Friday, December 29, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 report, no 14: Biblical religion, family life and social stability

It is quite common today to see denigration of the biblical faith, as an enemy of liberty and as a source of discord and damage in the community.

The linked Heritage Foundation study, "Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability," should help us set the record straight.


Over the past decade, considerable research has emerged that demonstrates the benefits of religious practice within society.[1] Religious practice [in context, largely in the Judaeo-Christian, biblical framework] promotes the well-being of individuals, families, and the community.
Of particular note are the studies that indicate the benefits of religion to the poor.[2] Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages, and well-behaved children. The practice of religion also leads to a reduction in the incidence of domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse, and addiction. In addition, religious practice leads to an increase in physical and mental health, longevity, and education attainment. Moreover, these effects are intergenerational, as grandparents and parents pass on the benefits to the next generations . . . .
Strong and repeated evidence indicates that the regular practice of religion has beneficial effects in nearly every aspect of social concern and policy. This evidence shows that religious practice protects against social disorder and dysfunction.
Specifically, the available data clearly indicate that religious belief and practice are associated with:
  • Higher levels of marital happiness and stability;
  • Stronger parent–child relationships;
  • Greater educational aspirations and attainment, especially among the poor;
  • Higher levels of good work habits;
  • Greater longevity and physical health;
  • Higher levels of well-being and happiness;
  • Higher recovery rates from addictions to alcohol or drugs;
  • Higher levels of self-control, self-esteem, and coping skills;
  • Higher rates of charitable donations and volunteering; and
  • Higher levels of community cohesion and social support for those in need.
The evidence further demonstrates that religious belief and practice are also associated with:
  • Lower divorce rates:
  • Lower cohabitation rates;
  • Lower rates of out-of-wedlock births;
  • Lower levels of teen sexual activity;
  • Less abuse of alcohol and drugs;
  • Lower rates of suicide, depression, and suicide ideation;
  • Lower levels of many infectious diseases;
  • Less juvenile crime;
  • Less violent crime; and
  • Less domestic violence.
No other dimension of life in America—with the exception of stable marriages and families, which in turn are strongly tied to religious practice—does more to promote the well-being and soundness of the nation’s civil society than citizens’ religious observance. As George Washington asserted, the success of the Republic depends on the practice of religion by its citizens. These findings from 21st century social science support his observation . . . .

PLEASE read it all!

Refreshing . . .

Much food for thought. END

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 13: Media spin, scapegoating and hostility boil over in the Independent for Christmas

Several days ago, I learned of a December 16th article "America's Religious Right: God's own country," in the Independent, by a certain Mr Robert Lanham.

(NB: Relevant claim to fame: he has written the book, The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right, which title itself already contains a slanderous innuendo -- the true biblical view is that ALL of us are fallible, fallen, morally struggling sinners; so the real spiritual and moral issue is penitence and persistence in the struggle to do good, as Rom 2:5 - 16 discusses in detail. Indeed, it is worth excerpting this text: Rom 2:6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger . . . 11 For God does not show favoritism . . . [This excerpt also answers to the implication in the article that God's wrath against those who insistently reject the truth and pursue evil [especially in the teeth of his gracious, loving offer of a Saviour -- Cf. Jn 3:16] is somehow unjust and hateful.] )

The Independent article -- sadly (but unsurprisingly, given the just above) -- opens on a denunciatory note:

They hate gays and abortion, and love George W Bush. They worship in churches the size of shopping malls, and dominate the nation's - and the world's - political agenda. But is the Christian backlash finally starting against America's religious right? . . .

It goes downhill from there (actually at one point insinuating that Evangelicals on a prayer vigil are too infantile to control their bladders!); never pausing to actually seriously address the many major issues it mentions in passing on the merits. Instead, it consistently asserts or assumes that radical secularist pat answers -- on a long shopping list: Abortion, homosexuality (with Mr Haggard “starring” in the article and featuring so-called same-sex marriage as a major theme), embryo-destructive stem cell research, who is "compassionate," "charitable" and "caring," Global Warming, Darwinism and evolutionary materialism, the Laffer Curve and the supply side vs dismissals of "trickle-down economics" vs monetarism and the new classical economics, the war on Christmas [of which the timing of the article is a telling example!] etc, etc -- are all beyond rational dispute.

The aim of the article is right there in the lead: to warn the British reader about the global threat of American "theocracy": [t]hey . . . dominate the nation's - and the world's - political agenda. (Subtext: Evangelicals, all around the world, are a dangerous, irrational, potentially violent threat to liberty and progress -- including in Britain [where the beleaguered Mr Blair is also an Evangelical].)

Sadly, most British readers probably don't know enough of the true facts, the context and the other side of the story to see that we are hearing here a very shrill, hostile presentation of one side of a very complex story. One that deserves to be heard, duly balancing Peter Hocken's the glory and the shame.

The contrast of the above to Mary Eberstadt in her "The Scapegoats Among Us," could hardly be more plain:

One way to begin is to survey the main intellectual and political currents since 9/11, which investigation yields a fact both unexpected and significant. As it turns out, a flight from political reality has indeed been underway on both the left and the right in America in the years since that event, as well as accelerating into more advanced forms in much of Europe. To switch metaphors, in the wake of the 9/11 attack -- and later, related Islamist attacks on civilians, most notably in Spain and Britain -- many Western observers have responded not by absorbing what we now know to be true about our world, but rather by transposing those brute facts into other, safer, more familiar keys . . . .
One result of that transposition, the record shows, has been the creation of a world of political scapegoats . . . These scapegoats, perverse non-explanations for what really ails us, can be identified by features common to the breed everywhere: The passion invested in them by their antagonists is disproportionate to any real problem the scapegoat represents; they are invoked to explain more about the world than they do; they capture some part of the truth, i.e., have a degree of verisimilitude without which a scapegoat cannot exist; and -- also like scapegoats everywhere -- they pose no threat of retaliation for their overburdening . . . . In sum, to judge by current intellectual trends, many post-9/11 attempts to diagnose the American soul, both here and in Europe, have served less to clarify reality than to gravitate toward safer and more palatable substitutes. [Cf. also, Rich Lowry's similar recent article on "Theocracy"]

Boiling it down: as Mr Lanham, Mr Boyne, Dr Hewitt (within only a few weeks of 9/11!), Mr Schroeder and too many others amply demonstrate through sadly all-too-familiar unbalanced scapegoating rhetoric, Evangelicals have now plainly joined the Jews as the world's favourite whipping-boys. [Good company to be in!]

An unfortunately favourite tactic in that rhetoric is to assert [im]moral equivalence with Islamist terrorists, through the use of that favourite sneer- and- smear- word: fundamentalists. ("Theocrats" is never far away when that particular resort is made.) Somehow, the major, material and costly contribution of Bible-believing Christians to the rise of modern liberty is almost never acknowledged -- and, these days, is often not even known about.

For instance, in the Lanham piece, it is interesting to observe that while Judge Roy Moore of Alabama comes in for a major "hit," the actual historical inscriptions on his Granite monument to the Decalogue are conspicuous by absence. [Indeed, detailed citations of the inscriptions are very hard to find on the Internet. Given what the just linked documents, no prizes for guessing why. The link is here because I finally tracked down Appendix B to Judge Thompson's decision.]

