October 2006

Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason blogged on David Kuo’s call for conservative Christians to fast from politics. Her comments were quite perceptive, and cut to the heart of why this suggestion is foolish.

“60 Minutes” this past Sunday night featured an interview with David Kuo, described as a politically-conservative Christian and Federal-government employee for the faith-based initiative office. He claims that politically-conservative Christians are being manipulated by the Republican party so he suggests a “fast” from politics to be able to evaluate the relationship of Christianity and politics. He said that Christians have been sold a bill of goods that Jesus came “primarily” with a political message. Who claims that? What Christians are interested in doing is linking up their values and their politics. Isn’t that what everyone should do? How can value-less, unprincipled voting be a virtue?

Certainly Christians need to be very wary of the allure of political power for power’s sake. Perhaps individual Christians might evaluate whether this suggestion is appropriate for them. However, it would be very unwise Christians en masse “fast” from politics because it would be abandoning our responsibilities as citizens and Christians. Other citizens who have their own ideas of what our country should be like aren’t going to “fast,” and Christians walking out of the public square would leave it without our input and balance to issues being decided. Christians have an interest in the kind of country we live in and the activities of the government we live with because it has immediate impact on the ability we have to be salt and light in our country. “Fasting” even for a time, as a group, could lead to policy changes that are difficult or even impossible to change.

Kuo discussed the issues raised by his book with Chuck Colson this morning on the Laura Ingraham show. Colson pointed out that the earliest letters recovered are letters from Christian leaders to the Roman emperor appealing for justice, so influencing the culture and politics for justice sake has been a model of the church from the beginning. Kuo is concerned that in an effort to stay politically-connected, evangelical leaders will sacrifice their values. There is that danger and that would abandon the purpose of being politically engaged. But Colson also pointed out that the church must be involved in issues of justice, which are often time by nature political. And to leave the political realm is to abandon these vital issues of responsibility that the church should be known by.


Christians should not “fast” from politics because it is an abandonment of our duties as Christians to be “salt and light” and it’s shirking our duties as citizens to participate in the important discussions and decisions taking place in our country.


I have written on this subject before, so I won’t repeat myself here. I do, however, want to share with you another quote I stumbled on, reinforcing why it is that evolution and theism are logically incompatible. In “Darwin Would Put God Out of Business,” David Klinghoffer wrote:


When it comes to Darwinian evolution and the challenge it presents to belief in God, a lot of thoughtful men and women seem intent on not facing up to a tough but necessary choice, between Darwin and God.

The key point is whether, across hundreds of millions of years, the development of life was guided or not. On one side of this chasm between worldviews are Darwinists, whose belief system asserts that life, through a material mechanism, in effect designed itself. On the other side are theories like intelligent design (ID) which argue that no such purely material mechanism could write the software in the cell, called DNA.

To put it starkly, Darwinism would put God out of business. God’s authority to command our behavior is based on His having created us. … If the process that produced existence and then life was not guided, then God is not our creator.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]


It won’t help to say God indirectly created us since He was the one who created the laws of nature responsible for bringing us, and everything else into existence. The eminent evolutionist, William Provine, explains why:

Of course, it is still possible to believe in both modern evolutionary biology and a purposive force, even the Judeo-Christian God. One can suppose that God started the whole universe or works through the laws of nature (or both). There is no contradiction between this or similar views of God and natural selection. But this view of God is also worthless. Called Deism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and considered equivalent to atheism then, it is no different now. A God or purposive force that merely starts the universe or works through the laws of nature has nothing to do with human morals, answers no prayers, gives no life everlasting, in fact does nothing whatsoever that is detectable. In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]


Well said!

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>


[1]David Klinghoffer, “Darwin Would Put God Outof Business”; available fromhttp://www.beliefnet.com/story/198/story_19844_1.html;Internet; accessed 18 September 2006.

[2]William Provine, review of Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution, by Edward J. Larson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, 224 pp.), in Academe, January 1987, pp.51-52.

Mark Hollabaugh, an astronomer and Lutheran, wrote an article for The Lutheran entitled “God allows the universe to create itself—and evolve”. Hollabaugh had this to say about evolution, Intelligent Design, and the relationship of science and religion on this matter:


As an astronomer, everywhere I look in the universe—from the largest galaxy to the smallest organism—I see evolution. As a Lutheran Christian, I also confess that God created me and all that exists. For me, there is no conflict.

Moreover, ID is poor theology. ELCA member and Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary editor Eric Ringham wrote: “[Intelligent design] attempts to define, and limit, the mind and power of God.” Why couldn’t God just let the universe evolve?<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]


I was not able to read the entire article (because it required a paid subscription, and I’m too cheap to pay for that) to see if Hollabaugh explains himself further, but given the title of his article, how can he confess that God created him and everything that exists? Either the universe created itself, or God created it. It can’t be both. The only way I can see how Hollabaugh confesses both is if he understands religious belief as subjective sentiment rather than objective truths about the world.

ID is poor theology? For one, ID is not theology; it is science. Furthermore, even if the Designer of Intelligent Design happens to be a supernatural divine being, how would what ID says about this being be bad theology? Considering the fact that ID doesn’t say anything about the Designer other than that He designed, it’s difficult to figure out what Ringham is complaining about. Before you can say someone’s theology is bad, they first have to have a theology! Simply saying someone/something designed our universe is not much of a theology.

According to Ringham ID is bad theology because it “attempts to define, and limit, the mind and power of God.” ID does not speculate about the nature of the designer, so how can it be said to be defining and limiting him? But what if they did speculate about the nature of the designer? Would Ringham’s charge make sense then? No, because the very things he defines as bad theology are the very things that every theology does. Anybody who believes in a divine being(s) attempts to define him in some way. Even saying “God is indefinable” is to define the type of being he is: an indefinable being. All theology attempts to define God, making Ringham’s charge meaningless and foolish.

What about the limiting of God? Every thing that exists, exists as something in particular. There are particular things true of that thing, and particular things not true of that thing. To exist as something concrete is to be limited.

Limit the mind and power of God? I don’t even know what Ringham is thinking on this one? My mind is not imaginative enough to figure out how ID could be limiting God’s power and mind by claiming he designed. If anything, they marvel at the magnificence of the design, which indirectly magnifies the magnificence of the Designer’s mind.

Using Hollabaugh’s own criteria for bad theology, what should we make of Hollabaugh’s theology? Does He not attempt to define God when He says (implicitly) that God is not the kind of being who would create our world? Does He not attempt to limit God’s power when He claims that something could happen apart from God’s power? Then his theology is poor as well.

What this really boils down to is a bunch of rhetoric, not clear thinking. It’s easy to throw out clichés and straw man attacks. It’s much harder to substantiate it with proof and solid reasoning.


[1]Mark Hollabaugh, “God Allows the Universe to Create Itself—and Evolve”; October 2006 issue of The Lutheran, available from http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article_buy.cfm?article_id=6093; Internet; accessed 09 October 2007.

