Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Sad Day

Today, while we remember the tragic but necessary split that occurred in 1517, I am also sad to hear that Ken Pulliam has died. I hope and pray that his spiritual state was different than it appeared. God is merciful and just and will judge Dr. Pulliam as He sees fit. Keep his family in your prayers, please.

There are several posts on Reformation day that I want to link to (just because I link to something does not mean I agree with all that is said):

If you've seen any more good ones, please put it in the comments.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Does the First Amendment Say?

Wow, I wasn't initially going to post on this, but this article by one Ken Paulson of one First Amendment Center has so infuriated me, that I've got to comment on it.

Paulson starts the article correctly, the first amendment is pretty misunderstood, mainly due to the liberal obfuscation that has gone on in the past, oh, 75 or so years.

Paulson says,
Democratic candidate Chris Coons was quick to tell O'Donnell that religion and government are kept separate by the First Amendment.
"You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?" she responded.
Indeed it is.
Indeed it is, Mr. Paulson? Really? Let's see what the first amendment says with regard to the subject matter at hand. The religion clause says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Well at first glance, I see nothing to suggest that the constitution says "separation of church and state" at all. It does say that congress can't make a law that establishes a religion, and can't prohibit the free exercise of religion. Seems to me that the restrictions here are pretty specific. But let's see what Paulson has to say to us in his article.

He asserts in big bold letters, "Keeping government out of religion and religion out of government is a core principle of the First Amendment." Okay, well, this kind of thing will certainly have a good argument to support it, since the actual document he claims says this doesn't actually say it at all. After quoting the establishment clause, he continues, "James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, would later explain the need for this separation, saying, 'religion and Govt. will both exist in greater purity, Â the less they are mixed together.'" Okay, so one quote from James Madison proves his point? Where does Madison here say anything about a separation of church and state?

Well let's look at the context of Madison's quote here to see what's being talked about. Immediately following what Paulson cites, Madison writes, "It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law was right and necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; and that the only question to be decided was, which was the true religion."1 Um, that doesn't look to me anything like the total abolition of religious recognition by the government, but rather a discussion about establishing, "by law," a religion of the state. There's nothing here about not acknowledging God in government at all. and certainly nothing there about teaching creationism in schools.

James Madison was a fierce proponent, as we all should be, of the first amendment. He was against the intrusion of the government into the life of the individual, as we all should be, especially on matters of religion. He battled legislation that would have instituted things that favored certain religions, like collecting taxes for specific churches.2 It's also patently obvious why forcing a religion on people by mandating it by law is a bad idea. First off, religion is about individual conviction, and the Christian religion is about a relationship, which cannot be coerced.

But this James Madison also said things like,
I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ; and I wish you may give in your evidence in this way.3
He thought that it would be a positive thing for men in positions of power to publicly pronounce their allegiance to the Christian religion. So, state religion bad; acknowledgement of religion, not bad. There is a marked difference between making a state religion, and teaching creationism in school.

Paulson then says,
The phrase stemmed from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. He cited the language of the First Amendment and said that it built "a wall of separation between Church and State." This was not just some poetic flourish. This was one of the nation's founders and author of the Declaration of Independence explaining exactly what the First Amendment means.
Paulson refers to truth, but gets it wrong. Yes, Jefferson, in response to the Danbury Baptist's fear of government intrusion in their worship, said that the government will not interfere because there is a wall separating the church from the state. But this was to assure them that the state will not infringe upon the rights of the people, not that God is to be extradited from the public square and relegated to chapels and bedrooms. Congress opens in prayer for Pete's sake.

To top it off, Paulson states, "The separation of church and state means that teachers in public schools can't teach their faith to their students." Oh come on. He argues that since teachers are public employees, they can't preach their faith to students. This assumes some pretty ridiculous things. 1) It assumes that creationism is a religion. It's not, it's a position on how the universe began that happens to be a part of a religion. 2) It assumes that if teachers mention something from a religion in class, it is preaching their faith. This is absurd.

Why is it that people like Paulson are so worried that big bad creationism could be mentioned in schools? If the theory that is propagated in schools today has such rousing evidential support, then certainly reasonable people will come to the conclusion that an alternative is wrong. Why is it that when the dogma of neo-Darwinism is questioned, there is such virulent and misleading things written about those who would criticize it? And why do people who fancy themselves experts on the first amendment attribute things to it that it doesn't say?

What does the first amendment say? It doesn't say what the left would have it say.

1 Madison, James. Letters And Other Writings Of James Madison, Fourth President Of The United States. Vol 3. Philadelphia: JP Lippincott & Co., 1865. 275.

2 Loconte, Joseph. "James Madison and Religious Liberty." The Heritage Foundation, 16 Mar 2001. Web. 19 Oct 2010. .

3 Letter to William Bradford, September 25, 1773

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How to Define Atheism

For a while now, atheists have labored to alter the definition of "atheism" so as to give the impression that the default state of anyone is atheism, therefore placing all of the burden of proof on theists. I recently pointed out elsewhere that this position pretty much strips the word of any sort of force at all. Simply filling people in on your current mental state isn’t very interesting at all. We could argue semantics I suppose, but that would be equally uninteresting. Heck, my 3 month old daughter would pretty much be an a-everything, since she lacks all sorts of beliefs.

