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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Detour to Eight Iron

I'm starting something fresh over at Eight Iron. The new site reveals who's behind the "Three of Six" mask.
See you there...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hitting the pause button

I won't be posting here probably for several weeks, possibly months. Blogging is a commitment, and right now, my other commitments are nudging it out. I've just got too many irons in the fire, and something has to give. Feel free to check out the links to the right under "Thumbs Up."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The indispensable piece

Yesterday, we asked the Jenga question: Like the little block of the Jenga tower on which all the weight eventually comes to rest, what idea in Christianity is so important that, if removed, then the whole edifice of Christian faith would come crashing down?

The answer is...

the Resurrection of Jesus.

No less than the Apostle Paul said: "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV). Many on that morning long ago saw an empty tomb, but only some drew a faith conclusion from that fact. Now, we call them "Christians," or followers of Christ. More answer to that title today than to any other faith title.

But what if some clever Indiana Jones type unearthed human bones, dusted them off, and said they belonged to Jesus of Nazareth? Would someone have truly yanked out the indispenable Jenga block? Paul Maier wrote a book, A Skeleton in God's Closet, premised on exactly that scenario. It's a good read, as you wind down these short days of summer.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Best burger and fries in a while

It happened. Yesterday, that little site meter down at the bottom roared past 500, and is still truckin'. True to their promise, 1 0f 2 and 2 0f 2 took me out for dinner. These kinds of "father/son" moments, where all three of us are together, are numbered, since 1 0f 2 is beginning his senior year, and will be off to college somewhere next August. Yep, best burger and fries I've had in a while. Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Christianity and Jenga

Have you ever played Jenga?

It's a tower game. Little rectangular blocks are carefully stacked together, to make a tower about 18 inches high. One by one, players carefully remove the blocks, and put them on top. Whoever knocks down the tower loses.

One thing I noticed when playing Jenga. There are lots of blocks that you can take away and the tower remains relatively stable. You hardly notice they're gone. But there comes a point in the game where the whole weight of the tower is resting on one block.Take it away, and the tower crashes to the floor. It's the indispensable block.

In the Bible, there are lots of "blocks." There are endless genealogies, commandments, sacrifices, stories of Jesus, missionary travels, etc. What "block" is so crucial to Christian faith, that if that block was removed, the whole edifice would come crashing down?

Think on these things, and I'll be back tomorrow with my answer.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Time to check Pat Robertson's meds?

He's 75, an age where senior citizens often take meds. Perhaps Pat Robertson has forgotten to take some of his? Robertson recently made an on-air plea for the United States to "take out" Venezuelan President Chavez. Thankfully, Robertson had about as much chance of being elected President of the United States in 1988 as former Ambassador Alan Keyes had of being elected an Illinois Senator in 2004. (In comparison, Keyes is looking pretty good). Now Venezuela has lodged an official complaint with the U.S. government, and the White House has distanced itself from Robertson's over-the-top remarks.

It's debatable how much influence Robertson currently has on the American electorate, although his Christian Broadcasting Network still has a cable following and maintains a flashy website. The general tone of his teachings is what is called "prosperity gospel," promising financial blessings from God, usually in return for generosity toward others...perhaps expensive television "ministries"?

The Pat Robertsons and Jimmy Swaggarts of this world, unfortunately, have given a bad name to ministers in general, since the non church-going public gets the impression that all clergy are just out to make-a-buck. Undoubtedly, some are, but far more quietly persevere in small town and big city America, paid little to give a listening ear to a down-and-outer, try to bring healing to broken homes, or pray with a dying saint's hand in the hospital. In short, they're the unsung heroes of the helping professions.

As for millionaire Pat Robertson, here's to not just the White House distancing itself from him. One can always hope that the average viewer will wake up, smell the coffee, and see him for the loose cannon that he really is.

This has been cross-posted to Digital Dissent.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Michael Behe vs. Charles Darwin

Senator Frist's recent comments confusing "science" and "faith" have focused attention once again on the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. Since the media gives little treatment to the nuances of the arguments, I decided to skim The Origin of Species and read in more detail bio-chemist Michael Behe's 1996 ground-breaking challenge to Darwinism.

I took zoology my freshman year of college, and tortured my future wife by making her listen to my seemingly endless recitations of the Kreb's cycle! However, I don't consider myself an expert on things scientific, science being more of a hobby, one of Robert Frost's "roads not travelled." So, charging-in where angels fear to tread, here's my summary after a quick perusal of Darwin, and a more careful reading of Behe.


"It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were." – Charles Darwin, in The Origin of Species, 1859

"While chemists try to test origin-of-life scenarios by experiment or calculation, evolutionary biologists make no attempt to test evolutionary scenarios at the molecular level by experiment or calculation. As a result, evolutionary biology is stuck in the same frame of mind that dominated origin-of-life studies in the early fifties, before most experiments had been done: imagination running wild. Biochemistry has, in fact, revealed a molecular world that stoutly resists explanation by the same theory so long applied at the level of the whole organism...Darwin never imagined the exquisitely profound complexity that exists even at the most basic levels of life." - Michael Behe, in Darwin's Black Box, 1996

Natural selection, based on the struggle for life, is how Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, explained evolution. Now, it is accepted as fact among biologists, not only that there are minor variations within a species, or microevolution, but changes that lead to the creation of new species, called macroevolution.