Darwinist, Robert Eberle, shows his faith in materialism and his willingness to mischaracterize ID in a recent review of Francis Collins’s book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Eberle wrote:


Although elsewhere in the book he is highly critical of the “god of the gaps” argument employed by Intelligent Design creationists, who chase down the gaps in scientific knowledge to proclaim that this is where God intervenes, Collins’ deduction that evolution cannot account for the Moral Law is just another gap. He reviews some of the modern evolutionary explanations for the evolution of the moral sentiments, but he dismisses them as inadequate, and then draws his conclusion. This is the fallacy of personal incredulity — “I can’t think of how X can be explained naturally, ergo X must have a supernatural explanation.”[1]


These sort of comments about ID are aggravating. All creationists are IDers (in the basic sense of the word), but not all IDers are creationists. The two views are different in principle. Calling ID a creationist movement is a rhetorical device intended to dismiss ID out of hand (since the courts ruled the teaching of creationism in school unconstitutional, and since scientific data seems to disconfirm creationism proper).


Furthermore, ID is not supported by “god of the gaps” (GOG) reasoning (where God is invoked to explain that which we are ignorant of). A genuine GOG argument is an appeal to God when we lack understanding, not when we possess it. In the case of ID, it does not invoke an Intelligent Designer to explain what we do not understand, but rather to explain what we do. Design is being inferred from positive knowledge, not ignorance. It is illegitimate to label a position a GOG argument as Eberle has done, when an Intelligent Designer is appealed to as the best explanation of the evidence.


Looking at Eberle’s last two sentences, it seems as if he recognizes this. Collins examined all the naturalistic explanations, and found them explanatorily inferior to the Intelligent Designer hypothesis. The existence of an Intelligent Designer better accounted for the data, and thus Collins concluded an Intelligent Designer does exist. Eberle called this a lack of imagination. Why should Collins have to imagine anything? I thought science was about an empirical investigation of the world, not speculation! Why should Collins have to imagine possible future evidence that would unseat ID? Why can’t he just accept that as a valid and true conclusion? Why is that conclusion off-limits? Because science has been hijacked by materialism, and demands that our explanation of the cosmos be limited to purely natural causes.

This restraint is not only unfair and unprincipled, but silly. We should draw our conclusions on the evidence available to us now, not some imagined evidence that could theoretically surface in the future. If no naturalistic proposal works, and the theistic explanation makes the best sense, how can Collins be faulted for opting for it? Could a naturalistic explanation be found that is superior to the theistic one? In principle, yes. But until that day he is justified adopting the best explanation given the current evidence. The author would rather have Collins exercise faith in materialism than follow the evidence where it leads.


The real problem is not Collins’s lack of imagination, but Eberle’s overactive imagination. He is so committed to a particular philosophy that when science does not confirm it, he dogmatically maintains his faith, hoping his philosophy might be vindicated in the future. It just goes to show that belief in materialism requires an imagination, not evidence.

[1]Robert K. Eberle, “The Language of God: If God Could Talk What Would he Say?” Review of Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief; available from http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-10-03.html; Internet; accessed 03 October 2006.


ScienceDaily reported on work being done by Martin Egli, Ph.D. of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center on the origins of DNA. The article begins:


DNA’s simple and elegant structure—the “twisted ladder,” with sugar-phosphate chains making up the ‘rails’ and oxygen—and nitrogen—containing chemical “rungs” tenuously uniting the two halves—seems to be the work of an accomplished sculptor. Yet the graceful, sinuous profile of the DNA double helix is the result of random chemical reactions in a simmering, primordial stew.

Just how nature arrived at this molecule and its sister molecule, RNA, remains one of the greatest—and potentially unsolvable—scientific mysteries. But Vanderbilt biochemist Martin Egli, Ph.D., isn’t content to simply study these molecules as they are. He wants to know why they are the way they are. “These molecules are the result of evolution,” said Egli, professor of Biochemistry. “Somehow they have been shaped and optimized for a particular purpose.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>


Isn’t it strange that something so elegant and complex doesn’t need a designer? Outside of the realm of biology (which has theistic implications), would the author make such ridiculous assertions? Would he speak of the elegant structure of the space shuttle, but then go on to claim it is the result of random chance processes occurring in a primordial junk yard? Or would he say that the simple and elegant structure of the pyramids—which appear to be the work of historical designers—are just the result of random chance processes in the desert? Of course not! I find it amazing how scientists can grasp the amazing complexity, specification, and elegance of the universe and its living inhabitants, and yet deny that such required a designer.


What I find really amazing is the quote from Dr. Vanderbilt. He claims the DNA molecule is the result of evolution, and yet also maintains that it was “shaped and optimized for a particular purpose.” What! That is a Darwinian no-no. He is sneaking teleology into evolution. The two are incompatible. Theism, not evolution, allows for teleology. If there is no intelligent designer designing the universe, and all that is came about by random chance processes, then whatever is just is. Evolution does not foresee what it is creating. It does not select one mutation over another for some ultimate goal in the unforeseen future. Natural selection selects whatever is beneficial for immediate survival; nothing else. Evolution has no foresight, and no purpose.


Even evolutionists cannot escape the recognition that the universe contains purpose. Sometimes they even slip and admit it publicly. Unfortunately they fail to recognize that purpose implies design, and design implies a designer.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>

<!–[endif]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Science Daily, “Uncovering DNA’s ‘Sweet’ Secret”; available from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061003143520.htm; Internet; accessed 4 October 2006.

In late September I mentioned that I would be posting on the topic of Plan B (a.k.a. the morning after bill), specifically whether it can function as an abortifacient as well as a contraceptive. Many pro-lifers have maintained that it does, including myself. More recent evidence, however, is challenging that understanding. This evidence has caused reputable pro-life apologists such as Scott Klusendorf, Greg Koukl, Melinda Penner, and Jivin Jehoshaphat to either change their minds on this issue, or at least back-off of making positive, absolutist claims that Plan B does have an abortifacient function.


Richard Poupard, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who blogs on the Life Training Institute’s website (Scott Klusendorf’s pro-life ministry) under the name “Serge,” has written a series of posts on this topic. He presents the latest evidence on the issue from the scientific literature, all of which highly suggest Plan B does not function as an abortifacient. While I will provide links to Serge’s posts for you to read and draw your own conclusions, I would like to briefly summarize the information he presented.


While there is and will remain some doubt about the exact function of Plan B, recent studies highly suggest it does not thin the endometrium, but rather is limited to inhibiting ovulation. If you will remember from previous e-blog posts, I argued that there is good reason to believe regular oral/chemical contraceptives may have an abortifacient function because the evidence suggests they prevent the thickening of the endometrium (uterine lining), thereby producing a hostile environment for any embryo that might have been conceived when the primary function of the oral contraception (preventing ovulation) fails. A thinned endometrium reduces the chance of successful embryonic implantation, causing premature death (chemical abortion).


Since Plan B contains the same active ingredient (levonorgestrel) as many of these same oral/chemical contraceptives–albeit in a much higher dose–one would think Plan B would work in the same way; however, the evidence suggests that the increased dosage of levonorgestrel only improves the impairment of ovulation, having no effect on the endometrium. As Serge noted, “[T]here is no direct evidence that OCs [oral contraceptives] cause a ‘hostile endometrium.’ However, even if you believe that regular OCs do cause abortions, that does not indicate that Plan B EC [emergency contraception] does work via a post-fertilization event. This was a surprising aspect of this research: if Plan B acts after fertilization, the evidence…argues that it must do so by a mechanism that is different than regular OCs. … It seems that if EC works via a post-fertilization event, it must use some different mechanism than regular OCs, which appears to be based on a chronic thinning of the endometrium.”

