Jeremy Pierce: October 2006 Archives

If things go according to the way the polls are reporting, the Democratic party will take over the U.S. House of Representatives in January. The pundits are all saying this and then laughing at a few key Republican politicians who are saying they're not as sure of such an outcome. I've been reading a number of poll-watching blogs every day, and I'm not convinced such an attitude deserves the derision it's getting. I'm not ready to say this is a sure thing at this point, for four reasons.

1. The first piece of information people usually present is the generic polls. The generic polls strongly favor Democrats, but people don't vote for generic representatives in Congress. They vote for their incumbent or an opponent (except in open races, where they still vote for actual people and not generic party candidates). There's a reason Congressional candidates rarely mention their party (and despite Senator Charles Schumer's claim that it's only Republicans that fail to do this, Democrats fail to do it just as much). The best way to get votes from members of the other party is to distance yourselves from the party and emphasize your individuality. Hardcore partisans will of course not be much affected by this. However, independents who are angry with Republicans and marginal Democrats who like their district's Republican representative in general are another story. They often report that they would vote for a Democrat over a Republican but then manage to vote for their particular Republican candidate anyway. So I don't think generic polls tell us as much as some people are taking them to tell us.

2. Every few days another couple seats that looked as if they would turn red to blue have been switching back to red. The movement is clearly back in the direction of the Republicans, with one election projection site even reporting only a three-seat advantage for the Democrats if the election were held today. Other sites are reporting a larger gap still, but this is the site that most accurately predicted the 2004 election results, and he takes into account factors that other sites don't seem to me to be considering (see item #4 below for one of them). The mainstream media (including Fox News) seem unwilling to mention this about the House races (some of them are saying it about the Senate) in any news reports about polling, and almost all of the pundits they give a place to seem not to be aware of this. The governor races do seem to be going leftward in the polls, with two more shifting to blue in the last week, but he movement I'm seeing in House and Senate polls is not by and large leftward. It's rightward. Only a couple of the poll-watching blogs are not acknowledging this, and those are by very partisan Democrats who I think are just in denial. This does not mean that enough seats will move back to red to put a halt to a Democratic takeover, but it's surprising that I'm not hearing much about this anywhere except on blogs.

Impeachment Questions

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I'll probably say something tomorrow about why I think there's some reason to be a little skeptical about whether Democrats will take over the House of Representatives, but something occurred to me yesterday about the potential consequences of a Democratic takeover that I thought was worth blogging about.

If Democrats will occupy the majority of the seats in the House, it's most likely that Nancy Pelosi will become the Speaker of the House. It's possible that some other candidate will gain that position in an election among the Democratic representatives, but I don't find that extremely likely. As Speaker, she will almost certainly be inundated with requests from Democratic members of Congress to pursue impeachment hearings for President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. She has so far said that should would not pursue impeachment.

But she will surely be pressured to do so. What happens if she gives in or if her resistance is merely to maximize the chances of Democrats taking Republican seats in this election? What happens if the Democratic takeover of the House gives Democrats enough seats to succeed in issuing impeachment charges (since surely some Democrats will not support impeachment)? Two issues regarding conflicts of interest were worrying me. One turns out not to be an issue, but the other remains a worry for me.

Commentaries on Numbers

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

Timothy Ashley's NICOT (1993) is an excellent commentary by a fairly conservative evangelical. It has more detail than some of the older commentaries in this series (e.g. Wenham on Leviticus, Craigie on Deuteronomy), though not quite as much as some of the massive two-volume works in the series (such as Waltke on Proverbs, Block on Ezekiel, or Hamilton on Genesis). I have read this commentary in its entirety, and I enjoyed it very much. The most unfortunate thing about it is that it was published just after Milgrom's JPS commentary (see immediately below) came out. Ashley had access to Milgrom's published papers on Numbers but not the commentary itself. He had enough time after its publication to mention his regrets about this in the introduction but not enough time for it to affect the body of the work. Still, Ashley handles well the historical, theological, and linguistic issues that arise in this book. He tends to avoid authorship issues but treats the book as a unity.

The NAC by R. Dennis Cole (2000) is more recent than Ashley's, but I've heard more mixed reviews. Cole interacts with the scholarship a little more than some volumes in this series, giving plenty of citations of other authors. He argues that Moses is largely responsible for the book. Cole has received favorable comments from reviewers on his handling of theological issues and his analysis of the unified structure of Numbers despite the variety of material in the book. Some of his critics find him somewhat less helpful in biblical theology and narrative criticism. He sometimes spends time on literary observations without making any connection to the interpretation of the book or its theology. Some reviewers consider Cole a better first-choice evangelical commentary than Ashley. Cole does have some stronger points than Ashley, but Ashley is a bit more detailed (although some might prefer a little less detail). What clinches it for me is that I haven't seen the kinds of complaints about Ashley that I've seen about Cole, and thus Ashley gets the nod for my first choice.

