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Where I’ve Been … Where I’m Going

Many apologies to all that follow my blog on a regular basis. I’ve meant to post something along these lines for some time now, but the aforementioned time seems to slip from my grasp on a continual basis as the intensity of my language training increases. I have approximately 16 weeks remaining in this 47-week course and there is still much to do to prepare for the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT).

I know I owe a review/interaction with chapter 4 of Denis Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation, but it’s such a darn good chapter, I really want to devote some quality time to the write-up. That may have to wait several more weeks, at which time I get a nice, long 4-day weekend.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting some short blurbs on recent publications and website launches that are of interest to those who follow this blog.

By the way, the picture above is the Lord’s Prayer in Farsi. Enjoy the read.

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From So Simple a Beginning …

Two hundred years ago today, on 12 February 1809, Charles Darwin was born, sharing a birthday with America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

As the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth—and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species—approached, I wasn’t sure exactly how to celebrate or observe it. I knew that I wanted to post a little tribute to Darwin, but I wanted to do something a little more substantial. So earlier this week, I ordered From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin (ed. Edward O. Wilson), a single, hardcover volume (with slipcase!) collecting The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), On the Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). I felt that I needed to read Darwin’s works firsthand and not settle for someone else’s opinion (misinformed or not) of what Darwin wrote.

As it is with every individual who has contributed immensely to the progress of human civilization, no one knew quite what lay in store for the world the moment Darwin’s tiny body entered the world after 40 weeks of being knit in the womb via an amazing evolutionary process. Just as no one knew young Abe Lincoln would, approximately 54 years later, emancipate an entire community of American slaves through the issuance of two executive orders in 1862 and 1863, no one knew that little Charles Darwin would develop a scientific theory and publish a monumental work that would free mankind from the shackles of scientific ignorance.

Happy birthday, Chuck. I look forward to reading your stuff.

PS — The book arrived on your birthday. Coincidence? I think not.

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Questioning Your Beliefs Critically

Only by critical questioning can I tell whether I am reading into the text, not only my own presuppositions and questions, but also those of my own generation and even those of my own church and religious tradition. Evangelicals have been too afraid of the word “criticism,” when only by critical questioning can I sufficiently disengage myself from my own worldly or religious (even evangelical) tradition to ask: Is this what the Bible is really saying?

— University of Chester (UK) Canon Professor Anthony C. Thiselton, BD, MTh, PhD, DD, DD

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Did You Hear the One About the Galileo, His Bible, and His Telescope?

Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition by Cristiano Banti (1857)

The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees worlds beyond; but if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through, to see that which is beyond.

— Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

Beecher is correct, but only in terms of spiritual or theological matters; when it comes to science, Beecher’s methodology would fail miserably. I know that Beecher didn’t mean to be (mis)understood in this way, but I find it extremely useful to compare the “Beecher Method” with the scientific pseudo-scientific methodologies used by young-earth creationists.

YECs insist that, in order to see and understand the physical cosmos both as it really is and was, one must look through the Bible first—as if it were a telescope—in order to “see that which is beyond.” Unfortunately, this is not the way science should be conducted. Young-earth creationists must adopt methodological naturalism so that their theology does not cloud their observations or warp the facts. They have nothing to fear from understanding that God can work through natural processes to accomplish His ends. Are not children born every day through natural means? Children who are predestined by God to accomplish great things (Ephesians 1:11)?

Little do YECs realize how much modern science has (unconsciously) informed their hermeneutic; it’s the only thing that’s kept them from being advocates of a 3-tiered universe and a geocentric cosmology. Instead, they understand biblical passages that teach such “realities” as purely “phenomenological” rather than reflecting the Bible’s “science of the day.” It’s time to complete the journey, Mr. Morris. It’s time to come home, Mr. Ham.

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Superior Scribbler Award

Superior_Scribbler_Award.jpg

As a rule, it warms the heart to be recognized by your blogger peers. I’m truly grateful that Stephen Douglas at Undeception has bestowed this honor upon me and I gratefully accept. As his own blog has been extremely influential in my intellectual and theological development, I would normally return the favor; but seeing as he’s already been bestowed this honor by another, I’ll list others who are also truly deserving.

