October 2009


CIRM is the CA agency that oversees the distribution of 3 billion dollars for stem cell research in CA.  The agency was created by constitutional amendment via a ballot initiative in the 2004 election.  From its inception, it has directed most of its energies and funds to promoting embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).  It seems, however, that they have finally caught on to the fact that ESCR is not the most promising area of stem cell research.  Of the $230 million in grants awarded to 14 institutions yesterday, 10 of them were for adult stem cell research (ASCR).  Good.

HT: Wesley Smith

Darwinian evolution entails more than just the concept of one species changing into another over a long period of time.  It involves a fully naturalistic process: natural selection working on random genetic mutations, genetic drift, etc.  If Darwin’s theory of evolution is scientifically sound—meaning the naturalistic processes it invokes are fully capable of producing life and all of its many variegates—then adding God to the equation is superfluous.  It would be like providing a scientific account of water boiling by saying water will boil at time t1 when X amount of heat is applied to Y amount of water at Z altitude, but then adding that fairies are also involved in the process.  If naturalistic processes are adequate to explain why water boils, then not only is there no need for the fairy hypothesis, but there is no room for it.  The same is true of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  If the theory is scientifically sound, and naturalistic processes can fully account for all of life, then there is no need for, and no room to fit God into the picture.  In other words, if Darwin’s theory is scientifically sound, positing a theistic form of evolution is superfluous.

One might say, however, that naturalistic processes are not fully adequate to account for all of life, and this is why one must add God to the equation to make it work.  To make such a claim, however, is to admit that the scientific theory itself is not sound on its own.  It requires some outside supernatural force to patch it up.  Here’s the rub: If Darwin’s theory of evolution is not adequate in itself to explain the data, why should we feel compelled to fit theism into the picture?  Let’s face it, the only reason a theist would postulate a theistic form of evolution is if he was convinced that the evidence for evolution was so compelling that intellectual honesty demands that he reconcile the scientific evidence with his theistic belief.  But if Darwin’s theory of evolution lacks the evidence necessary to make it a sound scientific fact, what compelling reason is there to reconcile the theory with theism?  If Darwin’s theory is not sound in itself, it doesn’t need God to shore it up.

For further reading see my article titled “Theistic Evolution: The Illegitimate Marriage of Theism and Evolution

I’ve come to learn that while money cannot buy happiness, a lack of money can purchase a lot of misery.

I’m late to the game on this one, but I just discovered some great statistical information regarding changes in the religious identity of Americans between 1990 and 2008, as well as a great interactive online chart visually displaying the information.  Here is some of the most pertinent information:

  • Those who claim to have no religious affiliation (called “Nones”) have grown in every state since 1990. 
  • The west and northeast coasts dominate the no religion category.  VT comes in 1st with 34%.  CA ranks 15th with 18%.  MI ranks last with 5%. 
  • Non-Christian religions have grown in all but 6 states since 1990. 
  • Protestants have diminished in all but 4 states. 
  • Catholics have diminished in all but 20 states. 
  • Catholics have increased in CA from 27% in 1990 to 38% in 2008. 
  • The northeast has the highest percentage of Catholics (RI has 46%).  CA ranks 5th with 38%.  AL ranks last with 6%. 
  • The south is mostly Protestant (AL has 80%).  CA ranks 45th with 35%.  MA ranks last with 26%. 
  • CT has the most non-Christian religious adherents (8%).  CA ranks 6th with 5%.  Wyoming ranks last with 1%. 
  • For those who simply don’t know what to say their religious identity is, OR comes in 1st place with 7% (compared to 2% in 1990), and DE last with 2% (in 1990 they were ranked 1st with 6%).  CA has 5%.

The beliefs of Nones was broken down further:

  • 51% believe in a deity of some sort
  • ~24% believe in a non-personal God
  • ~27% believe in a personal God
  • ~36% are agnostic (~19% hard agnostics, ~17% soft agnostics)
  • ~7% are atheist
  • 22% of 18-29 year old are Nones

Closed Mind2It’s common for those who reject the Christian worldview to accuse Christians of being closed-minded.  Often this retort comes on the heels of a Christian’s outspokenness about his/her beliefs.  How can you respond when someone tells you you’re being closed-minded, or that you need to be more open-minded?

