Tuesday, 28 April 2009

"Unbiased sex education is a child's right"

A piece in the Guardian by the British Humanist Association's education officer, Andrew Copson:

"Unbiased sex education is a child's right: Allowing faith schools to skew the curriculum in order to argue against homosexuality and sex before marriage is a mistake"

At the outset I should say that my position is that the decision on how a child should be educated belongs to the child's parents - not the state. As such, how British state schools educate their children is none of my business - I don't have any children there. Unlike Mr. Copson, I don't presume to dictate that each and every child in the nation should be educated according to my views, whether their parents like it or not. But having said that, here we go...
"No parent or school should be able to prevent a young person receiving good, high-quality sex and relationship education."
Starting off with the assumption that there is an uncontroversial definition of a "high quality sex and relationship education" is not a good beginning. Of course, I definitely agree with the statement above; every young person should be being taught all that the Bible says about sex and relationships, and shown from a Biblical viewpoint why alternatives are mistaken. That means, showing how we're made in God's image and are accountable for him; how sex is his precious gift; how he gave a binding pattern on us regarding how it is to be used, etcetera. Fine. But the note of autonomy in the sentence is not fine. Actually a parent should be able to decide what a young person is or isn't taught. A genuine free-for-all isn't possible. If parents don't do it, the role must go to someone else... and note that the sentence doesn't include the word "government". Government forbidding young people from hearing the "high-quality" (i.e. Biblical!) view is what I am worried about - especially campaigning humanists via government enforcing their views on our children. The above sentence sounds like a typical humanist.

 Typical, some would say, of the view of humanists and others ...
I just said that.
who believe that sex and relationships education should be an entitlement for all our children, and are often accused as a consequence of riding roughshod over the rights of some religious parents and the "rights" of religious schools.
Um, no. I never met a parent who didn't believe that "our children" should receive "sex and relationships education" as part of their entitlement from their parents. What we didn't believe, though, was that it was our children's right to receive a humanist indoctrination of their view of sex, at our expense, and despite our protests. That's the bit where the "riding roughshod over the rights" comes in. Surely Mr. Copson can't be so dim as to not know the difference between those two things?

But this is not the voice of your stock strident secularist, but a 16-year-old

Poor kid. Looks like the humanists and secularists got him early. Or perhaps it was just bad parenting.
, speaking as a representative of the Youth Parliament today.

Well, that explains his case. Bodies of that ilk are stuffed full of the young gullible primed to say what the adults want them to. That's their purpose. Ever read a news story in which that kind of youth body didn't parrot what their funders didn't want them to say? I haven't come across one yet.

Young people themselves are some of the strongest supporters of sex and relationships education, and recognise that it will improve their ability to deal with the emotional, moral and practical difficulties of adolescent and adult life.

That's an excellent argument against what Mr. Copson wants. If young people support it more strongly that those who are older, wiser and more experienced than them, then perhaps it's a bad idea? When I was at school, lots of us also thought that French tests, chemistry exams and homework were really bad ideas - very nasty of those adults not to listen to us. Where was the Youth Parliament when we needed them then, eh?

But again, in fact nobody I ever knew of objects to the idea in the line above. "Sex and relationships education" is fine. It's when that education comes from a humanist standpoint we have a problem. Notice again how Mr. Copson, as most of the liberalisers of society in recent decades do, simply announces his position as the objective, neutral one and takes it from there ... and instead of interacting with counter-arguments, instead just smears anyone who disagrees with him as irrational or too far off the scale to be worth his time.

The Youth Parliament has been a key leader in the drive for compulsory sex and relationships education

Of course it has. That's why those of Mr. Copson's ilk set up and fund such bodies - because the self-selecting participants can be relied upon to support his agenda. Are we meant to be fooled? Sorry.

, and has called not just for all state schools – including religious schools – to be legally obliged to teach it, but for parents not to be able to opt their children out of it.

That must be why the Bible says that "folly is bound up in the heart of a child". What's the argument here - adults should roll over and grant whatever "youths" want them to?  ounds like some of these youth parliamentarians went short of a smack or two when they were growing up. Whoops, did I say that out loud? What I meant to say was to point out that Mr. Copson hasn't yet owned up to the point that the "it" that he wants everybody else's children to be indoctrinated with is not "sex education" per se, but particularly humanist sex education. Crucial omission!

It's not a surprise that young people want this education.

That hasn't been established yet. All we've established so far is that the "Youth Parliament" said so. But even if it was established, so what? My children want ice creams and no school every day. But they've already learnt, unlike Mr. Copson who's apparently an adult, that what children want ranks some way down the list of priorities - a fact whose importance and rightness will grow upon them year by year; especially in the years when they themselves become parents!

We know that the sexual health and wellbeing of young people is improved by sex and relationships education.

If you mean "humanist sex education", then no; you couldn't possibly know that. If you knew, you'd know that humanist education displeases God, and means his wrath burns fiercely against you. That's the God who said that it would be better for you to have a millstone tied to your neck and for you to be thrown into the midst of the sea rather than for you to teach one of the little ones to stumble. Fornication and other perversions do not lead to "health and wellbeing"; they lead to judgment. That of course raises the question - what is the yardstick of "sexual health and wellbeing" that Mr. Copson uses to measure the results of his humanist education? Oh - it's a humanist one. Things like whether lifelong committed monogamy and stable one-man-one-woman families result, isn't part of his measuring method. So what he's telling us is that humanist education brings good results, as long as those results are measured using humanist assumptions. That's not really a big deal. The big deal is he actually wants to force this on everyone and not just people who think like he does.

We also know that teaching only abstinence in schools has no effect on the likelihood of teenagers to have sex (they are just as likely to do so – it simply means they are less able to take the proper precautions and negotiate complex relationships).

No, you don't know that; you just know that when that teaching is not effective done in schools where the context is totally divorced from a Christian worldview in the school and family. A thin bit of abstinence icing on a secular cake still poisons the person who eats it; a Biblical Christian would never expect otherwise. A worldview has to be built from the ground up. Am I saying that all state schools must adopt the Christian worldview, without compromise? Obviously that's a non-starter... we've got to start somewhere else before we can even begin that conversation. That means God-sent revival; short of that, everything's a patch-up job. Some of those patch-up jobs will be OKish in their results; others will be like what Mr. Copson describes.

What Mr. Copson says, though, is at heart nonsense. If teaching abstinence has no effect on abstinence, why does he believe that teaching "proper precautions" will lead to anyone taking "proper precautions"? If he thinks what is taught in sex education has no effect, then that undermines the whole point of his piece, which is to influence what is taught in sex education!

I was taught that sex belonged in marriage. I've never been involved in sex outside of my marriage, and the reason is because I believed that what was taught was true. So how can this humanist say that what is taught has no effect? It's self-refuting nonsense.

Young people have a right to expect that we as a community will provide it for them

Note that for humanist activists like Mr. Copson, the "rights" always belong to the individual (to be able to escape any non-humanist convictions of his parents) and the duties to the "community", which is a code-word for "humanist-dominated government" (the right being, to over-ride the wishes of those pesky parents again). Note that the parents never seem to be ending up with any of these rights.

Who exactly is this "we"? "We", the British Humanist Association and those who think the same as we do? You can be sure it doesn't include those upholding the historic Christian position. We have the right to shut up and hand our children over for indoctrination from secularists like Mr. Copson!

