December 2008

Whenever an all-church fast is called, pastors commonly give people a range of fasting options to engender wider participation.  On the one extreme, total abstention from food and drink (except water) is called for.  On the other extreme is what is often called “the Daniel fast.”  This is usually defined as eating only vegetables and drinking liquids.

The basis for the Daniel fast is found in Daniel 1:8-16.  We read that Daniel ate only vegetables, and drank only water (vs. 10, 16).  A reading of the text, however, does not warrant categorizing this as a fast.

Daniel was among the captives taken from Jerusalem to Babylon.  The king of Babylon, Belteshazzar, had Daniel put into a three year training program so that he might serve in the king’s court.  As part of the program, the king provided the initiates with his edible delicacies, including his wine.  Daniel objected to eating and drinking these things because these foods were ritually unclean according to Jewish dietary laws (v. 8).  Instead of eating and drinking the king’s ritually unclean delicacies, Daniel chose to limit his diet to vegetables and water.

Daniel’s overseer was hesitant to comply with Daniel’s request, for fear that Daniel’s vegetable diet would make him appear malnutritioned in comparison to the other initiates, and displease the king.  Daniel, however, was able to persuade the overseer to provide him his special diet for ten days to determine whether it would, in fact, affect Daniel’s appearance.  After the ten days had expired, Daniel’s appearance was healthier than the initiates who ate the king’s delicacies!  As a result, the overseer allowed Daniel to continue with his diet of vegetables and water.

Three things stand out about this text.  First, it does not describe Daniel’s actions as a fast.

Secondly, Daniel’s abstention from the king’s meat and drink was morally motivated, not spiritually motivated.  He was not abstaining for reasons of spiritual growth, but because participation would have been immoral according to the Law of Moses.

Thirdly, Daniel had no intention of abstaining for a mere ten days, but indefinitely.  In fact, the text suggests that had the overseer not granted Daniel’s request, Daniel was willing to suffer the consequences for continuing to deny the king’s delicacies (v. 13).  The ten days served only as a trial period to prove to the overseer that Daniel could maintain a healthy appearance on a diet of vegetables and water.  It would be improper, then, to construe this as a fast.  Fasts are not indefinite.  This is more properly termed a “diet,” differing little from those in modern times who choose a life of vegetarianism for various reasons.

It seems difficult to escape the conclusion that there is no such thing as the Daniel fast.  And outside this passage, fasting is never described as the abstention from certain foods.  It is always described as the abstention from all food.  Does that mean God will not honor the sacrifice of someone who gives up certain foods for a period of time?  Not at all.  God will honor any sacrifices we make for him.  What it does mean is that there is no warrant for calling such a sacrifice a “fast.”  Furthermore, apart from those who cannot abstain from all food for health-related issues, surely we can do better than a “Daniel fast.”  I could go to Olive Garden, pig-out on the all-you-can-eat soup and salad, and technically be on “the Daniel fast.”  But surely this undermines the purpose of fasting: a time of personal discipline and dedication to spiritual matters.  If we are going to fast, and our health permits, let’s fast the Biblical way: total abstention from food.  That is a genuine sacrifice, and most of us can do it!

Which sounds more appropriate?:

1.  My opinion is that vanilla ice-cream is the best flavor of ice-cream.
2.  My conviction is that vanilla ice-cream is the best flavor of ice-cream.

I think most people would go with option 1, but why?  The denotative meaning of “opinion” and “conviction” allows for both usages, but the connotative meaning is quite different.  “Opinion” connotes a weak epistemic viewpoint.  When someone says they have an opinion on a matter, we tend to think there was little, if any research that went into forming their viewpoint.  “Opinion” has subjectivity and personal taste written all over it.  “Conviction,” on the other hand, connotes a much stronger epistemic viewpoint.  When we hear someone say their conviction is that X is true, we tend to think there was at least a fair amount of research that was instrumental in forming their conclusion.  A conviction is not entirely subjective, but based in some facts.

I would not make a doctrine out of this, but it seems to me that when we are speaking of our perspective on matters of objective truth, that we couch them in terms of our “conviction” rather than in terms of our “opinion.”  Opinion seems better reserved for matters of subjective truth like one’s favorite flavor of ice-cream.  Conviction bespeaks rational persuasion.  This is important in a culture in which religious claims are presumed to be flavors of ice-cream, with everyone simply picking the flavor that appeals to their tastes.  We need to make it clear that we do not have mere opinions on religious matters, but have developed genuine convictions through researching matters of objective fact.

The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence goes as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

With some additional philosophical reasoning, the cause of the universe is ultimately identified as God.  Some seek to undermine this causal argument for God’s existence by defining causality as a wholly physical principle limited to physical reality, rather than a metaphysical principle with broad application to both physical and non-physical reality.  If this assessment is correct, then the causal principle does not apply to the question of cosmic origins because it came into being concomitantly with the universe, thereby exempting the origin of the universe itself from its influence.  This would effectively undermine premise 1 of the KCA, because the universe would be an example of something that begins to exist, and yet does not require a cause.