The first thing you ought to do is ask the person what s/he means by such terms.  S/he could mean one of several things, so we should not presume to know the answer.  In fact, s/he may not even know exactly what s/he means, and our inquiry may force him/her to think it through for the first time.  The truth of the matter is that those who use such terms often sling them blithely at anyone who disagrees with their point of view,[1] never stopping to think about what exactly it is that they mean.  And since the accusation is usually effective at silencing their opponents they continue to use it over and over again as the trump card of choice when discussing religion with “right-wing, fundamentalist wackos” such as ourselves.  If we can respond thoughtfully to his charge, not only will we rescue ourselves from a distasteful allegation, but we may disarm him/her from using this unfounded charge on other Christians in the future.

While there are several ways people define closed-mindedness, typically it is a label given to anyone who comes to a conclusion on a controversial matter, and believes that conclusion is true to the exclusion of all others.  We are told we must be open-, rather than closed-minded, which means we have an intellectual obligation to remain “on the fence” of all divisive issues, never taking a definitive position, and never claiming that one position has more merit than another.  There are a few ways to respond to this understanding of open- and closed-mindedness.


IdaIt wasn’t many months ago that a fossil named Ida graced the cover of every magazine and was the talk of all the news channels.  There was a media blitz over what some called the “fossil that changes everything.”  Extravagant claims were made about it being an ancient ancestor to humans, and proving beyond doubt the truth of evolution.  Of course, many saw through the hype and exaggerated claims right away.  It’s no surprise, then, that upon further study scientists are reporting that the claims were wrong.

While arguing from silence is a logical fallacy, I think there are times that an argument from silence must be reckoned with.  For example, in discussing whether Matthew 28:19 originally read “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “in my name,” some Trinitarian scholars argue that the latter is original.  “In my name” does not appear in any extant manuscript, so what is there basis?  One reason is Justin Martyr’s silence on the passage.  In one of Justin’s work he was arguing for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as the appropriate baptismal formula, and yet he never once appealed to Matthew 28:19 for support as we would expect for him to have done if Matthew 28:19 originally read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Since he did not, it stands to reason that Matthew 28:19 did not read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in Justin’s day (or at least in the manuscripts he had access to), but rather “in my name.”  While this is an argument from silence, it is a strong argument nonetheless.


Lisa Harris, a feminist abortion doctor has written a journal article dealing with the emotional impact on abortion doctors from performing 2nd trimester abortions.  It is one of the most engaging, honest, moving, confusing, and appalling articles I have ever read.  I am amazed that a woman who can be so honest about the violence of 2nd trimester abortions, and the effect it has on those involved, can still support the procedure.  Here are some key excerpts:

When I was a little over 18 weeks pregnant with my now pre-school child, I did a second trimester abortion for a patient who was also a little over 18 weeks pregnant. As I reviewed her chart I realised that I was more interested than usual in seeing the fetal parts when I was done, since they would so closely resemble those of my own fetus. I went about doing the procedure as usual, removed the laminaria I had placed earlier and confirmed I had adequate dilation. I used electrical suction to remove the amniotic fluid, picked up my forceps and began to remove the fetus in parts, as I always did. I felt lucky that this one was already in the breech position – it would make grasping small parts (legs and arms) a little easier. With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery “thump, thump” in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a “thump, thump” in my abdomen. Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes – without me – meaning my conscious brain – even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling – a brutally visceral response – heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life. Doing second trimester abortions did not get easier after my pregnancy; in fact, dealing with little infant parts of my born baby only made dealing with dismembered fetal parts sadder.