Reality check: just one cite from the monument. In arguing for the adoption of the US Constitution, its principal architect (thus, a major American Founding Father) and later, President, James Madison wrote:

"The transcendent law of nature and of nature's God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed" [North Side- Front of the Monument. Taken from The Federalist [Papers] No. 43, at 295.]

Blackstone's famous 1765 explanation of the key phrase here is well worth the read:

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being . . . consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker's will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws . . . These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the creator himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such among others are these principles: that we should live honestly [NB: cf. Exod. 20:15 - 16], should hurt nobody [NB: cf. Rom 13:8 - 10], and should render to every one his due [NB: cf. Rom 13:6 - 7 & Exod. 20:15]; to which three general precepts Justinian[1: a Juris praecepta sunt hace, honeste vivere. alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. Inst, 1. 1. 3] has reduced the whole doctrine of law [and, Corpus Juris, Justinian's Christianised precis and pruning of perhaps 1,000 years of Roman jurisprudence, which begins, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in turn is the foundation of law for much of Europe]. [Parenthetical remarks and emphases added. A short Blackstone cite occurs on the same North side of the monument.]

In short, there is ample justification for Judge Moore's point that, from the beginning, American law rests on the principle that God is acknowledged as Judge over all, and (as the 1776 Declaration of Independence asserts) the laws of nature and nature's God [another cite from the monument] are the foundation of liberty and justice. In short, there is plainly more than one side to the story, here.

So, there is no excuse for the one-sided, hostility-stirring rhetoric that so mars the article. The dangerous implications of such media spin games bring to mind the grim warning Aristotle -- the fate of Socrates ever in view -- sadly notes in his The Rhetoric:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . .

Action: I have consequently lodged a complaint with the Independent, on journalistic malpractice. Excerpting from that complaint, you will see some of why:

First, I note the timing: just before Christmas. Think about the subtext of contempt and insensitivity that lies thereby revealed in all its utter shamelessness.

I am also certain that you would never have published a similarly one-sided hit piece on the American black church -- given the kid gloves treatment meted out to Bishop T D Jakes, a leading evangelical minister mentioned in your article. As to the idea that a similar sophomoric piece would have been written targetting Islam, in the aftermath of the Danish Cartoons fiasco, perish the thought. As to the idea of doing this in the middle of Ramadan . . . .

the article is:

1] Often outright inaccurate, or at minimum misleading:

--> e.g. someone who lives in a country that benefited from Mr William Wilberforce's heritage and saw the birth of the Salvation Army should immediately know that evangelical Christians [including right wing ones in the US] are in fact deeply involved in poor relief, charity and other social upliftment efforts. I think there are recent statistics on charitable giving that substantiate this, that can be easily accessed by your researchers.

--> This specifically includes leading examples cited, such as Mr Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, which is a near 1/4 bill dollar exemplary disaster and suffering relief agency; just look up their online audited financial statement, eg here . [Note the snide use by the author of a comparatively paltry $14 millions from the US Govt. Has he looked up the financial backing of said Govt to say Planned Parenthood?]

--> On a simpler point, as at last count Mr Brownback – a likely Presidential Candidate who has as his public policy hero one certain Mr William Wilberforce -- is a Catholic, having converted from evangelicalism

2] Massively unfair, unkind and biased. Leading to stirring up of contempt and hate:

--> For a single instance, your article fails to note that what Evangelicals object to is EMBRYO-DESTRUCTIVE stem cell research, even as they support the use of adult stem cells and cord blood cells that have now reportedly racked up something like 70 treatments for different ailments. And we do so on the grounds that the embryo, as human life should have its right to life respected. [This is of course the same moral grounds on which the abortion holocaust of the past generation is objected to in the US alone the abortion death toll post 1973 is approaching 50 millions, nearly three times Hitler's horror. Surely, this is a MORAL position, not a specifically religious one. And kindly see that the foundation of rights is that they are moral demands we make that we should be respected given our dignity as human beings – raising the issue of moral consistency as say we see in Kant's Categorical Imperative, and not just the classic Golden Rule. In short the issue is not a minor side issue that some misguided people are obsessing over: like slavery and racism, it goes to the heart of morality.]

--> Similarly, it is plain that the fact that so-called same-sex marriage is a novelty with serious moral questions and concerns that there are major harmful socio-cultural impacts attaching thereto is simply passed over in silence in the rush to accuse Christians who take say Romans 1 - 2 seriously, of hatred for homosexuals. [A pause to address the Christian principle of opposing sin while loving sinners would have made a difference, especially if joined to actually tracking down those who are dealing with this issue on the ground. Likewise, a reflection on recent cases where Gay activists and their supporters are moving to censor or persecute Christians for making a fundamental objection to the promotion of homosexuality as a desirable norm, should be looked at. For, there is a recognisable and material difference between Adam and Eve, and Adam and Steve; one that has at least potentially serious consequences. [Cf here Matt 19:3 – 6 for Jesus' view on the matter of marriage.] Plastering Mr Haggard across your lead as if that tells the whole story is amateurish misrepresentation.]

--> Third, the citation of Atlantic Monthly that after a prayer vigil at the court in Alabama, they had to clean up urine, serves no positive purpose. I watched the people live on cable TV -- they had no "wet pants" sir. Even if the claim of a need to clean up the steps is true, it is far more likely to be due to a frat-boy mentality protest by night by people who are most unlikely to have been among the ones praying, than to be the main point you invite the reader to make about people in prayer vigils.

--> In short, the article seems to be here indulging in propagandistic hate speech, sirs.

3] Lacking in relevant context

--> You failed to acknowledge that in fact the Decalogue is foundational to western jurisprudence and the development of modern liberty and law. In so doing, you failed to address the actual inscriptions on the four sides of the monument, which come from US history specifically, and make the historically and culturally accurate point of the monument abundantly plain. Also, Mr Moore did not run a stealth campaign: he gained attention because of an earlier attempt to force him to remove a plaque of the 10 commandments he personally carved and put up in his County level courtroom, and promised to put a similar monument in the State courthouse in his campaign. He was elected with a 70% vote if memory serves, and delivered on his promise, quite publicly – there was a speech [and thus, a public ceremony] according to the report just linked. Further to this, the reading of the 1st amendment you rely on, as will be briefly discussed, is seriously historically unwarranted and flawed.

--> For, you have swallowed whole the revisionism that fails to see that for instance the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, properly, is about forbidding Congress from establishing a state church of the USA [while at the time there were nine of thirteen colonies with established churches]. So, on historically and legally proper grounds, Judge Moore was right -- but the usurpation of the words and intent of the First Amendment have turned it into almost the opposite: quasi-establishment of the secular humanist philosophy, which functions as a religion substitute. [NB: I think he should have allowed the removal to proceed and made his proper protest on the usurpation in another forum, even though he is technically right that the judge in the case was acting under colour of law, not its substance.]