Christian Carnival CXLVI Plug


The 146th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at The Evangelical Ecologist. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Greg Ganssle has produced the most fun and readable introduction to philosophy of religion I have ever encountered. His target audience runs from high school seniors to introductory college students, and I can say that I have enjoyed teaching an introductory philosophy course using this book. He presents the issues in a clear-headed way while drawing readers in with fun examples and humor.

After arguing for the value of thinking through philosophical questions in a reasonable way, Ganssle argues for open-mindedness in the sense of not being so sure of your views that you are not open to reason, but he also dismisses the idea that we must be neutral or that we must not make exclusive truth claims. Open-mindedness does not require having no views in those ways. I especially like seeing this in a book designed for younger students unfamiliar enough with philosophy to need some kind of way of heading off the simplistic kind of relativism that many students of philosophy find themselves stumbling over.

The main body of the work considers philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God. His presentation of the cosmological argument is the clearest I have ever seen, avoiding technical terminology when it is not needed but making the concepts as clear as can be done without such terms. His treatment of the design argument focuses on the fine-tuning argument after showing why very few are today convinced of biological design arguments, a choice perhaps reflecting a desire to stay out of intelligent design controversies in the political realm but nonetheless reflecting the philosophical consensus among believing philosophers today. His moral argument discussion helpfully begins by showing the difficulties in naturalistic accounts of morality, thus showing reasons why someone would turn to God as an explanation. I wish he had treated some naturalistic accounts of morality that are not relativist or eliminativist, and I really wished for a discussion of Euthyphro objections, but I do think his treatment of this argument is among the best I have read at this level.

For those who pay attention to my recommendations for commentaries on biblical books, I have been updating my list of recommendations over the last month. I'd almost finished several weeks ago up through I Corinthians in my advanced commentaries list. A discussion on another blog reminded me to finish that list, which I finally did earlier today. I've also updated my recommended forthcoming commentaries list from that series (as opposed to my more comprehensive forthcoming commentaries list, which I have been updating regularly) to take into account the much larger information base I now have, to remove commentaries that have been published, and to add indications of what level of detail I expect each forthcoming commentary in the list to be. I've also added in links to each post from the first one, so you don't have to scroll to the bottom of each post to get to the next one.

I am in the process of working on an entry on Numbers to my series of posts of more in-depth reviews of commentaries on each book of the Bible. My congregation is about to finish our sermon series on I Peter this Sunday, and I'm expecting to do that after Numbers.

Christian Carnival CXLV

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The 145th Christian Carnival is at Participatory Bible Study Blog.

Halloween Costume Ethics

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Jason Sperber has some thoughts worth considering about when Halloween costumes are offensive and worth avoiding. Jason and I weren't close friends ourselves, but we had several friends in common during college, and we often sat at the same table in the dining hall. I don't think either one of us expected to have much if any contact with each other after we graduated, but I recently discovered that he's blogging in several locations, mostly in the context of race, and I found enough of it intriguing to add his blogs to my RSS reader. I've put up links some of the places he blogs in the sidebar, but I've been waiting for a post by him that I wanted to say something about so I could mention him in a post.

I think a lot of people who claim certain kinds of costumes to be offensive do an absolutely awful job of explaining why, and those who don't understand the reasons usually just write them off as being too over-sensitive. Sometimes maybe people can be over-sensitive and get offended at something they shouldn't. Other times maybe there is cause for offense, but it's not a grave enough concern to justify the kind of outrage you sometimes see, and besides there might be more productive ways to address such issues than complaining about one's rights being violated simply because one has been offended. Still, there are good reasons to avoid certain kinds of Halloween costumes, and Jason provides some good explanations (taken from for why it might be bad to use a variety of different kinds of costumes. The reasons vary in kind and in degree of importance. I want to try to make the moral reasoning more explicit, since some of them go a little too quickly for my philosophically-trained ethical thought processes.

Judge Robert Armstrong in California has ruled that a law against disrobing in front of a minor applies only to men and not to women, even though no mention of gender occurs in the law. How could that be? It says "exposes his person". [See also here for further details. Hat tip to How Appealing for the last link. I found the story initially from a Google search for something entirely different.]