– and when we say that young people have a right to such education this is in fact literally true. As Article 13 of the convention on the rights of the child says,

That's cute. The UN's human rights convention is Holy Scripture after all. Its teachings are all to be taken as literal truth. Remember that this article is titled "unbiased sex education is a child's right". Nobody can argue with this kind of logic. The humanist position must be true, because the UN endorsed it - anyone else is evil or mad. We crazed religious fundamentalists who think that the holy text we should all obey is one slightly more tried-and-tested than the output of the UN (not yet 100 years old!) must hand over our children to those who have seen the true light. Welcome to 1984!

"The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers … "

Does this mean a child have the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas about necrophilia? Satanism? The contents of the governments secret files? I would have thought it obvious that nobody would mean this statement to be interpreted in an absolute way. Mr. Copson really does seems to be an extreme religious literalist; are my children safe in his hands?

What is this about, though? Mr. Copson hasn't yet told us just what it is that he's worried that the non-humanists won't teach their children. The Bible's got plenty of sex in it - nobody who reads it will miss out if that's their aim. What's your beef?

In the face of overwhelming evidence that sex and relationships education improves the lives of young people, what right do we have to deny them it?

Sadly this overwhelming evidence hasn't been paraded. But, let's put the boot on the other foot. It's an overwhelmingly proven fact that people who attend regular religious worship are shown, in survey after survey, on average to be happier, more settled, healthier, and many other things. So, what right do we have to inflict humanist teaching on children when it's proven to be so damaging?

I do wonder though what planet Mr. Copson is living on. We live in a time of immense sexual anarchy and misery. The victims of the sexual revolution have overwhelmingly been children - children who grow up without a father (or with two!), with all the flood-tide of evil effects that has had on our society. That is, if those children aren't simply murdered in the womb because their mother was taught it was her "right" to do so. The other major victims are women, who are exploited on a scale unimaginable to our grandparents' generation. Womanhood has been publicly sexualised in an appalling crude way in the last 40 years, such that hardly a pre-teen escapes the strong pressure to conform to the mould. If all of this is a state of improvement, I'd hate to see a wholesale disaster when one comes along.

If we know that sex and relationships education of an objective sort improves young people's health and wellbeing (and we do)

Typical liberal propaganda - it's necessary to assert that your case is proven 10 times, without actually proving that even the first time. And what's this word "objective"? Same old story - his position is objective, bias-free, public truth to be shovelled down everybody's throats; yours, should you disagree, of course, is private nonsense that the government should protect your children from!

 and if we accept that it is the right of the child to receive information of all sorts (which it is)

'Cos the UN says so!

and if we go on to conclude that the responsibility of society is therefore to ensure that all our children receive this entitlement, then why allow state-funded religious schools to do something different?

Because, dear Mr. Copson, a society in which one minority group foists its views by force of law on all others, including the foisting controversial views on highly personal matters such as sex on pain of state sanctions, against the wishes of parents, is a fascist society. When the state decides that it is God, that a humanist point of view is neutral, objective, public truth, and that parents who think otherwise should have their rights withdrawn, then what you have is an atheist hell-hole. Like the USSR, Albania, Cambodia, and all those other houses of misery that the 20th century was littered with. The places that liberals like Mr. Copson didn't decide to go and live in because they preferred them to the society that had been built on Christian foundations that they lived in in the UK - the one where there was freedom to differ from the state, a freedom that campaigners of Mr. Copson's ilk have taken such advantage of other the last half-century.

Why in particular, as has been announced today, should the religious character of a school (which may or may not be shared by the school's pupils or their parents) be allowed to skew the sex and relationships education that children receive?

Because my good fellow, the right to educate children belongs to parents to do as they see fit. When you speak of "state-funded", you forget that it's not actually the case that Mr. Brown and Mr. Darling dip into their pockets and we live at their expense. The states funds come from... the very same parents who send their children to the state schools. And it is not the wish of the parents paying for their own children's education that their children, who choose to send their parents to a religious school, that there they should receive a humanist indoctrination. The overwhelming majority of people in the UK who pay for state education are not humanists. The question really is why Mr. Copson can't seem his own totalitarian and the illogical nature of his own ramblings: if the UK is a democracy, why should a minority view such as his be enforced by law at the expense of the majority who reject it?

In PSHE, as in RE, pupils should have the opportunity to learn about and engage with a range of different perspectives on relationships. Many different views do exist in society and sex and relationships education should engage them – as it does. But above all else, we need to be honest with young people, not withhold from them knowledge of the full range of human sexuality that does exist in reality, which they will encounter and engage with in the world outside school and which they need to be prepared for.

This is a straw man. We will teach our children to interact with the full range of views - in due time, and from a Christian viewpoint. What we won't do, though, is pretend that we think all views are equal or relative, or that we think the child choosing his own view (which they all will do) is such an enormous gain that it outweights the evil of choosing a wrong view. Mr. Copson really is asking for more humanist indoctrination. Teaching all views with an air of laid-back indifference is nothing other than teaching humanism: that man is his own god and may pick whatever way seems right to him.  Mr. Copson really wants his view to be taught as unquestionable dogma to everyone. Whatever else he'd like taught, nobody can question the supremacy of man and his right to choose!

In sex and relationships education, more than in any other area, we must place the child – not our own prejudices – firmly at the centre of our thinking.

You mean you're taking everything you've said so far back! Great!

Oh, you don't mean that. You just mean that you're pretending that your own prejudices are something else. You're simply too dishonest to allow a level playing field, allow your humanist assumptions to be put under the microscope, whilst you claim the right to have everybody else's assumptions ruled out of court. And you're going to try to pull your scam in the name of our children! No thanks!

 Young people want this education, they need it, it is their right to have it, and if we withhold it from them on grounds of our own ideologies, we will only be doing harm.

That's "harm" defined from the humanist point of view, of course. From the Christian one, the failure to teach Christian truths as true does infinitely more harm, because to love and honour God is the ultimate value - not serving whatever dog's breakfast of lusts that horribly gone-astray species which is Western man desires.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Creation or Evolution - Do We Have To Choose? - Chapter 4

When I reviewed Dr. Denis Alexander's book, "Creation or Evolution - Do We Have To Choose?", I somehow omitted to write-up my thoughts on chapter 4. Here it is! The online, Word and PDF editions are also updated.

* * *

Chapter 4 - What Do We Mean By Evolution? Natural Selection And Reproductive Success

In this middle chapter seeking to explain the theory of evolution, Dr. Alexander seeks to explain the heart of modern Darwinian theory. Having discussed a little about the dating and genetics, we now get to the key idea: the combination of the continuous production of diversity, filtered by natural selection, to produce the useful improvements necessary to fill all the ecological niches of life.

Alexander explains the concept well. Three known processes (not just mutations, but also sexual reproduction and gene flow) produce variety. This variety is then put through the reality test. Those that are beneficial (in the sense of leading to longer life (and hence more time to produce offspring) or some other reproductive advantage) "survive" by being passed on to successive generations; the others are weeded out. The picture we're meant to have is well-described by Richard Dawkins as the "blind watchmaker" - there's an ever-rolling conveyer belt of possible modifications, and at the end the no-good ones are dumped in history's bin. The good ones survive, and thus the process is pretty much guaranteed to produce continual development.

Nice Story, But...