But why think causality is a wholly physical principle?  I have yet to hear an argument to substantiate this claim that does not beg the question in favor of naturalism/atheism.  The most common argument is that causes necessarily precede their effects in time.  Since time began concomitantly with the universe, there was no time prior to the universe in which a cause could have occurred, and thus the universe must be an effect without a cause.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism/atheism, for only by assuming the truth of naturalism/atheism does it follow that causes necessarily precede their effects in time.  But it’s the truth of naturalism/atheism that the causal argument brings into question!  It is fallacious to argue the causal argument is meaningless because it posits a cause outside the spatio-temporal universe, when the causal argument itself is grounds for calling into question the naturalistic/atheistic assumption that causation is a wholly physical principle, limited to the spatio-temporal universe.

While temporal priority may be a common property of causation (particularly as we experience the causal principle in a temporal world), it is not a necessary property.  Causes can be prior to their effects in one of two ways: temporally, logically.  Even Immanuel Kant recognized this.  As an example of logical causal priority, he asks us to imagine a heavy ball resting on a cushion from eternity past.  The physical proximity of the ball and cushion forms a concave depression in the cushion that is coeternal with the ball and cushion.  What, then, is the cause of the concavity?  Neither the ball nor the cushion enjoys temporal priority over the other (the ball never began to rest on the cushion, and the cushion never existed apart from the ball’s resting on it), so there is no temporally prior cause.  If we adopt the naturalist’s assumptions, we should conclude it is uncaused.  But surely this is unreasonable!  As a contingent property, the concavity of the pillow begs for a causal explanation.  If the cause-effect relationship cannot be temporal in nature, then it must be logical in nature.  The ball is the logically prior to the pillow’s concavity (surely the concavity of the pillow does not cause the sphericity of the ball!), and thus is the cause of the concavity.  Likewise, as a contingent being, the universe demands a causal explanation.  That cause cannot be temporally prior to the universe, so it must be logically prior.  If there can be causal relations independent of temporality, then the naturalist’s objection to the KCA’s first premise fails.  Everything that begins to exist, including the universe, requires a cause.

Up to now I have granted the objector’s presupposition that causes precede their effects in time, but I think there are good reasons to believe that causes are concomitant with their effects.  If so, then the cause of the universe would be temporal after all, and the objection against premise 1 of the KCA fails.  William Lane Craig makes a good case for the temporal simultaneity of cause and effect:

Imagine C and E are the cause and the effect. If C were to vanish before the time at which E is produced, would E nevertheless come into being? Surely not! But if time is continuous, then no matter how close to E’s appearance C’s disappearance takes place, there will always be an interval of time between C’s disappearance and E’s appearance. But then why or how E came into being when it does seems utterly mysterious, for there is no cause at that moment to produce it.[1]

God’s causing the universe to come into being, then, may be simultaneous to the universe’s coming into being (effect).  If so, the temporal necessity objection against the KCA fails, and the conclusion stands: the universe requires a cause.

Even if all of my previous responses to the temporal necessity objection fail, we can know it is false because time itself does not cause anything even in the spatio-temporal world.  Time is not part of the causal equation.  While cause and effect occur within a temporal framework, time is not causing any effect.  Time is incidental to cause and effect, not essential to it.  If time is not part of the causal relationship, then there is no reason to reject the idea that the universe needs a cause on grounds that the cause would have to be outside of time.

[1]William Lane Craig, “Causation and Spacetime”; available from; Internet; accessed 17 Deceber 2010.

Mark Simpson, a gay writer from the UK, had some interesting words to say about California’s Prop 8-a proposition CA voters passed last month to amend the CA constitution to define marriage as between a man and woman only: 

Gay marriage is being presented by many gay people and liberals on both sides of the Atlantic as the touchstone of gay equality. … But not all gay people agree. This one [the author] sees gay marriage so much as a touchstone as a fetish. A largely symbolic and emotional issue that in the US threatens to undermine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple protection: civil unions bestow in effect the same legal status as marriage in several US states – including California. … Amidst all the gay gnashing of teeth about the inequality of Proposition 8, it’s worth asking: when did marriage have anything to do with equality? Respectability, certainly. Normality, possibly. Stability, hopefully. Very hopefully. But equality? 

First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some. 

More fundamentally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay marriage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex partnerships are partnerships between nominal equals without any biologically, divinely or even culturally determined reproductive/domestic roles.

It’s always nice to hear the opposition making the same points you do.  Simpson is right.  Granting “marriage” to same-sex couples is not about rights; it’s about respect.  And like Elton John, he doesn’t think homosexuals need marriage.  Furthermore, same-sex relationships are not the same as heterosexual relationships.  They do not function the same way in society, and they are inherently different (both biologically and behaviorally).  Why, then, should they be identified by the same name?

“The day I become an atheist is the day God tells me atheism is true.”

