Jan 16

Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest, by John G. West ★★★★★

It’s been a while since I’ve read much about the various evolution/creation debates. I am solidly an intelligent design adherent, as I feel that it is most consistent with the text of Scripture, while not mandating the precise conditions and methods by which God formed the universe and all that is within it. Being a Ph.D. cell biologist myself, I find it incomprehensible that simple unguided random mutations could possibly generate the complex biological systems that we see. That is exactly the point of the intelligent design movement, which has a think tank out the Discovery Institute in Seattle. John West is one of the senior fellows of this institution. In this text, he tackles the issue of how certain political conservative commentators, like George Will or Charles Krauthammer, can claim that their defense of conservative morality and conservative principles could be consistent with a strict Darwinian evolutionary belief system. John West argues consistently otherwise. The chapters in turn cover arguments for traditional morality, the traditional family, free will/personal responsibility, limited non-utopian government, and religion, while also offering a chapter on the further defense of intelligent design when under attack by evolutionists. Dr. West mentions but doesn’t thoroughly develop the argument from the theistic evolutionists, but then, that is mostly another subject.

Darwin’s conservatives show that matters such as traditional morality have improved the survivability of the human species. Yet, as West argues, they are speaking contrary to the majority of evolution scientists, in that their stance suggests that morality would probably not have developed as we see it if morality had emerged from a totally random world. In all the topics that West deals with, it is quite clear that our conservative belief structures would very unlikely not have occurred. I’ll not reiterate the whole of West’s arguments, save to note that they are exceptionally well researched, well thought out, well-referenced, and well expressed in this small tome.

The book is structured well. Later chapters actually read easier than earlier chapters, drawing one into the book to its final conclusions. For any person that addresses the issue of evolution while in the public square, this book is quite helpful at helping one guide their arguments. The book not only refutes the Darwinian conservatives, but also leaves the question open to Darwinian liberals, as to how morality, religion, family, and a western form of government could have ever happened in a world formed by unguided random events. It is interesting to see that arguments against evolution address not only complex biological systems, but also the complexity of the sociological world of morality, religion, politics, economics, law, and family, which cannot be explained as simply random events occurring to products of the primordial slime. The book is very thought-provoking which deserves my highest recommendation.

Tagged with:
No Comments »
Jan 11

Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What Is God Saying to Us? by Erwin W. Lutzer ★★★★

This is a short text, easily read in 1-2 evenings, and addresses the issue of suffering from infectious or physical disasters as a Christian. Lutzer wisely doesn’t specifically delve into why we must experience so much suffering, but as a pastor, offers solace that our suffering is in God’s hands and for our best. He quotes frequently from Christians of the past and present that have commented on suffering, as well as offering comfort to the afflicted. It is a good book, and offers a wonderful example of the pastoral manner in which misfortune and grief might be dealt with on this side of glory.

Tagged with:
No Comments »
Jan 09

We Will Not Be Silenced, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

We sat under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer for 7 years, between the years 1983 and 1990. Those years were wonderful years for us, with great preaching. Though Lutzer is dispensationalist in origin, rarely does he preach in a manner that demands a dispensational context. Lutzer is now retired, and as emeritus pastor, has continued to produce book after book with contemporary cultural relevance. The joy of reading his books is that he writes exactly as he preaches, and one is able to hear his voice as his books are being read. During our time at Moody Church with pastor Lutzer, not only did we hear great expository preaching, but noted that Lutzer was exceptionally skilled at taking critical contemporary issues and placing them in the lens of Scripture. This book is yet another example of that. The book references events that have happened within the last 6-12 months, and is relevant at trying to gain an interpretation to the insanity that is occurring in our government and society. The cover appeals that this book should be read by all Christians in America, and to that I heartily agree.

