Monday, April 30, 2007

Blog Visits note, 9: A Busy week . . . on thermodynamics, Islamism and the rift in the Caribbean.

As I look back I see it has been a week since the last post here.

That's because there has been a major ongoing back-forth in this blog on the issue of thermodynamics, following up from a recent visit over at Uncommon Descent, and a restart to debate on the BFP thread on Islamists and the killing of innocents.

The former is drawing to a close now, with closing remarks from both sides. For those who cannot follow the thermodynamics in the arguments, it boils down to this: once we assemble a complex functional entity from small parts that can be arranged in many, many ways, it is most likely the result of intelligent action. If we see a jumbo jet, we infer to a Boeing Aircraft company, not a tornado in a junkyard!

The root of that is the implications of the second law of thermodynamics, especially in its statistical form. But, that in fact fairly obvious and empirically well-supported point is stoutly resisted by those with a lot at stake on the matter. For, it immediately and rather directly questions the claimed origin of life by unintelligent processes only, i.e evolutionary materialism.

The other thread is disturbing for a very different reason: it reveals the underlying questionable assumptions, biases, hostility and even in some cases, outright spitefulness that are lurking in the minds of many educated people in our region, once an Evangelical Christian speaks up. Unsurprisingly, this attitude most often works by the old turnabout accusation trick: accusing the Christians of the attitudes one in fact is manifesting.

To illustrate, let us excerpt a few choice remarks, making a few noted. The point here is to show what sort of increasingly hostile attitudes and shut-up rhetoric we can expect if we try to speak out to the problems prosed by Islamism and by Islam's Dawah missionary campaign in the Caribbean; even on a basis of the facts and their reasonable implications:
DFX: take a look at Numbers 25:10-13. Image if we could be killed in the name of the Lord just for being in an inter-racial marriage?

--> Moses, the author of the book, was married to a woman of the relevant ethnicity; the incident in the text is about calculatedly luring Israel into adultery and fornication thus the destructive judgement of God. In short he text is grossly twisted into an accusation that is ill-founded.

Agenda: for the right wing idealogues on here, islam is the number one [threat] . . . . it is pointless arguing with right wing evangelicals, fundamentalist and idealogues. they view everything through a narrow prism and anything that doesnt fit into their little box is attacked. it is a simple formala they use. paint a picture of an “other”, a bogey man who wants to destroy us. create myths, exaggerations and distort fact. mix it with christian fundamentalism and evangelical fervour. keep spouting the diatribe and propaganda and anyone who is gullible will buy into it

--> In fact I specifically spoke to the problem of the radicalised 10 - 15% [not a monolith], and the troubling roots they have in the founding era, texts, examples and history. I also spoke to the other threats to the Caribbean, starting with ourselves, explicitly noting that the apostate west is a greater danger than Islam. Turns out, too, there was a recent thread with a live interview by the former Dutch parliamentarian, Ali, on this. Ignored of course -- don't confuse me with facts, my mind has been long since made up. Sad, but that's out there..

DFX: To often “Christians” like to get up and spew that it is only the Bible way or the Hell way. And testify like above. When you do that are you not in the same boat as the Islamic Extremists?

--> The Bible way from Rom 2:7 "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he [God] will give eternal life.” The hell way, from v 8: "But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” [Note, this opens up the point that those who penitently and persistently respond to the voice of God in conscience and creation, even if they do not have much light otherwise, God will accept. But, willful rejection of truth and insistence on evil God for excellent reason frowns on. So, by the light we have, where do we stand before him, in the C21 Caribbean?]

--> The inference to immoral equivalency to the likes of a Mr bin Laden is obviously uncalled for and outrageous.

DFX: lets use some logic here today. Lets starts with the Bible. Genesis is a good start . . . . Genesis 1:25-27 So God created Man AFTER the animals . . . . Genesis 2:18-19 Wait a minute.. God created man before the animals? HMMM I wonder which was it? . . . . the Bible seems so contradict itself by the 22nd verse of the 2nd chapter in it’s very first book. Man that is too funny. And yet we have founded a religion on it.

--> Basic reading blunder: the texts do not at all require that there is a chronological contradiction.

DFX: Does poisoning 900 people in a jungle in Guyana after killing a US Senator count [as comparable to the 9/11 attacks on the part of Christians] ?

--> Rev'd Jones was a pseudo-Christian, in fact Marxist, charlatan, who forced his unarmed people to drink poisoned Koolaid at gunpoint, and tried to leave his money tothe USSR and the cause of revolution. Not exactly a Christian.

DFX: My GOD it has a brain after all! [NB: later apologised for] . . . . You are so blinded by you hate and intolerance of other faiths that you failed to figure out that I have been trying not to support or cry down either faith but to say only through understanding can we co-exist.

Chase: Ignore this ‘educated’ clown…we get your point.

--> Ignores what he evidently cannot address on the merits, and resorts to attacks to the man.

Rumpel; By the way, did you know Hitler actually had built a ’star chamber’ designed from readings in the Bible, which he thought would give him strength from God?

--> This is perhaps the most outrageous and subtle. Nazism is probably the only unquestioned instance of gross demonic evil in the West today. So, buy tarring the Bible with the Nazi brush, R seeks to discredit the Christian faith through guilt by association.

--> Observe: no reference is given, no facts are cited on a grave charge indeed. And, if one knows the history one would know that Hitler's worldview was mostly shaped by occult [Blavatsky and her Aryan Man myth] and Social Darwinist forces [ the Master Race and its "right" to wipe out inferiors, etc] A glance at the Barmen declaration will suffice to show that Bible-believing confessing Christians in Germany repudiated Hitler and his deceits officially and publicly as early as 1934, one year after he came to power -- through what is in effect a full creedal statement!
Of course I took time to respond to such remarks, trying to be relatively brief but responsible on points [many of the above points could motivate whole essays of dozens of pages in response].The only serious response was from DFX, who apologised for his "it" remark, and has over the past couple of days tried to reach out with an olive branch. (I of course accepted the apology.)

What troubles me, is the gnawing feeling that many, even most Christians in our region are ill-equipped to answer to such attacks and attitudes. Also, the Islamist radicals and propagandists can relax, as this shows just how divided and unwilling to face unpleasant realities we have become in the Caribbean. The triumph of rhetoric over reason also does not bode well for us.

