Saturday, June 30, 2007

Barry Bonds and Henry Aaron

I stopped following my beloved sport of professional baseball a few years ago because of the steroid scandals, the obscene salaries, and the destruction of the game by television. Nevertheless, I see that Barry Bonds is closing in on Hank Aaron's home run record.

Bonds used to be a lead off hitter with a bit of power. Then he hypertrophied himself through steroids and the homers flew off his bat into the stands. Another video game character comes to life. He tends to be hostile or indifferent toward fans and reporters and shows no class from what I can tell. He is booed around the country. Henry Aaron, on the contrary, was a humble man who did his job with excellence. He relied on his talents and on hard work. As he neared breaking Babe Ruth's record, he received hate mail and even death threats from racists. He kept playing the game and ended with 755 home runs and a splendid career.

If Barry Bonds hits 756 there should be no celebration, no exaltation, and no elation. To do so would only be to further applaud our debauched and depraved culture of egotism and extremism.

Doug Groothuis Preaching in Denver (corrected again!)

I will be preaching at the Sunday meeting of The Next Level Church on July 8 and 15. On July 8 I will give an introduction and critique of Hinduism and Buddhism and on July 15, I will address Islam. They meet at Greenwood Community: 5600 E. Belleview Ave., Greenwood Village, CO 80111. The service starts at 6:00 PM. There should be a question-answer time.

Come What May: A Lament in Six Cries

Truth so often goes God's world.
Who will speak truth to power, come what may?
Who will live truth before power, come what may?
Who will seek power only through truth in God's world, come what may?

At the end of the day, who will love truth for itself--in God, for God, with God, under God, before God?

Who will find solace--and suffering--in nothing else?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

iPhone: Why Phone? Postman

If anyone in the vast and venerable audience of this blog has purchased (for $600) the newly-released iPhone (about which so many are agog and aroused), I'd like you to watch the Neil Postman video (from the previous post) and tell our watching ocean of souls these things:

1. What problems do the features of the iPhone solve?
2. Who are the winners that benefit from the iPhone and who are the losers?
3. Where is your consciousness when you use the iPhone?

And let me add a query of my own:

4. How does the Kingdom of God benefit from your use of the iPhone, if at all? See Matthew 6:33.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Neil Postman on Cyberspace (1995)

Here is a rarity: an intellectual on television who is allowed to speak his mind slowly and with gravity. It is Neil Postman on (I believe) "The McNeil/Leher News Hour." The clip is from YouTube. Every word Postman speaks is rich with truth and wisdom. Now go read his book Technopoly for the longer story on culture and technology.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Burger King in Budapest

After speaking nine times in six days (with two sessions of four hours each and a plenary address to about three hundred souls), a wealth of heartening conversations with new friends from around Europe, a rather horrendous extra day in London after having missed my connection to Denver (my adaptive and administrative skills through all this--minimal as they are--were severely challenged), and an hour on the tarmac in Denver (so close yet so far), I have returned from The European Leadership Forum and am up at the silly hour of 5:30 because of time adjustments. Later, I hope to write a short essay reflecting on it all. For now, here are a few snippets:

1. Walking through Eger, Hungary, I saw the word "Kundalini" written on a two-story building. I prayed for those under its serpentine spell. I also retinized posters hawking American "artists" inflicting themselves on the Hungarian souls, such as the impossibly precious and pretentious Tori Amos.

2. A small group I was with in Budapest went to Burger King: Burger King in Budapest! There is a syllabic symmetry to that locution, but an oxymoronic burden to it as well. Since I could not bring myself to such a sacrilege, I went across the street to a huge, fascinating market with one of the volunteers. There we ate transcendentally splendid strudel and shopped for gifts for loved ones.

3. While in Eger, I saw two films, more than I typically see in a decade: "Amazing Grace" (about William Wilberforce) and a DVD about a Romanian Christian sculptor, who is an abstract artist with a huge heart, a burly beard, and portentious installations, one of which was at the conference, "Seeds."

4. I mused over how the British (well represented in Eger) speak. Their secret, it seems, is not the accent per se, but that many of them simply enjoy speaking. They relish their words and treat them with respect. I also discovered a new book by one Mr. Humphreys about the decline of language in the UK called Loss for Words. The audio book of this was available on the British Air flight on the way back and was delightful. I hope to read the book.

