Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Intelligent Design Theory Revealed

With the Dover, PA case, Intelligent Design (ID) theory is in the news. A local school board tried to legislate (the operative word is "legislate") that science teachers read a disclaimer to students that evolution is not universally accepted and that ID theory offers an alternative scientific perspective. Eventually the school board was voted out. But what is the real issue at hand here? On the one hand, knee-jerk reactions from staunch evolutionists were that this was a back-door attempt to introduce religion and "creationism" into the classroom. On the other hand, the appalling response from conservative Christian Pat Robertson was that Dover, Pennsylvanians should not bother calling on God should a future disaster come their way since they denied Him with their vote! Really now, why do extremist views get all the press?

First of all, ID theory is not a new brand of creation science. Anyone who understands the debate knows this. Creation science is based on a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis and tries to support a young earth, a worldwide flood, and a literal six-day creation timeframe among other things. ID theorists don't support these assertions at all. Authentic ID theorists and the related and growing critics of evolution are not presupposing a literal reading of the Bible, but rather are simply pointing out the real problems with neo-Darwinism and specifically the mechanism that drives evolutionary theory--random mutations and natural selection. Yea, but aren't they closet fundamentalists pushing their agenda through a new means? Hardly. A case in point is David Berlinski, avowed agnostic, and one of Darwinism's harshest critics, who debates along side ID theorists against macro-evolution (check link in title).

Second, the Dover school board probably did include Christians who wanted to use ID theory to fight evolution. Their mistake, I believe, was trying to legislate rather than encourage science teachers who choose, to bring the scientific literature that critiques Darwinism into the classroom. There is real discrimination to those who attempt this (one teacher in Bellingham, WA did this a few years ago and got the boot).

Finally, who does Pat Robertson think he is? Those who voted against the school board aren't necessarily against ID theory, but perhaps against legislating its promotion. Others probably are not well informed about it with all the hype and half-truths out there. And even if they are well informed, what happened to the grace of God?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Caring for the Poor and Fighting Poverty

I'm ashamed I haven't given to the Pakistani earthquake relief effort yet. I could use the excuse that I was recently layed off from my job, but that doesn't cut it. They estimate 2.5 million people are homeless out in the open cold weather as winter approaches. The least I could do is give a few bucks out of my savings or forego a few meals and donate the saved cost. Caring for the poor often takes sacrifice.

Relief efforts are usually what people focus on when they think of helping the poor. More importantly is the long-term work of development that helps people overcome poverty and could make an earthquake such as Pakistan less devestating. This ongoing fighting poverty can be in the form of a variety of self-help programs such as the provison of microenterprise loans that enable the enterprising poor to run succesful businesses or agricultural inputs to improve food production.

Pedro Alonso, a Spaniard working in Mozambique, is a malaria fighter (Time, 11/7, page 88). He is working on a malaria vaccine for children with the help of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which was started by the Gates Foundation (Malaria is a bigger killer than AIDS in Africa and efforts to fight it are often overlooked). Yours and mine two cents or occaissional $100 bucks to fight poverty all helps the cause but don't ignore the great contributions of affluent philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates. People fault the rich for being rich but when they let their hearts guide them rather than greed they can do enormous good. While working at World Vision as a grant writer I saw both indivdual philanthropists and corporations give millions of dollars. Capitalism mixed with compassion cares for the poor and fights to overcome poverty.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A New Reformation

Christianity needs another reformation. It’s been almost 500 years since Luther tacked his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg cathedral that drew attention to the corrupt and misguided practices of the Catholic church. The Protestant movement produced great reforms including freely-translated scriptures, the end of the practice of indulgences, marriage for Christian leaders, and many others. Although Catholicism has had some positive changes in recent years it still needs radical change (e.g. optional marriage for priests and nuns) since it never had its own reformation. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity are steeped in beliefs and practices that I believe are in dire need of reform. What reforms are necessary? Here are six important ones:

1. Honorable Interpretation of Scriptures – Very few Pastors and Leaders teach people how to study the Bible honorably. Verses are commonly taken out of context, sound historical and cultural considerations are rarely taught, original language is usually ignored, and there is widespread confusion about what literalism really means. Conservatives practice what I call “selective literalism”, in which someone selects a verse that supports their view and says, “The Bible says…” while ignoring the full context of the passage, linguistic, historical, and cultural facts, translation alternatives, and other verses in the Bible that bring clarity. Also, albeit a small percentage, there are a number of key mistranslations of words or passages in the majority of English Bibles.

2. Limits to the Authority of the Bible – Far too often, the OT is casually quoted as if it has equal authority with Christ and His new convenant. Inerrancy defenders have never adequately explained the obvious discrepancies in many Biblical passages (claiming the original documents were inerrant just reinforces that we don't have an inerrant Bible in our hands). Advice from Paul to the early church, 2000 years removed from our modern context, is blindly accepted as law for believers today.

3. Freedom in Christian Behavior – So much Christian teaching ignores the established fact that believers in Christ are “released from the Law” (Romans chapters one thru 10) and in fact, released from a Law-based approach to God. Nevertheless, performance-oriented Christianity is rampant. Believers are told a host of commands that are either derived from the OT law that they aren’t under (e.g. tithe 10 percent to the church and attend church weekly), concocted from a law-based reading of the NT (e.g. establish a daily prayer time and regular “witness”, don’t allow women in leadership), or created from traditional non-biblical teaching (e.g. do not drink, dance, go to certain movies, engage in singles sexuality, etc.)

4. Ensuring Love is Fulfillment of the Law – Rather than making Christ’s and Paul’s command to make love for God and love for neighbor the guiding principle for Christian behavior, churches have made adherance to a set of both written and unwritten laws and a traditional non-biblical definition of holiness the standard.

5. Refutation of Dangerous and/or Misguided Teaching – The church has done well refuting cults but failed in its refutation and denouncement of cultic-like (at worst) and misinformed (at best) teaching such as the seven-year tribulation belief (Left Behind), non-scientific origins teaching (Creationism), condemnation of homosexuals, and extreme anti-abortion teaching.

6. Reform of Sexual Mores – The church adheres to a sexual standard based on tradition more than the Biblical record. Behaviors such as masturbation, singles sexuality, nudity, and certain sexual practices are condemned by inference not direct Biblical admonitions (e.g. the word translated ‘fornication’ or ‘sexual immorality’ is from the Greek word ‘porneia’ which historically didn’t include all sex before marriage or masturbation). Church moralists ignore the obvious Biblical acceptance of polygamy, concubinage, sex with servants, certain forms of prostitution, the erotic literature of Solomon, the property-related context of the Jewish view of adultery, and the practice of heterosexual and homosexual shrine prostitution (false worship to false gods) when interpreting right sexual mores for today.