--> A perusal of the recent US library of Congress display on religion and the American founding, would be instructive, especially the note here, which I excerpt in part:

The Continental-Confederation Congress, a legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men . . . both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational, nonpolemical Christianity . . . . Congress was guided by "covenant theology," a Reformation doctrine [NB: traceable through Locke, Rutherford and many others back to Duplessis-Mornay's Biblically based Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos of 1579, and as expressed practically in the 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence] especially dear to New England Puritans, which held that God bound himself in an agreement with a nation and its people . . . The first national government of the United States, was convinced that the "public prosperity" of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a "spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens," Congress declared to the American people, would "make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people."

--> Further to this, the US Constitution, itself [the Declaration of Independence is even moreso in this frame] -- hot denials notwithstanding -- is actually quite explicitly Judaeo-Christian in its context, once we see what the terms "blessings of liberty" and "in the year of our Lord 1787" mean. Excerpting:

[PREAMBLE] We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America . . . . [Main Body, Arts I - VII] . . . . Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names. . . . . [AMENDMENTS].

--> To illustrate from just one of many proclamations of days of penitence, prayer and thanksgiving, by the founding congress, here is in part a proclamation of March 1776 [the facsimile is linked on the LOC page linked above], over the name of the same John Hancock who first signed the July 4 Declaration of Independence:

In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by the secret machinations and open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration, it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publickly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.. . . Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprizes, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; . . . that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle, and to crown the continental arms, by sea and land, with victory and success: Earnestly beseeching him to bless our civil rulers, and the representatives of the people, in their several assemblies and conventions; to preserve and strengthen their union, to inspire them with an ardent, disinterested love of their country; to give wisdom and stability to their counsels; and direct them to the most efficacious measures for establishing the rights of America on the most honourable and permanent basis—That he would be graciously pleased to bless all his people in these colonies with health and plenty, and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism, and of pure undefiled religion, may universally prevail; and this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty, and enabled to transmit them inviolate to the latest posterity. And it is recommended to Christians of all denominations [i.e. 98 - 99+% of the public at the time], to assemble for public worship, and abstain from servile labour on the said day.

--> The explicitly, evangelically Christian frame of mind of this official document issued by the American founders is plain, and indeed, this -- with updated phrasing -- would not sound amiss from say T D Jakes' pulpit today. In short, people of evangelical Christian faith acting within their worldview made a major contribution to the rise of liberty in the American founding, and the wider world as a direct result. In short, the theocracy canard is not only scapegoating, but reflects a lack of understanding of fairly easily accessed history.

Plainly, one of the functions that a newspaper of magazine should carry out, is to accurately and fairly inform the public, giving enough context that an intelligent twelve year old will understand what is at stake and where the balance of the truth most likely lies. When such a media organisation fails in this duty, it betrays the public's trust.

Therefore, it is more than appropriate for us to point that out, and ask for redress. Accordingly, I requested that the Independent should . . .

revisit the article. IMHCO, it should be withdrawn and apologised for, and the editorial procedures should be audited and corrected.

Let us pray and trust that wiser heads will prevail, especially in this season of goodwill. END

UPDATE: Minor cleanups and added links.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 12: On Tickling the Dragon's tail

In March 2001, veteran, award-winning British independent film-maker/journalist Gwynne Roberts (reportedly the first Western Journalist to interview Usama bin Laden), published a BBC Correspondent's report, on "Saddam's Bomb" -- Yes, Virginia, BBC, March 2 - 3, 2001.

The report was based on an interview with an Iraqi nuclear engineer code named, "Leone" who "prove[d] his expertise" by "work[ing] throughout the night [and] drawing detailed diagrams of nuclear weapons in his hotel room."

(The just linked diagram shows an advanced, otherwise novel "interlocking cage" version of a "gun" type fission weapon design conceptually similar to the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The Hiroshima weapon's design was so patently reliable, that the Americans did not explode a test-device before using it on Japan. Instead, they only used a [dangerous -- it killed two scientists due to radiation accidents] technique -- colourfully named "tickling the dragon's tail" by the famous physicist Richard Feynmann -- to calculate and confirm its criticality, by inducing a controlled descent into a chain reaction then backing away. A hoaxer would have been far more likely to draw a "standard" gun device [easily found on the Web], which uses an artillery barrel to shoot a single, 4-inch or so slug of highly enriched uranium [HEU] into a hollow target, thus suddenly achieving critical mass and triggering an explosion. Indeed, there is a 1977 Novel, Gadget, about a kidnapped, brainwashed physicist who makes such a device for a shadowy terrorist group; giving some -- but, explicitly, not all --of the technical details. An extensive online discussion of nuclear weapons and their design is here.)

The 2001 BBC article begins:

"Leone" emerged from out of the shadows outside my hotel in Suleimaniya, northern Iraq, on a bleak, misty night in January 1998 - just as the crisis between the United States and Iraq over arms inspection was reaching fever pitch.
Local Kurdish officials identified him as a nuclear scientist and when we talked, he seemed well informed.
Leone described himself as an engineer who was a member of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission - and a senior official in the secret Iraqi nuclear programme.
To prove his expertise, Leone worked throughout the night drawing detailed diagrams of nuclear weapons in his hotel room.
He said it worked on the principle of the Hiroshima-type bomb, in which high explosives drive pieces of highly enriched uranium together at high velocity. This triggers a nuclear explosion.
Then Leone made another staggering claim - that Iraq had actually conducted a nuclear test before the Gulf War.
It was carried out at 1030 on 19 September 1989 at an underground site 150 kilometres south-west of Baghdad, he said.
"Saddam had threatened us with the death penalty if we told anybody about it."
The location was a militarised zone on the far shore of Lake Rezzaza, which used to be a tourist area. There is a natural tunnel there which leads to a large cavern under the lake.
"We went to a lot of trouble to conceal the test from the eyes of the outside world," said . "The Russians supplied us with a table listing US satellite movements. They were always helping us" . . .

The article goes on to report confirmation of the timing and location of the test by informed Iraqi sources. It cites an unnamed former South African intelligence officer, who claims that 50 kg -- about 110 lbs, more than enough for a gun-type bomb -- of highly enriched Uranium was purchased from South Africa [on approval of the US, then on friendly terms with Iraq and concerned to use Iraq as a counter-weight to Iran]. It reports, based on satellite imagery, that a disused military installation is at the site, and notes that evidence can be seen in the photos to support the existence of the tunnel that was reportedly used for the alleged underground test.

The first reaction to such a story is incredulity: Impossible! This would have been front-page news across the world for weeks and weeks if it was true! And, besides, underground tests can be easily detected through seismic sensor networks!

