Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WHAT IS TRUTH? - 3

(The following is my response to the previous post with John's permission.)

John:

I found your "3 important questions" quite significant though my answers disagree with yours.  I suppose we could write off most of our differences as merely semantic, but I think we both agree that definitions are important, as the first 2 questions indicate.  So I'll try and give my answers as well as my reasons for disagreement.

First, what is truth?  For some reason, though you asked this question first, you didn't answer it first.  Of course, you were responding to my post WHAT IS TRUTH?.  I still haven't changed my thinking on this, even though I posted this nearly 8 years ago.  Truth is simply that which is, those statements which correspond with reality.

It appears as if you, however, believe that there are two totally different kinds of truth, "physical truth" which, though it does exist, "cannot be known in a fixed and immutable way," and what I suppose you'd call "theological truth," that which "is exempt from challenge and improvement."

I disagree!  Though there may be many differing categories of truth statements, truth itself does not change its definition depending on its subject.

Though much of physical truth cannot be known with certainty as you state, there is quite a bit that can be known.  It is the truth for instance, that I got out of bed this morning; this is a known fact.  It is also a truth that the earth rotates around the sun and that if I jump off my roof I will fall in an earthward direction and so forth.

In the same manner, there are theological truths that can be known, that are "fixed and immutable."  But there are also many that, as in the realm of science, we cannot be certain of.  Centuries of theological debate certainly demonstrate that.

So then, there are truths in whatever category we may choose.  While some of these can be known with certainty, many cannot.  And all truth statements are open to challenge, though if they are truth they are not open to change.  Our faith or "belief" (or unbelief) in these statements in no way affects their truthfulness.

What is science?  You define it as "the construction and refinement of mathematical and conceptual models of observed physical phenomena; where the validity of a model is measured by how accurately the model predicts future events."  I wasn't sure exactly what this means.  I confess that I am not a scientist.  However, I am familiar with what is known as The Scientific Method, though as John C. Lennox states:  "Contrary to popular impression, there is no one agreed scientific method, though certain elements crop up regularly in attempts to describe what 'scientific' activity involves:  hypothesis, experiment, data, evidence, modified hypothesis, theory, prediction, explanation, and so on.  But precise definition is very elusive."  He quotes also the view that "science 'by definition deals only with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law.'"  (God's Undertaker, page 32.)  Such definitions would rule out many fields such as cosmology as science, as he explains.  I would add that history and archaeology would also be ruled out.

Lennox gives "another way of looking at things" which he refers to as "the method of inference to the best explanation (or abduction ...").  He admits, however, that the previous method would "carry more authority."

Now to question 3:  "What point of view does the Bible come from in the field of science?"  Here it seems that while we both seem to end up in nearly the same place, we get there by different routes.

The Bible is not a scientific book; it is "pre-scientific."  The New Testament was completed 1,500 years before the birth of modern science; most of the Old Testament was completed even before the observations of the ancient Greeks; the Torah preceded them by 1,000 years.  So to speak of "early scientific models" is an anachronism, which

if Moses had used (to use your words), "he would have been ignored as a crazy person."

The biblical language, however, was not unscientific.  It simply referred to various phenomena as they were perceived.  Thus Moses would have perceived the sun as rising and setting (the same way we do).  The biblical writers also used figures of speech freely, such as metaphor and hyperbole.  I strongly suspect that the various creation accounts were just that.  (See my post:  SOME THOUGHTS ON CREATION.)

Of course, I'll also publish your response to my response.

(Now a few remarks as to some of CA's comments on your post.)

Yes, Galileo disagreed with the Church's teachings on cosmology.  But as I seem to recall, the problem was not that the Church had a biblically based view, but that the Church had adopted the "scientific" views of Aristotle, which had been around for two millennia.  Many -- both theologians and scientists -- of his day were opposed to him.  Scientists can be as conservative as theologians.  As you may know, the current "big bang" theory of the origins of the universe was opposed not only by 6-day creationists but also by scientists who held to a steady-state universe.

