Parables (Science & Religion 1)

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of science (particularly evolution and the Big Bang) and Genesis 1.  I’ve taught Old Testament Survey several times lately, and that (among other things) keeps the topic in mind.

I’ve been trying to think of parables (explanatory stories) that I could use to illustrate good and bad approaches to the topic.  Here’s what I have so far; can you add to my list?


How Science Works I

Imagine with me that you’re sitting in your living room, watching TV.  A baseball crashes through the window on the north side of your house.  What story do you compose in your mind to explain what has happened?

Well, if you live in a neighborhood where the kids play catch in their yards, you probably assemble a story based on things you’ve seen (kids playing ball) and things you know about people (Billy, the neighbor boy to the north, is always running into things and breaking things.)

You take something you observe (a baseball breaking glass on the north side of your house and landing on your living room floor) and combine it with previous knowledge (a neighborhood full of kids, Billy’s predilections, the fact that his house is on the north side of your house) to explain what happened.

THAT’S WHAT SCIENCE DOES.

  1. Scientists observe stuff.
  2. Then they mix what they observe with previous knowledge (knowledge from previous observations) to form hypotheses about what happened.

Then (3) they test their hypotheses.  For example: what happens if you go next door and find out that Billy has been away at a relative’s house all week, and was not in the same zip code with you when the ball crashed through your window?  You adjust your explanation / hypothesis.

How does this apply to the discussion of Genesis 1 and the Big Bang?  

When scientists say that the universe is 13.77 billion years old, they are (for the most part) not trying to attack Genesis 1.  They’re stating the results of a whole bunch of complex observations, and a whole bunch of extremely complicated math.

They’ve observed the presence and prevalence of different elements in the galaxy; the distance from earth of the cosmic background radiation that appears to be the most distance phenomenon we can observe, etc.

And based on all those observations, and a whole lot more math than I want to think about, they say (in essence): “What I see makes sense IF the universe is 13.77 billion years old, and it began with the explosion of a singularity that initially contained all space-time, …”

Which is a lot like dusting the broken glass off the baseball, picking it up and taking it next door, and saying to Billy’s dad, “What I see makes sense if Billy is in town, and he and his friends were playing baseball in the side yard.”

The Party of Reagan Is Dead …

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… long live the principles of Reagan.

Witness the greatness of @jimgeraghty, in today’s Morning Jolt.

Considering the Circumstances, Why Shouldn’t We See a Revolt at the Convention? 

Why is anyone surprised that talk of a delegate revolt at the convention in Cleveland is picking up? Donald Trump isn’t doing the basic tasks a presidential candidate is supposed to do.

He isn’t hiring staff; he has about 30 paid staff around the country while Hillary Clinton has something in the neighborhood of 700.

He’s refusing to spend any money on ads:

The Clinton campaign and its allies are airing just over $23 million in television ads in eight potential battleground states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire, according to data released by NBC News.

The Trump campaign? Zero.

Either Trump is illiquid, or he doesn’t have the money.

He’s either refusing to fundraise, or seriously slacking in this key component of a presidential campaign:

While Trump had promised Priebus that he would call two dozen top GOP donors, when RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh recently presented Trump with a list of more than 20 donors, he called only three before stopping, according to two sources familiar with the situation. It’s unclear whether he resumed the donor calls later.

He’s destroyed existing relationships between the Republican party and corporate America that previously had been beyond the realm of policy differences:

Apple has told Republican leaders it will not provide funding or other support for the party’s 2016 presidential convention, as it’s done in the past, citing Donald Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and minorities.

Unlike Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which have all said they will provide some support to the GOP event in Cleveland next month, Apple decided against donating technology or cash to the effort, according to two sources familiar with the iPhone maker’s plans.

He’s getting less popular and he’s only creating more headaches for everyone else in the party. He’s trailing in Kansastied in Utah, and Arizona looks shaky.

Republican primary voters selected a candidate with very little appeal to the broader electorate. So which is worse? Alienating the 13.8 million voters who selected him in the primary? Or alienating a majority of the 120 million to130 million who will vote in November? There’s no good option left; which one is less bad?

For those arguing the delegates have no business overruling primary voters . . . What are delegates for if not to avert a disaster like this? If they aren’t there to use their judgment and conscience, we might as well replace them with programmable robots.

Say this for a ticket out of any two other Republican lawmakers: that ticket will not destroy the party. It’s first act after a terror attack will not be to congratulate itself. It will not suddenly call the troops thieves. It will not call an Indiana-born judge “the Mexican.” An Anybody-Anybody ticket will stop creating problems for other Republicans and start solving them.