Now I'm a strong defender of inclusive language, as anyone who has been reading my blog for very long should know, but this is pretty stupid. Just because most of the English-speaking world now does not speak the way this law was constructed does not mean that the law as written means to include men by the pronoun 'his'. Either the judge doesn't know that anyone has ever used grammatically masculine pronouns for gender-indeterminate or gender-unknown people, or this is strict constructionism gone wild. Originalists distinguish themselves from strict constructionists for reasons much like this. No original reader of the law would have interpreted it like this, and the writers of the law surely didn't mean it this way. But if the strict meaning of the literal text is what counts, regardless of what anyone at the time would have understood it to mean, then you get this kind of thing. It strikes me as being in the same category as insisting that there is too milk in the fridge and thus you don't need to go to the store to get more, then pointing at a tiny puddle of milk in the bottom of the vegetable crisper to demonstrate this claim.

Scientists have been using embryos from destroyed human organisms to investigate treatments for Parkinson's disease. The hope was to get these undifferentiated cells to take on the characteristics of the cells in the brain so that damaged brain cells could be replaced by the stem cells. Except from explicitly social conservative news outlets, all the press this kind of research has been getting has been nothing but favorable. Hardly anyone in the mainstream news mentions the obstacles in getting embryonic stem cells to work in this way, as opposed to the successes already achieved in using adult stem cells. Even if there is more potential good that might be accomplished by embryonic stem cells, it strikes me as a little dishonest to report only that and to ignore that actual success of adult stem cells and the difficulties with embryonic stem cells that have yet to be overcome. So there is already reason to suspect dishonesty in the news media on hiding some facts related to this research.

Even so, I have nowhere seen any mention of actual harm that this technique might cause (apart from the harm caused to the embryos themselves, of course), even among socially conservatives. Yet apparently there's long been a worry among scientists that this kind of stem cell technique would cause a different effect once the cells were at work in the brain. Undifferentiated cells have a real danger. They do not have the instructions regular brain cells have, and they need to absorb those. The hope was that they would. But what happens when cells in a part of the body do things they're not supposed to do? They become tumors. There are now indications that this may very well happen if this research goes forward with human beings. According to the article, this is something "scientists have long feared". Why, then, has hardly anyone been reporting that this kind of problem might occur? I would have expected at least those who are more conservative on this issue to mention it now and then, but I've never heard it from anyone. Are the scientists themselves hiding it so as not to decrease even further their chances of getting funding?

[hat tip: Cold Hearted Truth]

The 145th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Participatory Bible Study Blog. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Three years ago Brown University President Ruth Simmons commissioned the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice "to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade". Simmons describes their purpose more broadly, however:

In addition, in view of the often confusing and contentious discussion of reparations, we wanted to move the examination away from a focus on reparations to learn more about the many ways in which societies past and present have dealt with retrospective justice following human rights violations such as genocide, internment, and certain forms of discrimination. We thought that our students would benefit from an understanding of those histories and experiences. Finally, we hoped that such an effort, rooted in our particular history, would excite interest among students and help them appreciate and accept meaningful discourse on even the most troubling subjects.

The steering committee has now released its report, and I'm impressed at its comprehensiveness and balanced perspective. Much of it is just chronicling historical events, including the role of slavery in New England in general, in the families involved with starting Brown, and in money that has gone into making the university what it is. The report includes reasons why understanding this history is a part of understanding the full legacy of the university, without at that point drawing any moral or political conclusions. As such, it is an excellent historical study much worth looking at.

Then they examine most of the important arguments for and against reparations, looking more broadly at other contexts in which some kinds of apologies, reparations, and similar actions have been given. They present some of the better reasons for thinking in terms of group responsibility and not individualizing so that those who identify with a group but aren't the culprits of past group activities still are heirs to the bad of the past if they can identify with the good of the tradition and be proud of it. They discuss the reasons given by proponents and opponents of reparations why certain kinds of reparations (especially monetary) would be a very bad idea and move on to other ways reparations could occur, concluding eventually with some recommendations that I almost entirely agree with. (See my post on reparations for my general perspective on this issue.)

It's very long, but I enjoyed skimming through it over breakfast yesterday morning. I was impressed at their command of the arguments on both sides of the issue and the ease with which they moved toward a very reasonable middle ground that captures what is good about both sides without getting unreasonable in the ways that I think both sides often get. When I first heard about this, I was worried that it might turn into a ridiculous undertaking, and that no longer looks like a real possibility.

