Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Significance of Good Friday

This is a meditation I posted on Good Friday last year:

I sit at my computer on this Good Friday listening to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion and Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, looking forward to this evening when I have a "date" with my daughter to watch Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, and I wonder. I wonder if I, or anyone, can possibly understand the significance of Good Friday. Can I ever comprehend what it means that God, the creator of worlds, would care enough about me to endure what He did, so that I could have the hope that death does not have the final word about human life.

My existence, the existence of each of us, is astonishing enough. That mere matter could be so arranged as to generate a consciousness, a self-awareness, a rational mind, is, when one thinks about it, a truly amazing thing. That this consciousness might survive death in another reality, another world, is even more astounding. For some it's too astounding to be credible.

And yet if it's true...if it's in fact true that our eternal survival is a gift from God, purchased by Jesus Christ at a cost we may never be able to fully appreciate, it is a breath-taking, ineffable truth.

Some people think the Christian narrative is simply the apotheosis of an ancient myth, that a truly sophisticated, omniscient God would have found some way other than a primitive blood sacrifice to usher us into eternal joy. I don't know if there were other means at God's disposal or not, but it seems to me that the way the Bible tells us He chose is perfect for what He wanted to accomplish.

In the Christian account, God made us as an object of His love. He desires to live in a love relationship with us, but for whatever reason we often want no part of such a relationship. It's too confining, it involves too much self-abnegation, it entails too much of a constraint on our Dionysian appetites, it's too much of an affront to our pride, reason and dignity. Confident in our independence, we don't need God. In our autonomy we distort God's purposes and design plan for human life in order to suit and pursue our own selfish ends.

Nevertheless, God would not be dissuaded or put off. He persists in His relentless attempts to show us that all of our rationalizations for demanding our Promethean emancipation are just so many childish and foolish masks we put on to conceal the fact that we just don't want Him in our lives. He chooses to woo us to Himself not with threats or fear but with love. He chooses to demonstrate in an extraordinarily vivid way that His love for us is deeper than we could ever imagine.

To this end he does something totally unexpected and supererogatory. He becomes a man like one of us, shares in our humanity, our sufferings and joys, and ultimately endures the pain and horror of crucifixion. His life and death is the price that He is willing to pay, for reasons that we cannot understand this side of eternity, to secure eternal life and to make it available to everyone. He didn't have to do it, He could have left us alone to destroy ourselves and our planet, to fade into the cosmic oblivion that rejection of our Creator would have warranted. But because He did do it, He shows us not only that He is not simply some abstract deity, too transcendent to matter, but that He is personal and immanent, and that His love is not just a theoretical exercise, but has consequences which can change a life now and forever.

Charles Dickens captures something of the Divine love in the climax of his Tale of Two Cities when he has Sydney Carton, moved by his deep love for Lucie, smuggle himself into prison to take the place of Charles Darnay, the man Lucie really loves, knowing full well that his love is ultimately going to bring him to the guillotine. Carton substitutes himself for Charles and goes to the death to which Charles was sentenced in an expression of almost superhuman love.

Out of the depths of His love, God substituted Himself for us, submitting to torture and humiliation at the hands of His own creation, and enduring a horrific death so that we could live. He asks of us in return only our love.

We are in the position of a man clinging by his fingers to the edge of a cliff and slowly, inexorably losing his grip. The abyss of nihilism, of meaninglessness, emptiness and death, lies far below, but because of the cross there's a chance to be rescued. God stands above the struggling man, kneels and holds out His hand, urging the man to seize it. It's up to the man about to die, it's up to us, to accept the rescue that God offers. God has done all He can to persuade us, but He won't force us to grasp His hand. He won't override our will. He allows us to make the final decision whether to live or die.

That, at any rate, is the best I can do to explain my own wholly inadequate understanding of the Christian story and the meaning of Good Friday.

Does ID Entail a Supernatural Designer?

Elliot Sober thinks so and believes that that entailment makes Intelligent Design a religious hypothesis. He also states that, unlike ID, evolution is silent on the matter of whether there is a supernatural designer of the universe.

Here is an outline of his argument for concluding that ID entails a supernatural designer. He states that he doesn't advocate the argument himself, but that it is nevertheless one to which ID theorists need to respond:

1. If a system found in nature is irreducibly complex, then it was caused to exist by an intelligent designer.

2. Some of the minds found in nature are irreducibly complex.

3. Therefore some of the minds found in nature were caused to exist by an intelligent designer.

4. Any mind in nature that designs and builds an irreducibly complex system is itself irreducibly complex.

5. If the universe is finitely old and if cause precedes effect, then at least one of the minds found in nature was not created by any mind found in nature.

