel when offended, but it is not for us so that we can feel better. It is so that reconciliation can occur between Christians. Forgiveness is conditional and challenging and, once again, proves that man did not write the Bible. Our nature is to satisfy ourselves, and I think that is what DeYoung is getting at: “forgiving” others is not about an emotional shower. Instead, except in the case of those crucifying Jesus, forgiveness seems to be absolutely relational. The questions raised by DeYoung’s article and my subsequent study have given me much to think about, and much to practice.


1I just finished a history of the Peloponnesian War, and one talent was enough to pay for the supplies and rowers for one Athenian ship for one month. Athens had ~6000 talents in their treasury, and they estimated it was enough to pay for 3 years war.

Marine Mammals as Metaphors for Spiritual Living

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I have been wondering lately about the interface between the material and spiritual worlds and how they connect. It may sound strange, but I just wonder what it looks like and how functions, and I think God may give us clues or metaphors as to what it is like. All metaphors do break down and fail if taken too far, though, so these are just some thoughts.

On Sunday I was imagining that the entire ocean represented the material universe, and the sky represents the spiritual realm. I had a picture in my mind of dolphins…how they are built for the water, yet are completely dependent on the air above their world. I think it is a wonderful picture of humanity’s dependence on God.

Just as it is essential for the dolphin to come to the surface for air, it struck me how essential it is for us to come to the surface for God’ Spirit. The air, when you think about it, is essentially separate to water. Bubbles of air don’t press into and  descend down into the depths. Small amounts of the gases may dissolve at the surface and diffuse slowly downward, but actual bubbles do not . Yet a mammal can inhale and carry a relatively large quantity of that air around with them wherever and as deep as they want to go. That is the only way (outside of man’s intervention) that a large quantity of air can move around below the surface of the ocean—inside of a mammal.

In the same way, we too can take from God what he gives us through His Bible and prayer, and bring it into a physical world that really has only a shadow of spirituality. And, in the same way, the air is slowly used up and we must return to the surface for spirituality. The air is not something we can produce in our bodies, but are completely dependent to return to God. Given this metaphor, it is not hard for me to image Jesus being fully man and fully God. Just as air, foreign to ourselves, fills our lungs and keeps us alive, so could the Holy Spirit completely and fully fill the material body of Jesus.

If indeed this ocean picture holds, I wondered what God sees as he looks out over the surface vast ocean of the world. Humanity coming here and there to the surface for life…or staying below in the depths, spiritual lungs burning in want. I wondered if, when God sees us in worship, he sees us like dolphins, breaking through the surface, flipping and twisting in playfulness in the air…only to fall back down into the physical world, unable to maintain, at least for the moment, a permanent place in the spiritual world.

Pantheism is Beyond Good and Evil

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So, I have been on this journey of scholarship for about fifteen months now. A series of events woke me from a slumber of low personal expectations, and decided to embrace the concept of life long learning. But I am always seeing gaps and assumptions in my knowledge, or fuzzy definitions of words that I hold. Today I was struck by C.S. Lewis’s definition of pantheism in Mere Christianity (Ch1, Bk 2) and it has served to make the concept clearer.

 “People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything  good or bad, and the more clearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether. We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might  just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view… The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism.”

I had always held that pantheism was just a sort of universalism, that we all just sort of die and go into a blender of spirit and consciousness. I hadn’t really considered it with respect to its beliefs on good and evil. Lewis’s words really impacted me because I had just written here about the pantheistic ending of the movie Brave. I was thinking more of the final spiritual blending when I labeled it pantheistic, and then raised questions about it’s implications on any final judgment for humanity. This ending is absolutely pantheistic, according to Lewis. This movie is teaching us that, at a higher spiritual level, Mor’du was neither good nor evil.

If you have read Book 1 of Mere Christianity, you will have read Lewis’s case for the Moral Law that is installed in all of us.

“Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first.”


“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we can conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.”

He shows that we all have a certain sense of right and wrong that we can see working in our consciousness, a Moral Law, and that behind that Law is a Somebody. At this stage of the book, he has not addressed religion yet, just that throughout history there has been moral teachings seen in the writings of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans.

The movie Brave is set in the highlands of ancient Scotland. Perhaps if it was William Wallace looking at the spirit of King Edward I of England’s ghost, rising from his corpse, would he have accepted that nod as Merida did from Mor’du? I wonder if these Highlanders, being so systematically oppressed over the years by the English, would ever really hold to this pantheistic worldview. If so, would Wallace have ever fought for Freedom?