Richard Dawkins has announced that teaching children Christianity is worse than sexually molesting them. [hat tip: Blogwatch]

Update: Nick, commenting at the Evangelical Outpost mention of this, has the most pointed remark I've seen:

To me, the obvious answer is that molestation is a traumatic ordeal which cannot be compared to being raised Christian or to being raised atheist. After all, a child raised by atheist parents can still become Christian, and a child raised by Christian parents, even the strictest hellfire and brimstone fundamentalists, is free to embrace atheism as an adult.

I think that's the most important issue. Molestation cannot be undone, and its effects are as long-lasting as any that might come from being taught to fear hell (at least assuming there is no hell, as Dawkins is doing). On the other hand, all sorts of people are raised to believe in hell and yet reject it, and all sorts of people are raised not to believe in hell who yet become very committed Christians. You can change your views, and teaching views someone might consider harmful has not stopped people from abandoning those views later in life. No one is molested and then later becomes such that they have never been molested.

Autism and TV

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Rey responds to the latest nutso theory connecting autism and some randomly-selected phenomenon that has increased during the time period autism has increased. This time it's television. Someone needs to write a serious-sounding article claiming that not being Amish causes autism, using reasoning exactly parallel to that found in this kind of argument. The numbers are there for that just as much as they're there for vaccines, television, and eating bread. I'm sure someone out there will see it as a moral imperative that we all become Amish immediately in order to protect our children. It's sad to see Al Mohler involved with perpetuating this kind of nonsense.

I think my first thought at a real demonstration of a correlation, even aside from the alternative explanations raised by Rey, was that the causation is almost certainly the other way around if a connection is genuine. Has it even occurred to them that autistic kids are going to be watching more TV than neurotypical kids? After all, they don't have the interest or ability to develop the kinds of relationships that most kids want to develop, and the kinds of activities most kids engage in will therefore be both difficult and unattractive to them. They appreciate the bright colors and musical elements of programming for young children, since they stimulate the senses very well. They take to things like Sesame Street that offer very repetitive number and letter learning. Why isn't it obvious to anyone who knows much about autism that kids who are already autistic are going to be watching more TV? Never mind that parents of autistic kids will generally have a harder time keeping them within boundaries in order to do housework or other things during the day and will thus consider TV a very nice way to help lower the need for overstimulation from getting into cupboards, emptying silverware onto the floor, coloring on walls, dumping bins of toys, and so on. All kids do some of that, but autistic kids seem to want to do it 24-7 unless they have a distraction. That distraction can't always be an adult, since even full-time parents can't devote 100% of their time to kids, never mind to more than one kid when each would need 100% attention to prevent disaster. The fact is that TV calms them down, and thus parents will be motivated to have them stimulated in that way rather than in truly dangerous ways like what they're naturally inclined to do without the understanding danger that other kids naturally develop much earlier.

Christian Carnival CXLIV

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The 144th Christian Carnival is at The Buzz Blog.

Linda Belleville's II Corinthians commentary in the IVP New Testament Commentary series is one of the best of the briefer treatements of this important but often underemphasized letter. I would say that the only close rival at this level of detail is Scott Hafemann's NIVAC, which has the advantage of being a little later (and thus could benefit from Belleville's work and the scholarship since) and with more emphasis on applicational issues, whereas Belleville has a little more focus on the exegesis itself.

I like Belleville's approach for the most part. She seems to me to be much more balanced than some of the more detailed academic commentaries. She argues for Pauline authorship of the entire letter. She tends to favor seeing the letter as a unity, with some caution that certainty is impossible. She finds no absolutely convincing explanation about why the last few chapters seem very different, but she nonetheless does not take the differences to demonstrate their being taken from some other letter, and we should give the letter in its current form the benefit of the doubt in the absence of clear evidence. Overall, her exposition captures well the basic themes of this letter and how it ties in with I Corinthians and demonstrates both a familiarity with the literature on the epistle and an eye for how to interpret and apply its message in our contemporary setting.

Her goal seems to be to provide enough information from the best scholarship on the book to understand what Paul is up to in this letter without getting too bogged down in some of the more thorny problems. Sometimes she just refers to other scholarship when the details are tricky and the importance of the disagreement is less significant. She does give exegetical and text-critical notes at the bottom of the page, with a running exposition (not always verse by verse) taking up most of the space on most pages. It's hard to read both in order, however, since she does not use the notes at the bottom as footnotes. Since the commentary proper is not always verse-by-verse, it's difficult to figure out when to read the notes at the bottom. Other than that, the commentary does not seem like a scholarly reference work but feels like a book you can read.