The book is only 263 pages long of large print type, meaning that it may be easily read in the space of 2-3 evenings for those who do not have television-trained short attention spans. At worst, a chapter an evening for 10 evenings should have the book easily finished off. Each chapter has the same format, with starting introductions to the topic, a full discussion, and then an analysis of a proper Christian response. Lutzer then ends each chapter with a suggested prayer that we should be offering. The chapter topics are, in order, 1) How did we get here?, i.e, what is the problem that this book needs to address? 2) How do we deal with the modern attempt to erase our historical past? 3) How do we approach the contemporary attempt to use diversity to divide and destroy the church. 4) The aggressive removal of freedom of speech, especially if it calls on Christian moral issues is addressed as well as our response. 5) How the propaganda of the left attempts to replace Christian values and morality by stating an even higher noble cause. 6) The attempt of progressives to destroy the youth through a highly sexualized environment. 7) The attempt of the radicals to condemn capitalism and provide socialism as its cure, all in the context of suggesting that it is Biblical to do so. 8) The movement of radical Islam in trying to destroy America. 9) Disagreements are no longer discussable issues, but the radical left uses shaming and ad hominem personal destruction to win an argument. 10) The church in Scripture is being warned to repent and clean up its own act as a best response to an increasingly decedent society.

Pastor Lutzer is most skilled at not only touching the reader’s mind, but also his heart in the issues discussed. This book draws the reader in, and is difficult to put down. Lutzer demonstrates his perceptive insights into what is going on in our society, as well as sensitive, Biblical advice as to how to lovingly challenge and confront the society that wishes to destroy Christianity. After reading the book, I can heartily advise others to read it, as well as to take it to heart.

Tagged with:
No Comments »
Jan 06

Jazz: A film by Ken Burns ★★★

Betsy and I have just finished watching the Ken Burns series on Jazz. I had listened to a Teaching Company series on the history of Jazz, but that was a few years ago. I have only recently developed an affection for the Jazz genre. I remember my first exposure to jazz was in 1st grade Clinton School in South Elgin, Illinois. Our class was moved to the school gymnasium, along with other classes, for a special event. They were introducing the school to jazz, and had some jazz music playing over loud speakers. As a six year old kid, it seemed like rather unstructured, chaotic music to me. I wasn’t used to it. I never heard anything like it before. Then, many of the students were jumping and wiggling around in a very unusual manner; which didn’t make sense to me. Growing up in an Amish-Mennonite community, dancing was unheard of to me. In high school, I listened to easy-to-grasp classical music and the newly emerging rock and roll. The Beatles were ok, but the Rolling Stones really seemed to say more to the soul. Louis Armstrong always stood out to me as music that I had a strong attraction to; I remember well playing many times over his St. James Infirmary, and being spell-bound by his trumpet playing. Since then, my main interest drifted to more serious classical music, and Bach stood as first and foremost. Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich, and many other 19th & 20th century composers left me spell-bound. I decided to take up trumpet lessons early this last Spring, and ended up with a teacher whose trumpet career oriented around jazz performance. Though I dearly love to listen to music, and enjoy performing it, I do not possess an intrinsic talent for music. Why my instructor is so patient with me is a total mystery. I am sure he gets a good laugh with his family and friends whenever my pitiful lesson performance is brought up. Still, I find working on lessons to be something of great value and joy to me, even though I may never perform in public. Jim, my teacher, is totally awesome. He is slowly introducing me to jazz, and I am loving every minute of it. Assignments include listening to great trumpet players, and my listening has expanded from Maurice Andre and other classical trumpet players to the jazz genre. I looked on Amazon and YouTube for anything that included trumpet, and I was most pleased with what I found and heard. Jazz, like more complex classical music, takes time to appreciate. This film on jazz finally helped bring things together.