As with all awards, there are some rules and they are as follows:

  1. Each Superior Scribbler must, in turn, pass the award on to five (5) most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received the award.
  3. Each Superior Scribbler must display the award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains the award.
  4. Each Blogger who wins the Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List (scroll down). That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this prestigious honor!
  5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

I hereby bestow (in no particular order) the Superior Scribbler Award upon:

  • Stephen Matheson at Quintessence of Dust. As the first origins blogger to publicize my blog, I am eternally grateful to him. Not only is he geeky-smart about biology, but he’s also got great taste in music.
  • Steve Martin at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. This is where the theological rubber meets the road in the discussion about how belief in evolution impacts Evangelical Christian theology. Steve is on blogging hiatus, but what’s he’s accomplished so far in furthering the dialogue is invaluable.
  • ElShaddai Edwards at He Is Sufficient. He, too, is on indefinite hiatus, which is a shame because he’s one of the most intriguing bloggers I know on the subject of English language Bible translations. Here’s to hoping this award rekindles his blogging passion!
  • Peter Chattaway at FilmChat. Peter is one of my favorite film critics. If it wasn’t for Peter, I’d have missed out on some great entertainment and wasted money on some really bad entertainment. I greatly appreciate his unique Canadian Christian perspective, and his film reviews are usually spot-on.
  • I love geography, maps, and atlases. If you do too, you’ll just adore Strange Maps. I don’t know the genius behind the blog personally, but he can’t be a half-bad guy considering his interests. 😉

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Charlie’s Playhouse (Revisited)

This February 12th, scientists around the world are celebrating the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. Thus, February is a great time to celebrate with some evolution-themed games and toys from Charlie’s Playhouse!

Charlie’s Playhouse is a brand-new company specializing in the creation of toys and games for children about evolution. The company’s signature product is the Giant Timeline, a huge play mat that illustrates 600 million years of evolution with 67 real-life ancient creatures, 6 mass extinctions, commentary from “Charlie” Darwin, and much more! It also includes an Activity Guide for children ages 4-10.

When (not if!) you buy from Charlie’s Playhouse during the month of February, please mention that you heard about them through me. Charlie’s Playhouse just might reward me with a Giant Timeline of my own. 😉

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“Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution” — An Interaction, Part 3

Evolutionary Creation — Chapter 3 — The Creator in a Designed and Evolving Creation

In the third chapter of Evolutionary Creation, Lamoureux offers “an integrated approach to understanding divine activity and intelligent design.” Notice that Lamoureux doesn’t capitalize the phrase intelligent design. This is very purposeful: He does not want evolutionary creationism to be misunderstood as just another sect of the Intelligent Design movement, the leading “institution” of which is Seattle’s Discovery Institute. Admittedly, this chapter might be a little tough to wade through for those not familiar with the philosophy of science, but it is a very important chapter in that it makes an extremely important distinction between evolutionary creationism and deistic evolution.

In the section titled “Divine Action,” Lamoureux provides the reader with a number of categories of divine action: personal interventionism (direct and dramatic), personal providentialism (indirect and subtle), cosmological interventionism
(direct and dramatic), and cosmological providentialism (indirect and subtle). In order to differentiate evolutionary creationism from deistic evolution, Lamoureux is quick to give personal and biblical support to both forms of divine action in the individual lives of human beings, but how God acts outside of the realm of humanity is a completely different matter. While cosmological interventionism is the trademark of young-earth creationism (i.e., the cosmos was created by God over the course of six 24-hour days), evolutionary creationism denies that God worked in this fashion, preferring to look at God’s creative activity as “working through routine and uninterrupted natural processes that He ordains and sustains,” much like the embryological development of a child in the womb.

Next, Lamoureux proceeds to discuss the concept of “intelligent design” (cf. Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:18-23) and takes great pain to differentiate the ancient idea that the cosmos’ “beauty, complexity, and functionality” points to a Creator from the more recent “God-of-the-gaps” argumentation of the Intelligent Design community, which depicts God as a “meddler who tinkers about at irregular times in the making and functioning of the world,” resulting in gaps that “purportedly exist at different points in the continuum of natural processes, and these discontinuities are indicative of where God intervened directly in the cosmos.” While he admits the God-of-the-gaps argument as “logical and reasonable,” Lamoureux notes that “if gaps really exist in nature, then science will identify them, and they will ‘widen’ with further research.” Unfortunately, this paradigm ultimately falls short, as scientific advances in the last several decades have closed or are filling in these gaps with purely natural and rational explanations. Moreover, a God-of-the-gaps approach to science is actually counter-productive to scientific progress and, in some cases, can even destroy science. “Imagine,” Lamoureux asks the reader, “the implications for medical research. If one asserts that direct divine intervention causes AIDS . . . then there is no reason in trying to understand the natural processes through which [this disease] arose. The [AIDS virus] would run rampant through society and health authorities would not have any justification to do research on monkeys from Africa . . . .”