Serge presents three lines of evidence typically employed to argue for a post-ovulatory, post-fertilization abortifacient function of Plan B:


  1. It works too well to merely suppress ovulation. There must be some post-fertilization effect that reduces the number of pregnancies.
  2. Since Plan B contains the same chemical ingredients as other oral contraceptives, it must work in the same way as other oral contraceptives. Since other oral contraceptives have an abortifacient function, so must Plan B.
  3. Plan B has been shown to be effective even after ovulation. This can only be explained by an abortifacient function of the drug.


Serge rebuts each accordingly:


  1. Recent studies reveal that Plan B is not nearly as effective as originally believed. It’s actual effectiveness makes sense if its function is limited to ovulation suppression.
  2. Even if we grant the possibility that the levonorgestrel in regular OCs produces a hostile endometrium, recent studies seem to indicate that levonorgestrel has no such effect in Plan B.
  3. The study purporting to demonstrate a post-ovulation effectiveness of Plan B guesstimated the date of ovulation of those involved in the study, rendering their findings inaccurate. Newer studies use more precise ways for determining ovulation, and they do not show a post-ovulation effectiveness of Plan B compared to control groups.


You can read the series at the following links: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.



Serge has also written a post answering the question, “Why, if Plan B does not sometimes function as an abortifacient by thinning the endometrium, does the FDA list this as one of its functions?” In short, it is because they rely on the manufacturer’s research, and a manufacturer is required to list any possible function or side-effect of a drug (much of which is based on speculation because drug manufacturers often do not know how it is that their product works [the mechanism], only that it works [the result]). Furthermore, the data that informed the manufacturer’s report of Plan B’s effectiveness (the high effectiveness rate is the reason many have believed it must have an abortifacient as well as anti-ovulatory effect) came from clinical trials that improperly guesstimated the time of ovulation. Since experimental results are only as good as the researchers’ knowledge of when ovulation occurred in the test subjects, the results themselves are highly suspect.


Yet another post quotes Anna Glasier, a contraceptive researcher who has shown that Plan B is not as effective in conception/preventing pregnancy as once claimed. Lower rates of effectiveness argues against a post-conception abortifacient effect.


Finally, Beverly Nuckols of Life Ethics provides her own review of the latest research, echoing the conclusions of Serge. This article contains further links relating to this issue. And Philip Peters reports on two lines of evidence supporting the notion that Plan B does not produce a hostile endometrium.


Concluding Remarks

While the research cited in favor of the conclusion that Plan B has no post-ovulation/fertilization effect is strong, this is still not a shut case. Some of the same researchers point to conflicting experimental data, and admit their lack of certainty on the matter. At this point in time all that can be said is that the evidence favors the view that Plan B lacks an abortifacient function. Further research may eliminate this doubt, but until that time we should be trepid in our conclusions about Plan B. It would be premature and foolish to boldly proclaim that it has absolutely no abortifacient function, but it would be intellectually dishonest to boldly proclaim that it does have an abortifacient function. We should be trepid in our conclusions, and wise in our practices and counsel.


Personally, I think it would be wise to refrain from taking Plan B until the matter is settled. When a human life may be at stake, caution and refrain is always the wisest course of action. Additionally, I think we should advise other pro-lifers about the current state of research, and counsel them accordingly. Silence on the matter would be just as foolish as bold assertions supporting or condemning the use of Plan B. We need to be intellectually honest, wise, and tolerant of disagreement while we sort through these issues in community with other pro-lifers.

Do you remember my post titled “Dying Before One’s Time?” I wrote it way back on June 28th 2006 Chad and James made some comments that I never responded to. Chad brought up a particular passage that made me rethink everything. I spent many many hours thinking and writing about it over the last few months intermittently. Pre-move and post-move life has distracted me from being able to post my thoughts until now.


I finally responded…and respond I did! I had a lot to say, but I would encourage you to revisit the issue by reading my comments here. What I have to say even has a bearing on our old March 2006 discussion about the efficacy of praying for the lost. You might be surprised to read what I have to say about that!

The NY Times recently ran an article titled “Out-of-Body Experience? Your Brain Is to Blame.” The article opens with these words:


They are eerie sensations, more common than one might think: A man
describes feeling a shadowy figure standing behind him, then turning around to
find no one there. A woman feels herself leaving her body and floating in space,
looking down on her corporeal self.


Such experiences are often attributed by those who have them to
paranormal forces.
But according to recent work by neuroscientists, they can
be induced by delivering mild electric current to specific spots in the brain.


Like the TIME magazine article I blogged about a couple of days ago, this article is an example of reductionistic thinking at its best. It attempts to explain out-of-body experiences (OBE) in purely physicalist terms, eliminating the need to invoke the supernatural. While the scientific find supporting the article’s “thesis” are fascinating, it does not eliminate the supernatural. Indeed, the find does not make sense apart from the existence of the supernatural.


The article describes how, in preparation for surgery, a Swedish neurologist inserted dozens of electrodes into the brains of two women suffering from epilepsy. When the electrode connected to the angular gyrus region of the brain was activated, it produced some bizarre and unexpected experiences. One woman described her experience as “a weird sensation that another person was lying beneath her on the bed.” She said it “felt like a ‘shadow’ that did not speak or move; it was young, more like a man than a woman, and it wanted to interfere with her.” When the current stopped, the feeling of the presence went away. When the current was reapplied, the feeling returned.


The same experiment produced a significantly different experience for another woman a few years earlier. When the electrode in her brain was activated she had a complete OBE. She told the researcher, “I am at the ceiling. I am looking down at my legs.” When the current stopped she said, “I’m back on the table now. What happened?” According to the article “further applications of the current returned the woman to the ceiling, causing her to feel as if she were outside of her body, floating, her legs dangling below her.”


How do researchers explain this? According to the article


researchers have discovered that some areas of the brain combine
information from several senses. Vision, hearing and touch are initially
processed in the primary sensory regions. But then they flow together, like
tributaries into a river, to create the wholeness of a person’s perceptions. …


These multisensory processing regions also build up perceptions of
the body as it moves through the world…. Sensors in the skin provide information
about pressure, pain, heat, cold and similar sensations. Sensors in the joints,
tendons and bones tell the brain where the body is positioned in space. Sensors
in the ears track the sense of balance. And sensors in the internal organs,
including the heart, liver and intestines, provide a readout of a person’s
emotional state.


Real-time information from the body, the space around the body and
the subjective feelings from the body are also represented in multisensory
regions…. And if these regions are directly simulated by an electric current, as
in the cases of the two women he studied, the integrity of the sense of body can
be altered.


More specifically, why did one woman feel a distinct presence that shadowed her own? According to the author, Dr. Blanke postulates that “because the presence closely mimicked the patient’s body posture and position…the patient was experiencing an unusual perception of her own body, as a double. But for reasons that scientists have not been able to explain…she did not recognize that it was her own body she was sensing.”


What about the woman who had the OBE? “Because the woman’s felt position in space and her actual position in space did not match, her mind cast about for the best way to turn her confusion into a coherent experience…. She concluded that she must be floating up and away while looking downward. … [W]hile it may be tempting to invoke the supernatural when this body sense goes awry,…the true explanation is a very natural one, the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information.”


There you have it! It’s all in your brain. No supernatural is needed. Reductionism at its finest. Peter Brugger, a neurologist at University Hospital in Zurich, told the reporter ‘there is nothing mystical about these ghostly experiences.’ According to Brugger “the research shows that the self can be detached from the body and can live a phantom existence on its own, as in an out-of-body experience, or it can be felt outside of personal space, as in a sense of a presence.”