6. The universe is finitely old.

7. Causes precede their effects.

8. Therefore, there exists a supernatural intelligent designer.

In this argument, Sober writes, apparently non-religious premises lead to an apparently religious conclusion.

There are a couple of problems with this. For example, what does Sober mean by "supernatural"? He seems to be saying that any designer which transcends this universe would be ipso facto supernatural, but would it? Many physicists speculate about the existence of other universes besides our own. Some are inclined to think that there may be a nearly infinite number of such worlds. Are these scientists engaging in religious speculation when they hypothesize the existence of other worlds? Are these other universes supernatural ab defino?

If they are not supernatural then why must a designer who, like those other worlds, transcends this world and who may, for all we know, be an inhabitant of one of those other worlds, be considered a supernatural being?

And if those other worlds are supernatural realms then we can safely conclude that it must be appropriate for scientists to talk about and study the supernatural because they do it all the time, at least cosmologists do. Why would it be "scientific" to talk about supernatural worlds but not scientific to talk about supernatural beings?

At any rate, whether Sober's argument works or not he is clearly mistaken when he says that evolution is silent on the matter of whether there is a supernatural intelligent designer. He writes:

"the Darwinian theory of evolution is silent on the question of whether a supernatural intelligent designer exists. This is not true of the mini-ID theory. In terms of the contents of theories, it is ID theory, not evolutionary theory, that has implications concerning the existence of supernatural designers."

But this is clearly mistaken. Darwinian evolution states that living things were not designed by an intelligent agent, that they are wholly explicable in terms of unconscious mechanisms. Thus Darwinian evolution most certainly has implications for the existence of an intelligent designer of life, i.e. it states flatly that there isn't one.

Darwinian evolutionists might not (or at least should not) take a position on whether a God exists, but they do take a position on whether a God has designed the living things of the biosphere. To the extent that they deny that living things are intentionally designed, they deny the existence of a supernatural designer. One simply can not deny that living things are designed without denying that there is a designer of living things.

More On Energy

I see that oil today hit $70 per barrel and at the local gas station I paid $3.00 per gallon to fill up the car. Last month I posted an article on energy that can be found here.

It seems like the price of gasoline is going back up to the days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This is odd unless one believes that the threat of an imminent attack on Iran might be driving gasoline prices higher and the markets are betting that way. And that may be.

So let's looks at this possibility a litter closer. As I have stated before, oil is denominated in U.S. dollars. Every country in the world that buys oil must pay for their oil with U.S. dollars. This creates demand for dollars which ultimately increases the value of the U.S. dollar. Keep this thought in mind.

It's a known fact that the entire world is either diversifying their reserves out of dollars or considering to do so. This would negatively impact the value of the dollar and result in the dollar losing value against international currencies.

But if the price of oil continues to climb upward, foreign countries would have to forgo their plans to diversify out of the dollar so as to have sufficient dollars to enable them to acquire their oil. Either that or there is a re-pricing by oil producing countries of oil in another, more "friendly" currency like the euro.

Wouldn't it be amazing if it's the case that our government leaders are intentionally driving the price of oil higher via the Iran threat simply to create demand for and to protect the dollar? Perhaps this is the true reason for the U.S. belligerence towards Iran. Whether we strike Iran or not, the dollar is least for the time being.

If all of this sounds bizarre, consider that the SUV, the greatest gas guzzler in America today, is classified by our government as a truck and therefore not subject to emission standards applied to all other passenger vehicles. As a matter of fact, if you buy a great gas guzzler like a Hummer, you can be eligible for a tax credit!

All speculation aside, one thing is for certain, any military action on Iran is certain to drive the price of oil much, much higher.

McKinney-Brawley Syndrome at Duke

It's amazing how real life sometimes patterns itself after fiction. Tom Clancy writes a novel that features a terrorist flying a jet airliner into the Capitol Building (Debt of Honor) and a couple of years later real-life terrorists attempt the same thing, succeeding in New York and at the Pentagon but failing to strike the Capitol.

A couple of years ago Tom Wolfe wrote a novel (I Am Charlotte Simmons) about privileged athletes and sexual licentiousness at DuPont U., a thinly disguised stand-in for Duke, and a month ago that very campus was set awhirl by allegations of group rape of a black stripper by Duke lacrosse players.

