Friday, December 30, 2005

Lesson 3: Deity of Christ (Part 1)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)

Today we take up the doctrine of the deity of Christ; the proclamation that Jesus if far more than a good teacher, far more than a prophet, far more than an angel: He is God. To prove this, we will look for both indirect and direct evidence from scripture.

Starting from this lesson we take as given what we all previously acknowledged: the bible is the infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God. This means we can trust the words of Christ as presented in the bible which, in turn, means that we can allow for Jesus to attest to His own divinity.

The absolute most direct possible statement, of Jesus saying “I am God,” is not found in scripture. However there is a wealth of scripture that leads to that inevitable conclusion.

One technique that is sometimes useful for determining whether a saying of Jesus is proclaiming His divinity is to repeat what He says but imagine that we are saying it about ourselves. If it sounds like blasphemy for us to say it, then it is an indirect piece of evidence that Christ is declaring his own divinity.

This doctrine of Christ’s divinity is constantly under attack from within the Church. From our study of Church History we recall than in the fourth century the church faced the Arian Heresy, which taught that Christ was a created being. At the council of Nicea in AD 325, the Church upheld as canonical the doctrine that Jesus was begotten, not made—and that his divine nature is of the same essence as the Father. That is, Jesus is not just similar to Deity, He is Deity.

Similar attacks on the deity of Christ have appeared throughout church history, and are still with us today.

The doctrine of the deity of Christ is the most important doctrine in Christianity. We will discuss other doctrines—predestination, justification, the nature of the Atonement etc. All these doctrines are subject, most would say, to reasonable debate within the family. Most people would say, for example, that one can be a proponent or opponent of Augustinian predestination and still be a Christian. The doctrine of the deity of Christ stands alone in that we all agree that you cannot be a Christian and deny that Jesus is God.

Some try—some claim that accepting Christ’s moral teachings is what makes one a Christian. You will find this view in the lunatic fringe liberal wing of Christendom. We will look at this in more detail, but for now we point out the obvious: virtually nobody denies that Christ’s moral teachings are “good.” If accepting that Christ’s moral teachings are correct, then not only are radical Protestants (such as Bishop Spong and Bishop Robinson) Christians, but so are Mormons and Moslems. Not only that, most atheists, by that definition, are Christians—for most atheist parents will attempt to teach their children, in some form, to love their neighbors as themselves.

Jesus as a Moral Teacher

Without question, Christ is a teacher or morality. But is he only a teacher of morality, or is he something more? Can one be a Christian simply by attempting one’s best at following Christ’s moral teaching?

The answer, according to Jesus, is no. Jesus himself tells us that he is more than a moral teacher: he is the source of our morality—so much so that we not only will not but we cannot follow his moral teachings without his power within us. This is in fact the message that distinguishes Jesus from other moral teachers:

Obey the golden rule, you can will yourself to do it!—human moralists

Obey the golden rule through my power which dwells within you—Jesus’ teaching

This is very significant. Christ’s teaching on morality goes way beyond his instructing us to obey the moral law—even though at times He does simply issue commandments and maxims. However, we find an important teaching in this regard in John’s gospel:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
when Jesus tells us that He is the vine, his disciples are the branches, and the fruit they bear are the good works or, said in another way, the fruit they bear is moral conduct. Here Christ is teaching something significant: while the branch bears fruit, the ultimate source is the vine. While praising his teaching, Non-Christian moralists, while praising His moral teaching, would never ever give Christ the credit to be the source of their morality. No, they would claim something good within themselves as the source of their morality; they are in fact quite proud of their morality—which demonstrates that those non-Christians who live exemplary moral lives are only superficially following Christ’s teachings.

It is interesting to note that evolution claims that man’s morality evolved. They point out that our survival is enhanced by living in regulated, moral societies. That seems reasonable. But it also seems irreducibly complex. If we imagine a situation prior to the evolution of morality, a situation in which it was every man for himself—how did a mutated moral agent survive long enough to pass along the morality gene? It certainly is not obvious that evolution can explain morality.

At any rate, Jesus is certainly teaching the following: My disciples will display morality, and I am the source of that morality. Christ teaches us the golden rule:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:11)
All “moralists” accept that, but He also teaches that our ability to fulfill all that commands rests in His power (as the vine) and not in ourselves. This view, which is equivalent to the view of doctrine of the total depravity of man, will never be accepted by non-Christians.

In Matthew 5, Jesus also teaches of another source of morality: God in heaven. He tells us:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
If the good works glorify God, then again, we can paraphrase Jesus’ teaching: Live morally, this will glorify God the Father. For this to be true, it must be that God, in effect, deserves the credit—is the source as it were—of our morality. Otherwise our moral actions would be self glorifying.

We see that on two occasions Jesus ascribes the ultimate source of morality as (1) himself , and (2) God the Father. So we can conclude that in doing so Jesus is indirectly claiming his own divinity. Imagine a moral though human teacher, for example, Aristotle. Would it not be absurd for Aristotle to claim that both he is the source of his student’s morality and that God is also the source?

Though indirect, it seems that Jesus’ claim of being more than the teacher of morality but also the provider thereof is tantamount to claiming His own deity. Furthermore, we see that anyone who claims to be a Christian because he follows the teachings of Christ is incorrect. To be a Christian is much more than to claim that Jesus’ teachings are a worthy basis for human society—that sentiment must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that we are such heinous sinners that we cannot hope to follow His teachings without drawing on His power

Identification with the Father as Proof of Jesus’ Divinity

Here is a more direct proof of Christ’s divinity. When Christ speaks to Philip, He says:
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
This is, of course, equivalent to saying “He who has seen me has seen God.” What can Jesus mean by this statement?

One natural (though incorrect) way to interpret this statement is to say that Jesus meant something along the lines that God dwelt within him. But that is not what He meant. We can see that clearly if we note that God the Holy Spirit dwells within all believers. However, if Pastor Mike stood on the pulpit and stated that “He who has seen me has seen God” we would consider putting him out to pasture for his blasphemy. We know that Pastor Mike would never say that precisely because he knows that he is not God. Likewise, if Jesus knew that he was not God but just a moral teacher, he would not make such a statement. Therefore, the fact that He freely made the statement implies that He did claim divinity.

What Christ is really teaching when He states “He who has seen me has seen the Father” is nothing short of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. He is describing his unity with God the Father, appearing on earth in a human form with a complete human nature.

Now on another occasion Jesus said:
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:29-30)
So Jesus claims: “I and the Father are one.” First of all, we note once again the absurdity of a non-deity making such a claim. If I stated: “I, David Heddle, and the Father are one” you would surely be scandalized. Once again we have Jesus claiming his deity by making a statement that a mere rational mortal could never utter.

These two statements, taken together, provide an interesting proof of the doctrine of the Trinity—even though the Holy Spirit is never mentioned! Here is the idea:

The first statement, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” indicates an identity between Jesus and the Father. The statement “I and the Father are one” implies both an identity and diversity. In short, we see two persons—Jesus and the Father—but one Godhead. The reason that this can be viewed, in a sense, as a proof of the trinity (obviously to be supplemented with scripture related to the Holy Spirit) is that that a common objection to the trinity is not that it is three persons in one Godhead but that it is more than one person in the Godhead. But these two statements of Jesus already open that door—all that remains is to add the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Losing Disciples as Proof of His Divinity

In chapter eight of John’s gospel, we read the interesting account of Jesus losing disciples. The account begins with Jesus engaging in a dialogue (v. 31) with certain “Jews who believed on him”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."(John 8:31-32)
By the end of the chapter, not only did these Jews not believe in Jesus, they wanted to kill him.

At first, they believed in Him. Then, they wanted to kill him. What happened in between? What happened was that in the course of the discussion they realized that Jesus was making claims that went way beyond the Jesus they “believed” in, a Jesus who was a great moral teacher or rabbi. They became agitated when Jesus taught that he came from the Father and was one with the Father. These disciples were getting the message, and they did not like it one bit. In due time they recognized that Jesus’ claim of deity, and they viewed His claim as blasphemy. The outrage of these Jewish believers can only be explained when we recognized that they certainly believed that Jesus was claiming to be God. In fact, scripture quite clearly speaks of their complaint: “You being a man make yourself out to be God.”