5. During the final night we were treated to an all-out, Hungarian dinner in Budapest, complete with gypsy music (played at a frantic, virtuoso pace) and dancers. Part of the act was for one of the spry, double-jointed, and charismatic dancers to pull a victim from the audience and dance with her or him. Inexplicably, the male dancer extracted an attractive young, blonde woman across the room from him. After this escapade, the female dancer solicited a man close to where she was standing (I think she was working with the proximity principle freed from aesthetic considerations) who turned her down. Then she plucked me out! After which, the highly improbable occurred: The Constructive Curmudgeon was seen gypsy dancing in Budapest in front of thirty stunned and laughing souls. There is something about that Hungarian wine... A few camera flashes went off, but am hoping all the photographs are lost in a freak digital dissolution.

Perhaps I should resist the temptation to be nocturnal and return to bed. My enterprise was blessed richly, both in giving and receiving. My world and soul were enlarged, even as my body was taxed. I was speaking so much--to groups and to individuals extemporaneously--that my tongue actually got tired. But, thank God, my voice held out very well, which was an answer to prayer.

The story--and philosophical reflections, don't worry--will be continued.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Curmudgeon in Hungary

This is a travel blog. After three flights and a three hour drive, I arrived in Eger, Hungary yesterday for The European Leadership Forum, where I will give nine talks in six days, all related to apologetics or theology.

Internet access is spotty, as is the telephone connect to the US. My room's air conditioning has yet to learn the "on" position, which made sleeping difficult. Today is mostly an off day before hitting the lecturing hard for a week. I have already had several heartening conversations, one with the leader of the UK InterVarsity ministry, another with a retired physicist.

Today I look forward to more unplanned conversations, prayer for much missing luggage--not my own, thank God--and reading Philip Jenkins's new book, God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. May God's Kingdom be manifest through this meeting.

Reporting from Hungary, on a public Internet port, and needing more sleep,
A Curmudgeon abroad

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I, You, We: iPod---Thoughts on Miniaturization

The Constructive Curmudgeon has tentatively entered postmodernity (but he remains an alient to postmodern-ism, of course.) I just loaded an iPod shuffle (the least of the iPods), which I won about six months ago at a Safeway. (I gave it some time.) This tiny device is filled with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsallis, Kenny Garrett, and Joe Satriani.

Many years ago, a writer by the name of Paulo Soleri wrote that a key element of technological society was miniaturization. Think of this: first, a huge radio that took up half of a wall (which was added to, or replaced, the piano). The family still gathered round. Then a smaller model; later with a photograph. Smaller stereos and boom boxes arrived in time. Later came transistor radios and their one earpiece. Walkmen followed, isolating us sonically and giving us more preferences. Then diskman. Now iPods are ubiquitous: tiny, data-packed, with no headphones (too bulky, too big), but ear buds. (Ear Buds sounds somewhat cyborg-ish to me.)

TVs are shrinking (in cellphone and on computer screens) and growing (flat screen, plasma screen, take-up-half-the-wall-and-dominate-the-living space). Are we getting smaller as our technologies (particularly those for entertainment) decrease in size? Exegete this miniaturization considered as a social force in entertainment and tell me what you think.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Idolologies: Quantity

Idols are everywhere in the United States at this moment: without and within, overt and covert, condemned and praised. They are part of the human world, east of Eden. As John Calvin said, the human mind is "a perpetual forge of idols." Ideologies can be idols as well; call them idolologies. (It's not euphonious, but captures the problem, in a suitably ugly word.) Let me name one that is nearly ubiquitous in postmodern Western (and especially US culture): the idol of quantification and computerization. Or, more poetically, call it : the reign of Quantity (which was, I believe, a book title some years ago).

Humans create machines for measurement: scales, rulers, and so on. But every empirical measurement obscures or ignores something. The height of a person does not gauge her mental elevation. The weight of a person does not speak to his intellectual gravity. But then came computers. Information becomes data. Data can be quantified. Quantification becomes the mark of reality: the measurable, the outcome, the payoff. Numbers can be crunched with staggering sophistication. Numbers are "objective," supposedly. You cannot argue with the numbers, supposedly. Numbers speak--and everyone must listen and obey. They are the oracles of our day. Idols need oracles.

