Search This Blog

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A Wonderful Day in Cambridge

The Reason for the Wonderful Day
I spent a wonderful Saturday in Cambridge recently, at Hughes Hall (one of the colleges of university).  Wonderful, because I was attending a conference called "Beyond Materialism"organised by the Centre for Intelligent Design. It was a gathering of some of the most important western experts in the new science (yes, science) of intelligent design. It was a joy and a privilege to listen to these humble giants. I include among the giants men like Stephen Meyer, Gunter Bechley, Douglas Axe, and women like Ann Gauger.

In a word, ID says that science must always run from evidence to the best explanations. If there are two possible explanations for some phenomenon, then the one that best explains the phenomena is the one we must adopt. This is common sense, and it is true science.

Materialism and ID
Tragically, a strangle-hold theory has become the reigning paradigm in explaining "origins" of all kinds. This reigning paradigm, starting with Darwin, does not arise out of the evidence but arises out of philosophy. Materialism starts with the premise that there is no prior mind or intelligence in the universe. It says that all there is is matter, "In the beginning matter". Materialism - without a jot of evidence or supporting arguments - posits the non-existence of intelligence as a founding principle of exploration and examination. Not surprisingly, if you don't put cinnamon in the cake at the beginning, you don't get cinnamon cake out of the oven.  Materialist scientists don't find evidence for God anywhere because he's not even a possibility in their work, at the start.

On the other hand, ID experts suggests that if we find evidence of intelligence in the universe we should not be afraid to admit it and acknowledge it. Only a bigoted mind would exclude such a common sense approach.

Evidence for Intelligence
Here are four evidences for intelligence in the universe:

(i) The origin of the first cell. More like, "The origin of the first protein." Materialists live in the hope that somehow we will be able to come up with a "just so" pathway from inorganic matter to living cells. Darwin could be excused for such nonsense because he was ignorant of the vast complexity of a single living cell. We who know better, know too that there is no way a cell can come about by chance and law. Now that the time-frame of the earth has been limited to a few billions of years we can do the maths: there is not enough time to come up with one simple useful protein (one of the molecular machines in a cell), let alone a cell with hundreds of interconnected proteins working in harmony with each other.

This is not one of those "one day when we know more" gaps, it is a fundamental, statistical, fact: proteins cannot arise by chance (let alone unbelievably more complex cells). It takes intelligence.....

(ii) The rapid origin of all living things. Gunter Bechley demonstrated from the fossil record that whenever new organisms appear they do so "instantaneously" (in geological terms). The most common example of this is the Cambrian Explosion where some 40 body types appear all of a sudden in the fossil record with no previous ancestors. But Gunter showed us that the Cambrian Explosion is just one of many such explosions, all of which follow the same pattern in the fossil record. How come they appear abruptly? Perhaps........?

(iii) The fine tuning of the universe.  The laws and matter in the universe possess many numbers, constants, numerical values which are finely tuned for life. If you tweak any one of these numbers, by even in some case a tiny amount, the universe cannot support life. Examples of this abound not only in the physical laws of the universe but in the kind of galaxy, kind of solar system and kind of world we live on. It is best to explain the rare phenomenon of the right conditions for life as the mark of a designer who set all the dials to the right value!

(iv) The discontinuity between us and animals. We are not animals (read the pagan writer Raymond Talis, "The Aping of Mankind" if you doubt that). Human beings tower above the animal world in every single activity, bar none. And supremely we have minds. Animals act on immediate sensory inputs plus hard-wired instincts and live existentially in the moment. We are able to imagine a world completely different from the sensory inputs flowing into our brains at any moment. For this reason we can have hope for the future, empathise with others and do all the very different things that mark out human beings.

How come the human mind? There is for sure not one single evolutionary reason for it! Plenty of organisms survive very well without it, and the possession of a mind could easily be a hindrance to survival: doing art on the Savannah while a lion is stalking you.... or maths while your family are hungry.... do not give survival advantages.

The only explanation for the human mind is Another Prior Mind who made our minds in his image.

So ID is seeking to go beyond the iron prison walls of materialism to seek the real explanations for the wonders of the universe.

ID will NEVER win the day
But ID, like all truth will never ever ever win the day. It will never be accepted by "mainline" science. Google ID and you will get this: 

"Intelligent design (ID) is the pseudoscientific view that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

The reason ID will ALWAYS be despised (like all truth), is because admitting a Supreme Intelligence, admitting the existence of God acknowledges that we may be accountable to him, perhaps our lives are displeasing to him? Perhaps we need to change our lives? Perhaps we need to submit to him? No way! And so in our rebellion against God we suppress the truth! (Read all about it in Romans chapter 1).

So although ID will for sure overtake all materialistic explanations for origins - it already has - it will, I predict, never, ever be acceptable to pagan science. Indeed what I expect as the modern evolutionary synthesis is undermined is increasingly foolish explanations of where we came from. Why? Because, if you deny what is so obvious, you mess up your forensic logic software and cease to be able to think straight.

Example? In "Aping Mankind" the pagan neuroscientist, a great man, Raymond Talis, after debunking all attempts to put humans and animals on the same footing makes a suggestion to how the unbelievable human mind came into existence......

