Thursday, July 14, 2011

Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death

Some of you may have been following the news out of Iran regarding Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. He was arrested for apostasy and convicted - sentenced to death. Upon appeal to the Supreme Court it appeared that the death sentence had been overturned. However, the joy at that news was short-lived as the conditions for that change were revealed. The pastor must recant in order to have his life spared. Those who know him well express the belief that he will die rather than recant. For an interesting take on the original arrest, go to this article. The following is a story by Amy Kellogg I look forward to hearing that Canada also steps up to the plate in defense of religious freedom in Iran.

Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death Could Be Executed if He Doesn’t Recant, Says Verdict
By: Amy Kellogg

Iran's Supreme Court says an evangelical pastor charged with apostasy can be executed if he does not recant his faith, according to a copy of the verdict obtained by a religious rights activist group.

Christian Solidarity World says Iranian-born Yousef Nadarkhani, who was arrested in 2009 and given the death sentence late last year, could have his sentence suspended on the grounds that he renounce his faith.

Those who know him say he is not likely to do that, for if he were disposed to giving it up, he would have done it long ago.

If Nadarkhani does not recant, his fate is unclear. It’s believed his case would then be remanded to lower courts in Iran.

Recently the U.S. State Department issued the following remarks: “We are dismayed over reports that the Iranian courts are requiring Yousef Nadarkhani to recant his faith or face the death penalty for apostasy, a charge based on his religious beliefs. If carried out, it would be the first execution for apostasy in Iran since 1990. He is just one of thousands who face persecution for their religious beliefs in Iran, including the seven leaders of the Baha’i community whose imprisonment was increased to twenty years for practicing their faith and hundreds of Sufis who have been flogged in public because of their beliefs.”

Christian and human rights groups say apostasy isn’t even codified in Iranian law.

“From a human rights perspective, you can’t criminalize someone’s choice of religion, much less execute them for that,” says Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Nadarkhani, from Rasht, on the Caspian Sea, converted to Christianity as a teenager. He is reportedly an effective pastor, who has converted an unknown number of people from Islam to Christianity.

Some believe he has about 400 people in his church.

Iran has ancient Armenian and Assyrian churches. The Evangelical Church of Iran is relatively new, church officials tell Fox News, a product of the legacy of Anglican missionaries who were in Iran in the last two centuries. Even after the Islamic Revolution, Iran been fairly tolerant of the older Armenian and Assyrian orders, which date back to the early days of Christianity, but has been less accepting of Evangelical conversions.

Firouz Khandjani, a spokesman for the evangelical Church of Iran, lives in exile in Eastern Europe. He fled Iran for Turkey for security reasons, but says even in his new homeland he's not safe, and was informed he could be targeted by Iranian agents in Turkey.

Khandjani says a sort of “soft persecution” began after the Revolution, with Christians generally losing many civil rights, including access to top jobs in the country, but has increased since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005.

Khandjani himself was arrested and released 18 years ago. But he says about 40 people have been arrested, many of them also released, since Ahmadinejad became President.

“I can’t say Ahmadinejad is persecuting us, but the hard-liners around him are. The leadership needs hard-liners to permit them to do what they want. They need their support.”

It is hard to get a number on how many Evangelical Christians there are in Iran. It is not a large number in this country of 70 million, but reportedly, the numbers continue to grow. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran estimates there may be 4,000. Khandjani believes the number to be as high as 200,000. Many of them watch evangelical television stations beamed into Iran from the United States.

Ghaemi says, “Most churches in Iran operate with some degree of secrecy. They operate in homes. People take their batteries out of their cellphones and leave them at the door. They show up at random times so as to avoid the appearance of a crowd filing in. The current government sees them as a threat.”

Ghaemi says there had been a tacit agreement between the Ministry of Intelligence and the Church of Iran, whereby if worshippers were open, and told the Ministry where they were going, the government would leave them alone. The government appears to have broken that “gentlemen’s agreement.”

Firouz Khandjani said the church wanted to be out in the open, and had asked to have physical churches in which to operate under the previous presidential administration.

“It was in the time of Khatami. We believed it was possible. He was more open to minority groups, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the will. We had believed in him.”

A court in Shiraz, Iran, recently released a group of Christians who had been arrested for subversion. The court ultimately ruled that they were just exercising their right to practice their religion. Human rights advocates say the higher courts should follow their example.