The researchers, and the author reporting it, commit the same logical fallacy as TIME: thinking correlation means causation. I admit that the association between various regions in the brain and certain surreal experiences is quite a discovery, but that association is not tantamount to causation, yet alone identification. I explain the fallacy in my “What Makes Man Different from Chimps” post, so I will not repeat myself here.


The Soul Won’t Go Away That Easily


What I want to focus on is how these experiments fail to eliminate the supernatural (meaning anything beyond the natural world, not necessarily “God”). It seems to me that an appeal to the existence of the supernatural—specifically a human soul—is the only way to make sense of what these women experienced (particularly the woman who had the OBE).


First, notice how Dr. Brugger presupposes that the self is distinct from the body, even though his view reduces the self to the physical constituents of the body. In case you missed it he said “research shows that the self can be detached from the body and live a phantom existence on its own as an out-of-body experience.” If the self can be detached from the body so as to have its own existence apart from the body, then it is not reducible to the body. It must be something other than material; i.e. immaterial. Even reductionists cannot help but to speak of the center of our consciousness as something distinct from the physical body.


Second, if these experiments demonstrate that there is nothing mystical or supernatural about OBEs—and that it’s a purely chemical-physical phenomenon—then how do they explain the details of the experience the woman described? She said she was at the ceiling, looking down at her legs. How could she see her legs from the ceiling if the only way to see is with one’s material eyes, and her eyes were on the ground looking up at the ceiling? As Jonathan Witt noted:


If anything, that only makes it more mysterious that the electrical
stimulation of that bit of tissue can trigger the experience of being up near
the ceiling looking down at one’s own body. Why? How? How can you see without
your eyes? Are those experiences just hallucinations? Is the storied accuracy of
things seen and heard during “near-death” OBEs strictly apocryphal? The purely
material explanation is not the simplest one, the Occam’s Razor close shave.
You’d have to go through contortions to explain why the brain would accurately
record precise details of a scene in the midst of a mortal crisis, then choose
to hallucinate an accurate view of that scene from a physically impossible


What we’re talking about here is the transferring of one’s first-person perspective from inside their body, to some location external to their body. If one’s first-person perspective can be located somewhere outside their body, so that they can look upon their own body as if it were someone else’s body, clearly our first-person conscious self must transcend our physical body. It must be immaterial, and capable of existing apart from the body. This is precisely what the Christian doctrine of the soul maintains. I think this research is good scientific evidence for the existence of the soul, and a crushing blow to materialistic reductionism.


Other Errors


While reading the article my mind harkened back to Dean Hamer’s book, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes (2004). Both claim to explain away mystical experiences as mere biological misunderstandings. Some of my
criticisms of Hamer’s work are equally applicable to the NYT article.


Even if were true that the brain alone is responsible for these sorts of mystical experiences, there is no necessary connection between such experiences and belief in God. Not everyone who has these sorts of mystical experiences believes they are from God. In fact, neither of the two women documented in the experiment interpreted the feeling/experience as being the divine, or divine in origin.


Furthermore, even if the ultimate cause of these experiences is biological in nature, and even if everyone who experienced them interpreted them as being from the divine, this could not explain away religious faith because so few people have ever had such experiences. I would argue that most people who believe in God do so without ever having had a mystical experience. Quite a few believe in God for purely intellectual reasons. Others simply have an intuitive awareness of His existence. If these sorts of experiences do not cause believers to believe, faith in God is not deterred when the experiences are shown to be biological rather than religious in origin and nature.


At best these findings demonstrate that it is not rational to conclude God exists simply because you have experienced a feeling of self-transcendence. But to conclude God is a figment of our biological imagination because people have improperly confused biological malfunctioning for a religious experience is a categorical error. While humans may be guilty of confusing a biological function for a religious experience, it does not follow that God is a figment of our biological imagination.


If the feeling of transcendence is a biological experience rather than religious experience, then studies performed on that experience only tell us about biology, not religion. The question of God’s existence remains a philosophical question, not a biological question. While the sciences can tell us a lot about the physical world, they are not equipped to properly evaluate the spiritual. Only philosophy is equipped to evaluate metaphysical issues such as the existence of God


[1]Jonathan Witt, “This is your brain on materialism”; available from

; Internet; accessed 09 October 2006.

—Note, for context see the two previous posts—


In this post I want to explore a little further the attitude expressed by Shannon Minter and Dennis Herrera, that the courts–rather than the people–are to decide important moral issues in this country. An anonymous commentator recently posted a comment to one of my blog entries, arguing that contrary to my complaint, courts are supposed to decide these moral issues for America.


S/he wrote: “That’s the point of having courts – to avoid the main flaw of democracy, majoritarianism. In the early 20th century the majority of americans were happy with segregation, and it was the job of the courts to choose the moral right despite the will of the people. Our courts, on the highest levels, are free from election for this reason. As a side note, I have no interest in seeing polygamy legalized and I don’t believe that religion should ever be afforded these special rights by reason of their participants credulity.”


This is a widely held belief among Americans. They have become so accustomed to courts deciding controversial moral matters for this nation that they have come to believe it is their job to do so. Some of my questions/comments to the anonymous poster are worth repeating here:


Where do you get the idea that the purpose of the courts is to choose the moral right despite the will of the people? Do you find that in the Constitution? No. Do you find that in the writings of the Founding Fathers? No. You are talking about how the government is supposed to function. If you are going to assert that the purpose of the judicial branch is to choose the moral right when the majority won’t, you’ll need a reference in the Constitution that says so, because that is the document detailing the function and responsibility of each branch of government.


What makes you think judges are in a better place to judge what is right than the rest of us are, including the other two branches of government? You seem to presuppose (whether aware of it or not) that judges are morally and intellectually superior to everyone else. Nonsense. If judges can overrule the will of the majority whenever they do not like it, then we do not have a democracy; we have an oligarchy.


You also seem to presuppose that whenever judges make a decision that goes against the will of the majority, that such a decision is for the moral good. But why believe that? It may be easy to think that these days given the liberality of our judges and their judicial philosophy. But what if the tables were turned? You sound like you might be a social liberal. What if the majority of Americans were social liberals like yourself, and yet the justices were social conservatives? If they kept overturning the will of the people on the basis that the will of the people was immoral, would you be saying “the purpose of the courts is to choose the moral right despite the will of the people”? I highly doubt it. You would be saying the courts are interfering with democracy. I would agree. Let me give you an example.


I oppose embryonic stem cell research (but support the morally neutral adult stem cell research). I happen to live in CA, a state that recently approved $6 billion dollars in research dollars for this kind of research. My fellow citizens voted this in. While I am completely opposed to it, and while I am being forced to fund it with my tax dollars, I would not think of trying to overturn the law by shopping my case to some court that would do just that. It was the will of the people. And clearly, it is Constitutional. I know so because our Constitution says nothing about ESCR; therefore, judges have no business ruling on its legality. What I will do, however, is work to persuade my fellow citizens to change the law. I will work to change their mind/will, so that the majority will shift to my position. That is democracy. Unfortunately liberals cannot persuade the majority to adopt their view, so they circumvent the democratic process by taking their case up before unelected judges who share their views, and get the law pronounced “unconstitutional” (even though 99% of the time the Constitution has nothing to do with it).


The fact of the matter is that the personal opinion of a justice should have nothing to do with his/her decision. Their job is to interpret what the law is, not what they would like it to be. When the Constitutionality of a law is in question, again, the purpose of a justice is not to determine whether they think it ought to be permitted, but whether the Constitution permits it. That is a question of interpretation of a historical document. It’s not a question of a judge’s own personal views on the issue.