Wait for it...., I can't believe that?

That's what he suggests!?

Want to know where the human mind came from?

The opposable thumb! There are simply not enough smiley emojis in thw world to describe how crazy this idea is. Once the opposable thumb was invented by evolution it led to brain developments which resulted in the human minds we now have!

"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" is how Paul would decribe such madness.

In the midst of a world of scientific origin-madness and lies, Hughes Hall was an oasis of honesty, sanity and reasonableness. And worship. A wonderful day in Cambridge.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Film Review - The Light Between Oceans

Our messy lives
For my lovely wife's birthday, we went to see the 2016 film, "The Light Between Oceans." Rotten Tomatoes gives it an unfair 59% (compared, for  example with 82% for another 2016 film, The Revenant.)

The film is about Tom, who, trying to forget the experiences of four bitter years spent in the first world war, ends up manning a remote light house loctaed "between two oceans".

Don't read on if you plan to see the film!

The Light between Oceans is a beautiful and moving film about the mess humans can so easily get themselves into. Many of the greatest themes of life in a fallen world are to be found here.....

Beautiful nature is not enough
So Tom ends up on the lonely island of Janus Rock.  Although he is surrounded by spectacular natural beauty he is desperately lonely because inanimate creation is not enough to satisfy or heal his broken soul. He falls in love and marries Isabel (from the mainland) who joins him on the island. 

The beast and the beauty
But all of the joys of this passing life are marred by the fall, and two miscarriages later, Isabel is depressed and down-hearted. One day a small boat is blown onto the lighthouse rocks. On board is a baby and the child's dead young father. Tom knows that the rules of the lighthouse demand he records this event and calls in help, but desperate to make his bereaved wife happy he buries the dead father and colludes with his wife to pretend the baby belongs to them.... 

The union of husband and wife in crime
Truth may not always to be found in a married couple, for love often blinds them and then binds them. Tom's conscience says one thing, his love for his wife says another, and instead of standing up for the truth, he agrees with the deception and thus begins a life founded on a big fat lie....

You can't live a lie for long 
....but conscience won't long abide a lie. When happy grandparents congratulate the couple, it's hard to hide the moral short-circuiting going on in their heads. When the baby is christened, it's hard to hear words that imply the child is their own. Faces contort as consciences are pricked. What is worse, Tom hears about the true story of the child and its father: one day, after a period of bullying, the father took his baby daughter and set off on the open ocean leaving behind his wife. All assumed father and child had died at sea, but Tom upon hearing of the intense grieving of the widow writes her an anonymous note to say that the father was "in the hands of God" and the child was safe. This begins a police search for the baby which will lead to the arrest of Tom and his wife....

Be sure your sins will find you out
Tom and Isabel's sins are found out because of the note Tom wrote. One sin leads to another: Tom in his desire to protect his wife from punishment lies to say he was wholly responsible for the cover-up. And then, when the heat is on, Isabel, out of her love for Tom admits her part in the cover-up; it looks like they'll both be locked away.

Forgiveness "heals"
The true mother forgives the couple and their sentence is reduced and here, at last, is where some measure of redemption takes place in the story.  It seems as though she brings up the baby without bitteness or rancour because many years later as an adult, Grace visits Tom, Isabel having passed away. The death of one father leaves one wife bereaved, but the deceit of a couple, in their desperation to have children, bring misery to four people. Sin spreads, sin has consequences, and what tragic webs of sorrow sin weaves in our lives.

Unwinding the tangled web
Suppose we could go back in time, suppose, for a moment, a wife grieving over two miscarriages is comforted and strengthened by her husband against a temptation to take a baby not her own (for to do what is right is always better than to do what feels best). Suppose the husband lovingly stood up to his wife and reported the missing baby. A grieving mother would have been reunited with her baby, four years of seared conscience avoided and many long years of sorrow in the lives of four people prevented.

It sounds like I think The Light Between Oceans is a real-life story! These themes are so close to the tangled webs we weave that it could very easily be a real life story, from which only the saving grace of God can heal and restore. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The (spiritual) gift of leadership - do you have it?

A vital gift
According to Paul's letter to the Romans (chapter 12) leadership is a gift of God. Paul is not thinking here of the ordinary practise of human leadership, but the spiritual gift of leadership - which is very different from human leadership, or what we might call "worldly leadership".

Worldly leadership
The practise of worldly leadership is very different from spiritual leadership. A worldly leader may have acquired his position by smooth rhetoric - some people can talk and charm their way to the top. Perhaps she got there by wealth - in the ancient Roman world you bought positions of authority (as you do in many countries today). Perhaps it was sheer force of personality or even bullying or education, that led to the top. There are unusual worldly leaders who did not get to the top by these means, to be sure, but they are rare.

Christian leadership
Christian leadership and secular leadership may, like two circles, overlap in the middle. For example, all leaders are communicators (they answer emails, texts, etc.) and all leaders give attention to detail, but here are five unique qualities of Christian leadership, taken from Christ our supreme example:

(1) Christian leaders are humble. This is the first requirement, and it is evidenced by teachability and a submissive spirit. Someone who does not know how to "back down", who has never been known to submit to another may make a fine leader in the world ("he's a strong leader" they may even say, "she's never made a U-turn"), but this person does not have the gift of Christian leadership.