This underscores the ever-increasing need for the sort of venture proposed in our recent post on the need for a regional Christian Cyber-College. DV, next time, let us further elaborate. END

Monday, April 23, 2007

Matt 6:22 undeceptions, 1: Cho and the difference between endarkenment and enlightenment

W. F. Walker Johanson has made a series of telling points in a current WND article, "Condemn Cho but tolerate Islamists?":
We've all heard the cries of anguish and sorrow from the classmates and parents of those brutally murdered on the Virginia Tech campus Monday. In one brief moment, it was the single-largest mass shooting in America's 230-year history . . . .

The U.S. has had one such event in 230 years, while Iraq has had 230 such events in the past year alone! Doesn't the world mourn for the loss of these thousands of equally innocent victims?

Apparently not. Are Iraqis less important than Americans? Of course not! Does God love them less than he does Americans? Of course not! We are all a part of His family, and we are all equal in the sight of God. So why doesn't the world condemn the murdering Islamo-fascists in Iraq (and elsewhere) like they do this deeply troubled young man from South Korea?

Like him, they are violently angry young men who have planned ahead of time to commit mass murder and suicide. Is this acceptable behavior in a civilized world? If not, then why does the world condemn it in America but seem to tolerate it in Iraq? . . . .

Do [those who call for a precipitate pullout from Iraq] and the mainstream media really think that such daily mass murders will stop occurring once the U.S. pulls out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Thousands of years of world history would indicate otherwise.

The truth is we're the ones trying to stop such massacres, not the ones causing them. At Virginia Tech, the "bad guy" was the murderer, not the police! In Iraq, the "bad guys" are the murderers, not the Coalition forces! . . . .

Why can't the left see these similarities? And why does there only appear to be outrage at the Virginia Tech murderer (and those in Darfur) and not at the thousands of similar murderers in Iraq?

Immediately, this raises serious questions about our tendency to view the world through the media's distorting lenses, voices and texts. This is nothing new -- Plato's famous Cave Parable tells of how an artfully constructred shadow-world can distort our understanding of reality and can lead us to turn on those who find a way to see through the cracks in the apparatus of manipulation, or even get out of the cave enough to get a broader and more accurate view of reality.

Jesus powerfully extends the point Plato made:

MT 6:22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
In short, there is the possibility of false enlightenment -- reality only deceitful en-darkenment. That in turn raises the issue: how can we tell the difference?

Johanson's comment on the inconsistency between how the Cho case and that of the Islamists helps us here: truth is coherent, and morality is coherent too. So, if something does not fit up to the full range of material facts, or if it has in it inconsistencies, that should warn us. Further, we have good reason to believe that truth -- though in places wondrous and full of mystery, is also elegantly simple [as opposed to simplistic]. That is why when Johanson asks "Are Iraqis less important than Americans? Of course not! Does God love them less than he does Americans?" it becomes so tellingly revealing.

For, by and large, there is a telling absence of outrage over Islamist terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere, among the secular elites of the West, and for that matter among many across the world: our silence by now implies intimidation and even in some cases consent. Similarly, observe that the same Muslim world that was up in arms over Danish cartoons -- as was predicted last week -- is now all too revealingly loudly silent on the murder of peaceful Christians in Turkey. (Of course, we must thank God for the comparatively few voices that did speak up from the Muslim world on the matter! But, where are the mass global, headline-grabbing protests and marches over the "hijacking" of Islam to turn it into a motivation for murder? Where, the fatwas that declare "unislamic" such murders of innocents as we saw in Turkey, and for that matter all over Iraq and elsewhere?)

And of course, the same West that is ever so appalled and outraged over thirty-odd deaths of innocents in a campus, is by and large not at all even concerned about the many thousands slaughtered in abortions every day. And so forth, and so on . . .

Broadening the point, Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School raises a deeper, linked issue - in a way that inadvertently reveals his own biases, in coherences and conundrums:
Human rights were supposed to be special. Unlike most international law, which governs the relations of states with each other, international human rights law regulates the internal workings of states--the relationship between a government and its citizens. This gives human rights law a rigidity that is absent from most international law . . . .

The theory is that human rights are universal, and so states have no excuse for committing human rights abuses. The practice, however, has been different. States must worry about their security even when an existential threat is not imminent. If they do not, they lose the support of their citizens or subjects, and thus they risk their own political stability. And states must cater to local religious and cultural values at odds with Western human rights. Accordingly, most states have paid no more than lip service to their human rights commitments. During the Cold War, the U.S. used human rights as a cudgel against the Soviet Union and its satellites, but gave a free pass to friendly dictators.

The end of the Cold War was supposed to change all this. Under American leadership, countries would finally live up to their human rights commitments and international human rights would continue to advance. Several forces have conspired to ruin this pretty picture.

First, genuine disagreement exists about the proper moral ordering of society. Where once it could be thought that totalitarian regimes suppressed people's natural instinct in favor of human rights, it has become clear as electoral democracies have replaced authoritarian regimes, that this is simply not true. People also care about tribal, ethnic, and religious ties; they care about order and security. An Islamic democracy will not necessarily endorse religious pluralism or women's rights; a country with a long history of tribal dispute resolution practices will reject Western-style law enforcement.

The tension between promoting democracy and promoting human rights, when newly enfranchised peoples turn out not to subscribe to the ideals of the Enlightenment, is the dirty secret of the human rights movement . . . As the expanding franchise continues to expose the fissure between the two ideals, human rights advocates are finally going to have to choose between them . . . the idea that the U.S., with or without European support, could impose its conception of human rights on other countries has taken a beating in recent years

Observe carefully the use of terms like "rigidity" and "its conception of human rights," even while Mr Posner highlights inconsistencies, gaps and hypocrises of the past and the present. Somehow, the underlying issue is missed: that a right is a fundamentally moral claim we make on others, not because we are strong enough to back it up with force but because we have a basic dignity as human beings.