After differentiating “intelligent design” from the anti-science “God-of-the-gaps” paradigm, Lamoureux offers up his own intelligent design model, the Metaphysics-Physics Principle:

In the [physics] compartment, science offers vast and wonderful knowledge about the physical world. But it is dead silent with regard to the ultimate meaning of nature. For example, there is no scientific instrument that can detect whether the cosmos is teleological [i.e., infused with purpose and meaning] or dysteleological. Such a topic is metaphysical and dealt with only in religion and philosophy [i.e., the metaphysics compartment] . . . . However, theologians and philosophers depend on science in coming to their beliefs. They need facts about the world before they can decide on its utmost meaning. Stated concisely, metaphysics requires physics.


To arrive at an ultimate understanding of the world involves a metaphysical jump [toward] the scientific data. This is not a strict logical process like mathematics. In fact, there is no mathematical formula to move from physics to metaphysics. Of course, the jump does involve reason, a logically thought-out process that is objective in character. But it also includes intuition, an immediate impression that is more subjective.

Together, reason and intuition contribute to faith, and together these intellectual-spiritual processes lead to an ultimate belief regarding the findings of science. Indeed, this jump may legitimately be called a leap of faith because that is exactly what it is.Not too controversial so far. At least until Lamoureux asks why, if the cosmos’ attributes point to a Creator, some refuse to recognize this metaphysical reality. The answer, he says, lies in the traditional Christian explanation that sin impedes our ability to make this “leap of faith” (cf. Romans 1:28 and 2 Timothy 3:8-9). Religious skeptics, Lamoureux argues, must “concoct ‘reasons’ to explain away the powerful impact of intelligent design in order to maintain their own psychological stability and comfort.” Ouch. I’m not entirely sure about the whole “psychological stability and comfort” thing. I know plenty of well-adjusted atheists and agnostics who are, on the whole, very “moral” individuals and, in many cases, exhibit more Christian character than some professing Christians I know. Of course, as a theist sympathetic to most of Lamoureux’s views, I wouldn’t want to speak for my atheist and agnostic acquaintances on this matter. They will probably answer Lamoureux much better than I can.

The last major section of Chapter 3 deals with the “anthropic principle,” that is, the “assertion that evolutionary processes seem to be fashioned in such a way that inevitably led to the origin of humanity (Greek anthrōpos means ‘man, human being’). Physicists studying the Big Bang in the 1950s first coined the term. They discovered that the fundamental laws of nature are so delicately balanced that any minor changes would not have allowed the universe and life to evolve. For some scientists, this evidence of a finely tuned cosmos points to the existence of an Intelligent Designer.” From here, Lamoureux discusses some of the scientific data that supports the principle, invoking the views of physicist Stephen Hawking, scientist-theologian Alister McGrath, and others. Of course, Lamoureux is careful to assert that the anthropic principle does not constitute proof of God’s existence. Indeed.

Nevertheless, I hesitate to jump on the anthropic principle bandwagon, and I’m not entirely sure why. There is something about it that gets under my skin. What’s not to say that God couldn’t have designed an entirely different set of physical laws to create the cosmos? And how is it that we can assert that physical complexity and the existence of life couldn’t have come about by these other means? Because we exist in this particular universe with its accompanying physical laws, there is absolutely no method by which we can scientifically test how robust the anthropic principle really is. At this juncture, some may accuse me of sympathizing with the multiple-universe hypothesis, which posits that there could be an infinite number of universes in existence, all of which possess a unique set of physical laws; but this isn’t the case. I am absolutely agnostic on this point because my puny brain cannot conceive of any method by which we can test the multiple-universe hypothesis. To me, the idea that we could defies all logic.