(2) Christian leaders are courageous. A Christian leader must put the will of God before the will of anyone else - including the will of his wife, family, whoever. When Jesus' family came to him on one occasion, assuming he would automatically and immediately jump to their needs, ("of course, they are flesh and blood"), Jesus continued teaching - for his Father had given him that task.

(3) Christian leaders have a servant spirit. "The Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Leaders don't hang around waiting to be crowned, but without any promptings get on with the work as humble as it may be. This inded is a major way their gift is discerned: they are servant hearted.

(4) Christian leaders lead by example. Christian leaders do not say "Do this" but go and do something else. The force of all their exhortations comes only from the example of their lives. "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

(5) Christian leaders are hard working. Finally, true Christian leaders are hard working. Jesus accomplished so much in his life that the apostle John once wondered if all the books in the world would be enough to record his works.

Are you a spiritual leader?!

In my own personal experience, spiritual leadership is rare, but since Christ is the head of the church, we expect to find him raising up all the leaders any local church needs. Our task is to constantly look out for the next generation of spiritual leaders. We can't make them, but we can recognise them.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

What is success?

(when bringing up our children.....)

The latest edition of TIME Magazine talks about nine families who "raised children who all went on to extraordinary success" - or so it says. So how do TIME define "extraordinary success"? Here goes; two examples:

  • The Wojcicki sisters - one is an epidemiologist, another the CEO of Youtube and the third the CEO of a genetics company.
  • The Simmon brothers - one a rapper and reality star, another a painter and philanthropist, another a co-founder and hip-hop mogul.

In other words, success = someone who is either clever, famous, powerful, wealthy or gifted. This is how the world evaluates success and this view so easily invades and shapes the mindset of Christians.

What's missing?

What is missing from this worldly definition of success is everything that a follower of Jesus regards as most important and precious. Character (and especially Christlike characteristics such as servanthood) is missing, and faith in Christ which leads to salvation and eternal hope is missing.

What matters to a Christian parent, towering above all other matters, is that our children come to know the Lord Jesus Christ whom to know is eternal life. We then want our children to walk faithfully with God all their lives, using the gifts he has given them, all the while storing up treasure in heaven. If their calling is to sweep the streets or sweep into power, it makes no difference to us: we prefer a converted street sweeper as a son than a pagan president.

The qualities TIME regards as giving a child "extraordinary success" are actually rather unimportant, for all of them are passing and ephemeral.

Christmas letters

Over the last 30 years I have taken special note of the annual Christmas letters we recieve from Christians and sad it is to say, we Christians are just like the world. We boast about the earthly achievements of our children and hardly even mention spiritual qualities and characters.

Daily polutted by the values of the world we need a regular cleansing and renewing of our minds and attitudes and priorities, so that we can train our children in the things that really matter and guide their feet into true greatness.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

On Reading Books

"I don't read books"

I have met Christians who make boast of the claim that they don't read books, even that they don't do much reading fullstop. Invariably this turns out to be part-tale because they're on social media or online much of the day. What they normally mean is that they don't like the serious discipline of sitting down to read a book.

It's a hard position to defend as a Christian because we are, by definition, "people of a book", the Scriptures. It is the truth that sanctifies us, comforts us, leads us and teaches us. So frankly if we are not readers of The Book, at the very least, we shall be poor followers of the Word.

The tale of Les
What is more, love for The Book often leads to a great love of reading in general. I once worked at Yale Locks in Willenhall where I met a labourer by the name of Les. Recently converted his mind had come alive. Not just his heart but his mind. He would have been one of those "I don't read" types (except of course The Sun) but God's word, like yeast in a batch of dough was shaping every part of his life including his mind. He became a great reader - and some of those books were heavy stuff. (It is a complete myth that working class blokes are thick - this man had more intelligence than most graduates I have met).

So reading books and being a Christian kindof go together.

But this can be a problem: it's possible to be a reader and not be a learner. Unless the reading is disciplined you can end up deeper in the trenches of tradition and prejudice than ever before.

The example of Holy Scripture
The divinely inspired Scriptures set for us a noble example of how to read. We are given many different varieties of reading material in the 66 books of holy writ. We have biography and letter, poetry and prophecy, law and song. Some books are easy to understand and some hard. Some can be read "off the surface" others require a whole lot of background study. With the divine example in mind, we might draw up a few guidelines for reading books.

Suggested guidelines for reading books
(1) Read widely. It would be a mistake to limit your reading to one class of books. Read Christian books (mainly) but read secular books as well to understand the world you are living in. Read doctrine, read history, read biography, read poetry, read generally.

(2) Read the best. Since life is short, choose carefully. Make sure the book has good reviews (good=written by layman, "I found it helpful", ignore the comments of the doctors and teachers of the law, "a praiseworthy summary of the author's PhD manuscript"). Best is often old. Why? Because time sifts out the rubbish. A new book bigged up by a publishing company spending millions to earn millions may be worthless and tomorrow consigned to the (big) dustbin of history. If in doubt, speed-read before reading.