The statement “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” was made to believing disciples. They accepted Jesus’ claim of divinity. The statements from this portion of John 8 are made to believers who do not really believe. They reject the claim and try to execute Him.

To be continued.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 7)

Private Interpretation

Private Interpretation is a concept that is closely connected with Sola Scriptura. Private Interpretation means that as we all are priests (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 5:9-10), so we all have the privilege of reading and discerning the Scriptures. In addition to this unfettered access being a privilege, it is also a grave responsibility.

This is a very important point: while we have the right to interpret scripture, we have the responsibility to avoid the pitfall of subjectivism. We are not free to invent our own truths from scripture. We are to apply sound principles in our interpretations. That includes giving due respect (without elevating to the level of inspired) commentaries of theologians and scholars who have studied the scriptures. Private interpretation does not mean you lock yourself in a room with nothing but a bible and, when you emerge, whatever you have discerned is good enough simply because you believe it sincerely.

The principle of Private Interpretation, along with the advent of scripture in the vernacular, are two of the great practical results of the Reformation. Both of these offshoots of the Reformation greatly damaged the Catholics Church’s desire to retain for herself the sole right to interpret scripture.

No wonder, then, that Catholics are not too keen on Private Interpretation. A common charge leveled against Protestants is that strict adherence to Sola Scriptura and affirmation of Private Interpretation results in a cacophony of opinions because some aspects of the scripture are simply not clear.

Sometimes Catholics use 2 Pet. 1:20 “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” to argue against private interpretation—in other words we should privately interpret this passage to tell ourselves that we cannot privately interpret. In truth, this verse refers to the fact that the prophets were messengers who gave prophecy—even as at times they misunderstood it. The “private interpretation” here refers to the prophet, not the reader. This is a recurring theme in Peter’s writings, where we also find:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Pet 1:10-12)
Another example of Rome's teaching against Private Interpretation is found in the Catholic Catechism:
The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (Catholic Catechism, Part I, Section I, Chapter 2, Article 2, paragraph 85)

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in the “Protestantism” section, states:
Again, it is illogical to base faith upon the private interpretation of a book. For faith consists in submitting; private interpretation consists in judging. In faith by hearing the last word rests with the teacher; in private judgment it rests with the reader, who submits the dead text of Scripture to a kind of post-mortem examination and delivers a verdict without appeal.... Private judgment is fatal to the theological virtue of faith.... The open Bible and the open mind on its interpretation are rather a lure to entice the masses... The first limitation imposed on the application of private judgment is the incapacity of most men to judge for themselves on matters above their physical needs.
And the Council of Trent (1546) declared:
Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it (Trent) decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall - in all matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine - wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which Holy mother Church - whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures - hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.
Now, at first glance, Rome’s criticism has some merit. We have Calvinists and Arminians. Infant Baptism and Adult (Believer’s) Baptism. Baptism by sprinkling, baptism by immersion. Some churches come to the Lord's Supper weekly, some monthly, some at other intervals. Not to mention at least four millennial views with sizable numbers of adherents.

This diversity, some would say, is the inevitable result of Sola Scriptura. On those issues in which scripture is not clear, people will interpret scripture differently.

Our Catholic critics are, of course, absolutely correct. When scripture is not completely clear, then a concept, no matter how important it may be to its champions, is downgraded from an essential to a liberty issue, or at least there is a implicit recognition that: I believe this but I might be wrong; I can have Christian fellowship with those of an opposing view.

The problem with this criticism is that it doesn’t criticize an actual fault. It is one group saying to another that "your house is not as tidy as my house, so you must be doing something wrong."

Protestants, of course, deny that either sacred tradition or church councils (or any church official) has any authority to bind the conscience. We would say that the uniformity enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Church is unlawfully imposed and, while it achieves uniformity, there is no guarantee that, on any given issue, it is not uniformly wrong.

We agree on the essentials, the essentials that we can discerned unambiguously from scripture. The essentials include things like the divinity of Christ, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Trinity. Disagree with an essential, and you have slid into apostasy.

The rest, we say, will be sorted out later.

The fact that we can agree to disagree (by no means, to our shame, always peacefully) on interpretation is utterly un-Catholic. This is perfectly illustrated by an anecdote from James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Ministries) during a panel discussion entitled “Irreconcilable Differences” that examined the differences that persist between Rome and evangelicals. Kennedy said:
[A] few weeks ago, I was out on visitation, and I ended up in a home where there were seventeen people present. There was a family that were in our new member class. There was a visiting family that were a part of our sponsors that happened to be there. There were a bunch of kids, and there was a mother of one of the adults there, an elderly woman from Brooklyn and she was a Roman Catholic. Now there were some other relatives there—they came from five or six, maybe different churches and backgrounds. I went around and asked them these questions: I asked each of them, one by one, "In what were they trusting for their hope of eternal life. Why should God admit them into heaven?" This woman, before, had said, with a little bit of hostility, that she thought it was terrible that there was all these different religions. Everybody had their own religion, there own views, they are all different, and she didn't like this idea that everybody had a different religion—they all ought to be one. It was fascinating to see that one, after another, after another—the person said the reason God should let me into heaven is:

"Christ died for my sins."
"Jesus paid for my sins."
"I have no hope but Christ."
"By the grace of God, through faith in Christ alone"
"It was through Christ who died for me."
"I put my trust in Jesus Christ."
"Christ paid for my sins."
"I am trusting in Jesus Christ."
"Christ is my Savior."
"I have no hope but Jesus."

And on and on it went, and this woman said, "Because I'm good!" But she was stunned by the fact that what she thought were all of these different churches, in disunity, were all in perfect unity when it came to the essence of the gospel. I think as John has said, there is a unity of Christians, of true believers. You can go anywhere in the world, as many of you have, and you will find a person is a true Christian and you have discovered a brother or a sister in Christ, regardless of what denomination he's in—if he really trusts in Christ. You have been joined together in one, and you are one in Him.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hoisted with our own Petards

ID suffered a big loss yesterday. Not because it cannot be in the science curriculum in the Dover Schools—it didn’t belong there in the first place—but because its image is presently in the pits.

The loss is deeper than it would first seem. ID is now persona non grata. In my science classes in public school—precursors to ID always came up for discussion. As I have blogged about before, those rabbit trails made science class more interesting to the entire 2D spectrum of students: weak to strong, atheist to theist. Those discussions are now effectively, if not actually, illegal—at least if they are initiated by the teacher. (If initiated by a student, a teacher will, most likely, feel compelled to stifle the thread.)

So where does ID go from here?

My suggestion—stop the politics, do the science.

Is ID science? My view, which I have expressed before, is that it is not—although I doubt if Judge Jones knows science from Shinola. I have no idea if my view is a minority view among IDers. It probably is—I rarely seem to be the majority.

At the moment, I think that ID, and this applies to both the cosmological and biological varieties, does not make any meaningful, testable predictions. This criticism also applies Susskind’s String Theory Landscape and other “acceptable” frameworks, but that’s their problem. The playing field isn't level, but unfortunately nothing can be done about it.

ID is scientific. It lives in the world of science—it tries to explain, in the broadest sense, all the data. That’s fine and valuable—but it is not the same thing as saying: go to the lab and do this experiment that has never been done, and I predict you’ll find X if ID is true but Y if the prevailing theory is true.

Let’s face it—we are not there. I don’t think we are even very close. At the moment we have only negative predictions, such as another universe will not be detected or there is no evolutionary pathway that can explain this biological system—those do not count. A scientific theory must do more than point to the problems of other models.

Should IDers give up? Of course not. The idea that God not only created the universe but left evidence of His creation is legitimate, worthy, noble and probably true. (That is—the part about leaving evidence is probably true—the idea that God created the universe is not part of the ID debate—only the evidence-left-behind question is relevant.)

What IDers should do two-fold:
  1. They should do science.
  2. They should do ID.

Doing Science

Too many people on both sides of the debate (including plenty of the most obnoxious bigmouths on the evolution side) are not doing any science. They are doing politics and talking or writing about someone else’s science. ID scientists (that is, scientists who are pro-ID) should do research and write peer-reviewed papers the same way science has been done for, now, hundreds of years. The papers will not be ID papers—they will be “politically” indistinguishable from other research papers. ID scientists should give talks, teach classes, attend conferences—discussing and presenting what is indisputably science. Nothing makes a scientist more credible than an impressive vita. ID scientists should be working on having impeccable scientific credentials.