Are you well educated? What is your GPA? It is a number. Are you intelligent? What is your IQ? It is a number. Are you well-published? How many journal articles are listed on your resume? Are you a good teacher? Let's look at the numbers on your student evaluations. (Come and see the secretary if you want their written comments, which cannot be calibrated; they are ephemera).

The better part of wisdom is knowing that is subject to quantification and what is not. The wise measurement of reality requires finding the proper norms. Each domain of life requires appropriate standards, as Aristotle told us long ago. The Bible tells us that humans judge by appearances, but God sees the heart, such as the heart of young David, who would become a great warrior, the King of Israel, and the psalmist unequaled. Jesus warned us not to judge merely by appearances, but to make a proper judgment (John 7:24). Let me give one example.

Teaching is a creative, demanding, and mysterious vocation. Learning is the same. I am not teaching unless you are learning. (Thanks to Neal Postman for this.) How, then, do we gauge teaching and learning? How do we chart "effectiveness"? We can worship at the altar of Quantity. Give "objective tests" (multiple choice and true/false) where students can guess the answer, get it right, and get a good grade. They do not have to produce an essay of intellectual and literary quality. They simply recognize isolated facts. Students may be better at "taking tests" than they are at learning. The two are not synonymous. Teachers can be "rated" by the numbers that come up on their student evaluations. Numbers that numb, even as they excite and intice. This is our fetish. "Do the math." "Let's do the numbers."

But teaching and learning is an art, not a science (social or otherwise). As Artist Lauri Fendrich has recently written in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "the greatest secret of education" is "one that no one, anywhere, anytime, can every chart: Only when there exists a mutual need of the student for the teacher and the teacher for the student can any teaching or learning take place" ("A Pedagogical Straightjacket," The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 8, 2007, p. B8.)

Moreover, the Christian teacher desires to elicit intellectual and moral virtues from her students. This cannot be reduced to a method, a timetable, an outcome. We must be prisoners of hope. A task of this magnitude and seriousness requires prayer, improvisation, hard study, learning through one's teaching failures, and (most importantly) love for one's students. (1 Corinthians 13; Titus 2:7-8) Love cannot be measured empirically. Wisdom for life is not subject to a numerical indicators: "Well, my WQ (wisdom quotient) was 89.3 before taking Groothuis's class; now I've tested at 95.7. Dude!"

The reign of Quantity is in the air and in our pores. This ideology/idolology has become our second nature and has chocked out much of how life ought to be discerned. Let us look intently for the idol's flawlessly-crafted fascade, sniff for its smell, and refuse its allures-in education and everywhere else. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Book Review: In the Shadow of the AntiChrist

[The following review was published in a somewhat different form in The Philosophers Magazine (2nd quarter, 2007). They changed the final sentence, which made it seem to say that there are no good responses to Nietzsche, but from what I have below you can see I did not mean that. I wrote "current" responses. Moreover, they gave it two inappropriate titles: "The Loser's Reply" and "Douglas Groothuis finds the good enemy too strong." No, I don't; I find Williams's response to Nietzsche (the good enemy) too weak. I myself have an essay on Nietzsche's critique of Christianity on my web page:]

Stephen N. Williams, In the Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche’s Critique of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2006. 311 pages with index. Paperback. $24.99. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary.

Not a few religious people have been shaken by their encounters with Friedrich Nietzsche’s searing attack on Christianity as being anti-life, anti-intellectual, and the religion for losers. A man who writes a book called The Antichrist—and who identifies with the title—is no shrinking violet when it comes to polemics. It is no wonder that many atheists prize Nietzsche as their ace prosecutor against Christianity. Nietzsche himself claimed that a robust soul needs good enemies, and Christians do well to take up Nietzsche’s challenge.