(3) Read outside your comfort Zone. Reading can actually make a man more ignorant if all he does is read to confirm his prejudices! Some do that until they are experts in dots and commas. Read books you do not want to read! Let them challenge you. Example: I am correctly reading a whole set of books on the Anabaptists. These guys were despised by the Reformers - especially the big shots like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin - (of whom I once thought of a tad too highly!). I am quickly becoming an Anabaptist as a result! Or, to correct myself, I think their contribution to Christianity has been greatly underestimated by history and the Reformed churches.

(4) Read outside your interest Zone. So you read outside of your comfort Zone: you read the Anabaptists if you are Reformed, the Calvinists if you are Arminian. But what about something totally different. Do you read enough biography? Enough history? Some fiction (a little)? (Steady!)

(5) Read One Book the Most. Some years ago a good man, a good pastor went astray seriously. Those around him had sensed this drift many years before. The man admitted that for every Christian book he read, he was determined to read a secular one (ratio 1:1). Perhaps that's a poor balance. Because we can be tainted even by standing in the way of sinners and turn into chaff that the wind blows away. We need to guard our thoughts and fill them with the law of the Lord. And if we meditate on that law we will become like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season. Above all else, disciplined above all else, make the reading and study of God's most holy Word, your primary reading. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

How to defeat Satan

The Victory of Jesus Christ
According to the Scriptures, Jesus appeared to"destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8). He disarmed and  "made a public spectacle of them (the powers and authorities), triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15). This means that Satan is a defeated enemy and that "he who is within us (Christ by his Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world (Satan)." (1 John 4:4).

Satan's ultimate - and total - defeat lies in the future and for now he still is granted a limited amount of power over the world, "the whole world is under the control of the evil one." (1 John 5:19). That's the world,  but how does Satan influence believers? He cannot possess them, but he does oppress us: how does that work?

Satan's chief influence upon believers is through deceit and LIES.

Satan tells us lies. know this because the spiritual weapons of our warfare given in Ephesians 6 include the "belt of truth" and "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." We know this because he stumbled our first parents with lies (Genesis 3). We know this because Jesus answered him with truth (Matthew 4) and we know this because Jesus called him "the father of lies." (John 8:44).

Satan tells believers lies.

And if we believe those lies, we shall find ourselves "under his spell." Understanding this fact is truly liberating. Because immediately then you are equipped to evaluate all the lies you have been listening to and equipped to respond with truth, "it is written."

Some of Satan's Lies 

LIE 1: "Your sins of the past have not been forgiven"

THE TRUTH? "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." (Is 43:25)

LIE 2: "You will never be able to change!"

THE TRUTH? "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3)

LIE 3: "God doesn't love you!"

THE TRUTH? "For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you.." (1 Thess 1:4) "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)

LIE 4: "If you do that, it will be good"

THE TRUTH? "In the day you eat of it you shall surely die!" (Genesis 2:17 ) "sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:15)

LIE 5: "This Gospel advance will never succeed!"

THE TRUTH? "All authority has been given to me... Go and make disciples... I am with you always." (Matthew 28)

Examining our hearts
When Satan whispers a lie in our ears, and we find ourselves falling for it, it always produces a negative feeling in our hearts. It may produce guilt, fear, loss of courage, whatever. This is a major way to recognise his lies:- what's the effect upon our hearts?

When Paul was writing about the spiritual battle in Ephesians 6, he owned up to one of his own feelings - fear. His task was a preacher, so Satan would whisper dark thoughts into his ears, "You're not a good preacher" "You'll get in trouble if you say that", and so on. And so twice, right at the end of this letter Paul asks for boldness. Instead of believing the lies of the evil one and backing off preaching, he wanted to preach with courage.

Examine those dark emotions. Where do they come from? Are they the result of believing the lies of Satan?

Overcome them with Truth!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Curse of the Academy

The beauty of Jesus' Method
The way Jesus trained the Twelve has never been improved upon and never will be. He took twelve ordinary men and spent tons of time with them over three years. He taught them by word and example without one classroom, except the open  fields, without one exam, except the tests of prayerlessness, pride and impotence.

I think he probably meant - No! I know he meant - when he gave the great commission that the way to make disciples (and leaders too) was the way he had just done it.

But we think we're cleverer and smarter than Jesus and so we adopt the academic model, and what a mess we are in!

The academic model (classroom, textbooks, exams and so on), is fine for learning physics, maths, medicine and such like, but it is completely inadequate for training believers or church leaders. 

I had thought, until very recently, that this curse was a plague only visited upon middle class churches, but I have recently discovered that so appealing are "qualifications" that even modern day proper working class fishermen-type leaders have bought into it.

So here are seven reasons why the academic modern model is wrong, so very, very wrong.

The curse of the Academic Model

1. The academic model is termly! Let's teach folk 3 terms a year, say each nine weeks long. What about the other 25 weeks a year? They don't need to be taught then? Minor point......