Evidences for an Old Earth

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This post started as a simple list of observations that show that the earth is older than the 6000 years that young creationists hold to. I left radiometric dating for the end because I have seen some writings saying this data is wildly inaccurate. I have linked a site with an extensive page on radiometric dating, with a quote addressing the supposed inaccuracy. Read for your self. I also found a study by the Institute of Creation Research that, just like this post concerning Answers in Genesis, disturbed me.

Evidence for >6000 years old

This evidence is either common sense, or you have to conjure the idea that God created the world to look old. 

Tree Rings: 12,000 year old trees have been found, the age determined from yearly growth rings

Varves: Lakes can form these deposits. They are composed of thin layers of clay and silt from a single summer and winter. They are of contrasting color and texture, and represent one year of deposits. Lakes actively forming varves can be found with 100,000 layers, and some ancient lakes have millions of layers preserved.

Ice Cores: Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica preserve the longest record of snow deposits. Greenland shows about 50,000 layers, while Antarctica shows about 740,000 layers.

Speleothems: cave growths (stalagmites & stalactites) form similar layers as that of tree rings. Some cave formations have over 200,000 layers.

Carbon-14 Dating: This method of dating organic material has been combined with tree ring and varves, confirming each dating method.

Supernova 1987a: Prior to 1987, this was a star approximately 168,000 light years away. On Feb 23, 1987, the star exploded and became a supernova. That is, 168,000 years ago it exploded and it took that long for the light to reach the Earth.

Radiometric Dating: Isotopes are radioactive elements that decay into a non-radioactive form of the element. This can happen quickly or slowly, depending on the element.  Here is a good explanation of the science. It is long and technical and I found it convincing. Scientists have dated rocks at ~3.6 billion years using multiple methods.

As to inaccuracy:

Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly. The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages. Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice.

Extinct Radionuclides: Scientists have determined what isotopes would have formed in stars and supernovas. They have looked for these isotopes in nature and found the shorter lived isotopes missing, indicating the Earth is old enough for them to have decayed away.

Extinct Radionuclides Data Accepted by Young Earth Creationists

In doing some research on radionuclides, I found an article by Randy Isaac for the American Scientific Affiliation assessing studies made by the Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I found it very interesting because, rather than disputing the data on extinct radionuclides, the researchers affirmed it. The purpose of their project was to explain the evidence from a young earth perspective. 

The program was called the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) Project, and it’s findings were published in 2005. Isaac summarizes the key points of the book as follows:

1. There is overwhelming evidence of more than 500 million years worth of radioactive decay.

2. Biblical interpretation and some scientific studies indicate a young earth.

3. Therefore, radioactive decay must have been accelerated by approximately a factor of one billion during the first three days of creation and during the Flood.

4. The concept of accelerated decay leads to two unresolved scientific problems, the heat problem and the radiation problem, though there is confidence that these will be solved in the future.

5. Therefore, the RATE project provides encouragement regarding the reliability of the Bible.

This study is billed as “groundbreaking results,” and it is considering that the ICR researchers concede that there is evidence for “more than 500 million years’ worth (at today’s rate) of nuclear and radioisotope decay.” Isaac notes that it is a “departure from previous creationist claims that radioactive decay is much less than reported.” In other words, the ICR researchers acknowledge to the amount of decay attested by mainstream science and validates the radiometric observations.

The ICR researchers reason that during the Flood, the rate of decay accelerated to accommodate a 6000 year old earth. The problem with this acceleration, the study admits, is the amount of heat generated—enough to evaporate the earth. It requires “a most unusual heat removal mechanism that is outside the known laws of thermodynamics.” I would qualify that as an understatement. A second problem is the radiation generated by this increase—one million times greater than today. How anyone (i.e. Noah et al.) survived this proposed year-long radioactive exposure is not known.

The young-earth advocate is therefore left with two positions. Either God created the earth with the appearance of age (thought by many to be inconsistent with the character of God) or else there are radical scientific laws yet to be discovered that would revolutionize science in the future. The authors acknowledge that no current scientific understanding is consistent with a young earth. Yet they are so confident that these problems will be resolved that they encourage a message that the reliability of the Bible has been confirmed.

