July 2011

God and Evolution

God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards ★★★★
This text is written by a number of scholars at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA from an Intelligent Design perspective to counter the theistic evolution movement. Surprisingly many evangelical theologians and pastors have given their imprimatur to the theistic evolution movement, including Bruce Waltke, Philip Yancey, Os Guinness, Robert Schuler (?), Tim Keller, and Mark Noll to name a few. The theistic evolution movement argues that their stance is consistent with an orthodox reading of Scripture held in an inerrant fashion. This book seeks to establish that theistic evolution falls out of the traditional Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish beliefs.
The first emphasizes the importance of correct thinking on evolution. Richards and West argue that errors in thinking on evolution have led to such heresies as Gnosticism and deistic views of God. Richards identifies prominent Christian leaders like Tim Keller, who seems entirely inconsistent and poorly thought out on his evolution beliefs. Ultimately, the BioLogos movement tends to destroy more theological truths, including a rigorous view of the fall, and a denial that God is present and active in this world. Collin’s efforts to make evolution compatible with a strict view of Scripture have not engendered acceptance of the atheistic evolutionist crowd, primarily because evolution is much more than a scientific theory, but rather a complete belief system about the universe. Luskin spends a chapter detailing why theistic evolution will never appease the atheists in the crowd. Of greatest perplexity is Francis Collins’ strong reaction against the Intelligent Design movement. Attempts at reconciling science and religion had led to the proposal of different spheres of influence (NOMA), which again reflects confused thinking since science and religion regularly overlap, whether one is a theist or an atheist. Demski investigates the claim that theistic evolution gets God “off the hook” for creating evil, yet argues that it does nothing of the sort since God remains directly or indirectly “responsible” for evil. Witt then focuses directly on Collins’s position, focusing on his anti-ID stance. In the process, Collins must maintain that the so-called imperfections of nature attest to an imperfect or clumsy God who can’t get things right the first time around (as though theistic evolution solves the problem!). Wells feels that Collins prematurely caved into his atheistic buddies in the science world, but seriously compromised himself in the process by not promoting the notion of a God as the immediate creator of the universe. Richards details the belief system of Howard Van Till, showing how Van Till suggested a mechanism built into the system from the beginning by God which would lead to the tendency toward the evolution of life, called the “robust formational economy principle”. To me, this sounds much like an anthropic-teleological principle, with the entire system bent toward the non-random formation of humans. Yet, Richards argues that this is not how we see nature to be, and forms very shaky theological grounds. In the end, Van Till offers more confusion than direction. Van Till himself has since abandoned an orthodox view of God, even being rejected by the now quite liberal Calvin College. Meyer summarizes by suggesting the theistic evolution fails to solve any of the questions that they attempt to solve, i.e, why nature doesn’t seem to have a perfect construction, as defined by our current concept of what an ideal, perfect world (or biological organism) would look like.
The remaining chapters are the Catholic and Jewish arguments against theistic evolution. For the Catholic, much discussion related to medieval concepts of nomism vs. realism, Aristotelian thinking in the mind of Thomas Aquinas, and the formal positions of the Catholic church. For the Jewish crowd, discussion of great minds such as Maimonides and traditional Jewish thought through the ages was detailed. Klinghoffer suggested that while the preponderance of Jews, whether reformed or orthodox,  have blindly accepted evolution as an explanation for the world without conflict with the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent thinking, this is a result of very poor thinking as to traditional Jewish belief systems.
In all, this book is a superb tour de force contra the theistic evolution crowd. It avoids the young earth/old earth controversy and focuses entirely on the problem of Christians assuming that science must speak first, followed by us conforming our theological beliefs to science. To this end, I fear that many conservative theologians are gravely in error subscribing to theistic evolution. It leaves me wondering how my own denomination (the PCA) could close a blind eye to Tim Keller (perhaps because he has a large successful church) while forming a witch-hunt in a minor theological dispute with Peter Leithart.

Shostakovich Complete Symphonies

Shostakovich Complete Symphonies, performed by Kiril Kondrashin and Moscow Symphony Orchestra ★★★★★
As you can tell, I’ve been reviewing mostly Russian music, including Borodin, Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich. Shostakovich is my favorite of all Russian composers. This 11-CD set includes all 15 of Shostakovich’s symphonies, as well as his violin concerto. Though recorded a few years ago by Melodia, the sound is quite excellent. Kondrashin provides very convincing performances, that rank among the best. His tempo and dynamics often differ a bit from western conductors but are done in a way that is quite pleasing. The 5th symphony is comparatively slower than Bernstein’s, yet maintains all the vim and fire worthy of the symphony. This is a set of Shostakovich’s symphonies that is worth having and is probably the best Russian performance available. I have complete sets by Barshai, Haitink, Maxim Shostakovich, and Jansons, as well as this set by Kondrashin, and tend to prefer the Kondrashin and Jansons sets above the others. Each conductor provides a much different interpretation of these symphonies, and all of the sets are worth having. Kondrashin would be a reasonable starting set for the beginner.