Not only that, but it makes the atheist position basically no threat to theism at all. Theists argue that there is a God, that God actually exists. If atheists are simply people that lack this belief, then their position suddenly becomes of no consequence to the theist. Okay, you lack that belief, so what? There's nothing to argue with there. They haven't really taken a position, they've just told us what their mental state happens to be.

So, if this is what atheism actually is, then more power to them. Atheists just lack belief in God. Great. Apparently they lack the testicular fortitude to make up their mind about whether He actually does exist as well.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Relativity, Time, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Many people are aware that the Kalam cosmological argument, made famous by Dr. William Lane Craig, depends upon the A-theory (tensed) of time. This view of time postulates that temporal becoming is real; the past no longer exists and the future is mere potentiality. Only the present is real, and has a real ontological priority over the past and future. But the opposing view of time ,the B-theory (tenseless) holds that all points in time are equally real and we only experience temporal becoming as sort of a purely human conception. There are many problems with the B-theory that many people see, but the A-theory seems to be impossible on modern interpretations of Special Relativity, and many physicists. I have just begun to study this fascinating field of philosophy and physics, but I can already tell you that those who deny what most people would say is the "common" view of time, the A-theory, depend on certain unjustified presuppositions and misunderstandings of what the evidence has actually been pointing to.

There are three prevalent interpretations of Special Relativity (SR): Einsteinian, Minkowskian, and Lorentzian. Einstein's and Minkowski's interpretations seem to lend themselves better to the B-theory of time, but there have been some who argue that that view is not necessary even on those interpretations of SR. Lorentz's interpretation, however, lends itself far better to the A-theory than the other two.

Many philosophers have pointed out that Einstein's interpretation, where he ruled out the privileged frame of reference that Lorentz accepted, relied upon the philosophical presupposition of logical positivism. Those who have held to this recently maligned epistemology think that the only things that are meaningful are those that we can verify empirically through our five senses. Philosophers as of late have rejected that assumption, partly because it is a self defeating proposition. You can't verify the statement "the only things that are meaningful are those that we can verify empirically through our five senses" by its own standard. Einstein thought that since the aether (which was the privileged reference of he and Lorentz's time) wasn't empirically verifiable, it was useless to talk about. Lorentz, on the other hand, did not agree. He thought that, while we may not be able to test for the aether, we have many reasons to believe that reality is not fragmented (as the Einsteinian interpretation would entail), among other things, we should not accept that there is no privileged frame.

The Minkowskian interpretation takes the points that are conveniently plotted onto graphs to kind of explain the relation of space and time makes that into an ontological reality. But, many point out that interpreting relations on a graph as having ontological reality is sketchy at best. For instance, we can likewise plot the relation between temperature and pressure on a graph, but that doesn't mean that there is some reality known as temperature-pressure, and while this isn't the only reason many physicists adopt this view, it's one of them. 

Lorentz's interpretation, it should be noted, is equal in predictive power to Einstein's. All of the calculations that result in length contraction and time retardation are completely intact in Lorentz's interpretation. Theists have good prima facie reasons to accept Lorentz's interpretation, because God would certainly be a privileged observer. Others should recognize that there have been other things put forward to support the proposition that there is a privileged frame of reference. "The hypersurface of homogeneity and isotropy is the preferred hypersurface for the formulation of the laws of physics and the measurement of space and time" (Craig, William Lane and Quentin Smith. Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity. New York: Routledge, 2008. P 8). This frame is used to measure the age of the entire universe. So when people say the universe is 13.8 billion years old, they aren't using an arbitrary frame of reference, such as their house, they are using this cosmic age of the universe. The microwave background radiation that permeates the universe is very isotropic, and the speed of the earth has been measured against this frame. The quantum mechanical vacuum, which underlies all of reality, has produced test data that supports absolute simultaneity.

The B-theory faces other issues, namely that it smacks against the common experience. How could it be that I actually exist as 1 year old Brennon just as much as I do 12 year old Brennon or current aged Brennon? The process of temporal becoming in my own consciousness smacks against the claims of B-theorists. General relativity is said to have reintroduced absolute simultaneity into physics. The notion that physics has proved the B-theory is not true at all, and is based on a misinterpretation of the evidence and certain presuppositions of positivism that are unjustified. I think more physicists, before adopting the status quo interpretation, need to read a bit on the philosophy of time to see the underlying presuppositions behind the B-theory, as it seems that ignorance of this is why many take the stance that they do.

I'll write more on this as I read more about it, but for now if you run across someone who claims that relativity theory has proven that the Kalam argument is a no-go, know that they are speaking beyond the evidence.