Unfortunately, first, this is not just an isolated BBC report. In the Times of London, Feb 25, 2001, a more detailed report of the interview appears. In that version, Leone claims:

"We had built a special platform for the bomb in the Tuwaitha workshop and this was sent to the test site. This allowed the device to be jacked up inside the cavern. Then we sealed off the cavern by blocking part of the tunnel inside with a 50-metre concrete plug and piling up sand and rocks behind that. All this was intended to muffle the explosion, and it's known as 'decoupling' . . . . "When the test happened, there was no dust or anything. The air just vibrated. I was in my car at the time and it just shook. It reached about 2.7 on the Richter scale, and wouldn't really have been noticed by seismic stations outside Iraq." . . . . "After the test, they destroyed the entrance to the tunnel. They also removed any evidence to indicate that a test had happened.
"They washed out the shaft with water to remove any radioactivity. They then filled it with cement, rocks and sand, and destroyed the entrance. They also created a long river channel near the shaft entrance to drain off contaminated ground water."
Leone showed me a letter signed by [Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Saddam's brother-in-law, who was claimed to be in charge of the alleged test] that seemed to confirm the test. Written in Arabic and dated September 19, 1989, it read: "With the help of God and the effort of the heroic freedom fighters in the military industrialisation institution and the atomic power organisation, we have successfully completed Test Number One of the Iraqi Atomic Bomb. Its strength was 10 kilotons and highly enriched uranium was used with a purity of 93% . . . With this experiment Iraq is considered the first country in the world to carry out this sort of experiment without the knowledge of the international monitoring authorities."

The reported seismic intensity and decoupling are critical points. For, it turns out that a sufficiently muffled, low yield nuclear explosion -- and Leone's techniques look about right for that -- is indeed hard to detect. Roberts' report in the Times observes on this point:

Officials at the International Seismic Centre near Newbury said detecting an event of this size - about 2.7 on the Richter scale - would be "extremely difficult" in this region, especially if it had been decoupled, as Leone claimed . . . . Records from 1989 [taken from "Sulaymaniyah's local seismic station"] showed no trace of an event on September 19, but a map of Iraq's main earthquake zones provided a potential clue. The Rezzaza region is virtually earthquake-free, but the map showed one exception - a tremor marked by a red circle on the southwestern shore of the lake, close to Leone's test site. Nobody at the seismic station knew when this tremor occurred, except that it was after 1985 and before 1991. [Please, read the whole story -- eye-opening!]

Of course, these reports are not nearly enough to "prove" one way or another beyond all dispute that Iraq did or did not build and test a nuclear device in 1989. But, it does show that circa 2001, the editorial staffs of major international news media houses -- including BBC -- found such an account sufficiently credible and well-sourced to feature it in their news reports.

Why, then, have we been subjected -- especially by BBC, but also in many other news media over the past several years -- to the constantly reiterated theme, that can be summed up: "Bush/Blair lied [about WMDs in Iraq] . . ." ever since 2003?

That brings us to the heart of an issue raised just before Christmas, in Report No 10 in this series on understanding our times:

. . . the real potency of the Islamist threat lies not in that threat itself, but in our persistent wishful thinking, self-doubt and attitude of denial in the face of mounting danger. In short, we have got to first resolutely face the truth about ourselves and the tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and amorality from the North (i.e. within the gates of Western Culture), before we can do something about the rising invasion from without. After all, an enemy who freely walks and talks among us in culturally nuanced accents as one of our own, is always far more dangerous than one not yet fully within the gates . . . .

[W]e must first of all state the obvious truths of the gospel that those who would impose an atheistic, amoral spirit on Caribbean and Western Culture are all too eager to suppress. For, we are not an atheistic civilisation; we are a Christian civilisation that -- through our own apostasy, lust and greed for riches through exploiting our brothers, and resulting failure to rise to deceitful challenges from within -- have been bewitched, lassoed and saddled by those riding on a tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and neo-paganism.

Then, we can rise to our own Blonie Fields moment . . . .

In short, the core challenge we face is not whether or not the consensus of the major intelligence services on Iraq's material and accelerating breach of armistice terms, circa 2002 - 3 was false, or that there is more than one side to the Iraq story, or even that the BBC is here -- again -- exposed as patently hypocritical and manipulative in their conduct over these past several years.

But rather, the core issue is that we are in the grip of agendas that do not care about truth or fairness, so long as they can saddle and contol us towards their secularist agenda. In that regard, it is to be noted that both Mr Bush and Mr Blair are Evangelical Christians, and would therefore be viewed as threats to that agenda. Indeed, Mr Blair once had to publicly defend himself from the accusation that he prayed with Mr Bush. Recently, as commented on in an earlier post, Mr Schroeder, immediate past Chancellor of Germany, accused Mr Bush of being a dangerously incompetent political leader, because he is God-fearing -- never mind the long, distinguished track record of God-fearing statesmen!

Worse, the hypocritical and deceptive media spin games we are seeing on the standard Iraq WMD storyline are another form of Feynman's dangerous "tickling the dragon" game.

For, many influential radical secularists and their fellow travellers (both in the Caribbean and int he wider world) are so consumed and obsessed with the notion that "fundamentalist," dangerously "theocracy"-minded Christians are the principal and inevitable threat to liberty (and indeed to civilisation) in the western world -- and are so taken up with rage-driven, unbalanced and unfair litanies of the historical and/or current [NB: I have just made a complaint to the Independent about this article,and will respond to it, DV, in a later post] real and imagined or alleged sins of the church in particular and the west in general -- that they have become blind to the historic and current threat posed by radical Islam, and by the major oil-financed militaristic dictatorships of the Middle East. As the sad history of Appeasement in Europe and in the League of Nations in the 1930's informs us, such blindness can be fatal.

But then, one of the key lessons of history is not only that those who fail to learn from it are doomed to repeat it, but also that by and large we refuse to learn from history. Thus, we can easily understand the sadly cyclical nature of so much that goes horribly wrong -- things that could so easily have been averted, if we would but listen to and heed sound but unpopular counsel.

That brings us back to the issue of understanding our times, to know what we should do as the people of God here in the Caribbean:

1] We must understand that our world is locked in an intense, three-way spiritual geostrategic contest: (a) the De-Christianisers in and from the North, (b) the Islamists from the Middlel East, and (c) the Southern Christian Reformation. Just possibly, this sets the stage for that spreading of the Gospel to al nations that is the true sign of the end, as is described in Matt 24: 14 -- "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

2] A small part of that struggle is the ongoing global conflict since about 1979 when Iran declared itself an Islamic Republic and set out on war by terrorism, that should properly be known as World War IV, counting the Cold War as no III. WW IV is plainly now at nuclear threshold, and that is a prospect that should give us pause, and should make us far more careful in how we interpret the news and views around us. [The discussion here on how Iraq pursued nuclear weapons through deception of the IAEA over the course of several decades, should also give us pause. For, it is plain that the proliferation-control regimes are dangerously flawed and are controlled by people who often seem to be in denial of unpleasant realities. That is the context in which the spreading of nuclear arms to some very dangerous regimes and terrorist organisations is now in my opinion, an inevitability. Sooner or later, unless God is merciful beyond all covenants, we will see another mushroom cloud looming over a city . . .]

3] In that global context, we the Christians of the Caribbean, because of our ethnic and cultural heritage and history, are a crucially strategic bridging people -- we can respond effectively and credibly to the people of the North and the people of the 10/40 window. That means we need to rethink the enduring mission of the church in the Caribbean, and from the Caribbean, so that we can fulfill our vast potential under God.

4] In that context, we need to think again about the implications of the Great Commission of Matt 28:18 - 20:

MT 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

5] For, that commission plainly calls us [1] to evangelism, [2] to discipleship and [3] to reformation of the nations through the social implications of the gospel. That is itself a rebuke and an indicator of our urgent need to repent, undergo renewal, seek revival through the seasons of refreshing from the Lord as he pours out his Spirit, and thus to flow over into reformation.