Nietzsche’s attack on Christianity is not easy to explain or to critique. The problem lies in the nature of Nietzsche’s own work, which was neither systematic nor always stated in discursive forms. He had a fondness for epigrams, parables, and one-liners. Perhaps his greatest work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, was a novel, a kind of anti-gospel for those who dared to “break the old tablets” and create values anew. But a constant theme in Nietzsche’s work was his criticism of Christianity as the antithesis to his own philosophy. To my knowledge, there is only one recent book-length work by a Christian thinker that rises to Nietzsche’s challenge: A. J. Hoover’s excellent Friedrich Nietzsche: His Life and Thought (Praeger, 1994).

Stephen Williams, professor of systematic theology at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, offers his own critique of Nietzsche’s attack on Christianity with this well-documented, intellectually serious, but ultimately frustrating work. Williams approaches Nietzsche respectfully and with a good sense of history. He exposits Nietzsche’s ideas in their historical contexts and labors to overcome the obstacles to Nietzschean interpretation by charting the developments in Nietzsche’s thought in light of his autobiography. Williams pays close attention to the rather vast secondary literature about Nietzsche. This is both good and bad for the book. The author knows the lay of the land; he is not charging into the thick of things without guides. But although he does not neglect the (rather daunting) Nietzschean corpus, Williams sometimes bogs down in the details of dueling interpretations. One wishes for a more passionate engagement of Nietzsche himself, not his interpreters.

But what is Williams’s response to Nietzsche’s anti-Christianity? This is where the book ultimately disappoints the reader who expected a strong critique of Nietzsche’s condemnations of Christianity. (And one should expect this of a theologian.) Williams rightly perceives that Nietzsche’s antipathy toward biblical religion was deeply rooted in an entirely different worldview from Christianity, that of the ancient Greeks of the Dionysian strain. Nietzsche celebrated the body in this world, with all its potentials and suffering. He would have nothing of the transcendent, the otherworldly. Instead the “creators” or ubermenchen would exploit the earth for all its glories, free from religious conventions of “good and evil.” Out of this worldview flows Nietzsche’s hostility toward Christianity. But Williams does little to refute this worldview, besides rightly pointing out that Nietzsche’s denunciations of Christianity as world-denying were overstated. Given the recent resurgence in natural theology, Williams could have argued at some length that naturalism (Nietzschean or otherwise) is philosophically defective. But he does not. Instead, he often invokes academic theologians such as Karl Barth (hardly a paradigm of philosophical clarity) as a counterpoise to Nietzsche. This will probably leave the typical secular reader of Nietzsche unmoved and not a few philosophically-minded religious readers dismayed.

Although the book is not part of a series of specialized monographs, Williams works from a high level of theological abstraction (if not obfuscation) in his assessment of Nietzsche. Rather than grappling with Nietzsche’s ideas as philosophical arguments to dissect, he tends to bring other theological interpretations to bear on Nietzsche’s views. Williams thus leans far toward the continental approach to philosophizing (and theologizing) instead of adopting the direct (and, to my mind, rationally superior) method of analytic philosophy. Worse yet, Williams writes in a convoluted, tentative, and annoyingly nuanced style.

Thus we still await a current treatment of Nietzsche that takes him on as the good enemy that he was.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Curmudgeon Etiquette

Given the world-historical significance of this blog, and the august roster of its contributors, it is incumbent upon me to enumerate three items of etiquette for those posting responses.

1. Please use normal punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and sentence structure. I don't mind a few random mistakes--my entries are not free of them--but a curmudgeon is bothered by the avoidance of capital letters, sentence fragments, and egregious and multiple misspellings.

2. Please endeavor to give arguments or insightful comments. Diatribes and excoriations are better left to me... Emotive utterances are best expressed elsewhere (if there).

3. Realize that I am the publisher and editor and writer (Marshall McLuhan saw all this kind of thing coming long ago) of this blog. So, your comments are submissions, not entitlements. I am free to delete them if I deem them offensive or otherwise inappropriate. I seldom do this, but sometimes indulge the right.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Confused all the Way Down: Rob Bell on Sex, God, and Connection

Do you want to be sexy? Pastor Rob Bell, prominent in the Emergent movement, thinks he can help you. He has written an essay called, "How to Be Sexy," which is taken from his new book, Sex God. The elasticity of the word "sexy" in has come to concern me of late, and reading Bell exacerbates this concern. He redefines the word to mean connectedness of a bodily sort, as when he is swimming with his son on his back amidst a pod of dolphins. (How one arranges these exotic--and for Bell, erotic--events is beyond me.)

