Monday, November 30, 2009


I’m in chapter 10 of Michio Kaku’s book Physics of the Impossible, and he includes a quote from Isaac Asimov which I thought very funny…and very profound:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” (I found it) but “That’s funny…”


The new atheists like to claim that religion is evil, that if we can only eliminate it from the public discourse, our most pressing sociological problems will infallibly evaporate.

Leaving aside the unreasonableness of the position for the time being, the atheist really has a massive problem with his position: there is no possible meaning that can adhere to concepts like right, wrong, good and evil within the assumptions of atheism.

At base, atheism is materialism. And in materialism, there is no self-consistent framework within which one can make value judgments; "good" and "evil" are nonsensical terms if the cosmos is all that there is or will ever be. Whatever happens happens; it is neither good nor evil - it just simply is.

When the dictator orders the destruction of an entire people group, that is not "evil;" it is simply evolution in action. In evolution, the only real purpose for anything is to pass on your genes to the next generation. The most efficient way to ensure that this happens is to eliminate all effective competition. To commit genocide is only evil from the perspective of the doomed people group. There is no God to whom the genocide will give account; if he escapes the justice of man, he escapes completely.

The atheist can point to no purpose, no possible meaning to and for anything. Yes, he can assign whatever subjective meaning to his life and actions that he wishes to, but what of it? Such "meaning" is, ultimately, meaningless. So what that the atheist believes his life has meaning, that he arbitrarily assigns purpose to his actions; the cold, materialist universe pays no mind, does not care. The universe does not care when the atheist suffers unjustly. What happens to him, at the end of the day, is random, meaningless, noise. No reason. Nothing. And when he dies, all that he is dies with him.

Sure, he can pass on his legacy - but what of it? Legacies are ephemeral things, most often ignored, sometimes squandered, at times openly repudiated. In sum, the atheist only has his weak, short, pain-filled life, and then eternal nothingness. One bare decade later, and almost assuredly he will be completely forgotten. Certainly in a millennium. Without controversy in one million years. All he was, all his accomplishments, forever, irrevocably lost. And ultimately, when the materialist universe ends in either fire or ice (depending on which theory of gravity carries the day), nothing - absolutely nothing will remain - not only of the atheist, but if anybody.

When the stars have all burned up their nuclear fuel and spin in the utterly dark, eternally cold depths of space, slowly losing all momentum; long after even the last of the behemoth black holes have completely evaporated away through Hawking radiation; when all matter has ceased to be on even a quantum level by the inexorable and ever-increasingly-accelerating expansion of space itself; for an eternity of eternities, all the atheist's fears, hopes, accomplishments and those of every other living soul throughout all time will mean, forever and ever, absolutely nothing.

Within the atheist's worldview, then, nothing can ultimately be good or bad - for the precise reason that nothing will mean, nothing can mean, anything.

When the child dies in agony that's just life. When the rapist gets away Scott free, that's just what happens.

There is no God; crap happens. Deal with it by ignoring it, or sink into irremediable despair.

To assign categories like right, wrong, good and evil to anything, he is forced to borrow intellectual capital from outside his worldview, since his has no self-consistent apparatus for dealing with such.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Physics of the Impossible

Two of my hobbies are history and physics.  Unsurprisingly, two of my favorite TV channels are History and the Science Channel.

I especially love it when my two hobbies collimate.

Probably my favorite show right now (and I have to be very choosy of the shows I watch, given my ridiculously packed schedule) is The Universe – incredible show.  One of the recurring guys on the show is Michio Kaku, who is perhaps my favorite current theoretical physicist.

Yes, I’m a physics groupie.

I have read other things by Michio, and when he became a regular on The Universe, especially on the Parallel Universes episode, I found out he’d released a new (at that time) book – Physics of the Impossible.  I had intended to buy his book – I really, really had – but for a variety of reasons put it off.

Mostly because I’m already reading several other books, including John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life and Starlight, Time and the New Physics, with a truckload of other books on tap (most  notably, The Race Set Before Us – thanks to Michael Newnham – and The Orthodox Church, with a smattering of books on Lutheranism, as well as painfully and slowly working my way through Summa Theologica and The Ante-Nicene FathersI have no spare time…)  Those books, while interesting, I read because they expand my thinking related to my calling as a pastor.  Physics of the Impossible is my mind-candy – something I read for the pure joy of it, a book to unwind with at the end of a hectic day.  But given that I’m (a) dirt poor [did I mention that I’m a pastor?] and (b) very extremely short on discretionary time, to add another book to my stable of “currently reading” for a long time was just too much to reasonably consider.