2. The academic emphasises the wrong kind of knowledge - head knowledge! What matters most is not what we know in our heads (which fades so quickly) but what has come down into our hearts and shaped our lives. "Apprenticeship knowledge" is knowledge about how to actually make a certain kind of wood joint, not the theory of making the joint, and its apprenticeship knowledge we should be developing, not head stuff.

3. In emphasising the wrong kind of knowledge, the academic model generates pride! Of course! Pride puffs up! Not rocket science, this! I know stuff you don't. I've got a BA you don't. I've got an MA, you don't.  I've got a PhD, you don't. I went to ABC you only went to abc. Ridiculous! What we are after is humble servants so we put them through a machine which is designed to generate pride! A PhD in the kingdom of Christ, let's be straight, is worth no more than an ASBO (Google it).

4. The academic model of training takes people away from church! What! Can we imagine Jesus sending the Twelve out of the real world into some kind of institution to learn? The world, no the church, is the only place where learning can or should take place.

5. The academic model has some serious - and stupid - spinoffs. Perhaps the most serious is that it skews one gift - the preaching gift - above all others. Of course, the teacher-man knows the most. This is bad news not only from the body-ministry point of view, it is bad news from the "all eggs in one basket" point of view. We wonder why no-one is converted - must be the preaching. We wonder why no-one is growing - must be the preaching! Most people, actually are converted by one-one conversations, not by preaching. Most spiritual growth, actually, takes place in body fellowship, not through preaching.

One sad spin off is the way Christian Conferences model themselves on the classroom. They have "papers" from the experts instead of fellowship and sharing between conference delegates. Of course, that's how a university works. Can we really imagine "papers" at the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15?

6. The academic model makes boring Christian books. Why? Because they constantly put in distracting footnotes and also write their books first for the approval of the geezers who will boast on the back of their qualifications to asses this book as good, whatever.

I notice with interest that all truly great Christian writers like Tozer, Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon never put in foot notes. Because they were more interested in helping the common saints than impressing boffins.

7. The academic model skews giftings in the church. I recently read of a conference that was seeking to attract people to it by telling them that their main speaker had two PhDs! It's one of the main reasons I shan't go! Why? Because in the New Testament the qualifications that warrant a man to lead are things like being filled with the Spirit and filled with wisdom, having suffered greatly for the Gospel's sake, not having letters after your name. As long as we appoint the boffin types, we will appoint the wrong types.

Away with it all!
We have only just begun our list, but seven will do! Away with the whole system and back to the supreme model set by the Son of God. Train people in geology and literature that way, but leave that method behind at the university gates.

I guess the only problem with his model is that you get no fame by adopting it.

Fame, rising in the ranks, certificates, all that jazz: isn't that the real reason the western evangelical church loves the academic model? I think so.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

My Favourite Pagan Philosopher

All my favourites are rebels!

All my favourite writers, whether Christian or non-Christian have to be outsiders, rebels, prophets. They have to stand outside the paradigms in which they were born and think as the OT prophets, and as the Greatest Prophet of All thought - new wine for new wineskins.

In other words they must be madly unPC. They simply won't follow the herd, the crowd or the norm -they refuse to think and act just because everyone else does the same.They want to find truth.

Of course there are two kinds of rebel. There are the kind that simply go off the rails with mad and maddening ramblings. These we discount as one would discount a madman.

There is a right rebellion and wrong rebellion. Wrong rebellion is rebellion for rebellion's sake. Right rebellion is rebellion for truth's sake.

 My favourite Pagan Philosopher
I don't know if you should have a favourite pagan philosopher, but the apostle Paul quoted a few in the seventeenth chapter of Acts, so I seem to be in good company.  I am not looking for a philosopher who everyone looks up to - such a man or woman is likely to be simply a parrot of modern thought and modern morality.

No I'm looking for someone who has two criteria about them: (i) they've been rejected by their community - or at least criticised, and (ii) that criticism has been on account of truth, partial or whole.

Mary Midgley is one of my favourites, so is Raymond Talis, but Thomas Nagel of New York is my current favourite. This is because he was (i) recently criticised by some in his community, "the writings of a once-great philosopher" said one critic and (ii) he is inching towards truth, partial truth in any case.

Mind and Cosmos - the book that made Nagel Great
Mr Nagel trusts his instincts and trusts common sense. In his wonderfully readable "Mind and Cosmos" he says that he is highly sceptical of Darwinian tales of our origins because we are required to put away common sense (p.7). Good 'ole common sense says that whenever we come across an object of great beauty, craftsmanship or intricacy, we automatically assume a great mind was behind it. Darwinian thinking requires us to deny what we know from all common experience.

Mr Nagel knows that as we go up the complex tree we finally reach the human mind (in this world, the most complex 'thing'). And no way can this absurdly complex mind come from matter - without a Mind. That is just plain daft. And daft because of the sheer complexity of thinking (theory of mind). How wonderful and amazing is the human mind! And mind in general.

Partial truth
So Nagel rejects the foolish common western notion that mind can arise from non-mind, from matter just by itself. This idea he thinks will be the stuff of the comedians in generations to come: "When I was a lad, they believed that our minds just "happened" over billions of years of chance and necessity from nothing!" H!a Ha! Ha!