Doing ID

After first taking care of the science, scientists are free to take care of the ID. Write popular books—give popular lectures—give radio and television interviews. Talk to youth groups. Talk to college groups. Talk passionately about how amazing science is and how it points to a creator. This activity should be viewed as a ministry that parallels a scientific career, not a career in and of itself. Nobel laureates such as Penzias or Townes talking about ID are worth an infinite number of lawyers fighting about ID. A scientist who is doing and publishing science while engaging in ID “on the side” will be viewed by his peers as eccentric—which is never a problem in science. The science community doesn’t care what else you do, as long as your science is solid. However, a person who does ID but no science is viewed as a fraud.

In the future, it may be that ID will make concrete predictions. At that time it can rightfully claim the mantle of science. In the meantime, ID has a lot to offer and a lot of work to do.

Let’s stop picking the wrong fights to fight. If you hope that science can someday show that ID is right and evolution is wrong, the best thing you can do at the moment is have the current generation learn as much as they can about evolution.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Dover Decision

In the Dover ID trial, Judge Jones has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, i.e., against the ID side of the debate.

The Discovery Institute’s response is here.

And Jonathan Witt’s analysis is here.

My view on this matter may not align with others on the ID side. Although this case wasn’t directly about cosmological ID, there are huge ramifications—although they (the ramifications) are largely already, de facto, in place. Primarily: there is no chance for any of us of the ID side to continue giving seminar-like ID talks in public high schools. No principal would permit it even though, as I understand it (I might be wrong) this ruling would not prohibit it. It’s just too much of a hot potato. Anyway, I have never been in favor of legal maneuvering to get ID into the science curriculum. Not only because I disagree in principle, but from a practical standpoint it was obvious that in today’s America that such efforts were ultimately doomed and would result in a backlash. This is in fact what has happened.

There was not much doubt about the final outcome. The unknowns were: How activist is this judge? How far would he go? What degree of omniscience would he assume? The answers: very activist, he went very far, and he assumed godlike omniscience although without the attendant infallibility.

This was a lose-lose for everyone—although obviously the anti-ID side is crowing over their perceived victory. The problem is, today’s favorable (from whoever's perspective) judicial intrusion into an area where it doesn’t belong opens the door for tomorrow’s nightmarish decision.

In my opinion, the correct, founding-father-like ruling would have been: the school board was legally voted in—and what they decide to put in their curriculum is not the federal government’s business—and if you don’t like them, vote them out. (Which is in fact what has already happened.)

Judge Jones ruled that ID is not science. Of course, one wonders on what basis he is qualified to say what is or isn’t science. (Maybe he explains somewhere in the 139 pages, I’m working off blurbs.) If it includes testability and falsifiability, it would be interesting to ask the judge how evolution is testable, and how evolution is falsifiable. (I’m not saying evolution isn’t either of those. I’m speculating that Judge Jones wouldn’t know how to answer—and yet his is ruling on what constitutes science.)

Jone’s wrote:
In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.
This is the old ID == creationism canard, which Jones bought hook, line and sinker. But in fact, ID is creationism only if you define that anything consistent with theism is creationist. I was called a creationist on a physics website the other day, when asked for the definition, the physicist in question wrote:
"A creationist is a person who believes that one of the most crucial insights about our existence and the existence of our Universe is that they have been *created* by a supreme being, and that this insight should have a significant impact on our lives including science."
By this definition, which I think is fair, I would venture to guess that many if not most IDers are indeed creationists. I would also think that this labels theistic evolutionists as creationists—and the anti-ID side would not want to admit to that.

But calling IDers creationists, as Judge Jones did, identifies, whether intentionally or not, ID as young earth creationism part deux. But ID is very different from young earth creationism. In my opinion, ID is consistent with all scientific data (in fact, a criticism of ID is that it will always be consistent with all data) while young earth creationism is inconsistent with all data. ID: consistent with all data. YEC: inconsistent with all data. That is a big difference.

So… we’ll have to put up a few days of nauseating backslapping.

In my opinion, this willingness to provide a definition of creationist demonstrates yet again the superiority of physicists. I have never seen anyone on Panda’s Thumb define creationist, although they use the term more often than they use the letter ‘m’.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cosmological Natural Selection

I have been reading this paper, Scientific alternatives to the anthropic principle, by Lee Smolin.

It will take some time to analyze this paper—it has more words than equations, which makes it harder (for me) to evaluate.

The claim of the paper is that a certain type of multiverse theory is falsifiable, one called “cosmological natural selection.”

Before a description of this cosmological natural selection, I want to point out that a falsifiable multiverse theory is a good thing—a very good thing. If another universe with different physics is ever observed, then I for one will abandon cosmological ID. On the other hand, if there is a legitimate falsification test for a multiverse model that produces a negative result—well that would indirectly strengthen cosmological ID.

The cosmological natural selection idea is indeed provocative. I will attempt to explain the idea without, at this time, evaluating its merits.

We begin with a mechanism for creating new universes: the black hole bounce.

The black hole bounce results from quantum modifications on a “classical” black hole collapse. Instead of collapsing down to a singularity, the black hole, at some point, begins to expand—producing a new region of spacetime that is not causally connected with the universe in which the black hole was originally formed. It is, in fact, a new universe.

Smolin writes:
A multiverse formed by black holes bouncing looks like a family tree. Each universe has an ancestor, which is another universe. Our universe has at least 1018 children, if they are like ours they have each roughly the same number of their own.
In setting up the case for cosmological natural selection, Smolin (see p. 29 of his paper) presents three hypotheses:
  1. A physical process produces a multiverse with long chains of descendents
  2. Let P be the space of dimensionless parameters of the standard models of physics and cosmology, and let the parameters be denoted by p. There is a fitness function F(p) on P which is equal to the average number of descendents of a universe with parameters p.
  3. The dimensionless parameters pnew of each new universe differ, on average by a small random change from those of its immediate ancestor. Small here means with small with respect to the change that would be required to significantly change F(p).
Let me paraphrase. In this model, there is a process for creating children (new universes.) That process is black hole bouncing. Furthermore—there is a fitness function that is being maximized: the average number of children (black holes) produced by the universe. Finally, the set of physical constants (such as the cosmological constant) get passed to the descendent universes, like cosmic DNA, but are slightly modified (mutated) in the process.

The ultimate result, from natural selection seeking to maximize the fitness function, is that universes that are very good at producing blackholes will emerge as the “fittest.” What types of universes are good at producing black holes? Universes such as ours with an improbably small values for their cosmological constant and the right low energy physics and chemistry for star production. Which, as an aside, are also the types of universes that can produce intelligent life.

Note that this model absolutely requires that the physics in a child universe differs only slightly from its ancestor. Smolin admits:
The hypothesis that the parameters p change, on average by small random amounts, should be ultimately grounded in fundamental physics. We note that this is compatible with string theory, in the sense that there are a great many string vacua, which likely populate the space of low energy parameters well. It is plausible that when a region of the universe is squeezed to Planck densities and heated to Planck temperatures, phase transitions may occur leading to a transition from one string vacua to another. But there have so far been no detailed studies of these processes which would check the hypothesis that the change in each generation is small.
I will continue studying this paper and will comment further in the near future.

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 6)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)

Sola Scriptura

Why was there a Reformation?

It was not because of the selling of indulgences. Certainly that sorry practice contributed, but the Catholic Church no longer sells indulgences. If commercialization of indulgences was the primary cause of the reformation, then it would be high time for Protestants to reunite with the Catholic Church.

There were many secondary causes of the Reformation. The selling of indulgences, in the final analysis, may not have even been one of the more important. The scandal involving indulgences pointed to corruption, which can be (and was) dealt with internally. The real issue was one of serious doctrinal error, which is the only justification for a schism.

The primary, or formal cause of the Protestant Reformation, was Sola Scriptura—Scripture Alone. The reformers proclaimed it; the Catholic Church refuted it. Not much has changed in this regard in the past 500 years.

What Is Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)?