In turn, as James points out, such rights are rooted in the duties of fairness, neighbour-love and mercy that God has placed on us, duties that are rooted in the fact that we are all made in God's image:
JAS 2:1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism . . . . JAS 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers . . . . JAS 2:12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
Paul, rebukes the way of the world and calls us to rise above it:
EPH 4:17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

EPH 4:20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul also points out just why concepts of core morality are indeed universal:
Rom 2:14 . . . when Gentiles . . . do by nature things required by the law, they . . . show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them . . .
In short, we should now listen to our awakened consciences and moral sensibilities, for they are a voice from God planted deep in us to turn us from wrong to right, and from darkness to light.

So, let us reason together: if we are properly concerned over the murders last Monday at Virginia Tech, we should be just as concerned about many another slaughter of innocents around the world. The same, for many other ways in which people are oppressed and abused, by the state, by the powerful, by one another. Thus, we should then look at the inconsistencies in our thinking, speaking and living, in order to correct them. That in turn will call for critiquing of popular post-modern secularist-relativist- "progressivist" worldviews and the institutions that promoted such blind inconsistencies, much of which has infiltrated our own thinking as Christians, perhaps even unconsciously..

Finally, that will lead to the plain need to seek repentance and reformation, across the Caribbean, across the North, in the Middle East and across the whole world, as Paul calls for in Eph 4:17 - 24.

For, we all have got a lot of planks in our eyes on this one!

So, it is high time for serious correction of what has led us to such poor moral vision. (In following posts in this new series, DV, I will develop how the Gospel and the Scriptures can greatly help us in fixing our bad eyes . . .) END

PS: DV, I will also be further following up on the cyber college proposal . . . after all, that is part of the way we can help correct the problem.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 17: On two massacres . . . and the civic duty of the protection of the public

Over the past two or so days, we have had saturation coverage, worldwide, on the sad case of the Virginia Tech mass shootings [latest here], but the case of the murder of several staff at a Bible Publishers' in Turkey has not at all been nearly so widely headlined.

Both are sad cases, revealing of the evil that can lurk in our hearts. They also call us to the duty to repent of evil before it gets out of hand, and rise up to build a society based on neighbour-love. For, it is the awesome and terrible power of moral choice that has in it the seeds of both nobility and the sort of horrors that are so rampant in our headlines. Under God, let us choose and do the good and the true.

However, there is also a telling contrast in coverage, which we need to attend to.

For, the contrast is telling on the agendas and spin games that lurk under what appears in our daily headlines and news stories. (BTW, kudos to Jamaica's Gleaner for the link on the Turkey story!)

Putting the wrenching images and emotion stirring rhetorical flourishes to one side, the obvious issue on the Virginia massacre, is how is it that a crazed lone gunman was able to kill so many people? The answer is sadly quite simple: such lunatics seldom target sites where they are likely to encounter armed opposition -- the murder of the defenceless is a part of their sick calculation. (It is possible to be both mad -- utterly irrational -- and bad, calculatedly, even cleverly violent and destructive of innocents.)

Glenn Reynolds has put a very interesting perspective on this:

Virginia Tech graduate student Bradford Wiles . . . has a permit to carry a gun, in Virginia. But on the day of the shootings, he would have been unarmed . . . Virginia Tech bans guns on campus.

In The Roanoke Times last year - after another campus incident, when a dangerous escaped inmate was roaming the campus - Wiles wrote that, when his class was evacuated, "Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness. That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself."

Wiles reported that when he told a professor how he felt, the professor responded that she would have felt safer if he had had a gun, too.

What's more, she would have been safer. That's how I feel about my student (one of a few I know who have gun carry permits), as well. She's a responsible adult; I trust her not to use her gun improperly, and if something bad happened, I'd want her to be armed because I trust her to respond appropriately, making the rest of us safer.

Virginia Tech doesn't have that kind of trust in its students (or its faculty, for that matter). Neither does the University of Tennessee. Both think that by making their campuses "gun-free," they'll make people safer, when in fact they're only disarming the people who follow rules, law-abiding people who are no danger at all.

This merely ensures that the murderers have a free hand. [Emphases added]
A no-brainer. Indeed, there are considerable facts to back up the point. As he goes on to summarise, in case after case, the massacre is stopped once a responsible armed person shows up:
. . . some mass shootings have been stopped by armed citizens. Though press accounts downplayed it, the 2002 shooting at Appalachian Law School was stopped when a student retrieved a gun from his car and confronted the shooter. Likewise, Pearl, Miss., school shooter Luke Woodham was stopped when the school's vice principal took a .45 from his truck and ran to the scene. In February's Utah mall shooting, it was an off-duty police officer who happened to be on the scene and carrying a gun.

Police can't be everywhere, and as incidents from Columbine to Virginia Tech demonstrate, by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late. On the other hand, one group of people is, by definition, always on the scene: the victims. Only if they're armed, they may wind up not being victims at all.

"Gun-free zones" are premised on a fantasy: That murderers will follow rules, and that people like my student, or Bradford Wiles, are a greater danger to those around them than crazed killers like Cho Seung-hui. That's an insult. Sometimes, it's a deadly one.

But, the underlying challenge is, who do we trust, why -- the responsible citizenry, or the state apparatus -- which has consistently shown that "Police can't be everywhere, and . . . by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late." Similarly, had the US long since decided that responsible frequent fliers should be co-opted into the sky marshal corps, it is seriously arguable that the 9/11 hijackings would never even have been attempted, as the risks of failure would then be far greater and incalculable.

So, that brings to the fore the Rom 13:1 - 7 issue that justice through the defence of the innocent is the first duty of the state, and the linked point that in a democratic state, the citizens constitute the base of that protection. I therefore think, it is plainly time to take a leaf out of the book of the Swiss, and recognise that in a world of crazies and terrorists, we have to rethink the business of security in the community.

Further to this, the consistent pattern is that ill-prepared, unarmed victims panicked or froze in the face of an armed crazy or terrorist. So, it is time to train and equip the people all across the world in the basics of civil defence and confronting terrorist-like incidents.

(In short, I am not arguing for a "right" to keep and bear arms or to undergo civil defence training and even basic military training, but a plain duty to do so to protect the community from predators, whether crazed or hateful or simply driven by out of control greed. In the words or the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, 1787, "A well regulated [i.e. well-trained and equipped] Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State . . ." This is what sets the context for the US constitution's declaration that, as a result, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Cf FP's discussion here on the all-too-predictable, and dangerously unworkable reactions from several mainline/liberal religious leaders. It also notes commendable exceptions.)