As I said above, faith doesn't determine truth; one's believe  in a truth claim does not make that claim true.  This goes for Atheists' beliefs as well as Christians' beliefs.  Atheists accept many unproven things by faith: how life emerged from non-life by natural selection; how mind evolved from non-mind.

Despite your claims to the contrary, there is evidence for the truths of Christianity, which if you really desired to, you could examine for yourself.

I would also recommend, John, that you do the same.

Friday, February 21, 2014

WHAT IS TRUTH? - 2
Guest post by my friend John Kulp

 
                                    
2/20/2014 

Hi Bill:

I started the below as a comment to your “truth” blog, but it got so long that I decided to send it as an email instead.  The first part you have heard from me before, but please bear through it again as context for my comments on scientific truth and the bible.  Your posts stretch my mind, I may be a heretic on this one, and I hope to hear your comments.

I will suggest that there are at least 3 important questions in correlating science, truth and the bible.  What is truth?  What is Science?  And what point of view does the Bible come from in the field of science?

Having held the title of senior scientist at one point in my career, and having known several University professors and PhD's in science who loved to discuss the philosophy of science, I will add my (their) answer to the second question.

Definition of Science:  Science is the construction and refinement of mathematical and conceptual models of observed physical phenomena; where the validity of a model is measured by how accurately the model predicts future events.

The repeatability of observation of physical phenomena gives me an intuitive sense that physical truth does exist, so I reject the postmodern view (that truth does not exist).  However, in science I am a philosophical anti-realist holding the view that physical truth (which does exist) cannot be known in a fixed and immutable way.  That kind of knowledge would, by definition, make a current descriptive model exempt from future challenge and improvement, and no scientific model is ever exempt from challenge and improvement.  Haldane said it well, that "the universe is not simply more complex than we understand, it is more complex than we can understand".   

In theology, conversely, I am a classical realist.  By faith I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God who came to earth to die on the cross to reconcile me to himself, opening the door for me to have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe.  I believe this to be truth, fixed and immutable.  This truth, for people of faith like me, is exempt from from challenge and improvement in a way that no law of science has ever been or ever will be.

These concepts are difficult and rarely understood but they are, in my opinion, the real conflict when people try to merge faith and science.  One is immutable and unchanging; the other is dynamic with improvement of every current scientific model being the explicit goal of the discipline of science.

Now on to question 3, what point of view does the bible come from in the field of science?  

I will suggest that the writers of the bible, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did just what we do today, and just what writers have always done.  And that it was done for the same reason.

My pastor speaks about the “DNA of our church”.  That has clear meaning to each of us.  He is talking about who we are on the inside, our foundational building blocks, our blueprint for operation.  However, if a pastor in the early 1900’s had stood up and spoken about the DNA of the church, the audience would have been bewildered.  What is this guy talking about?  If he had given a late 20th century scientific explanation of DNA, they would have terminated him for being out of his mind.

Conversely, if we could look 100 years into the future we would certainly see a scientific concept of DNA that is very different than ours today.  The scientific models which describe DNA today will have been drastically modified.  If a minister in that world spoke about the DNA of his church, it would likely mean something completely different than it does here today.

So what is going on here?  Our pastor, and every other pastor, and virtually every writer outside of science fiction (including Bill Ball) uses language that is based on the current day scientific understanding of his or her readers.  Anything else would be at best meaningless and at worst confusing.  This is how man has written for the entire history of man; in the context of current science.  Anything else will not be understood by current readers.

And, since science is dynamic, the differences are related to time and not related to the concept of truth or falsehood.  The older writings simply use more rudimentary models of science and later writings simply use more advanced models of science.  People of the distant future will certainly continue this advance, looking back at today's writings on science as being “primitive” models. 

I will add here that there is a gigantic and very important difference between early scientific models and myth.  The sun and moon and stars moving through the sky was a legitimate scientific observation, and an earth centered universe was a reasonable early science model based on that observation.  Myths like the buddhist description of the earth being carried on two elephants causing earthquakes when they get out of step, are a very different thing.  They are silly by comparison.