Rachmaninoff Edition

Rachmaninoff Edition (Complete Works), various performers ★★★★★
This is one of the sets produced by Brilliant Classics as a budget series, though none of the recordings in this set would fit the “budget” category as being the highest quality performances. Especially delightful were the piano concertos with Earl Wild at the piano. This is reportedly a comprehensive set of Rachmaninoff’s works, including his operas, solo piano, solo voice works, and other works. As a special treat, various historic performances of Rachmaninoff were also included. This set doesn’t seem to be available any longer from Amazon.com, but for the price when it was available, was a true bargain.

Borodin Chamber Music

Borodin Chamber Music, performed by the Moscow Trio and Moscow String Quartet ★★★★★
Alexander Borodin was a Russian chemist associated with “The Five”, a group of amateur musicians that sought to reform Russian music. The others in “the Five” were Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov,  and Mussorgsky. Though the musical output of the Five was not massive, it did have a profound influence on composers to follow, including Tchaikovsky and the 20th-century Russian composers. Borodin has a sweet style to his music that is neither harsh on the ears nor lacking in luster. Borodin’s chamber music is not commonly heard, and that’s a shame since it is both tuneful and creative. The recording is flawless with a strong sense of presence, and the performances by the Moscow Trio/Quartet manifest charm in their interpretation. This is a worthy set to have in either small or large collections.

Fünf Stimmen für ein Halleluja

Fünf Stimmen für ein Halleluja, by Die Beinahe Sechs ★★★★★
Die Beinahe Sechs (The nearly six) vocal ensemble from Germany has composed and revised various Christian-themed songs. They offer a mix of songs sung in German and English in a truly remarkable performance. Dr. Kretschmar (from Leipzig) first introduced me to this album. Rather than offer a ponderous description of their music, I thought it best to include two excerpts, both in highly reduced format to hopefully render these as not violating copyright laws. My only regret is that this group is not producing more albums, as they beat most of the Christian music being produced in the English-speaking world.

The Myth of Junk DNA

The Myth of Junk DNA, by Jonathan Wells ★★★★★
The issue of Junk DNA has arisen from the claims that theistic evolutionists make arguing that the presence of “junk” DNA is proof that the genome was formed to a large extent from random events. Junk DNA refers to DNA in the genome that does not seem to encode any sort of protein. It is well known that the preponderance of our genome consists of “junk” DNA, and for the most part, its function is not well described. Oddly, the amount of “junk” DNA seems to vary among species, and particular attention is made to the presence of unusually high quantities of “junk” DNA in the onion genome. Wells effectively counters the limpid arguments of such scholars as Francis Collins in noting many discoveries that have shown “junk” DNA to play a role in the genome. First, he shows that much non-protein-coding DNA is still transcribed, and plays vital roles in gene regulatory events, oftentimes during embryologic development. Secondly, he shows how introns (also identified as “junk” DNA) play a significant role in post-transcriptional regulatory events. So-called pseudogenes (genes that are active in some species but “defective” in others) oftentimes also are transcribed and involved in regulatory events. Further chapters detail how other aspects of non-protein-coding DNA are useful in sundry aspects of cell division and growth, such as the necessity of this “junk” DNA to permit centromere function. Wells makes no claim to fully understand the functions of the entirety of the genome but insists that it is arrogant to ascribe an absence of utility for biological entities whose usefulness is not yet understood. He more than capably destroys the idea that junk DNA is an argument for theistic evolution and against intelligent design.
I took a class in graduate school in 1986 that was in the department of molecular biology and whose subject was pre- and post-transcriptional genomic regulation. Already, much evidence was known that seemed to be dismantling a strict Watson-Crick schema of protein production. Though much of the class was a little over my head in terms of research details, the basic concept of a much greater complex schema of cell regulatory events was already clear. Proteins, chromatin, large and small RNA elements all seemed to play a confusing role in turning genes on and off, in determining what would be translated, and what would be stable versus transitory mRNA elements. This book shows that our knowledge of gene regulatory events has crept forward a touch. We are still left with an enormous vacuum of understanding as to how the cell truly regulates itself throughout its lifetime. Evolutionists, regardless of whether they are of the theistic vs. atheistic variety, glibly fill in the missing facts with the assumption that science will ultimately answer everything. In reality, they are creating a belief system which I call science-of-the-gaps, which is far more perverse than the God-of-the-gaps accusation directed toward creationists or intelligent design adherents. Creationists of all stripes will admit that science may offer some explanations of the large voids in our knowledge, and that doesn’t do violence to the creationist stance. Evolutionists would never concede that much of their gaps will always remain gaps since their theory cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of the world as we see it. Their arguments are not won by the force of reason but by the force of arrogant proclamation. I commend Wells for offering a solid reason to admit that there is much to yet learn about the genomic structure. Being head of the NIH does not confer Collins the role of science-Pope who can speak ex cathedra for God in matters of evolution, and this book skillfully demonstrates a lacuna in Collins’ thinking.