The series on jazz starts with New Orleans musicians like King Oliver, quickly shifts to Louis Armstrong, and then marches through the history of jazz up to the present day. Focus was placed on Armstrong’s career, the evolution of jazz in Chicago and then New York, and later Hollywood. Early New Orleans and blues gave way to big bands and swing, to music of WWII, to later Louis Armstrong and new evolutions of jazz; be bop, then Avant Garde, then fusion jazz. Note was placed on periods of time when it seemed as though jazz would go extinct. Special emphasis in this series was placed on Louis Armstrong. It seemed as though they were claiming that jazz was born with Satchmo and died with Satchmo. Other emphasis was placed on Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday. Mentioned just in briefest passing were the host of other great bands of the pre-war era: Stan Kenton, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. What was disappointing was two things. First was the total absence of a real jazz history. One cannot talk of jazz history without mentioning ragtime, tin-pan alley, minstrel singers, and other precursors to New Orleans jazz. In this series, Wynton Marsalis and his associates become the last dying hope of jazz. Contrary to the series, I don’t believe that jazz is on its dying breath. It is not as “experimental” as 20-40 years ago. It is more colorblind, including not only black performers, but white, hispanic and other races. There is virtually no mention of Mexicans, such as Raphael Mendez, or Cuban, such as Arturio Sandoval, or the Canadian Maynard Ferguson or the Oregonian Doc Severinson. Or Al Hirt. Or Allen Vizzutti. Or Bobby Shew. If one takes a serious look at the jazz scene today, it is more acceptable to the general public than ever, it is technically masterful, and it has been able to draw in many other influences, such as classical, to the jazz genre. I am surprised that Wynton Marsalis, “the last great hope to jazz”, was never mentioned in this film as having spent a number of years of his life playing mostly in the classical genre before migrating solely to jazz. Surely he has also brought a classical influence with him? Is it that jazz by necessity must come from the NY night club scene with primarily African-American performers?

Deficits aside, I learned much through the series, and would hope that others watch this series. It is hard to dislike any of the Ken Burns series. This is no exception to that rule.

2 Comments »
Jan 06

Mortal wound

Today I suffered a horrible accident that nearly left me dead. Not really, but I’m trying to sound dramatic. I was on my virtual reality trainer, riding through Gascony. I had traveled over an hour, had gone 16+ miles, and was a seething mass of sweat, drenched from head to toe. I had traveled only half the distance needed to complete this journey, when I suddenly found my body flying in reverse, hitting my head on the structures behind me, and then observing blood all over the floor.

Let me explain. I use the Tacx Neo2T trainer. I have my first bicycle that I purchased from REI 13 years ago mounted on the trainer. This gives me a close representation of actually riding in the outside world. The bicycle was an REI built bike, that I’ve had apart many times over. On the road, I now use a very fancy Trek Madone, the bike that Lance Armstrong used to win the Tour de France 7 times over. Instead of throwing away the REI Novara Trionfo, I repurposed it as my trainer bike, and have it set up during wintertime in my office. It’s there in the office, since I need a good internet connection to run the Tacx program, and was able to hard wire it to my home intranet which is based in the office closet.

Pressure was quickly applied to the wound. Moments later, my dear loving wife came running into the room thinking that I had a heart attack. After retrieving an ice pack and maintaining wound pressure for about 20 minutes, I hopped into the shower to clean the wound (and myself), then had Betsy superglue the wound back together. ER? Absolutely NOT! I detest hospitals. I’m a surgeon. I’ve removed massive sections of scalp from my dear patients, and actually had them survive me. I don’t need no stinking bloody ER doc to tell me that it’s just a flesh wound. I KNOW that it’s just a flesh wound.

Glued back together. Still messy, but it’s just a flesh wound.

On examining why this happened, I realized that the bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post broke in two. Since I perform all of my own bicycle repairs, I know that this was not a fault of an over-tightened bolt. It was simply a bolt that broke due to use fatigue. I suppose other things will break with time on the bike. I had the bottom bracket decompose on a training ride a few years ago, and this threw me off the bike, but no harm was experienced. Much of that bike has been rebuilt or replaced, the bottom bracket and gears/derailleurs being of no exception. Hopefully, I can get a replacement seat bolt at a local bike shop and be riding again in a few days. Here’s a photo of the bike and the broken bolt…

Bicycle mounted on trainer. You can see the seat post without a seat, which is lying on the ground.
The above bolt is fractured, causing the seat to fall off the bike. The lower two brackets sit on top and on bottom of the rails on the seat, and are secured to the seat post by the above bolt.

