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Honest to God on the Issues #002: Evolution and Creationism November 16, 2012

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Honest to God on the Issues.
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There are fundamental questions capable of changing the direction of the entire human race.

  • Where did we come from?
  • How did the universe come to exist?
  • Is there a God?

By and large, there are only two real alternatives – Creation or Evolution – though some individuals would discount either one or the other. Furthermore, the Creation-Evolution controversy is well known but it’s also incredibly complex in ways that most people are not familiar.

First, let’s talk about Evolution which is actually an umbrella term. It can refer to any of several different and specific scientific processes acting at different zoom levels of our world. It’s a common tactic for a proponent of evolution to provide an example from one area, say the mutation of a virus into a new strain at the micro level, and then claim that proves evolution is the explanation for what happens in a different area, like Man evolved from an ape-like ancestor at the Macro level. Dr. Rana of Reasons to Believe likens it to the Shell Game.

It takes someone trained in the sciences to understand such details and to provide a way to refute the truth-claims of evolution (that Man evolved from an ape-like ancestor) without mucking up the science. Which brings me to a particular bible passage, Romans 1:18-23:

“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” – Romans 1:18-23 (NKJV)

This amazing passage states that the universe (the heavens) reveals God’s handiwork. What the bible says about God creating the universe cannot be separated from scientific facts. God is both Lord and Creator. Thus the Evolution – Creation debate is in fact a “false” debate. Modern Christianity has stepped right into a trap that C. S. Lewis warned us about long ago:

“[The Devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” – C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

Young-Earth Creationism is the other error because it denies that the physical world, which God created, is the way that science says it is. Scientists merely observe the physical world and make interpretations and inferences about how it works. The scientific process itself is very pragmatic: whatever works is kept and built upon to create a fuller and more complete model.

Now, I am not proposing that the evolutionary explanation for the origin of humanity and the universe is correct. Far from it in fact. As a Christian, evolution is the obvious error in Lewis’ comparison. But Romans 1:18-23 merges belief in God with an accurate understanding of the world God made. The bible states that humans are fallen and sinful. How much more then must our own interpretations, both of scripture and of science, be treated with suspicion?

I cannot help you make the choice to accept this conclusion but I can point you to the organization which helped me. I spent years working through trying to find an integrated approach to science and scripture and I found it in Reasons to Believe. Do not believe all the lies you might have heard about them. They are honest, professional, and trustworthy. More to the point, they’re also logical and consistent. They’re scientists and Christians so they understand the particulars of this debate in ways that the rest of us cannot. I’ve looked at the alternatives and found them illogical and God is a God of logic, of sense, of consistency.

So I urge you, my brothers and sisters, to look to Reasons to Believe. Contact them. Subscribe to their podcasts. Read their books. According to I Thessalonians 5:21, test what they say and hold on to the good. I have followed them for 15 years and they have never faltered or failed to offer an explanation for all of the challenges posed by so great a debate.

Your science apologetics will soar through the roof when based on real science. Another tool in the Master’s toolkit to minister, counsel, and encourage.

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Honest to God on the Issues #001: Violence November 14, 2012

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Honest to God on the Issues.
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Violence.

It’s not a pretty sight. So, what does scripture say? Remember that I am writing a story. It includes some violent plot developments so I am specifically looking for what to include and how much to incorporate. Is there a limit?

My Pre-Existing Beliefs

I think scripture is clear on one point: violence is part of life. The ancient Israelites waged war, people died, people murdered, and people were killed all in a variety of ways. Playing the sheep all the time will more than likely get you maimed or killed. That said, violence should be considered a last resort. Generally, the violence is not described in graphic detail. It seems more objective like a news report: Sampson and the foreskins of the Philistines, etc. I remember a female judge killing a foreign general (and thus ending a way) by driving a tent stake through his eyes. Torture is not promoted but it is described: sending children through the fire, etc.

My Questions

  • What is violence? Is there an operative definition?
  • Should violence be met with violence?
  • Are there exceptions to portraying violence in a graphically explicit way?
  • What is torture? Is there an operative definition?