Now for the good news on the judicial front (see last post). Last week the 1st District Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision in 2005 that CA’s laws against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. I’m not excited about this ruling simply because it agreed with my own position, but rather because it demonstrated the judicial restraint that is integral to a properly functioning judiciary, and a properly functioning democracy. Listen to what the justices had to say in this 2-1 decision:


“We conclude California’s historical definition of marriage does not deprive individuals of a vested fundamental right.”

“Courts simply do not have the authority to create new rights, especially when doing so involves the definition of so fundamental an institution as marriage.”—William McGuiness, presiding justice of the 1st District Court of Appeal

“Marriage has historically stood for the principle that men and women who may, without planning or intending to do so, give life to a child should raise that child in a bonded, cooperative and enduring relationship.”—Justice Joanne C. Parrilli, in a concurring opinion. [She noted that it is hardly irrational for the state to recognize this, and thus privilege marriage to a man and woman].

A resounding YES! I’m so happy to know there are still courts out there who are interested in justice, but recognize that their job is to interpret the law, not make the law. It’s a breath of fresh air; a departure from the many cases in which judges impose their moral views on the rest of America under the rubric of interpreting the law.


As you can guess, not everyone was happy with the decision. Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, claims that the “majority abdicated their judicial responsibility.” How? “It is incorrect and unfair to say that the courts don’t have the responsibility to decide whether excluding a group of people from marriage is constitutional. That is their job. That is exactly what the governor said.”


She is referring to a statement the Governator made last year (I believe) when he was faced with having to sign or veto a bill that would approve same-sex marriage in CA. He said the issue was one the courts needed to decide. Interestingly he vetoed the bill on the grounds that the people had decided the issue in 2000 through a ballot initiative (Prop 22), and the will of the people should not be overturned. I think he was right about the latter, but wrong about the former. Personally, I think the Governator was trying to find any way he could to pass the responsibility to someone else for the decision he had to, and did make. Clearly he was not expressing the way the government is supposed to function, and Minter should no better. What the courts are supposed to do is determined by our constitution, not the comments of a governor. Rather than abdicating their judicial responsibility, the court submitted to it.


San Francisco attorney, Dennis J. Herrera, was not happy either. He said, “If other courts had followed this reasoning, schools would still be segregated, and married couples would not be able to use birth control.” That may be true, but as I have argued previously on this blog (when it was still an e-blog), while the opinion of the justices on these issues may have been the right opinion, they thwarted and undermined democracy by ignoring the will of the majority:


[T]he Supreme Court is not the place to decide social issues such as slavery, abortion, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, access to contraception, etc. Those issues properly belong to the people to decide through their elected legislators. Was it wrong to have slavery legal in this country? Yes! Was it wrong to prevent a white and black couple from marrying? Yes! Was it wrong to discriminate and segregate based on gender and race? Yes! But the Court is not the place to correct such social injustices. I’m glad we no longer have unjust laws against interracial marriages, but I am upset that the Supreme Court took it upon themselves to decide those matters for us. The people should have decided them. The Supreme Court is so haughty that it thinks it can wrest away every political issue from the states and decide it for us, and then we have to simply bite our tongues. Nonsense!

There’s more I would like to say about this, so I will do so in a new post.

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I often report on where courts go wrong. It’s easy to do with so much judicial activism going on these days. But if I am going to report on bad decisions, I should report on good decisions as well. So here’s a good report. Well…a good report is coming. First I have a bad report, but not about the courts.


On September 30 the governor of CA, Arnold Schwarzenegger (a.k.a. the Governator), signed a barrage of bills, including a very important bill affecting the fight for marriage. If you follow the mass media, you probably didn’t even hear about it. The bill allows for same-sex couples in CA to file their state taxes as a married couple. Why does that matter? Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason explains:


[T]he people of California passed Propositions 22 several years ago making it the law of the state that marriage is between a man and a woman. Did that law protect the word “marriage” or a privileged recognition by the state? The Governor and the representatives who passed this law are playing word games.

Marriage, in the legal sense, is a government-recognized status marked by privileges and responsibilities given by the government. When the legislators an [sic] the Governor start handing out those privileges that constitute the government recognition of marriage they are treating same-sex partnerships as married without legally using the word. They’re treating marriage as only a word, not a status. They apparently think that by not using the word “marriage” that they aren’t violating the people’s wishes. When the voters of California passed Prop. 22 we weren’t just interested in protecting the word marriage – we weren’t playing word games. We were protecting the thing – the government-recognized status.

Governor Schwarzenegger has stated in the past that Proposition 22 was the will of the people and it had to be respected, even if it wasn’t his personal view. The governor has now violated that will he professed to respect by playing this game started by the state legislators. And here’s the larger game: If they cane [sic] gradually parcel out the privileges and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex partners, one of these days they’ll declare that we might just as well use the word “marriage” since we’re already treating them as married.

Marriage from the government’s perspective isn’t just a word, it’s a recognized status. It’s the status, the recognition, that is at issue here. Lawmakers should stop playing word games.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

That’s the bad news. In my next post I will give you the good news.



<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Melinda Penner, “Word Games”; available from http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2006/10/word_games.html; Internet; accessed 03 October 2006.

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Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous evolutionist and atheist, continues to vilify religion in his new book, The God Delusion. In an essay explaining and promoting the book on his website Dawkins offered a lot of food for a lack of thought. Concerning the kalaam cosmological argument Dawkins writes:


Accepting, then, that the God Hypothesis is a proper scientific hypothesis whose truth or falsehood is hidden from us only by lack of evidence, what should be our best estimate of the probability that God exists, given the evidence now available? Pretty low I think, and I spend a couple of chapters of The God Delusion explaining why.

Most of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, from Aquinas on, are easily demolished. Several of them, such as the First Cause argument, work by setting up an infinite regress which God is wheeled out to terminate. But we are never told why God is magically able to terminate regresses while needing no explanation himself. To be sure, we do need some kind of explanation for the origin of all things. Physicists and cosmologists are hard at work on the problem. But whatever the answer – a random quantum fluctuation or a Hawking/Penrose singularity or whatever we end up calling it – it will be simple. Complex, statistically improbable things, by definition, don’t just happen; they demand an explanation in their own right. They are impotent to terminate regresses, in a way that simple things are not. The first cause cannot have been an intelligence – let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshipped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.

Even before Darwin’s time, the illogicality was glaring: how could it ever have been a good idea to postulate, in explanation for the existence of improbable things, a designer who would have to be even more improbable? The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin was born.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

Obviously Dawkins does not do much reading of theistic apologists, because his “clever” objection has been answered time and time again. Such ignorance is unacceptable for an Oxford scholar.


But let’s say the answer was not accounted for. Does that matter? Would it lessen the force of the argument that the universe needs a cause, and that the cause must be supernatural (immaterial, non-spatial, and non-temporal)? No! Assuming God had a cause, the fact that we would not know what caused Him no more argues against His existence and causal necessity than the fact that I don’t know who my great-great-great-great grandparents were argues against the fact that my great-great-great grandparents are the cause of my existence.


What does Dawkins think the failure of OOL (origin of life) research does to the strength and coherence of Darwinism?


The origin of life on this planet – which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule – is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable – in the sense of unpredictable – event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened. This weirdly paradoxical conclusion – that a chemical account of the origin of life, in order to be plausible, has to be implausible – would follow from the premise that life is extremely rare in the universe. And to be sure, we have never encountered any hint of extraterrestrial life, not even by radio – the circumstance that prompted Enrico Fermi’s cry: “Where is everybody?”