For detailed scholarly work on this book on the level of the Greek text, try Murray J. Harris' NIGTC, and for a more detailed exegetical work without the detailed Greek I recommend the NAC by David Garland. But for this level of detail Belleville is excellent.

This is the the twenty-second post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at the fine-tuning design argument for the existence of God, along with an initial look at the many-worlds conjecture as a response to the argument. This post will spend some more time comparing that conjecture with the designer explanation for the fine-tuning of constants in physics.

Is this objection decisive? It's an alternative explanation, and we need just one alternative explanation to show that the argument original designer explanation isn't the only one. So we have two explanations to consider. Which should we prefer? Which is more reasonable, theism or all these myriads of cosmoi? Both explanations do seem to explain the surprising fact about the constants of physics, and they seem to account for this fact equally well, but how do you weigh the simplicity of each theory? It's not as if both agree on the core that everyone agrees on, and then one goes beyond that to postulate all this excess baggage. Both scenarios contain something that in their theory about ultimate reality beyond what a naturalist might want to say.

Theism, even the minimal sort necessary if you accept this argument, involves a designer or creator, which certainly goes beyond naturalism. Simplicity might nudge us to discount theism in favor of the many-worlds conjecture, since those worlds all seem to be additional parts of nature -- the kind of thing a naturalist already believes in. There are just lots more of them than the one we originally believed in. However, the many-worlds conjecture may require going beyond naturalism as well. Why do all the possible cosmoi (i.e. all the possible sets of constants) get generated? Is there some mechanism that generates these different universes, maybe all at once in different universes or maybe one after the other? What would this mechanism be? It's certainly not something you can just read off physics. There's no explanation offered why there would be such a mechanism. So it's not clear if this response really fits the naturalistic picture either. The many universes would be more of what we already believe in (though many, many more things), but the mechanism to get many universes is beyond the core theory. Yet theism involves a wholly different kind of thing, a designer, though just one thing and not very, very many. A theory can be simpler in terms of how many things it requires, and a theory could be simpler in terms of what kinds of things it requires. We have two theories. Each one is more complex than the other but in a different way.

The 37th Philosophers' Carnival is at hell's handmaiden.

This is the the twenty-first post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I presented two versions of the design argument for the existence of God, along with some standard responses. This post focuses in on a third version, the fine-tuning design argument.

The laws of physics contain some constants that govern how things in the universe behave. Physicists have no idea why these constants have the values they do, but they know that if they had been just slightly different then we couldn't exist. Stars couldn't form, never mind rational life. (Some might argue that rational life vastly different from anything we've seen might still be possible. That is hard to speculate about, but perhaps it's worth considering.)

Physicists all accept this fact about the laws, which leaves philosophers to figure out what to say. Some argue that, since the chances are so low of getting these exact constants, it's too much of a coincidence that the constants we happen to have are the ones that allow the possibility of rational life. This leads some to conclude that the universe must have been designed with the purpose of leading to at least the possibility of rational life.

350,000th Visitor

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Visitor #350,000 in Madison, WI arrived about an hour ago at 12:03 pm EST from the search Why does God us singles.

The 144th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at The Buzz Blog. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

What is a Church?

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Mark Roberts is doing a series called What is a Church? Biblical Basics for Christian Community. I especially like the four posts he's written so far under the title "When a Church is not a Church?" These look at the Greek word usually translated as "church" in the New Testament, 'ekklesia', which means "assembly" or "gathering" (and not "called out ones", as many erroneously claim because of some bad arguments from etymology).

The fourth post in that series within the series raises a point very much worth emphasizing. It makes no sense to say that you're part of a gathering that you don't show up for. In a sense any Christian is a member of the gathering around the throne of God in heaven, but we also speak of ourselves as members of local congregations. The average congregation has about 60-70% of its membership regularly attending. Does it make sense to call the others members of a gathering that they don't ever gather with? Treating a church like an organization with a membership list does have this particularly unfortunate consequence, even if there are legal reasons (and perhaps other reasons) to do so.

There's lots of other good stuff in Mark's series, but that struck me as a pointed observation about this attitude about what the church is among a large enough population in contemporary evangelicalism.

This is the the twentieth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished discussing the cosmological argument for the existence of God. In this post, I'm moving on to the design argument for the existence of God.

[note: These design argument posts are based largely on discussions by Peter van Inwagen in his Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (2002) Westview Press and Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press.]