Now, though, we have to apply our own set of "reality filters" to this idea. The first thing to flag up is that creationism has no quarrel with the idea of "descent with modification". It's a truism that nobody is a clone of either parent. There's nothing innate in creationism that is against the idea even of one generation being better adapted to its surroundings than the one before. It's perfectly possible, as a concept, to believe that the Creator endowed his creatures with capabilities latent in their genes, that should only be activated or come to observable expression at a distant generation. In fact, creationists pretty much must believe this. If only a very limited number of animals survived the Biblical flood, then it has then to be believed that those animals had, within their gene-pool, sufficient potential to fill the earth again with all of its present variety.

Modification with descent, then, is not controversial. The big question is whether the modifications actually possible through this mechanism have limits or not. Put more simply - must a modified fish remain a fish, or can it eventually modify all the way to becoming a goat, as Darwinism teaches? Are the possibilities for change bounded, or unbounded? Strictly that's question that Dr. Alexander turns to in chapter 5. It's also to the point here, though, because in fact two of the mechanisms for generating variety that he describes do nothing of the kind - as concerns the kind of variety relevant to his purposes.

The Fifteen Of Squares

On page 80, Dr. Alexander complains that evolution is sometimes erroneously represented as only involving one process - genetic mutations - that creates novelty. Indeed it is so represented, by friend and foe alike - because that's the way it is. In sexual reproduction, there's a recombining of the genes of the parents - but recombination is not the generation of novelty. When a hand of cards is returned to the dealer, he shuffles and recombines them in interesting new ways, introducing a new game. But whatever happens in that game, it's still the same 52 cards, and you'll never turn over your hand to discover you've received the fifteen of squares, or that it's actually going to be a game of "Snakes and Ladders". Recombination shuffles what's there - it doesn't create genuine novelty. Alexander makes the point I've made above - that there can be apparent novelty, because the recombination could bring genes to express themselves in ways that they hadn't been able to in the old combination. That, though, is irrelevant to the point. The novelty gets expressed for the first time here - but it was generated previously. A mechanism that expresses already-existing potential is not a mechanism that makes potential: we have to go elsewhere to find that: which leaves us with two.

Gene flow is the same story. The duplicating, rearranging, inserting, etcetera, of information is a distinct concept from the generation of novel information. The question that the Darwinist cannot answer (because Darwinism is wrong) is "where does the information actually come from?" There is no problem for a creationist in believing in not just three, but three hundred million, if necessary, biological mechanisms for the shuffling of information. If you took a print-out of this review to the local copy shop, you might find that their machine has double-printed a page, or added a blank page, or output the pages in the wrong order. What you'd be a bit shocked to find would be that page 42 was now a report on the Boston Marathon, or the second act of Hamlet.

Dr. Alexander glosses over that critical distinction, and it's a weakness that surfaces several times in the book. The genetic code is a code, and as such can be analysed by the mathematical tools used to analyse codes. It is information, and as such falls within the boundaries of information theory. Throughout the book, Alexander either pretends that information theory doesn't exist, or when he addresses it tries to argue that it shouldn't be allowed to apply to biology, or that a special version should be allowed for dealing with biology. In this chapter he takes the "behave as if it isn't there" approach, and these issues are glossed over. From that angle, these parts of the chapter are simply an instance of the equivocation fallacy. There's no real distinction between the concepts of directionless change, change within a limit, and unlimited change. I can run round in a circle: it's change, but not getting me anywhere. I can train to run faster and faster - but never so fast that I run 100m in 3 seconds, or a marathon in a minute: the change has limits.

Can We Mutate Our Way There?

Mutations, then, are the only potential source of real improvement into the genome, with other mechanisms later perhaps allowing the changes it brings to actually be expressed. Can they do the job? Alexander of course thinks they can; there's no actual mathematics in the chapter or references to it to establish the point. Again that's related to the Achilles heel - no application of information theory. If an organism has been adapted down the years (or rather, its ancestors were selected down the years) for survival, then that makes it a finely-tuned organism. It's a good match for its environment (or strictly, its parents were for theirs). What, then, is the likely effect of a random alteration to its genetic code? What are the statistics? Information theory teaches that random alterations to a finely-tuned code cannot improve it, with any likelihood that could be considered within the realms of possibility even given billions of years of attempts. The sums simply don't add up. We all know intuitively this by experience. Printing errors when running-off essays do not produce new and brilliant analyses of the topic that the author never intended. Scratches on installer CDs for a computer program don't result in brilliant new features in the code. Dropping your cheap Chinese mobile in the washing up bowl won't make it behave like a top-of-the-range Nokia. Finely tuned codes, when altered, can never produce something useful, within the limits of reasonable mathematical possibility unless the possible age of the universe is stretched by obscenely large numbers which nobody (of whatever persuasion) has ever suggested. Monkeys on type-writers won't ever produce the works of Shakespeare; it can't be done. Dr. Alexander passes over all such questions, because his take is that Darwinism is true and therefore the mathematics must work out somehow. But if your favoured theory results in two plus two equalling seventeen thousand and twenty three, you're theory is false and that fact can't be changed: the laws of mathematics don't work like that. The problem for Darwinism is that it's caught between pincers. There must be a certain average number of mutations being produced from one generation to the next. That number has to be enormously high in order to generate, amongst all the randomness, all the useful changes to take us from single-cells to man in the small number of years available for it (a billion is not a big number in the context of the complexity of the human genome). But, if the number is not very very small, then the number of dangerous mutations would mean the organism would have no hope of survival. It's an unsolvable problem. Too few mutations means that not enough of the magicly-right ones to generate the new complexity could come about. But if enough good mutations do take place in an organism, then because of the facts regarding tuned information, enough bad mutations will also have happened to be fatal.

It's telling that all Alexander's examples in the chapter are of the kind that creationists refute before breakfast. They're all of the "change within limits" kind. There are no genuine examples of true novelty in the sense of new useful capabilities through the addition of new information. There are moths of this colour or that colour, or bacteria resistant to this drug or not resistant to this drug. There are sub-sections of the population that die of malaria and some that don't because of sickle-cell anaemia. But nowhere are there fish that become reptiles, or dinosaurs that become birds. He does a good job of illustrating all the kinds of "evolution" that are not controversial - and has nothing to illustrate the kinds that are. In a book positively comparing full-blown evolution with creationism, it's a telling omission: after so many years of creationists making this criticism, if there were good answers and examples we'd have heard them by now.

More Than Genes?

Another issue that Dr. Alexander glosses over, both here and in the rest of the book, is the theological implications of this scheme. Darwinism implies that every human ability is the result of survival advantage. Whatever you possess, coded somehow in your genes, must have survived because, well, it was helpful for survival. It was a help to your ancestors to mate more, and/or have healthier offspring. That's what the filter of natural selection is. This precise observation is often glossed over by all kinds of Darwinists, not just those with a theistic evolutionary axe to grind. It's not just that feature X is supposed to be somehow useful - it's got to be specifically useful for surviving.

Is that really true? No - it's a flat denial of the Bible's doctrine of man, as made in the image of God. The image of God, with all its attendant potentialities, is not simply something that arises through the struggle for limited resources. According to Scripture, it's a special endowment from God, given for us to use to glorify him. Art, music, culture - all these things are wonderful gifts. The Darwinist viewpoint, though, is that somehow they had some usefulness in our caveman past and allowed one Og to out-club Ug and so pass on his genes. Darwin himself, in his book The Descent Of Man, goes through case after case of human faculties, to try to make plausible some kind of explanation in this region. If you allow that, though, you have fundamentally denied the doctrine of man in the Bible, and the reasons assigned there for his uniqueness. The genius of the chess grandmaster, the budding Mozart infant prodigy, the literary genius of the expert novel writer - these are not features that arose from the earth : they were handed down from heaven.