There is a second issue that lurks, and links the cases.

For, in the case of the murderous attack on a Bible publishers' in Turkey, "
Assailants killed three people yesterday at a publishing house that distributed Bibles, in the latest attack apparently targeting Turkey's small Christian minority . . . . The Zirve publishing house has been the site of previous protests by nationalists accusing it of proselytising in this 99 per cent Muslim but secular country, Dogan news agency reported." SO, let us ask: since when is it that seeing to the needs of the CHristian minority in Turkey and peacefully preaching the gospel, "justifies" murder? [Watch out for the predictable deafening silence and/or attempts to assert moral equivalency or otherwise blame the victims among most Islamic -- not just Islamist -- authorities on the case.]
In the Virginia case, it is noteworthy that not only did Cho make '. . .a snarling, profanity-laced tirade about rich "brats" and their "hedonistic needs" . . . ' but also that he evidently had a red-ink inscription on his body: "Ismail Ax." (NB: "Ismail" is the Islamic variant on the spelling of Ishmael [possibly a mis-spelling, though], and given that the writer is a lit student, perhaps it calculatedly echoes a James Fenimore Cooper story of a certain Ishmael Bush who heads to the prairies -- axe and gun in hand -- to escape civilisation and its hypocrisies. )

That is, we see here a deep-rooted hostility to and murderous resentment against Western culture, its wealth, its people and its historically vital institutions, e.g those of the Christian faith. This should remind us of the shameful incident that in several places in the Caribbean, Caribbean people were celebrating the"success" of the 9/11 hijackers in their mass-murder. In short, even justifiable feelings of outrage over the oppressions of the West can spin into a shocking breakdown in our own behaviour.

So, the major second lesson is that, even as we look at the many sins of the West, we must recognise Jesus' principle of the plank and the dust mote, and so tame resentment before it festers into murderous hate and rage:
MT 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

MT 7:3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
It seems to me that Jesus' solution is the only one that can work.

First, recognise that we are ALL sinful, so by first facing our own sins, we can understand how sin takes root in our lives. Then, when we come to challenge sin in others -- first, on an individual basis -- we can do so in ways that can help, instead of getting into the revenge and escalation trap that only promotes a cycle of ever escalating violence. That way, by mutual repentance and reconciliation, we can turn instead to the road of reformation and positive transformation.

But, injustice and wrongs do not just happen in a personal situation. Indeed, Jesus' example is an economic one. Let's remember, he was a Carpenter, in the days when you didn't pop down tot he hardware shop to get your planks.

In those days, logs were sawed into planks by being put over a pit and using a two-man saw, one on top, one in the pit. The latter person -- almost invariably the junior! -- would naturally get sawdust in his eyes, hampering him in his work. So, Jesus is saying to the man on top: watch out -- while you are crying out about the sawdust in the eye of the junior in the pit, it is you who may well have the log of hypocritical and callous oppression in your own eye. So, first fix the log in your eye, then help your junior with the sawdust in his eye . . .

But of course, in carrying the principle to the community as a whole, we must also heed the whole counsel of God, which includes the Rom 13:1 - 7 teaching that in the community, we have enemies of the civil peace -- both foreign and domestic. Too often, such live by the principle of the lion: all the bleat of the sheep means is that it is now in your power. Crunch, lunch!

So, we see why sheep need shepherds, who like David of old, can help defend them from lions, bears and wolves -- and Goliaths [or even Sauls], too.

Of course, the flock of sheep analogy is not exact, for, the citizens in our communities can be trained, organised, led and equipped to defend themselves from the wolves, whether they come in pain view, or lurk among us in sheep's clothing, or most slick of all -- in shepherds' clothing.

Arguably, the need to do that is the clearest lesson we need to draw from the recent spate of incidents of mass murder in public places. For, as Mr Reynolds said, ""Police can't be everywhere, and . . . by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late." END

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lest we Forget: On the Holocaust memorial pause for silence . . .

The following observation comes from an email on the holocaust memorial day in Jerusalem, Israel:

Flags fly at half mast; all cafes and places of entertainment are closed; only somber music plays on the radio.

On the morning of Yom Hashoah, the country comes to a standstill as the sirens wail marking the only ritualistic aspect of the day. I'm standing beside my car on busy Keren Hayesod Street during the two minute call to attention. It's a moment of solidarity and comfort as the nation joins together in remembrance and resolve.
We must not forget -- for the Holocaust shows the depths of the corruption that can lurk in the human soul. It must not ever be forgotten, and it must not ever happen again.

But equally, some of us have to learn to remember. For, as Ms Balint goes on to note:
In Musrara, on Jerusalem's seam between the eastern and western parts of the city, Israel's schizophrenia is exhibited for all to see. My son who lives in that neighborhood, reports that the Arab commercial area doesn't miss a beat as the Jews bring traffic to a halt just a few yards away . . .
It is time to learn, to remember and to resolve that this must not ever happen again. And, I think it is high time that we rise above whatever grievances and enmities we may have and face the fact of evil and what it can do. Our common humanity demands that much, at least.

May God grant us the grace of remembering, of empathising, sharing grief and moving on with a lesson in heart and mind that was taught at such horrific cost. AMEN

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report 42: A sermon on putting First Things --- first

On the Sunday after Easter 2007, April 15th, I was invited to preach at our family's local church here in Montserrat. The text of the sermon follows. It addresses of course the first things first theme just described.

Perhaps, this sermon can serve as a point of departure for discussing how we can get back to putting first things first. (I certainly do not hold it out as any great exemplar of the very difficult art of the sermon!)




OBJECTIVES: To help build Christian foundations, through focusing on “that which is of first importance” and highlighting the priority of Scripture – vs the culture of “fun”/entertainment/boredom (and, of forgetting God).


