Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Would you like to be insulted by Luther?

Via James Swan:

What did Walther say somewhere:  a giant oak like the Roman Catholic hierarchy is not taken down with gentle treatment but more like with an ax.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Secular Morality and "Love" / D'Souza

Dinesh D'Souza.  "What's so great about Christianity."

Secular Morality on "Love."


The deepest appeal of secular morality is its role in the formation and preservation of “love relationships.” How do we know that we love? There is no other way but to reach deep into ourselves and consult the inner voice, which is not the voice of reason but the voice of feeling. We succumb to that inward self so completely that we feel that we have lost control.  We don’t love, but are “in love,” and we are now not entirely responsible for what we do.

Love is the sin for which we find it almost impossible to repent. That is why Paolo and Francesca, the two adulterers who inhabit the outer ring of Dante’s inferno, still cling together like doves, appealing to the law of love, “which absolves no one from loving.” Love has transported them into an almost transcendental state outside the real world, and yet more real than the world. Love of this kind is, quite literally, “beyond good and evil,” and that is why the new morality has become such a powerful justification for adultery. When the inner self commands love, it does so authoritatively, defiantly, and without regard to risk or cost or all other commitments. As C.S. Lewis once observed, erotic love of this kind tends to “claim for itself a divine authority.”  p. 256

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dawkins Delusion

This week I quickly read "The Dawkins Delusion. Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine" by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath.

It's a short and powerful critique of Dawkins' "The God Delusion".   Loved it.  Mrs. McGrath's special interest is in neuropsychology.

I think I'll post several quotes.  This is one I need today:

Dawkins also offers a naturalist explanation of religion--in this case, one that is highly contrived and unpersuasive.  Belief in God might be a byproduct of some other evolutionary mechanism.  Here he moves into territory explored by fellow atheist Daniel Dennett in his recent book  Breaking the Spell.  Yet both Dawkins and Dennett adopt a very cognitive view of religion, defining it virtually exclusively in terms of "belief in God."  Yet this is certainly not the sole aspect of religion;  not is it even necessarily the most fundamental.  A more reliable description of religion would make reference to its many aspects, including knowledge, beliefs, experience, ritual practices, social affiliation, motivation and behavioral consequences. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Something about Nietzsche, Christianity and the Superman

Something on Nitzsche I quoted on Facebook today and just want to store here.  I have come across this idea several times now with those who refuse an external moral code, that speaking of forgiveness is not necessary, either.  It is said that it is good to uncover evil, (especially in others), but forgiveness need not be spoken of.  That would make confession without absolution.  This is something we find all over the place, even in Christian denominations.  As Lutherans we stress, that the importance lies on the absolution, in as much as the gospel is what we preach. 

Source:  "Ideas of the great Philosophers" by William and Mabel Sahakian. p. 51.

Nietzsche accused Judeo-Christian religious leaders of using religion as a means of turning natural moral values upside down, so that the master race became the slaves, and the slaves became the masters.  The slaves, said he, became priests representing the omnipotent god and threatened their masters with divine punishment unless they, the masters, accept a humble, servile role as obedient servants of the slaves.  Nietzsche called for a revaluation of all values, the repudiation of Judeo-Christian values.  (Note the kinship of this philosophy to that of Adolph Hitler, although Nietzsche’s aristocrats were to be found in many nations, not in one only.)  Nietzsche’s superman is a moral giant endowed with physical superiority.  He is a member of a race to come; no one has yet achieved this high goal, for the best of men have fallen short.  The Nietzschean concept of Superman would require him to be a being who combined the might and majesty of Caesar with the moral superiority of Jesus.  Just as man is superior to the ape, so the superman will be distinctly superior to man.  As a morally superior creation, superman never needs to grant forgiveness [!!!], for he would promptly forget or ignore any wrongs done him.  In fact, he has forgiven even before he has been wronged.  In spirit he is like Jesus on the cross, asking god to forgive his enemies.  Nietzsche asserted that Jesus was an ideal model for Christians, but they had failed to imitate that model and, consequently, “there was only one Christian and he died on the cross.” 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

What's so great about Christianity? Dinesh D'Souza

A friend lent me a book by Dinesh D'Souza "What's so great about Christianity?"   Here is Dinesh D'Souza's website.  And here is the Amazon link.

His book about Christianity is very well written, bringing together a huge amount of different kinds of material.  It is a thorough and reasonable response to the current, vocal anti-theism.

Right now I am looking at pages 130-132, where we find a discussion of the so-called "anthropic principle" in the universe.  The chapter is titled:  "A Designer Planet:  Man's Special Place in Creation." There is a title quote by Lee Smolin of The Life of the Cosmos:  "We will never know completely who we are until we understand why the universe is constructed in such a way that it contains living things."