"I would be willing to be that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a gerenartion or two." (p.128) 

OK so if mind can't come from matter, where does it come from? Here is where Mr Nagel, the good Professor from New York University is not such a prophet after all. Because he does not accept the existence of God (that would pretty much cast him out of the universe of universities) he believes that a new way of looking at the universe which starts with mind in the mix from the start is a better way about things. (If you don't put mind in the ingredients how can you get it out in the cake?) You need mind right there at the start.

"I would like to say something the polar opposite of materialism, namely the position that mind, rather than physical law, provides the fundamental level of explanation of everything." (p.21)

OK Prof, but why not accept that this "mind providing the fundamental level of explanation of everything" is  God? That would make sense?

Because then my whole life - and perhaps my whole career - will need to be examined. In man's desire to sin, to move away from God, he suppresses the truth about God, even when he gets so close.

It will take the miracle of faith to bring Nagel all the way to what the Hebrew Bible writers said before Plato (and all his followers, the philosophers), "In the beginning God..."

I pray for Thomas that one day God will open his eyes. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Modern Western Oppression of Women

Two kinds of oppression
All forms of oppression involve some combination of  "negative" and "positive". The person oppressed is either  forced to do something they don't want, or can't do ("positive" oppression) or prevented from doing something they wish to do ("negative" oppression).

In the ancient oppression of women, called patriarchy - women experienced both kinds of oppression. They could not vote, they were prevented from certain careers, they were paid less than men for the same jobs, and so on. And, yes, they were also forced to do things they did not want to do.

Modern Oppression
In the modern version of oppression called radical feminism - women continue to experience oppression. We are thankful that feminism has done away with a lot of negative oppression. Made in the image of God men and women should both have the same opportunity for education, the privilege of voting, and should be paid the same as men for the same job. There are many aspects of modern feminism for which we should rejoice.

But westerners imagine therefore, because they have eradicated some negative oppression, that women are now free. But that is a myth. No secular culture uninformed by God's Word can set anyone free.

Positive Oppression
Positive oppression is the pressure to do what we are not designed to do. In the name of  "equality" - that pseudo-wise weasel word of modern culture - women are encouraged to live lives they may not feel they want to live or feel they are equipped to live.

Modern oppression denies biological and psychological  facts:

A woman is very different from a man:
  • A woman can give birth
  • A woman can feed a baby
  • A woman has a natural predisposition to care for little ones
  • A woman is more emotional than a man - her hormonal make up is different

A man is very different from a woman:
  • A man cannot give birth
  • A man cannot feed a baby
  • A man is much stronger than a woman (in sports men are not pitted against a woman for this reason)
  • A man has far more testosterone running around his body 
  • A man is better psychologically equipped for leadership 

Common sense and psychological tests reveal these vast differences between the sexes:

"In an article published in the online journal PLoS ONE, psychologist Marco Del Giudice and his collaborators compared the personality traits of men and women in a sample of over 10,000 people and found huge differences. Women scored much higher than in men in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension, while men scored higher than women in Emotional Stability, Dominance, Rule-Consciousness, and Vigilance."

- this is just what anyone who lives in the real world would expect. While men and women are equal ontologically, that is in terms of value, they are not created (made by God, designed by God) to perform the same roles and tasks.

The very confusing equality mantra of radical feminism says that in the name of "equality" men and women must do the same tasks even if they are not designed to do the same tasks.

(The logical conclusion of radical feminism is to insist that the Government provides the medical services for a man to have a baby: only then can men and women be truly "equal", using that word in the way they define it. Only then will men and women be truly "equal." This absurd example illustrates the absurd nature of modern political correctness: men and women, when you think about it for 10 seconds are actually not "equal" in every way).

Positive oppression takes place when a woman is put under pressure to be or to do what she is not created to be or to do, all in the name of  pseudo-righteous confused "equality"; and positive oppression takes place when a man is forced to be or do what he is not created to be or do.

Example? Suppose in our day a young woman comes to this conclusion, "I believe that the very highest calling in life for me at the present time is to give my life and time to bringing up the children God has given to me and my husband. This calling is far more significant than being a managing director, a Professor, pursuing a career or making money. It will have a much greater impact on the world than any of the options just listed because the hand that rocks the cradle ends up ruling the world. And I believe that I myself will be far more satisfied in doing it than any of the options I am forced into by my culture. All my gifts will be used to the nth degree, from organisational gifts to intellectual gifts."

She then takes this view into the modern world and what does she get? "You are liberated to pursue this wonderful goal?" "Go for it sister!" Not at all! In our oppressive western culture, all she will get is negative oppression - "don't do that",  and positive oppression - "this is what you should be doing, pursuing a career for yourself."

So she gives up her own dream and gives up her maternal instincts and feels forced to do something she does not want to do - pursue a secular career.

If that is not oppression, I don't know what is. "You may not do what you want to do! You must do what you don't wish to do."

So while our culture prides itself in the advances it has made over the inequality of patriarchy, it continues to oppress women (and men) by radical feminism.

Only Jesus sets us free
Only the Gospel sets men and women free! By setting us free to be who God  made us to be - equal in value but created very different in gifts and abilities. True freedom can only take place when we are in possession of the truth about who we are, then truth sets us free.