The Blind Watchmaker

It's a bit of a jolt on page 86, to read Dr. Alexander speak of this unending upwards development through natural selection having taken place "under the sovereignty of God". Cells-to-cellists evolution, as just described, is a blind algorithm. Supposing we could make the sums ad up and it were a possible, it's then inevitable. Given the unending production line of genetic change, and the continual selection of the useful changes, and given the earth environment, it's then inevitable that every ecological niche will be filled. That's what the algorithm does. That's Professor Dawkins point when he speaks of the "blind watchmaker". It doesn't need providential oversight - it's an algorithm and it does what it does. If it needed sovereign oversight, then it would be something else. Darwinism is a deistic scheme - the results are programmed by the initial conditions. Note that Darwin himself was a deist - a point rather lost on Dr. Alexander when (elsewhere in the book) he argues that Darwinism has no theological implications. The only other use of Scripture in the chapter is a rather bizarre use of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) as an example of natural selection.

A Hostile World

Another major theological problem here is spotted when you look more closely at what's embedded in the idea of natural selection. It assumes the idea of a hostile environment. For there to be progress (in the evolutionary sense), the less-well-fitted organisms have to die out. Just because one offspring has in some way better able to reproduce is in itself not particularly significant - if his other brothers and sisters can reproduce too, then all of their genes will be passed on, not just the favoured one's. The reason why his genes survive, in the Darwinian scenario, while theirs don't, is because of necessary competition. Resources are scarce; nature is red in tooth and claw; it's a dog-eat-dog world, and only the fit will survive. The world has to be hostile for Darwinistic development scenarios to play out. If it's not, then all the genes survive, and there's no significant development. There's just endless shuffling, as a dog gains better genes and then loses them because he didn't need them: his neighbour didn't need to eat him.

That's a scenario that sits OK with the budding atheist - and it's realising the implications of that that played a part in paving the way for the horrific atheist regimes of the 20th century. (The introduction of competition brought evolution back in a meaningful way in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany - where previously charity and compassion had been allowing the unfit to survive.) It's not a scenario, though, that can fit with a Biblical view of creation. Even if, like Alexander, you take the line that Genesis is totally theological and a-historical, yet you've got to then deal with the actual theology that's there. At a minimum, the world was a "very good" place, designed for man to live in a blissful paradise, without suffering, pain or death (these coming from sin). In Genesis, man's not in a dreadful battle for survival, a fierce competition to get the food and the girl before his brother does. Man lives in wonderful harmony with creation which is fruitful for his sake - because all is at peace under God's loving care. This isn't a question Alexander begins to face until much later in the book - and the aspect that the idea of development through natural selection inherently requires a hostile world is one he never addresses at all.

The Best Inference?

At the end of the chapter, Alexander makes an apposite statement that he never realises the implications of or gets round to applying. It is that the business of science is to make an inference to the most plausible explanation. Yes. But, how can an explanation be known as the most plausible one unless there's another theory that is shown to be less plausible? Throughout the book, Darwinism is simply described and asserted. How, though, would a creationist deal with the issues of this chapter? What does he say about natural selection and genetics? How does his interpretation of the data differ with the evolutionist one? What are his objections, and how would Alexander deal with them? Dunno. Alexander's aim is to persuade his reader there's only one game in town. If you think you hear the noise of another one over the other side, he'll simply shout louder about his one. It's only persuasive until you start to tune out the shouting and be a little more critical. Dr. Alexander is a good describer. He describes the Darwinian theory well. But he doesn't bother to allow real-life creationists to put their case, and answer their writings; he simply behaves as if they don't exist. "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" - Proverbs 18:17.

Mark 2:1-10 - The Son of God

Who is Jesus? That's the theme of the book of Mark. Mark tells us in verse 1 that the good news is a person. The good news is Jesus, the Son of God. From heaven, the voice announces it at his baptism.

But, it's going to take the whole book to see the disciples understanding that fact and its implications. The mid-way point is where they finally see who he is - and then they have to start a new course of instruction, to understand what it is that the Son of God has come to do. We're still near the start of that  process.

When Jesus healed the paralytic, he showed that the scribes' wonderings in their heart were redundant. It was easier to say that a man's sins were forgiven - because there could be no proof. But it was easier to heal a man than to take away his sins - prophets had in past days done the former, but only God could do the latter. What Jesus actually did rendered such speculations totally academic. At his bare word, he both forgave the man's sins and restored him to total health. To do that was the prerogative only of God. No prophet could clam the authority to forgive sins - and God would never work a miracle to authenticate a prophet who had strayed by claiming the power to do so. By doing both in sequence, Jesus showed who he was; no mere prophet, but God in the flesh, the heaven-sent Messiah. His naked word has authority in the physical realm and the spiritual. The same one who commands things that are not to be, was the one who now stood before them.

That's why there's no point in only following Jesus a little. It's got to be all or nothing. Either Jesus is God and is to be worshipped and served with all our hearts, or he is nothing at all. He's not some guru, imam or Rabbi to be followed to a certain extent. If he is meant to be followed at all, he is meant to be followed totally. That's the stark truth that then faced those murmuring scribes on that day - and us today also.

Reading it in

I turned to my IVP New Bible Commentary, on Mark 2:1-12. Here's (most of) the first paragraph:

"When Jesus ventured back into Capernaum, the house was mobbed, presumably by people wanting healing. But Jesus continued to preach the good news to them, for that was his purpose. It must, therefore, have been a great temptation for him to be irritated when four men, anxious to get their sick friend healed, lowered him through the broken roof right in front of Jesus as he taught. But Jesus saw only faith.  ... Perhaps the four friends thought that their action would bring Jesus back from 'useless' preaching to 'practical' healing. Jesus, instead of healing at once, publicly forgave the man his sins. Imagine their disappointment."

How much basis is there in the text itself (or in parallel passages in Matthew and Luke), for the parts picked out in bold? Virtually none. It is of course interesting to ponder about what may be "in between the lines" and circumstances also involved that are not directly commented on in a particular story. But though it's interesting to us, the fact is that the divinely inspired author picked out the bits he did, and it's our job to work with that. If we end up emphasising, as this commentator does, things that the Spirit of God chose not to emphasise, and fail to emphasise the things that he did emphasise, then we're not doing our jobs. Here the commentator reads between the lines - and not only that, but laces what he thinks he sees there with terms like "must" and "presumably" as if his personal speculations were certain. And that reading of what isn't there but is only a possible conjecture, becomes a frame for the whole thing.

I could only compare it negatively with the commentary I'd immediately put down before picking up this one. I flicked to the front of the "New Bible Commentary" to see who was the author of the part on Mark. Oh - it's the same guy who wrote the other one!

The other one he wrote in 1961. This one, he wrote in 1994. The old one examines the text carefully and focuses on what's in there to draw sound Biblical applications. The later one is more flavoured by the kind of text-ignoring irrelevance-highlighting hyper-speculation that passes for "scholarship" in the academy but ought to be intensely disliked by every lover of God's word. What happened to the author between 1961 and 1994? Growth in this kind of "scholarship" is not spiritual progress.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Preach the gospel!

