Thursday, December 14, 2017

Modify the LBC. 1689. (Yes I actually said that.)

This will float with many of my friends like a sack of lead bricks. The London Baptist Confession (1689) should be modified. It won’t, of course, because there is no group with the authority to modify it—and that’s probably a good thing. So this is entirely hypothetical. It also couldn’t be modified because of self-selection, and that I don't think is a good thing. Those who love the confession really, really love it, and those who don’t couldn’t be bothered.  And those who really, really love it—and I count some great friends (many actually) among them, do not, dare I say, tend to view it with a critical eye.  There is something about the great confessions that elicits fierce loyalty. You might as well suggest the New York Yankees should not ever wear pinstripes.

So what would I change? 1 

Not much. Nothing doctrinal I would just get rid of (or modify) two anachronisms.

The first modification I’d make is to the (in)famous §26.4

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. (LBC §26.4)

This is not because I fear being offensive to Rome, but because this is anachronistic (and unnecessarily offensive).  Today, the usual defense of this passage is that it refers to the office of the pope, not the man. That explanation doesn’t smell right—the writers of the confession were skilled beyond measure—if they meant the office I think they would have stated the office. I believe they mean the man holding the office at any time—which I think is quite different from the office itself. The antichrist does not refer to an office, but to a creature, a man. But even assuming arguendo that view, it is entirely anachronistic. This was written at a time when there was primarily one theological bogeyman: Rome. Written today, would the divines have singled out Rome? Would they not have included among their antichrists the theologically liberal? The open theists? The prosperity gospelists? The LDS? The Jehovah’s Witnesses? Joel Osteen?

Proposal: The doctrinal statements of the confession cover the theological issues with Rome. (Hence no need to be unnecessarily offensive.) The sentence §26.4 should be shortened to end with a period after the phrase terminated by sovereign manner.

The other modification I’d make is with §24 on the Civil Magistrate. This is clearly anachronistic.  If you want to address government today then this should be updated to refer to elected officials, not kings.  And it should reflect the long Baptist tradition of advocating a separation of church and state. In particular while the current language in the confession gives approval for Christians to seek office (that’s fine), it lacks, because of the time it was written, any  flip-side warnings against destructive, counter-productive, and unbiblical  parachurch phenomena such as the “Religious Right” movement that ties Christianity to American political conservatism. Not to mention the even more deformed progeny of this line of thinking: Dominionism, Reconstructionism, and Theonomy.

If your argument is that the confession writers were extremely gifted and theologically sound, and we should be very, very careful to meddle with what they wrote, I’d agree. If your argument is “under no circumstances should we tweak what they wrote, ever."  … Then I think you are making an argument that is tantamount to infallibility.



1 I actually agree with the entire confession (except what I propose to change), although some would not agree that I agree. For example, I agree with the statement on creation (§4) (how could you not? It is just quoting scripture.) but some young earth advocates would deny that I agree with the confession. There are several other similar points where I would argue that I agree, but some would disagree with my claim of agreement.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Q: Bound by or Free of the Law?  Answer: Both (modified)

NOTE: Sigh. I want to agree with many friends on this subject, but I remain, at least for now, wedded to this minority position. If I am wrong, please convince me that I am! I'll listen. I really will.


The question of the Mosaic Law—are we bound by it or not?—is usually presented as a false dilemma. Namely:

Pick one. Use only a Number 2 pencil:

☐ A. We are still under the law.
☐ B. We are not under the law.

The problem is that we neglect a third choice:

☑ C. We are still under a moral law, but it is not the law handed down to Moses (including The Ten Commandments)—it is the fuller moral law as revealed by Christ himself, primarily via the Sermon on The Mount.

When I get stuck in the false dilemma I, when reading Paul’s comments on the law, end up with a noggin spinning like a whirling dervish. Paul almost seems to be playing zen come-here, go-away! games with us—are you bound by the law? May it never be! So are you free of the law? May it never be!

But, but...

A while back I was reading along these lines in the book The Newness of the New Covenant by A. Blake White.