Lost in the current sound-bite war over evolution vs. intelligent design are the nuances in what is arguably the most scientifically sound critique of macroevolution yet presented. In Michael's Behe's Darwin's Black Box: The Bio-Chemical Challenge to Evolution (The Free Press, 1996), a careful and meticulously documented questioning of Darwinism unfolds with beauty and clarity.

The key to understanding Behe's argument is first understanding who Charles Darwin was. He was a naturalist; he studied birds and insects, especially the variations among them. His theory was based on 19th century science, before the discovery of DNA or most of the inner workings of the cell. The "black box" is Behe's clever expression for any realm of science unaddressed by a theory. This wasn't Darwin's fault, but the science of bio-chemistry, which only began in earnest in the 1950s, has uncovered new findings at the molecular level for which Darwinism has no explanatory power.

Are there things in nature that are "irreducibly complex"? Yes, says Behe. Among several examples he provides is the clotting of blood. There is a "cascade effect" that happens at the bio-chemical level in the human body when we cut ourselves and start to bleed. Immediately, proteins in the blood form something of a chain reaction, allowing blood to clot. It is part of a complex system, and therefore, it is difficult to see how the system could have gradually evolved and still worked to keep people from bleeding. Something is "irreducibly complex" if it has no "functional precursors" (p.43). Importantly, though scientists know much about the clotting of blood, no one has been able to explain how such a complex system could have evolved over time. Bio-chemists give lip service to molecular evolution, but there is no solid research proving that it happens where sytems are irreducibly complex.

The close of Behe's book draws inferences from the direction in which forty years of bio-chemical research points. Irreducible complexity, while it cannot be explained by evolutionary theory, can be explained by "intelligent design." Behe, though Roman Catholic, is careful not to cross the line into theology, refusing to say who the "designer" is. (He even allows the possibility that life on earth is the result of it being sown by aliens!) Shrewdly, he likens intelligent design to the Big Bang, where there are obvious theological implications, but where he believes that scientists should leave the development of those implications to theologians.

Darwin's Black Box has become standard reading by those promoting intelligent design in public schools. Importantly, Behe distances himself from young-earth Creationists, i.e. those who see the universe has having been created by God in six 24-hour periods. He sees no problem in saying that complex systems were put into place by a designer billions of years ago. He is careful to maintain a traditional definition of science as limited to the examination of the natural world, and would no doubt be confused like the rest of us by Senator Frist seemingly equating faith and science.

Behe's book is well-done. He sets-off more technical discussions from the easier parts of his argument, and one can easily follow the gist even if you skim the diagrams of molecules, or just glance at the drawings of cellular infrastructure. If you want to make sense of the current ID debate, Darwin's Black Box is a good place to start.

This essay has been double-posted to Tacitus.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Anchors and Sails

We had gathered from the four winds, all of us converging on the campground for three days of family reunion. Some had come from overseas; most came from far-flung states up and down the eastern seaboard, scattered by the pursuit of jobs and advancement. My dad, former Navy man that he is, looked around the room and aptly summed it up: “In this family, we’ve always been more sail than anchor.”

He was talking about our family penchant for pulling up roots every four or five years, and moving on. He meant nothing political by the statement, but the "anchor" and "sail" metaphor is useful when considering the historic tensions that play themselves out in the American political arena. The “anchors” are the conservatives, once in both major parties, but now relegated almost entirely to the Republican side of the aisle. These are the Jim Talents and the Kay James', reminding us of our heritage, calling us to be “anchored” in the principles of family and faith that have stood the test of time. When change is all around us, they call us back to First Things. They are guardians of the tradition.

The “sails,” on the other hand, are the visionaries. They’re not concerned about keeping things as they’ve always been. Change isn’t a dirty word; it’s a rallying cry. These are the innovators, the Thomas Edisons and the Bill Gates, rugged individualists who push the envelope. More “sails” are Democratic than Republican.

The genius of America has always been finding room for both “anchors” and “sails.” Too much anchor, and innovation dies. Too much sail, and we all lose our bearings.

Starting next Saturday, the "Anchors and Sails" column will review one article or book personalities that are best described as either an "anchor" or a "sail." By better understanding both, we'll come to understand that we really do need each other.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Sunday "Thumbs Up!"

This week's Sunday "Thumbs Up!" pick is Tacitus.

If blogs had the equivalent of a "general store," Tacitus would fit the bill. While many posts are made pseudonymously, there are others who help fill out the many categories, including foreign affairs, culture, politics, travel, social issues, and others.

From what I read, Tacitus is right-of-center, but unfraid to say the Emperor is wearing nothing, when indeed that's the case. Discourse in America today could use more who aren't afraid to break ranks, when the herd is stampeding in the wrong direction.