He speaks of committed and celibate Christians as "sexy" because they are connected to ministering to the poor and oppressed. He laments that mere sex--such as sex on demand on Holland, where prostitution is legal--is not really sexy. Then he says: "You can’t be connected with God until you’re at peace with who you are. If you’re still upset that God gave you this body or this life or this family or these circumstances, you will never be able to connect with God in a healthy, thriving, sustainable sort of way. "

This is exactly backward in several ways. One comes to God on God's terms, as revealed in the Bible: repentant faith in Jesus Christ and ongoing sanctification by faith after one is justified by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). (Bell says nothing about the Bible, which is all too common in contemporary Christianity; it is biblically impoverished, and thus full of self, experience, memoirs, and hype.) We don't find some erotic connection to the universe--through dolphins, concerts, or otherwise--and then connect with God thereby. God is not the creation, but transcends it (while being present in it). Yes, God is the giver of every perfect gift and the designer of sexuality (Genesis 1-2). We are not Gnostics, but should celebrate the creation (on God's terms). But we come to God because he is God, and because he can transform us to do God's will, whatever that might be.

Bell to the contrary, sexuality does not encompass all of the sensual. That is a category confusion of the highest magnitude, and would only be suggested by one besotted by the contemporary sexualization of everything. Taking communion is sensual in the sense of tasting and ingesting real wine and real bread (at least in the better services), but there is nothing sexual about it. If you think there is, there is something wrong with you.

Moreover, those who suffer from chronic illness or who are put in nearly impossible relational situations cannot be blissfully "connected" (what an overused and underachieving word that has become) to their circumstances. Instead, they, like many biblical writers and characters, must lament--lament their broken bodies, lament their fractured relationships, lament the political chaos of their African countries, lament that 300 million in India are "untouchables" (the Dalit people). They call out to a listening heaven because earth has become a living hell. This "disconnection" has produced some of the deepest and richest spiritual beings on the planet. For example, how "connected" was John the Baptist to his culture or to "the sensual"? He was an ascetic for one thing: his diet was sparse; his clothing rough. He had little social adhesion. But he spoke courageous truth to power and paid the highest price imaginable: his head ended up on a platter before a ruler. Jesus commended him with strong praise (Matthew 11:1-11).

Bell's "spirituality"exalts the sensual over the spiritual and then transmutes the sensual into the sexual. If that is what "being sexy" means, let us find another teacher. See Titus 2:7-8.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Curmudgeon's Dream (or Nightmare): Christianity Today's Faux Cover

The latest issue of Christianity Today (June 2007) features an advertisement for a cover. This category-bending reality took some time to find a place in my wife and my cognitive grid, but it is now there, sadly. It is a faux cover; the real cover isn't much better: it's a puff piece on Mr. Glib, Donald Miller. (Loyal Constructive Curmudgeon readers--I have no "fans"--may remember an apocalyptic battle over Blue Like Jazz a year or so ago. Miller's most egregious quote--on how "smart guys" can both prove and disprove God's existence, and that he doesn't really care--is approvingly cited to illustrate his "informal style." It illustrates more than that: intellectual irresponsibility and apologetic oblivion.)

The faux cover reads, "Evan Help Us: How a Movie--and a Movement--Are Partnering With the Church to Change the World." Really. Partner should not be made into a verb. Read Elements of Style (again if necessary). You see, the magazine features a story on this new movie about Noah's ark. So, the brilliant promoters of the movie bought the cover of Christianity Today. But how is a movie going to "change the world" (for the better)? Why must everything on magazine covers--even on the once intellectually serious Christianity Today, founded by Dr. Carl F. H. Henry--be breathless and pointless hyperbole? It wears terribly thin after awhile.

What will "change the world" is the rediscovery of the Triune God of the Bible: God's holiness, sovereignty, grace, gospel (justification by faith alone), all God's biblically-revealed and uncomfortable and countercultural truths that hurt and heal, break and build. That means: Get serious about what matters most. Of course, this requires discerning what matters most--something far from the minds of most North American Christians, addled as they are by popular culture, endless mediation, overwhelming entertainment, and chronic business. No one knows how to theologize with a hammer.

"Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Who had the nerve to say that?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Stunningly Pedestrian: I need Advice about YouTube!

It may startle some of you, but I occasionally entertain myself by watching music videos on YouTube. (Lately, I've been trying to find old Kansas performances, and have found some Coltrane and Miles Davis gems before.) However, for several weeks, I have not been able to get videos to play through without stopping and starting about five times a minute--not the best way to enjoy music. Does anyone have a solution to this?

Behe Strikes Again

I took this from the Simon and Schuster web site which is advertising Michael Behe's new book.

The Edge of EvolutionThe Search for the Limits of Darwinism

By Michael J. Behe

This Edition: Hardcover Publication Date: 06/2007

Question & Answer with Michael J. Behe

What do you believe Darwinian evolutionary processes can actually do?

The Edge of Evolution asks the sober question, what is it reasonable to think Darwinian evolutionary processes can actually do? Unprecedented genetic data on humans and our microbial parasites (malaria, HIV, E. coli) now allow us to answer that question with some precision. The astonishing result is that, even under intense selective pressure, and given an astronomical number of opportunities, random mutation and natural selection yield only trivial, mostly degenerating changes. The bottom line: the major events that produced life on earth were not driven by random mutations.

The book's subtitle speaks of the "limits of Darwinism." Are you saying that Darwin's theory is completely wrong?

Not at all. It is an excellent explanation for some features of life, but it has sharp limits. Darwin's theory is an amalgam of several concepts: 1) random mutation, 2) natural selection, and 3) common descent. Common descent and natural selection are very well-supported. Random mutation isn't. Random mutation is severely constrained. So the process which produced the elegant structures of life could not have been random.

How does the book evolve from the failure of randomness to the conclusion of intelligent design?
Aren't there possible unintelligent evolutionary explanations other than Darwinism?

The new genetic results on humans and our parasites tell against not only Darwin's theory, but against any unintelligent process. In their reciprocal evolutionary struggle, human and parasitic genomes could have been altered in nature by whatever unintelligent mechanism had the ability to help. Yet virtually nothing did. Because the categories of "intelligent" and "unintelligent" processes are mutually exclusive and exhaustive, ruling out unintelligent processes necessarily implicates intelligence.

What evidence speaks most clearly to the role of intelligent design in biology?

The elegance of the foundation of life -- the cell. Charles Darwin and his contemporaries supposed the cell was a "simple globule of protoplasm," a microscopic piece of Jell-O. They were wrong. Modern science reveals the cell is a sophisticated, automated, nano-scale factory. For example, the journal Nature marvels, "The cell's macromolecular machines contain dozens or even hundreds of components. But unlike man made machines, which are built on assembly lines, these cellular machines assemble spontaneously from their ...components. It is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor."

How does intelligent design differ from the prevailing Darwinist view of evolution?

To a surprising extent prevailing evolutionary theory and intelligent design are harmonious. Both agree that the universe and life unfolded over vast ages; both agree that species could follow species in the common descent of life. They differ solely in the overriding role Darwinism ascribes to randomness. Intelligent design says that, while randomness does exist, its role in explaining the unfolding of life is quite limited.

How does intelligent design differ from creationism? What do you say to critics who charge that it is merely "creationism in disguise"?

Intelligent design theory is to creationism as the Big Bang theory is to the book of Genesis. Although both intelligent design and the Big Bang may be reminiscent of some religious ideas about the universe and life, they are both grounded on the empirical study of nature, not on holy books. The phrase "Let there be light" may be evocative of the Big Bang, but the Big Bang is science, not scripture. Intelligent design may be compatible with some religious concepts, but the astounding intricacy of cellular molecular machinery is hard scientific data.

Do you see intelligent design as a concept that provides a resolution to the creation vs. evolution debate? Is there ever a point where science and religion might meet in some form of compromise - and does intelligent design help to provide that answer?

In some ways intelligent design is the perfect middle ground between the scientistic atheism exemplified by Richard Dawkins and the dogmatic religious creation stories he rails against. Like the Big Bang theory and the discovery of the "fine-tuning" of the universe for life, intelligent design recognizes that empirical results from science point insistently to a reality greater than is dreamt of in Dawkins' philosophy. Yet, rather than relying on some holy text, ID comes to that conclusion through science -- from our own human intellect and the struggle to understand nature.