White points out how avoiding the false dilemma makes Paul a bit clearer. (He doesn't cast his arguments in the form of a false dilemma. I'm just paraphrasing--rather crudely.)

As an example, consider this verse:
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Cor 7:19)
It doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not. But keeping the commandments of God—that’s what really counts. Except…circumcision was required under Mosaic law! So is Paul telling us to keep the law or disregard it?

That’s the false dilemma. In fact he is telling us to disregard Mosaic law (circumcision) but to obey another law—and the only thing that can mean is: obey Jesus’ law.

Paul makes this more explicit a bit later:
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (1 Cor 9:20-21)
Paul is saying: To the Jews I appear as Jew, under the law, even though I am not really under the Mosaic law. To the gentiles I appear as free from the law, even though I am not really free from the law, but under Christ’s law.

That is, to the Jew, Paul emphasizes the law; he just doesn’t necessarily mention, at first, that it is not the law of Moses. And to the Gentile, Paul emphasizes freedom from the law; he just doesn’t necessarily mention, at first, that the freedom is from the law of Moses—not from the law of Christ.

Smart man, that Paul. And it is only option C, above (the answer is always C)  that allows me to make any sense out of Paul’s difficult teachings on the law.

Make sure all erasures are full and complete.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I'll take "Unimportant Things" for $600, Alex



I saw this ubiquitous bumper sticker on the way to work. Not for the first time it occurred to me how wrong-directional this is. Christian: you should put Christ back in Christmas, not tell the world to do so.  Exactly for whom is this message intended? If there must be a bumper sticker (and there mustn't) I would prefer to see: What you do is a matter for your conscience, but as for me, I'm making Christmas all about Christ.

We are concerned with unimportant things. I have have had several Christians question me about my use of the year designations BCE and CE rather than BC and AD. It is as if I am committing the sin of insulting God or the very least an unspeakable capitulation to the culture. No, it is the practice that is gaining acceptance, so I adapted. There is no satisfying answer provided when I ask: "Why is this important? Does the bible instruct us to use BC and AD? If so I will immediately comply." No--it is just somehow a matter of orthodoxy for me to do so. Because reasons.

So unimportant.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gimme that Old Time Sovereignty (modified)

I have a tendency to neglect the Old Testament.  I rarely look at it with the same critical eye that I look at the New Testament. I carry with me the child's view that the Old Testament is full of cool stories of battles and kings and prophets, but the New Testament, so I tend to imagine, is where God’s sovereignty in salvation is truly revealed.

But there are many passages in the Old Testament that unambiguously teach of God’s sovereign election. In fact, probably no single verse summarizes the doctrine better than Exodus 33:19 when God proclaims that He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom he will have compassion. Nevertheless, such passages, I always believed, were isolated nuggets compared to the unceasing proclamation of God’s sovereignty in election found in the gospels (especially John’s) and the Pauline corpus (especially his letter to the Romans.)

Of course this is simply not true.

In systematically going through the Old Testament one finds that the strong, Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty appears all over the place, typically in verses that, in the past, I tended to gloss over because they were inconvenient for a superficial explanation of the complete passage.

For example, consider the boy Samuel and his first encounter with the voice of God, after his mother Hannah placed him in the service of the priest Eli at the temple. We pick up they action as Samuel (just a boy) is preparing for bed.
6And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. (1 Sam 3:6-9)
The usual explanation of this passage is this: Samuel heard God speaking, but he thought it was his surrogate father, the priest Eli. After Eli told him that it was God calling, then Samuel was prepared to accept that the voice was God’s.

Like in most cases when the causal role of God’s sovereignty is neglected, we end of interpreting everything backwards.

The key to this passage is the glossed-over verse seven: Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. This verse explains why Samuel did not recognize God’s voice: not because he hadn’t prepared himself, and not because Eli hadn’t yet advised him, but because God hadn’t yet opened Samuel’s eyes.

God ordains the ends and the means. Just like, although we know better, we often talk about someone or some event that led us to Christ, Samuel might well have believed that it was Eli’s instruction that opened his eyes. It wasn’t. Sometime after God’s third call to Samuel, maybe at the instant Eli instructed him, God opened Samuels eyes—at that moment the LORD was revealed.