Sources say while the Iranian regime doesn’t look fondly upon conversion, it is proselytizing that really rankles them.

Khandjani made a plea to America.

“The U.S., which is fighting for freedom, has to take care of this situation. This is the 21st century. We are not a military group. We want to worship God, according to the Gospel, and being persecuted is not acceptable.”

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Looking Back

I just recently celebrated 15 years of ministry in my current church. I don't know about you, but anniversaries also lead me to look back on all that got me here. I think of so many people who were at one time good friends, but now distance, busyness or just negligence have created distance. I wish that wasn't the case, but, it seems, that's a part of life. It made me think of a song by one of my favorite artists - Wayne Watson. It's called "A Season In Your Path." I sang it as I transitioned from my last church. I think the words are very appropriate. I hope you like it.

A Season in Your Path
by Wayne Watson

Heard that friends are friends forever
But we don't talk much anymore
I guess that I’ve gone my way
And I guess that you've gone yours

Was kindness too neglected
On my list of deep regret?
In spite of distance unexpected
Can we forgive but not forget?

Sometimes I think about you
Some old memories make me cry
Remembering the good times makes me laugh
But all in all I'm richer
For the happy and the sad
And I’m thankful for a season in your path

I guess God alone deciphers
When people need each other most
Who will be the blessed receiver
And who will be the gracious host
And all a servant here can do
Is unto the Lord avail
Content at times to be the wind
And at times to be the sail

If another winter settles
On your shoulder down the road
Without a thought of what’s behind us
Let me help you pull your load

Sometimes I think about you
Some old memories make me cry
Remembering the good times makes me laugh
But all in all I’m richer
For the happy and the sad
And I'm thankful for a season in your path

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Are Christianity & Science Incompatible? (Thank you Nancy Pearcey)

The following article is reprinted in full from Nancy Pearcey's blog. I've linked to that in my favorites section. I don't normally do this but I thought this was so well done that I didn't want to run the risk of a link not working.
I've read repeatedly lately about the supposed anti-scientific nature of Christianity and have wanted to write a rebuttal. It's interesting to note the Stein video below and the vitriolic responses that have followed. After reading Nancy's article (written, I believe, in 2005) I decided that she said it better than I could. I thought you may enjoy reading it - so here it is. Let me know what you think. By the way, I highly recommend her book "Total Truth." It is destined to become a classic.

Challenge to Secular Stereotype Profoundly Affects Politics and Culture Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper
By Nancy Pearcey
To everyone's surprise, the 2004 presidential election became in part a referendum on science and religion. At the Democratic National Convention, Ron Reagan, son of the former president, labeled opposition to embryonic stem cell research an "article of faith" and stated that it did not belong in the realm of public policy, which is based on science. During the presidential debates, John Kerry told audiences that while he "respected" voters' moral concerns about abortion and embryonic stem cells, he could not impose that "article of faith" through political means.[1]

After the election, the dichotomy between religion and science was stressed even more heavily in the stunned reaction in Blue States. Liberal commentators like Maureen Dowd warned darkly that moral conservatives would replace "science with religion, facts with faith." A Kerry supporter complained that Bush voters "are faith-based, rather than reality-based.” The cover of Stanford Medicine (Fall 2004) featured a man holding up a Bible on one side of a jagged crevice, facing off against a lab-coated scientist holding up a test tube.[2] An extensive analysis of this commonly held dichotomy is offered in my latest book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Crossway). The default position for many Americans in the Blue States seems to be that Christianity is a "science stopper"--that religion implies a world of perpetual miracle, closing off the search for natural causes.[3] This is often coupled with the familiar cliché that over the centuries the Christian church has intimidated, silenced, and persecuted scientists. A few months ago, a journalist repeated the shop-worn stereotype, writing that "proponents of Copernicus' theory were denounced as heretics and burned at the stake."[4] A columnist recently wrote that Copernicus "scandalized the world--and more important, the Catholic Church--with his theory of heliocentric cosmology." The same pattern continues today, the columnist goes on: "The conflict of religion and science sounds all too familiar. Darwin still has trouble getting past creationist gatekeepers in some school districts."[5]

The story of conflict does sound familiar, because it is the standard interpretation of history taught all through the public education system. In fact, it is so widely accepted that often it is treated not as an interpretation at all, but simply as a fact of history. Yet, surprising as it may sound, among historians of science, the standard view has been soundly debunked. Most historians today agree that the main impact Christianity had on the origin and development of modern science was positive. Far from being a science stopper, it is a science starter.