I now sit here about 1.5 hours after the incident. I still have a pulse, beating at my usual of about 55/minute. There have been no mental status changes. I do not have blown pupils. I imagine that if something like this would have happened on the road, tragic circumstances could have occurred. I never thought of an indoor trainer being a source of trauma, but it is. Unless you do nothing in life, you run a risk.

Tagged with:
4 Comments »
Jan 05

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser ★★

This book was given to be by a friend from church, and highly recommended by him and another friend at church. My oldest brother had also referred me to the writings and webpage of the author. It was a fairly easy book to read, and the book was heavily referenced. Appreciated was that the references ran on the same page as the text, thus encouraging review of his referenced material.

Heiser has the main theme and then a few minor themes in this book. The main theme is Heiser’s raison d’être. Psalm 82 introduces the idea of the divine counsel, and Heiser runs from there, first building up the idea of the divine counsel, and then working from Genesis to Revelation to build his case how the divine counsel seems to be the main operative system that drives this world. Sub-themes include the identity of the Nephelim and their instances throughout Scripture, and discussion of the nature of God. There is a moderate amount to be learned from this book, and my low rating of the book doesn’t mean that it is devoid of value. Au contraire. I think that Heiser frequently tends toward imaginative theology. He has an idea, and then explores how he could explore that idea with Scripture. I will mostly discuss a few major criticisms of this book.

Heiser begins by declaring that he will be introducing truths that mainstream Christians had previously totally missed in the reading of Scripture. Based on Psalm 82, the divine council is developed as a missed truth of Scripture. Heiser then proceeds to read the council of God into the entirety of Scripture. Any mention of God on His throne, or a coming judgment, is obviously referring to the Psalm 82 divine council. God (Yahweh) operates mostly via the agency of His divine council; whenever He declares in Scripture “Let us…”, Heiser notes that God is clearly speaking to the other gods of the divine council of an action that He (Yahweh) would like carried out. The heavenly conversation in Job 1 is obviously an official proceeding of the divine council. God in the garden of Eden was a divine council event. God meeting Moses and the elders at Mt. Sinai was a divine council function. Isaiah’s vision of God on his throne was an invasion into proceedings of the divine council. The divine council, according to Heiser, has a strong and prevailing status throughout Scripture which explains many passages of Scripture that are not clear. Yet, to do so is to do injustice to other Scripture.

Heiser has problems with his theology, and these problems evolve in two areas. One is that his thesis demands a strict Arminian theology. Calvin and Reformed folk are excluded. Yahweh is just one of many participants in the drama of life. Yahweh, as seen in Scofield-like thinking, demands that Yahweh correct His course once in a while based on the unanticipated actions of man or lesser gods. Throughout the text, his Arminian theology is forced out. Free-will is vital to grasping Heiser’s thesis. A truly providential god is out. Heiser, in the process of developing his free-will thinking, makes a total mess of theodicy, the question of why there is evil in this world. Oddly, Heiser also seems to be an adherent to dispensational premillennialism, an eschatology that has been excluded from serious thought, though taught with zeal by Hal Lindsey and others.

A second theological tragedy in this text is confusion over the nature of God. Heiser desperately wishes to be seen as orthodox, yet he is anything but that. He NEVER mentions a triune God. He will speak of Jesus as God and the Holy Spirit as God and doesn’t lapse into modalism, yet his thinking is muddled. He will frequently speak of two-Jahwehs, one Jahweh with the capability of physical manifestations. His zeal to discuss the Elohim, or other gods, forces confusion regarding him being a polytheist versus a monotheist. Part of his confusion possibly stems from his free use of the word “divine” without clarifying exactly what it means. He will even suggest that saved humans eventually become “divine”, or part of the Elohim. He will mention (based on Psalm 82) that some Elohim will die. Such confusion is more fitting a fantasy or science fiction novel than it is a serious reading of Scripture.