Why not just open Samuel’s eyes without employing Eli? Well, part of the reason is that it surely pleases God to use men (in their free will) to carry out pieces of His plan. That is why, even as fiercely Calvinistic Christians, we are to evangelize with the zeal of the Arminians. But a wise lady in our church pointed out another (though not entirely unrelated) reason: it was for Eli’s benefit. Eli was much more inclined to accept Samuel’s prophecy given the chain of events, as opposed to the boy Samuel coming to him out of the blue with the news that God had spoken to him. (That’s especially true given that Samuel’s first prophecy was devastating to Eli and his house.)

In the New Testament we find a very similar passage when the risen Jesus encounters two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24:13-16)
Once we start looking for it, God’s sovereignty is apparent just about everywhere in scripture. We don’t really (and truly) hear God’s call unless He first enables our eyes and ears. Just to finish the story of the two disciples and how our knowing God requires not dedication from us from us, but a divine act, we read later in the same chapter of Luke
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they [the two disciples] urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31)
The story of Samuel and the story of the two disciples are sort of microcosms of the gospel. We cannot convince ourselves that we need to repent and accept Christ, and only then receive the gift of a new heart and eternal life—no we must receive the gift first—without which we are as clueless as the boy Samuel and the two disciples.

In terms of internet evangelizing, especially in the scientific community, one often encounters the view (from the atheist):

I have studied the bible, and it is utter nonsense. Only the weak-minded could accept such a load of crap. 

Now of course the real explanation is:

God has not revealed Himself to you, therefore you will continue and perhaps even prosper in your arrogance and ignorance.

In truth, we must agree that both explanations (the atheist’s and the Calvinist’s) fit the data. A third (Arminian Christian) explanation is the one that is somewhat muddled:

You (not God) have not yet done “something” to yourself. Exactly what is not entirely clear, but it involves the impossibilities of accepting something you don’t believe, and repenting from things for which you have no desire to repent. You must do these impossible things, on your own, at least to a certain imprecisely defined degree, and then God will act upon you.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Cosmic Lottery

One approach to this problem addresses a particular truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, and has a mathematical flavor that is very appealing. This is to look at the Messianic prophecies and compute the probability that one person could have fulfilled them all.

There have been some high profile estimates of this number. (Here is just one example.) A fairly common result is one in 10170.

You can have lots of fun with this number. For example, there are about 1079 atoms in our (visible) universe. So one in 10170 is something like successfully finding, given a single chance, a specific atom randomly placed somewhere in universe. And for good measure, doing it again. And to top it off, pick your own name out of a hat containing all the names of the roughly 100 billion (1011) people who ever lived.

Anyway, my question is this.

Suppose we accept as accurate the 10170 number. Is this meaningful at all?

This is an oversimplification, but what gives me angst in trying to come up with a way to use this "result" is:
  • As believers we get great comfort that we can look back at the Messianic prophecies and see how they were fulfilled in Christ. But we already believe in Christ and the inspiration of scripture. So in some sense we should not be "surprised" that Christ fulfilled all the prophecy. Rather we should be concerned if He hadn't.
  • For a non-believer, will this number be convincing of anything? A non-believer might accept that the prophecies were written before the time of Christ, but almost by definition they will not accept the accuracy of the historic account of Jesus. Won't an unbeliever, one who is mathematically literate enough to glimpse the significance of a number like 10170, merely conclude that it proves the historic account of Jesus was constructed by learned men who knew the prophecies? (Not to mention that even for believers some--by no means all but some--of the prophecies are vague, and sometimes it appears a stretch that some act of Jesus fulfilled a specific vague, and necessarily non-literal, prophecy.)
It seems to me that the probability argument, while fascinating, is effective only for someone who (a) accepts the biblical details of Christ's life and death; (b) can appreciate the meaning of the number; but (c) does not believe Him to be the Son of God.

Does such a person exist? Or should I say, what is the probability of encountering such a person?