One reason this dramatic turn-around has not yet filtered down to the public is that the history of science is still quite a young field. Only fifty years ago, it was not even an independent discipline. Over the past few decades, however, it has blossomed dramatically, and in the process, many of the old myths and stereotypes that we grew up with have been toppled. Today the majority view is that Christianity provided many of the crucial motivations and philosophical assumptions necessary for the rise of modern science.[6]

In one sense, this should come as no surprise. After all, modern science arose in one place and one time only: It arose out of medieval Europe, during a period when its intellectual life was thoroughly permeated with a Christian worldview. Other great cultures, such as the Chinese and the Indian, often developed a higher level of technology and engineering. But their expertise tended to consist of practical know-how and rules of thumb. They did not develop what we know as experimental science--testable theories organized into coherent systems. Science in this sense has appeared only once in history. As historian Edward Grant writes, "It is indisputable that modern science emerged in the seventeenth century in Western Europe and nowhere else."[7]

This fact is certainly suggestive, and it has prompted scholars to ask why it is that modern science emerged only out of medieval Europe. Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark identified the 52 figures who made the most significant contributions to the scientific revolution, then researched biographical sources to discover their religious views. He found that among the top contributors to science, surprisingly only two were skeptics (Paracelsus and Edmund Halley).

Stark then subdivided his subjects once again into those who were "conventional" in their religious views (that is, their writings exhibit the conventional religious views of the time), and those who were "devout" (their writings express a strong personal investment). The resulting numbers show that more than 60 percent of those who jumpstarted the scientific revolution were religiously "devout."[8] Clearly, holding a Christian worldview posed no barrier to doing excellent scientific work, and even seems to have provided a positive inspiration.

What were the key elements in that inspiration? Let's highlight several basic principles by drawing a series of contrasts to other religions and philosophies. If we make the claim that Christianity played a causative role in the rise of modern science, to be scientific about the matter, we must also rule out other possible causes. Since as a matter of historical fact, no other religion or philosophy did play the same causative role, the best way to phrase the question is, Why didn't they?

Polytheistic ReligionsOther religions typically differ from Christianity on one of two major points. The God of the Old and New Testaments is a personal being, on one hand, while also being infinite or transcendent. Many religions throughout history have centered on gods who are personal but finite--limited, local deities, such as the Greek or Norse gods. Why didn't polytheistic religions produce modern science?

The answer is that finite gods do not create the universe. Indeed, the universe creates them. They are generally said to arise out of some pre-existing, primordial "stuff." For example, in the genealogy of the gods of Greece, the fundamental forces such as Chaos gave rise to Gaia, the great mother, who created and then mated with the heavens (Ouranos) and the sea (Pontos) to give birth to the gods. Hence, in a polytheistic worldview, the universe itself is not the creation of a rational Mind, and is therefore not thought to have a rational order. The universe has some kind of order, of course, but one that is inscrutable to the human mind. And if you do not expect to find rational laws, you will not even look for them, and science will not get off the ground.

This insight into polytheism goes back to Isaac Newton, who once argued that the basis for believing there can be universal laws of nature is monotheism, since it implies that all of nature reflects the creative activity of a single Mind. Newton was arguing against the Greek notion, still prevalent in his day, that the earth was a place of change and corruption, whereas the heavily bodies were perfect and incorruptible. Against that view, Newton believed that both were products of a single divine Mind and therefore both were subject to the same laws. This opened the way for his breakthrough concept of gravity--the then-revolutionary idea that the same force that explains why apples fall to the ground also explains the orbits of the planets.[9]

More recently a similar argument was made by the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Melvin Calvin. Speaking about the conviction that the universe has a rational order, he says, "As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion . . . enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science."[10]