INTRODUCTION: This week, someone lent me a Time Magazine, and I glanced at the letters section. I was astonished to see how the Anglican Bishop of Nigeria was being lashed as a “bigot” in several angry letters to the Editor; for simply being faithful to the scriptures and calling sin “sin,” instead of “the way my genes made me” or “a right” or some similar convenient, comfortable lie. And, we just had the Easter weekend, where far too much of the focus all over the Caribbean was on having fun with the double public holiday weekend – too often, not even pausing to think about why this weekend is so important that we have a double holy-day. That set me to thinking on how far the World in which we live has moved down the road of forgetting God, his word and first things, even as we want to live by the TV idea: “all-fun, all the time. “

H'mm: are the addition facts and multiplication tables “fun”? Are they important? Would an all-chocolate diet be healthy? (Plainly, a dash of common sense thinking lets us see that “Is it fun?” is not a good way to tell if something is important, or necessary, or right, or in balance!)

So, let's take a closer look . . . at putting first things first:

1] Focus text:

Let's look at what is truly “of first importance”:

1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . . 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Right away, we see the core message of the gospel: Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose as victor over sin, death and the Grave – he is our Lord and Saviour. Also, he was seen, by over 500 witnesses – witnesses who knew what they had seen, and who could not be silenced by threats, courts, rulers, whips, stones, fire, swords, lions and all the most horrible tortures devil-inspired men could dream up. That is why we have a church today, and that is why we have an Easter Weekend. And, since “by this gospel [we] are saved,” it is indeed of first importance – more important than even addition facts, multiplication tables and balanced diets – that each of us repents of his or her sins, surrenders to him, and personally and individually receives him as our Lord and Saviour! [That's why the gospel is preached from this pulpit so often – it is “of first importance.”]

But, there is another part to this passage . . .

2] “According to the Scriptures . . .”

Why did Paul write this twice, in v. 3 and v 4?

Isaiah 53 – written over 700 years before the first Easter weekend ever -- will show us a key part of the reason:

ISA 53:1 Who has believed our message

and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? . .. .

ISA 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

ISA 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all . . . .

ISA 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

And who can speak of his descendants?

For he was cut off from the land of the living;

for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

ISA 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

and with the rich in his death,

though he had done no violence,

nor was any deceit in his mouth.

ISA 53:10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,

and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,

he will see his offspring and prolong his days,

and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

ISA 53:11 After the suffering of his soul,

he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

and he will bear their iniquities.

In other words, over seven hundred years before that first Easter Weekend, God had revealed what would happen to Jesus, in detail: nasty lies, dangerous political games, unjust trials, death, burial, resurrection – and how he would be the one who would bear our sins and carry our sorrows, and through whose stripes we can be healed. This tells us vital things about God our Saviour and the written Word of God – the Holy Bible, things it is easy to forget( things that a lot of people want us to forget):

ISA 43:9 . . . All the nations gather together

and the peoples assemble.

Which of them foretold this

and proclaimed to us the former things?

Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,

so that others may hear and say, "It is true."

ISA 43:10 "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD,

"and my servant whom I have chosen,

so that you may know and believe me

and understand that I am he.

Before me no god was formed,

nor will there be one after me.

ISA 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.

ISA 43:12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed--

I, and not some foreign god among you.

You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God.

ISA 43:13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.

No one can deliver out of my hand.

When I act, who can reverse it?"

In short, when all is said and done, only the True God -- our Lord, Saviour and Creator -- has the power to control and so predict the future. And, he has given testimony of that future ahead of time though his prophets so we may know that we are dealing with the real God – and his real prophets and Scriptures! [BTW, in Matt 24 Jesus foretold just the sort of world situation we now face as a sign of the approaching End of Days, and Paul in Rom 1 analysed how nations that forget God think they are wise even as they become fools and lose control of their passions to the point where they forget even the basic difference between right and wrong; but, DV, that is for another sermon, another day. ]

CONCLUSION: Today, our focus is like a laser beam: first things come first, and God has given us his testimony 700 years ahead of time so we can know the truth for ourselves: Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose as victor over sin, death and the Grave – he is our Lord and Saviour. And, all of this, “according to the scriptures.” So, it is of first importance that we thirst for, pay attention, listen to and heed those scriptures and receive him as Lord and Saviour. For, First Things must come . . .FIRST.

--> Have we “paid attention” to the Gospel and to the Word of God it proclaims – treating it as of First Importance?

--> Or, are we like the hard path in Jesus' parable of the sower [in Luke 8] – the seed could not even get in, and the birds come along and snatch it away . . .?

--> Or, are we shallow – just looking for an emotional lift [but at the first sin of pain we will dry up . . .]?

--> Or, distracted with many things of the world – things that are going to end up at Jack Boy Hill [the local rubbish dump] anyway?

Instead, today, while we hear his voice in his Word and stirring in our hearts – let us even now obey the Gospel and the Scriptures, turning from sin and self to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and to following him as disciples – students. So, now, let us humble ourselves and seek his face in prayer . . . AMEN

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 41: Foundations First -- the Gospel-based Word of God

In proposing a cyber-college as a means to support the church in its enduring mission/mandate in and from the Caribbean, we first emphasised: "Consolidating Life-foundations and associated Commitments" as the first of three main foci for teaching and training.

In part, that is triggered by the observation that all too many Christians in the region don't even understand clearly and biblically, basic vocabulary -- repentance, faith, prayer, praise, etc.

But also, it is driven by a disturbing observation that not only among the youth but also among long-standing believers and even among leaders at all levels, there is far too often a major gap between generic profession of Christian faith and having lives that are in fact deeply and transformingly shaped by core Biblical teaching.

So, as Jesus warns us in Matt 7, if we are to try to make a difference among the general public [helping them with the sawdust in their eyes, so to speak], we have got to first fix the planks in our own eyes. Otherwise we will simply play the old, sad, failed game of hypocrisy -- do as I say, not as I do.

I find, in particular, that we too often lack even a basic grounding in the core gospel facts and message -- the words of the beginnings of Christ, as Heb 6:1 describes. So, let us now examine the remarks in Paul's AD 55 1 Corinthians 15:
1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word . . . preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . . 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
This testimony of the core 500+ eyewitnesses of the church dates from the 30's AD, and emphasises not only the facts that they saw for themselves, but also that this was predicted in the prophets [Acts 8:26 on shows the principal of these, the 700+ BC Isaiah 53], and so also raises from Isaiah 43, the point that in the scriptures speaks the voice of the God who controls -- and so can predict -- history, centuries in advance. (DV, let's explore that in more details "next time.")