I find it disturbing that these researchers, clinging so tightly to literal 24-hour days in Genesis, they propose radical and fundamental changes to physical laws that only last for about a year. With the other evidence for an older earth noted above, it seems absurd to cling to this fantastic theory rather than consider an erroneous interpretation of Genesis 1. This happened to Calvin and Luther, who clung to a geocentric solar system as supported by scripture. We now know they were wrong, so one is above error.

But to gloss over the major roadblocks to this theory and hail it in support of the Biblical authority is blind, deceptive and/or both. Isaac’s concludes his assessment this way:

The ASA does not take a position on issues when there is honest disagreement among Christians provided there is adherence to our statement of faith and to integrity in science. Accordingly, the ASA neither endorses nor opposes young-earth creationism which recognizes the possibility of a recent creation with appearance of age or which acknowledges the unresolved discrepancy between scientific data and a young-earth position. However, claims that scientific data affirm a young earth do not meet the criterion of integrity in science. Any portrayal of the RATE project as confirming scientific support for a young earth, contradicts the RATE project’s own admission of unresolved problems. The ASA can and does oppose such deception.

Anti-Scientific Curriculum

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I have just skimmed through an Answers for Kids Bible Curriculum, published by Answers in Genesis, and I am very alarmed. Earlier I wrote a post based on John Lennox’s book Seven Days that Divide the World. I have been trying to put together a summary of evidence and reasoning for my belief in an old universe. I won’t do that now (I definitely will soon), but I want to identify some very destructive teaching. Sorry if this stirs some controversy with my friends.

Based on my previous post, it is clear from history that the church has interpreted scripture wrong: the Earth was never the center of the solar system even though theologians believed it so. Copernicus knew the universe was “wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator” and revealed the heliocentricity of the solar system. As a devout Christian, his goal was to observe the natural world and elucidate God’s order. In fact, Loren Eiseley, anthropologist, educator, philosopher and natural science writer, has said that “in one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples, it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.” Theologian Thomas Derr expressed, “As the creation of a trustworthy God, nature exhibited regularity, dependability, and orderliness. It was intelligible and could be studied. It displayed a knowable order.”

The above quotes were taken from The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcey, which details the rise of the scientific method as linked exclusively to Christian thought through the Middle Ages. Copernicus, Kepler, Gilbert, Paracelsus, Van Helmont, Galileo, Descartes,Newton, Leibniz, Boyle, Ray, Linnaeus, Cuvier—modern science was built on Christian men like these. So, it pains me to read in this Answers in Genesis book that,

 “even though we can study the earth and the universe today, we can’t use our scientific findings to figure out what happened in the past—or how long ago it happened—since we weren’t there.”

At first sight, this appears to be the most ridiculous anti-scientific statement I have ever read. After reading a bit on their website, I found this observation confirmed. It is not that I simply disagree with their position, it is the patronizing statements used to endorse their opinions and the lack of citations for their data. You are simply presented with an opinion with a thinly veiled implication that to believe otherwise is unbiblical. Please, present your argument, but give me some evidence. As a scientist, I found unsupported assumptions peppered through their discussions. It is no wonder these people are dismissed by real scientists.

After reading this, I struggle to make any other conclusion than this: Answers in Genesis are enemies of science, and I doubt very seriously the men who laid the foundations of modern science would accept it.

We are called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. Too often “faith is…seen as being a ‘blind leap’ in the dark, not based on evidence, logic, or testing. People frequently think faith means believing in something even when common sense tells us not to. But is this position really what the Bible says? Does God expect us to believe in Him without any evidence?”

I believe our observations of the natural world demonstrate God’s wonder and science should influence our interpretation of the Bible. Just as was the case with Copernicus, popular biblical interpretation can be wrong, but does nothing to undermine God’s truth.

NOTE: I did some research on the internet, and this curriculum at Reasons to Believe is something I would advocate:

This course is designed to encourage individuals, homeschool co-ops, and Christian high schools to explore the harmony between the Bible and the record of nature. The course’s overarching goals are two-fold: present a (1) BIBLICALLY FAITHFUL approach to interpreting Genesis 1 as being the error free Word of God; and (2) SCIENTIFICALLY RESPONSIBLE understanding of the record of nature. A key foundational assumption for this entire course is that the discoveries of modern science will always be in harmony with the Word of God.

Friday Quote: Escape From Reason

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I Escape from Reason  -             By: Francis A. Schaeffer, J.P. Moreland    am going to try something new. Throughout the week I will think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason. Hopefully it will do the same for you.

