Thursday, December 23, 2004
Dr Flew at 81:
The pilgrimage of the World’s [former] leading philosophical Atheist
This morning, in my usual online reading, I found a most interesting report, so much so that I will break the series on Rebuilding Montserrat to cite and comment on some excerpts from the Baptist Press news article of Dec 22, 2004: “Atheist's turn toward God was a 4-year process, friend says” :
. . . in December 2004 the unexpected happened when [Dr Anthony] Flew [arguably the world’s leading – now, former -- philosophical atheist] took a step toward Christianity, announcing that scientific evidence led him to a belief in God . . . . [Dr Gary] Habermas [Head, Dept. of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, who has debated, befriended and corresponded with Dr Flew] . . . had known that Flew was reconsidering his position since the fall of 2000 when Flew sent Habermas a letter in which the atheist acknowledged the strength of arguments for theism and Christianity. "In September 2000, that's about the earliest indication that I had that he was changing . . . He wrote me a long letter, quite an incredible letter, where at several points he conceded the evidence for [theism and Christianity]." . . . . By January 2003 Flew began considering arguments from the "intelligent design" movement and was on the verge of belief in God . . . . "He told me he was really rethinking theism and had corresponded with [naturalistic scientist Richard] Dawkins and was putting the ID arguments up against what Dawkins was saying and trying to compare the arguments," Habermas said. "And he was going back and forth as to whether he should be a theist or not."By early 2004, Flew completed his transition to theism and indicated his change of mind to Habermas in a telephone conversation . . . . Flew currently holds a position known as deism -- the belief that god created the universe but is not actively involved in people's lives today . . . . a short-lived movement in the history of philosophy over the last few centuries," Habermas said. "One reason deism is a troubled position is that it usually moves one way or the other."Flew could revert back to atheism, Habermas noted. "Still, he has made a number of statements to me indicating that he is open, even to revelation," Habermas said."Three weeks ago I received a letter from him where he said that he was rereading my arguments for the resurrection and was very impressed with them,'" he said . . . . "He's told me on many occasions that he was impressed with the arguments for the resurrection ... and he says it's the best miracle claim in the history of religions," Habermas recounted. "So he's impressed with them . . . " [URL: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=19780 ]
Let us consider several highlights:
1] Flew was impressed by Intelligent Design -- which argues that the intricate fine-tuning of the cosmos and the highly structured ordered complexity of life at the molecular level show that the universe was most likely designed -- and Richard Dawkins [the leading evolutionary materialist biology advocate today] did not have a solid comeback.
2] Flew is open to revelation (and we can compare an earlier interview [ CF. www.biola.edu/philchristi ] in which he expresses the impression the Judaeo-Christian claim has made on him, but not the Islamic; and those are the three major live theistic options today).
3] Finally, Habermas reports: “"Three weeks ago I received a letter from him where he said that he was rereading my arguments for the resurrection and was very impressed with them . . . . He's told me on many occasions that he was impressed with the arguments for the resurrection ... and he says it's the best miracle claim in the history of religions . . . "
Remember, that is from the former leading philosophical atheist in the world, a man who has publicly stated that he knows there is no God because the very concept of God is incoherent [ cf. http://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/Intro_phil/God.htm ]. In defense of his thinking, he was the author of such books as "Atheistic Humanism" and "Darwinian Evolution."
What a Christmas gift for 2004!
Thanks be to God.. So, now, let’s talk, let’s pray . . . especially for Dr Flew. AMEN
Friday, December 17, 2004
Seventy vs. Eighty Percent
The headline for The Montserrat Reporter, December 3, 2004, reads: “Survey Reports 70% of MSS Girls Sexually Active.” Thus, the public has learned about a recent Ministry of Education survey in our Island’s lone secondary school, which indicates that seventy percent of students in the school are sexually active.