Immediately, the Word of that God who is Lord of History and our loving Saviour -- he who sent his Son, who in obedience came [Phil 2:5 - 11], descending and dying for our sins, rising as Lord and ascending to His Father, pouring out his Spirit on those who repent and receive him, sending out the church as his body the fulness of him who fills everything in every way [Eph 1, 4] -- should be our guide and rule of life. But, far too often, it simply is not.

How many times do we fall under James' rebuke, instead:
JAS 1:16 Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

JAS 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

JAS 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.
So, we plainly need grounding in the gospel and in the Scripture Principle:
It is through repentantly trusting God and obediently taking him at his word, that we can access eternal life, and spiritual power , and so grow in the good works God has laid out in advance for us to do.
Isn't it plain from Genesis 1 - 3 on that disobedience based on losing respect and trust for God, that got us into trouble from the beginning? And, isn't distracting us from the Word of God and leading us into deception and disobedience instead Satan's main tactic from Eden to today? Have we not been clearly and plainly warned on the results, e.g in Romans 1 as it points out how when men profess to be wise but in ingratitude turn their backs on God, they become fools who lose control of their minds and passions? [Is it any coincidence that it is exactly the substitution of misleading images made to look like men, birds, beasts, reptiles, the twisting of sexuality into weird shapes, and the rise of violence that we see ever so clearly marking our own civilisation today?]

Instead, let us repent and heed Paul's counsel to Timothy:
2TI 3:12 . . . everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2TI 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
It seems to me, such a time is upon us in Western Civilisation, in the Caribbean and far beyond. Paul's further counsel to Titus is also apt:
TIT 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good . . . . TIT 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

TIT 3:3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Plainly, the very first topic on the syllabus of any college for disciples in our region must be foundational instruction. For, again, we may read on :
HEB 6:1 . . . the elementary teachings about Christ . . . the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Should we not therefore -- like the writer to the Hebrews invited (and exemplified, cf. Heb chs 1 - 5) -- first review these, then move on to the things of maturity:
HEB 5:11 We have much to say . . . but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil . . .
It is time -- by God's grace -- for making sure of our foundations, then building on them. END

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report, 40: How a cyber college campus can help transform the Caribbean Church's capacity

I believe that a well-implemented cyber college campus supporting local micro-campus centres in a regional network, can materially help to transform the Caribbean church's capacity to lead in community transformation, regionally and internationally.

1] We have thousands of church facilities scattered all across the region, in every community of significance, and a long history of positive, indeed often foundational, contribution to education.

2] With a generation of wider access to tertiary education now being under our belts, we have a substantial pool of potential tutors, lecturers and developers for courses.

3] The rise of low cost high bandwidth access to the Internet allows for rapid multimedia communication, not just of text, image, voice and video, but also for low-cost acceptable grade teleconferencing. [Indeed, UWI's distance education system has more and more migrated to the Web in recent years.]

4] More and more, we need to be informed, articulate, winsome and effective, and are facing a world in which the Christian faith is under pressure from aggressive de-Christianisation and Islamisation.

5] A the same time, we have time-tested, powerful answers that can help rebuild the rapidly disintegrating moral, cultural and intellectual foundations of Western culture, of which we are a part.

6] The Caribbean is in desperate need for clear-sighted, high-integrity, effective community based leadership and service, if it is to find a path to truly sustainable development: "Except the Lord builds . . ."

7] Precisely because the Caribbean is the world's first cosmopolitan region, and one in which the gospel played a key role in liberation from oppression and empowerment, we have credibility and a message that can make a big and much needed difference to the world at large.
In short, there is a major opportunity. As we have discussed previously, the fulness vision theme of Eph 1, 4 and the associated operational form of the church's mandate provides motivation enough, if we will listen. For, Christ came, descending and ascending "in order to fill all things," working through the leaders and members of the Church, "his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way." As to means, we have or have access to more than enough people and physical and financial as well as spiritual resources to make such an initiative succeed, if we are willing.

Overarching programme goals can be fairly easily and simply summarised, in light of the biblical framework and our evident needs:

Level I -- Consolidating Life-foundations and associated Commitments: helping people work through the basic issues, challenges, decisions, changes, healings and liberations, learning, perspectives, commitments, relationships, attitudes, skills and habits involved in taking up one's cross and following Jesus. [Matt 16:24 - 27.]

Level II -- Basic Service and Leadership, as the focus gradually shifts to basic ministry/service processes and skills, training can stress the church's mission, our part in it, handling of issues agendas and challenges, and basic leadership and ministry in dyad (one-to-one) and in the small groups oriented to outreach, nurture or specific ministry areas (such as drama or social welfare).

Level III -- Community Service and Leadership. The third phase stresses specific gifts, knowledge and skills for lifetime service and leadership in the family, church, workplace, community, region and world, as we work to fill each of its aspects with Christ. This last phase therefore prepares disciples for proactive, prophetic community, cultural, intellectual and institutional service and leadership under Christ. And, once the cross-cultural aspect is added, we will mobilise the whole church for global missions.

So, we would be looking at in the first instance, fairly general discipleship and life issues/challenges training and empowerment, at an age and life-stage appropriate level. [Much of this would be similar in level to what is often called continuing education, and would help transform what happens in Sunday schools and youth fellowships or the like..] The second is at a similar level, but bridges up to to what would be considered Associate Degree level training in many community colleges. The third bridges from that level, all the way up to graduate and professional level studies and skills. because of the nature of the subject matter and skills, mentoring support will be essential as well, thus the need to link network supported information with interpersonal interaction in a community of learning and growth.

In addition, given the vast pool of general needs and hunger for progress, well-chosen general programmes and courses in second chance secondary education, managerial skills, project management, entrepreneurship and business management, agriculture, financial management, education, degree completion and the like will find a ready market. The hosting or franchising of good quality masters programmes would also be attractive to many.