How convenient. No evidence is evidence; failure is success. It can never be demonstrated, therefore it is true; to be plausible it must be implausible. Yes, Richard, that is quite weird. In fact, it’s more than weird. It’s irrational and foolish. How is the failure of scientists to give a purely naturalistic account for the OOL evidence that the OOL came about through purely naturalistic means? Without any empirical evidence that life can come from non-life (yet alone that it did in the past), how can it be considered a fact? How can he, a lover of science, be so certain that life originated naturally if there is no scientific evidence that it did? Ahh…it’s because his conclusion is not rooted in science, but in the philosophy of materialism. As is often the case with atheistic scientists, philosophy trumps science when the two are in conflict.


Dawkins shows how he is part of the new brand of atheists who affirm the more modest claim that there is no good reason to believe God exists, rather than the strong claim that there is no God: “We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.”


Why is Dawkins so hostile to religion?


Scientists have a particular reason to be hostile to any systematically organized effort to teach children to reject evidence in favour of faith, revelation, authority and tradition. Religion teaches people to be satisfied with petty, small-minded non-explanations or mysteries, and this is a tragedy, given that the true explanations are so enthralling. Moreover, such hostility as I have is limited to words. I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers, just because of a theological disagreement.

Here is the typical faith vs. science dichotomy in which faith is blind but science is pure objective rationality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith is not blind, but a reasoned judgment in reality. Faith is informed by the evidence, not in spite of it.


One of the more surprising quotes is this one:


Just as Darwinian biology raised our consciousness to the power of science to explain things outside biology, and just as feminists taught us to flinch when we hear “One man one vote”, I want us to flinch when we hear of a ‘Christian child’ or a ‘Muslim child”. Small children are too young to know their views on life, ethics and the cosmos. We should no more speak of a Christian child than of a Keynesian child, a monetarist child or a Marxist child. Automatic labelling of children with the religion of their parents is not just presumptuous. It is a form of mental child abuse.

No comment is necessary. This speaks for itself.

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Richard Dawkins, “Richard Dawkins Explains His Latest Book” available from http://richarddawkins.net/mainPage.php?bodyPage=article_body.php&id=170 as of 9/20/06, but subsequently removed on 9/23/06. It was reproduced at http://id-idea.blogspot.com/2006/09/richard-dawkins-explains-his-latest.html; Internet; accessed 03 October 2006.

TIME magazine’s latest cover story, “What Makes Us Different?”, explores just what it is that makes man different from chimps. Do you think they identified it as a qualitative difference rooted in the fact that we are made in the image of God? Of course not. Genetics explains it all. Of the many quotable quotes, this really caught my eye:

Yet tiny differences, sprinkled throughout the genome, have made all the difference. Agriculture, language, art, music, technology and philosophy–all the achievements that make us profoundly different from chimpanzees and make a chimp in a business suit seem so deeply ridiculous–are somehow encodedarranged in a specific order, that endow us with the brainpower to outthink and outdo our closest relatives on the tree of life. They give us the ability to speak and write and read, to compose symphonies, paint masterpieces and delve into the molecular biology that makes us what we are.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> within minute fractions of our genetic code. Nobody yet knows precisely where they are or how they work, but somewhere in the nuclei of our cells are handfuls of amino acids,

Laid side by side, these three sets of genetic blueprints [human, chimpanzee, and Neanderthal]—plus the genomes of gorillas and other primates, which are already well on the way to being completely sequenced—will not only begin to explain precisely what makes us human but could lead to a better understanding of human diseases and how to treat them.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>

Two things should be noted. First, notice their use of design language: “encoded,” “arranged in a specific order.” Natural selection is blind and random. It can’t encode or arrange anything. Only designers can do that. It’s amazing how often those who deny design affirm it in the way they speak. They simply cannot escape their intuitive recognition of design.

Second, I am struck by the reductionism advanced in this article (reductionism is when what is perceived to be two things are reduced to one). For the authors, we don’t simply have genes; we are our genes. What makes us human can be reduced to our genes (“genetic blueprints…explain precisely what makes us human”). Furthermore, behaviors peculiar to human beings such as ingenuity, creativity, and speech, can all be explained entirely in terms of genetics. If we were able to insert the genes for writing and creativity into a chimp, he may become the next Shakespeare.

The authors commit the fallacy of deducing causation from correlation. This fallacy mistakenly assumes that if there is a correlation between A and B, A must be the cause of B. If a particular gene (A) correlates with a certain behavior (B), it must be the cause of that behavior. To see why this reasoning is fallacious consider the following example: every morning the rooster crows, and then the sun rises; therefore, the rooster’s crow causes the sun to rise. This is obviously fallacious. Consider another example: studies have shown a correlation between reading ability and feet size. Those with very small feet cannot read, while those with larger feet can. Larger feet, therefore, cause one’s ability to read. That might sound persuasive until you learn that those with very small feet are toddlers who have not yet been taught to read!

The authors mistakenly assume that if there is a correlation between a particular gene and a particular human behavior/ability, that the gene must be the cause of the behavior. That could be, but it cannot be assumed based on the correlation alone. As dualists, we would argue that the soul utilizes the genes to perform such behaviors and exercise such abilities, but that the abilities themselves are grounded in the soul. This does not deny the causal involvement of the genes, but it removes them from being the ultimate cause to a mere intermediate cause. It’s one thing to say certain genes are involved in certain behaviors/abilities, but wholly another to say certain genes cause those behaviors/abilities.

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HT: Scott at Uncommon Descent


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, “What Makes Us Different?”, TIME magazine, 01 October 2006; available from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1541283,00.html; Internet; accessed 05 October 2006.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, “What Makes Us Different?”, TIME magazine, 01 October 2006; available from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1541283-2,00.html; Internet; accessed 05 October 2006.

Is it just me, or does Val Kilmer look like Bishop Justinian of

Bart Ehrman, a leading NT textual critic, recently wrote a book by the above title that has been selling like hot-cakes. The book is an introduction to the field of NT textual criticism for a lay audience, but with a theological agenda. Ehrman, an ex-Evangelical turned liberal agnostic, portrays the reliability of the NT text as uncertain. While he makes concessions to the contrary, the emphasis in his book is on our doubts about the text rather than our amazing certainty. Such an emphasis has caused many lay readers to seriously doubt the veracity of the NT.


Daniel Wallace has written an excellent review of the book entitled “The Gospel According to Bart.” Wallace is well-versed in the field of NT textual criticism. I would highly recommend you read his review. It is thorough, and yet fairly concise. And as always, Wallace is fair and respectful.

I never ceased to be amazed at all of the scientific inaccuracies and spin the mainstream media is responsible for when reporting on embryonic stem cell research and cloning (and to a lesser extent, abortion).

This morning I read an article on This Is London about English researchers who are seeking to clone human embryos using rabbit eggs rather than human eggs. If successful, the resulting embryo would be a chimera: part human, part non-human. In this case it would be 99.9% human, .1% rabbit.

Not to make light of the moral issues involved with creating chimeras, but I can’t help to laugh when I think about what would happen if one of these cloned embryos was allowed to be born (rather than killing it within 14 days). Can you imagine what little Johnny would say in his 4th grade class when he has to research and report on his genealogy: “I am part English, part Italian, and part rabbit. My mom is the Cadbury bunny, my grandpa is Peter Cottontail, and my great grandpa is the Easter Bunny!