The bottom line-- these calculations are not supportable. They rely on WAGs for the inputs and the most sympathetic possible connection, regardless of how vague or tenuous, between a prophecy and an event in the life of Jesus. They also rely on an assumption of independence of all the prophetic events, since the result is merely the product of a trivial chain of multiplications of small numbers.

They are not helpful as an evangelistic tool.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Effectual Grace vs. Irresistible Grace (modified)

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities. (Is. 53:11)

The prophecy of (Is. 53:11) will not be proved false. Christ will be satisfied with His redemptive work. If Arminianism is true, Is. 53:11 is not a prophecy but merely a divine hope. If the effort of man, in the exercising of his natural free will, is required to obtain salvation, then even God can not be sure that Christ will be satisfied with His labor. God must wait upon the decisions of men. (In fact, we can be sure He would be most certainly unsatisfied, for nobody would come to faith.)

Clearly the why question is interesting. Why are some brought to faith and not others? But that is not the question for today.

The question for today is the what question. What brings some to faith and not others?

The answer, of course, is grace. But grace that is applied in a beautiful, personal, and humane manner. Humane because you are transformed so as to come willingly, in a way that does not violate your humanity.

To begin the transformation, we need to be born again (John 3:3). Elsewhere, the word regeneration is used for the same process of rebirth. (Titus 3:5). We are also said to be called from darkness into life (1 Pet. 2:9), to be spiritually resurrected (Eph. 2:5), and to be given a heart of flesh to replace or natural heart of stone (Ez. 11:19).

Lydia did not "choose" in her natural state to respond to the gospel, God had to change her radically:
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
She had to be regenerated by an act of divine sovereignty. She was not regenerated because she responded, she responded because she was regenerated.

What we want to examine today is: what happens after this purely monergistic act of rebirth? How does man actively participate in his own salvation? How does he, through grace, acquire the faith by which he believes and desires to please God?

After regeneration, we are instructed to work out our salvation. Not because there is a risk that we will not be saved, for that is a promise from God, but because it pleases God that our salvation, though a forgone conclusion, is effected as a process (Phil 2:12). So while it is true that we are saved from the moment we are reborn, which is predestined before time (Rom. 8:28-29), it is also true that we must, or rather will work out our salvation.

It is not unlike the tenure system is supposed to work at universities. Once granted tenure, a professor cannot be fired, yet he is expected to continue delivering the fruits of hard work.
We are not saved by works, but we are saved through them. For scripture is very clear that faith without works is dead (Jam. 2:24-26). 
If this were the end of the story, there would be a logical flaw. We are regenerated by God, and we must bear fruit, we are commanded to do the good works prepared for us (Eph 2:10)—how are we assisted in obeying this command even as we continue to battle with our own flesh (Rom 7:15)?

The answer is effectual grace.

In a sense, there is irresistible grace, by which are regenerated and in which we are passive, and there is effectual grace, through which we are sanctified and with which we cooperate. These are often blended together, as are regeneration and sanctification. They should not be. We are passive in our regeneration and we cannot resist. We are assisted in our sanctification, and while it too would seem to be inevitable (Phil 1:6), it is clear that we are called upon to participate.

The Westminster Confession provides this exegesis:
X:I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, 1 by His Word and Spirit, 2 out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; 3enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, 4taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; 5 renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, 6 and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: 7 yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. 8

X:II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, 9 who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, 10 he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. 11

So the Confession affirms both an instantaneous change (a quickening and a renewal) and a process (man is enabled to answer the call—not instantly transformed to the state of having answered it.)

Effectual grace includes, then, the means by which God, through the Holy Spirit, enables a regenerated man to work out his salvation. The next question then, is how is the grace conveyed to us? Does God keep sprinkling it on our heads like salt from a shaker? Or does the bible teach of grace multiplying as a result of obedience? In other words, is there a mysterious feedback loop at play—we obey because of grace, and are rewarded with more grace because we obey, which enables us to obey more—while at the same time there is a "wrench" in the works, the wrench being our old sinful nature and its regrettable partner our vaunted free will?