Thus, we can see the foundation-principles for how we should act in our times. Therefore, let us prayerfully ask ourselves, yet once more:

Why not now, why not here, why not us?


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, no 11: Times of refreshing . . . from the Lord

2006, among other things, has marked the 100th anniversary of the controversial Azusa Street revival that -- despite all the strange, so often offensive mixture of what Peter Hocken aptly calls "the glory and the shame" that marks any genuine outpouring of the Spirit of God on such cracked clay pots as we all are -- began the global spread of what some have called a third wave in Western Christianity: the wave of the Spirit.

Indeed, in our time, we are seeing a dramatic fulfillment of the words the Apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul spoke, nearly twenty centuries ago. First, St. Peter:

Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus . . . 18 . . . God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

And now, St. Paul:

2 Cor 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God . . . 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

2CO 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

These words both inspire and shame us. Indeed, they call to mind God's promise -- and, frankly, warning -- to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, nearly thirty centuries ago:

2CH 7:13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land . . . 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

So, we must first know that -- despite all the gleefully headlined setbacks and scandals we have seen -- across these past 100 years, we have therefore seen a dramatic shift in the spiritual balance of power on our planet, and thus also a shifting of the centre of gravity of the Christian Faith. Indeed, it is now merely accurate description to call the ongoing, accelerating spiritual transformation of Latin America and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and much of Oceania, the Southern Christian Reformation.

In turn, that brings to the fore, the key issues in the following analysis:

In his Nov. 26, 2002 column, “A Christian Boom,” the Jewish Islamic scholar Daniel Pipes begins:
Which of the world's largest faiths, Christianity or Islam, is experiencing the greater ideological reassertion and demographic surge?
"Islam" is surely nearly everyone's answer. As American Christians experiment with ever-milder versions of their faith, Muslims display a fervor for extreme interpretations of Islam. As Europe suffers the lowest population growth rates ever recorded, Muslim countries have some of the highest.
But, argues Philip Jenkins recently in the Atlantic Monthly, Islam is the wrong answer. He shows how Christianity is the religion currently undergoing the most basic rethinking and the largest increase in adherents. He makes a good case for its militancy most affecting the next century.
Clearly, then, the battle for the soul of Christianity that has marked the modernist/”fundamentalist” controversy over the past hundred years is fraught with implications for the century ahead. For, it is clear that we can make out the outlines of a three-cornered contest for global supremacy among three competing world-views:
(1) the still dominant Western secularism (including its step-children, liberal and liberation theologies),
(2) militant Islamism (as is advocated by Mr bin Laden) with a wider resurgence in Islam as a whole also, and
(3) what we may call the Southern Christian Reformation – for it is currently sweeping across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
So, as we look at the current struggle between the West and Islamism, and as we also see how Islamists have been in violent conflict with Christians in places as diverse as Indonesia, Sudan and Nigeria, we can see that our region is a focal point of the emerging global worldviews contest.

Thus, our region is plainly at kairos. For, on the one hand, we are increasingly a part of the ongoing bewitching and captivity of the Christian West by those riding on a tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and post-modern neo-paganism. But, on the other, many in our region are also a key part of the third rising surges of the third -- and decisive! -- twenty-first century global tidal wave: the Southern Christian Reformation.

That means that it is time for us to walk down the four-R's road: repentance, renewal, revival, reformation:

R1 Repentance: True revivals start here. As we repent, we "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and will] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." [Eph. 4:18, 20 - 24.]
R2 Renewal: this is the living out of repentance as we learn and live by the light of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit. "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould. Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is."
R3 Revival, proper: the pouring out of God's Spirit in times of refreshing. Thus, we receive anointed power from God to walk in good works in the face of a deceived, corrupt world. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," so we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
R4 Reformation: the transformation of a community, its institutions and culture under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus as those who surrender to him fill their lives and ways with his fulness. Of course, this threatens those who draw pleasure and power from sin (or even make their living from it), so revivals will also face persecution.

Oh, that by God's grace, we will humble ourselves and accept from God, through His Christ and by His Spirit that bittersweet but precious gift, repentance [Ac 11:17 - 18]. Then, let us through His Word renew our minds, lives and institutions, asking Him to pour our on us seasons of refreshing. Then, let us boldly stand in the Spirit of God, as pope John Paul II did with his homeland in 1979, and begin to lead our communities and nations in God, to reformation and God-blessed transformation [Gal 3:13 - 14].

But it must not stop there, for we are a strategic people under God -- the first cosmopolitan region, peopled by men and women whose ancestors largely came from the lands of the 10/40 Window of Gospel-resistant people-groups. AND, we have strong historical and cultural ties to the lands of the North now increasingly under the bewitchments and entanglements of apostasy.

So, as a bridging people, we can -- and, oh, by God's grace, we MUST! -- play a key strategic role in the Global Mission of the church in our time, in partnership with the people of God all across the world. END

Monday, December 18, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report,10: At kairos, at Christmas 2006

At Advent Season in this, The Year of Our Lord 2006, the Caribbean and wider world are again at kairos, that painfully challenging intersection of opportunity and risk that ever marks the great hinges of history.

So, having now spent a fair amount of time highlighting several key challenges posed by the subtler of the two major external threats we face -- that from a rapidly morally disintegrating Western Culture -- it is time for us to take a leaf from the book of the men of Issachar, circa 1,000 BC:

[a] understand our times,

[b] know what to do, and

[c] have the courage to resolutely do what needs to be done

. . . in the face of the risks and threats we face, in light of the opportunities that are before us, if we will but open our eyes.

Immediately, though, an obvious question comes to mind: what of the threat of Islamism?

The answer is that -- similar to the disastrous failure of Appeasement by Britain and France in the 1930's in the face of the rising tidal wave of Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany -- the real potency of the Islamist threat lies not in that threat itself, but in our persistent wishful thinking, self-doubt and attitude of denial in the face of mounting danger. In short, we have got to first resolutely face the truth about ourselves and the tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and amorality from the North (i.e. within the gates of Western Culture), before we can do something about the rising invasion from without. After all, an enemy who freely walks and talks among us in culturally nuanced accents as one of our own, is always far more dangerous than one not yet fully within the gates.