Eastern PantheismWhat about Eastern religions, which are in vogue even in Western cultures today? If polytheism involves personal but finite gods, then pantheism involves the opposite--a nonpersonal and infinite deity. Why didn't this kind of religion produce modern science? The answer is that the god of pantheism is not really a being so much as what we might call an essence, a spiritual substratum to all reality. And essences do not create worlds; in fact, because they are not personal agents, they do not actually do anything. As a result, once again, there is no confidence that the universe is the creation of a rational Mind. Moreover, rationality implies differentiation, and the god of pantheism is an all-encompassing unity, beyond all differentiation. This explains why Eastern religions typically led to meditation, which aims at transcending rational categories, but they do not typically foster rational investigation of nature.
When the Marxist historian Joseph Needham studied Chinese culture, he wanted to know why the Chinese did not develop modern science. Being a good Marxist, he first exhausted all materialist explanations, then finally concluded that the reason lay in the Chinese view of creation: "There was no confidence that the code of Nature’s laws could be unveiled and read, because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated such a code capable of being read."[11]

What general principle emerges from these examples? It is that science depends on certain prior assumptions about the nature of the universe--specifically, that the universe has an intelligible structure that can be rationally known. Both logically and historically, that belief arises only from the conviction that the universe is the creation of an intelligent, rational Mind.

Classical Greek PhilosophyWhat about non-religious philosophies? Many historians give the ancient Greeks credit as the forerunners of scientific thinking, on the grounds that they were the first to attempt to explain the world through rational principles. Certainly, it is undeniable that Greek philosophy had an immense formative impact on Western culture. Yet it was not enough to produce science--for several reasons.[12]

First, the classical philosophers defined science as logically necessary knowledge--knowledge of the eternal rational Forms embodied in Matter. The problem with this definition is that once you have grasped the essence of any object by rational insight, then you can spin out all the important information about it by sheer deduction. Take, for example, a saucepan: Once you know that the purpose of a saucepan is to boil liquids, then you can deduce that it must have a certain shape to hold the liquid, that it must be made of material that will not melt when heated, and so on. This deductive method was the model for classical Greek thinkers.

As a result, however, they had little use for detailed experiments and observations. Thus the experimental methodology of modern science did not come from the Greeks; rather it was derived from the biblical concept of a Creator. Medieval theologians reasoned that if God is omnipotent, as the Bible teaches, then He could have made the world in any number of different ways. The order in the universe is not logically necessary, contrary to what the Greeks thought, but is contingent, imposed externally by God acting according to His own free will. This was called voluntarism in theology, and Newton expressed the idea in these words: "The world might have been otherwise than it is . . . .Twas therefore no necessary but a voluntary and free determination it should be thus."[13]

What does the conviction of divine freedom imply for science? It means that we cannot gain knowledge of the world by logical deduction alone. That is, we cannot simply deduce what God must have done; instead we have to observe and experiment to discover what God in fact did. This was nicely stated by Newton's friend Roger Cotes, who wrote that Nature "could arise from nothing but the perfectly free will of God directing and presiding over all." And because the universe is a free and contingent creation, Cotes goes on, "Therefore we must . . . learn them [the laws of nature] from observations and experiments."[14]

The debate over divine freedom took place first in theology, then later were translated into the language of the philosophy of science. In the seventeenth century, the French mathematician Marin Mersenne took issue with Aristotle's logical argument that the earth must be at the center of the cosmos. As historian John Hedley Brook explains, "For Mersenne there was no 'must' about it. It was wrong to say that the center was the earth's natural place. God had been free to put it where He liked. It was incumbent on us to find to where this was."[15] The biblical concept of God opened the door to a methodology of observation and experimentation.

Mind Your MathMany historians have offered Euclid and Pythagoras as important precursors to modern science, since they made possible the mathematical treatment of nature. That is true, of course--with one crucial qualification: For the Greeks, mathematical truths were not fully instantiated in the material world. This is expressed symbolically in Plato's creation myth, where the world is fashioned by a demiurge (a low-level deity) who does not actually create matter but works with pre-existing stuff. Because his starting materials exist independently, they have independent properties over which the demiurge has no control. He just has to do the best he can with it. As a result, the Greeks expected the world to be nothing more than an approximation of the ideal forms--an unpredictable realm of irrational anomalies. They did not expect to find mathematical precision in nature. As Dudley Shapere explains, in Greek thought the physical world "contains an essentially irrational element: Nothing in it can be described exactly by reason, and in particular by mathematical concepts and laws."[16]