What did the apostle Paul want to achieve for the believers in Rome? What had he hope to accomplish if he had been able to visit them? What did he now hope to do through writing instead?
  • To impart spiritual benefit to them, 1:11
  • To see them established, 1:11
  • To bring mutual encouragement, 1:12
  • To have spiritual fruit amongst them, 1:13
  • To discharge his own debt to all who he was called to be an apostle to, 1:14
Now how did Paul think he would be able to accomplish these ends? What means would be up to it?

A new political program? An aid agency? A way to make them rich? Skilful psychological counselling? Better education? Signs and wonders? What does the text say?
So, as much as in in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also (1:15).
That is how it's done. That is the only way it's done. That's the way it really is done.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Running shoes...

Interesting (for me!) article in the Daily Mail on running shoes:
The painful truth about trainers: Are expensive running shoes a waste of money?
Now, in my experience the chances that anything printed in a daily newspaper is actually reliable/true/not-misleading is about half and half. Often of the time you don't need to think too hard to see that the reporter's pushing an angle and there could be other interpretations. Those other interpretations also may or may not be true... and so you may have wasted your time reading the story. You learnt more about the reporter than the actual subject of the story - and presumably you didn't really care too much about the reporter's thoughts unless he's a close friend. Hmmm.

This particular story's quite tempting to believe. About a fortnight after changing my running shoes like a good boy after 500 miles (well, perhaps I was a bit naughty, I think I may have gone up to 700), I got a double (or perhaps triple - not sure what's related to what) injury that's now entering its fifth week. The advertising blurb is that your running shoes have lost so much of their shock-absorption by this point that you need to change them...

When I ran in the UK for six months I ran 100% of the time on hard tarmac, with no shock absorbers. This was in proper running shoes. I then got a shin splint. I've run for just over six months here, on a mixture of soft and hard (perhaps about equal proportions), with shock absorbers. And got injured again. Perhaps the new shoes subtly altered my running style and brought on the injury. But then on the other hand, should that not be compensated for by all that expensive anti-injury technology they're supposed to have ... ?

One trial does not a case study make. But I do find myself wondering how much more or less injured I'd be if I simply ran in cheap plimsolls. The article above insists on a point I've often pondered when forking out for running shoes (4th or 5th pair now?) - how come all those marathoners of yesteryear pounded the roads in their pre-modern footwear? If modern runners seem to get injured every 6 months, did they get injured every 3? Seems unlikely. On the other hand I don't know what I'd do if the article above was right - retraining yourself in a new running style based on different dynamics seems something hard to do and likely to bring on more injuries in the period whilst you adjust!

I find the people who say that stretching-off actually results in more injuries hard to take. When I first started running I learned to do the full range of stretches because I seemed to get niggles and pulls in whatever muscle I'd forgotten to stretch today! So the inclusion of that alleged fact in the article above makes me more sceptical about the rest. Another sceptical question... whilst gullible amateurs like me might fork out for useless junk, surely the top professionals, who've made it their goal to actually win wouldn't be bothering with expensive trainers if they (the people who've got something substantial staked on it) didn't believe they worked? Shouldn't we be seeing all the top runners just using green Dunlops of yesteryear if they were the things that worked?

Hmmm. Dunno. What think you, reader? Did I bore you with running-related droning and you didn't actually make it this far?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Accounting For Life

What does the breadth of the reality of human experience point to? What set of facts can most easily account for life as we know it? What ultimate reality most comfortably explains the wide range of things that happen in the world? When I ask those questions, the things I'm thinking about are those which cluster around man. He's an amazing creature. He can accomplish astonishing things when he puts his mind to it, in a breath-takingly wide realm. Breath-takingly good, and breath-takingly bad. Men can plan and study to reach the moon - and get there. On the other hand, ten-year old children can torture and then murder toddlers in cold blood. Man can work obsessively for years for some grand achievement of study, athletics, business or otherwise. Or they can lie around wasting their lives doing nothing, taking drugs, stealing, etcetera. Amazing acts of good can be performed - whether one-off acts of incredible heroics, or lifetimes of self-less service. Appalling atrocities of evil can also take place - whether the one-off act of slaughter of 9/11, or the year-after-year killing machines of Stalin's Russia or Tsedong's China. There is the beauty of a classical symphony, and the genius of the boy chess grandmaster; there is the pointlessness of going out every Saturday night to get drunk. There's all the world of literature and arts; and the empty lives wasted in bitterness, moaning and complaining and watching never-ending television. What account of reality can most comfortably take in all of this?

Some atheists try to rule this question out of court as soon as it's asked. They are called "logical positivists". They believe that no idea should be accepted unless it can be proved from first principles. Unless there's a mathematical-type working out beginning at the assumptions and landing at the conclusion "therefore, God", they won't accept it. Because the above set of questions aren't in this mode, therefore they think its OK to ignore them. Logical positivism, though, is not itself logically provable. You have to accept it as a prior philosophical assumption before you begin. Or in other words, it's a faith position. There's no way of proving from first assumptions that logical positivism should be dictating what is or isn't an acceptable argument - and there's no non-arbitrary set of "first assumptions" for the logical positivist to start with anyway. If logical positivism can't account for itself, it's not reasonable to make it the arbiter of what else we should accept. It's an intellectually vacuous position, and those atheists only cling to it because they don't like where reasonably considered evidence actually leads.

If, then, it is reasonable to toss aside logical positivism and ask whether atheism or Christianity most reasonably accounts for reality as we know it, what do we get?

Christianity accounts for the range of human experience with two key assertions. Firstly, an original perfect creation by God. Secondly, a terrible fall when the first humans rebelled against their maker. The wonderful beauty of the creation and the incredible achievements of man are because we are not just animals - God made us in his own image. The heights we can climb are echoes of what he made us for. The terrible pits of depravity come from the fall, when sin came into the world and corrupted everything. We are now not only objects of God's love and kindness, but of his wrath and displeasure, and he often withdraws his favour and the restraint that holds the flood-tides of our evil back. As a result, we are still capable of wonderful things - but also of terrible things. Indeed, it's only because we remember the wonderful that we are so appalled by the terrible. If one ant fights and kills another to be queen, it has no real significance. But when one child kills another, we're right to be appalled. Christianity asserts that both the beauty and the squalor are real - and make perfect sense, because of where we've come from.

The consistent atheist, though, is at a real loss here. Relying on Darwinism as his explanation for man's nature, he only has one tool to explain humanity where the Christian had two. The Christian can use both creation and fall to interpret what he sees; but the atheist has only a single idea - the survival of superior genes. According to the atheist, man comes as a result of the struggle for survival. Features that had some survival value have survived - features that didn't, haven't. All that we have now is something we have because it was somehow useful in the competition for limited resources. Our ancestors were fish and before that amoeba - and everything that makes us differ from them is in our genes, because of Darwinism. Whether it's the ability to compose Beethoven's third, or the genius who can do university-level abstract mathematics at age 11, or the senseless killing of Jamie Bulger, somehow it's all something to do with those selfish bits of DNA. Does someone perform some heroic self-sacrifice for no personal benefit? That's because of Darwinism. Does someone perform some horrifically selfish and pointless act of wanton destruction? That's because of Darwinism too.