This quote comes from Francis Schaeffer’s Escape From Reason (ch 7), and displays a depth of knowledge and profound compassion for people.

The Bible teaches that though man is hopelessly lost, he is not nothing. Man is lost because he is separated from God, his true reference point, by true moral guilt. But he will never be nothing. Therein lies the horror of his lostness. For man to be lost, in all his uniqueness and wonder, is tragic.

We must not belittle man’s achievements. In science, for instance, man’s achievements demonstrate that he is not junk, though the ends to which he often puts them show how lost he is. Our forefathers, though they believed man was lost had no problem concerning man’s significance. Man can influence history, including his own eternity and that of others. This view sees man, as man, as something wonderful.

In contrast to this there is the rationalist who has determinedly put himself at the center of the universe and insists on beginning autonomously with only the knowledge he can gather, and has ended up finding himself quite meaningless. It comes to the same thing as Zen Buddhism, which expresses so accurately the view of modern man: “Man enters the water and causes no ripple.” The Bible says he causes ripples that never end. As a sinner, man cannot be selective in his significance, so he leaves behind bad as well as good marks in history,; but certainly he is not a zero.

A Long Obedience & Other Thoughts

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 A Long Obedience

I would like to follow up on my last post, and what I said on the importance of keeping Love = Patient an absolute, nonrelative, undiluted moral rule. A situation popped up last night that upset me to the point that I had trouble sleeping. My post was fresh on my mind, and I knew I was being challenged. I awoke this morning and knew that I must be patient (and kind, etc, as well, referring to the full definition of love from 1 Cor 13). I had chosen Love = Patient yesterday because it has been something I have focused on for years, particularly with my kids. I felt it was easier to choose patience because I have experienced its value. Patience leads to dialogue free of the arena and brings it to a hall of justice (sans superheroes). Patience is fertile ground for resolution.

It made me think a lot on how long it can take to develop one’s mind and habits, and it simply doesn’t happen in a day, a week or month. Just like education, it takes years to reach a place of real knowledge and understanding. There is no replacement for years of work and dedication. I thought about this past year. I’ve read at least 50 books on all sorts of subjects, and I feel much improved by it.

I was also reminded of this quote from Nietzsche (of all people), which sort of sums up discipleship.

“The essential thing in ‘heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Other Thoughts…

I was also reminded of Nietzsche’s probably most famous conclusion, that “God is dead”. Although I disagree with his philosophy, I have read some commentary by Albert Camus (one of his notebooks, I think) that Nietzsche drew this conclusion by observing the catholic church of his day. He looked and saw no God there. I think that is a fair observation, actually, one that Richard Dawkins uses the same argument in his book The God Delusion: people talk of God, but there is no evidence of God in their lives. Recently, a woman told me of a newly hired pastor who was fired because he continued to draw in low-income black families to the church. I would conclude that God is dead…in that church. It is false logic to try to nullify God based on the lack of obedience of people. For instance, if everyone ran red traffic lights, would that invalidate the need for red traffic lights? No. If anything, the actions of this church endorse the need for a true moral law.

How does a church get to that place, though, where they reject people and fire a pastor? The Jesus they talk about and the Jesus of the Bible are clearly not the same…and they don’t even know it.

In Escape From Reason, Francis Schaeffer draws a conclusion in chapter six that is just amazing. I just finished this chapter and it is fresh in my mind. Because of the dichotomy of the modern mind (read the book and you will understand how it developed, I can’t even begin to do it justice), “the word Jesus has become the enemy of the person Jesus, and the enemy of what Jesus taught. We must fear this contentless banner of the word Jesus…” The word becomes contentless because it is just connotation, a relative suggestion, not based or defined by anything but what a person imagines Jesus to be. And then Schaeffer concludes the chapter with something very astonishing to me:

“This accelerating trend makes me wonder whether when Jesus said that toward the end-time there will be other Jesuses, He meant something like this. We must never forget that the great enemy who is coming is the Antichrist, he is not the anti-non-Christ. He is anti-Christ. Increasingly over the last few years the word Jesus, separated from the content of Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God.”

This makes sense to me. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. The opposite of the Word would be the Word emptied of meaning.  It is amazing to consider that an antichrist is not necessarily a person, but a Jesus hollowed out and filled with mush.

Does “Brokenness” Lead to Christian Moral Relativism?

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I started getting Kevin DeYoung’s blog delivered via email, and I wanted to repost and comment on his blog today. Words do matter, and communicate ideas, and those ideas do have consequences. I suggest you read it here.