Definitions

Wikipedia seems to have a good definition albeit a lengthy one:

Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation. This definition associates intentionality with the committing of the act itself, irrespective of the outcome it produces. – Wikipedia

I recently read a book on the subject: Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller. It’s available as a self-published ebook only but I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. I understand from external sources that the author is a Buddhist,  but my reading of this particular book is that he is anti-Christian. There is a particular diatribe near the end that’s wrong on many levels and has nothing to do with the topic of the book. Read with caution. Nonetheless, the author is a martial arts master and has been a corrections officer and tactical team leader. The book was an eye-opener for me. Among the many great insights into violence are the following gems:

The fact is that some things, especially dangerous things happening very fast, can ONLY be solved by violence.

Why do people use violence? Because it works.

[Levels of Violence:] Nice-Manipulative-Assertive-Aggressive-Assaultive-Murderous.

People tend to define violence as the level above the level they are willing to use. The strategies for dealing with any given level do not work and often backfire when attempted on a higher level of conflict.

This is reality. The bible was written by real people about real events. It’s reality too. So there should be some common ground between the words of scripture and violence as it relates to our modern society.

Next, the Torture issue. How does torture differ from violence, the more general term. Is there an operative definition? Sadly, the answer is no. There are many definitions but few are satisfactory. I prefer the wording of the following from Amnesty International:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person, in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter. – Amnesty International, (1973) Torture in the Eighties.USA Edition. Amnesty International Publication.

Torture is systematic and always deliberate, a battle of wills, more mental than physical. ‘Cruel and unusual punishment’ comes to mind. By contrast, violence is messy, sometimes accidental. More physical than mental.

But that doesn’t work for Manipulators. They are mentalists, not fighters.

On second thought, it shouldn’t matter. Torture can’t be compared to the earlier levels. By definition it should only be compared to the Assaultive and Murderous levels. I think there is a control aspect to torture that isn’t part of violence generally. One person is the other’s prisoner. Being held against one’s will plus the systematic pain. So here is my initial operative definition of torture:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another being held against his or her will in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter or a third party. (Draft 1)

Can the pain be mental or emotional or is it only physical? Given that we can only interact directly with other humans at a physical level and we can only interact indirectly in terms of our mental and emotional states, I think it’s safe to clarify this as physical pain.

And think again. Waterboarding – which I believe is torture – is not based on physical pain. Counterexamples are very useful things, aren’t they? I would describe it as cruel and unusual treatment so let’s visit our definition again:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain (usually physical but can be mental or emotional) often using cruel and unusual methods by one person on another being held against his or her will in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter or a third party. (Draft 2)

To be continued…

This is more complicated and time-consuming than I expected so I will continue these thoughts another day. Sometimes sleeping on an issue is the best way to move forward on it. And maybe I can reword that awful definition. It’s getting out of hand.

Honest to God on the Issues #000: Ground Rules November 13, 2012

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Honest to God on the Issues.
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With the success of my previous post and the utter lack of understanding on the so-called Christian right regarding how Romney lost the election, I find myself inspired to post. The voices that are being heard are mostly talking heads, pundits, and the like. There are few true Christian voices out there and most are not speaking from a position of understanding. None of the talking heads quote scripture or they cherry pick verses that support their claims without including verses that speak the contrary. My recent article about John MacArthur and Romans 13 is unfortunately a very typical example.

Let’s begin by establishing some ground rules. I may return to this post and clarify these at a future date but for now here is a good starting point:

  1. References: Every statement must reference specific scripture passages and the quote must be included in the post. All scripture will be taken from online sources and a link included in the post. I shall use KJV and NIV since they are two of the most popular versions and because they have a history of their proponents being antagonistic toward one another. Any scripture in support of our points must agree across these two versions. Agreement is important. For more information read Authorized King James Version and New International Version on Wikipedia.
  2. Biblical Accuracy: This author assumes the bible, as composed of the old and new testaments, is the complete and accurate written word of God. Therefore, the bible speaks from a position of authority on all topics. Where versions differ we will drill down for a deeper understanding. Where the bible is silent we will attempt to infer its position indirectly. For more information read Biblical Infallibility on Wikipedia.
  3. Biblical Inerrancy: This author assumes the bible, as composed of the old and new testaments, is without error. Some may laugh at this claim, but I’m making it and I can reasonably back it up even scientifically. For more information on this position read Biblical Inerrancy on Wikipedia. For more information on the harmony between science and scripture visit Reasons to Believe.
  4. Others TBA

What follows is a short list of topics. My intention is to return to this post to flesh out the list and provide links to topics. You can think of it as a list of political issues too.

