Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Break

December 21, 2010

I will be taking a ‘digital holiday’ the rest of the year to enjoy Christmas and the New Years with my lovely family. I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and celebrates it’s truest purpose. I will let Linus remind us all what that is:

Low Hanging Fruit – Sensed-Presence Effect

December 20, 2010

I have been having a rather rambling discussion over at the ‘A-Unicornist’ blog with Mike (who made one brief comment here. Sort of) about whether a person could reasonably come to the conclusion that Christianity is true by an examination of the evidence. Unfortunately, like many discussions, it has quickly gone from trying to establish a few basic points clearly to a scatter-shot of considerations that are virtually impossible to consider in brief series of postings. I always love when I am accused of not being rational by someone employing an array of red herrings, strawmen, and non-sequitors.

Nonetheless, there is coherence enough there to discern a few ideas – one idea that seems to appear frequently in Mike’s responses is the idea of the ‘Sensed-Presence Effect‘. For those of you not familiar with it (Mike seems to throw it out there irrelevant to context or the particular idea being considered) it is a vaguely documented experience whereby a person seems to sense the presence of another person or entity when no one else is physically there. It may take the form of someone watching them, particularly when going through some extreme circumstance or prolonged isolation. Mike doesn’t articulate it clearly, but it seems to be his way of dealing with the Christian belief in the Holy Spirit (oddly, he even does this when no mention is actually made of the Holy Spirit).

Since it seems to be so frequent a reference there (which he apparently adopted from claims of the atheists he reads) I thought it worthwhile topic consider apart from the flak flying there.

First I think it would be important to consider a few Scriptural references to people experiencing the Holy Spirit. The first mention of this in this amongst believers is in the books of Acts – it goes as follows:

Acts 2:1-

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now I think one could question whether this event actually happened, or was made up after the fact. Or one could think that it was a group delusion of sorts, with everyone convinced they had experienced something they hadn’t. I have reasons for thinking otherwise, but what is relevant in this case is that what it couldn’t have been is a Sensed-Presence Effect. There is no isolation, no vague sense of another person being present in the room being chronicled here – it an explosive event, with an overwhelming sense of something otherworldly, not a vague sense of someone merely watching or standing by. So explaining the Holy Spirit away utilizing this argument won’t work here. Here is another instance, with the Apostle Paul’s conversion:

Acts 9:10-19

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Now again,
one might question the historical veracity of this passage. What one couldn’t sensibly do is claim this is an instance of a Sensed-Presence Effect. There is no indeterminate sense of another presence, no notion that some entity is there to guide and help. The persons in these events have a definite sense of purpose and direction, and their experience is shared between multiple individuals. So the Effect doesn’t apply here.

What about today, with modern Christians? I don’t know what every Christian experiences, but I have talked to Christians around the world, in a wide variety of cultures, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and they all seem to share certain characteristics:

  1. Clarity of purpose, renewal, and a sense of peace
  2. A sense of conviction, or discernment about choices that are contrary to God’s will and God’s moral precepts
  3. An ability to understand Scripture in a way one wasn’t able to previous to having the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life
  4. A sense of personal unity with others who share the Holy Spirit

Those are a few commonalities that seemed to be shared – there are probably more I have overlooked. Nonetheless, taken as a whole these don’t seem anything like the Sensed Presence Effect described in literature. It is no mere feeling of someone watching or guiding one in isolation or under duress, but instead a specific collection of experiences with definite parameters collectively experienced in a wide variety of circumstances across cultures and history.

In short, one might have reason to be skeptical the Holy Spirit exists, but it can’t be explained away Mike and other atheists are attempting to.

Where’s The Bottom?

December 20, 2010

In a recent article in Slate, William Saletan tries to develop a modern secular rationalization against incest. I am not sure what is more concerning about this piece; the fact that he even has to make the argument, or the fact that a number of commenter’s on his column dispute that any such rationale exists.

Saletan is responding to a recent incident where a Professor of Political Science at Columbia David Epstein was recently arrested for having an incestuous relationship with his adult daughter. He is trying to respond to the argument that if we as a society accept homosexual relationships, why wouldn’t we also accept sexual relations between grown siblings and between parents and their grown progeny? As he rightly points out, biology is no longer a barrier (apologies ahead of time for Saletan’s crude descriptions):

Many incest laws in the United States invoke this concept. In patently eugenic language, they forbid sex between “consanguineous” (blood-related) partners. But this rationale won’t withstand close scrutiny or the march of technology. If genetics is the issue, just get a vasectomy. Then you can bang your sister all you want. Or skip the vasectomy and bang your brother. Gay sex can’t make a baby, so the problem is solved. As the German court noted, Stuebing could have dodged Germany’s incest law in precisely this way.