I’ve said all along that Trump was trolling the GOP and had no intention of being elected or serving as President.

Chalk all this up to confirmation bias if you wish, BUT: after Trump loses to Hillary in proportions McGovernesque / Mondaleseque, and goes laughing back to his casinos and cocktail parties and dalliances with his friends’ wives and daughters, remember: he’s laughing at you.

He’s laughing at the gullible GOP primary voters, the gullible Evangelicals who hated Obama and Clinton more than they cared about following Jesus, and the GOPe who thought they could use him for their purposes.

He’s laughing at everyone who took him seriously.

Play Manchurian candidate with me for a moment: if the Clintons ( or the Illuminati) had plotted to ruin the GOP by taking it over from the inside, would it have played out much differently from this?  (Chalk that one up to paranoia, I guess.)

Like the scorpion said to the fox: “You knew what I was before you let me climb on your back.”  Republicans: you knew what he was.

This is the death of the GOP as we know it.  Good riddance.  And the death of a whole bunch of GOP careers: even better riddance.

I pray a more principled, disciplined center of gravity for conservatism develops in the GOP’s wake.  The party of Reagan is dead; long live the principles of Reagan.

Dead & Company, Cincinnati, 2016-6-16

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You want to see & hear what I partook in last night?  Here’s a link to the recap, setlist, and audience recording of the show.

My memories of the show:

  • Mayer was great.  His vocals were great.  He played “Jerry-style”–the pins-and-needles major key arpeggios and modal stuff, always bending up to the major instead of the minor (which is more SRV), but on the jams–especially Viola Lee Blues, where he played an old SG–he played more of the SRV-shaped stuff I’m used to hearing from him.
  • Weir is a hoss.  He’s sixty-eight years old, and he stood toe-to-toe with John Mayer for 3 hours 40 minutes.
  • Kreutzmann and Hart are amazing, too.  Drums > Space > Viola Lee redux was awesome, even though it felt like they kept trying to dovetail into a different song.
  • Maybe it was just the adrenalin of being at the show, but I remember EVERY song being tight and excellent.
  • The jams and dovetailing were not super-smooth or telepathic.  There were a half-dozen or so clunky moments where one song was finished and they wanted to go somewhere else, but didn’t quite know how to get there smoothly.
  • Two disappointments:
    • FIRST, they didn’t play any of the rare gems (although the triumphal Box of Rain was amazing.)  I didn’t expect Dark Star, but a St Stephen? Or Scarlet > Fire.  Or Playing in the Band. Or (dare I dream it?) a Terrapin Station.
    • SECOND, Oteil Burbridge is an incredible bass player, and he brought a lot of energy and personality even without taking the microphone.  But I’d really love to see Phil Lesh.
  • The highlight of the night, and one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, was Jack Straw.  The vocals (Weir and Mayer) were smooth and strong, and the jams at the end were simply furious.

It was the perfect evening with my beautiful daughter, and the best Father’s Day gift ever.

Oh, and I got a really cool t-shirt.  I haven’t worn tie-dye since the 7th grade.

On Monogamy and Sexuality

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A question for “Ask Science Mike“:

I have a question about monogamy and sexuality.

There appear to be many reasons that monogamy is preferable to promiscuity. Families are more likely to be stable, which makes society more likely to be stable. Sexually transmitted diseases. Strengthening commitment between partners. Plus there’s that whole, “thou shalt not commit adultery” thing, which–even with the differences between ancient Israel and the modern West–still holds a great deal of authority and brings numerous benefits.

But monogamy does not appear to be natural. I’m an evangelical Christian, married, heterosexual, fifty-something-white-guy.  From experience and observation, it’s clear that most heterosexual males are naturally interested in more than one partner–biological imperative, whatever.

But for a variety of reasons, I and many people like me don’t seek out or cultivate opportunities to be with other partners. Christianity teaches me that my desire for other partners is from the ego / flesh, is sinful, etc. In addition to wanting stable families and stable societies, and to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, etc., I don’t want to betray God that way.

So: the best thing for me and men like me to do is to fight that part of our sexual nature, deny and discipline it.

How then is the opposite argument–“it’s their nature, you can’t fight against or judge acts (to say nothing of judging people) that are according to nature”–used to legitimize same sex attraction? I sense that in some ways, I’m comparing apples and oranges. Help me suss this out.

P in Dallas

Pete Enns on Hermeneutics & the Historical Adam Debate

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A follow-up to the Rob Bell / hermeneutics discussion: Peter Enns clearly articulates a bunch of stuff that I’ve been mumbling about for years.