DeYoung focuses on the word “brokenness” in a way that is extremely illuminating. I have always thought of this word as describing our sinful nature, and I think it still does. But DeYoung has helped me to see that, when used to describe sin, the term appears to fit in more with the deterministic and naturalistic worldview that I have been learning about lately from Francis Schaeffer’s works—that man is merely machine, a product of random natural forces. The word in this context suggests that “I am not responsible; I sinned because of my fallen nature. Yeah, I did it…but it’s not my fault.” If we blame the sinful nature, it becomes the cause, not the individual. At that point, I cease to be the cause, or at least I have far less culpability.

“…as a metaphor for sin, “brokenness” is seriously limited. The term does not convey a strong sense of moral culpability. If anything, it suggests a helplessness in the face of external forces and circumstances. It gets nothing of the Godward direction of sin. In fact, the term “brokenness” sometimes feels like a safer, less-offensive euphemism for sin. Instead of confessing rebellion, disobedience, guilt, or moral evil, we only have to acknowledge that somethin’ ain’t right. We don’t work the way we should. We’ve been wounded before. We’ve had a hard go of it. I’m not suggesting those who use the term “brokenness” are trying to avoid their sins or the minimize the sins of others. But the language can have that effect.”

“In Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck examines the different Hebrew and Greek words for sin. The list of definitions is daunting: missing the mark, departure from the right way, twistedness, wrongness, deviation from the right direction, crossing a set of boundaries, breaking a covenant, apostasy, rebellion, deviant conduct, godless behavior, offense, unfaithfulness, infidelity, betrayal, disobedience, violation, lawlessness, guilt. “By far the majority of these names, Bavinck maintains, “describe sin as ‘deviation, a violation of the law.” In citing 1 John 3:4, he concludes that “Scripture consistently views sin as lawlessness” (3.129-30).”

So, this must be the question: is sin something I actually decide to do, or not? Am I in control of my body, or not? Am I really taken off guard, seemingly all the time, by lust and pride and anger and envy…? Am I really just a reed in the wind, blown this way and that? If it is habitual sin, am I responsible for making effort to break this habit, or not? It is either my nature doing it, or I am doing it. Which one?

“The present Christian culture gravitates toward language that is inner-directed and therapeutic. We prefer the language of brokenness and woundedness, even though these words in the Bible tend to describe physical pain or divine punishment (Isaiah 30:26). Sin is almost never, if ever, described as personal malfunction. It is, instead, seen as an offense to God, a violation of his law, and liable to punishment. We may be broken, but that doesn’t describe the half of it. We need a Savior, not just a Handy Man.”

This is a scary thought. Is that what we have today in the church? Are we looking for a first aid kit, a fix it kit, or a true relationship with the Creator? I know that I have thought like this—God, please just fix me! Those are the times I felt as if I am just trying to impose my will on God’s, like I was just using Him. It is also tempting to blame my sinful nature for the despair and hopelessness that sin produces, and in essence blame God. Those are the times I don’t want to be asked about my sin, nor do I want to ask anyone else. Those are the times I feel locked in determinism, the ultimate instance being my life before Christ. Then, there was only a prison of habit and a life devoid of love and meaning. DeYoung is so correct in saying we need a Savior to unlock this determinism.

I have read that Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and atheist, has said that criminals should not be held morally responsible for their crimes because of this determinism in the natural world. Actions are only a result of chemistry and socio-economic factors. Humans are not to be blamed; it’s our environment and DNA. I am not saying Christians go that far in our thinking…but if we really extend this logic of “brokenness” to its final conclusion, it leads to a world without any fault or responsibility, as DeYoung said in his article. It leads to world of “I’m ok, you’re ok,” a church of Christian moral relativism.

Here is an example of what I am thinking, using 1 Cor 13:4 “Love is patient”:

Using the concept of antithesis, there is the law (love = patient) and it’s opposite (hatred = impatience). If I say I hold to God’s view on sin, I will realize that when I am impatient, I am sinning against God and probably another person (i.e. my kids). I can choose to take moral responsibility, apologize to God and child, and think through the reasons for my impatience. In repentance, I should then be on my guard against those factors may cause this impatience.