Indeed, the advocates for gay marriage use the fact that technology now allows homosexuals to have children just like heterosexual couples – so biology should be no barrier to marriage and parenthood.

The next tack Saletan considers is the argument against incest on the grounds that it is exploitative. As he notes in the case of Prof. Epstein, he was involved with his adult daughter. He also cites other cases where prosecution of individuals involved adults and their adult children or step-children. Again this corresponds to the argument by the gay movement that their behavior is between consenting adults and thus should be a freedom allowed by the state.

So he is left with one argument against incest – that of natural family order, an argument he acknowledges is the one invoked by moral conservatives:

The conservative view is that all sexual deviance—homosexuality, polyamory, adultery, bestiality, incest—violates the natural order. Families depend on moral structure: Mom, Dad, kids. When you confound that structure—when Dad sleeps with a man, Dad sleeps with another woman, or Mom sleeps with Grandpa—the family falls apart. Kids need clear roles and relationships. Without this, they get disoriented. Mess with the family, and you mess up the kids.

Despite the fact that he dislikes this argument, William Saletan realizes it is the only rational one against adult consensual incestuous incest:

Morally, the family-structure argument captures our central intuition about incest: It confuses relationships. Constitutionally, this argument provides a rational basis for laws against incest.

But he then weakly tries to defend against the obvious implications of this argument against gay marriage:

When a young man falls in love with another man, no family is destroyed. Homosexuality is largely immutable, as the chronic failure of “ex-gay” ministries attests. So if you forbid sex between these two men, neither of them is likely to form a happy, faithful heterosexual family. The best way to help them form a stable family is to encourage them to marry each other.

I have to admit it is almost laughable to see the someone go through such rhetorical contortions to defend gay marriage against its obvious implications. There is no little irony in seeing someone accept one of the primary arguments against gay marriage, and then claim conclude that gay marriage is perfectly acceptable! Saletan does so by making a single huge evidentiary leap when by claiming that by merely having marriage available to them homosexuals will themselves form ‘stable families’ despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to indicate this is true. One of the primary and most powerful anchors of heterosexual families for stability is the natural bond that occurs between men and women for the purposes of procreation, and homosexuals don’t have this at all. On top of that there is the impetus of moral, traditional and historical obligation on heterosexual couples to maintain a stable family unit – again, there is no such basis for homosexual couples. So his argument is wholly without basis here.

So where does that leave us? Quite frankly it leaves where many who argue against gay marriage have claimed it leaves us – with a wide open door to a variety of other human sexual degradations. Given the ability of technology to overcome genetic concerns, there is simply no merely rational argument against incest. In fact, there is no purely secular or rational argument against polygamy either. This is because absent a moral compass, a sense of human purpose and design, humans can ‘rationalize’ any behavior they want.

What is often overlooked by this crowd is that the world they imagine has already existed. It was not uncommon in pagan times for there to exist openly homosexual relationships. Incest among royals and polygamy were common place in the pre-Christian world. These sexual arrangements are in fact ‘natural’ if by natural one means societies that exist outside of Judeo-Christian frameworks. So the rejection of that morality for the purposes of advancing a particular agenda will not end with the acceptance of gay marriage, but inevitably ‘progress’ to ever more diverse relationships of the sort Prof. Epstein engaged in. And there will be no secular bulwark against it. It was only with the advent of Christianity that respect for the human family as it was designed to exist became inculcated into Western human culture.

I have often heard complaints by the secular left that the moral conservatives engage in the fallacy of the slippery slope argument when it comes to gay marriage vis-à-vis the claim that allowing gay marriage will lead to the breakdown of natural human relationships. While this may not be the direct effect of allowing gay marriage, what is in fact true as exemplified by this article is that if we accept the arguments and reasoning that allow for gay marriage, we must therefore allow for other consensual adult relationships of the sort David Epstein and others want to have. If we dismiss moral, traditional, and historical prohibitions then there is no reason legally or biologically to disallow wither incestuous or polygamous relationships.

What is clear is that we are not heading toward a slippery slope but a moral and societal abyss. The question we now have to ask is, where’s the bottom?

The Consequences of Repealing DADT

December 18, 2010

The vote by the Senate this afternoon to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law will have little if no immediate effect. It will not create an influx of homosexuals into the military, because the law did not, contrary to claims of the advocates of its repeal, keep gays out of the military. It is unlikely to cause gays who were closeted in the military to suddenly ‘come out’ because if it was their intent to be open about their homosexuality it is unlikely they would have joined the military to begin with – and for those in the close knit fighting units, they won’t want to risk the social repercussions that will defy legal manipulation.