11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam” (reprise)

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell, pt 4

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In Conclusion:

So what do I think?

I hope the preceding survey, brief as it is, demonstrates that Rob Bell’s approach to the Bible and to biblical authority is not a simple yes/no, does-he-or-doesn’t-he question.

The fact of the matter is: everything Bell does, theologically and hermeneutically, can be found elsewhere in the broad Judeo-Christian tradition.  In the same paragraph, he may meld materials from 19th century Catholic mystics, the nascent Orthodoxy of the 3rd century Desert Fathers and Mothers, rabbinic Judaism, etc.

His approach is eclectic, largely PRE-modern (or at least, the raw materials that he mines are largely premodern), even though he’s sometimes referred to as postmodern.

The thing about him that’s most postmodern is the mixing, the kitbashing (metaphorically, the mixing of pieces from disparate sources, ergo the mixing of techniques from different approaches), that’s postmodern.

The effect is anti-modern, which flies in the face of what passes for modern Evangelical hermeneutics.  In a postmodern world, Evangelicals are exemplars of modernity.  No one clings more stubbornly to the philosophies and theologies of 15th and 16th centuries than “modern” Evangelicals.

So again: what do I think?

We have to realize that the way we Evangelicals were taught to read the Bible is not the only way the Bible has ever been read.  We were taught to read individually (by ourselves, silently, in isolation, asking “what does it mean to me?” or “what is God saying to me?” first).  We were taught to read for historical meaning, authorial intent.  We were taught that the text’s plain meaning (usually = authorial intent) is discernible, and controls our understanding and application of the text.

Understand two things.  FIRST, there are a hundred different philosophical assumptions / conclusions in that single paragraph.  Does “plain meaning” really exist?  Is authorial intention discernible?  Does the priority of reading silently in isolation produce a different reading than reading, say, aloud in a community?  Is there a “historical meaning”?

SECOND, understand that the way we Evangelicals read the Bible is a relatively new way of ingesting the Bible.  Historically, most Christians and the faithful Jews before them did not read or digest the Bible the way we were taught to do.  Arguably, more Christians over the past 2,000 years have read the Bible the way Rob Bell does than have read the Bible the way the modern Evangelical does.

All of which is to say, the fact that Rob Bell is reading the Bible differently from how we were taught to read the Bible doesn’t mean he isn’t taking scripture seriously, or that he disrespects biblical authority.

We can say that his conclusions are wrong.  Or that the ways he’s reading the Bible are wrong.  Or that we hate how politically correct and trendy he is.  But we can’t say that he’s deserted the Bible, or disregards biblical authority.  The fact that he’s reading it differently doesn’t mean he’s denying or rejecting it.

So again: what do I think?

I like Rob Bell.  He’s not only very likable, and a gifted communicator, but I have found healing and direction from his teaching.  I listen judiciously, and occasionally cringe at some of the things he says.  But even then …

Most of the things he does that make me nuts are a reflection of how he understands his calling.  Bell believes he has been called to be a pastor to the pastorless, the spiritual but not religious, the de-churched.

You know about the de-churched?  There are unchurched people who don’t go to church.  But what I’m talking about are the de-churched, people who ran away [or were run off] from the church, screaming in agony, after terrible experiences with abusive church leadership, etc.

It makes me nuts, for example, when he goes out of his way NOT to use the word “God”, preferring to refer to “the Divine,” etc.  But he does this because he has a segment of people who listen to him that shut down when they hear the language of traditional religion, so (rightly or wrongly) he thinks using “the Divine” is more effective.

Same with “faith community” instead of “church.”

He avoids talking about God as “father” for similar reasons.

Bell is like a missionary to post-Christian America.  He’s preaching the gospel to people who would never listen to a more traditional, more recognizable, more Evangelical source. (People who would never listen to ME, for example.)

Don’t compare him to Matt Chandler or Rick Warren.  Compare him with Dr. Phil, or Oprah; they’re closer to what he’s trying to do, and make his Christ-centeredness much more clear.

He’s telling people who would never be caught inside a church about a God who loves them, who wants to be involved in their lives.

He talks about Jesus a LOT: not the caricature, judgmental Jesus who hates everyone who doesn’t vote Republican, but the Jesus who taught people how to treat each other and how to get back to God when they’ve wandered off the path.

He even talks about sin.  And repentance.  (That’s another great sermon, by the way.)  And he talks effectively.  And I pray that God is using him, and making him even more effective, because his listeners are people who aren’t listening to you or me.

May his tribe increase.