And if grace is, even in part, and especially following regeneration, a gift of God for our obedience, then two questions (unanswered for now) for my Baptist colleagues are:
  1. Are not the ordinances (sacraments) commanded by God—and if so, why would we not expect God to convey grace through them? Why do many of our brethren teach that God is nothing more than a witness to baptism and communion?
  2. What would preclude God from conveying grace to an infant through the ordinances? 

I struggle with this--I'm not sure it is important at all, but I struggle with understanding.



1 ROM 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 11:7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. EPH 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

2 2TH 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2CO 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

3 ROM 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. EPH 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 2TI 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

4 ACT 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 1CO 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. EPH 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

5 EZE 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

6 EZE 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh. PHI 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. DEU 30:6 And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. EZE 36:27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.


7 EPH 1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power. JOH 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

8 SON 1:4 Draw me, we will run after thee. PSA 110:3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. JOH 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. ROM 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. 

9 2TI 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. TIT 3:4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. EPH 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. ROM 9:11 For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.

10 1CO 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. ROM 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. EPH 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 

11 JOH 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. EZE 36:37 Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock. JOH 5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Relativistic Invariants Rock (modified)

The threshold of reactions provides a great example of the use of relativistic invariants. Consider this problem, from Griffiths’s Introduction to Elementary Particles:

Particle A (Energy E) hits particle B (at rest), producing particles C1C2, …:

A + B → C1, C2,… Cn

Calculate the threshold energy (i.e., minimum E) for this reaction in terms of the various particle masses.

Now one could try to use conservation of four-momentum: pμi = pμf. In that case the four-momenta would have to be calculated in the same frame. The problem is that the lab frame is convenient for the left hand (initial) side of the reaction, while the center of momentum frame is convenient for the right hand side. That is because in the center of momentum frame, the threshold occurs when the particles C1, C2,… Cn are created with no kinetic energy. All their energy, in that case, is in their mass.

Here comes the utility of invariants. The four-momentum squared is also conserved, i.e., the same before and after, but has the added bonus that it is the same in all frames. Therefore we can calculate it in the lab frame for the left hand side, and in the center of momentum frame for the right hand side, and those two must be equal.

In the calculations below we take the speed of light, always denoted by the letter c, to be equal to 1,

c = 1.

This makes the algebra less cumbersome. At the end I'll explain how we undo that assumption so that we get the correct numerical result.

For the left hand side (where particle B is at rest)—and, again, taking the speed of light to be unity,

pμpμ = (E + MB)2 - PA2, where PA is the square of the three-momentum for the incoming particle A.

expanding that out, and using PA2 = E2 - MA2 gives

pμpμ = 2 E MB + MA2 + MB2     (1)

Now we need to calculate the same invariant for the right hand side, which is trivial in the threshold case in the center of momentum where all the final particles are at rest.:

pμpμ = M2     (2)

where M is just the total mass of the final particles, M = M1, M2,… Mn

Even though (1) and (2) were worked out in different frames, invariance means we can equate their answers, leading to the result:

E = (M2 - MA2 - MB2) / 2 M

Of course, this is the total energy of the particle A. The kinetic energy required for particle A, TA is 

TA = E - MA,  (3)

and A's momentum from PA2 = E2 - MA2.

Now, what about this business of letting c, the speed of light, be unity? We easily undo that at the end, for the purposes of calculating real numerical answers, because there is only one way to insert c back into any equation to make it dimensionally consistent. For example, take the Eq. 3 for the kinetic energy. The T and the E are energy, but the M is a mass. But M times c2, as we know, is energy. So the way to make Eq. 3 dimensionally consistent is:

TA = E - Mc2.

It's as easy as that.


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

It would take a miracle to explain that miracle! (modified)

In discussions between theists and atheists, miracles pose a rhetorical difficulty. I can imagine that it is frustrating to the atheist to hear the explanation: it was a miracle. I sympathize. But it is unavoidable.

There are miracles described in scripture--and some of us believe they happened. That's just the way it is.