When the Church called for Luther to recant at Worms (1521), he famously dug in his heels and said he would not unless he "was convinced by sacred scripture."

Sola Scriptura means all things necessary and concerning faith and life are taught in the bible, and are taught in a way that the ordinary believer can understand.

The Westminster Confession puts it this way:
"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."
The Roman Catholic view is that scripture owes its authority to the authority of the church, because it was the church that created the canon. Vatican II declared:
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
Clearly Rome also differed historically with its view of the access of scripture to the flock. In 1559, Pope Pius IV said:
Since experience teaches that, if the reading of the Holy Bible in the vernacular is permitted generally without discrimination, more damage than advantage will result because of the boldness of men, the judgment of bishops and inquisitors is to serve as guide in this regard. Bishops and inquisitors may, in accord with the counsel of the local priest and confessor, allow Catholic translations of the Bible to be read by those of whom they realize that such reading will not lead to the detriment but to the increase of faith and piety. The permission is to be given in writing. Whoever reads or has such a translation in his possession without this permission cannot be absolved from his sins until he has turned in these Bibles ...
Calvin wrote, regarding the canon receiving its authority from the church:
Nothing therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends. When the Church receives it, and gives it the stamp of her authority, she does not make that authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted but, acknowledging it as the truth of God, she, as in duty bounds shows her reverence by an unhesitating assent. As to the question, How shall we be persuaded that it came from God without recurring to a decree of the Church? it is just the same as if it were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their colour, sweet and bitter of their taste. (Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.2)

Scriptural Support

There is, of course, scriptural support for Sola Scriptura, including this well-known passage from 2 Timothy:
15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:15-17)
Verse 15 tells us that scripture is what we need to be “wise for salvation”. Verse 16 tells us that Scripture is inspired (which implies inerrant). Verse 17 tells us that it renders us thoroughly (not partially) equipped.

In Jude it is written:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3)
The saints do not have to wait for further revelation. All that we need has been entrusted once and for all.

Moses wrote down the law, and then instructed that it be read to the people. In Deuteronomy we read:
9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Then Moses commanded them: "At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. (Deut 31:9-12)

he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (Deut 32, 46-47)
Here is the lesson from theses passages:
  1. The words Moses spoke were written.
  2. The people can and must listen (or read) and learn.
  3. In these words, there is life.

Not everything is in the Bible

Sola Scriptura does not mean that everything is in the Bible. The solution to your calculus homework is not in the Bible. Less trivially, not everything about God is in the Bible:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
This verse is sometimes used to argue against Sola Scriptura. It is useless in that regard. I would love to know what Jesus did that was not recorded, but I don’t need to know it. And if I did need to know it, all would be lost; for no council, synod, or pope will ever be able to tell me what these unrevealed acts were.

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church.

Who was the first New Testament era proponent of Sola Scriptura? It was Jesus Himself.
3The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" 7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." 10Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matt. 4:3-10, NIV)
When refuting Satan, Jesus didn’t appeal to tradition, or to the Pharisees, or even His own deity and infallible reason. Each and every time He quoted scripture. 3 Even when Satan also used scripture (verse 6), Christ trumped him with more relevant scripture.

Was Sola Scriptura Invented by the Reformers?

Catholic apologists like to claim that Sola Scriptura was unheard of prior to the Reformation. It is a weak criticism on several fronts, not the least of which being that it is simply not true. However, even if it were true it would at most cast suspicion on the doctrine in the form of a “newness stigma”. In other words, it would simply be the argument that any doctrine that took 15 centuries to be discovered should be viewed critically. Fair enough, although that in and of itself would by no means disprove Sola Scriptura.

Anyway, it’s moot. For there is ample evidence that the doctrine existed in the early church.

Augustine (On Christian Doctrine) wrote:
In those teachings which are clearly based on scripture are found all that concerns faith and the conduct of life.
For another example, we turn to Cyril of Jerusalem, a teacher in the early church, who wrote in the 4th century: (lecture 4-17)
"Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures."
A rather nice encapsulation of Sola Scriptura.

Catholic apologists tell us that we cannot use Cyril’s writing as early evidence of Sola Scriptura because Cyril also wrote extensively on sacred tradition and other "high Catholic" doctrines. In other words, because he is not totally consistent with the reformers, his clear exposition of Sola Scriptura is irrelevant. This is disingenuous—because I can just as easily turn it around and state that his writing on Sola Scriptura nullifies his alleged support of sacred tradition.

Besides, what does it matter what he wrote elsewhere? If Luther had written tomes on sacred tradition prior to his conversion, we would still say Luther supported Sola Scriptura.

The point is not whether Cyril was an early Lutheran but whether the doctrine of Sola Scriptura existed in the early church, regardless of the degree of self-consistency in Cyil’s theology. His writing clearly demonstrates that it did. It is but one piece of evidence contradicting the absurd claim that Sola Scriptura wasn't even "invented" until the 16th century.

I would like to think that if I were still a Catholic (I once was, but didn't consider these things at that time) and rejected Sola Scriptura, I would nevertheless have the instincts to doubt the claim that it was unheard of prior to the Reformation. After all, right or wrong, it is a singularly simple doctrine. The possibility that for fifteen centuries nobody came up with the simple and straightforward notion that Scripture is sufficient is just not believable.. It would be much easier to believe that a complex doctrine such as the Trinity took a long time to develop.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Google proves what we all knew about Kong

I haven’t seen King Kong, but I did read a silly column by James Pinkerton of Newsday. The question Pinkerton asks is not a new one: is King Kong racist?

I have no comment regarding this question. But what caught my eye was this blurb from Pinkerton:
Movie reviewer David Edelstein, writing in, notes the "implicit racism of 'King Kong' - the implication that Kong stands for the black man brought in chains from a dark island (full of murderous primitive pagans) and with a penchant for skinny white blondes." Indeed, a Google search using the words "King Kong racism" yielded 490,000 hits.
Proof by Google!

To see what else is racist, I have performed the following Google searches, and, as a service, provide the number of hits each one generated:

racism and heddle              354
racism and root canal      125,000
racism and panda’s thumb   134,000
racism and hulk            135,000
racism and superman        293,000
racism and batman          334,000
racism and king kong       499,000
racism and Ted Kennedy     680,000
racism and Darwin        1,440,000
racism and biology       1,730,000
racism and basketball    1,760,000
racism and physics       1,930,000
racism and google        2,130,000
racism and evolution     2,430,000
racism and france        5,920,000

You may draw your own conclusions. But according to Pinkerton's and/or David Edelstein's logic, I am three orders of magnitude less racist than root canal. Sounds good to me.

Susskind's Sophie's Choice

Susskind’s new book The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design is generating a lot of interest. Recently he gave a fascinating interview to Amanda Gefter at NewScientist.

I especially enjoyed the last question and answer:
If we do not accept the landscape idea are we stuck with intelligent design?

I doubt that physicists will see it that way. If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent - maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation - I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature's fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.
The landscape to which he refers is an estimated 10500 environments consisting of different values for the physical constants, i.e., different laws of physics. At the risk of oversimplifying, possible universes exist as local minima in this vast megaverse. Our universe is one with the “just right” fine-tuning that we observe.

Susskind’s answer shows that his book should be subtitled String Theory and the Possible Illusion of Intelligent Design. He has done nothing whatsoever to disprove fine-tuning. Nothing. He has only countered it with a religious speculation in scientific language, a God of the Landscape. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, he tells us that we should embrace the String Theory landscape, not in spite of its ugliness, but rather because of it. Physics should change its paradigm and sing praises to inelegance. Out with Occam’s razor, in with Rube Goldberg. Out with reductionism, in with lots of free parameters. Why? Because if we don’t (according to Suskind) there really is no way to explain the fine-tuning, except by Intelligent Design. He even likens, in his last sentence quoted above, those physicists who search for the antithesis of his landscape, a simple, beautiful fundamental theory, to IDers.

I think he is correct. For a fundamental theory that predicted all the constants would be a “win” for ID—it would destroy the only real threat to cosmological ID: multiple universes with varying laws of physics.

The subtext (at times explicit) in Susskind’s book is that fine-tuning is real, in the sense that our universe really does exist on a knife’s edge, so much so that it demands attention. The only possible way that it is an illusion is if our universe is but one of many. To save materialism, Susskind argues that we must explain this fine-tuning, and his landscape has the best chance of playing the role of a white knight.