Over the past 60 years, the branch of science known as cosmology (studies the history of the universe) has become infested with scientists who engage in metaphysical speculations masquerading as real science.  There’s been everything from Fred Hoyle’s Steady State universe, to the modern multiverse theory.  But few theories have been as speculative and bizarre as Max Tegmark’s.  According to Tegmark, the universe is just math.  In fact, every mathematical “structure” is its own separate universe.  Math is all that really exists.  In his words, “I have this sort of crazy-sounding idea that the reason why mathematics is so effective at describing reality is that it is reality. That is the mathematical universe hypothesis: Mathematical things actually exist, and they are actually physical reality.”  No Max, it doesn’t just sound crazy-it is crazy!  Read the whole piece.

What I find disheartening is that many in the public, because they think scientists only believe that which has been empirically proven, might mistake this bologna for real scientific knowledge.  Sorry folks, not only are scientists biased, but their conclusions often reflect certain philosophical presuppositions and speculations as well.

The universe is incredibly finely-tuned, not only for its own existence, but for the existence of complex, intelligent life.  This fact does not set well with naturalists and atheists.  It is enormously difficult to explain the unfathomable specificity and precision of the cosmos on the basis of chance alone.  Indeed, the value of some physical constants were initial conditions present at the universe’s origin, and thus cannot possibly be explained by random chance processes.  So how do non-theists explain how our universe got so lucky?

While there are a few different approaches floating out there, the one garnering the most attention and support recently is the multiverse hypothesis (a.k.a the Landscape).  Multiverse theory proposes the existence of a near-infinite number of universes.  Given the multitude of universes–it is reasoned–there is bound to be at least one that is life-permitting.  As David Berlinski writes, “[B]y multiplying universes, the Landscape dissolves improbabilities.  To the question What are the odds? the Landscape provides the invigorating answer that it hardly matters.”[1]

Scientist who subscribe to the multiverse view it as the only viable naturalistic alternative to a divine creator.  As Tim Folger wrote:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”-the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.[2]

What I find particularly interesting is how fine-tuning is viewed as a problem in the first place.  No theist would view it as a problem.  It is only problematic to atheists and naturalists because it implies a designing intelligence, and such a being is anathema to them.  In order to avoid the obvious conclusion that an intelligent being was responsible for fine-tuning the universe for existence and life, they propose a naturalistic theory that is, admittedly, not even scientific (because it is neither provable nor falsifiable).  Proponents of the multiverse are honest about this fact.  Consider Andre Linde.  When asked if physicists will ever be able to prove the multiverse hypothesis, he responded:

“Nothing else fits the data.  We don’t have any alternative explanation for the dark energy; we don’t have any alternative explanation for the smallness of the mass of the electron; we don’t have any alternative explanation for many properties of particles.  What I am saying is, look at it with open eyes. These are experimental facts, and these facts fit one theory: the multiverse theory. They do not fit any other theory so far. I’m not saying these properties necessarily imply the multiverse theory is right, but you asked me if there is any experimental evidence, and the answer is yes. It was Arthur Conan Doyle who said, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’?”

In other words, it doesn’t need to be proven by evidence.  It doesn’t even need to be probable.  It only needs to be the last man standing.  I’ll agree with Linde that no other naturalistic hypothesis has more explanatory power than the multiverse (even though it has no empirical support), but when the list of live options is expanded beyond naturalistic hypotheses, there is a better explanation of the data: theism.  But Linde excludes theism a priori from the list of live options.  Why do that?  Theism has more explanatory plausibility and rational evidence in its favor than the multiverse, and thus should be preferred.

The reason those like Linde take the multiverse hypothesis seriously, is not because they are following the evidence where it leads, but because the evidence points to a designer of the universe, and they wish to avoid such a being at all costs, even if it means believing in an improbable, improvable theory.  As Bernard Carr, a cosmologist at Queen Mary University of London said, “If there is only one universe you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”  Apparently “it is better to have many worlds than one God.”[3] If ridding themselves of one supposed fairy tale (theism) requires belief in another, so be it.

The father of multiverse theory, Leonard Susskind, is very clear about the anti-theistic motivations of theories such as the multiverse.  When asked if we are stuck with an intelligent designer if his Landscape theory doesn’t pan out, he responded:

I doubt that physicists will see it that way. If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent – maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation – I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature’s fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.[4]

His point could not be clearer.  The desire of naturalists is to find a plausible naturalistic explanation on par with the design hypothesis is their driving motivation.  Any theory will do, even if, according to Susskind, it is as faith-based as Intelligent Design.  It appears that blind faith is acceptable in science, so long as its object is not God.  They’ll blindly believe in the existence of universes they cannot see, but not in the existence of a God who has made Himself known in the very cosmos they study.

[1]David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions(New York: Crown Forum, 2008), 124.[2]Tim Folger, “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory” in Discover magazine; available from; Internet; accessed 11 November 2008.
[3]David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Crown Forum, 2008), 135.[4]Leonard Susskind, in an interview with Amanda Gefter of New Scientist, “Is String Theory in Trouble?”, December 17 2005 edition, p. 48; available from; Internet; accessed 5 January 2006.