Future Topics

  • Violence
  • Homosexuality and Gay Rights
  • Taxes
  • Environment (Stewardship)
  • Creation and Evolution
  • Universal Health Care and Socialism
  • Religious Tolerance
  • Racism and Discrimination (sexual orientation, gender, disability, race, color, religion, or national origin)
  • Women’s Rights
  • Immigration
  • Education
  • Others TBA…

Finally, why am I so interested in this? I’m writing a book. I want to know where I stand anyway, but because I’m writing a book that will deal with some difficult topics I feel it’s even more important that my grounding be as secure as possible. My intention is to work out the details of my beliefs in this series of posts and translate that into my stories.

I may not get it all right on the first try so I welcome all comments. Constructive feedback is always useful.

John MacArthur needs an Editor November 5, 2012

Posted by Daniel Benjamin Smith (dsmith77) in Politics.
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Reference: The Campaign for Immorality, Decision Magazine, November 2012.

Noted pastor, seminary president, and radio voice John MacArthur recently wrote an article that was included in Decision Magazine, an outreach of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. With all due respect to the elder Reverend Graham, his organization, and Dr. MacArthur, I think the article could have used some editing. Let this blog post be the notes he should have received.

We’ll start with some small issues:

  • A reader of this article might get confused when they read, “…the government passes out condoms so people can fornicate at will. For those who happen to get pregnant in the process…” Condoms are not necessary for humans to engage in sex. People can and do engage in sexual intercourse pretty much all the time both with and without condoms. The primary benefit from using a condom is to prevent pregnancy yet the second sentence makes it sound like pregnancies are an afterthought. This is strange wording.
  • “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” is indeed in the bible. It’s found in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 but it’s generally best to include the source rather than make the reader take the author’s word for it.
  • “In this current campaign season…”, “…to the culture in which we live”, and the like are sloppy writing. Like the ubiquitous ‘free gift’, these phrases are duplicitous and wordy. Avoid them. Rather, use “in this campaign season” and “to our culture” which are better due to their simplicity.

Unfortunately, we quickly come to more significant problems:

  • The author writes, “And if you think homosexuality, abortion, sexual freedom, and hating God are not evil then you’d better go back and check your bible again. How can people with that kind of agenda protect those who do good and punish those who do evil? (That’s the Romans 13 definition of the role of government.)” except  Romans 13 doesn’t say that. It says:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” – Romans 13:1-7 (NIV)

  • As an aside, I think Christians in general, and the TEA Party faithful in particular, should pay attention to these verses and I thank president MacArthur for bringing them to our attention. However, they seem to speak a different message from the claims espoused here. (Verses 6-7 are essentially a command to pay taxes which many TEA Party advocates have spoken out against. And verse 7 is a command to respect and honor whomever God establishes in positions of authority as I’ve blogged about before. And I don’t see any exceptions to be made depending on which political party is in power.) Using this verse to support these political claims is very shaky.
  • “Romans 1 is not politics. The bible is not politics.” The bible is everything. It includes politics, sex, predictions, history, military history, origin stories, and more written in a variety of forms: prose, poetry, etc. To arbitrarily state that it doesn’t include political statements when it clearly does (See Romans 13 above) is ridiculous.
  • The beginning of the article dances around identifying itself as a political statement however the ending clearly calls out the Democratic Party on their campaign issues.

But the biggest flaw has to do with the underlying assumptions:

  • Assumption #1: Everyone registered as a Democrat and everyone that votes for a Democrat is against God. Not at all. There are democrats who are Christians. The concept is not an oxymoron. The south of the United States including large chunks of the bible belt was dependably blue for decades until Reagan in 1980. Is has been dependably red ever since but there are signs that North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida are becoming less red.
  • Assumption #2: Everyone registered as a Democrat and everyone that votes for a Democrat is voting for homosexuality, sexual perversions, etc. Also patently false. The LGBT community wants their voices heard and they have chosen the Democratic Party. There are gay republicans. Don’t overstep your argument by thinking all democrats hold the views of our President (or all republicans are Christian fundamentalists). Humans are more complicated than that.
  • Assumption #3: God is focused on abortion and gay marriage (to the exclusion of all other issues) and these should dominate every all political decisions by Christians. Baloney. Horse-hockey. Not. Even. Close. God is specifically described in scripture as not being a respecter of persons which means he loves non-Americans as much as Americans, Israelis as much as Arabs, Democrats as much as Republicans. He has our best interests at heart. All of our best interests. Yes, abortion and sexual orientation are included, but they certainly aren’t alone. Many democratic platform staples like access to universal healthcare, a good education, and environmentalism are Christian positions.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Things that are right with this article:

  • Romans 1:18-32 does describe the wrath of God in relation to those who engage in and promote sexual perversions.
  • “…politicians have stepped – overstepped – into spiritual and moral areas, promoting horrific wickedness and blasphemous immorality.” Hear, hear Dr. MacArthur and I’d like to bring one more to your attention. Until the meeting between the Reverend Billy Graham with Governor Romney, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, the parent organization responsible for publishing this article, identified Mormonism as a cult on their website. Now it’s gone. I thought Christianity was supposed to work the other way around.
  • “Our corrupt culture will not be transformed for the better by political movements or pop culture…” True. Jesus basically said that a culture can only be changed by changing the individuals that inhabit it. Thus the concept of being born again.
  • The whole hate speech versus love speech dichotomy at the end is technically correct…but in my opinion it won’t sway the people it’s aimed at for at least three reasons:
    1. Pastor, you’re preaching to the choir. You’re telling Christians to speak out, but by and large they won’t. Furthermore, some of the most vocal have also been the most detestable so the people that could have been reached have been turned off to Christianity.
    2. “…if they affirm that direction, knowing that it will take them to hell” (emphasis mine). No, they don’t. They don’t understand biblical concepts or recognize them as valid in the same sense that all Christians do. This is the primary reason in my opinion why Christian arguments fall flat to a lost person. Christians mistakenly believe that everyone thinks the same way they do, but non-believers think in fundamentally different ways. They do not evaluate their choices in life by our standards so any argument that defers to any Christian belief comes across as empty and hollow and the lost person usually ends up thinking the believer is a fool.
    3. Romans 1:18 states that God gave them over to a debased mind. Like Saul, if He has already judged them how can we possibly explain their folly to them? Still, God continued to intervene in Saul’s life in ways that reminded him of Himself. So who am I to say we shouldn’t try? Just don’t get your hopes up too high. Perhaps there will be a few who will hear but the majority certainly will not.

In summary, there is good writing here but the errors, mistakes, and wrong assumptions are glaring, particularly coming from the president of a place called the Master’s College and Seminary. Again, with all due respect to Dr. MacArthur, you need an editor. And someone to be your sounding board. Paul had Barnabas. The disciples were sent out two by two. And it might be a good idea to reread all of Romans.

For further reading, I encourage visitors to read What’s Wrong with the Democrats (and Republicans) and “The American Dream” by Rich Deem as it covers several important points not included here.

UPDATE

I posted a link to this post on the BGEA website – the link is above the picture – but my comment has not been posted. The message beside the comment box says:

BGEA encourages you to participate in this discussion; however, please be aware that your comment will not appear immediately. Also be aware that we reserve the right to edit comments for spelling, grammar and clarity. User comments that include personal attacks or other inappropriate comments will not be approved for posting. Thank you for your patience.

It’s been long enough for my comment to be moderated so baring a technical glitch this means my comment did not meet the BGEA’s standards.

For shame! I think my post was biting, yes, but it wasn’t meant as a personal attack. Quite frankly, this post is full of constructive criticism. I even wrote it in a playful manner but you know some of these Christians – no sense of humor even though God created that too.

Now if my comment was excluded because it was deemed inappropriate, please define what that means. Furthermore, why is this the stance of the BGEA since it isn’t a biblical position. Where did God ever censor anything in the bible except the seven thunders in Revelation 10:1-4? Scripture includes death, dismemberment, and an entire book of erotic poetry.

Is it any wonder why Christians are viewed as hard-headed bigots in this country when dissenting opinions aren’t allowed? Well, I’m big enough to deal in a mature fashion on this topic and my God is big enough too so I welcome all comments. Unless a comment is wildly off topic, it will not be deleted or edited here including any comments from Dr. MacArthur, the BGEA, or a representative thereof.

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