What about falsifiability, that inconvenient scientific requirement that critics like to bring up when discussing ID? How does Susskind answer attacks on the landscape’s falsifiablity? Well, he suggests that maybe, though not likely, the one landscape prediction: a negative curvature to the universe, might be detected through more precise measurements of the cosmic background. Presently, our universe appears to be flat, corresponding to a value of the total density Ω0 equal to 1. In his review of Susskind’s book, cosmologist George Ellis looks at the possibility:
The particular multiverse version proposed by Susskind, however, has the great virtue of being testable in one respect. It is supposed to have started out by quantum tunnelling, resulting in a spatially homogenous and isotropic universe with negative spatial curvature, and hence with a total density parameter Ω0<1. The best observationally determined value for this parameter, taking all the data into account, is Ω0=1.02+/-0.02. Taken at face value, this seems to contradict the proposed theory. But given the statistical uncertainties, the observations do not definitively exclude Ω0<1, so the theory survives; nevertheless, the observed value should be taken seriously in this era of 'precision cosmology'. These data are not discussed in the book — a symptom of some present-day cosmology, where faith in theory tends to trump evidence. Presumably the hope is that this observational result will go away as more evidence is collected. (Nature 438, 739-740, 8 December 2005)
Ouch. (It should also be noted that a detection of a slight negative curvature would be consistent with the landscape, but it wouldn’t prove it.)

Susskind seems to recognize that falsifiability is a weakness in his theory, so (you just have to give him credit for moxie) he simply goes right to the source. In the same NewScientist interview, he states:
There is a philosophical objection called Popperism that people raise against the landscape idea. Popperism [after the philosopher Karl Popper] is the assertion that a scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable, otherwise it's just metaphysics. Other worlds, alternative universes, things we can't see because they are beyond horizons, are in principle unfalsifiable and therefore metaphysical - that's the objection. But the belief that the universe beyond our causal horizon is homogeneous is just as speculative and just as susceptible to the Popperazzi.
In other words—the routine assumption that the part of the universe that we cannot see is the same (has the same physical laws) as what we do see is just as unfalsifiable. Chutzpah!

Susskind has presented the physics community with what is, for some (not this writer), a Sophie's Choice: a hidious, complictated, unfalsifiable String-Theory Landscape, or Intelligent Design.

Susskind rocks.

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 5)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)

The Old Testament Canon

Examining the table of contents of a Protestant and Catholic bible, we find that the Catholic bible contains seven extra books known as the Apocrypha: These are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach), and Baruch. In addition, Catholic Bibles contain an additional six chapters in the book of Esther and another three in the book of Daniel.

These books date from the period in between the old and new testaments.

These books are called “Apocryphal” not because the authors are unknown (for there are some canonical books whose authors are unknown) but probably, as Augustine says, because they are of an uncertain and obscure origin.

Why does the Catholic bible include the Apocrypha, while the Protestant bible includes only the part called “The Law (of Moses), the Prophets, and the Writings (Wisdom Books)?”

The answer comes from looking at the difference between two old testament canons that existed at the time of Christ: the Palestinian canon and the Alexandrian canon. The Palestinian canon did not include the Apocrypha; the Alexandrian canon used by that region’s Hellenized Jews did include the extra books.

So the question is: which of these two Jewish canons should we receive as the Old Testament?

The Reformers rejected the Apocrypha because they were persuaded that it was the Palestinian canon that was recognized by the Jews of Palestine during Christ’s time—and so Jesus himself, in his education and ministry, would have used a canon that did not contain the Apocrypha.

The reformed theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687—he is described by Gerstner as “the most precise theologian in the Calvinistic tradition”) wrote:
The Jewish church, to which the oracles of God were committed (Rom 3:2) never considered [the Apocrypha] as canonical, but held the same canon as us (as is admitted by Josephus, Against Apion 1.39-41)… They are never quoted as canonical by Christ and the apostles like the others. And Christ, by dividing all the books of the Old Testa¬ment into three classes (the law, the Psalms and the prophets, Luke 24:44), clearly approves of the canon of the Jews and excludes from it those books which are not embraced in these classes. The Christian church for four hundred years rec¬ognized with us the same and no other canonical books… The authors were neither prophets and inspired men, since they wrote after Malachi (the last of the prophets); nor were their books written in the Hebrew language (as those of the Old Testament), but in Greek. Hence Josephus (in the passage referred to above) acknowledges that those things which were written by his people after the time of Artaxerxes were not equally credible and authoritative with those which preceded "on account of there not being an indisputable succession of prophets"
Turretin’s reference to Christ’s words is worth examining:
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44)
Thus, Turretin argues, Christ specifically mentions the three sections which we receive as canonical and omits the Apocrypha.

Next: A look at the topic of Sola Scriptura.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Man. I used to have so much hair.

It shouldn't be too hard to pick out yours truly from this photo array scanned from my high school (Perry High, Pittsburgh, PA) yearbook. The young lady two to the left was a good friend and my prom date. She was also a blonde cheerleader. That's as you'd expect. Right?

The guy next to me was another very good friend. Often when he sat in front of me, and I had nothing better to do, I'd ball up little pieces of paper and toss them into his 'fro. He'd never feel a thing--they just stuck there looking like dandruff from hell. (He got me back big time in the Christmas party in biology II--but I'm not telling that story.) We both ended up at Carnegie Mellon, also in our hometown. He studied EE and I went into physics.

In college, we (for a while) dated gals who lived in adjacent dorm rooms. One time the four of us were sitting in the hallway when the power went out. Total darkness. I said to my friend: "Ronnie smile, I can't see you!" My girlfriend was appalled, thinking I made a racist comment. There's a lesson there, somewhere.


Ronnie spent his freshman year at another school--I think it was Temple, and then transferred to CMU. I found out he was back in Pittsburgh by a strange coincidence—one of three memorable coincidences in my lifetime.

In this case, I had just entered my dorm hallway, at the start of my sophomore year, when the hall phone rang. (It wasn't until my junior year that they put phones in all the dorm rooms. Before that--just one pay phone in the hall—bad news for the rooms close to the phone.) This time I was in the right spot, so I answered.
"Who is this?"
"David Heddle"
"Heddle? What are you doing there? Is Ronnie there?"
"Ronnie who?"
"What do you mean? Ronnie *****!" (naming my friend)
"Why would he be here?"
"Stop [screwing] around!, this is ***" (gave his name, another guy from our high school, not a CMU student, a friend of Ronnie’s from his old neighborhood, but only a vague acquaintance to me)
It turns out that Ronnie moved into an off campus apartment, and his phone number was almost identical to the hall phone’s.

Another memorable coincidence happened in high school. I was in a friend's car, cruising near the school, which was in the city. My friend was driving, and I was in the passenger seat. We were discussing the Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon and how "bad" (meaning good) it was. For maybe twenty minutes we were "Bruce Lee this, Bruce Lee that." Then I spotted two brothers from my high school sitting on the steps outside their house. I stuck my head out and shouted "Hey Bruce, Lee!"

Not because I had Bruce Lee on the mind, but because those are their names.

But my favorite coincidence came after I got married. My wife was evangelized in Taiwan by two missionaries who eventually married and moved back to the Toronto area. We got married in Pittsburgh, where my wife was living in a room in the apartment of a Chinese Christian couple. A few years later, after we were gone, they also moved to Toronto.

The missionary couple and the Chinese couple ended up at the same church. They became friends; kids played together, all that stuff. They didn't know they had a mutual acquaintance (that would be us, the Heddles.)

One summer the Chinese couple wanted to come to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, both within easy driving distance from our house. We, on the other hand, wanted to go to Canada. So we traded houses for a week.

In the meantime, the missionary couple went to Virginia Beach to visit Regent University, where the husband was thinking of going to grad school. They decided to pay us a surprise visit. Imagine their surprise when they rang the doorbell and, inexplicably, their friends and neighbors from Toronto answered.