The main idea behind the design argument is that something about nature is unexplainable unless a creator designed the universe for a specific purpose. Nature is hard to explain otherwise. As with finding a watch on a beach, it seems hard to conclude that it just occurred naturally on its own. It seems to be put together in such a way that calls out for an explanation.

Sometimes the argument is based on of the beauty of the world or the universe, and sometimes it picks out a specific fact. Can the fact that we find music beautiful be explained by science? Why do we happen to enjoy patterns of sound that just happen to be mathematically interesting? Some have looked at beauty in the world and wondered how anything can explain such wonder without appealing to a designer who wanted it to be beautiful. Others have questioned such arguments by saying the only reason we find it beautiful is because our preferences happen to match what's there.

The issue turns on what beauty is, what it is we perceive when we see beauty, if scientific theories can explain the nature of beauty, and many other issues. I'll focus on one particular fact that has led some to believe in a designer, but let's first look at the history of this general argument type when based on aother kinds of facts.

Christian Carnival CXLIII

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The 143rd Christian Carnival is up at Romans 15:4 Project.

Stargate SG-1 Continues

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After the SciFi Channel canceled Stargate SG-1 after ten seasons, it was unclear exactly how MGM would manage to continue the story, but they insisted they would do so in some fashion. They have now announced exactly how. They have greenlighted two direct-to-DVD Stargate SG-1 movies to continue the SG-1 storyline. The first will deal with the necessary wrapup for the current Ori storyline that has occupied Seasons 9-10. The second will involve time travel.

It's unclear if the SciFi Channel will show these movies. Despite their insistence that MGM could not continue the show with them or anyone else, they had indicated a willingness to show some TV movies to continue the story. But I'm not sure MGM will want to do it. I wouldn't. These people just canceled a show that was doing ok in the ratings (even if it was lower than it had once been) immediately after a major milestone was achieved, which is something like breaking up with someone on their birthday.

The thing that makes me happiest about this is that it's not going to be online only. I don't think I'd enjoy having to watch it on a notebook computer screen, and if we have to pay for it I'd want it on a DVD with professional features. Pay-to-download is not a good option at this point except for people who can afford to build a home studio for their computer.

Senator George Allen (R, VA) has come under a lot of fire recently for being unwilling to say that he had Jewish ancestry. He he may have been just respecting his mother's wishes, considering his obligation to her saying this in confidence to outweigh the interest of the public in knowing his ancestry (and I can see how people might disagree over which moral issues are more decisive there). He also used the word 'macaca' to describe an Indian American. He called it a term of endearment that had no meaning, but it's known in some places as a racial epithet, including in French North Africa, where Allen's mother is from, although she claims never to have heard it. Allen has been slipping in the polls for his reelection to the Senate, and I think this is might end his chances at a potential presidential run for 2008.

But the latest news is that anyone switching their vote from Allen to his opponent, James Webb, had better not be doing it out of an expectation that Webb is more racially sensitive. Webb has been unwilling to say whether he has ever used the N-word. [hat tip: Racialicious] People who knew him in his youth have said that he did use it in those days, and his unwillingness to own up to it is ruffling some feathers. He says he knows he's never used it as a racial epithet but can't recall if he's used it in another way. I had first thought that he might just be confusing use and mention, and he wasn't willing to say that he'd never used it, thinking that just mentioning the word to talk about the word counts as using it (which it doesn't), but the allegations do not involve simply mentioning the word. They involve using it as a racial epithet (which is what he says he knows he never did).

Chronological Hermeneia

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As I've done with several other of my lists of commentary series, I've put together a chronological listing of the Hermeneia commentaries. For the canonical order and a brief review of the series, see here.

Dahlia Lithwick seems to think Justice Scalia's comments in the following quote offensive. Interestingly, there's no explanation at all of what is supposed to be offensive. Here is his comment (via Orin Kerr, who gives the broader context and says some similar things to what I'm about to say):

We have a case involving standing which says that -- you know, the doctrine of standing is more than an exercise in the conceivable. And this seem to me an exercise in the conceivable. Nobody thinks your client is really, you know, abstaining from tequila down in Mexico because he is on supervised release in the United States, or is going -- is going to apply having been deported from the country for criminal offenses, he is going to apply to come back -- and look, these are ingenious exercises in the conceivable. This is just not the real world.

I can think of several reasons someone reading this quote out of context might think it offensive, but I'm having trouble seeing how any of them is both (1) a good interpretation of the justice's words and (2) offensive in the right sort of way to justify the way Lithwick describes the offense.