What will happen as a result of the repeal is the actual agenda of the gay lobby will be revealed. It will happen rather quickly, while Obama is still in office – a growing chorus of now open homosexuals will call for the military to make modifications to recognize and accommodate homosexual living arrangements and partner benefits. Like the faux ‘civil unions’ that were predicated on giving people certain freedoms but was in fact a stepping stone to allowing gay marriage, the repeal of DADT is an intermediary step not about freedom but official sanction of certain behaviors. Homosexuals are already free to have the relationships they choose to have, what they want is for everyone to be required to say those relationships are a societal good, and that not only should they be allowed but they should be promoted.

The effect on the military will be gradual but certainly erosive. Men and women of a definite moral character will begin to decline military service, particularly the sort that are inclined to volunteer for combat duties. The military, already expensive with burdensome mandates and regulations will become more bogged down with more bureaucracy and training which undermines their core mission.

And none of this will bother the forces that pushed for the repeal, because they are opponents of the American military to begin with. It’s a sad day for our country.


December 17, 2010

It appears almost every action planned by the current lame-duck Congress is designed to thwart the will of the American people as expressed in the November election

Friday Fun-ness, Christmas Edition

December 17, 2010

This is one of my favorite Christmas hymns by two fantastic voices:

How Reliable are Scientific Findings?

December 14, 2010

For the secularist, science is the end all and be all of knowledge about the world we live in. It informs us on how we came to be, why we act as we do, it influences choices we make about education as well as underpinning many federal and state policy initiatives. And quite obviously it is the basis for much of the technology that we use in our everyday lives.  For the secularist all other forms of knowledge – personal experience, philosophy, historical knowledge and of course revelation all pale in comparison to the certainty of scientific knowledge. In fact the very existence of scientific knowledge is thought to contradict some other forms of knowledge, either rendering them obsolete or illegitimate all together.

A recent article by Micheal Lehrer in the New Yorker called The Truth Wears Off asks the question, “Is there something wrong with the scientific method?” The article points out that events documented scientifically have often been shown to weaken or even disappear as attempts are made to replicate the initial findings. He refers to it as the ‘Decline Effect’ and chronicles it’s occurrence in any number of studies from evolutionary biology, ecology, and drug studies.

For those who have paid attention, this is not all that surprising. Science is a human venture, and is infused with all the weaknesses of other human ventures – personal biases, selfish ambitions, greed, laziness, fraud, hunger for power and recognition. And while peer review provides some remedy to those excesses, as the article details the tendency that initial attempts to replicate findings by peers often support the initial conclusion – it is only over time that the ability to replicate findings begins to decline.  One example Lehrer cites:

In 2001, Michael Jennions, a biologist at the Australian National University, set out to analyze “temporal trends” across a wide range of subjects in ecology and evolutionary biology .He looked at hundreds of papers and forty-four meta-analyses (that is, statistical synthesis of related studies), and discovered a consistent decline effect over time as many of the theories seemed to fade into irrelevance. . . . Jennions admits that his findings are troubling, but expresses a reluctance to talk about them publicly. “This is a very sensitive issue for scientists,” he says. “You know, we’re supposed to be dealing with hard facts, the stuff that’s supposed to stand the test of time. But when you see these trends you become a little more skeptical of things.”

In many ways this highlights one of my problems with skeptics – they aren’t actually all that skeptical when to comes to science; they see what is our current state of understanding of natural phenomenon as the  ‘truth’ which informs their metaphysical inclinations when in fact it is only a snapshot of where our understanding about the natural world  lies. Scientific facts are perhaps the most transient sorts of knowledge rather than pillars on which to guide our lives. Lehrer concludes:

The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything.  We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us.  But that’s often not the case.  Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved.  And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.

Excellent conclusion; in the end, we still have to choose what to believe – science isn’t going to unroll like a scroll and tell us how to live.

It’s for this reason as one who has spent the better part of forty years reading, studying and discussing the importance of science first as an skeptical agnostic and later as a committed Christian that I have come to the conclusion that while science is a critical aspect of human knowledge it is itself derived from deeper truths that cannot themselves be discovered scientifically. This being true, it can never be understood to be the primary means of understanding the world in which we live; and in the end it may prove to be one of the most ephemeral forms of human knowledge.

Hopefully some skeptics will come to realize this.