Actually the accounts of the goings-on at Duke take us back to another Wolfe book of years ago called Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers. Wolfe describes in this early work how militant blacks exploit white liberal guilt essentially to extort money, favor, and status from them. A similar type of pressure may be what we're seeing happening at Duke. We might call it the Cynthia McKinney-Tawana Brawley strategy.

Anyway, Peter Bradley at The American Thinker offers up a nice summation of the apparent travesty enmeshing the Duke University lacrosse team. He notes that a month after the original allegations there is still no evidence that the woman's claims to have been assaulted and raped have any merit, but that hasn't stop the true believers among the politically correct from all but castrating the Duke athletes.

He points out that there's been a long and ignominious history of gullible, guilt-ridden whites happy to swallow almost any accusation of racist, sexist, elitist impropriety. For example:

During the 40th anniversary of the integration at Ole Miss, two black students found racial insults scrawled on the doors of their dorm rooms: "F**g Nigger" and "F**g Hoe [sic] Nigger." Similar messages turned up in other locations across the campus. Students organized a "Say No to Racism" march, and race activists demanded "programs and procedures" to instill racial sensitivity. A spate of national news coverage commented on how little Ole Miss had changed in 40 years.When the perpetrators were found to be black students, Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat made it clear there would be no criminal charges, even though the students caused over $600 worth of damage and harmed race relations at the school.

When a hate crime was reported last year at Trinity International University near Chicago there was a flood of indignation on campus. Students at the mostly white school wore yellow shirts to symbolize solidarity with blacks who had received a stream of hate mail. Jesse Jackson spoke on campus. Over 40 students were evacuated to an unnamed hotel for their own safety and security was beefed up at the college. Counselors were made available and students held prayer vigils.

But when the culprit turned out to be Alicia Hardin, a black student who wanted to transfer out of Trinity to be closer to her friends, the story-and the campus outrage-faded away. University president Greg Waybright even announced that he felt "a sense of relief" because the incident was "resolved." He warned that the hoax should not reflect on any particular ethnic group.

Also last year, students at Wooster College in Ohio awoke to find swastikas and racist messages written on dorm walls. Angry protestors raged against "typical white males" until the writers of the slurs turned out to be a group of lefty students led by a black studies major.

A similar incident happened at the University of Louisville in 2004. Students endured racial graffiti and racist fliers passed out on cars. Protesters held rallies and handed a list of demands to U of L president Jim Ramsey. The incident quietly faded away when black students admitted to passing out the fliers as a "prank."

And then, of course, there was the infamous Tawana Brawley episode which so disgraced, or should have disgraced, were he capable of it, Al Sharpton. It seems there is no shortage of white naivete and gullibility nor is there a lack of black cynicism and willingness to exploit the dread whites have of being labelled racist.

We're not saying that no crime was committed in the Duke affair. We don't know, but we do know that there is supposed to be a presumption of innocence, and the reaction of a lot of people in this incident, from the Duke administration to many in the Durham community, suggests that that presumption has, for whatever reason, in this instance been waived.

Indeed, there's no doubt that the lacrosse players indulged in disgraceful conduct, but disgraceful conduct is not necessarily criminal conduct. There's a lot of doubt that they actually did what their accuser claims they did and not much reason yet to indict them of having committed anything that rises to the level of a crime. Bradley's essay explains why.

Get Them on the Record

Does this sound like the talk of people who have just made a breakthrough on peaceful, non-lethal uses of nuclear fuel?

A defiant Iran vowed that nothing could halt its controversial nuclear program, in a direct challenge to the UN Security Council that could risk international sanctions.

With the country basking in national pride after regime scientists successfully enriched uranium to make nuclear fuel -- a milestone in its atomic drive -- officials pledged to move rapidly to industrial-scale work.

"When a people master nuclear technology and nuclear fuel, nothing can be done against them," boasted armed forces joint chief of staff, General Hassan Firouzabadi.

"The nuclear fuel cycle is complete, the beginnings of a powerful Iran," the conservative Iranian daily Resalat trumpeted, calling for a week of "national celebration" and a new annual public holiday to mark the event.

State television was broadcasting non-stop images of nuclear sites accompanied by rousing patriotic music.

The question needs to be put to the Kennedy/Kerry/Pelosi/Gore/Dean wing of the Democratic party: What precisely should the U.S. do if all diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability fail? Should the U.S. acquiesce in Iran's possession of these weapons or should they take steps to eliminate them, even if this necessitates the use of military force? Nobody's asking them this, as far as we know, but they very much need to be put on record.