How does your view of intelligent design in biology fit with the findings and theories of cosmology and physics?

The conclusion of intelligent design in biology fits very well with unexpected results in the past few decades from physics and astronomy, which show that the universe, its laws, physical constants, and many details, are "fine-tuned" for life on earth. For example, if the charge on the electron or the properties of water were much different, life as we know it would be precluded. Biology has now discovered that the fine tuning of the universe for life actually extends into life. The term "consilience" denotes the situation where results from several scientific areas point in the same direction, reinforcing our confidence that the conclusion is correct. Biology has attained consilience with results from cosmology and physics.

Is it necessary to conclude that the designer is God?

"Necessary" is a strong word. It is not "necessary" in a compulsory sense. The scientific study of nature in the past century and especially the last few decades, however, points strongly to the conclusion that there exists an intelligent being who set up our universe for life: its physical laws, many of its astronomical properties and details, as well as many necessary details reaching deeply into life. In the teeth of that evidence a person such as Richard Dawkins is still free to think it was all one huge cosmic accident. Most people will decide God -- or some remarkable being -- is the most likely explanation.

Why do you think there is such resistance within the scientific community to the idea of intelligent design?

Scientists are trained to think of the universe as a self-contained, self- explanatory system. Unexpected findings that go against that supposition can be disconcerting. When it was first proposed, the idea that the universe had a beginning in a big bang was strongly resisted by some scientists, because it pointed to a reality outside of the universe. Intelligent design of biology evokes even stronger reactions, perhaps because it challenges the supposition of a self-contained universe even more strongly.

One criticism of ID has been that it makes no predictions, and thus is unscientific. Does The Edge of Evolution address this?

The Edge of Evolution is almost entirely concerned with the major, opposing predictions of Darwinism and ID. The most essential prediction of Darwinism is that, given an astronomical number of chances, unintelligent processes can make seemingly-designed systems, ones of the complexity of those found in the cell. ID specifically denies this, predicting that in the absence of intelligent input no such systems would develop. So Darwinism and ID make clear, opposite predictions of what we should find when we examine genetic results from a stupendous number of organisms that are under relentless pressure from natural selection. The recent genetic results are a stringent test. The results: 1) Darwinism's prediction is falsified; 2) Design's prediction is confirmed.

Are there lessons we can learn from the study of malaria and HIV to help us, as a species, protect ourselves from viral and parasitical threats? How might other fields, such as medicine, be affected by intelligent design?

One heartening conclusion of intelligent design is that Darwinian evolution is not the relentless, Borg-like process we had thought. Random evolution is clumsy and limited. That means that, even when fighting pathogens such as malaria that occur in enormous numbers, if science can find the right monkey wrench to throw in its molecular machinery, random mutation and natural selection will be helpless to circumvent it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

No Churches in Cyberspace solicited a post by me on "churches in cyberspace." I warned of this kind of thing a decade ago in The Soul in Cyberspace (which fell still-born from the presses). To answer the question, "What are the best churches in cyberspace?" is impossible, since the question commits the fallacy of the complex question. It presupposes something false and then demands a response, as in: "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" (when one has not been beating one's wife).

There are no churches in cyberspace. There are Christians interacting in various ways--wisely or stupidly, thoughtfully or compulsively--on line. There are churches with web pages, which (if done well) is fine. But the church is a group of Christ-following, Bible-believing people who meet together face to face for teaching, worship, prayer, the public reading of Scripture, and fellowship. One cannot celebrate communion on line. "Now click the bread icon. Next click the wine icon." It is deeply absurd. One cannot sing unto the Lord together on line. One cannot be baptized or witness it in person on line: "Click and drag the little man over to the pool." It cannot be done.

Congregational life must have a strongly unmediated element: being there, being with humans attempting to worship and serve God. It should not be yet another designer operation: cyberchurch, my way, in my time--all mediated by the screen.

Consider the inspired words of the Apostle John on the meaning of fellowship:

13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. --3 John 13-14.