The 143rd Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Romans 15:4 Project. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Devon Carbado at raises some interesting questions about race on the Grey's Anatomy show. [hat tip: Racialicious] I've never watched the show, but these issues come up with quite a number of shows that I have seen. Some people have called the show colorblind because it has non-white characters playing a prominent role without ever making an issue of their race. Many who say this are thinking of colorblindness as a good thing. Racial ways of thinking involve thinking of the less privileged races as lesser or as not part of the mainstream. This kind of colorblindness is often thought of as good. It mainstreams the marginalized. On the other hand, it does mask genuine racial issues when they might be lurking beneath the surface, unnoticed by those who aren't tuned into them, ignored due to no one's willingness to talk about them for fear of being seen as cooperating with the unfortunate implications of a good deal of the negative racialized thinking that colorblindness wants to avoid.

Carbado steps into this with a claim that I think shows some great insight.

I don't think the show is colorblind at all. It is color conscious in a particular way -- namely, it presents non-white actors in roles that do not explicitly invoke race. That is neither colorblind nor race neutral.

It didn't occur to me to call this approach color-conscious at all, but I think this is right. The producers of this show are surely aware of what they are doing. The writers may not be addressing race issues, but what is color-conscious is the placing of non-white actors into these parts, and I suspect they are consciously not referencing the characters' races very much.

It's clear that it's color-conscious in at least that way, then. The question is whether this is a good or bad thing to do. Carbado worries about one aspect of it:

Roman Catholicism has never officially endorsed the idea of Limbo (a place not as cool as heaven but much better than hell and purgatory). It was proposed as a place for children who die before being baptized and for people who believed before the Messiah's first coming. It looks as if Pope Benedict XVI is pulling the Roman Catholic church out of their ambiguity on this issue. There is no such thing as Limbo, he is now declaring.

According to the article, the idea goes back to Augustine's unwillingness to accept that God would send innocent children to hell. That, of course, fits neither with the biblical teaching on what Augustine later called original sin nor with Augustine's own views on the subject. The biblical teaching on what is required for salvation never includes a footnote indicating an exception for those under some fictional age of reason. Augustine's own views treat original sin as something that's part of us from conception, and original sin is the basis of the death sentence on every single human being (except Christ, although he faced it anyway). I can't see any absolutely compelling biblical argument against the view that all children who die young will be saved. God would have to perform a work of grace specially in each child who is saved to regenerate the person and remove the sin nature, which is what scripture teaches about every adult who is saved. But the lack of any exceptions to what seem to be clear statements seems to me to count as evidence against such a view.

However you treat the biblical silence on the issue, it's clear that there's no positive biblical evidence for such a view. The article seems to me to suggest that the reason for removing Limbo is that there's no biblical evidence for it. Why, then, assume that all children will be in heaven? That equally has no biblical evidence. Are they thinking it's better to err on the side of giving false hope in this life than it is to err on the side of preparing people for the worst in case their children who die young will not be saved?

[hat tip: Claude Mariottini]

Update: See Siris for some hesitations on a number of things here. I don't agree with his interpretation of I Peter's statement about Jesus speaking to the spirits in prison (who in context and especially in relation to Jude and II Peter's similar statements have to be the Genesis 6 fallen angels, with the message one of victory over them rather than salvation). [Update 2: See his comment on this post for his clarification even on that.] I don't have much background in the other issues he raises, but he's much more aware of the history of theology than most religion writers for newspapers like the Chicago Tribune.

Jollyblogger's recent post on whether churches should advertize gets into some interesting issues about the goal of advertizing. In particular, what sort of people do the advertizements intend to attract, and does that fit with the purposes of what a gathering of believers is for? What sort of people do we want coming to visit our congregations, and how do we get them there?

I'm not going to get into those issues, though I think they're worth thinking about. What drove me to comment (and thus, now, to expand on my comment here) was his side discussion of whether it's good to single out newcomers, in particular whether it makes a difference if the person is a Christian or a nonbeliever. Several people in the comments were saying that Christians like to be singled out, but nonbelievers aren't very comfortable with that. I don't think it's that simple. Some nonbelievers might like being noticed, but I think the more important issue is that not all Christians will want to be singled out. Extroverted Christians might like that, but if I visit a church and they do something like that I tend to get really turned off. I don't like to be made the center of attention (unless I'm doing something specifically requiring it like teaching, in which case I then won't want people not paying attention).