In contrast, the biblical God is the Creator of matter itself. As a result, He is in complete control of His starting materials, and can create the world exactly as He wants to. This is the operative meaning of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo--that there was no pre-existing matter, with its own eternal, independent properties, limiting what God can do with it. Consequently, there is nothing merely arbitrary or irrational in nature. Its orderly structure can be described with mathematical precision. In the words of physicist Carl von Weizsacker, "Matter in the Platonic sense, which must be ‘prevailed upon’ by reason, will not obey mathematical laws exactly." On the other hand, "Matter which God has created from nothing may well strictly follow the rules which its Creator has laid down for it. In this sense I called modern science a legacy, I might even have said a child, of Christianity."[17]

A historical example can be found in the work of Johannes Kepler. Since the Greeks regarded the heavens as perfect, and the circle as the perfect shape, they concluded that the planets must move in circular orbits, and this remained the orthodox view for nearly two millennia. But Kepler had difficulty with the planet Mars. The most accurate circle he could construct still left a small error of eight arc minutes. Had he retained the Greek mentality, Kepler would have shrugged off such a minor difference, regarding nature as only an approximation to the ideal forms. (In this case, Greek thought was a science-stopper.) As a Lutheran, however, Kepler was convinced that if God wanted something to be a circle, it would be exactly a circle. And if it was not exactly a circle, it must be exactly something else, and not mere capricious variation. This conviction sustained Kepler through six years of intellectual struggle, and thousands of pages of calculations, until he finally came up with the idea of ellipses. Historian R. G. Collingwood goes so far as to say, "The very possibility of applied mathematics is an expression . . . of the Christian belief that nature is the creation of an omnipotent God."[18]

It Was GoodA final problem with Greek thought was the low value it placed on the material world. Matter was seen as less real, the realm of mere appearance, sometimes even the source of evil. Many historians believe this is one reason the Greeks did not develop an empirical science. The intellectual elites had no interest in dirtying their own hands with actual experiments, and they had contempt for the farmers and craftsmen who might have acquainted them with a hands-on knowledge of nature.

The early Christian church took strong exception to this attitude. The church fathers taught that the material world came from the hand of a good Creator, and was thus essentially good. The result is described by a British philosopher of science, Mary Hesse: "There has never been room in the Hebrew or Christian tradition for the idea that the material world is something to be escaped from, and that work in it is degrading." Instead, "Material things are to be used to the glory of God and for the good of man."[19]

Kepler is, once again, a good example. When he discovered the third law of planetary motion (the orbital period squared is proportional to semi-major axis cubed, or P[superscript 2] = a [superscript 3]), this was for him "an astounding confirmation of a geometer god worthy of worship. He confessed to being 'carried away by unutterable rapture at the divine spectacle of heavenly harmony'."[20]

In the biblical worldview, scientific investigation of nature became both a calling and an obligation. As historian John Hedley Brooke explains, the early scientists "would often argue that God had revealed himself in two books—the book of His words (the Bible) and the book of His works (nature). As one was under obligation to study the former, so too there was an obligation to study the latter."[21] The rise of modern science cannot be explained apart from the Christian view of nature as good and worthy of study, which led the early scientists to regard their work as obedience to the cultural mandate to "till the garden."

The War That Wasn’tToday the majority of historians of science agree with this positive assessment of the impact the Christian worldview had on the rise of science. Yet even highly educated people remain ignorant of this fact. Why is that?

The answer is that history was founded as a modern discipline by Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire, Gibbon, and Hume who had a very specific agenda: They wanted to discredit Christianity while promoting rationalism. And they did it by painting the middle ages as the "Dark Ages," a time of ignorance and superstition. They crafted a heroic saga in which modern science had to battle fierce opposition and oppression from Church authorities. Among professional historians, these early accounts are no longer considered reliable sources. Yet they set the tone for the way history books have been written ever since. The history of science is often cast as a secular morality tale of enlightenment and progress against the dark forces of religion and superstition.