The problem the atheist has here is that Darwinism is a monergistic system. It has only one principle to explain everything. Does X happen? Darwinism. Does the opposite of X happen? Darwinism again. Darwinism's a hammer, so everything's got to be a nail. When dealing with such a wide and impressive range of data as that found in man, though, this fails badly. In this kind of case, when a single idea purports to explain both everything and its perfect opposite, it testifies that really it explains nothing. If selfish genes lead both to pointless destruction and glorious creativity, then ultimately they lead to neither. They become nothing more than a "just so" story, retro-actively engineered not to explain the facts, but to explain them away. Handel's Messiah, the nun's vow of perpetual chastity, and the desire of this blogger to run a faster marathon are self-evidently not mere by-products of the struggle for limited resources or opportunities for reproduction. The attempts to make them appear so serve only to make the Darwinian Emporer's lack of attire more obvious.

Christianity provides a plausible explanation for man, in his height and in his depths. The atheistic alternative explains neither. That's because the former, unlike the latter, is actually true. Wouldn't it be better to face up to the implications of that, instead of running away?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Something unmissable for C S Lewis / Narnia fans...

1. BBC's The Narnia Code Premieres April 16th:

The new documentary, The Narnia Code, will premiere on April 16th on BBC1. This hour-long program is based on the acclaimed book, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward (Research Fellow, The Independent Institute). Co-sponored by the C.S. Lewis Society of California, The Narnia Code is produced and directed by Norman Stone, producer of the International Emmy Award and BAFTA Award-winning BBC film, C. S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands, starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom, as well as the film starring Anton Rodgers, C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia. At the C.S. Lewis Society's May 17th sold-out, screening and luncheon last year of the film Prince Caspian, Dr. Ward was the featured speaker.
"Discovering the Narnia Code," by Michael Ward (OUPblog, April 9, 2009)

Here is a promotional video of The Narnia Code.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Denis Alexander review available in more formats

There has continued to be interest in my extended review of Dr. Denis Alexander's recent pro-Darwin book, "Creation or Evolution - Do We Have To Choose?". This has included people who've e-mailed me to say they printed it out in full for themselves or others. (It actually extends to 56 A4 pages, including the appendices!).

As a result, I've now made it available in more convenient formats:
Note the copyright statement. This basically means you can copy it, print it and re-use it as you please (even for profit!), as long as you don't alter it, and as long as you include the copyright statement:
© David Anderson 2008-9. Please copy and redistribute as widely as you please (no modifications are permitted without permission). Last updated: 15/04/2009. Feedback: use the e-mail address on my homepage. Or for more open discussion, use the comments facility on my blog.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Articles on the eternal Sonship of Christ

Following my previous post, this looks to be a great repository of relevant articles on this important subject:


Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Eternal Son

On a mailing list someone asserted that Jesus only became the Son when he took on human nature. That was off-topic for the list, so I've posted my reply here:

* * *

On Saturday 11 April 2009, Mr. X wrote:
> The Christ could hardly be a Son before He was brought into the world and became subject to His Father.

Hello X,

What you here say "could hardly" be is the overwhelming consensus of Christianity throughout its branches from the moment that such questions began being discussed, so I think this easy dismissal is a little on the trite side. You should perhaps consider that your argument is the same in basic form as that of the Mormons, who argue that the terminology of Father and Son makes no sense unless the Father actually physically sired the Son via Mary, because (they say) that's what it actually means to be a father and a son.

What your argument is assuming is that the ideas of "father" and "son" found amongst men are the original, and that then the persons of the Trinity took them on and used them - i.e. that they cannot have meaning as applied to the Trinity without the incarnation. Orthodox Christianity has argued the opposite: that the divine and eternal relationship within the Trinity between the first and second persons is the original, and that found amongst men was created by God to be a reflection. There exists a Father-Son relationship between the first two persons of the Trinity as members of the Trinity, independent and prior to the incarnation. The Nicean creed of 325 which defines orthodoxy Trinitarianism states that Christ was, in his divine nature, eternally begotten (not created) of the Father - i.e. an eternal relationship of sonship, and this was re-affirmed by the Chalcedonian confession of 451 which defined orthodoxy Christology.

It is the orthodox position that the Son of God has always, as the second person of the Trinity, been in submission to the Father, without any prejudice to their co-equal and essential deity. That is why he speaks, after becoming incarnatate, of being "sent", and having "come" in obedience to the Father's will. This implies an obedience and submission prior to that which he exercised in his human nature. The incarnation was in continuity with what had existed eternally.

The position you've taken implies that the work of the Trinity in salvation does not reveal data about the Trinity as it actually is - that the plan of salvation (the Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son together send the Spirit) does not actually reveal anything about the Godhead's inner life, but is a basically arbitrary
arrangement devised for the need of salvation: there is no first, second and third persons within the Trinity (with respect to order that
is - all agree that there is no rank). The denial of the eternal begetting and eternal sonship logically terminates in a form of tri-theism, where there are three independent persons in community rather than a single being. It's a very serious mistake which is why the ecumenical church councils of early Christendom made the position I've explained above a matter of confessional orthodoxy throughout the recognised church.

Ultimately this mistake undermines the heart of the gospel. The gospel is not just a plan to get us out of trouble. It is the means through which God determined to make himself known and glorify himself. His way of working is not arbitrary or just a response to a bad situation. Someone might take up a Saturday job as a paper boy to get out of a financial hole, yet it might say nothing at all about what they were like as a person. God, though, planned out the gospel as the way in which he would disclose his glorious being. The Trinity is in an important way the foundation of the gospel - the unity of the three persons working together, and the particular work of each person in relationship to each other, reveals who are great God is: one God in three persons, three persons in one God, Father, Son and Spirit. The unique personality of each person is not just a temporary set of overalls taken on for a Saturday job - it is part of the planned revelation of the essential glory. In a sense, the Trinity, the one true God, is the gospel. That's why the early church did not allow this to be a debatable or doubtful matter, but nailed it as a matter of non-negotiable orthodoxy: I believe they did that as the only faithful response to the New Testament revelation.

Love in Christ,

Positive article on home-schooling in the Telegraph


"The familiar arguments in favour of home education are, in my view, generally right. But there is one plus that does not get enough attention, and that is a shared experience between parent and child that is unparalleled in normal life." (DA: This is an interesting/telling/tragic commentary on contemporary 'normal' life!).

"There is one cloud on the horizon. A government review of home education will report next month, and its mandate looks suspiciously as if it were designed to increase government powers over home-schoolers. There are some who think, 'we can only be sure everything is fine if the government is the ultimate controller.' It is false reasoning. The Government controls Bishops Park College. That schools is not fine. When the government manages to make that school, and all the others like it, offer a really good education, then, and only then, should they presume to interfere in home education. The parents who make the effort and give the time to home schooling are, almost by definition, the ones who care most about their children's education."

"... there are some statistics to support the idea that attitudes are changing."

The line that made me chuckle is the one ending... "or, horror of horrors, a creationist." Tee hee.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Mark 1:35-39

Mark 1:35 Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed.
  • What it would have been to have listened in on the prayers of the Son of God! Matthew Henry says, "though as God he was prayed to, as man he prayed." What prayers they must have been.

  • If the Son of God, though without sin, must pray - how much more we?

  • Jesus did not only pray at meetings of the synagogue, or with his disciples, or in family homes. He also sought a solitary place to pray on his own.