So it’s taken me quite some time to pull the trigger and pony up the Washingtons to buy Michio’s book.

Over a fleeting break during my day-job-to-support-my-habit, I finally bought & downloaded it.

I’m only in the preface, and I’m absolutely hooked.  Some quotes to give you the flavor:

I was just a child the day when Albert Einstein died, but I remember people talking about his life, and death, in hushed tones.  The next day I saw in the newspapers a picture of his desk, with the unfinished manuscript of his greatest, unfinished work.  I asked myself, What could be so important that the greatest scientist of our time could not finish it?  The article claimed that Einstein had an impossible dream, a problem so difficult that it was not possible for a mortal to finish it.  It took me years to find out what that manuscript was about: a grand, unifying “theory of everything.”  His dream – which consumed the last three decades of his life – helped to focus my own imagination.  I wanted, in some small way, to be a part of the effort to complete Einstein’s work, to unify the laws of physics into a single theory.

Given the remarkable advances in science in the past century, especially the creation of the quantum theory and general relativity, it is now possible to give rough estimates of when, if ever, some of these fantastic technologies may be realized.  With the coming of even more advanced theories, such as string theory, even concepts bordering on science fiction, such as time travel and parallel universes, are now being re-evaluated by physicists.  Think back 150 years to those technological advances that were declared “impossible” by scientists at the time and that have now become part of our everyday lives.  Jules Verne wrote a novel in 1863, Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was locked away and forgotten for over a century until it was accidentally discovered by his great-grandson and published for the first time in 1994.  In it Verne predicted what Paris might look like in the year 1960.  His novel was filled with technology that was clearly considered impossible in the nineteenth century, including fax machines, a world-wide communications network, glass skyscrapers, gas-powered automobiles, and high-speed elevated trains.

Not surprisingly, Verne could make such stunningly accurate predictions because he was immersed in the world of science, picking the brains of scientists around him.  A deep appreciation for the fundamentals of science allowed him to make such startling predictions.

Ironically, the serious study of the impossible has frequently opened up rich and entirely unexpected domains of science.  For example, over the centuries the frustrating and futile search for a “perpetual motion machine” led physicists to conclude that such a machine was impossible, forcing them to postulate the conservation of energy and the three laws of thermodynamics.  Thus the futile search to build perpetual motion machines helped to open up the entirely new field of thermodynamics, which in part laid the foundation of the steam engine, the machine age, and modern industrial society.

We ignore the impossible at our peril.

The purpose of this book is to consider what technologies are considered “impossible” today that might well become commonplace decades to centuries down the road.

Already one “impossible” technology is now proving to be possible: the notion of teleportation (at least at the level of atoms).  Even a few years ago physicists would have said that sending or beaming an object from one point to another violated the laws of quantum physics.  The writers of the original Star Trek television series, in fact, were so stung by the criticism from physicists that they added “Heisenberg compensators” to explain their teleporters in order to address this flaw.  Today, because of a recent breakthrough, physicists can teleport atoms across a room or photons under the Danube River.

I’m hooked.

If you’re as fascinated by these things as I am, you will love this book.

So say we all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lutheran Soteriology

In spite of what “timothy” said in his comments to one of my previous posts, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is hardly Arminian.  In fact, the lack of historical acumen required to even make such a statement is…well, to be charitable, I should really not complete that sentence.

There are many who fault Calvary Chapel for our views on issues like election and the security of the believer.  Now, whereas I am in no way suggesting that CC’s position is the same as historical Lutheranism (it isn’t; there are critical differences); however, it’s amazing how eerily familiar these Q&A’s about Lutheran doctrine sound, from the LCMS’s website:

Q. Can you lose your salvation and if you can, what do you need to do to regain it again?

A. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod believes and teaches that it is possible for a true believer to fall from faith, as Scripture itself soberly and repeatedly warns us (1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:17; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-19; 6:4-8, etc.). Such warnings are intended for Christians who appear to be lacking a right understanding of the seriousness of their sin and of God's judgment against sin, and who, therefore, are in danger of developing a false and proud "security" based not on God's grace, but on their own works, self-righteousness, or freedom to "do as they please."

By the same token, the LCMS affirms and treasures all of the wonderful passages in Scripture in which God promises that He will never forsake those who trust in Christ Jesus alone for salvation (John 10:27-29; Romans 8; Heb. 13: 5-6, etc.). To those who are truly repentant and recognize their need for God's grace and forgiveness, such passages are powerful reminders of the true security that is ours through sincere and humble faith in Christ alone for our salvation.