Heiser is not being careful as to where his theology might lead. It should strike the reader how close Heiser’s theology is to that of contemporary Mormon thinking. The reader that is familiar with Mormon doctrine will be quite amused at the polytheistic nature that is shared between Mormonism and Heiserism. The Catholic notion of “holy places”, such as the birthplace of Christ, is quite consistent with Heiserism and thinking regarding the evil abodes of Bashan and the mountains of Sinai and Zion. Heiser does not present a worshipful theology that brings honor to God. His is a theology that provides a feast for budding novelists and creative thinking theologians. One area of creative thinking is that of UFO theories, which are easily the product of Heiser’s thinking. I am not writing to make an opinion on UFOs—that is not my intention with these comments. On Heiser’s website, he will deny a belief in aliens and UFOs. Yet, he is noted to be among the top 100 people who are UFO authorities, and people have used his writings frequently in defense of UFOs as being a part of his unseen realm. Such thinking has its own dangers.

Reading into the text of Scripture—We all have wondered about the Nephelim, debating whether real gods came down and mated with humans. This remains debatable among top scholars who have pondered over this, so I highly doubt that Heiser will provide us an answer with no level of uncertainty. Yet, that is what he does. He then ties the pre-flood Nephelim with all Scripture giants, past, present, and future. Goliath was such a person, a product of mating of humans and gods, since Goliath was an Anakim—one of the Nephelim. If gods and men mated before and after the flood, surely they must still be mating? Are basketball players descendants of the Nephelim? Heiser also attacks the region of Bashan. He repeatedly associates the city of Dan and tribe of Dan with Bashan, which geographically, they are not. The illustration of the bulls of Bashan are interpreted to denote the evil gods that reside in this perpetually evil region of Israel. After visiting Bashan, I’ve realized that it is very hilly country with rocky soil, not conducive to farming, but excellent for cattle grazing. And, that is what has occurred in Bashan in the past, and up to today, where one can visit large fields of cattle, the bulls of Bashan. Heiser seems to be reading way too much into Scripture.

Heiser claims an in-depth knowledge as to what the ancients were thinking. He frequently remarks on the ability to know how an ancient person might have read into the text of Scripture things that we would otherwise have not seen. There is truth to that, but that can be carried too far. He has a heavy reliance on ANE texts and 1 Enoch, which for various reasons were not incorporated into Scripture even during the time of Christ. That Peter and Jude happen to quote one verse from 1 Enoch is not sufficient to hold 1 Enoch as inspired text. If we were to think like one of the ancients, Heiser’s reading on Scripture sounds more like Greek mythology than a serious attempt at understanding the Spiritual realm.

My biggest problem with Dr. Heiser is his arrogance. Though it doesn’t come out strongly in his texts, it is easily noted on his webpage. Disagreement with Heiser’s thesis is akin to careless thinking, intentional deception as to the text, or stupidity. He speaks with a condescending tone that doesn’t tolerate variant interpretations. Worst, he just can’t admit that there are some things he just doesn’t know or understand. I’m not the only person that picked this up, but others that have reviewed his book made this note.

Heiser presents sloppy theology. I presume that Heiser would certainly disagree. Did Heiser actually recover the supernatural view of Scripture, as is noted in the title of this book? Is what he is saying revolutionary in its approach to the unseen realm? Or, is what he says a mixture of what mainstream Biblical scholars have always believed regarding the Spiritual world, combined with erroneous doctrine? I believe that he has confused the supernatural view, and muddied the view of traditional theologians.

This book has value, but also has the potential for seriously misleading unguarded readers. A Mormon devotee would probably read this book with eagerness, as it confirms much of their doctrine. For those who write fantasy fiction, this book would provide a goldmine of ideas, so long as they also include Conan in the story. The potential for error negates much of the value and worth of this text. Thus, I give it 2 stars.

Tagged with:
3 Comments »
preload preload preload