Richard DawkinsIn his book, A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, the ardent evolutionary atheist, Richard Dawkins, writes:

Why has our society so meekly acquiesced in the convenient fiction that religious views have some sort of right to be respected automatically and without question?  If I want you to respect my views on politics, science, or art, I have to earn that respect by argument, reason, eloquence or relevant knowledge. I have to withstand counter-arguments. But if I have a view that is part of my religion, critics must respectively tiptoe away or brave the indignation of society at large. Why are religious opinions off limits in this way? Why do we have to respect them simply because they are religious?

While he wrongly concludes that there is no evidence for religion and, therefore, it should not be respected, he has a good point nonetheless.  In the pluralistic age in which we live everybody believes we ought to respect what other people believe, even if we think their views are mistaken.  While we should tolerate the individual who holds to flawed religious beliefs, why should we have to respect their views if they do not reflect reality?  Why shouldn’t we press people to justify their beliefs with sound reason and good evidence; and if they can’t, tell them their views are mistaken, if not ridiculous?  Would we do any less to the person who believes he is a bird who can fly, or who claims water freezes in the oven?  Then why won’t we expose errors and absurdities when it comes to religion?  Have we bought into the idea that it is wrong to tell someone they are mistaken?  Have we bought into the idea that religious claims are beyond testing?  Or could it be that we don’t have the goods to defend our own faith, and fear that the tables might be turned on us if we pressed others to the task?  As Yoda would say, “Faith with no evidence you have, hmm?”


“They don’t seem to realize that their moral outrage presupposes an objective moral standard that exists only if God exists. … In effect, they have to borrow from a theistic worldview in order to argue against it.  They have to sit in God’s lap to slap his face.”[1]–Frank Turek, speaking about atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

[1]Frank Turek, “Sleeping with your Girlfriend”; available from http://townhall.com/columnists/FrankTurek/2009/03/02/sleeping_with_your_girlfriend; Internet; accessed 10 April 2009.

twist-of-faithWe find ourselves in a world in which religious truth-claims have been demoted to private, subjective opinions or values.  Religious knowledge is not considered “real” knowledge.  In fact, religious truth-claims are not even testable, and thus must be taken on blind faith.

How did it come to this?  Here I offer a very condensed, if not simplistic path to how we privatized faith, drawing largely on Dr. James Sawyer’s work in this area.

It started with Renee Descartes.  He demanded that what we claim to “know” we know with the same level of certainty as mathematical principles.  This drove a wedge between faith and knowledge, because religious claims cannot be known with that degree of certainty (virtually nothing can).

Then came the opposite extreme offered by David Hume.  Hume argued that there are no innate ideas or truths that serve as a foundation for knowledge.  The mind is a blank slate upon which our sense perceptions are received, and from which we gain knowledge.  Knowledge, then, does not correspond with reality, but is simply a well-ordered, coherent system within our minds created by sense perception.  This left no room for the idea of truth.  There is no correspondence between reality and what we perceive to be reality.  Each person’s perspective is as valid as the next person’s perspective (relativism).


ToleranTolerancece is a two-way street, but in today’s world its application is typically one-way.  In the name of tolerance we are told we must tolerate those who do not believe in God, are pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, etc.  Interestingly, however, those who hold to those viewpoints often refuse to tolerate us.  We are forced to take down religious monuments because somebody is offended that they are forced to look at it.  We are forced to forego prayers at school graduation ceremonies because someone who doesn’t believe in God may feel like an outsider.  Guess what?  The Constitution protects rights, not feelings.  Frankly I’m not concerned with how they feel.  It’s called disagreement.  Everybody experiences it, and the mature person learns how to deal with it.

When you disagree with someone you have one of three options: persuade them to adopt your view, pursue change through democratic initiatives, or suck it up and deal with it.  Christians have to suck it up all the time.  I disagree with atheists, and I disagree with the way religion is being forced out of the public square because of a few cry-babies supported by an out-of-control judiciary, but you don’t see me shouting “offense” because I didn’t get to participate in a public graduation prayer.  No one seems to be concerned about how Christians feel.  We are told to lump it when we cry, but when atheists and adherents to minority religions cry they get the whole world changed for them.