A person may be restored to faith in the same way he or she came to faith in the first place: by repenting of his or her sin and unbelief and trusting completely in the life, death and resurrection of Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation.

Whenever a person does repent and believe, this always takes place by the grace of God alone and by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God's Word in a person's heart.

12. On the basis of these clear statements of the Holy Scriptures we reject every kind of synergism, that is, the doctrine that conversion is wrought not by the grace and power of God alone, but in part also by the co-operation of man himself, by man's right conduct, his right attitude, his right self-determination, his lesser guilt or less evil conduct as compared with others, his refraining from willful resistance, or anything else whereby man's conversion and salvation is taken out of the gracious hands of God and made to depend on what man does or leaves undone. For this refraining from willful resistance or from any kind of resistance is also solely a work of grace, which "changes unwilling into willing men," Ezek. 36:26; Phil. 2:13. We reject also the doctrine that man is able to decide for conversion through "powers imparted by grace," since this doctrine presupposes that before conversion man still possesses spiritual powers by which he can make the right use of such "powers imparted by grace."

13. On the other hand, we reject also the Calvinistic perversion of the doctrine of conversion, that is, the doctrine that God does not desire to convert and save all hearers of the Word, but only a portion of them. Many hearers of the Word indeed remain unconverted and are not saved, not because God does not earnestly desire their conversion and salvation, but solely because they stubbornly resist the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, as Scripture teaches, Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; Acts 13:46.

14. As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God's grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man's non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost. Hos. 13:9.

36. Accordingly we reject as an anti-Scriptural error the doctrine that not alone the grace of God and the merit of Christ are the cause of the election of grace, but that God has, in addition, found or regarded something good in us which prompted or caused Him to elect us, this being variously designated as "good works," "right conduct," "proper self-determination," "refraining from willful resistance," etc. Nor does Holy Scripture know of an election "by foreseen faith," "in view of faith," as though the faith of the elect were to be placed before their election; but according to Scripture the faith which the elect have in time belongs to the spiritual blessings with which God has endowed them by His eternal election. For Scripture teaches Acts 13:48: "And as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed." Our Lutheran Confession also testifies (Triglot, p. 1065, Paragraph 8; M. p. 705): "The eternal election of God however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto; and upon this our salvation is so founded that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, Matt. 16:18, as is written John 10:28: `Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand'; and again, Acts 13:48: `And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.."'

37. But as earnestly as we maintain that there is an election of grace, or a predestination to salvation, so decidedly do we teach, on the other hand, that there is no election of wrath, or predestination to damnation. Scripture plainly reveals the truth that the love of God for the world of lost sinners is universal, that is, that it embraces all men without exception, that Christ has fully reconciled all men unto God, and that God earnestly desires to bring all men to faith, to preserve them therein, and thus to save them, as Scripture testifies, 1 Tim. 2:4: "God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." No man is lost because God has predestined him to eternal damnation. -- Eternal election is a cause why the elect are brought to faith in time, Acts 13:48; but election is not a cause why men remain unbelievers when they hear the Word of God. The reason assigned by Scripture for this sad fact is that these men judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, putting the Word of God from them and obstinately resisting the Holy Ghost, whose earnest will it is to bring also them to repentance and faith by means of the Word, Act 13:46; 7:51; Matt. 23:37.

Again, please do not misunderstand – I am not here suggesting that Lutheran theology comports with CC theology.

I am, however, very intrigued to not how non-Calvinist and non-Arminian their theology is…again demonstrating that the idea that those two particular theological antipodes exhaust all options, and therefore if you are not one you are therefore automatically the other.


Brian McLaren has a cow (again)

Brian “Orthodoxy, Schmorthodoxy!” McLaren recently posted on his blog about “Religious Right Insanity, Evangelical Cowardice: Enough is Enough” in which he wrote:

I'm disgusted by the latest absurdity from the religious right covered in the clip below. I'm also depressed by the lack of courage among Evangelical leaders to speak out strongly against it (also covered in the clip below). How about it, Evangelicals? How many of you will join Frank Schaeffer and say, "Enough is enough?"

Now that really piqued my interest; if McLaren is against it, it must be incredibly commendable, in my view – he only seems to be against things which even vaguely smack of Biblical fidelity.

What’s Brian got his underbritches all in a bunch about? Some Christians, in praying for Obama, have chosen an imprecatory Psalm – namely, Psalm 109:8:

Let his days be few,
And let another take his office.

E-gads!!!  The unmitigated horror!  Where is the outrage?  Where is the handwringing and such-like?