Stark puts it in particularly strong terms: "The ‘Enlightenment’ [was] conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists and humanists who attempted to claim credit for the rise of science."[22] Stark's comments express a tone of moral outrage that such bad history continues to be perpetuated, even in academic circles. He himself published an early paper quoting the standards texts, depicting the relationship between Christianity and science as one of constant "warfare." He now seems chagrined to learn that, even back then, those stereotypes had already been discarded by professional historians.[23]

Today the warfare image has become a useful tool for politicians and media elites eager to press forward with a secularist agenda on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, various forms of genetic engineering, and so on. When Christians raise moral objections, they are quickly discredited as reactionary, and the old "religion-versus-science" stereotype is trotted out. It has become more important than ever for thoughtful people to educate themselves on the latest findings in the history of science. Between now and the next election, a formative truth needs to become embedded in the cultural matrix: That Christianity is not a science stopper, it is a science starter.
Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, is editor at large of The Pearcey Report and the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at World Journalism Institute. This article appears, with minor changes, in Areopagus Journal 5:1 (January-February 2005): pp. 4-9 ( Copyright © Nancy Pearcey.

[1] Earlier versions of this paper were delivered at the Megaviews Forum, Los Alamos National Laboratory, September 24, 2003, and at the Veritas Forum at USC, February 18, 2004. See also Nancy Pearcey, “How Science Became a Christian Vocation,” in Reading God’s World: The Scientific Vocation, ed. Angus Menuge (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2004).

[2] For more information, see

[3] Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education has frequently made the assertion that Christianity is a "science stopper." See, for example, "Evolution and Intelligent Design," September 28, 2001, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Episode no. 504, at

[4] Brendan O'Neill, "They have vilified the sun--and me," Spiked, July 23, 2004, at

[5] Kathleen Parker, Townhall, December 4, 2004, at For an accessible introduction to the controversy over Darwinism, see my chapters on the topic (chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) in How Now Shall We Live?, co-authored with novelist Harold Fickett and former Nixon aide Charles Colson (Tyndale, 1999). An updated discussion can be found in Total Truth (chapters 5, 6, 7, 8). For a discussion of the cultural and philosophical implications of Darwinism, explaining why it continues to be controversial among the American public, see my essay "Darwin Meets the Berenstain Bears: Evolution as a Total Worldview," in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, ed. William Dembski (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2004), pp. 53-73.

[6] I have developed this argument in greater detail in The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Crossway 1994), which is a major source for this paper. For a shorter and more accessible treatment, see my chapter “The Basis for True Science,” chapter 40 in How Now Shall We Live?

[7] Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998 [1996]), p.168.

[8] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 160-163, 198-199.

[9] Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 52. It may be important to point out that many of the historians cited in this article are not themselves professing Christians, so that their views cannot be dismissed as driven by a religious agenda. They are simply seeking to be historically accurate and to do good scholarship.

[10] Melvin Calvin, Chemical Evolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 258, emphasis added. See my discussion in Soul of Science, p. 25.

[11] Joseph Needham, The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East and West (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), p. 327. See Stark, pp. 148, 150, as well as my discussion in Soul of Science, pp. 29, 22.

[12] The following discussion gives us the clue to why Islamic cultures did not produce modern science, either. One reason is that their intellectual life was dominated by Greek philosophy. In the Golden Age of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, Muhammad's armies annexed territory from Persia to Spain--and in the process, they also absorbed the philosophies of those places. Thus the Arab world had a rich tradition of commentary on the work of thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras long before Europe did. Indeed, two of the most prominent Aristotelian philosophers of the middle ages were Avicenna and Averroes--known in their native lands, respectively, as Abu Ali al-Hussein Ibn Sina and Abdul Waleed Muhammad Ibn Rushd. What this means is that in terms of science, Arabic philosophy tended to have the positives but also the negatives of Greek philosophy. See a lecture I delivered based on Total Truth at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, Oct. 19, 2004, transcript:

[13] Cited in Edward B. Davis, “Newton’s Rejection of the ‘Newtonian World View’: The Role of Divine Will in Newton’s Natural Philosophy,” in Science and Christian Belief, 3, no. 1, p. 117, emphasis added.

[14] Roger Cotes, preface to the second edition of Newton’s Principia, in Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings, ed. H.S. Thayer (New York: Hafner, 1953), emphasis added.

[15]John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor, Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science and Religion (NY: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 20. For more on this subject, see my discussion of how voluntarist theology led to a contingent view of nature in Soul of Science, pp. 30-33, 81ff. See also Nancy Pearcey, "Recent Developments in the History of Science and Christianity," and "Reply," Pro Rege 30, no. 4 (June 2002):1-11, 20-22.