Lamoureux does provide some responses to skeptics of the anthropic principle, but my doubts don’t appear to be included among those to which Lamoureux responds. Alas, my support for the anthropic principle continues to remain non-existent, if not extremely weak.

Bogged down with my language studies, I’m not sure when I’ll get around to posting my review/interaction with Chapter 4 (“The Ancient Science in the Bible”), but I know I’ll enjoy writing it. It was this chapter that really blew me away. Until next month (?) . . .

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Skewed Views of Science

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h9XntsSEro]

HT: James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix.

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On Keeping Religion in Harmony with Science

The new age cannot live on naturalism or on secularism. Life becomes sterile and futile without the depth and power which come from participation in eternal realities. But this new age cannot any more successfully live on religious faiths that are out of harmony with known truth, or that hang loose in the air, cut apart from the fundamental intellectual culture of the age. The hour has struck for the serious business of rediscovering the foundations, and of interpenetrating all life and thought with the truths and realities of a victorious religious faith.
— Rufus Jones (1863-1948), Christian Faith in a New Age [1932], p.42

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BBC Radio 4’s “Beyond Belief” – Darwinism and Religion

Just before Thanksgiving, I was contacted by a BBC Radio 4 researcher looking to include me as a guest on their Sony Award-winning Beyond Belief radio programme. Of interest to them was my blog and my personal journey from young-earth creationism to becoming a supporter of evolutionary theory (commonly referred to as Darwinism in the UK). After a trans-Atlantic 40-minute pre-interview over the phone with one of BBC Radio 4’s researchers, I was informed that they wanted to get me into my local NPR studio and conduct a real interview with Beyond Belief‘s host, Ernie Rea.
Over the course of several weeks, my particular role in the episode “Darwin and Religion” began to take shape. As usual, the show would feature three panelists “who discuss how their particular religious tradition affects their values and way of looking at the world, often revealing hidden and contradictory truths.” In this particular episode, the panelists would be Alexandra Wright, Senior Rabbi of London’s Liberal Jewish Synagogue; Dr. Alister E. McGrath, former Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University and current Chair of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London; and Dr. Usama Hassan, Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University and part-time imam—each of whom would share their thoughts on their respective scriptures’ creation narratives and, upon listening to excerpts from my 20-minute interview (edited down to about 4 minutes in order to fit the show’s half-hour time slot), would discuss certain aspects of my journey as well as why adherents of their respective faiths feel threatened by the theory Darwin first published 150 years ago.

After a few technical difficulties, the interview went without a hitch. As you can imagine, a lot can be discussed in a 20-minute period and it was a challenge to reduce lengthy explanations into brief soundbytes. Moreover, I was curious as to which portions of the interview they would end up utilizing. Well, the episode aired this morning and I’m happy to report that it was an excellent discussion all around! (It’s available for download directly from BBC Radio 4’s website or as an iTunes podcast.) I admit that I listened to my portion of the programme first (13:23 to 17:13). I certainly didn’t want to publicize this radio appearance before it aired only to sound the fool. Overall, I was pleased with the excerpts themselves. (None of my views were misrepresented, although Dr. Hassan took exception to what he thought was my belief that young-earth creationism is “purely an American phenomena.” If you listen carefully, I never said that nor implied that.)

Of course, it was inevitable that much would be left out as a part of the editing process, in particular, the questions and answers regarding my interpretation of Genesis 1. However, that particular edit didn’t matter so much, as significant portions of my own understanding of the Genesis creation narrative was expressed during the show’s first half by both Rabbi Wright and Dr. McGrath. Another significant portion of the interview that was edited out was my answer to the question, “If you don’t observe scientific evidence for God, on what do you base your theism?” For those who want to know, it was essentially this: “Although I recognize ‘intelligent design’ in what I observe, I do not expect to find scientific evidence of God’s existence; my belief in God is, first and foremost, based on my encounter with a Jewish carpenter named Jesus of Nazareth, who has transformed my life. His presence in and influence on my life is so evident to me that to reject the existence and influence of Christ would be akin to denying the existence of my own wife and children.”

Regardless of the inevitable edits that come with working in this particular medium, I am extremely grateful that BBC Radio 4 took an interest in my journey and I want to thank BBC, host Ernie Rae, and researcher Elizabeth Hunt for allowing me to participate in this particular episode.

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