I’d received the same thing via e-mail earlier in the week, and quite honestly thought it clever; and I happen to agree with the intended sentiments.  Indeed, may his days (in office) be few, and let another (even Clinton was less liberal, and sadly enough would be an improvement) take his office in 2012.  Amen, and amen, and amen.

Why is McLaren overwrought?  Because to him, any opposition to Obama is impermissible.  Free thought is only tolerated when that thought is in line with accepted Party doctrine.

Brian: take a deep breath.  Most of us oppose Obama’s policies because we believe they are fundamentally flawed.  You really need to learn how to deal with it when people don’t believe the same way that you do.

And, by the way – Frank Schaeffer, an Evangelical?  If he’s an “evangelical,” then the term has truly lost all its original meaning.

So not only will I not be joining Frank, I’ll instead grin and repeat my new prayer for our current administration:

Let his days be few,
And let another take his office.

Non-Arminian Non-Calvinists

Many if not most Calvinists view the world in terms similar to Islam, in the sense that the world is neatly divided into two opposing camps: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-HarbDar al-Islam is the “house of Islam,” the theopolitical abode of the faithful; by way of contrast, Dar al-Harb is the “house of (those with whom we are continually at) war (until the Day of Judgment).”  There is no middle ground, there are no third parties, you are one or the other.

Very neat, very tidy, very binary.

For many if not most Calvinists, you are either a Calvinist or you are an Arminian (or, as many of the “Truly Reformed/New Calvinists” like to insist, a Semi-Pelagian).  To them, these two options exhaust the theological possibilities.  If you are not for Geneva, you are against her – and for at least some, that is equivalent to rejecting the Gospel itself.

I have heard countless times by my Reformed friends how my unease with the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” stem from the fact that I value humanistic philosophy over the clear teaching of the Word – the necessary implication being that if you reject Calvinism, you reject the clear teaching of the Word, and instead embrace humanistic philosophy.  I am constantly labeled an Arminian as a result.

However, the prevailing Calvinist insistence on the Calvinism/Arminianism dichotomy fails irreparably (and quite quickly) when honestly examined.

It turns out that there are quite a few theological systems which owe nothing to either Calvinism or Arminianism.

For instance, Lutheranism.

Lutherans would be mighty surprised to find that their theology owes its existence to a Dutch reformer who was born fourteen years after Luther (the putative founder of their confession) himself died.  Yet that Lutheranism is emphatically not Calvinism is beyond controversy.  It instead occupies a theological territory quite other than either.

Though I am far from being Lutheran, the more I read about Lutheran theology the more impressed and appreciative of aspects of it I become.  Among other things, Lutherans handily navigate the vexing waters between the Scylla of God’s Sovereignty and the Charybdis of man’s free will.  Take, for instance, the Lutheran position on the doctrine of divine election, summarized by Josh Strodtbeck in an interview with iMonk:

Luther shied away from abstractions, and we Lutherans inherited that. Not just sovereignty, but the attributes of God in general are simply not of extreme importance. If you look at Luther’s catechisms, he actually defines God in terms of Creation, the Cross, and the Church. Compare that to Q7 in the Westminster LC. So for Lutherans, theology is done in terms of God’s relation to us. That means theology never gets away from Law and Gospel, from justification, from the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If you look at the discussion of election in the Formula of Concord, its driving concern is not maintaining God’s sovereignty, but rather how election is to be preached within the framework of Law and Gospel. That’s why Chemnitz is comfortable with basically saying that God declares our election to us in the preaching of the Gospel and admonishes against rational speculation on the inscrutable decrees of God apart from Christ, who is made known to us in the Gospel and the Sacraments. It’s also the source of the bewildering (to Calvinists) assertion by Lutherans that while election is purely of the grace of God in Christ, reprobation is purely of the obstinate will of man and against God’s desire that they be saved. This doesn’t make sense in terms of divine attributes or sovereignty, but it does if you hold that damnation is Law and election is Gospel.

{emphasis mine}

I like that.

I really like that.

To my Calvinist brothers: I still love you, my opening paragraph was purposefully provocative, in order to provoke a reaction similar to the one I and other non-Calvinists feel when your theological brethren dismissively try to pigeon-hole us into the “Semi-Pelagian” category simply because we don’t see the Canons of Dort as comporting with what we understand in Scripture.

That said, I find it beyond fascinating that the theological landscape is vastly more variegated than the oversimplistic “Calvinist/Arminian” weltanschauung prevalent in so much of the current theological conversation.