Sunday, January 14, 2007

What's Up With That?

Hmmm. President Bush and his associates warn Iran against meddling in Iraq and threaten to stop the flow of men and weapons from Iran and now DebkaFile is reporting unexplained explosions in Iranian cities. Could be nothing, of course.


Ten Myths About Atheism (Pt. IV)

Anti-theist Sam Harris, in an article at Edge, attempts to refute what he takes to be ten popular myths about atheism. We've been arguing that so far each of his refutations has failed. Number four does not reverse this unfortunate trend. Harris claims that the following is untrue:

4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.

No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the "beginning" or "creation" of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time itself.

The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, "The God Delusion," this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don't know precisely how the Earth's early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase "natural selection" by analogy to the "artificial selection" performed by breeders of livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.

Harris starts out denying the "myth" and winds up confirming it by what he says about evolution. But let's begin not with living things but with the physical structure of the universe itself. Evolutionary selection pressures are irrelevant to the type of universe ours is. There are two fundamental possibilities: Either the universe is the intentional product of an intelligent creator or it is not. If it is not, then its existence is a purely chance event and its structure, as improbable as it is, is also a product of sheer happenstance.

The same is true of the origin of the first life. Darwinian selection acts only on reproducing populations of organisms and would not have been a factor in the emergence of the first "self-replicating" molecules. The chemical combinations that had to occur to create the molecules necessary for life were either intentionally orchestrated or they were completely serendipitous.

Once these molecules had been organized into reproducing protocells natural selection might have acted, but in order to rise above the level of a protocell some form of mutation had to be introduced into the replicating material. The mutation may have conferred a survival advantage and thus the evolution of the new population containing the mutation could have been "directed" by an environment which selects for survivability. But this doesn't help Harris' case. The mutation itself is a random event, indeed Harris refers to mutations as "chance" events above, and without these random, or chance, events natural selection has no genetic novelty upon which to work. In other words, evolutionary progression and diversity are contingent upon an event, genetic mutation, whose occurence is completely random.

So when Harris asserts that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world are not products of mere chance he is incorrect. What he really should say is that diversity and complexity are not solely the products of mere chance, but they are the products of chance. To the extent that genetic mutation plays a role in the Neo-Darwinian scheme, living things certainly are the product of random, serendipitous, stochastic events.

Thus, Harris misleads us when he denies that atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance. They most certainly do, unless they adopt the kind of strong deterministic position (which Harris doesn't discuss) which says that given the original conditions of the Big Bang everything in our universe had to be just the way it is. But Harris, for good reasons, doesn't mention this alternative so neither will we elaborate on it.

Check out our comments on myths 1 through 3 here, here, and here.


Prayer Warriors

Here are some passages about some guys that are almost certain to cause the Christian reader to pause and ponder their own faith and prayer life.

George Mueller
Just as God gave the apostle Paul as an example in his prayer life for Christians of all time, so he has also given George Mueller in these latter days as a proof to his church how literally and wonderfully he still always hears prayer. It is not only that he gave him in his lifetime over a million pounds sterling to support his orphanages, but Mr Mueller also stated that he believed that the Lord had given him more than thirty thousand souls in answer to prayer. And that not only from among orphans, but also many others for whom he (in some cases for fifty years) had prayed faithfully every day, in the firm faith that they would be saved. When he was asked on what ground he so firmly believed this, his answer was: 'There are five conditions which I always endeavour to fulfill, in observing which I have the assurance of answer to my prayer:

  1. I have not the least doubt because I am assured that it is the Lord's will to save them, for he willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (see 1 Tim. 2.4); and we have the assurance 'that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us' (1 John 5.14).
  2. I have never pleaded for their salvation in my own name, but in the blessed name of my precious Lord Jesus, and on his merits alone (see John 14.14).
  3. I always firmly believed in the willingness of God to hear my prayers (see Mark 11.24).
  4. I am not conscious of having yielded to any sin, for 'if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me' when I call (Ps. 66.18).
  5. I have persevered in believing prayer for more than fiftytwo years for some, and shall continue till the answer comes: 'Shall not God avenge his own elect which cry day and night unto him?' (Luke 18.7).

Take these thoughts into your hearts and practice prayer according to these rules. Let prayer be not only the utterance of your desires, but a fellowship with God, till we know by faith that our prayer is heard. The way George Mueller walked is the new and living way to the throne of grace, which is open for us all.

Hudson Taylor
When Hudson Taylor, as a young man, had given himself over unreservedly to the Lord, there came to him a strong conviction that God would send him to China. He had read of George Mueller and how God had answered his prayers for his own support and that of his orphans, and he began to ask the Lord to teach him also so to trust him. He felt that if he would go to China with such faith, he must first begin to live by faith in England. He asked the Lord to enable him to do this. He had a position as a doctor's dispenser, and asked God to help him not to ask for his salary, but to leave it to God to move the heart of the doctor to pay him at the right time. The doctor was a good-hearted man, but very irregular in payment. This cost Taylor much trouble and struggle in prayer because he believed, as did George Mueller, that the word, 'Owe no man any thing' (Rom. 13.8), was to be taken literally, and that debt should not be incurred.

So he learned the great lesson to move men through God - a thought of deep meaning, which later on became an unspeakably great blessing to him in his work in China. He relied on that - in the conversion of the Chinese, in the awakening of Christians to give money for the support of the work, in the finding of suitable missionaries who would hold as faith's rule of conduct that we should make our desires known to God in prayer and then rely on God to move men to do what he would have done.

After he had been for some years in China, he prayed that God would give twenty-four missionaries, two for each of the eleven provinces and Mongolia, each with millions of souls and with no missionary. God did it. But there was no society to send them out. He had indeed learned to trust God for his own support, but he dared not take upon himself the responsibility of the twentyfour, if possibly they had not sufficient faith. This cost him severe conflict, and he became very ill under it, till at last he saw that God could as easily care for the twenty-four as for himself. He undertook it in a glad faith. And so God led him, through many severe trials of faith, to trust him fully. Now these twenty-four have increased, in course of time, to a thousand missionaries who rely wholly on God for support. Other missionary societies have acknowledged how much they have learned from Hudson Taylor, as a man who stated and obeyed this law. Faith may rely on God to move men to do what his children have asked of him in prayer.

Read the book, Hudson Taylor's Early Years by Dr and Mrs Howard Taylor. There will be found in it a treasure of spiritual thought and experience concerning a close walk with God in the inner chamber and in mission work.

- The Prayer Life by Andrew Murray

Gerhard Tersteegen
Gerhard Tersteegen had from his youth sought and served the Lord. After a time the sense of God's grace was withdrawn from him, and for five long years he was as one far away on the great sea, where neither sun nor stars appear. `But my hope was in Jesus.'All at once a light broke on him that never went out, and he wrote, with blood drawn from his veins, that letter to the Lord Jesus in which he said: `From this evening to all eternity, Thy will, not mine be done. Command and rule and reign in me. I yield up myself without reserve, and I promise, with Thy help and power, rather to give up the last drop of my blood than knowingly or willingly be untrue or disobedient to Thee.'

That was his obedience unto death. Set your heart upon it, and expect it. The same God lives still. Set your hope on Him; He will do it.

- The School of Obedience by Andrew Murray