They said the kids were not surprised at all. They just started playing together as if everything made perfect sense.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 4)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)

The Early Writings

Throughout the first Christian century, the apostles’ writings were conveyed both orally and in writing. This was true from the earliest days of the Church. When Paul was at Ephesus, he heard of problems in the church at Corinth, and he immediately sent an instructional letter. Later, in Corinth, he sent a letter outlining the essentials of Christian theology to the church at Rome. By about A.D. 60, there were several letters from Paul and other apostles in the hands of various churches and individuals.

The earliest references to a New Testament come in, well, the New Testament. Peter, in about AD 68, writes (referring to Paul):
He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2. Pet 3:16)
And Paul quotes from Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:7):
For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." (1 Tim. 5:18)
The need for a written account became acute when the apostles advanced in age, for it was clear that at some point they, the eyewitnesses, would not be around. The Roman church asked Mark to write down the message that Peter had delivered to them. At an earlier time, written collections of the sayings of Christ took shape. Shortly after Mark’s account was written down, Luke penned his two part history of Christianity, the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. Then in the Syrian region, another gospel appeared: the gospel of Matthew. Later in the century, at Ephesus, the gospel of John, the last surviving apostle, appears.

As long as these documents were scattered about, there was in no sense a New Testament. Not that the documents were not accepted as authoritative, for they certainly were, as were Paul’s correspondence, even though (for example in Corinth) there was some questioning of Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul himself wrote:
If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. (1 Cor. 14:37)
Here we see that Paul is affirming the absolute authority of what he is writing.

What was lacking, in this early period, was an officially recognized list of sacred writings. Now an example of such a thing did exist: the Old Testament. What was needed was a similar compendium of apostolic writings.

Toward the end of the first century, a movement developed to collect the writings of Paul, which consisted entirely of letters. The motivation for the movement is uncertain, but some have speculated that Luke’s Acts of the Apostles became widely known and extremely popular around the year AD 90, and this sparked interest in Paul. It is know that about this time various churches began searching their records and archives for Pauline correspondence.

By about the year 95, the “Vatican Library” of the time held Paul’s letter to the Romans, his first epistle to the Corinthians and possibly one or two others letters of Paul. It also contained the letter to the Hebrews, and First Peter, some of the gospels, and the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint).

An incontrovertible piece of evidence is the letter written to the Corinthian church in A.D. 95 by the bishop of Rome (Pope) Clement, in which he wrote:
Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas [Peter] and Apollos, because that even then ye had made parties. (1 Clement, 47)
So without question Clement had access to Paul’s first Corinthian epistle. Since he nowhere quoted Paul’s second letter in his own correspondence to the Corinthians, even though parts are apropos to what he writing, it is concluded that Rome did not have a copy of that correspondence.

So the effort to collect Paul’s writings continued, and by the end of the first century, it is evident that there existed a Pauline corpus that was in the hands of various churches. At first it contained ten letters, but shortly thereafter the three pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) were added.

At the same time, another collection began to circulate among the churches: the four gospels. From the beginning of the second century, the Catholic Church used these and only these gospels, even though the occasional gospel of someone-else appeared.

So in the early years of the second century there were two books in circulation: The Gospels, with contents According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and The Pauline Corpus, with subheadings To the Romans, First Letter to the Corinthians, etc.

The church was making admirable progress in establishing a canon. And then something wonderful happened to expedite the process: Heresy arose.

The Heretic Marcion

Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus (Asia Minor), born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. Around the year A.D. 140 he traveled to Rome and presented his peculiar teachings to the elders. They found his ideas unacceptable. Marcion’s response was to leave the church and form his own heretical sect.

Marcion’s heresy anticipates some that followed. Marcion (1) denied the authority of the entirety of the Old Testament and (2) denied the authority of all the apostles except Paul, because only Paul (according to Marcion) did not allow his faith to be defiled by mixing it with Judaism. Only Paul had not apostatized from the teachings of Jesus.

Marcion was perhaps the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Jesus’ many appeals to the Old Testament notwithstanding, Marcion believed that Jesus Himself placed no authority in the Old Testament and had come to liberate man from the bondage to the Old Testament God.

Jesus, according to Marcion, was not the son of the God of the Old Testament, but the son of the superior God of goodness and mercy of the New Testament whom Marcion called the Father.

The sacred writings (including Paul’s letters), Marcion taught, had been corrupted by Judiazers if not directly by the Jewish sympathies of the apostles (excluding Paul). All scripture was in need of a cleansing under Marcion’s direction.

So Marcion deleted the Old Testament, and developed his own canon consisting of two parts: The Gospel, a sanitized version of Luke’s gospel, and The Apostle, a similarly sanitized version of Paul’s first ten letters. Marcion’s canon provided the impetus for the Church to redouble her efforts to establish a proper canon of her own. Immediately there was anti-Marcion pronouncements that voiced support for the Catholic writings, but still, those writings were not officially delimited into a collection of sacred scriptures.

On the other hand, the situation was not hopelessly muddled, not by a long shot. The church did have an effectively recognized ad hoc canon, but it lacked official sanctioning. Documents discovered in the twentieth century attest to the fact that by 140-150, the collection of writings accepted by Rome was virtually identical with our New Testament.

So the Catholic response to Marcion was this: (1) We accept the Old Testament because Christ fulfilled them and stamped them with his approval. (2) The divinely inspired books of this new age do not supersede the Old Testament but stand beside it. (3) The Gospel contains not one but four accounts, including the one that Marcion mangled. (4) The Apostle contains not just ten of Paul’s letters, but thirteen, and it also contains correspondence of some of the other apostles. (5) Special emphasis was placed on Luke’s second half of Christian history, the Book of Acts, which Marcion omitted from his canon. Its special place was now recognized: it bridged The Gospel to The Apostle. (It was at this time that the book became known as The Acts of the Apostles, although in some anti-Marcion literature it was dubbed The Acts of All the Apostles.

Another response to Marcion was to write prologues for each of the gospels in order to establish their legitimacy. The prologue to Matthew’s gospel was lost. Part of Mark’s prologue reads:
…Mark declared, who is called 'stump-fingered,' because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.
Luke’s prologue has a lengthy biography:
Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch, a physician by profession, a disciple of the apostles. Later he accompanied Paul until the latter's martyrdom, serving the Lord without distraction, for he had neither wife nor children. He died in Boeotia at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit. So then, after two Gospels had already been written - Matthew's in Judea and Mark's in Italy - Luke wrote this Gospel in the region of Achaia, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. At its outset, he indicated that other Gospels had been written before his own, but that the obligation lay upon him to set forth for the Gentile believers a complete account in the course of his narrative and to do so as accurately as possible. The object of this was that they might not be captivated on the one hand by a love for Jewish fables, nor on the other hand be deceived by heretical and vain imaginations and thus wander from the truth. So, right at the beginning, Luke has handed down to us the story of the birth of John [the Baptist], as a most essential [part of the Gospel story]; for John marks the beginning of the Gospel, since he was our Lord's forerunner and associate both in the preparation of the Gospel and in the administration of baptism and the fellowship of the Spirit. This ministry [of John's] was foretold by one of the Twelve Prophets [i.e. the minor prophets]. Later on, the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.
The anti-Marcion flavor of this prologue is evident when it is understood that included in the considerable mischief Marcion made with Luke’s gospel, he completely excised any reference to John the Baptist, since John the Baptist was a link between the new age and the Jewish past. Furthermore, the explicit reference to The Acts of the Apostles is a not very subtle reminder that Marcion rejected that work.

The most intriguing is John’s prologue:
The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John when he was still in the body, as Papias of Hierapolis, John’s dear disciple has related in his five exegetical books. He wrote down the gospel accurately at John’s dictation. But the heretic Marcion was rejected by John, after earning his disapproval for his contrary views.
There are several inaccuracies that jump out—certainly the apostle John was not a contemporary of Marcion.

Another anti-Marcion document was a list of books that represents the canon near the end of the second century. It was discovered by L. A. Muratori in 1740. The beginning is missing, and the first book mentioned is the gospel of Luke and it’s called the third, so it is reasonable to assume that it included Matthew and Mark as the first and second books. From this we see what books are in the canon around A.D. 200. The four gospels, Acts, Paul’s thirteen letters, Jude, two epistles of John (the second of which is possibly what we now consider the second and third.) Revelation, and a second Revelation due to Peter. This book is known and was read in some churches –its lurid treatment of the state of the damned is believed to underlie much medieval writing on the subject including Dante’s Inferno.