Humor aside, while creating chimeras has been going on for some time now, I find it odd how cavalier the reporting on it is. It is reported on as if there are no qualms about joining human and animals together. Maybe it’s because there is usually so little animal DNA involved (or the converse). The scary thing is that eventually scientists will start mixing more and more genetic info together so that it will be difficult to distinguish whether the chimera is human, animal, or something else. Right now scientists are simply getting the public comfortable with the practice in principle. Then, they will use the boil-the-frog strategy in which they will gradually and incrementally increase the mixing of DNA until they are finally able to achieve the levels of genetic mixing they really desire. The process will be slow enough that we—like a frog—won’t realize we’re being boiled in a pot of water.

But I digress. The reason I bring this article to your attention is to highlight what the article did not say, and the spin on what they did say.

What they did not say is that what these scientists want to do is clone human beings. As a general rule scientists and the media go to great lengths to avoid the “C” word, even if it means being intellectually dishonest and redefining established scientific definitions. The author did admit that what is being produced is an embryo (which is more than American media will usually admit), but s/he would not say how that embryo is being produced. S/he leaves it as the vague “create embryos.”

The article ends with these words: “The embryos will be allowed to grow for only 14 days, at which point they will be cells smaller than a pinhead.” Apart from the fact that this sentence seems to stop short of an actual finish by failing to note that they will be killed by the 14th day, and apart from the fact that this is a strange way to end an article, what is said is a common liberal tactic to devalue the life of that which they advocate killing. Why else comment on the size of the embryo? The presupposition is that since they are so small, they do not have value. How being small deprives one of value is never explained or defended. It is merely assumed, and merely asserted. The next time you hear somebody repeat this line, a good question to ask them is Exactly what size does one have to be before they become valuable and obtain the right to life? Chirp chirp chirp chirp.

If a church member commits adultery, and the elders enact church discipline via informing the congregation of their sin, is that an invasion of privacy? That’s the issue a couple of churches in Texas are facing since they have been sued by their congregants for doing just this.

Andy and Seni, I’d be interested to get your legal take on this.

This brings up an important matter: the proper interpretation of I Timothy 5:20–“Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest.” Many pastors understand this passage to mean they are to publicly rebuke saints for personal moral failure. Many use this passage as an excuse to publicly rebuke saints for violating certain pastoral standards as well. Does this verse give them authority to do either? The answer is a resounding NO! The context makes it abundantly clear that those to be rebuked are elders who sin. Consider the preceding verses:

Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. 5:18 For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.” 5:19 Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it can be confirmed by two or three witnesses. (5:17-19)

The reason elders are to be rebuked is because of their leadership role. Others are following them as they follow Christ. If they are not following Christ, those following them need to know. Furthermore, if the sin is hidden rather than publicly dealt with it opens the church up to the charge of mishandling and cover-up. Just ask the Catholic Church! But when it comes to non-elders it is a different story. According to Proverbs 10:12 “love covers all sins.” I Peter 4:8 says “love covers a multitude of sins.” Love seeks to hide the moral failures of the repentant, not make them public.

Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures (MCSCRC), a cloning and embryonic stem cell research advocacy group, uses misinformation to persuade the Michigan public towards their agenda. For example, on their FAQ page for somatic cell nuclear transfer they responded as follows to the question, “What is somatic cell nuclear transfer?”:


Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is a laboratory procedure that creates embryos for use in stem cell research; sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning.” In SCNT, nuclear transfer is used for medical treatment or research. For example, nuclear transfer could be used to create a line of embryonic stem cells genetically identical to the donor. These embryonic stem cells could then be used to generate specialized cells that are transplanted into the patient to replace cells lost to injury or disease. When used in a medical treatment, this would ensure that the new cells would not face rejection by the patient’s immune system. Nuclear transfer also gives researchers the ability to create stem cell lines that carry genetic defects that cause inherited human diseases, allowing them to study the origin of these diseases and potentially to develop new treatments.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

This is simply not true. SCNT is a laboratory procedure that creates human embryos, period. What scientists intend to do with the embryos created by SCNT is irrelevant. The MCSCRC is illegitimately incorporating scientists’ intentions into the definition of SCNT itself.


They are a little more honest when answering the question, “How does SCNT work?”


SCNT substitutes the nucleus of a somatic cell (which contains all the genetic information of the patient) for the nucleus of a donated egg that has not been fertilized. In cell culture, this customized egg is then coaxed with an electronic or chemical catalyst to develop into a zygote as if it had been fertilized. The zygote begins cell division and develops into a ball of cells called the morula and then into the blastocyst at approximately five days. The inner cell mass of the blastocyst is then removed to generate a pluripotent stem cell line. After the inner cell mass is removed, the blastocyst is no longer capable of further development.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>

At least they indicate what the product is (zygote). Unfortunately, most people will not know what that is. And rather than calling it an embryo after the one-cell stage, they refer to it as a morula. It appears that they are trying to avoid the word “human” and “embryo” at all costs.


And don’t miss the euphemism for killing: “no longer capable of further development.”


The most disingenuous quote is when answering the question, “Can SCNT be used to clone humans?” They answer:


No. The purpose of SCNT is to find cures and therapies to treat human disease. SCNT awakens the natural capacity for self-repair that resides in a person’s genes. While SCNT has been the technique used to clone animals like “Dolly” the sheep, there is no evidence that it could also successfully clone a human due to the increased complexity of the human organism. The overwhelming consensus of the scientific and medical communities in the United States is that human reproductive cloning should be banned.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[3]<!–[endif]–>

What a mess of a statement! In one sense they are right. Current technology has not advanced to the point where a human has been successfully cloned, but people all over the world are trying to do this very thing! But they contradict themselves. They say SCNT can’t be used to clone humans, and yet they say cloning humans should be banned. Why do so if SCNT is incapable of doing so? Obviously it can.


To say the purpose of SCNT is to find cures is absolutely false. The purpose of SCNT is to create new human beings asexually. What the creator of those human beings does with them afterwards is irrelevant to what the purpose of SCNT is in itself.


On their “Facts & Myth page” they answer the supposed myth that “cloning is cloning is cloning. It’s all the same.”


FACT: Not all cloning is the same. According to the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR), scientists do many kinds of cloning every day, most of which is commonly accepted. Cloning has allowed scientists to develop powerful new drugs and to produce insulin and useful bacteria in the lab. It also allows researchers to track the origins of biological weapons, catch criminals, and free innocent people. There’s a world of difference between reproductive cloning- something that should be banned right away – and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Therapeutic cloning is the transplanting of a patient’s own DNA into an unfertilized egg in order to grow stem cells that could cure devastating diseases. Reproductive cloning is the use of cloning technology to create a child. GPI, along with leading scientists and most Americans, oppose reproductive cloning.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–>

What exactly is the “world of difference” between reproductive and therapeutic cloning? There is none! It’s the same process, the same result. The only difference is what the scientist does with the clone once SCNT is complete.


They go on to tackle this supposed myth: “Therapeutic cloning is a slippery slope that leads to reproductive cloning. There is no dividing line between the two forms of cloning.”