If is simply attribute my impatience to my sinful nature (“I am broken”), or just nature (“I was just hungry.”), and go no further in repentance, I destroy God’s law. There is no longer an absolute right (patience) and an absolute wrong (impatience). The two are mixed so that the average becomes the standard. Now it is ok if you are somewhere in the middle of patience/impatience. In this way, thinking of oneself as “broken” can lead to Christian moral relativism.

Eric Metaxas 2012 National Prayer Breakfast

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Video courtesy:

This such an incredible speech and testimony. He is hilarious, sincere and right on. I have read his biography of Dietrich Boenhoeffer and have his biography on William Wilberforce on my to-read list. Good stuff.

And I love the singing of Amazing Grace at the end, and the audience standing in respect!

Fruit or Nut?

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I haven’t really posted in a while as I have been quite busy with a lot of things. I do miss blogging, and often sometimes post in my head, if you know what I mean. I will follow a logic trail about some subject as I am driving, write out in my head what I want to say…and then get to work and…well, need to work. Sad face. No real post.

But I have been thinking about this article that was forwarded to me last week. I have been doing a lot of reading and studying on Christian worldview, and there was something about this article that just rang hollow to me. I is entitled “You Cannot Be Spiritual Without Being Religious” and is by Kevin DeYoung, a senior pastor from Michigan.

When I saw the bumper sticker at the top of the article, I immediately assumed that the post would address this statement and break it down. But, in my opinion, DeYoung stays within his Christian bubble and misses an opportunity to engage our culture. He chooses to focus on spiritual and religious, but fails to talk about fruit and nut. More importantly, I thought he was going to answer the question, “What is our culture saying to religious people through this sticker?”

DeYoung starts his discussion by pooling our impressions on what is considered spiritual.

 “When you hear the word “spiritual” certain images come to mind. You think of someone very quiet and contemplative. Or maybe you picture someone with hands raised in a demonstrative expression of worship. You may think of your spontaneous, free-wheeling, “Spirit-led” friend. The spiritual person in your mind may be the young woman deeply interested in miracles and mystery, or maybe the old man earnestly pursuing a relationship with a higher power. To be “spiritual” in our day is to be vaguely interested in the supernatural and loosely committed to practices like prayer and meditation.”

I agree with DeYoung here. These are common images and ideas about what is considered “spiritual”. I agree with him that these qualities are not spiritual, in and of themselves. They mostly have to do with an emotional state of being. DeYoung then presents an argument that left me sort of dumbfounded. He talks of a spiritual person accepting spiritual things. He then defines spiritual things as the message of the cross. If the person rejects the cross, they “forfeit the right to be considered spiritual.”

I get the doctrine behind this, but I think he should have return to the bumper sticker, because our culture is saying something about the Christian church that needs to be heard. Instead of engaging the culture, he claims that they just can’t understand spirituality at all. It’s just folly to them. But is that what this sticker demonstrates?

Consider spiritual fruit. This is a very Christian term, almost exclusively Christian. I don’t really hear or read it coming from other religious movements. This term is meant to actually call us back to the Bible, to Galatians 5:22-23, to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.” This is what biblical spiritual fruit is. These are the virtues that should be obvious in those who belong to Christ.

What is spiritual fruit contrasted to? Religious nuts. We could pool our collective knowledge here and list a lot of ideas and images of what religious nuts are. Are all Christians crazy? I don’t think this sticker is saying that. What I think our culture is telling us is, “we see you talking about Jesus, talking about the Cross, talking about a whole lot of things, but we want to see something real in your life. Real love, real joy, real peace, real patience, real kindness, real goodness, real faith, real gentleness, real self-control. Real spiritual fruit.”

Isn’t this fair to ask? When our culture sees a Christians that are just as materialistic, self-focused, pleasure-seeking, career-centered as anyone else. Where the church’s divorce rate is the same as our cultures. John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries quote a survey that found atheists scored better than Christians on biblical knowledge (a D- vs. an F). What are Christians without spiritual fruit? Religious nuts. All rules and no actions.

This reminds me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees. He admonished them because they washed the outside of their cup, but not the inside. That is what made them merely religious. The Pharisees were religious nuts, and what separates us from them? Spiritual fruit. Our culture has had their fill of Bible lessons and Sunday morning Christians. What they are challenging us to see is Christians with spiritual fruit in their lives.

It is really quite simple. Our culture, through this bumper sticker, is asking Christians to act like Christians. Instead of calling them fools, we should look inside our cups and check for fruit on our branches.