So when John writes in Revelation about stars being small objects that can fall to the earth or into the seas of the earth we don’t have to twist like a pretzel to come up with some explanation to use in a futile attempt to go to war against science.  The explanation is simply that the current science when John wrote Revelation was that stars were small objects in the sky (a reasonable 1st century model based on 1st century observation capability).  If he had written that those tiny stars up there were really distant suns, many times larger than the earth people would have rejected the spiritual truths he wrote about because of his crazy theory about massive stars.

When Moses writes about the sun and moon and stars moving through the sky around the earth we don’t have to twist like a pretzel and come up with some stretched logic to align that view with Galileo’s model based on his observations of the moons of Jupiter.  The explanation is simply that the current science when Moses wrote Genesis was the model that those objects moved through the sky around the earth (it was a reasonable early scientific model based on valid observation).  If he had described it using Galileo’s or later more accurate models, he would have been ignored as a crazy person.

Virtually every writing in human history, other than myth, is written in the context of current scientific models at the time of writing.  Is it such a stretch to think that the writers of the bible did the same, simply because readers at the time of writing (and for hundreds of years beyond) would not have understood anything else?

John

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THE RIGHTEOUS ONE


Reading this morning in Matthew's account of Jesus' trial before Pilate, my attention was called to the brief account (found only in Matthew) of the note Pilate received from his wife.  It read, "Have nothing to do with that Righteous One, for I suffered many things in a dream today because of him" (Matthew 27:19).

A reference in the margin of my Bible pointed me to Luke 23:47, where immediately after Jesus expired on the cross, the centurion who was in charge, "... glorified God saying, 'Certainly this was a Righteous Man!"

Matthew and Mark give it a little differently.  In their accounts the centurion says, "Truly this was God's son.'"  (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:3)  Most likely he said both.

The question was raised in my mind as to whether "The Righteous Man" is a title for Jesus which was recognized by the New Testament writers.  Certainly they had an Old Testament basis for this.  Isaiah the prophet in his well-known passage concerning the Messiah's suffering says, "My Righteous Servant will justify many" (Isaiah 53:11).

Sure enough, Jesus is frequently referred to this way in the New Testament, but especially in regard to His suffering unjustly.  Luke mentions this usage twice in the Book of Acts, both times in an accusation against the Jewish leaders.  Peter accuses them in Acts 3:14, "... but you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you!"  Steven at his trial, just before his martyrdom said to probably the same people, "Which of the prophets didn't your fathers persecute?  And you killed those who proclaimed beforehand concerning the coming of the Righteous One of whom you now have become the murderers ..." (7:52).

[We should notice that in both of these accusations there is forgiveness offered (3:16ff; 7:60).]

Peter carries this thought forward in his First Epistle, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God ..." (1 Peter 3:18a).

Of course, all these things have been noticed before, but what especially intrigued me was the same title as it was used by James in his epistle.  James berates the wealthy for three offenses, the first that they have gained or at least increased their wealth by the mistreatment of their workers by defrauding them of their wages (James 5:4).  Their second offense is that they have "lived luxuriously and ... indulgently" (5:5a) apparently at the expense of those they'd defrauded.

But the third offense seems to stand out.  "You have condemned, you have murdered the Righteous One.  He does not resist you" (5:6).

Who is the one James refers to as "the Righteous One"?  Students of the Scriptures have puzzled over this question.  Is this simply some generic reference?  Is James referring to the workers mentioned in verse 4?  If so, why does he use the singular and mark it off with the definite article?  Is he referring to Jesus?  The language sounds like that of Peter and Steven in the Book of Acts, but Jesus had been condemned and put to death years before James wrote.  Besides those who had done this were in Judea and James was writing "... to the twelve tribes of the Diaspora" as he says in 1:1.  So how could he be holding these persons accountable?