The latest entry by Emi Kolawole points out some misleading and inaccurate information in a recent ad for Michael Steele, a black Republican running for Senate in Maryland. Most of the writeup is the standard fact-checking of misleading or inaccurate information of the sort most political ads have that the site generally does well at. But one thing about Ms. Kolawole's writeup strikes me as unusual. She makes a big deal out of the fact that Lt. Gov. Steele doesn't say that he's a Republican. She says it's pretty clear from his opponent's ads that Steele is a Republican (though what she points to is not about political party but about some conservative views he has, an important distinction). But she seems to think he has an obligation to identify his party affiliation.

I wonder about Ms. Kolawole's emphasis on Steele's party. After all, most political ads I've seen this year do not mention the candidate's party. This isn't something just Republicans are doing. In the current divisive environment, candidates appreciate the opportunity to associate their name with positions they hold that might win them support, and if they can do that without the potential of a party name turning people off immediately, they often will. This seems to me to be a pretty standard practice. I don't see pointing it out every time other candidates do this. So why spend so much time emphasizing it in Steele's case?

The only reason I can think of is because he's one of those somewhat rare black Republicans. Perhaps Ms. Kolawole thinks black Republicans have some special obligation to point out that they don't think and vote the way black people are "supposed" to think and vote. I hope this isn't what's driving this, but I really can't think of any other reason. It doesn't make me very confident of her ability to write for a non-partisan fact-checking site if a political agenda could lead her to do this sort of thing. I'd have no problem with emphasizing someone's party when the candidate doesn't say it. It's just that Steele seems to have been singled out especially for this. I can't think of any motivation to do that unless it's out of some immoral desire to take black politicans at face value only if they are liberal Democrats, and otherwise they must make their party affiliation clear in a way that other candidates regularly do not. Non-partisan websites should not be operating by that kind of double standard. Is there some explanation for why his party affiliation would be so important to her when the site doesn't normally complain about this sort of thing?

Christian Carnival CXLII

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The 142nd Christian Carnival is up at Nerd Family.

Three members of the ESV Bible translation committee are very vocal against the use of inclusive language for human beings when it means using different forms in English than the original language has. That's why the ESV tends to translate 'adelphoi' as "brothers" rather than as "brothers and sisters" or "dear friends" as some of the inclusive language translations are now doing (cf. the NRSV, NLT, TNIV, and CEV). The inclusive language translations tend to avoid using masculine pronouns when the group they refer to includes women or girls, and thus some of the inclusive language translations will use the singular 'they', which is pretty much standard in contemporary English but is not really new to English in recent years anyway, despite the claims of those who have resisted it. It's recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

So it is indeed a great irony that the ESV itself contains an unambiguous example of the singular 'they'. Peter Kirk discovered it, and Rick Mansfield has some further thoughts on it. I agree with their general assessment that this is a problem for a translation that explicitly states in its translation policy that it does not translate in this sort of way. That suggests that someone in the editing process did not notice that a translator had done this, either out of a rushed job or because the editor in question, like the translator in question, is so familiar with the singular 'they' that they did not notice. So I'm in full agreement that this is in itself evidence against the view that the singular 'they' is bad English. I do, however, have some reservations about how we might frame our criticism of the ESV on this. In particular, I think we need to be careful not to treat the Grudem-Poythress-Ryken view as representative of the ESV translation committee in general.

Latest Searches

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Jesus said. I'm very much committed to the concept of the abundant life
That reads the way it might if there had been this concept in first-century Palestine before Jesus that people in Jesus' day talked about called the abundant life, and someone challenged Jesus by suggesting something he said contradicts it.

kerry livgren lied
About what? I have to say I think it's highly unlikely that someone so concerned with truth would be saying anything in public that counts as a genuine lie. But of course this search didn't turn up any hints as to what the accusation actually is. The more precise search "kerry livgren" "livgren lied" turned up exactly nothing.

lordship salvation is bringing protestants back to rome
Ha! (I can imagine Alf saying...) I guess you can't tell the difference between (1) recognizing that genuine grace produces works in a believer's life and (2) taking those grace-inspired works to merit salvation. The views might be closer than most Protestants think, but there's still a difference in whether it gets called merit.

means don't justify the ends
Well, I suppose I agree. I mean, isn't it generally true that you're doing something wrong if you're doing it for the wrong reasons? Of course, this isn't likely to be what the search sought to find, but it's also not what I meant when I appallingly said this to begin with.

which planet has iowa as a moon
I think that would be Saskastchewan.

The 142nd Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Nerd Family. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:



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