Atheist Discusses the Merits of ID

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I ran across this podcast today and thought it was extremely interesting. With the militancy atheists have against intelligent design, I never thought I would hear of one that supports it. He is Bradley Monton, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

I just finished a great book called God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox. One thing this book does well (and it does many things well) is to make a clear distinction between science and naturalistic philosophy. It seems Monton is able to do this as well. He is able to think critically about the evidence for intelligent design and follow where the evidence leads, no matter his philosophy on God. It was really very refreshing to listen to this interview (~16 min) by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Monton says:

I actually find some of the intelligent design arguments somewhat plausible and worth taking seriously within academia, and I’m unhappy with the sort of unfair and false criticisms that a lot of my fellow philosophers and academics have given of intelligent design. I’m also, for the record, unhappy with some of the intelligent design arguments. I think that, even though some of them are wrong, they could actually be given better than current intelligent design proponents are giving them. So I’m trying, really, to elevate the debate on both sides.

While listening to their discussion, Monton struck me as someone who is extremely intellectually honest. He admires those Christians who take their faith seriously and defend their worldview versus the C-E (Christmas-Easter) Christians who go to church twice a year and that is it. He is very interested in the science-based arguments for the existence of God, finds some arguments very convincing, and yet remains an atheist. I find that very interesting.

Luskin: What do you think happens when a person tries to pretend that there is no reason or room for any doubt or self-introspection in their worldview?

Monton: Yeah…I think that leads to dogmatism, in part, and this sort of emotional reaction to the people who are on the other side. Because, if you think the other side is just completely, you know, has nothing going for it, then you’re going to dismiss them and react badly to them. It’s unfortunate and I appreciate the people who aren’t that way. And unfortunately, what I’ve been encountering lately are more atheists who seem to be completely and incredibly dogmatic about their view, and then…encountering Christians who are more sympathetic.

Luskin: …when it turns to dogmatism and name-calling, it just saddens me. The debate could be so much more interesting and so much more life-giving than that.

I don’t know the reasons for Monton’s atheist worldview, but there is something that could bring him to Christ. It is love in the style of 1 Cor 13: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs. “Love never fails.” The dogmatic and hateful atheists subvert themselves and their humanity, and people seeking truth know there is something woefully wrong with their character. The same can, of course, be said of the religious who are just as hateful.

Monton finishes the interview quoting an email from a prominent ID opponent, whose attitude is that this debate was a cultural war and one must take a side and defend it vigorously. He was disappointed that one had to be on one side or the other, rather than searching for truth.

Give this podcast a listen and let me know what you think.

If the Earth Moves, Can It Be Old?

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I finished the book “Seven Days that Divide the World” by John Lennox a few weeks ago, and a lot of the ideas put forth have been brewing and stewing in my mind. Although a small book (honestly, I looked at it initially and didn’t think it worth the price), it is very well written and persuasive in its themes. It attempts to address the obvious split in interpreting the days of Genesis to a young or old earth. Here is one of perhaps a few posts on this book:

A Case Study: Copernicus and Heliocentricity

Lennox begins his book with an apt example and compels the reader to not repeat the mistakes of the past. It is, in my opinion, a brilliant way to begin—a look at historical fact. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs” and started what has become known as the Copernican Revolution. Based on careful observation, he proposed that the solar system is heliocentric (the earth revolving around the sun) as opposed to geocentric (the earth is the center of the solar system and the sun revolving around the earth). He was ridiculed by the church (Luther & Calvin), which held the geocentric position (which was Aristotelian in origin, actually).

But the church had scripture to back up their beliefs. Consider these:

Tremble before him, all the earth!
   The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. [1 Chr 16:30]

1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;
   the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
   indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. [Psm 93:1]

 5 He set the earth on its foundations;
   it can never be moved. [Psm 104:5]

He raises the poor from the dust
   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
   and has them inherit a throne of honor.

   “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;
   on them he has set the world. [1 Sam 2:8]

And here is scripture used by the church to support the sun revolving around the earth:

4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth. [Psm 19:4-6]

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
   and hurries back to where it rises. [Ecc 1:5]

If taken literally, these verses support a geocentric view of the solar system, but we know from modern science that this is simply not true. But the beliefs of the church did not change during the lifetime of Copernicus. At some point later, though, the heliocentric model became undeniable and church changed its belief.

Unless I am missing some major revisionist history, this example is simply a fact. Is Lennox saying that the Bible is wrong? Is he trying to discredit the Bible? No, not at all. He is saying these verses, and I think this has been proven, cannot be taken literally. Or should I say, literalistically.