In that light, a glance at the recent past in Poland is an excellent example; for, this is the decisive point where the Cold War was won. As John Harmon McElroy reminds us (and as we will almost certainly not see in our friendly local newspaper or history book -- much less, hear from the local or international talking heads pontificating in exemplary illustration of the fallacy of confident manner!):

The 1981 summer English Seminar in Poznan, Poland, had ended, and the twenty-six British and American instructors and the more than two hundred students had gathered for the farewell party. A young woman from one of my classes told me of John Paul II’s first visit to Poland as pope and the pilgrimage she and her classmates made to Czestochowa to worship with him at the shrine of their homeland’s holiest icon, “the Black Madonna,” at Jasna Gora.
“There we were with the Holy Father,” she said, “thousands of us, praying silently with him, and you could feel the power rising up through the trees.” From the way she said this, I knew that what she said was true, and that what she was describing was the power of the Holy Spirit, which in the summer of 1981 in Poland was as palpably present to me as the country’s tawny wheat fields, turbid rivers, and leafy woodlands.
In class, my students never spoke of religion. But there was something in the manner of a good many of them—a peacefulness of demeanor, a kindly way of addressing each other—that suggested the inner serenity of deeply held Christian beliefs. A couple of the instructors at the seminar called this “the Solidarity spirit.”
They were referring, of course, to the formative Christian spirit of the labor union . . . that was also a national freedom movement whose general strike the previous summer (1980) had compelled the communist government of Poland to grant it legal status. Just a few months later, in December 1981, twenty-five years ago this month, the union would be outlawed and many of its leaders imprisoned.
But without the visit of John Paul II to Poland in 1979, there would have been no Solidarity in 1980. And without Solidarity in Poland in 1980, there would have been no disintegration of the Iron Curtain nine years later, no crumbling of the Soviet empire, and no dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991 . . . .
My students patiently explained to me the connection between Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland and the founding of Solidarity. After the conclave of his fellow cardinals elected him head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1978, Karol Wojtyla naturally wanted to visit his beloved native country. And his countrymen wanted him to come. After all, it was no small matter in a country where 97 percent of the people professed Roman Catholicism that a Polish cardinal had become the first non-Italian pope in five hundred years.

Thus was set up the breakthrough. As Peggy Noonan so eloquently sums up:

I think I know the moment Soviet communism began its fall. It happened in public. Anyone could see it. It was one of the great spiritual moments of the 20th century, maybe the greatest . . . .
John Paul was a new pope, raised to the papacy just eight months before. The day after he became pope he made it clear he would like to return as pope to his native Poland to see his people.
The communists who ran the Polish regime faced a quandary. If they didn't allow the new Pope to return to his homeland, they would look defensive and frightened, as if they feared that he had more power than they . . . On the other hand, if they let him return, the people might rise up against the government, which might in turn trigger an invasion by the Soviet Union.
The Polish government decided that it would be too great an embarrassment to refuse the pope . . . . Two months before the pope's arrival, the Polish communist apparatus took steps to restrain the enthusiasm of the people . . . .
On June 2, 1979, the pope arrived in Poland. What followed will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
He knelt and kissed the ground, the dull gray tarmac of the airport outside Warsaw. The silent churches of Poland at that moment began to ring their bells. The pope traveled by motorcade from the airport to the Old City of Warsaw.
The government had feared hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands would line the streets and highways.
By the end of the day, with the people lining the streets and highways plus the people massed outside Warsaw and then inside it--all of them cheering and throwing flowers and applauding and singing--more than a million had come.
In Victory Square in the Old City the pope gave a mass. Communist officials watched from the windows of nearby hotels. The pope gave what papal biographer George Weigel called the greatest sermon of John Paul's life.
Why, the pope asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Perhaps it was because of how Poland had suffered for centuries, and through the 20th century had become "the land of a particularly responsible witness" to God. The people of Poland, he suggested, had been chosen for a great role, to understand, humbly but surely, that they were the repository of a special "witness of His cross and His resurrection." He asked then if the people of Poland accepted the obligations of such a role in history.
The crowd responded with thunder.
"We want God!" they shouted, together. "We want God!"
What a moment in modern history: We want God. From the mouths of modern men and women living in a modern atheistic dictatorship . . . .

The pope then tellingly observed, in words that should ring in our own hearts in our own crisis today:

The pope was speaking on the Vigil of Pentecost, that moment in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit came down to Christ's apostles, who had been hiding in fear after his crucifixion, filling them with courage and joy. John Paul picked up this theme. What was the greatest of the works of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man! Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland." Those who oppose Christ, he said, still live within the Christian context of history.
Christ, the pope declared, was not only the past of Poland--he was "the future . . . our Polish future."
The massed crowd thundered its response. "We want God!" it roared.
The pope had not directly challenged the government. He had not called for an uprising. He had not told the people of Catholic Poland to push back against their atheist masters. He simply stated the obvious. In Mr. Weigel's words: "Poland was not a communist country; Poland was a Catholic nation saddled with a communist state."

So, too, in our day, we must first of all state the obvious truths of the gospel that those who would impose an atheistic, amoral spirit on Caribbean and Western Culture are all too eager to suppress. For, we are not an atheistic civilisation; we are a Christian civilisation that -- through our own apostasy, lust and greed for riches through exploiting our brothers, and resulting failure to rise to deceitful challenges from within -- have been bewitched, lassoed and saddled by those riding on a tidal wave of secularism, apostasy and neo-paganism.

Then, we can rise to our own Blonie Fields moment, the moment when the Spirit of Christ came down on Poland and broke the back of godless Communism:

. . . it was in the Blonie Field, in Krakow--the Blonia Krakowskie, the fields just beyond the city--that the great transcendent moment of the pope's trip took place. It was the moment when, for those looking back, the new world opened. It was the moment, some said later, that Soviet communism's fall became inevitable.
It was a week into the trip, June 10, 1979. It was a sunny day. The pope was to hold a public mass. The communist government had not allowed it to be publicized, but Poles had spread the word . . . .
They started coming early, and by the time the mass began it was the biggest gathering of humanity in the entire history of Poland. Two million or three million people came, no one is sure, maybe more. For a mass.
And it was there, at the end of his trip, in the Blonie field, that John Paul took on communism directly, by focusing on communism's attempt to kill the religious heritage of a country that had for a thousand years believed in Christ.
This is what he said:
Is it possible to dismiss Christ and everything which he brought into the annals of the human being? Of course it is possible. The human being is free. The human being can say to God, "No." The human being can say to Christ, "No." But the critical question is: Should he? And in the name of what "should" he? With what argument, what reasoning, what value held by the will or the heart does one bring oneself, one's loved ones, one's countrymen and nation to reject, to say "no" to Him with whom we have all lived for one thousand years? He who formed the basis of our identity and has Himself remained its basis ever since. . . .
As a bishop does in the sacrament of Confirmation so do I today extend my hands in that apostolic gesture over all who are gathered here today, my compatriots. And so I speak for Christ himself: "Receive the Holy Spirit!"
I speak too for St. Paul: "Do not quench the Spirit!"
I speak again for St. Paul: "Do not grieve the Spirit of God!"
You must be strong, my brothers and sisters! You must be strong with the strength that faith gives! You must be strong with the strength of faith! You must be faithful! You need this strength today more than any other period of our history. . . .
You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death. . . . When we are strong with the Spirit of God, we are also strong with the faith of man. . . . There is therefore no need to fear. . . . So . . . I beg you: Never lose your trust, do not be defeated, do not be discouraged. . . . Always seek spiritual power from Him from whom countless generations of our fathers and mothers have found it. Never detach yourselves from Him. Never lose your spiritual freedom.
They went home from that field a changed country. After that mass they would never be the same.

And, in our day, by a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God, we too can turn the tide. For, as the Pope so aptly said in June 1979:

"Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man! Without Christ it is impossible to understand . . . history . . . ." Those who oppose Christ . . . still live within the Christian context of history.