Well, this thought came to mind:  perhaps James is thinking of the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 25:31-46.  James' tirade appears to have eschatological thoughts running through it.  He speaks of "the last days" (James 5:3), "a day of slaughter" (verse 5) of "the harvesters" and "the Lord of Hosts" (verse 4).

If this is the case, then the reference to their killing of "the Righteous One" may be in the same vein as that of Jesus' statement that "in that you did (or didn't do) to one of these least ones, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).  So James would be applying Jesus' words directly to the wealthy oppressors of his own day and location.  They were as guilty of Jesus' murder as the ones who had personally committed the act.

So where does that put us?

Just a thought.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

MY WIFE

Tomorrow I plan to celebrate Valentine's Day with the woman I love.  It'll be our 61st, and I just feel I need to say a few things about her and our time together.

I have to admit that I was inspired by some things our daughter Sherry said on Facebook in praise of her mother.  I was also moved by an article about marriage that I saw and partially read on Facebook.

Many books and articles have been written about marriage.  A few clicks on the "marriage" label on this blog will produce some of my thoughts as well as my responses to the thoughts of others.  I must admit that I find many of these articles boring, especially, though not exclusively, those with a "Christian" theme.  While the secular world has many dumb things to say, I find that the Christian world often has just as many:  "Marriage is not 'for me,'" (i.e., for my benefit) or "marriage is not for my happiness."  Marriage is perceived as some grand spiritual exercise.  Either that or some romantic drama to be acted out according to prescribed rules.  If I read enough of these articles I might begin to believe that my 57+ years of marital happiness with Uni are just a colossal failure.  But I don't think they are.

So maybe I just ought to tell our story.

When I first met Uni, she was 15 and I was 16, she was a high school sophomore and I was a junior.  I was smitten by her beauty, by her smile and her flirtatiousness.  We dated for two years, my last two in high school.  She became my best friend, and I found that she was as beautiful inwardly as she was outwardly.  She demonstrated a genuine love for every person she met.

Well anyway, after I had graduated and she entered her senior year, we got engaged.  We hadn't gone through any deep soul-searching or Scripture searching; we hadn't taken any tests or surveys to ascertain our compatibility; we simply knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.  We were best friends, we were in love and were (don't be shocked!) horny teenagers (1 Corinthians 7:9).

We've been asked by many young people how I proposed (the first step in a romantic ritual).  They're usually disappointed with the story we tell, but here it is.

Uni:  "They've got a sale on rings at the jewelry story downtown."

Me:  "OK!  You wanna go look at 'em?"

Uni:  "Sure."

So we went, we found a set (you could almost see the diamond), and bought it.  And with it came a free tea set.  In the car in the parking lot, I slipped the engagement ring on her finger and said, "Will you marry me?"  And she said, "Yes."

We went back to her house, Uni showed her Dad her new tea set, but kept the hand with the ring on it concealed.

Dad:  "That's nice; what did you have to buy to get it?"  (Obviously he'd seen the ad in the newspaper.)

Uni shyly showed him her left hand.

Dad:  "You didn't ask me!"

Me (stammering):  "Mr. Cook, can I marry your daughter?"

Dad (hesitating -- Dad could look pretty mean if he chose to):  "Well -- okay!"

A year later we were married, the September after Uni graduated.  Within two years of that we were expecting our second child.  We now have two grown married kids and six grown grandchildren -- no greats yet.

I tell this story simply to show that our courtship and marriage did not conform to either the romantic or spiritual ideals that are so often presented.

Our marriage hasn't "succeeded" because we have done all the right things or followed all the rules.  I believe this marriage succeeded because I am married to a woman who knows how to love.

I can honestly say that Uni loves everyone she meets.  Her life has been a life of giving.  Had she not been the loving, giving, forgiving person she is, I doubt that we could have made it.  She genuinely practices the second great commandment.  And she's taught me what love is and how to love.

Not that she is friends with everyone.  She also knows and has taught me that if someone doesn't like her, to simply give them space.  But she still shows them love.