Some believe the epistles of Peter are omitted by error. Regardless, we have essentially a recognizable canon, with the notable absence of Hebrews and James.

In summary, from the earliest days of the Christianity, most of the books in the New Testament were recognized as scripture. The books mentioned, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation were delayed in that they lacked universal endorsement. These disputes were settles by the fourth century. In AD 363 The Council of Laodicia listed all the New Testament books except Revelation. In AD 367 Athanasius of Alexandria cited all 27 New Testament books in a letter. And in AD 397, the Third Council of Carthage became the first ecumenical council to list all 27 books.

EDIT: Corrected reference to Septuagint as a Greek version of the Old Testament. HT: Larry Thomspon

Friday, December 09, 2005

When Data Collide with Dogma

The evoluticians (those who care more about the politics of evolution than the science, at least judging from their publication records) are gaga over a report from the Fordham Foundation. The big buzz is over a report card handed out by the foundation where they gave a letter grade for each state’s science standards.

Here is a knock-your-socks-off surprise: if you are a pro-ID state like Kansas, you get a failing grade.

The evoluticians are in a tizzy, certain that the report's pessimism forebodes an imminent American theocracy, or at a minimum an accelerated decline into bona fide banana republic status. Not only will all high-tech widgets be made elsewhere, but now they will also be designed elsewhere, and anything with a chip will be nothing but a black box to the next generation of professor-stalking uneducated fundies. That is, for as long as the next generation can afford widgets before the economy collapses because a medieval God-fearing nation cannot possibly compete with the ultra efficient and secular EU or a modern economy such as communist China.

Of course, you would expect that the Fordham Foundation's grading actually correlated with something substantive, such as standardized test scores. In fact, you would expect a strong correlation. A cosmopolitan, progressive state that gets an 'A' should predictably do better than an in-breeding ID-friendly state that gets an 'F'.

You might expect that, but you’d be wrong. In two simple but revealing analyses, here and here, MikeGene at Telic Thoughts plots the states' average ACT scores vs. the grades they received from the Fordham Foundation. You should find, if the Fordham Foundation's report is relevant, a scatter plot with a highly sloped line of best fit. But you don't. If there is any correlation whatsoever, it is not apparent to the naked eye.

The evoluticians are quintessential Chicken Littles. They are certain that exposure to ID will cause a student body, en mass, to enroll in the Southern Baptist Seminary instead of MIT. But a student who is strong in science will not become weaker by exposure to ID. Whether or not he accepts or rejects ID is probably, for the vast majority of students, determined prior to any exposure he would receive in school. To first order, students who already reject ID will continue to reject it; those who already accept it will continue to do so.

The alliteration is too obvious to ignore: an 'F' for the Fordham Foundation.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

ID Talk

I will give an ID talk tonight (December 8, 8 pm) at Daniel Webster College, room ERC (Eaton Richmond Center) 209, in Nashua, New Hampshire. Here is the abstract:

Cosmological Intelligent Design - Is God in the Details?

Biological Intelligent Design (ID) is in the headlines. In the Dover school system in Pennsylvania, a federal court case was held over the legality of a school district's adoption of a curriculum that includes ID as an alternative to evolution. In Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere similar legal action is unfolding.

There is, however, a less newsworthy form of ID, often called Cosmological ID. Related to the Weak Anthropic Principle, Cosmological ID posits that the observed fine tuning in the laws and constants of physics - the tight constraints that are necessary for habitability - is evidence of the universe's design.

In this talk I will present numerous examples of the fine-tuning observed in various physical laws and constants. I will also discuss alternatives to the conclusion of design. Finally, I'll examine the question of Earth's mediocrity, often called the Copernican Principle.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Golden Opportunity for Bigots

P. Z. Myers reminds me of another bigot, Sheriff Stuckey in the movie Mississippi Burning. You may recall that Stuckey, just as much a bigot as his deputies and lesser goons, was too smart to get caught. I’ll get back to the cagey ole’ PZ in just a moment.

What I am thinking of is the continuing, Shakespearian saga of Professor Mirecki. He is world famous now. I was one of many who wrote about him, in my case here.

As you probably know, professor Mirecki has been assaulted. The original story is here, and the latest that I am aware of is here. To summarize, Mirecki claims to have been beaten in the frigid early morning (6:20 am, about 12° F) by two good ole’ boys in a pickup. When he pulled over to protest their tailgating, they got out and gave him a (mild) whoopin’, while making references to the anti-ID class he had intended to teach at KU--that is before getting caught with his foot in his mouth. Note that this implies premeditation, stalking in fact, unless you believe Gomer and Bubba just “got lucky” and another of their random poundings of elitists took on greater significance only after they recognized their victim.

Now, an interesting theological question is: do you owe someone an apology if you don’t believe them and their story turns out to be true? I suppose so—although I can’t really do anything about the fact that I do not believe the totality of Mirecki’s account. I mean, I can say to myself, David, you must believe what you don’t believe. But that kind of self-sermonizing is just not efficacious. Arminian soteriology faces the same problem. How can you believe in Jesus if you don’t believe in Jesus?

Well, I don’t believe Mirecki’s (complete) story. I am willing to believe he was beaten up, but not that it was by two “fat faced fundies” who made references to ID. (In any case, I feel compelled to state the obvious: I hope whoever beat him up, even if they turn out to be hardcore Calvinist Post-Millennial Partial-Preterists from the local PCA church, are prosecuted.)

The reason I don’t believe Mirecki’s full account is that it sets off my “too good to be true” detector. If you are interested in what I mean, read this. In addition, his credibility is not exactly beyond reproach.

So there you have it. If Mirecki’s complete story, as he told it, turns out to be true, then shame on me.

Now, back to my favorite evolutionist and anti-Christian bigot, Dr. P.Z. Myers.

PZ blogged about this incident here.

He reported on the story, and opined: “Fundamentalists: ignorant thugs with a bible,” without directly affirming Mirecki’s account. Then he gave a potentially face-saving “let’s wait for confirmation” alibi. Then, like Sheriff Stuckey, he wisely turned the dirty work over to his goons, also known as his commenters. I thought you might be amused by a sampling of the comments to his post:

WARNING: R-rated language
  • I guess it is the doom of all great thinkers to be beaten by ignorant, foolish thugs.

  • The godly work of right-good Christians of Kansas, I see. I'm sure those Bubbas are proud. And their wives and kids are "seen and not heard" and their animals are scared.

  • And I didn't think there were such things as "Christian fundamentalists" any more. I thought they were all "born again Christians." It's all so confusing. Let's just call them "devoutly ignorant and bigoted asswipes" from now on.

  • the thing to keep in mind is that a lot of far-right evangelical and fundamentalist rhetoric is literally militant: armies, soldiers, and the like, not to mention their obsession with the actual military. Beating a university professor -- and keep in mind that they were following his truck, which implies surveillance and premeditation -- is the logical outcome of their rhetoric.

  • It just never ceases to amaze me that these morons defend their ideology with violence, (in violation of their ideology). They're Christians, "for Christ's sake".

  • My understanding is that it is perfectly acceptable -- indeed, it is mandated -- to assume that those who worship different deities are going to rot in hell and suffer unbearable pain for all eternity. You just aren't supposed to say it to anyone except people who don't know better. Like little kids. But it's bad manners or even unconstitutional to tell a fundamentalist liar who espouses anti-gay and anti-science bigotry that they are lying bigots. That's what Jim Dobson told me. Of course, Jim Dobson also told me to take showers with my son so we could compare penises and embolden our heterosexuality.

  • is this, then, the new, social conservative, how-to-deal-with-an-abortion-doctor democratic way? the means are justified by the ends. this is, after all, a new kind of war.

  • ”Some fundamentalist Christians are just old ladies baking pies.” Yeah, like the little group of pie-baking little old ladies who murdered my mom by brainwashing her that God would perform a miraculous healing of her breast cancer, so that it would be sinful to seek out medical treatment. No, these were not Jehovah's Witnesses, they were just your ordinary garden-variety Christian fundies. †

  • Reminds me of anti-Semites: half of them say the holocaust never happened and the other admit it happened but say the Jews deserved it. Many of them say both things.

