Friday, December 12, 2008

Fantasy World

The system in this video, passed along by Robert Crowther at Evolution News and Notes, is a good metaphor for the cellular machinery that operates in every one of the trillions of cells in our bodies, and it illustrates nicely the difference between Intelligent Design theorists and Darwinians. IDers would recognize that the sequence of events in the system evinces intelligent conceptualization and engineering. The Darwinians would say that given random mutation, natural selection, chance and enough time, this sort of thing could have developed on its own, and, indeed, has developed on its own billions, if not trillions, of times in living things throughout the evolutionary past.

Maybe a system like this could have developed on its own through purely physical processes with no intelligent input, but if experience rather than mere logical possibility is to be our guide, we have to admit that whenever metal parts are left to the forces of nature, they invariably wind up as scattered rust. Darwinian materialists chide theists for believing in the existence of a divine mind, but one has to wonder which belief is the more fantastic - that a biological system similar to that portrayed in the ad could have happened by accident or that such systems were designed intentionally by intelligent agents.


A Religious Case for Gay Marriage

The recent issue of Newsweek brings with it a polemic by Lisa Miller urging religious people to drop their opposition to gay marriage. Now there may be reasons out there why Christians and others should end their insistence that marriage remain a union of one man and one woman, but, if so, they've eluded Ms Miller. Her argument is largely irrelevant to the case she wishes to make.

For example, she dismisses Old Testament prohibitions of homosexual sex on the basis that the O.T. prohibited a lot of stuff we don't prohibit today, which is true enough, but then one could make the same argument for tolerating murder. Just because some O.T. prescriptions are not deemed appropriate today (e.g. stoning adulterers, etc.) it doesn't follow that none are.

If this were Ms Miller's only logical lapse perhaps we might simply avert our eyes to avoid adding to her embarrassment, but almost every paragraph of her essay is replete with non-sequiturs and other logical solecisms. Indeed, she seems almost relentless in her determination to offend the basic principles of rational thought. She struggles to derive from assertions like, Jesus wasn't married nor ever mentioned homosexuality, gay marriage is not a term found in the Bible, and Paul had more to say about divorce than about homosexuality, that therefore homosexuality is morally unproblematic.

Yet abortion and euthanasia are never mentioned in the Bible but they're hardly unproblematic. Jesus never mentions child abuse or slavery either, but it doesn't follow that therefore we should feel free to embrace these behaviors today.

Reminding us that scripture is full of instances of polygamy and divorce, Ms Miller avers that the Bible isn't a very good source for instruction on marriage, as if the fact that the Bible recounts the bad behavior of the people who appear in it somehow means that it can't be trusted to offer good rules for living. It's a bit like trying to argue that because the Bible tells us how the poor were often oppressed, we shouldn't attach too much importance to its adjurations to care for the poor and the widow.

She then dismisses Paul's teaching on homosexuality by noting that since a lot of Christians seem to ignore his appeals to shun divorce they may as well ignore his sanctions against gay sex as well. Surely, this woman needs to ask her editor why he let her sound so silly. Are we to assume that because some Christians ignore Jesus' teaching on turning the other cheek that they ought to ignore his teaching on showing compassion to the poor also?

Ms Miller tells us that:

Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who were inflamed with "lust for one another" (which he calls "a perversion") is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity, debauchery.

The term "progressive" should alert us to impending danger and indeed it follows close upon. Paul's condemnations of homosexuality, we are told, are really condemnations not of homoerotic sex but of promiscuous, violent, self-delusional sex. But this puts words in Paul's mouth that aren't there, as anyone who actually reads what Paul wrote on the matter (Romans 1: 18-32, I Cor. 6: 9,10) can see.

She then adds this graph:

In his book "The Arrogance of Nations," the scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring in this famous passage to the depravity of the Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. "Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all, " Elliott says. "He's talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. We're not dealing with anything like gay love or gay marriage. We're talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God."

Mr. Elliott is projecting what he wishes Paul were saying onto what Paul actually wrote. Paul is including homosexuality in a list of sins like adultery and fornication. He doesn't say that it's only promiscuous or violent homosexuals who are transgressing the law, just as he doesn't say that it's only violent adulterers who are sinning. Paul's teaching on homosexuality is that, like adultery, it's a perversion of God's intention for sex just as divorce is a perversion of God's intention for marriage.

"The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own," Ms Miller continues, "that it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours."

This, of course, is the standard liberal view of any document that constrains behavior. They say the same thing about the Constitution. It's true that some Biblical rules are culturally conditioned, but there's no reason to think that proscriptions concerning homosexuality are among them. After all, what is different about the modern era's thinking on homosexuality from that of Paul's day? In both eras religious people think it wrong and secular elites don't.

Ms Miller tries her luck with a few other arguments which emerge equally stillborn. She suggests, for example, that because David and Jonathan had a deep love for each other that therefore homosexuality is okay, as if a strong feeling of affection between men somehow not only implies homoerotic sex but validates it as well.

She asserts that the marriage of Mary and Joseph was unconventional and draws from this support for her conclusion that we should therefore embrace other unconventional forms of marriage, like marriage between people of the same gender.

In other words, in Ms. Miller's thinking, the fact that one kind of unconventionality is acceptable, means that all kinds of unconventionality should be acceptable. Would Ms Miller extend her logic to include incestuous or group marriages or other unconventional unions like marrying one's pets? If not, why not?

She also states that the Bible doesn't mention sex between women, but this is correct, if it is correct, only in the technical sense that the Bible never uses the phrase "sex between women." Any fair reader of Romans 1:24-27, however, would conclude that sex between women is exactly what Paul is deploring in that passage.

She argues that since "the Bible was all about inclusion, reaching out to outcasts, togetherness and community" those principles provide warrant for accepting gay marriage, but again her conclusion doesn't follow. The principle of inclusiveness and community provides warrant for reaching out to gays, but it doesn't provide warrant for accepting what gays do any more than reaching out to thieves, alcoholics, drug abusers or prostitutes provides warrant for accepting what they do.

She goes on to cite the fact that we're all God's children, made in his likeness and image, and insists that to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is thus exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color, but Ms Miller clearly hasn't thought this through.

Does she really think that denying the sacrament to someone who has a sexual orientation toward promiscuous behavior, or toward young boys, and consequently acts upon his desires is the same as denying the sacrament to someone based on his skin color? Ms Miller seems to believe that just because we're made in God's image whatever we do sexually is okay. She also seems to think that homosexual behavior is genetically determined just like one's race, but there's no conclusive evidence that this is so. It may be that there's a genetic disposition toward homosexuality but that doesn't mean that homosexual behavior is determined any more than a genetic disposition toward violence or alcoholism preordains that one will be violent or alcoholic.

A priest friend of Ms Miller's believes that if Jesus were alive today (an odd hypothetical for a priest, I should think), he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for "Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad."

No doubt Jesus would reach out to them, but not because they were gays and lesbians but because they were lonely and sad. Moreover, he would urge them, like the woman at the well, the alcoholic, drug addict, the compulsive gambler and everyone else wrestling with some disordered element in their nature to fight to get their life in line with God's will for it. I seriously doubt that he would say that we should celebrate alcoholism just so the alcoholic feels less lonely and more accepted and so that we can all feel warm, liberal and tolerant.