But, how could such a cyber college be created?
a] Recognise that on our TVs, in our DVD rental shops, in our libraries, in our bookstores and magazine stands, in our streets, on our computer screens, in our newspapers, in political meetings, in our offices, in our schools and on our college and university campuses -- and indeed in our churches -- an informal cyber college is already in full bloom, serving the cause of de-Christianisation. A second one is being created as we speak, serving the cause of islamisation. In short, we must recognise that we are now playing catch-up.

b] So, we cannot afford to play delay games and further put off decisions. Time is not on our side.

c] Find a critical mass of people, content and leadership who see the need, are open to the vision and are willing to invest in and work towards it. [This post is in part an exercise to that end. Why not follow up to the Fulness Focus reference site and contact us?]

d] Create or adapt content to address the themes, levels and issues as outlined, using powerful, easily available multimedia and web technologies. By slotting into a framework as above, we can see how we can build up a comprehensive programme across time that really covers the bases. [This blog and associated reference web site are full of suitable content, and there is much moire out there across the internet and in the minds and hearts of many people all across the world. We do not want for "techie" talent, tutors and profs!]

e] One way to do this is to host targetted seminars or camps or conferences on key issues, filming, doing multimedia presentations etc, then transforming the results into a well-packaged cybercourse on a key theme with a proven ability to hold an audience. Such a course can easily be reduced to a set of DVDs and associated print materials etc that can be circulated as local course resources.

f] Then, say there is a church with a room suitable to turn into a mini seminar room, one with 6 - 12 PCs around the perimeter, a modular conference table in the middle, and arrangements for multimedia projection to the front. [Durable multimedia projectors of good performance can now be had for less than US$ 1,000. Excellent laptops go for the same sort of price range. Credible desktops are down to US$ 400 or in some cases less. Indeed, there is a serious "US$ 100 laptops for students in the third world" movement. (Cf. here, here, here, here and here.) Electronics and quite good multimedia equipment and software are now in general "throwaway cheap." It is more and more worth taking a look at Linux and open software, e.g the UBUNTU initiative.]

g] Toss in a broadband Internet connection. Bring on a local tutor and a techie or two. Use existing administrative talent and facilities. Mix in a class of interested students, and a course web site with an online forum and place for assignments etc, maybe using blog technologies much like this blog or many others do [Blogs allow for easy publishing to the internet for non-techies. You can be set up and publishing away in fifteen minutes or less . . . and as this series shows, a course can be presented online using such a blog fairly easily].

h] Presto: we have a mini-campus centre.

i] We can therefore create a network of integrated micro-campus centres across the region [and beyond it . . .], and tie these in with the existing network of Seminaries, Christian colleges and schools. [With the number of Christians working as educators, we do not want for academic talent and technical education support.]
So, what is holding this back?

Sadly: Us, in one word. And, time is not on our side.

So, again -- and, I daresay, in the name of our God: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blog Visits, 8: On Thermodynamics and origin of life etc

Over the past couple of years, I have visited with various blogs for a time, to examine and discuss important issues. Partly, to understand the dynamics and signs of our times, and also to test out my analysis of how issues are being addressed -- especially in the lands subjected to the wave of de-Christianising forces from the North..

Currently, I have been visiting over at the Uncommon Descent blog of Prof William Dembski for a time, and as I have been winding down my visit there, I have been discussing on the issue of thermodynamics and the origin of life.

One of the commenters, Pixie, has asked me to continue this discussion there, here. This thread, DV, is designed to accommodate this request.

The core issue posed by Sewell, is on the reasonableness of open systems spontaneously acquiring the complex specified information that is characteristic of the systems of life. Pixie takes the view that open systems are not subject to any particular constraints on the acquiring of such information, and I have held that there is a major probabilistic hurdle connected to the second law of thermodynamics in its statistical form; namely, that what Nash called the predominant configuration, a cluster of microstates in the close neighbourhood of equilibrium.

I have also pointed to the point that from the first example of thermodynamics:
Isol System:
| | (A, at Thot) --> d'Q, heat --> (B, at T cold) | |
. . . we can see that the closed systems within it [open only to energy transfer], that injection of raw random energy normally increases entropy. To avert this, we need to instead have a heat engine (or more broadly an energy converter):
| | (A, heat source: Th): d'Qi --> (B', heat engine, Te): -->
d'W [work done on say D] + d'Qo --> (C, sink at Tc) | |
So, by exporting enough waste heat and coupling the rest into work, the B now can import energy without necessarily increasing its entropy. indeed, suitably programmed work can decrease its entropy. In some cases such heat engines form naturally [e.g. a hurricane] but in cases where the engines exhibit functionally specific, complex information [I revert to my favoured abbreviation and terminology here: FSCI], where we observe the origin directly, they are always the product of intelligent agents. Thence, the debates on FSCI and its origins, especially in life systems. A vat thought experiment has played a major role inthe last part of the discussion at UD, and will probably resurface here.

As background, I think onlookers will probably need to read:
1] The thread at UD, along with Dr Sewell's linked works [UPDATE, Apr 13: Cf his discussions here, here, and here] Excerpting the first of these, Dr Sewell's essential argument is:

The second law is all about probability, it uses probability at the microscopic level to predict macroscopic change: the reason carbon distributes itself more and more uniformly in an insulated solid is, that is what the laws of probability predict when diffusion alone is operative. The reason natural forces may turn a spaceship, or a TV set, or a computer into a pile of rubble but not vice-versa is also probability: of all the possible arrangements atoms could take, only a very small percentage could fly to the moon and back, or receive pictures and sound from the other side of the Earth, or add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers with high accuracy. The second law of thermodynamics is the reason that computers will degenerate into scrap metal over time, and, in the absence of intelligence, the reverse process will not occur; and it is also the reason that animals, when they die, decay into simple organic and inorganic compounds, and, in the absence of intelligence, the reverse process will not occur.
The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection -- like other natural forces -- can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains, with human consciousness. Only the layman seems to see the problem with this logic. In a recent Mathematical Intelligencer article ["A Mathematician's View of Evolution," The Mathematical Intelligencer 22, number 4, 5-7, 2000] I asserted that the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of Nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way.1 . . . .

What happens in a closed system depends on the initial conditions; what happens in an open system depends on the boundary conditions as well. As I wrote in "Can ANYTHING Happen in an Open System?", "order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door.... If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth's atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here . . . But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here." Evolution is a movie running backward, that is what makes it special.

THE EVOLUTIONIST, therefore, cannot avoid the question of probability by saying that anything can happen in an open system, he is finally forced to argue that it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn't, that atoms would rearrange themselves into spaceships and computers and TV sets . . .