  • Early in the morning will always be the best time for prayer. Our minds are fresh, and not yet filled with all kinds of other things. Jesus chose this time even though he had been very busy the previous day, and through the evening (verse 21-34). The Sabbath had been the day before, but far from saying that he had done enough in spiritual duty for a few days now, Jesus was found praying early the next morning. How much more then must we?

  • He knew what he was to do that day - to go and preach (verses 38-39). But before he would preach, he must pray. Why do our efforts for the Lord often meet with so little success - is it for this reason; we have not, because we ask not? The Saviour set us a different example.
36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is looking for you." 38 But he said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for his purpose I have come forth."
  • See here again (very common in Mark) Jesus' strong sense of divine purpose. He always knows what he is doing. Often it is "immediately" or "straight away" Jesus did such-and-such; Jesus gets up early; he is not swayed by local popularity; he knows where he came from and what he came for.

  • Whilst there is much in that observation that is unique to Jesus, yet there should be a reflection of the master in the disciple. Believers have a purpose. God has given us various different vocations in our lives - at home and at work. We have neighbourhoods, work places, work colleagues and families, and we have gifts and talents that God gave us to use amongst them. Should a believer be found slouching each evening in front of the television, or investing all his spare time in his own entertainment? No; he should be like the Saviour, knowing what his purpose is and not wasting the precious time given to him in carrying it out.

  • Jesus did not come for fame. He did not come for an earthly kingdom, earthly fame or earthly crowds. He came to set up the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15) - a kingdom unlike those of this world; much lesser when weighed by man's scales, but much greater in actuality. This kingdom spreads when the word spreads. There is preaching, which is then by the Spirit of God believed, and so it becomes mighty and powerful in changing lives and communities and countries. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and like leaven - small and silent; but the greatest of the trees in the garden, and which will leaven the whole lump. Jesus did not stay in Capernaum because the people had been struck by his miracles. He must go and preach elsewhere too, and plant the seeds there. As-yet unknown truth can only be spread by declaring it. That is why preaching then and now must always take the primary place.
Mark shows us Jesus as the faithful servant of God - diligently about his Father's business. The Son of God came to serve us - and even to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). That's why Mark calls his book "gospel", or "good news". The Son of God has "come forth" on a mission - inviting us to enter the kingdom that he purchased through his death; the kingdom of forgiveness and new life with the Father. Hallelujah!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

11 years ago...

11 years ago today I was travelling down to Devizes for the start of the "Devizes to Westminster 125-mile international canoe and kayak marathon" the next day. (Which means that Easter falls on the very same date this year as then).

The memories still come flooding back each Easter, like the tide coming in. Here's the Telegraph's article this year:


Memories of the pain have long faded. But when I read my diary of the race from a decade ago, replete with statements that I had never felt so awful in my life as at such-and-such moment, it assures me that there's no exaggeration in such articles! The most ego-boosting bit of the above article is that advice: "Join a canoe or kayaking club - but remember some clubs discourage participation in the DW because it's so hard." Oh yeah!

I think in part the memories come back so powerfully to me because it's the life I left behind. I was hooked, and this kind of endurance challenge is what I really love. If it was all my choice, I'd be a miniature Ranulph Fiennes - climbing mountains, trekking to poles, running back-to-back marathons etcetera. (Ranulph Fiennes did the DW the same I and my partner did - I'm pleased to say we beat him comfortably, but then he only began training earlier the year, which is the mark of a mad man!). This kind of desire sounds like insanity, I know... you can't understand it unless you've been there!

But, the Lord had other plans. Life and work responsibilities and living in Africa have meant it would have been irresponsible to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to do those kind of thing, because they wouldn't just be my sacrifices. (And now I won't take part in Sunday sports - the DW moved a few years ago from Friday-Saturday to a day later). Seek first his kingdom! I did a marathon a couple of years ago (one of the few not on a Sunday!) - that's a very simple undertaking relative to something like the DW, but still a lot of fun. I'd like to do one faster. I injured my foot a couple of weeks ago though so for now I'm just icing it and waiting until it stops hurting!

Here's a post I wrote last year: "A Theology Of Endurance Sports": http://mothwo.blogspot.com/2008/03/theology-of-endurance-sports.html

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Pope IS a Catholic...

Here's a report in The Times of an interview of ex-prime minister Tony Blair by the "gay magazine, Attitude". Mr. Blair was rumoured to be a Roman Catholic throughout his period in office, but did not convert until after leaving. (A Catholic prime minister would have been a constitutional problem, as the prime minister is responsible for recommending selections for Church of England bishops. How a hypocritical prime minister is any better in this area is not clear!): http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6055696.ece

Despite making noises about the problems of side-lining "faith" and founding the "Tony Blair Faith Foundation" since leaving office, Mr. Blair was a most aggressively secularist prime minister. (The rhetoric he has used in these post-office "noises" imports the assumptions of secularism even when he thinks he's contradicting it - Christians don't follow a "faith". They follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God - a living person).

To my mind, this interview shows the bizarre and tyrannical contortions of the secular mind. The main thrust that the Times reports on is that:
  • Mr. Blair thinks that the Pope is wrong on the subject of homosexuality.
  • He points to what he sees as the fact that younger generations are right on this subject, and we need to listen to them.
  • He thinks that the Pope and others of his mindset should be encouraged to search out other ways of interpreting the Bible, in order to come to a viewpoint more friendly to homosexual behaviour.
Thinking that the Pope is wrong about this or that is OK. As a "Protestant" I think this rather a lot. For one, I think that the fundamental Reformation "Protest" is correct. The Pope is wrong about the heart of the Bible's message, because he denies that salvation comes to us from Jesus Christ by faith alone (and not also on account of our good works and the supposed "merit" of the Catholic church). I think that he's wrong about a whole host of things flowing from that.

But I do realise that he is... the Pope. In Roman Catholic teaching that means that he's considered to be the representative of God upon earth, and the ultimate guardian of God's truth. That's not an optional Roman Catholic belief, open to discussion or change. Either you accept this belief, or you reject Roman Catholicism - there's no middle ground. I don't accept it, so I'm not a Roman Catholic. If you are a Roman Catholic, though, then your role is to be taught by the church's teachers, not to teach them. Roman Catholicism is hierarchical. Protestantism holds that every individual believer has the right to search the Bible's teachings for themselves, and that they can be correct in their understanding when a church's official leaders are wrong. Roman Catholicism, though, says the opposite: the hierarchy is God's appointed interpreter, and if your interpretation disagrees with theirs, you're wrong.

A lay member of the church, and especially a very recent convert, such as Tony Blair, speaking off-hand about the ways in which the Pope needs to be re-educated, is the height of secular madness. It shows that Blair's real church is still, as when in office, the church of secularism. On Roman Catholic assumptions, the Pope cannot be wrong on such basic matters as whether man-woman marriage is the only God-ordained context for sexual pleasure or not. If you think he's wrong about that, then really you can't be thinking he's anything that Roman Catholicism has taught about what the Pope is.

Quoth Mr. Blair: "We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith." That's 100% classical secularist arrogance. Note: it's always the person disgreing with some humanist teaching (such as a pro-homosexual position) who is being urged to "rethink" or "evolve" or "be open" or some-such. Mr. Blair, of course, being pro-gay and in-line with humanism, needs to do no such rethinking: rather, his job is to correct the people who haven't yet come in-line. Thus under the guise of open-mindedness and tolerance, you get to dictate your inflexible dogma to... the Pope! Note also the talk about "approach[ing] your religious faith". That's the humanist mindset at work. By the way - in Christianity, we bow humbly before Jesus Christ to be taught by him, through his word. It's not a "faith" which we "approach" to decide how we want to shift and shape it according to contemporary mores.