This number is a stark contrast to the 2001 Census, in which easily over eighty percent of respondents identify themselves with one Christian denomination or another. Since it is quite manifest that the Bible teaches us to “flee fornication . . . he that commits fornication sinneth against his own body” [1 Cor 6:18] and indeed counsels young men to treat “elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” [1 Tim 5:2], there is a huge gap between our profession as a community and our reported behaviour. And, in a world of AIDS and dozens of other sexually transmitted diseases, widespread promiscuity is obviously personally and socially destructive. So, we at once must ask ourselves whether we are serious about rebuilding Montserrat as a “healthy . . . God-fearing society.”
Why, then, is there such a huge gap between our profession and our practice?
The answer is not too hard to find: we all like to think of God as a benevolent Uncle in the sky, but when it comes to Jesus’ counsel that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” [Lk 9:23], we are not so eager to follow in the way of self-denial and discipleship.
This gap then bubbles up in our self-indulgent, manipulative and self-destructive sexual habits, leading to chaotic family patterns, and also general self-seeking behaviour in business, community and government, so that suspicion, exploitation and apathy replace trust, trustworthiness and cooperation in rebuilding our community. In short, absent a serious, godly reformation, our sinful lifestyles will continue to undermine and block our hopes for achieving a successfully and sustainably rebuilt nation.
Let us look again at Nehemiah’s community rebuilding strategy. In the face of similar frustration, oppression and chaos, he pulled together a critical mass to work on an obviously strategic project that was in the common interest: rebuilding the protective walls of Jerusalem. So, different groups got to work on different parts of the broken down wall, and in fifty-two days success was achieved. Then, a celebration of thanksgiving to God led by Ezra broke out in revival, repentance and reformation.
Since AIDS and related diseases are a manifestly dangerous common threat to our lives and community (and indeed the world), and since this is obviously tied to the need for a disciplined, focused life and solid family structures, family life renewal and a shift to wholesome sexuality are one of the sections of Montserrat’s “broken-down wall” that we need to rebuild. Thus, the Ministry of Education and the Red Cross Peer Educators are plainly on target in seeking to address AIDS and related concerns, and the churches should also be in the forefront of the fight to rebuild this strategic section of our nation’s protective walls. ( Here, it is worth a note to point out that the Brades Pentecostal church hall was used for the Red Cross AIDS day rally that provided the platform for Ms Sylecia Allen’s bombshell announcement.)
But, how can we – as a self-confessedly God-fearing nation -- soundly rebuild this section of our broken down walls? For that, Mrs Rebecca Hagelin of the Heritage Foundation, USA has some sobering words:
“10 scientific evaluations (four of them peer-reviewed) have found abstinence[-based sex education] programs effective both at reducing teen pregnancy and at reducing sexually transmitted diseases . . . They "also can provide the foundation for personal responsibility and enduring marital commitment" . . . Therefore, they are vitally important to efforts aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing among young adult women, improving child well-being, and increasing adult happiness over the long term . . . the [US Government] funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health shows . . . . "Adolescents who take a virginity pledge have substantially lower levels of sexual activity and better life outcomes when compared with similar adolescents who do not make such a pledge," the report says. "In addition . . . teen pledgers who do become sexually active are not less likely to use contraception." Plus . . . [Hagelin notes] if condoms were effective at reducing STDs [under real-world conditions], then, as condom use goes up, STDs should go down. But they've grown right along with condom use . . . . rates of depression and suicide are higher among teens who are sexually active. We know sexually active kids are more likely to drink, smoke and use drugs. And we know – as parents, educators and members of the community – that kids strive to meet the expectations we set for them.” [“Selling a Dangerous Lie,” WND Dec 17, 2004, http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=41979 ]
These are sobering words, indeed; but they also highlight the positive health and community implications of the approach to sexuality and family life that the Bible has long taught us: chastity, fidelity and careful nurture of our children in the fear of God, in light of his Word. So, now, let’s talk, let’s pray . . . and, through God’s leading, let’s act! AMEN
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Moving Towards a Breakthrough Strategy
“Critical mass” is the key practical concept in nuclear physics: for, when just enough Uranium-235 (or another nuclear material) is brought together in just the right configuration, a self-starting, self-sustaining reaction begins. To keep it from running away to meltdown or even an explosion, moderators are inserted into the mass, so that the process can be precisely controlled. Then, the heat and radiation given off can safely be put to good use.