It is high time for a new feminism which will truly liberate women, and that New Feminism can only be discovered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Overwhelming Theory

Facts are more important than theories
Something is happening with our science magazines.  National Geographic, Scientific American, Science, and the like are moving away from facts and focusing on theories.

As our understanding of God's amazing world advances, what matters most are the new findings, the new facts. The theories which attempt to tie these facts together are interesting, but very much secondary - why? Because they are in constant flux.

Theories now dominate
But this is not how science magazines now see things. Today's science magazines rush to theory and hardly present the facts at all - facts which are of primary importance - and which readers would really like to know about!

Example 1: Almost Human, National Geographic
Recently National Geographic published an article about some research on apes in some jungle and entitled it "Almost Human." No-one in their right mind  would have called the behaviour described in the article as "Almost Human." The researchers found a few apes using sticks to poke around trees and labelled all of this as tool behaviour. Did they find an ape making a metal chisel, sharpening it, and then carving out a Michelangelo David? That would be tool use and that would warrant the title "Almost Human." No, they found - the few paltry facts -  a few dumb apes doing dumb ape stuff (no offence meant to apes, that's their design limit, compared to the vast glory of man made in the image of the Glorious Creator).

In this example the very few true facts were completely overwhelmed by the doubtful theory of evolution. What would have been far more honest - and interesting - is a chart comparing the behaviour of humans to the behaviour of the apes they found in the forest. Then readers could have made proper judgements instead of being bullied into foolish and misleading theory-laden headings "Almost Human."

Example 2: Birth of the Solar system, Scientific American, May 2016
This May's Scientific American is all about the remarkable uniqueness of our solar system. But I had to really work hard to wheedle out the paltry details of this fact whihc is scattered about, one sentence here, another there. It turns out that as we discover hundreds and thousands of new planetary systems going around other stars, guess what? Ours is radically unique. In most other planetary systems, you find massive "hot Jupiters" close in to the star (not like our Jupiter and Saturn who are far away) or / and some massive earths (not like our puny earth). It would have been wonderful to have charts showing the differences between our solar system and these new ones. But no, it is really hard to gather the facts out of the article.

What dominates the article, then? Theory. Astronomers have had to tear up the old models of how the solar system formed and come up with totally new ones, and it is these new multi-part theories that dominate the charts and diagrams of the article. The theories are interesting, but they are also most likely, just like their predecessors, to quickly pass.  I want to know the new findings, the new facts - which will last - much more than I want to know the new theories, which though interesting I mentally register with a pinch of salt.

A lesson for science students: go for the facts, be sceptical about the theories
Science students who don't study the philosophy of science or the history of science can so easily be taken in by the stories (passing theories) of modern science. And unfortunately, the science magazines don't help here. What science students need to learn well is the data, the new findings, the new figures and facts. Yes, by all means read the theories, but know this: those theories will change with the seasons, unlike the facts.

Love facts, question all theories - that is good science folks.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Time to ditch the word "evangelical"?


Once upon a time....
There was a day I would have proudly called myself an "evangelical." The word "Evangelical", taking its cue from the New Testament word "Evangel", "Message" or "Gospel" was a wonderful way to describe every true Christian believer. It was shorthand for "Bible Believing Christian" and many of us were proud to wear the T shirt. It was a one-stop title.

Evangelical stood for:
  • Born Again - someone whose life had been supernaturally transformed by the Holy  Spirit.
  • Bible Believing - someone who accepted the Scriptures, old and new Testaments as the revered Word of God
  • Orthodox- someone whose doctrine was in line with the historic creeds and confessions of Christianity
  • Gospel-centred - a believer who loved the Good News of Jesus Christ and made sharing the Great Commission of Matthew 28 a priority

....but words change
However over time the word evangelical has changed its meaning. But unlike the word "enthusiasm" which once meant something unpleasant (a radical) but now means something positive, the word Evangelical has moved in the opposite direction. The word has become so elastic it includes those who no longer take the Bible seriously. And conversely, it has narrowed to refer only to one group of Christian people.

"Evangelical" means "Charismatic"
If you google "Evangelical" images you will see what I mean. An evangelical now is someone who has pentecostal or charismatic beliefs. Pentecostals and Charismatics are brothers and sisters in Christ who are evangelical (old meaning) in their belief systems, but they don't represent the whole of the evangelical (old meaning) world. There are millions of Christians who believe that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for the foundational era of the church and are no longer available or necessary today.

"Evangelical" means "liberal"
But far more concerning is the rapid widening of the "evangelical net" to include those who deny the plain teachings of the Bible or accommodate the liberal theological academic establishment. Men like NT Wright have had huge influence among some evangelicals (because he is "clever" and has all those weird and perfectly irrelevant letters after his name, which some find apparently authenticating: all you need for God's approval is something like "fisherman" or "tax-collector" after your name.) Academics like this are wedded to the intellectual establishment, with all its foolish passing fads, and write for the approval of fellow academics, making their work contorted, convoluted, and worst of all polluted by the liberalism of the secular academy. The moment they die their work will be fortunately undermined (for they are no longer around to defend their ideas) and thus quickly forgotten. Their followers, such as Steve Chalke, take the teachings of their revered professors to their logical conclusions and end up as Gospel-deniers. But, the point: these men still cling to the word "evangelical" and pollute its meaning.