Indeed, let us now even dare to speak for the Apostle Peter:

Ac 3:19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets . . .
So, by God's grace in the face of Jesus, let us now penitently pray; at Christmas in this the year of our Lord, 2006:

Oh, God that hast Poland,* have mercy on us today, and pour out your liberating Spirit, even here in the Caribbean and in the whole world! In Jesus' name. AMEN, and AMEN


* Title of a traditional Polish Officer's Anthem

UPDATE: Dec 19

Thursday, December 14, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, no 9: the Dover ID case as a showcase example of manipulative secularist radicalism in the courts and media

BREAKING NEWS: A year after the Kitzmiller Decision in Dover, Pennsylvania, the Discovery Institute [DI] has just published a 34 p. article in which it shows, in devastating parallel columns, that Judge Jones' discussion of the alleged unscientific status of the empirically based inference to design, was largely copied from an ACLU submission, factual errors, misrepresentations and all.

DI summarises its findings thusly:

In December of 2005, critics of the theory of intelligent design (ID) hailed federal judge John E. Jones’ ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover, which declared unconstitutional the reading of a statement about intelligent design in public school science classrooms in Dover, Pennsylvania. Since the decision was issued, Jones’ 139-page judicial opinion has been lavished with praise as a “masterful decision” based on careful and independent analysis of the evidence. However, a new analysis of the text of the Kitzmiller decision reveals that nearly all of Judge Jones’ lengthy examination of “whether ID is science” came not from his own efforts or analysis but from wording supplied by ACLU attorneys. In fact, 90.9% (or 5,458 words) of Judge Jones’ 6,004- word section on intelligent design as science was taken virtually verbatim from the ACLU’s proposed “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” submitted to Judge Jones nearly a month before his ruling. Judge Jones even copied several clearly erroneous factual claims made by the ACLU. The finding that most of Judge Jones’ analysis of intelligent design was apparently not the product of his own original deliberative activity seriously undercuts the credibility of Judge Jones’ examination of the scientific validity of intelligent design.

Now, a year ago, Judge Jones of Pennsylvania issued his "landmark" decision on the Dover School Board case, which was indeed hailed in much of the major international media as a death-blow to the Intelligent Design movement (which has of course not gone away!). In effect, he ruled unconstitutional the reading out to students in 9th Grade [roughly, 3rd form] Biology the following statement:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

That such a statement -- in a time in which Darwinian Biology and the broader ideas of evolutionary materialism plainly continue to be scientifically, philosophically and culturally controversial -- would be widely seen as an attempt to impose "religion" in the name of "science," is itself a clue that something has gone very wrong indeed.

For, it is immediately obvious on examining basic, easily accessible facts, that:

a] The Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution [NDT] is just that: theory, not fact. This means that insofar as it is science, it is an open-ended explanatory exercise, one that is subject to correction or replacement in light of further evidence and/or analysis, and one that seeks to summarise and make sense of a vast body of empirical data -- in which effort there are indeed key, persistent explanatory gaps.

b] Design Theory, in that light, is a re-emerging challenger as a scientific explanation, one that arguably better explains certain key features of, say the fossil record. (And, let us observe here, that ID should not be confused with, say Young Earth, specifically Biblically-oriented Creationism [YEC], which seeks to scientifically explain origins in a context that often -- but not always -- makes explicit reference to the Bible, regarded as an accurate record of origins. Nor, is it merely a critique of darwinian thought, but rather a working out of addressing the full range of root-explanations for phenomena: chance, necessity and agency, in light of the only actually known, empirically observed source of FSCI: intelligent agency. For example, design thought, as a movement, does not deny that significant macro-level evolution may well have happened across geological time [NB: YEC thinkers accept that micro-evolution can and does occur], but it is raising and addressing the really central, empirically based, scientific issue: how may we best explain where the functionally specific, complex information in life and in the biodiversity in the fossil record and current came from, given what we know about the observed source of such FSCI?)

c] For instance, as Loennig points out in a recent peer-reviewed paper -- a paper submitted to Judge Jones, BTW -- on the well-known problem for the NDT that the fossil record is marked by sudden appearances and disappearances, starting from the Cambrian life explosion, and a resulting multitude of "missing links":

[On the hypothesis that] there are indeed many systems and/or correlated subsystems in biology, which have to be classified as irreducibly complex and that such systems are essentially involved in the formation of morphological characters of organisms, this would explain both, the regular abrupt appearance of new forms in the fossil record as well as their constancy over enormous periods of time . . . For, if "several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function" are necessary for biochemical and/or anatomical systems to exist as functioning systems at all (because "the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning") such systems have to (1) originate in a non-gradual manner and (2) must remain constant as long as they are reproduced and exist [and also] (3) the equally abrupt disappearance of so many life forms in earth history . . . The reason why irreducibly complex systems would also behave in accord with point (3) is also nearly self-evident: if environmental conditions deteriorate so much for certain life forms (defined and specified by systems and/or subsystems of irreducible complexity), so that their very existence be in question, they could only adapt by integrating further correspondingly specified and useful parts into their overall organization, which prima facie could be an improbable process -- or perish . . . .

d] The call to an OPEN [but critically aware] mind in light of knowing the dominant theory and its gaps and that alternatives exist [note that ID was not to be expounded in the classroom!] is not a closing off of options but an opening of minds. (Notice how actual censorship is being praised when it serves the agenda of the secularist elites here.)

e] Given the persistent absence of a credible, robust account of the origin of the functionally specific, complex information [FSCI] and associated tightly integrated information systems at the heart of the molecular technology of life, the origin of life is the first gap in the broader -- and, BTW, arguably self-refuting -- evolutionary materialist account of origins. Further to this, we must observe the force of the issue Loennig raises in his peer reviewed article on the challenge of viable macro-level spontaneous ["chance"] changes in DNA that express themselves embryologically early bring this gap issue not only to chemical evolution, but to the macro-evolution that NDT is supposed to explain, but does not. Ands such major explanatory gaps in the account of macro-evolution start with the Cambrian life explosion as Meyer noted in another peer-reviewed article. [Both of these were of course brought to Judge Jones' attention, and both were obviously ignored, even at he cost of putting out falsehoods and misrepresentations authored by the ACLU in his opinion. No prizes for guessing why.]

f] So, while -- as DI argues -- ID is too pioneering to be a part of the High School level classroom exposition (as opposed to an issue that legitimately arises incidentally in debates and discussions), the cluster of persistent issues that NDT and wider evolutionary materialism cannot account for, definitely should be; on pain of turning the science classroom into an exercise in manipulative indoctrination. The ongoing censorship of this scientific, philosophical, and cultural controversy is therefore utterly telling.

A glance at major features of the ruling itself amply confirms the problem. For instance, observe how the Judge addresses a major concern in the case, revealing that he is indulging in improper activism in his attempt to decide by judicial fiat a matter that properly belongs to the philosophy of science:

. . . the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us. [p. 63] (emphasis added)

It is unsurprising to see that, in the 139 page ruling, Judge Jones held -- among other things -- that the inference to design was an inherently illegitimate attempt to impose the supernatural on science, and so falls afoul of the US Constitution's First Amendment's principle of separation of Church and state. He also held, as a key plank in his decision -- even though an actual list of such papers was presented to him in a submission by the Discovery Institute [cf Appendix A4, p. 17, here] -- that there was no peer-reviewed ID supporting scientific literature.