Continuing: "What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d'etre was to change the way that people thought traditionally." Pure secularist arrogance - Mr. Blair merely assumes his humanist position as the correct one, and tells others that they need to change what they think - the dictum of "change" of course doesn't apply to his own thinking. What this piece of secular-speak is about is a Jesus re-made in Tony Blair's image - one whose whole reason for existence was to challenge the "forces of conservatism" and agree with Blair's political ideology. A Jesus re-made in our own image, though, cannot save us from our sins by his death and resurrection - which is he actually came to do. Strictly, speaking of Jesus' "raison d'etre" is blasphemy; actual Christianity holds that Jesus is self-existent; the second person in the Godhead, uncreated, without beginning, existing of himself. The real Biblical Jesus did not come to "change the way that people thought" by taking them away from the Old Testament (which Blair writes off in a very trite way), but to bring them back to it. His own testimony was that he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them - and that not a single jot or tittle of them would be taken away until all was accomplished (Matthew 5:17-21). Indeed, to that testimony he added the chilling words that if we teach someone to disobey the least of the commandments given to us there, we will be called the very least in the kingdom of heaven, should we be in it at all. Mr. Blair, though, replaces all this with a nice secularist Jesus who came to persuade us to go with the flow of whatever godless direction society is now flowing in. I've seen quite a lot of newspaper pieces criticising the Pope for being "out of touch" and having a bad PR operation lately. The underlying assumption is that failing to please the secularist press is one of the most unimaginable crimes to commit in the modern world. Well, duh. The Pope's a Catholic. Being out of touch is not an actual crime in his code of Canon Law. Criticising him for not bowing to secularist ideology (popularity! be in touch! agree with the liberal elite!) is not a very penetrating criticism - it's not what the Pope is meant to do.

Here's that write-off of the Old Testament: "When people quote the passages in Leviticus condemning homosexuality, I say to them - if you read the whole of the Old Testament and took everything in that was there in a literal way, as being what God and religion is about, you'd have some pretty tough policies across the whole of the piece." One thing that secularists who try to address the teaching of the Bible can never be accused of, is of being deep or thoughtful. Mr. Blair's point of view is that the Old Testament (and the New, whose strong condemnations of homosexuality aren't mentioned in this piece) is itself fundamentally wrong (and ergo, not revelation from God). To sidestep that with a general comment about (not) taking "everything" in a "literal way", is intellectually foolish. What secularists normally mean by a "literal way" is "some bizarre forced interpretation which I, the great authority, with no Biblical study or interest in the Bible except for cherry-picking it for my own purposes, insist is the 'literal' way". This quote though raises the whole question of authority again. So, please tell us: what other interpretations are there when homosexual activity is called an "abomination"? What does a non-literal interpretation of that mean? Is there actually a route from "abomination" to "good and pleasing to God, equal with marriage"? Note that Mr. Blair does actually concede in this quote that the Old Testament really does condemn homosexuality - he just wants to sidestep the impact of that by telling us not to take too much notice of it.

Actually, if God lays down some "pretty tough policies across the piece" for us to follow, what we ought to do is to follow them. Even if the Pope might be fallible and we might be allowed to disagree with him, I presume that Mr. Blair doesn't presume to re-educate God. If God lays down "tough policies", then the deal is, we get to follow tough policies .He's God, and he made us. The idea that God's role in the universe is to give us a pleasant life, as a kind of super-sized version of the welfare state, is modernist bunk. Again, this is pointing to a conclusion: Mr. Blair's real religion, that of his heart, is secular to the core. God has to be the big Father Christmas in the sky, not a big meanie who is so rotten as to contradict contemporary mores. Mr. Blair passed and sought to pass laws enforcing his pro-gay views on the whole of the country - on pain of being carted off to prison if you didn't obey them. He seemed to believe that the prime minister should have such powers... yet thinks that it's too much if God has similar ones. What's that? That's secular humanism.

Does God intend that all the laws given to the nation of Israel should apply in the same form to all nations today? No. How do I know? Because the Bible says so (Acts 15:10). How do I know that God's disapproval of homosexual activity is not one of those things that was temporary and merely suited to the state of Israel at that particular time and place? Because the Bible says so (Romans 1:24-27, Jude 7, 1 Corinthians 6:9). Later in the piece, Mr. Blair states his disapproval of those who merely quote the Bible as an authority on this subject instead of taking their cue from the modern world. Well, of course. I'm a Christian, so I think that the teaching of Christ and his apostles is the corrective of what's wrong in modern society. Mr. Blair, though, thinks like a secularist, and so thinks that the modern world should correct the teaching of Christ and his apostles. You're either one or the other, and Mr. Blair's making it pretty clear which.

Mr. Blair might not be in any sense an orthodox Catholic. But the Pope is. Criticising him for it passes muster when talking to fellow secularists. Outside of that narrow self-referring and intellectually vacuous circle, it doesn't. Memo to secularists: it's not your conclusions that are the first things we want to disagree with: it's the assumptions you start from. Miss that, and you'll never understand anyone except yourselves.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Martyn-Lloyd Jones On Scripture And Science

Timely words from 1971, which a friend just reminded me of:

But our greatest battle sadly is within the evangelical church itself where many are trying to say that one can believe in Biblical salvation, Biblical inerrancy as well as believing in evolution. This will lead to spiritual shipwreck. It was none other than Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones who said in a lecture in 1971 on the theme 'What is an evangelical?'

 “We must believe the whole Bible. We must believe the history of the Bible as well as its didactic teaching. Failure here is always an indication of a departure from the true evangelical position. Today there are men who say, Oh yes, we believe in the Bible and its authority in all matters of religion, but of course, we don’t go to the Bible for science...

They are saying there are, as it were, two great authorities and two means of revelation: one of them is Scripture and the other is nature. These they say are complementary...so you go to the Scriptures for matters concerning the soul, but you do not go to them to seek God’s other revelation of Himself in nature. For that you go to science.....   “ We have got to contest [this] very strongly...We must assert that we believe in the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis and all other Biblical history...”

Lloyd-Jones, D.M., “What is an evangelical?”, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1992.

He ate with them

Mark 1:29 - "Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John."

When the synagogue service in Capernaum ended, whose house did Jesus enter? It wasn't the leader of the synagogue. It wasn't the mayor of the town, or some local politician or dignitary. It wasn't anybody rich or famous. It was the humble home of poor fishermen.

That house, Simon shared with his brother Andrew, his wife, and as the next verse tells us his wife's mother too. He and his brother were poor and uneducated (Acts 4:13). But it was that house which the Son of God visited that day. It was this family which the Lord of Glory had favoured. He had chosen two of these believers amongst his closest disciples, and was pleased to fellowship with them.

That's God's way, and in a nutshell that's the "good news" of the gospel. God comes and fellowships with the lowly. He scorns the high and the mighty - the self-righteous have no place in his kingdom. But with those who groan and labour with a knowledge of their sins and who humble themselves, he comes and eats and drinks. God visits sinners and makes himself known as their friend. Hallelujah!

Have you become very low, that God might lift you up? Or are you still puffed up in your own pride and self-sufficiency, on high, in which position he will forever scorn you?