The physicists who asked these questions arrived at a remarkable conclusion.  In order for life to exist--in order for the universe to have observers to take notice of it--the gravitational force has to be precisely what it is.  The Big Bang had top occur exactly when it did. If the basic values and relationships of nature were even slightly different, our universe would not exist and neither would we.  Fantastic though it seems, the universe is fine-tuned for human habitation.  We live in a kind of Goldilocks universe in which the conditions are "just right" for life to emerge and thrive.  As physicist Paul Davies puts it, "We have been written into the laws of nature in a deep and, I believe, meaningful way."

The anthropic principle is now widely accepted among physicists, and there are several good books that explain it in comprehensive detail.  John Barrows and Frank Tipler's The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is the most thorough and detailed exposition.  In his introduction to that book, physicist John Wheeler writes that  "a life-giving factor lies at the center of the whole machinery and design of the world."  If you want a shorter and more readable version of the same argument try astronomer Martin Rees' Just Six Numbers.  Rees argues that six numbers underlie the fundamental physical properties of the universe, and that each is an exact value required for life to exist.  If any one of the six (say the gravitational constant, or the strong nuclear force) were different "even to the tiniest degree,"  Rees says, "there would be no stars, no complex elements, no life."  Although he disavows the religious implications, Rees does not hesitate to call the values attached to the six numbers "providential."  

... Leading scientists have acknowledged the far-reaching implications of the anthropic principle  "A commonsense interpretation of the facts," writes astronomer Fred Hoyle, "suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the laws of physics."  Physicist Freeman Dyson says,  "The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.  Astronomer Owen Gingerich writes that the anthropic principle" means accepting that the laws of nature are rigged not only in favor of complexity or just in favor of life, but also in favor of mind.  To put it dramatically, it implies that mind is written into the laws of nature in a fundamental way.  Astronomer Robert Jastrow observes that the anthropic principle "is the most theistic result ever to come out of science." 

As you might expect, the anthropic principle has provoked a huge debate and a strong reaction.  In this debate there are three positions, which for simplicity I call Lucky Us, Multiple Universes, and the Designer Universe.  Let's examine them in sequence.  The first response, Lucky Us, attributes the fine-tuning of the universe to incredible coincidence.  "The universe," writes physicist Victor Stenger in Not By Design, "is an accident."

An accident?  Steven Weinberg and Richard Dawkins are not impressed by how improbable this is.  According to Steven Weinberg, "You don't have to invoke a benevolent designer to explain why we are in one of the parts of the universe where life is possible:  in all the other parts of the universe there is no one to raise the question."  Richard Dawkins concurs.  "It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall, and everything else are exactly right.  If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that kind of life that would have evolved here."  In science this is called a "selection effect."  Since we are here, we know that--whatever the odds--the game of cosmic chance must have worked out in our favor.

There is a problem with this reasoning that I'd like to dramatize by giving an example from philosopher John Leslie.  Imagine a man sentenced to death, standing before a firing squad of ten shooters.  The shooters discharge their rifles.  Somehow they all miss.  Then they shoot again and one more time they fail to hit their target.  Repeatedly they fire and repeatedly they miss.  Later the prisoner is approached by the warden, who says,  "I can't believe they all missed.  Clearly there is some sort of conspiracy at work."  Yet the prisoner laughs off the suggestion with the comment, "What on earth would make you suggest a conspiracy?  It's no big deal.  Obviously the marksmen missed because if they had not missed I would not be here to have this discussion."  Such a prisoner would immediately, and rightly, be transferred to the mental ward.

What the example shows is that you cannot explain an improbability of this magnitude by simply pointing to our presence on the scene to ponder it.  There is still a massive improbability that needs to be accounted for [my bolding].   (pp. 130-132)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Designer in the world

Read some interesting things here such as this comment:

I always found the fine tuned universe fascinating and overwhelming proof of a designer.  But this is just as much the case with looking at my own hand typing in front of me.  It is a miracle of design with all its bones, muscles, nerves...