Further to this, he refused to allow FTE, the publishers of the key book referenced in the case, Of Pandas and People, to intervene in the case to defend itself by participating in the trial, even though their work was being materially misrepresented -- which clearly affected the ruling.

Misrepresented? Yes, this book, in the published version [the one that is relevant to determining what the authors and publishers intended and what the impact of the book being in school libraries would likely be] explicitly states:

This book has a single goal: to present data from six areas of science that bear on the central question of biological origins. We don't propose to give final answers, nor to unveil The Truth. Our purpose, rather, is to help readers understand origins better, and to see why the data may be viewed in more than one way. (Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed. 1993, pg. viii) . . . .

Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science. (pg. 126-127, emphasis added)

In short -- and exactly as the 1984 technical level book, The Mystery of Life's Origins, the publication of which (claims to the contrary notwithstanding) is the actual historical beginning of the modern design movement [apart from in cosmology!] also argues -- we may properly and scientifically infer to intelligence as a cause from its empirically observable traces that are not credibly the product of chance or natural regularities.

But, of course, such an inference -- just as its opposite, the philosophically based premise that science "must" only infer to chance and natural regularities on questions of origins -- soon raises worldview issues. For, just as darwinian evolution is often used as a support for evolutionary materialism, a credible, empirically anchored scientific inference to design on the cases of: the origin of the molecular nanotechnology of life, that of the macro-level diversity of life and the origin of a finitely old, elegantly fine-tuned cosmos, plainly opens the philosophical and cultural doors to taking seriously what is "unacceptable" to many among the West's intensely secularised intellectual elites: God as the likely/credible intelligent designer, thence credibly the foundation of morality, law, and justice.

(So, let us pause: why is it that evolutionary materialist worldviews that go far beyond what is empirically and logically well-warranted are allowed to pass themselves off as "science," thus can freely go into the classroom, but empirically and logically/mathematically based serious challenges and alternatives to the claims of these worldviews that in fact appear in the peer-reviewed scientific and associated literature are excluded as "religion" [even when this is not at all objectively true]? Is this not blatant secularist indoctrination and censorship? Is not secular humanism, at minimum, a quasi-religion -- one that now is effectively established by court fiat under the pretence that we are "separating church and state"? Should we not instead teach key critical thinking skills and expose students to the range of live options, allowing them to draw their own, objectivley defensible conclusions for themselves in the context of honest classroom dialogue based on comparative difficulties? [NB: Here are my thoughts on science education, from a science teaching primer that I was once asked to develop. Perhaps, this lays out a few ideas on a positive way forward.])

Nor, is this worldview-level dispute a new point. Indeed, as far back as Plato in his The Laws, we may read:

Ath. . . . we have . . . lighted on a strange doctrine.
Cle. What doctrine do you mean?
Ath. The wisest of all doctrines, in the opinion of many.
Cle. I wish that you would speak plainer.
Ath. The doctrine that all things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance.
Cle. Is not that true?
Ath. Well, philosophers are probably right; at any rate we may as well follow in their track, and examine what is the meaning of them and their disciples.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. They say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art, which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial . . . . . fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature and chance . . . The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them . . . After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . . Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul [i.e. mind], especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body? . . . . if the soul turn out to be the primeval element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not otherwise. [Emphases added]

Plato, of course is here seeking to ground the moral basis of law [cf the introduction to Book 10 in the linked], and thus exposes what is at stake in the current debate over the scientific status of the inference to design: the moral foundation of civilisation itself - not just a matter of the nominal, vexed but technical issue of demarking science from non-science. Thus, the intensity of the debate and the too-frequent resort to dubious rhetorical and legal tactics as just outlined are all too understandable: a lot is at stake.

Dubious rhetorical and legal tactics?

Yes, sad to say:

1] First and tellingly, as a lower court Federal Judge under the US Congress, Mr Jones, strictly, has no proper jurisdiction on the matter. The First Amendment to the US Constitution, in the relevant clauses states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. That is, there is to be no Church of the United States [though at the time of passage in 1789, nine of thirteen states had state churches]. In that context, dissenters were to be free to hold and freely express and publish their beliefs. So, the specific matter in question in the Dover case should have been decided democratically by a well-informed local community, (That this is manifestly not so, shows -- sadly, but tellingly -- just how much the public has been ill-served by both the media and the courts.)

2] That on the ground, this is not so, and the related commonplace idea that the US Constitution establishes a separation of church and state -- increasingly, a separation of Judaeo-Christian worldview and state such that any tracing of any policy to such a worldview at once renders the policy in question suspect and to be banned, is a mark of longstanding successful manipulative misreadings of the US Contstitution, and of associated legislation from the bench by unaccountable judges, also known as judicial activism.

3] Indeed, the case in view is a showcase example of improper judicial activism and where it leads: Judge Jones took the submittal from one side, ignoring testimony and evidence in open court and in submittals from relevant parties that would have exposed the errors and misrepresentations. So, he took the ACLU's arguments, misrepresentations, obvious factual errors and all, and by and large reproduced it wholesale as his decision.

4] The root of these misrepresentations is the idea that inference to design is inherently about the injection of the supernatural into science, which is deemed improper. But in fact Judge Jones' idea that for centuries, science has been defined as exclusively naturalistic is simply false to the history of Science. For, as Dan Peterson notes:
Far from being inimical to science, then, the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only belief system that actually produced it. Scientists who (in Boyle's words) viewed nature as "the immutable workmanship of the omniscient Architect" were the pathfinders who originated the scientific enterprise. The assertion that intelligent design is automatically "not science" because it may support the concept of a creator is a statement of materialist philosophy, not of any intrinsic requirement of science itself.
5] Nor (as we saw above) is the design inference -- ACLU et al notwithstanding, properly speaking, as a scientific inference, an inference to the supernatural [as opposed to the intelligent]. Indeed, when William Dembski (perhaps the leading design theorist) sets out to formally define, he writes:
. . . intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? . . . Proponents of intelligent design, known as design theorists, purport to study such signs formally, rigorously, and scientifically. Intelligent design may therefore be defined as the science that studies signs of intelligence.
6] In this context, the Judge's [and the ACLU's] gross factual error of insisting in the teeth of actual listed and accessible peer reviewed scientific publications that are supportive of the design inference, is utterly inexcusable -- and (since the judge may simply naively have allowed himself to be misled) it is frankly dishonest on the part of the likes of the ACLU and others who insistently assert this falsehood.

So, what a difference a year makes! Those who stood up a year ago and said -- with reasons -- from day one that this case was wrongly ruled on and unjustly decided, are now vindicated. However, given what is at stake, I will not hold my breath waiting for an apology and retraction.

For, sadly, the discourse in education, the media, courts and parliaments these days is too often more a matter of spin than of fearless straight thinking that seeks to discover and stand up for the truth, the right, the wise and the sound. As the Greeks used to say, a word to the wise . . . END

UPDATE: Minor editing, addition of a few comments and of links. Also, Dec 16, expanding on the Dover statement in light of a comment made at EO.