FACT: Therapeutic cloning produces stem cells, not babies. With therapeutic cloning, there is no fertilization of the egg by sperm, no implantation in the uterus and no pregnancy. Dr. Harold Varmus, the former head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a Nobel laureate, says there is a profound distinction between cloning with the intent of making a human being and research cloning to help understand and treat life-threatening diseases and conditions. Implantation into a womb is the clear, bright line that divides reproductive and non-reproductive technologies. Without implantation, no new human life is possible. This is where society can and must draw the line.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–>

This is laughable! There are so many word games being played here I don’t know where to begin. The MCSCRC recognizes that most people use “baby” to refer to a post-natal human being. By choosing to use that word they can say cloning does not produce babies. But they know that’s now what people are concerned with. People are concerned that cloning produces a new human being. And they should be because it does! Besides, therapeutic cloning does not produce stem cells. It produces human zygotes who begin to develop in the same way every one of us developed at that stage in our lives.


The fact that there is no fertilization involved in cloning (by definition) is irrelevant. Both fertilization and cloning produce the exact same product: a human zygote. The fact that scientists fail to implant the clone into a uterus does not change what it is. And to say “without implantation no new human life is possible” is simply false. Obviously the embryo from which the scientists are extracting stem cells are alive, and their genetic signature identifies them as human. In fact, that’s why scientists are interested in their stem cells.




<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>1<!–[endif]–>Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research & Cures, “Facts &amp; Myth”; available from http://www.stemcellresearchformichigan.com/faq-somatic.html; Internet; accessed 22 September 2006.

2Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research & Cures, “Facts &amp; Myth”; available from http://www.stemcellresearchformichigan.com/faq-somatic.html; Internet; accessed 22 September 2006.

3Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research & Cures, “Facts &amp; Myth”; available from http://www.stemcellresearchformichigan.com/faq-somatic.html; Internet; accessed 22 September 2006.

4Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research & Cures, “Facts &amp; Myth”; available from http://www.stemcellresearchformichigan.com/factsmyths.html; Internet; accessed 22 September 2006.

5Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research & Cures, “Facts &amp; Myth”; available from http://www.stemcellresearchformichigan.com/factsmyths.html; Internet; accessed 22 September 2006.


Utah polygamists have filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah for refusing to issue a marriage license for G. Lee Cook to marry “J. Bronson” on the basis that he already had one wife. The first attempt to have their case heard was turned down by a federal judge, but on 9-25-06 the 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals accepted it.

The Cook’s attorney, Brian Barnard, is arguing that the ban on polygamy is unconstitutional because it targets a specific religion—Mormonism—and it prohibits the free expression of personal religious beliefs.

Regarding the former, the law is neutral in this regard. No one in this country—Mormon or not—can marry more than one person. Regarding the latter, I quote Barnard:

“The sincere and deeply held religious beliefs of J. Bronson, D. Cook and G. Lee Cook are that the doctrine of plural marriage, i.e., a man having more than one wife, is ordained of God and is to be encouraged and practiced.”


“Utah’s criminalization of religious polygamy, even if the crime is rarely prosecuted, brands plaintiffs as criminals and sanctions public and private discrimination based on plaintiffs’ religious based choice of marital relationship.”


In the first statement Barnard is assuming that because the practice is rooted in religious belief it cannot be properly legislated against according to the First Amendment. But this proves too much. Such a principle would turn the free exercise clause into silly putty, requiring us to give legal sanction to any practice someone labels as religious. What if a religion existed (or was invented) in which molesting children was commanded by their gods? Would we have to allow that practice based on the First Amendment? Of course not! The free-exercise clause has limitations. Just what those limits are, unfortunately, is not so clear cut. One thing is clear: societies govern the range of behaviors they will promote, accept, and tolerate, and those they will prohibit. The grounds for determining which are which is our moral intuitions and persuasions. The means is the voting booth.

As a democratic nation, the collective moral judgments of the voting majority will be enshrined into law (unless you live in CA where the legislature doesn’t care what the people want, and most people are so consumed with their plastic lives that they don’t realize or care what their representatives are doing in Sacramento!). Why should the collective moral judgment of the majority be set aside to make room for a religious behavior that the majority of the citizens find immoral? If a democratic nation cannot pass laws prohibiting immoral behavior when the practitioners of those behaviors claim it is religious, then we do not have a democracy. The majority would be subject to the minority, required to allow any religious practice no matter how much it goes against our moral sensibilities, and how damaging it may be to society. That cannot be. In the same way we can prohibit “religious” child molestation without violating the First Amendment on the grounds that it is morally wrong, we can prohibit religious polygamy on moral grounds as well.

His second statement is not much better. Of course those who break the law are criminals, and will be branded as such! Is he really suggesting that we change the law so his clients can avoid being viewed and treated as criminals? What if bank robbers argued this way: “The criminalization of theft brands bank robbers as criminals, and sanctions public and private discrimination based on our choice of employment. To avoid this distasteful situation, we propose theft be made legal.”

Of particular interest is the legal justification he offers for overturning the current ban on polygamy. Referring to a 2003 case in which the Supreme Court overturned Texas’s anti-sodomy laws (Lawrence v. Texas) Barnard wrote, “The [Supreme Court] found no compelling state interest in criminalizing homosexual sodomy based on a long history of states and/or a majority of society finding the practice immoral. Similarly, the state of Utah can offer no compelling justification for criminalizing polygamy.”

Two things should be noted. First, many social conservatives predicted that liberals would use the Lawrence decision as legal ammunition to challenge other deviant sexual-social behaviors such as same-sex marriage and polygamy. They were right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnard appeals to Goodrich v. Department of Public Health as well: the MA Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in MA. The reasoning employed in that case to legalize same-sex marriage is equally applicable to polygamy.

Second, the statement is rationally ridiculous. Barnard is arguing that the will of the majority, and the moral objections of fellow citizens should not be a factor when determining the legality of polygamy. Excuse me?! Since when does the will of the majority not count in a democracy? That may have been the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Lawrence, but that does not mean their reasoning was sound. In fact, their reasoning was quite asinine.

Since when are moral considerations irrelevant to law-making? Law is a moral enterprise on its face. Every law either promotes a good or prohibits an evil (bad). If morals cannot inform the law concerning marriage, then what does? If the majority of the citizenry cannot determine how they want to define marriage, then who should? I have to assume that the answer to these questions is the will of the immoral minority.

It’s not surprising when you dismiss democratic majority rule and morals legislations from the equation that there no longer remains a compelling justification for criminalizing polygamy. Why? Because they are the most compelling reasons! Dismissing them a priori only begs the question. I would like to know what compelling reasons there are to dismiss these compelling reasons as illegitimate to the question? I have no compelling reason to think the will of the majority and the moral position of the citizenry of this country should be excluded from the legal process. In fact, if we do so we destroy the democratic process.

Can you imagine if I actually believed such a thing?! And yet that sort of logic is employed by abortion-choice advocates all the time.

I recently moved from Long Beach to San Jose. Would anyone think my change in physical location can deprive me of my value (or give me value if I had none before)? Of course not. So why, then, do abortion-choice advocates think the unborn’s location deprives him of value? Furthermore, why do many abortion-choice advocates think a fetus’ change in location from inside the womb to outside the womb gives him value? Why is a fetus in the womb a non-person deserving of no right to life, whereas that same fetus, once outside the womb, is now a person deserving of the right to life? This (excuse the crudeness) “magical-vagina” view of personhood—in which the birth canal confers personhood on a fetus like the king’s sword confers knighthood on a man—is rationally foolish. There is no ontological difference between the intrauterine fetus, and the extrauterine newborn. If there is no ontological difference, neither is there a moral difference.

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