[16] Dudley Shapere, Galileo: A Philosophical Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 134-36, emphasis in original.

[17] C.F. von Weizsacher, The Relevance of Science (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 163.

[18] R.G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (Chicago: Henry Regnery, Gateway Editions, 1972; originally published by London: Oxford University Press, 1940), pp. 253-257. See Soul of Science, pp. 27-29.

[19] Mary Hesse, Science and the Human Imagination: Aspects of the History and Logic of Physical Science (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), pp. 42-43, emphasis in original.

[20] John Hedley Brooke, "Scientists and their Gods," Science and Theology News, Volume 11/12 July/August 2001, at See also John Hedley Brooke, "Can Scientific Discovery be a Religious Experience?," the Alister Hardy Memorial Lecture delivered at Harris Manchester College, Oxford on 4 Nov. 2000, at; and John Hedley Brooke, "Science and Religion: Lessons from History?," Science, Volume 282, Number 5396 (11 Dec. 1998) pp. 1985 - 1986.

[21] John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 22. See also Soul of Science, pp. 34-36.

[22] Stark, p.123.

[23] The background for this change was a shift in historiography from a progressive and even triumphalistic approach, rooted in philosophical positivism, that portrayed science as the gradual accumulation of empirical facts, to a more contextualized approach, rooted in philosophical idealism, that treats scientific change as a result of changes in worldview and culture. I devote an entire chapter to explaining this historiographical shift in Soul of Science (chapter two).

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Seven Keys For A Better Life

Welcome to the new age of social media, where people can implode while the whole world gets to watch. Whether it's the Vancouver rioters posing for the cameras or facebookers posting compromising photos of themselves or going on a profanity-laced rant; the bottom-line is that it's people behaving badly.

What they don't realize is that there is always a price to pay for our behavior. That may be immediate, as in the loss of a scholarship for the rower caught trying to torch a police car, or it may come later as in the many who have lost out on jobs because of questionable content discovered on their Facebook page. For many it's the not quite so obvious price of a diminished reputation. What's become abundantly clear is that there's a very real lack of common-sense out there, not only in cyber-space but in the world in general. So here's some advice from the cheap seats that I've picked up along the way. Feel free to take it or leave it.

Live a life of integrity.
Integrity is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. What it means, simply, is to be, in fact, what we say we are. The great people that I've known were not necessarily rich or powerful or even influential, but they were people of integrity. When they gave you their word there was no contract necessary. Even if it hurt them or cost them money, they would live up to their commitments. This speaks of honesty, trust and honour. It is lived out in small things, like being on time for your appointments, paying your bills and giving a full day's work for a full day's pay. It means being the same behind closed doors as we are in public. I love this quote by Robert Brault: "You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest."

Choose your friends wisely.
I was taught this lesson a long time ago. I believe that it was John Maxwell who said that if you want to know what your future will look like, look at your friends. What we're speaking of here are not just casual acquaintances, but those who are involved in your life. Those who are close to you will go a long way in determining what you will become, simply by the power of their influence. The apostle Paul was right when he said: “Bad company corrupts good character.” So, here's the key: when you're trying to find a friend, reach up. Look for someone you relate to, but that you can also learn from. This is particularly important the younger you are.

As we are often reminded, guilt by association can have devastating consequences. If your buddies are involved in activities with which you're not comfortable, perhaps it's time to walk the other way if they can't be dissuaded. If not, don't be surprised if you end up paying the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One question I always ask is this: who's influencing who? Friends are of vital importance, select them carefully.

Choose growth as a lifestyle.
Successful people are almost invariably people who have a strong commitment to personal growth. This is not only reserved for those who can afford University, it is a lifestyle for anyone with a library card or internet access. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, discover your natural giftings, explore a new hobby; read a book. I wish that I had discovered this earlier in my life. The truth is that, until I started college, I hated to read. Now I love to read across a wide spectrum of interests. This point actually builds off of the previous one: if you have friends who value growth, they will encourage rather than discourage this.

Modern technology has made it possible to learn in so many different ways. You can download teaching to your portable device and listen while you exercise. If you prefer, distance education has made a college education easily accessible. Check out what small group studies or book clubs might be available through your church or library. Switch the idiot box to the History or Discovery channel for a change. Try it, you might like it.