  • These fundies are dangerous barbarian lunatics. Most of them are only fundies because having a big-bad rapture-ready God makes them feel like tough guys.

  • The fundies LOVE blood and violence. I mean come on; "Passion of the Christ", "Left Behind". The fundies like two things: Pretending to feel persecuted so they can get all riled up and angry, and the idea of taking "revenge" on the people who are "persecuting" them (i.e. anyone who isn't a Christian fundie).

  • Nobody even got a chance to see Dr Mirecki's syllabus, fer crissakes, so anyone claiming to know how the course was to be taught is talking through his ass. And now he gets beaten for his views, on top of it. Good night, and good luck, America.

  • "I take exception to all fundamentalists being called "thugs with bibles.” What’s wrong with being honest?

  • I wasn't entirely honest with the "ignorant thugs with bibles" comment. I was too charitable. Fundamentalism is a crippling brain disease.

  • My grandma was also a sweet little old lady who baked cookies, and I loved her dearly, but she also told me she didn't want me to come home with any nigger girl friends from that college I was going to. Fundamentalism is brain rot. Fundamentalism is ignorance under a different name, ignorance that claims the blessing of a god. †

  • How about the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? How about their millions of supporters?
    Not all Fundies are thugs but there certainly is a violent element connected to fundementalist. Look at the popularity of "The Passion of the Christ" and the "Left Behind" books - only a true thug could find anything appealing in "Left Behind".

  • I'm sure you could dig up non-violent, peacable fundementalists. However I don't see how a group of people who make books like "Left Behind" super-bestsellers could possible be considered to have good intentions or be tolerant. They're intolerant and intolerance can lead to violence and lashing out at people.
Now it must be noted that to PZ and his followers, “fundie” means something quite different that it means to me. Those of us who believe the bible is the inerrant word of God would be “fundies” to PZ, et. al. It is not reserved for legalistic southern Baptists. To them, it is synonymous with evangelical.

So we will have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Note: There is excellent coverage of this story over at Telic Thoughts.

† Also exceed my “too good to be true” threshold, meaning I believe these to be exaggerated/apocryphal.

UPDATE: Mirecki resigns as department chair.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 3)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)

The Establishment of the Bible

Starting from this point we take as given what we all previously acknowledged: the scripture is the infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God.

Later in this course we will take up a study of Roman Catholicism. At that point we will see that perhaps the biggest and most important distinction between Reformation Protestantism and Catholicism is this:

Protestantism: Scripture alone is authoritative in its teaching. Other teaching may be valuable and correct, but it does not bind our conscience. Tradition cannot be taken as infallible or inerrant.

Catholicism: Scripture and sacred tradition are authoritative and binding. Extra-biblical church teachings, obtained from an oral tradition traceable to the apostles and Jesus, is as authoritative as scripture.

Virtually all Protestant/Catholic disputes are rooted in this incredibly different starting point. Protestants, while not denying that tradition is important, nevertheless deny that one’s salvation depends on accepting teachings that are not found in scripture.

There is a reason I get ahead of myself and bring this up now. Bear with me.

The canon of scripture

As already stated, from now on we agree that scripture is the infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God. Rome agrees with this lofty view of scripture as well. We have moved beyond the question of whether scripture is inspired and ask a more practical question: What is scripture? That is, what is the canon, where we use canon to mean the collection of books that comprise the bible. The importance and non-triviality of this question is evident by the fact that while Protestants and Catholics agree that scripture is inspired, they disagree on what is scripture. In addition to the sixty-six books of the Protestant bible, a Catholic bible has additional books, called the Apocrypha. These books date from the period between the Old and New Testaments. Rome views the Apocrypha as infallible, inerrant and inspired. Protestants do not.

Further evidence includes the well known fact that Luther referred despairingly to the book of James an “epistle of straw.” Luther was not questioning the authority of scripture. Indeed, he spoke often of inerrancy and inspiration of scripture. What Luther questioned was whether or not the book of James is scripture. Luther did not question the infallibility of the bible; he questioned the infallibility of the church.

As Gerstner points out, Luther represented perfectly the difference in views between Protestants and Catholics, but he did so in a way that makes most Protestants uncomfortable:

Catholic View: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books

Protestant View: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books

If you are protesting this viewpoint, then, in light of the Protestant belief than the only infallible authority on earth is sacred scripture and there is no such thing as infallible sacred tradition, you must ask yourself how would you answer Luther’s dismissal of the Book of James? If you proclaim the certainty that James’s epistle belongs in the bible, on what basis do you make this claim without resorting to tradition? And it has to be tradition, for nowhere in the bible does it tell you that the book of James belongs in the bible.

Most of us, in trying to answer Luther’s criticism of James, will begin sounding like Catholics. Once that door is open, we have to ask why not the Apocrypha?

Having said all that, I will tell you that we can be confident about our canon. But we have to keep in mind that we have no written apostolic basis for the bible’s table of contents.

It is clear then that a shared lofty view of scripture does not imply agreement as to what qualifies as scripture. In short, we are faced with these serious questions about the canon:
  1. How was the canon established?
  2. By whose authority?
  3. Is it closed to further additions?

The process of the formation of the canon

The protestant view, starkly expressed as “The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books” (attributed to John Gerstner) is nothing more than an acknowledgement that the sixty-six books were arrived at by a historic process which we will discuss. As a historic process we allow for the possibility that the men involved, though all of good faith, erred on some their selections. And if they erred, then they most likely erred over some of the books which they debated—including Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation (they made it in) as well as 1 Clement, The Shepard of Hermas, The Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache (they didn’t make it).

The Didache is a fascinating and valuable writing, from no later than AD 120, and tells us a great deal about early church practices such as baptism:
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: After reviewing all of this teaching, baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in living (running) water. But if running water is not available, then baptize into other water; and cold is preferred, but if not available in warm. But if neither is available, pour water three times upon the head in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism, let the overseer fast, and also the one being baptized, and all others who are able; Be sure to instruct the one being baptized to fast one or two days before. (Didache 7)
Alternatively, you can assume that the Holy Spirit intervened in the selection process ensuring that the correct selection was made. However, in doing so you are extending the very definition of Protestantism to encompass at least one sacred Roman Catholic tradition: the accuracy of the bible’s table of contents.

The process used by the church is summarized by three requirements imposed on a book before it was accepted as canonical:
  1. It must have apostolic authorship or endorsement.
  2. It must have been received as authoritative by the early church.
  3. It must be in harmony with books about which there is no doubt (the gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Pauline letters.)
In the first point, we recognize that the book doesn’t have to be written by an apostle, but it had to be authorized by an apostle. Mark was not an apostle, but his gospel carried the sanction of Peter, Likewise Luke’s writings were endorsed by Paul. It is this requirement that delayed acceptance of Hebrews, James and Jude.

Also on the basis of the first point the books 1 Clement, The Shepard of Hermas, The Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache were rejected as sub-canonical. It should be noted that these books are not considered worthless. On the contrary, the early church countenanced their use for purposes of private edification.

Other books—false gospels—many related to the Gnostic heresy, received no serious consideration. They were easily dismissed by point 2 and/or point 3. The early church father Origen wrote:
The church receives only four gospels; heretics have many, such as the gospel of the Egyptians and the gospel of Thomas, etc.
These false gospels include fanciful stories; the Gospel of Thomas contains an account of the child Jesus fashioning birds from clay—after which the birds came to life and flew away.

While the church went through its process, it is important to make a distinction: the church did not invent the canon, it received it. The Church did not establish the canon, the canon establishes the church. And before the formal process (which was spurred, interestingly enough, by the heretic Marcion, as we shall see) there already was a canon. B. B. Warfield writes:
The church did not grow up by natural law: it was founded. And the authoritative teachers sent forth by Christ to found His church, carried with them, as their most precious possession, a body of divine Scriptures, which they imposed on the church that they founded as its code of law. No reader of the New Testament can need proof of this; on every page of that book is spread the evidence that from the very beginning the Old Testament was as cordially recognized as law by the Christian as by the Jew. The Christian church thus was never without a "Bible" or a "canon."
Warfield is pointing out that the New Testament church had both a founder (Christ) and a canon—the Old Testament and the writings of the apostles.

(To be continued…)