Similarly, if we the people of Montserrat and the wider Caribbean are to shift to a more spontaneous, more sustainable path for national rebuilding and development, we must create and manage a critical mass to energise and sustain our own breakthrough strategy. Nehemiah (God’s re-builder, who triggered the renewal and reformation – and eventually the liberation -- of Israel after their Babylonian exile) shows us how:
--> Learning of the plight of God's people (due to the broken down walls of Jerusalem), he was concerned. So he prayed then tactfully approached a key powerbroker, one who literally trusted him with his life – for, he was the king’s cupbearer. Thus, Nehemiah obtained authorization, stable backing and necessary resources before possible opponents could mobilize to undermine or block the rebuilding effort. [Ch 1.]
--> On going to Jerusalem, he quietly surveyed the scene then called the people and their leaders together in a solemn assembly, giving them hope and a vision of the way forward. Together, they solemnly agreed to rebuild the broken-down walls. [Ch 2.]
--> He then organised the project, delegating manageable tasks to specific groups and their leaders. [Ch 3.]
--> As the project went on, challenges, opposition, threats, slanders and crises arose; but Nehemiah could safely stand on his strengths and so he handled the crises, slanders and threats firmly -- while making sure he was not distracted from the main task in hand. [Chs 4 - 6.]
--> When the wall rebuilding project was finished -- very quickly: in 52 days! -- time was set apart for celebration and worship, with the help of Ezra, a recognised and respected spiritual leader. Revival broke out. [Ch 6:15 - 7:5, 8:1- 11, & 8:13 - 9:38.]
--> The project and initial wave of revival then triggered powerful waves of national renewal, empowerment, reformation, transformation and liberation that continued for centuries. [Chs 8 - 13.]
Clearly, Nehemiah’s critical mass for breakthrough included godly leadership, sincere penitence and prayer, an achievable but challenging vision, stable backing, authorization and resources, plus the support of a broad mass of the now hopeful people. Some of these elements were quietly gathered beforehand, thus anticipating and out-maneuvering the likely opponents. But equally, there also had to be a public coming together of the people of God and their leaders to consider their situation, then to hear and catch a vision of the way forward, building a stable consensus and commitment to a clear strategic focus: let us arise and build! This focus triggered organization, mobilisation and sustained effort that was rapidly crowned with success. Thanksgiving under God then led to revival, thence reformation and transformation.
Here in Montserrat, many of the challenges we face: the ongoing volcanic crisis, the loss of much of our territory and infrastructure, de-population, fear, apathy and denial of painful reality, lack of consensus and vision, breakdown of morals, a “business as [nearly] usual” mentality, economic slowdown, etc., are astonishingly parallel to those faced by Nehemiah. So, it is logical that we should take a leaf or two out of Nehemiah’s book:
1] Godly, concerned people with access to key resources, skills and backers need to begin to pray together and seek God’s wisdom for the way forward for our community and the wider region. (I believe this is already happening, as God stirs the hearts of many latter-day Nehemiahs with a new vision.)
2] Once such a group of concerned godly people has begun to form a consensus vision and so become aware of strengths and opportunities, it is time to develop initial ideas for action, and to seek support from key potential backers.
3] Once backing has been secured, a more thorough investigation and some planning can then lead to calling together a solemn assembly of concerned, God-fearing people across the community, first of all for repentance and seeking the guidance of God, then as a forum on the future, towards making the decision to act together on one or more breakthrough projects.
4] Once such a consensus emerges, a viable critical mass exists to initiate a sustainable, strategically focused programme of action. To coordinate that action, it would be wise to create (1) an oversight/steering committee with the support of both (2) project teams and (3) an oversight body selected by the forum.
5] Then, through the recognised success of the initial cluster of projects, and through lessons learned, capacity and momentum for onward initiatives will emerge. This lays a foundation for further waves of transformation under God.