  1. Gary
    February 1, 2012 | 11:09 am
    “I disagree. I can only speak from my own experience, but I have never come across any phenomenon or process that has no naturalistic explanation.”
    Well there is little doubt that you are a strong S on the Myers-Briggs. grin
    Let me give you a little of what I consider to be very convincing evidence for the existence of God. (Online sources of the following information can be provided)
    Big Bang;
    The Big Bang theory states that the universe arose from a singularity of virtually no size, which gave rise to the dimensions of space and time, in addition to all matter and energy. At the beginning of the Big Bang, the four fundamental forces began to separate from each other. Early in its history (10-36 to 10-32 seconds), the universe underwent a period of short, but dramatic, hyper-inflationary expansion. The cause of this inflation is unknown, but was required for life to be possible in the universe.
    (I know…sounds like a god of the gasp…but this is not my evidence…merely the groundwork for it.)
    Many factors in the initial moments (milliseconds to mere minutes) were required to be extremely precise to allow for the present reality as we know it. Following are a few;
    Excess Quarks;
    Quarks and antiquarks combined to annihilate each other. Originally, it was expected that the ratio of quarks and antiquarks to be exactly equal to one, since neither would be expected to have been produced in preference to the other. If the ratio were exactly equal to one, the universe would have consisted solely of energy – not very conducive to the existence of life. However, recent research showed that the charge parity violation could have resulted naturally given the three known masses of quark families. However, this just pushes fine tuning a level down to ask why quarks display the masses they have. Those masses must be fine tuned in order to achieve a universe that contains any matter at all. (Still possible naturally though extremely remote probability)
    Size of the universe;
    Obviously the universe is incredibly enormous. It turns out that the universe could not have been much smaller than it is in order for nuclear fusion to have occurred during the first 3 minutes after the Big Bang. Without this brief period of nucleosynthesis, the early universe would have consisted entirely of hydrogen. Likewise, the universe could not have been much larger than it is, or life would not have been possible. If the universe were just one part in 10 to the 59th power larger, the universe would have collapsed before life was possible. Since there are only 10 to the 80th power baryons in the universe, this means that an addition of just 10 to the 21st power baryons (about the mass of a grain of sand) would have made life impossible. The universe is exactly the size it must be for life to exist at all. (Again…still possible naturally but the probability has become so extremely unlikely as to stretch credibility)
    Just right laws of physics; (This one gets technical…lol)
    The laws of physics must have values very close to those observed or the universe does not work “well enough” to support life. What happens when we vary the constants? The strong nuclear force (which holds atoms together) has a value such that when the two hydrogen atoms fuse, 0.7% of the mass is converted into energy. If the value were 0.6% then a proton could not bond to a neutron, and the universe would consist only of hydrogen. If the value were 0.8%, then fusion would happen so readily that no hydrogen would have survived from the Big Bang. (Read this last one again) Other constants must be fine-tuned to an even more stringent degree. The cosmic microwave background varies by one part in 100,000. If this factor were slightly smaller, the universe would exist only as a collection of diffuse gas, since no stars or galaxies could ever form. If this factor were slightly larger, the universe would consist solely of large black holes. Likewise, the ratio of electrons to protons cannot vary by more than 1 part in 10 to the 37th power or else electromagnetic interactions would prevent chemical reactions. In addition, if the ratio of the electromagnetic force constant to the gravitational constant were greater by more than 1 part in 10 to the 40th power, then electromagnetism would dominate gravity, preventing the formation of stars and galaxies. If the expansion rate of universe were 1 part in 10 to the 55th power less than what it is, then the universe would have already collapsed. The most recently discovered physical law, the cosmological constant or dark energy, is the closest to zero of all the physical constants. In fact, a change of only 1 part in 10 to the 120th power would completely negate the effect.
    (It is still possible to believe that all of these pieces of circumstantial evidence can to be in a random, natural process…but good luck getting a jury to buy it…grin)
    So far we have looked at circumstantial evidence that I find very compelling. (and you deny exists) But here is where I believe the evidence becomes conclusive enough for me to accept it as “proof”.
    Bounds of universal probability;
    “Unlikely things happen all the time.” This is the mantra of the anti-design movement. However, there is an absolute physical limit for improbable events to happen in our universe. The universe contains only 10 to the 80th power baryons and has only been around for 13.7 billion years (a mere 10 to the 18th power sec). Since the smallest unit of time is Planck time (10 to the -45 power sec), the lowest probability event that can ever happen in the history of the universe is:
    1/1080 x 1/1018 x 1/1045 =1/10143
    So, although it would be possible that one or two constants might require unusual fine-tuning by chance, it would be virtually impossible that all of them would require such fine-tuning. Some physicists have indicated that any of a number of different physical laws would be compatible with our present universe. However, it is not just the current state of the universe that must be compatible with the physical laws. Even more stringent are the initial conditions of the universe, since even minor deviations would have completely disrupted the process. For example, adding a grain of sand to the weight of the universe now would have no effect. However, adding even this small amount of weight at the beginning of the universe would have resulted in its collapse early in its history. 13.7 billion years is simply not long enough for the math to work.
    So there you have it. This is why I find the necessity of design is one of the more compelling arguments for the existence of God. Eventually all of the circumstantial pieces of evidence (each of which could possibly have a natural cause) cross into the world of statistical impossibility when taken together…unless intelligent design is accepted as a solution. I believe it literally is the only possible solution that fits the facts.
    (For factual sources used in this post check out the citations at
  2. Gary
    February 1, 2012 | 11:21 am
    The math calculation in the section on probability should be 1/10 to the 80th x 1/18 to the 80th x 1/10 to 143rd powers.
    I.E. – We simply do not have enough time for it to have happened naturally. This by the way is the reason many scientists are postulating the multi-verse theories. Believing the the existence of and endless yet natural number of alternate universes existing together in order to try to make the math work strikes me as far more fanciful than believing in a designer.
    (Frankly I found your comparison to fairy tales and leprechauns as very disingenuous)