While liberals tell us we need to be tolerant, they have need of their own medication.  They need to learn to tolerate public prayer, religious talk, religious monuments, and national recognition of the Creator on our money and in our pledge.  It’s time they learn that tolerance means “deal with it!”

In a day and age in which religious claims have been demoted to mere personal, subjective opinion rather than public knowledge, any suggestion that someone’s religious views may be mistaken is perceived as a personal attack.  Why?  It’s because they cannot separate themselves from their beliefs.  To attack one is to attack the other.  Their beliefs are not something that stand outside of themselves to which they subscribe, but an autobiography about their personal tastes.  Beliefs do not have a reference “out there” to which we can appeal and evaluate, but are wholly subjective, describing the person who holds them.  To say their beliefs are wrong, then, is to say there is something wrong with them.

People believe that so long as they hold to their beliefs sincerely, they are true (for them), and no one else has any business telling them their truth is not true.  Of course they have no problem telling us that our sincerely held belief that people can be wrong in what they believe to be true is a wrong belief.  This is self-refuting.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is objecting to your objection to their truth-claim, ask, “If I sincerely believe that sincerely believing something does not make it true, does that make it true that sincerely held beliefs can be false?”  If they say yes, then ask why they objected to your objection.  If they say no, ask them why it is that their beliefs are made true by their sincerity, but your beliefs are not.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

A few years back I watched a debate between an evangelical Christian (Greg Koukl) and a new age guru (Deepak Chopra) on the issue of truth.  Mr. Chopra employed a common tactic to dismiss Mr. Koukl’s arguments.  The exchange went something like this:

DC: “Everyone thinks they are right.  You think you’re right.  The Hindu thinks he’s right.  The Buddhist thinks he’s right”

GK: Yes, that’s right.  And that’s why psychological confidence in one’s faith is not enough.  Something more is needed.  I am not interested in knowing that someone believes their view is right; I am interested in knowing why they believe their view is right.  This requires evidence.  We must weigh the evidence to determine who has better reasons supporting their view.

DC: chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp…


How many of you have ever been told “Who are you to say who’s right and who’s wrong?” when proclaiming and defending the truth of Christianity?  I’m sure most of you have.

This type of response is an attempt to ignore the force of your argument by challenging your authority.  Don’t buy into it.  Point out that you are not claiming that what you believe is true because you say it is, but because of the evidence in its favor.  Our authority is not derived from our self, but from the publicly accessible evidence in support of our beliefs.  When you are dealing with objective evidence rather than subjective opinion it makes no sense to say “Who’s to say.”  If someone said “2+2 = 4” nobody would respond, “Who are you to say?”

So when someone says, “Who’s to say?” you can respond, “I’m nobody to say, and I wasn’t claiming to be.  The authority for my position rests in the strength of my arguments, not in my person.  If you can show me where my arguments are in error I would be more than happy to change my position.”

Another response could be, “Not me.  I wasn’t claiming to.  I am just appealing to the evidence.  The evidence can speak for itself.”  Or a third alternative might be, “Who’s to say?  That would be the person with the best reasons!”

Religious pluralists often claim that religious beliefs are culturally relative: the religion you adopt is determined by where you live, not the rationality/truth of the religion itself.  If you live in India you will probably be a Hindu; if you live in the U.S. you will probably be a Christian.  One’s personal religious beliefs are nothing more than a geographic accident, so we should not believe that our religion is true while others are not.

This argument is a double-edged sword.  If the religious pluralist had been born in Saudi Arabia he would have been a Muslim, and Muslims are religious particularists!  His pluralistic view of religion is dependent on his being born in 20th century Western society!

A more pointed critique of this argument, however, comes from the realm of logic.  The line of reasoning employed by the pluralist commits the genetic fallacy (invalidating a view based on how a person came to hold that view).  The fact of the matter is that the truth of a belief is independent of the influences that brought you to believe in it.  While the observation that one’s religious beliefs are often determined by where they live is valid from an empirical standpoint, what follows from that observation?  Nothing.  While I may be a Christian because I live in a society in which most people are Christians, it does not mean that my Christian beliefs are not true.  The truth of Christianity depends on the veracity of the claims themselves, nothing more and nothing less.