Now some atheists use miracles for argument avoidance. They will say: there is no point arguing about anything with you three-rows of buck teeth bumpkins, because you'll just say it was a miracle! No, not true. The miracles in the bible are well defined, localized, and not willy-nilly. They are instrumental in God's redemptive plan, not just vulgar displays of power. We note also that God's redemptive plan is finished. As such we have no reason to expect that "whoa, dude, that's awesome!!!" style miracles will happen again. At least not until the only remaining event,  the end of history, which may be hundreds of thousands of years away (or may be tomorrow.)

There is also a misunderstanding that miracles are not amenable to scientific study. That is not true. The definition of a miracle means it is not ever going to succumb to a scientific explanation. It does not include in its definition that it is invisible to scientific observation.

A miracle will/would register in detectors and recording devices. The problem is you have to be ready when the event occurs--and they are exceedingly rare and perhaps finished. You can keep building accelerators until you have a chance to see a Higgs, and you can be ready for it, but how to watch for a miracle? But if you are fortunate enough encounter one, you could take all data you wanted. You just couldn't explain it. If video technology existed during Joshua's battle, you could watch on YouTube as the clock ticked off the hours showing that it remained daylight for an impossibly long time.

If I were an atheist arguing with theists, I would ignore miracles. (The smart ones do.) There is no argument to be found there. Apart from ignoring them as unfruitful, the only reasonable argument from an atheist is: If you believe in miracles you must be a complete moron. That is, at least, honest and self-consistent.

It is when atheists start arguing more deeply about miracles that they look incredible stupid. Take this argument from someone named thunderf00t. (I believe those are zeroes, not 'o's.)  (S)he writes:

Well considering God was only doing this such that Joshua could have light to continue his butchery of a fleeing people (man woman and child), this has to be the most inefficient use of military force ever. The Earth rotates once a day (ish, it actually depends on how you define days, when the Sun is in the same place again (solar time) , or the stars (siderial time)). Just to give that some perspective, the people at the Earth surface on the equator are travelling about 1000 miles per hour (1.4x the speed of sound in the frame of reference of the Earths center of mass), those at temperate latitudes are doing about half of that, and those at the poles are doing zero! This means if God merely stops the Earth, the people on the surface will be doing about half the speed of sound relative to the surface. Given that it generally hurt to fall over, hitting objects at the best part of the speed of sound is probably going to sting! 
Thunderf00t then goes on to argue how inefficient god is when it comes to mass murder. The atheist has a good (and difficult to respond to in a satisfying way) moral argument to make about Joshua's bloody conquest. But instead of that, Thunderf00t is content to himself or herself look like an idiot. Because this is really stupid analysis.

Atheists, If "miracles contradict science" do not illicit a simple "duh" then you are missing the boat, big time. Because that's a feature, not a bug. Miracle is not a synonym for "parlor trick." Thunderf00t's argument is, essentially:
  1. Let's grant, for the sake of discussion, daylight was extended
  2. Ha ha, my junior high physics calculation shows that people would be sent flying a half the speed of sound! Ergo, massive BS alert! Aren't I clever!
Thunderf00t, you are probably are not smart enough to see the logical flaw. Your point, which relies on the setup of “accepting” for the moment that god extended daylight, then relies on the absurd (in that context) and unstated assumption that a god who can do that would, inexplicably, not have anticipated the consequences (Ruh roh,  I didn’t think about what would happen to everything when I stopped the earth’s rotation! My bad!)1 Your logic, such as it is, is not self-consistent. You change from one playing field to another half-way through. And let me help you out some more. Theists believe that god created the universe. You can simply say: that contradicts science –and be done with it. The ultimate argument stopper. Why concentrate on “in the noise” miracles (like extending daylight) and ignore the mother of all miracles?

This argument perfectly fits the template: That miracle (extended daylight)  could happen because it would take a miracle (preventing angular momentum consequences) to explain it.

Dumb.