[NB: Emphases added. They show, too, that Dr Sewell has in mind an objection to the evolutionary materialistic concept that chance and natural regularities acting on random initial conditions, will lead to t e spontaneous emergence of functionally specific, complex information-based systems -- more or less, from hydrogen to humans. That objection is based on the issue that a sufficiently rare microstate is probabilistically isolated to searches that are not intelligently directed, on any reasonable scope of probabilistic resources in the gamut of the observed universe. His last phrase reasonable infers to the currently popular assertion of a quasi-infinite array of sub-universes such that the speculative rise in probabilistic resources swamps the configuration states issue. As I discuss in my online note, that is of course both an admission of the cogency of hte probability argument and a resort to speculative metaphysics as opposed to science. Such a resort is open to the reply that on a comparative difficulties basis, on pain of worldviews level question-begging, one is here subject to the stricture of comparative difficulties. On that basis, inference to agency is at least as credible on the face of it as that to an unobserved vastly larger cosmos as a whole. So suppression of such a discussion is questionable.]

2] My online note on Information, Design, Science and Creation, especially the appendix on thermodynamics. [BTW, part of why I am engaging in this dialogue is that I intend to use the result to update this note a bit.]

3] This note has in it a significant number of onward links that will give wider background information that should also be followed up.

4] The three online chapters of Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen's The Mystery of Life's Origin. Bradley's ASA peer-reviewed paper here will be a good follow up, though the scan is in need of a major clean-up.

5] If you can get it, a glance at Robertson's Statistical Thermophysics will also be helpful. [Fair warning: this is an advanced textbook.]

6] The online excerpt from Brillouin here on the "negentropy" link between thermodynamics and information theory will also be nice. I excerpt and discuss it here.

7] Some of course may need to go look up further on basic thermodynamics. Standard textbooks and online resources may help, but take fair warning that sometimes there is an agenda in even the most "neutral" of sources. Keep your worldviews analysis cap on.
As a note, commenters should realise that I recently had to impose a moderation policy in this blog due to abusive commentary. So, the pace will be a bit slow -- I have to personally approve comments before they appear. That usually means, when I am on insomnia patrol, maybe 3 - 5 am local time here in Montserrat. But, unless a comment is abusive, I will put it up -- within [generous] reason on length.
Okay, I trust this will be helpful. END

ADDENDUM, April 14:
Here is the thought experiment being discussed, from comments 42, 43 at the Specified Complexity thread at UD. The experiment responds to the challenge that the isolation of a clumping and a configuring decrement in entropy on making say a protein do not make thermodynamic sense. I have used dSclump to conform to how the onward discussion developed, cf. point j below:


a] Consider the assembly of a Jumbo jet, which plainly requires intelligently designed, physical work in all actual observed cases. That is, orderly motions were impressed by forces on selected, sorted parts, in accordance with a complex specification. (I have already contrasted the case of a tornado in a junkyard that it is logically and physically possible can do the same, but the functional macrostate is so rare relative to non functional ones that random search strategies are maximally unlikely to access it, i.e. we see here 2nd LOT at work.]

b] Now, let us shrink the example, to a nano-jet so small that the parts are susceptible to brownian motion, i.e they are of sub-micron scale and act as large molecules, say a million of them, some the same, some different etc. In-principle possible. Do so also for a car a boat and a submarine, etc.

c] In several vats of a convenient fluid, decant examples of the differing nanotechnologies, so that the particles can then move about at random.

d] In the control vat, we simply leave nature to its course. Will a car, a boat a sub or a jet , etc, or some novel nanotech emerge at random? [Here, we imagine the parts can cling to each other if they get close enough, in some unspecified way, similar to molecular bonding; but that the clinging is not strong enough for them to clump and precipitate.] ANS: Logically and physically possible but the equilibrium state will on stat thermodynamics grounds overwhelmingly dominate — high disorder.

e] Now, pour in a cooperative army of nanobots into one vat, capable of recognising jet parts and clumping them together haphazardly. [This is of course, work, and it replicates bonding at random. We see here dSclump] After a time, will we be likely to get a flyable nano jet?

f] In this vat, call out the random cluster nanobots, and send in the jet assembler nanobots. These recognise the parts, and rearrange them to form a jet, doing configuration work. A flyable jet results — a macrostate with a much smaller statistical weight of microstates, probably of order ones to tens or perhaps hundreds. [We see here separated dSconfig.]

g] In another vat we put in an army of clumping and assembling nanobots, so we go straight to making a jet based on the algorithms that control the nanobots. Since entropy is a state function, we see here that direct assembly is equivalent to clumping and then reassembling from random “macromolecule” to configured functional one.” That is:

dS tot = dSclump + dS config.

h] Now, let us go back to the vat. For a large cluster of vats, we use direct assembly nanobots, but in each case we let the control programs vary at random – say hit them with noise bits generated by a process tied to a zener noise source. We put the resulting products in competition with the original ones,and if there is an improvement, we allow replacement. Iterate. Given the complexity of he relevant software, will we be likely to for instance come up with a hyperspace-capable spacecraft or some other sophisticated and un- anticipated technology? Justify your answer on probabilistic grounds. My prediction: we will have to wait longer than the universe exists to get a change that requires information generation on the scale of 500 – 1000 or more bits. [See the info-generation issue over macroevolution by RM + NS?]

I] Try again, this time to get to the initial assembly program by chance . . .See the abiogenesis issue?

j] In the actual case, we have cells that use sophisticated machinery to assemble the working macromolecules, direct them to where they should go, and put them to work in a self-replicating, self-maintaining automaton. Clumping work [if you prefer that to TBO’s term chemical work, fine], and configuring workl can be identified and applied to the shift in entropy through the s = k ln w equation. This, through Brillouin, TBO link to information, citing as well Yockey-Wicken’s work at the time and their similar definition of information. [As you know I have pointed to Robertson on why this link makes sense — and BTW, it also shows why energy converters that use additional knowledge can couple energy in ways that go beyond the Carnot efficiency limit for heat engines.]

In short, the basic point made by TBO in Chs 7 - 8 is plainly sound. The rest of their argument follows . . .