When we were not as old as we are now, she was known as  Aunt Uni to probably dozens of people.  She still is to many.  Now she's Gramma to at least dozens -- Grammaw or Oma or Abuelita.  She's still called Mom by many.

And the older she gets the more love she seems to have for more people.  And for me.

 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WHY DO YOU SPEAK IN PARABLES?

I love to tell stories.  I recall a line from an old John Denver song, " ... and the gifts of growing old are the stories to be told ... "  Sometimes I suppose my kids and grandkids get tired of my stories, but I just can't seem to help myself.  I have a friend, however, who outdoes me and we can fill up a conversation quite easily.  At times we tell stories to make a point, though at other times our stories are just occasioned by the conversation with no particular object in the telling.
 
I suppose we're in good company.  Jesus also liked to tell stories.  I've read that about 1/3 of His teaching was story telling.  I haven't checked that number, though it seems reasonably accurate.  His stories, however, -- at least the recorded ones -- always had a point, sometimes more than one point.  We call them "parables," which is taken from the Greek word in the New Testament, parabole which  literally means "something set to the side," hence, "a comparison."  They are really simply extended similes because they give comparisons ("The Kingdom of Heaven is like ...").  Often, however, the comparison is not clearly stated, so we may call them extended metaphors ("I am the vine ...").
 
Although there are a number of parables in the Old Testament, we find the most in the Gospels.  All the Gospel writers record some of Jesus' parables and a number are repeated in all three Synoptic Gospels.  Luke has the greatest number of them -- 34 by one count, of which half are unique to Luke.  Matthew has 27 of which 12 are unique.  Mark has 11, of which only one is exclusive to Mark (the Seed -- 4:26-29).  Some contend that John's Gospel contains none, but at least some of Jesus' "I am" sayings certainly qualify, so I'll give John credit for 5.

It is difficult to come up with precise figures because Jesus (like most preachers) often repeated Himself in different contexts; do we count these as one or two (or more) parables?  For instance, compare the Lost Sheep parable in Matthew 18:12-14 with the one in Luke 15:1-7.

So why did Jesus use parables, besides the fact that they were entertaining?  Well, Jesus Himself gave an answer to the question, following His parable usually known as the Parable of the Sower.  This parable is found in Matthew 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9 and Luke 8:4-8.  Immediately after this parable, His disciples came up and asked Him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"  (Matthew 13:10; Mark 4:10; Luke 8:9).  His answer differs a bit as each writer has recorded it, but Mark's seems the clearest.

"To you has been given the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those outside all things are in parables in order that 'seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest they return and be forgiven'" (Mark 4:11, 12, quoting Isaiah 6:9).  We may sum this up by saying that Jesus had two purposes for using parables:  to clarify truth and to conceal truth.

Jesus was simply restating for His disciples a spiritual principle that we find all through the Old Testament.  Though the Word of God may have a number of effects on its hearers, they all come down to just two:  the "hearers" can either reject it or can receive it and "bear fruit."

The Parable of the Sower (or better the Soils) brings this principle out.  Though there are four different "soils" enumerated, the results for the first three are essentially the same; it is only that last that "bears fruit."  Jesus explains that the soils of course represent the various hearers of the Word (Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15).

Though Jesus appears to put an allegorical spin on His interpretation, we should be careful of spending too much effort on the details.  His major emphasis is on hearing.  Notice how many times He uses the word "hear" in some form over and over throughout the parable and its interpretation.  And of course He closes the parable with, "The one who has ears -- hear!"  (Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8).  Perhaps He was implying that there were those in the crowd who didn't "have ears" -- who were incapable of receiving spiritual truth.

I can picture the crowd's reaction at the close of the parable.  Some faces show pleasure -- they've enjoyed the story though they are clueless as to its meaning.  Others are set in deep frowns as they try to figure it out, or possible they understand just enough to know that they don't like what they hear.  And then there are those faces that appear to have a light bulb going on over them as they grasp the truth.  As a preacher and teacher, I've learned to look for those expressions.  I wonder if Jesus did.  I wonder if He looks for the expressions on our faces.  I know He looks for the results in our lives of what we hear.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

WHAT WAS THE QUESTION?