I was having a conversation with some coworkers some time ago in regards to same-sex marriage.  They brought up the relationship of homosexuality to the Christian religion, at which point I affirmed that the Bible—and hence Christianity—is opposed to homosexuality.  Immediately I received the “Well, that’s just your interpretation” response.  My response to this charge was to explain the process of exegesis, which took several minutes of my time and got us off the real issue at hand.  In retrospect I thought of a more efficient and tactful response I would like to share with you.

The next time you are discussing some aspect of Biblical teaching with someone, and they give you the “Well, that’s just your interpretation” response, respond by saying something off-the-wall like, “So you are saying I don’t like pickles?!”  A blank and confused stare is sure to follow proceeded by the expected question: “What?!?!”  Explain to them that you have just demonstrated the fundamental principle of interpretation.  Valid interpretation only comes about when the receiver accurately understands the intent of the sender/author.  This is accomplished by correctly employing the use of grammatical and semantic rules, and considering the cultural/historical perspective of the sender.  If the sender’s intent is not properly understood, communication has not occurred and the result is misinterpretation.  If interpretation is rooted in authorial intent only one interpretation can be valid.  As long as the interpreter employs the proper tools they can walk away with the correct interpretation.

The Bible is no different.  There is a correct way and an incorrect way to interpret the Bible.  The same tools and rules we use to correctly interpret our modern conversations and writings apply equally to the Bible.  When those tools and rules are used properly the interpretation we walk away with is sound.  No, it’s not just our interpretation.  It is the meaning inherent within the text itself, discovered (not invented) by the interpreter using the universal rules and tools of language.

Sometimes in an informal debate you will encounter people who dismiss your argument by saying, “Well that’s just your opinion.”  This is nothing more than an attempt to relativize your conclusion without rebutting your arguments.  There are a few ways you can respond to this.

The first is to ask, “Isn’t it just your opinion that my view is just my opinion?  If we ought to dismiss opinions because they are opinions, then your opinion should be dismissed as well.”

The second is to say, “No, this is not just my opinion.  I have provided reasons for thinking my opinion is actually true.  If you would like to try to rebut my reasons you are more than welcome to do so, but do not dismiss my view with a mere hand-waving as if I have merely provided you with an assertion, rather than an argument.”

The third is to say, “Yes, I have an opinion, but so do you.  This much is obvious.  But what follows from that observation?  The question is not whether we have opinions—we all do—but whether we have an informed opinion.  If we both have informed opinions, then the question becomes Whose opinion is better informed?  We determine the answer to that question by evaluating the strength of our respective arguments.  I have presented you with my argument, and now I am interested to hear your response to that argument.”

Some people, such as former Senator John Danforth, argue that we should not legislate against something for which there is no clear public consensus, particularly when the issue could cause deep division.  Rather, they argue, we should allow a great deal of liberty so everyone can decide for him/herself on the issue.  This logic is often employed for moral issues such as embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), cloning, and abortion.  It is said the government should not take sides.  There are two problems with such a view.

First, there is no such thing as government neutrality on moral issues.  To say a woman can choose for herself whether she births or kills her unborn child while the government stands on the sidelines of non-interference is to side against those who argue the unborn are valuable human beings from conception whose lives should be protected.  By leaving the choice to the mother, the State affirms that the unborn is not a valuable human being who should be accorded government protection of its rights to life.  Government “neutrality” is a farce.  To allow a morally suspect practice by an act of law is not neutrality, but endorsement.


I have recently read some of the papers presented at the 2008 Urshan Graduate School of Theology Symposium.  Notable was David Norris’s response to Patrick Dotson’s paper arguing that the Oneness movement must move beyond the King James Version if we hope to reach our modern generation with the Word of God.  While others surely have done so, Norris is the first Apostolic minister I have encountered who has advocated for the use of other English translations, and made a case for the superiority of the Alexandrian text-type over the Byzantine text-type that undergirds the NT of the KJV.

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