1 As an aside, I am not accepting the argument that God stopped the earth's rotation. Miracles tend to be local. When Jesus walked on water, the ship in the story did not rest on top of the sea. When he changed water into wine, the Sea of Galilee did not change into Pinot Noir.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Unity with Christ. How'd I miss that?

Do you have the experience of reading a verse a million times and then, all of a sudden, looking at it differently? A verse like this one:
and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)
I always read this verse as it pertains to Saul's salvation, as in:  Most. Calvinistic. Conversion. Ever. Saul's singular, true experience of being in rebellion against God until he was knocked to the ground that then serves as a metaphor for all of our conversions.

Or, I've looked at it in terms of Saul's zealous, bigoted persecution of the Hellenist Christians while he turned something of a blind eye toward the Hebrew Christians.

But in Pastor Ryan's sermon yesterday he pointed out the obvious, obvious except to someone with a skull as thick as mine. Saul was not charged with persecuting the Church, or Christians--no, he was charge with persecuting Christ: why are you persecuting Me? Saul's attack on the visible church was equivalent to a direct, frontal assault on our Lord. Why? Because of our unity with Christ. 

I know, it's simple, but I just got it.

Makes me wonder what else I don't see, missed because I'm looking for something to support some doctrine du jour that is "the most important theological issue in the world" at that moment.

Friday, December 01, 2017

A. H. Strong, again, on Theistic Evolution

From the Wikipedia entry on Augustus Strong: Augustus Hopkins Strong (3 August 1836 – 29 November 1921) was a Baptist minister and theologian who lived in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His most influential book, Systematic Theology, proved to be a mainstay of Reformed Baptist theological education for several generations.

On theistic evolution, Strong wrote:
There is a Christian conception of evolution, and in light of it, I propose to interpret the fall and the redemption of man. To prevent misunderstanding, I must define what I mean by evolution. Evolution is not a cause but a method. God is the cause. He is in his universe, and he is the source of all its activities with the single exception of the evil activity of the human will. When I speak of evolution as the method of God, I imply that the immanent God works by law; that this is the law of development; that God, and the old the basis of the new, and the new an outgrowth of the old. In all ordinary cases God works from within and not from without. Yet this ordinary method does not confine or limit God. He is transcendent as well as immanent. His is not simply “in all” and “through all” but he is also “above all.” 1
A. H. Strong was just one theologian, and his acceptance of theistic evolution does not, of course, make it right. It does point to, however, the fundamentalist's tendency to, over time, add cardinal doctrines that God, who was perhaps too busy, forgot to provide us with in the scriptures. Imagine a similarly prominent popularized Reformed Baptist making such a statement today. John Piper? Al Mohler? I don't think so. Not only would they not advocate Strong's position, most if not all "famous Baptists" would not tolerate the position.

The Discovery Institute is hawking the Crossway polemic against theistic evolution, as I wrote earlier. I have no problem with anyone rejecting theistic evolution. I have a problem when people use cheap, slippery-slope arguments. It would be reasonable to argue with this premise: Some theistic evolutionists do not accept a historic Adam, and there are some serious theological implications of a non-historic Adam. That could be a fair and potentially valuable and scholarly discussion. Instead it's: If you accept theistic evolution then you deny the historicity of Adam, a totally false implication. (And soon you'll be denying the Gospel and advocating the Designated Hitter Rule for the National League.)

The theological heavyweight of the Crossway book is Wayne Grudem, recently known for his Trinity controversy. Getting the Trinity right (or at least as close as we can based on scripture) is, it seems to me, much more important theologically than worrying about how some try to reconcile their interpretation of Genesis 1 and science, an endeavor that does not necessitate a change in our view of the nature of God no matter how much people like Grudem (or Mohler) stomp their feet and insist that it does. Now a false doctrine of the Trinity, one in which the Son is eternally subordinate,  that by definition changes our view of the nature of God.


1 The Fall and the Redemption of Man in light of Evolution, Augustus. H. Strong, A paper read at the Baptist Congress, Buffalo NY, November 15 1898. Reprinted p. 163, Christ in Creation and Ethical Monism, Augustus. H. Strong, Roger Williams Press, Philadelphia, 1899.