The College of Biblical Studies, where I taught for many years, had a question and answer radio program entitled, "The Pastor's Study."  The college provided this program both as a service to the community and as PR.  Different instructors would take the program each week.  Some gladly took their turns while others were reluctant; I loved it!  So because of my enthusiasm, I got to serve often.  It was my half hour of fame for the week.

I suppose the listeners could picture in their mind a serene looking professor relaxing in the comfort of his study surrounded by volumes of biblical and theological wisdom.  It was not quite as imagined.  The studio was sound proof, about 8' x 10' in size; furnished with a wooden table and chair.  When I manned the post I would bring my English Bible, my Greek New Testament, my English concordance, a thick yellow tablet and a good supply of pencils.  That's about all there was room for.

I sat alone in the room, but I faced a huge window, on the other side of which was a huge sound/switch board manned by Frank, the crazy Cajun (his label for himself), who always wore a huge smile.  Frank would take the calls and relay them to me.  Our only other communication was by reading each others' lips.  I would listen to the question, repeat it and hastily scribble it on my pad.  Then I would instruct the questioner to please hang up while I answered the question.  I would then flip through my Bible and concordance searching for answers while I kept up patter to fill the air space.

Many of the questions were simply variations or re-phrasings of a dozen or so standards:

·       Do I need to be baptized to be saved?
·       Do I need to speak in tongues?
·       How do I know if I've committed the unpardonable sin?
·       Questions on divorce, homosexual behavior or other sexual problems.
·       Questions on election and predestination.
·       Sometimes it was simply someone looking for a verse they couldn't find.

I felt that most of the questions were sincere and for them the questions were aimed at dealing with personal needs.  I don't recall ever receiving a cynical question.  (Apparently I had no Atheist listeners.)

Occasionally, however, I'd receive a call from someone who wanted to argue and who wouldn't hang up to await my answer, but was more desirous of asserting his/her own views.  When this happened, I'd see Frank guffawing at my helplessness.  Sometimes he'd be making a slashing motion across his throat while moving his lips, clearly saying, "You want me to cut 'em off?"  Sometimes he did and I'd have to say something like, "Pardon me, it seems we've lost contact!"

And then there were the few questions I really disliked getting.  They usually began with the words, "Don't you think that ...?" or "Don't you believe that ...?"  It didn't take me long to realize that questions like this were to be understood as meaning something like, "I have this really screwy idea and nobody believes me, so it would really help if that expert on the radio would agree with me."

Fortunately those were few and far between, although they furnished Frank with some very pleasant moments.  Most of the questions like that had to do with either the first or the last book of the Bible -- Genesis or Revelation.  I had to deal with everything from a "flat earth" to Armageddon.

My experiences on the radio were, as all my life experiences, opportunities for my own education.  The questions I heard were, though sincere, not the types I would normally hear from my students, nor even from the members of churches I pastored.  But they were the kind that sincere believers do ask when reading the Bible and attempting to relate it to life.

These experiences showed me that many approach the Bible as a book full of unrelated verses which can be pulled out to answer questions about life or to win an argument.

I'm afraid that that is how the Bible is often taught.  Children (and adults) learn to memorize verses with little or no regard for their context.  I've even seen Bibles with tables in them  relating different verses to different life problems.
  • Depressed?  See (Book, chapter and verse).
  • Angry?  See (Book, chapter and verse).
Preachers often reinforce this view by "proof-texting" their arguments or by basing their sermons on one verse without relating it to its context.

But the Bible isn't a magic book of verses.  It's a story, God's message to humankind.  As such it is to be read and absorbed with an understanding of its context.  At the risk of sounding sacrilegious to some -- we should read the Bible in the same way we would any work of literature or history.  It's amazing how much we can learn by simply reading it in this way.