Don't compare yourself with others; be the best that you can be.
Sometimes healthy competition can be good for you, but if you constantly compare yourself to others you're bound to fall short. There will always be someone out there who is faster, stronger or smarter than you. Instead, learn how to challenge yourself. You are responsible to do what you can, where you are, with what you have. I've found it helpful to remember some key Bible verses. Jeremiah 1:5 says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." God created each of us unique and has intimate knowledge of us. Psalm 139:14 says, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

Because we are unique; because God created us, we have value and purpose. I may not be the most intelligent person in the world, but I can make a contribution. God may not expect me to be the next Billy Graham, but He does expect me to be the best Tony denBok I can be.

Commit to excellence - be an "and then some" person.
Here's one little-known secret to success. It has been my observation that most people do what is asked of them. They do what it takes to get the job done. Those who are successful are those who do what they have to do - and then some. They've made a commitment to do the best work possible within their current setting and with their current resources. This type of person despises the term "good enough." They demand the best from themselves. These are the types of people who build successful businesses because of their customer service. This reminds me of some good advice I received when I was younger. Someone told me "Find what you love to do and learn to do it so well that people will gladly pay you for it."

Think before you act.
We used to just call this self-control; it's amazing how many people lack this quality. A part of growing up is understanding that actions have consequences, a fact that is no longer taught in many homes or schools. I have a preview button on the screen in front of me as I type this blog. Before I publish this, the preview screen gives me an opportunity to see what it will look like. Wouldn't it be great if we had a preview button in our minds that could show us what will happen if we make a certain decision? No doubt such a device would save us from a lot of trouble. In lieu of that, at least use the "pause" button. Think about what you're doing. Do your best to act and not re-act. Make conscious choices, not reflex actions. You'll have a lot fewer things for which to apologize. As Billy Graham said: "Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything."

Cultivate a positive attitude.
Very simply, if you believe you can't, you can't. Many of the incredible advances in technology were accomplished by people who were thought to be crazy. When they were told it couldn't be done, they went out and did it. The point is that in order to bring about positive change in anything, we must first believe that it is possible. This is where a great many people fall short. Perhaps their childhood was full of discouragement and maybe they grew up with no-one who believed in them. Regardless of our past, we don't have to live there. Change is possible.

There are some very powerful Bible passages related to this. The first is found in Romans 12:2. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Regardless of the die that may have been cast for our lives, we can change. This verse reminds us of the truth that the mind is a powerful thing and is the key to our renewal. Our lives can be transformed by changing the way that we think. Philippians 4:8 gets more specific: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Each of us has so much potential, but many of us are too good at self-sabotage. As the old comic-strip character Pogo said, "We've seen the enemy, and he is us." This was an attempt to help those of us who want to get out of our own way. If you have any other life principles to pass on, feel free. Perhaps it will lead to a Part 2.

Related Articles:
Vancouver Riots - What Were They Thinking?
Wanted: Best Friend
Think For Yourself! Don't Get Stuck in a "Filter Bubble"
I Love Me!
Minding Our Manners

Monday, July 04, 2011


Here's a great article I just read called "The Email Charter." I'm not taking credit for it, but I think it deserves to be passed along. It started as a blog post by Chris Anderson and Jane Wulf. If you find yourself, like I do, drowning in e-mails, pass this along.

10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral
1. Respect Recipients' Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

2. Short or Slow is not Rude
Let's mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we're all facing, it's OK if replies take a while coming and if they don't give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don't take it personally. We just want our lives back!

3. Celebrate Clarity
Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.

4. Quash Open-Ended Questions
It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by "Thoughts?". Even well-intended-but-open questions like "How can I help?" may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. "Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!"

5. Slash Surplus cc's
cc's are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don't default to 'Reply All'. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.

6. Tighten the Thread
Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it's usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it's rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what's not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.

7. Attack Attachments
Don't use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there's something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.

8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with "No need to respond" or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.

9. Cut Contentless Responses
You don't need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying "Thanks for your note. I'm in." does not need you to reply "Great." That just cost someone another 30 seconds.

10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we'd all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can't go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an 'auto-response' that references this charter. And don't forget to smell the roses.