"Evangelical" means "immoral"
And then, thirdly, there are the growing number of immoral men and women who have infiltrated the "evangelical" church with same-sex sinful lifestyles. It is truly astounding how many recent authors "defending" the sin of homosexual pratice have continued to call themselves "evangelical." By incredibly selective choosing of texts and deliberate exclusion of the main texts they have spun a web of lies - but, the point: they cling to the word "evangelical."

In this confused morass, before you call yourself an evangelical you need to add a few more sentences "I am a historic evangelical" or "a confessional evangelical" or "I am not a liberal evangelical" or "I am not a practising homosexual evangelical" or whatever, which sort-of undermines the value of a precious one-stop title.

So regrettably, its probably time to ditch the word evangelical, but what can replace it? Bible-believing Christian is probably the best alternative.

Monday, 7 March 2016

In the Begining God Created... or Meadow?
Tragically, these five words have become a battlefield, when their purpose was to be a meadow for the soul.

The conflict has been caused by different schools of interpretation. Some who are scientists first and Christians second, buy into every contemporary theory of science, believing that present science is final science. Then they don their Christian hats and go about trying to fit the Bible to those theories.

Others, professing to be Christians first and scientists second, believe that the Bible is a science text book, from which can be read a full account, a full theory, a full history of the material universe. They proceed to do exactly what the scientists do and develop extensive scientific theories from the data of the Bible.

These two camps can so often turn the soul-nourishing words of Genesis 1-3 into a battlefield.

If the mistake of the former is to be scientists before they are Christians, the error of the second group - with whom I have by far the greatest sympathies because they are committed to the primacy of Scripture - is to believe, wrongly, that the Bible is a science text book. The God who wrote the Book of Scripture also wrote the book of creation. And we must consult both together, not the one without the other, to understand God's wonderful material world. The Bible is sufficient but not exhaustive.

If for a moment we lay aside arms, wonderful truth emerges from these opening five words.

God is first
First of all, God comes first. Not even yet, God the Creator - as if he was only defined by what he created, but simply God, the great Almighty Being. Before any material or immaterial thing was, God was. He alone is the Everlasting Self-existent One, the fount of his own existence. At one time there was nothing but God. He did not need something to be glorious. And surely He ought to be the great object of our thoughts and worship. Instead of allowing our minds to drift into worry or to be filled with the small things of this passing world, let us turn our minds to God, the Supreme Reality, who has through his dear Son become our Father in heaven.

Spirit comes first 
"God is Spirit" we read in Scripture, and so we learn from the opening words of Scripture that spirit comes before matter. Our world is pre-ocupied with matter - and matter is good for God created it - but there is more to living reality than matter. There is spirit, there is soul, there is the invisible world. A pre-occupation with matter leads directly to an idolising of things and time. Things are what count most. This world is everything. Make sure you are putting away enough for a good pension so that you can live a comfortable life in old age. Buy your own home. Keep up with technology. Download FitBit.

But spirit came before matter, and our souls will outlive our mortal bodies. We are not arguing for the priority of soul over body like the Greeks did, just a rebalancing of our priorities in a matter-mad world. "Is it well with my soul?" is the pre-eminent question for every human being.

Mind comes first
This may seem like a more philsophical point, but it needs to be understood: a thinking mind came before matter. God was before the universe was. The implications are vast and make perfect sense. There is no way you can end up with this amazing wonderful complicated beautiful world without a planning mind before it and behind it. In spite of all the protestations to the contrary, a great Mind planned and created the world. But secondly, you cannot move from matter to mind. Mind can give birth to matter, but matter can never give rise to mind. Matter + the laws of physics + chance cannot produce complexity. Even the pagans are beginning to see this. Thomas Nagel - a prominent atheist philosopher - has endured much criticism for pointing out this ABC truth.

Standing outside these hot debates, for us this simple point - mind comes before matter- makes simple common sense. We look at the beauty around us and it points to a glorious Creator with an amazing mind. What a mind has God! What a Planner, what a Designer!

When I think, for example, just of the amazing spacesuit I am "wearing" as I write. Spacesuit? Everywhere else in the universe I could live only with the help of a very extensive life-support system (and remember the rest of the universe is basically 100% of the universe).  But here in this thin shell that surrounds the earth, a few miles below sea level to a few miles above it, I can leave the house, breathe, walk around and live. The bisophere is nothing short of a miraculous spacesuit.

Genesis doesn't tell us everything, we must go further, we must move to John 1, the Genesis account of the New Testament. An old Russian hymn, translated by Stuart Kline helps us to end this meditation:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God; to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God; to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze;

But when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
sent him to die-I scarce can take it in
that on the cross, our burden gladly bearing,
he bled and died to take away our sin;

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
and take me home-what joy shall fi1l my heart!
Then shall I bow in humble adoration,
and there proclaim: My God, how great thou art!