To the Exact Letter?

Lennox presents a definition of the word “literal” from the Oxford English Dictionary:

“That sense or interpretation (of a text) which is obtained by taking its words in their natural or customary meaning, and applying the ordinary rules of grammar; opposed to mystical, allegorical, etc.,” and “hence, by extension…the primary sense of a word, or…the sense expressed by the actual wording of a passage, as distinguished from any metaphorical or merely suggested meaning.” [Pg 22]

For the word “literalistic,” defines it as:

“Adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation: to interpret the law with uncompromising literalism.”

To illustrate the difference between these words, Lennox provides two simple examples:

  • “The car was flying down the road.”
    • Was the car literally “flying”? No, it was driving fast. “Flying” is just a metaphor, but it is a metaphor for something real—we imagine a plane zipping past and associate that to the speed of the car.
    • The only way we can learn or understand something outside of our experience or knowledge is through metaphor. (As a side note, it would be humorous to for a person, whose only experience with flying was that of butterflies, to hear this phrase. I don’t think they would be impressed by the speed of the car!)
  • Jesus said, “I am the door.”
    • Is he made of wood, with a latch and hinges? No, it is a metaphor, and again for something real—Jesus literally is a doorway into a real experience of salvation and life.

A literalistic interpretation says the car really was flying through the air and Jesus really is made of planks of wood. I have never really thought through the distinction of these words, but this makes sense to me. It applies completely to the interpretation of the above scripture, taken to support the geocentric view of the solar system.

Tremble before him, all the earth!
   The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. [1 Chr 16:30]

Can the earth be moved? If interpreted literalistically, it cannot. Since we know the earth does move, we know that this verse is a metaphor—but it is a metaphor for a literal reality that God has established. God is teaching us about physics metaphorically because it was beyond our ability to know at that time. We now know from Newton and others that the solar system is very stable. We could point to the “fine-tuning” of universal laws that modern physicists have discovered which, if their constants were altered slightly, the universe would fall apart (or never have existed as we know it).

Implications for a Worldview

A disturbing thought then occurred to me: these people firmly believed they had a Biblical worldview of the reality. They had convictions and a very real idea of the heavens. Yet, it was shattered by the discoveries of science. This situation begs the question: Are there verses we have taken literalistically that are instead meant as only as metaphors? For instance, the Bible says that God sits in heaven on a throne. Is there a literal man on a literal throne? No, I don’t think so…and yes, because it is a metaphor for a literal reality—God reigns. Whether a verse can be taken literalistically (“Jesus wept.”) or metaphorically, it does not reduce or discredit the Bible in any way.

What does this mean for our Christian worldview? How are we to see our world? What are we to accept from scientific discoveries? Do we accept every theory because a scientist proposes it? Do reject theories because the scientists are atheists? We all believe in the structure of DNA, yet Watson & Crick were solid atheists. Also, if we change our position or belief on something, do we discredit the Bible? Or, like those who had to eventually acknowledge heliocentricity, are we willing to acknowledge our error, if science can prove a theory correct?

What do we teach our children about this and other examples? If we bring up Copernicus, they may wonder what to believe. They may question leadership, or their Sunday School curriculum. If we don’t talk about it, chances are some atheist high school or college teacher will, and they will do it to prove the church ridiculous. 

Let’s return to Copernicus. He did not publish his work to defy God. He was a scientist because he believed in God and sought to discover His creation. I think his attitude needs to be our approach today. We need to be able to look at scientific investigations and evaluate them in light both of a literalistic and metaphorical interpretation. What keeps us from that sometimes is the militancy of atheist scientists and their absolute insistence that science defines atheism. They have fused science to natural philosophy and refuse to let go, and they are just as evangelical in their efforts to convert the masses to their philosophy. But science is science—philosophy, whether religious or atheist, is inherent to the observer and rests outside of science.

So, I am deliberately not stating my position on young or old earth because I think the focus of this post needs to be on a metaphor (for a literal reality) or literalistic view of Genesis 1-2. The earth may be 6000 years old, but if it is 4.5 billion, does that mean the Bible is wrong? If I believe the earth is old, am I really threatening the authority of the Bible? I don’t think so. Do you?

These are difficult questions. I am apprehensive just asking them. I am even more apprehensive at the thought of blogging this “to the world”…but here I go…