Such a strategy seems both feasible and desirable. So, if not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who? So, now, let’s talk, let’s pray . . . and, through God’s leading, let’s act! AMEN
Friday, December 03, 2004
The Rebuilding of Montserrat, 1:
Over the past month, Montserrat has gone through some truly heavy, and sustained rains -- in fact, the Geralds Heliport rain gauge measured over 12” of rains for November. As a result, some houses have suffered significant damage, two tourists were almost swept out to sea in a flash flood, and several other worrying trends have come to light:
Relocated Geralds residents had their new houses flooded, damaging not only the houses but also their possessions.
At the Port in Little Bay, a culvert under a bridge became blocked as debris washing down the ghauts in the watershed blocked the flow of water. Then, the waters surged over the bridge, floating off two cars. Several Port workers had to be lifted over the waters in the bucket of a backhoe.
Twice within a week, the Belham river valley suddenly flooded, trapping vehicles and their occupants in the act of fording over the now volcanic mudflow-filled stream-bed. In the second case, two tourists were nearly washed away in the raging waters and had to be rescued by a local hero known as “William” – who should get a medal.
Media reports say that when the Little Bay bridge was being built, local opinions about extreme weather events were ignored by the overseas-based engineers. (It is, however, material to note that the flooding started when culverts were blocked by debris, perhaps due to the bad habit of dumping refuse in the ghauts upstream.)
Similarly, in the first Belham valley flood, there had been no advance warning on ZJB, which provides the designated alert service for those who drive south into the volcano ravaged zone.
In the second instance, media reports indicated that the weather seemed to be fine, and there were no obvious signs of rain in the mountains that could trigger a flash flood or mud flow.
Last, but not least, it seems that the weekly series of volcano reports on ZJB Radio has now been brought to an end. This means that the public will not be able to track the still active volcano’s behaviour for themselves, and so form their own informed judgements. (This is happening at precisely the time when there is an emerging movement to resettle the evacuated area south of the Belham!)
Let’s connect some dots.
For, such events and trends are telling us that our “business as [nearly] usual” approach is not working, especially as it relates to the Belham valley and the adjacent zone on its south bank. (Indeed, some of us are unaware that, reportedly, many vehicle Insurance policies have a specific exception: damage in the Belham valley is “at your own risk.”)
There is a current proposal to build a Bailey Bridge over the Belham, a bit away from the current passing point. Then, it is hoped to elevate it as necessary to make up for the mud flows now gradually filling up the valley. But, what would happen in the event that the debris field at the head of the Belham were to massively avalanche into the valley? What would be the impact of such -- hopefully, unlikely! --events on the prospective resettled zone between the river and Plymouth? What of the long-standing proposal to mine the volcanic the deposits in that valley, for use in construction related industries?
Such questions are not mere alarmism. For, basic prudence tells us to think through the match between our redevelopment efforts and our environment’s possible trends. [For instance, a “100-year storm” means one that, based on past trends, has one chance in a hundred of occurring in any given year. Negligibly low? Actually not: if we build a wall that is too weak to stand such a storm, over a twenty year period that structure has better than one chance in six of being hit by such a “100 year storm”! (To see what that means, think about throwing a die. The chance that, over 20 years, our wall will be hit by a storm stronger than it is designed for is a little higher than that of rolling a six. Is that an “acceptable risk”?)
In short, the events of November are a wake-up call.
So, let us again come together as a community to consider carefully our environment and its trends, opportunities and threats: bio-physical, socio-cultural, economic. Then, in light of our findings, let us soberly reassess our community’s resources, hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses as they impact our current re-building initiatives in the North, in the Salem region, and south of the Belham. On the current, “[near] business as usual” path, what is the range of significant possible good/bad outcomes over the next five, ten, or twenty years? Are the associated risks and possible losses acceptable, given our opportunities and likely benefits? If not, what are some more sustainable alternatives, and where would they most likely lead us under good/bad environmental scenarios?
Perhaps, the logical way to think these things through and reach a sustainable consensus would be for us to have an annual, public National Forum on the Future, through the churches, chamber of commerce and industry, NDF and other community based organizations, along with the Government. Does that make sense? Why/why not? AMEN