The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges (8 volumes) ★★★★★
This series of the Three Stooges as presented on television goes from the earliest episodes in 1934 up to the final episodes with Joe Besser in 1959. The Three Stooges offer their own commentary of wit and humor. Many people who watch the Stooges in action feel that they are too violent, and I’m sure Leonard Maltin or Whoopie Goldberg would not approve of the violence, but as they also tend to make fun of racial and ethnic stereotypes. The greatest disappointment with this series is that the last few years offered mostly remakes of previous episodes, often with only minor alterations in order to make it a new episode. In addition, Joe Besser simply cannot compete with Curly or Shemp. I remember watching the Three Stooges on television when I was 5 or 6 years old, and they were transfixing then. When I let the grandchildren watch them, they find them still amusing. Much of the wordplay is missed by kids, but makes the Three Stooges equally humorous for children and adults alike.

Thoughts on Blogging

It was almost two years ago that I was forced to move to this new blog site. Before then, I was using the Apple proprietary program iWeb, and it allowed for some capabilities that I have not been able to recreate through WordPress. Yet, WordPress doesn’t crash resulting in the loss of data. The older site is still up, though I am unable to add further entries to that site or revise the pages.
This blogsite has had a different character, in that I spend much more time reviewing books, music, and movies, and less time talking about political, religious, or medical issues. Perhaps that was a mistake. I found that political topics tended to generate the most interest. To date, I have written 225 blogs and gotten 101 responses. Many of those responses were from my brother Dennis, whose comments I always appreciate. I have published all of the responses to date, except for one dude, unknown to me, who wrote a quite vitriolic comment regarding my “naivete” for believing in creationism and rejecting evolution as a valid hypothesis for the origins of the world as we know it. I would have approved his comments, except that they were quite foul-mouthed, and failed to reflect any substantive thought process. Please understand that I often do not agree with comments that come back to me, but I still post them. I have occasionally had friends personally e-mail me regarding articles on the website. I assume that these comments were intended to be kept private, and so have not posted them. I will often have friends mention that they’ve read a certain posted blog, but not comment. I do the same for other blogs, but realize that it leaves the blog author slightly uncertain as to the number and identity of the population that you’re writing for.
I have rejected the thought of developing a presence in the social networking work of Facebook, Twitter, or other similar sites. I continually receive messages to have certain people “connect” with me on Linked In, a network that truly confuses me as to its utility. If I wished to connect with you, I would find your e-mail address, and e-mail you. Why do I need Linked In? The standard social networks like Facebook create a larger issue, in that they encourage brevity of thought and absence of connectedness in ones’ thinking. Those networks are the ultimate in encouraging mindless prattle that occurs between two or more people. One is demanded to express themselves in short brief statements that fail any sort of real development of thought. Worse, Facebook best facilitates emotional expressions rather than discussions on important issues. For these reasons, I have not been on Facebook for years, and will never go on under the current environment of Facebook.
I have learned that one must not manifest diarrhea of the mind on a website. Since these are public forums, care needs to be exercised as to what is said. It is not that I would mutter extremist or revolutionary views, since that is not my cup of tea. Simply watching how the press destroys various politicians for fairly tame statements suggests that political correctness rules the social interactions among members of our society. Casting aside political correctness, I will try never to offend anybody.
I anticipate that this website will probably contain more personal interest articles and discussions as to what is transpiring in the lives of me and Betsy. I also wish to start using Lightroom to create photographic presentations. This might take some experimenting in order to get it into WordPress. I welcome comments and suggestions as to where to go from here. Or, just drop me a line and say “hi”.
Ken F. von Puyallup, WA


Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas ★★★★
Bonhoeffer’s is a story worth reading and well told by Eric Metaxas. It is the tale of a young German growing up in the academic circles of Berlin, deciding to go into theology, only to break away from the liberal tendencies in theology as found in Berlin. Through experiences as a young pastor and student in Spain, London, and NY City, Bonhoeffer matures in his faith towards seeing God not as a distant “other” but somebody with whom daily life interacts. Changes in the German political scene with the rise of Hitler and state interference with the church caused Bonhoeffer to form the separate Bekennendekirche (Confessing church) movement, as well as the institution of a seminary to train young pastors. Bonhoeffer then becomes involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Though jailed initially for other reasons, he ultimately is executed for his role in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.  The book reads well, though often would be better served by leaving long quotes as footnotes.
Metaxas develops Bonhoeffer as a remarkable person, able to see through the vapidness of his theology professors, yet still able to treat them with respect and honor. Bonhoeffer was a man who operated on principle, with an ever-deepening faith in God that controlled his entire life. Metaxas also paints Bonhoeffer as a person whose life raises serious questions. I will offer three comments.
1. Is he a model of virtue that we should all follow, especially in regard to our reaction to an evil state? My personal answer is that he is not. Bonhoeffer, being executed for his role in the plot against Hitler, and not for his role as a pastor, makes him an accomplice to an assassin and not a martyr. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer… yet if anybody suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed” IPeter 4:15-16a. The test of time proved that attempts to assassinate Hitler were providentially ineffective, and God was able to handle Hitler and his henchmen quite nicely at the appropriate time.
2. Bonhoeffer proposes a graded absolutist ethic, which is fraught with intense problems. His ethic is not novel and is usually discussed in most ethics texts. In it, Bonhoeffer allows that a lesser evil (such as the murder of Hitler, or lying), is permissible in order to accomplish a greater good (freedom of the world from a tyrant) or to avoid a greater evil (the killing of masses of Jews). Unfortunately, this ethic essentially permits any action to occur, since all of our actions are designed to enact a “good”, either to ourselves or to a specific group. The arguments against graded absolutism would be very lengthy and not appropriate for a book review.
3. Bonhoeffer never divorces himself from the liberal camp, becoming at odds with Karl Barth not for his bad theology, but for his bad social approach to the Nazi regime. In his 1939 visit to New York, his identity with American Christianity was mostly limited to his exposure to the dead theology circles of Union Seminary. Bonhoeffer develops a deep spirituality, but this is in the context of social activism, and not in the context of seeking a correct theology. Never do we see a Bonhoeffer whose highest good is the truth. Put in a Christian context, Bonhoeffer holds that worship and obedience take precedence over truth, yet Bonhoeffer fails to see that in reality, they are indivisible, and orthodoxy and orthopraxy are intimately bound. Bonhoeffer’s interest in visiting Gandhi puzzles me. Not that Gandhi is not an admirable person, but that Gandhi does not provide a Biblical solution to man’s dilemmas and offers no explanation for the evil that comes out of man, which was soon to destroy Bonhoeffer.
This book is recommended as the spirited retelling of a life worthy of mention, and often an example for all of us in standing against evil. It is a warning of Christians to not compromise their beliefs in the accommodation to the state. It is a devotional plea to always live ones’ moments as corum deo. Thus, it is a book recommended to all.

The Stoning of Soraya

The Stoning of Soraya, directed by Cyrus Nowrosteh ★★★★★
This is a bad movie to watch late at night, as it will haunt you. It is the story of a young wife in a small village in Iran, as told through the voice of a journalist who was passing through the village. Apparently, it was based on a true story, as this story mirrors what happens many times throughout strict Muslim countries. Soraya is the mother of two young boys and two young girls, but whose husband has found her to be less than satisfactory, in spite of her hard work and virtue. He decides to get rid of her and marry another girl in a neighboring village. She takes up the job of helping to care for the children of a neighbor widower, encouraged by the town officials and holy man. Through this, the town officials and holy man assist in devising a false trumped charge of adultery. The widower is threatened with his life if he fails to assist in this plot, and so contributes to the deception of the charge of adultery, attesting that she was found lying on his bed. The final verdict was the death penalty, and all men in the village, including Soraya’s sons, throw stones. Justice is finally served when Soraya’s husband discovers that the other girl is not available to him and he is left without a wife and that the journalist brings the story to the rest of the world.
The intention of this movie is to alert the western world as to the mistreatment of women in Muslim countries. The film inadvertently portrays a much deeper evil that lurks throughout the Muslim mindset, which is unfortunately turned into a virtue by the Muslim faith. In the Judeo-Christian ethic, a person that leads to the death of another in a trial by bearing false witness is also condemned to death (Deut. 19:15-20). Integrity and truth are considered integral to religion and the worship of God. In the Muslim faith, the worship of Allah is divorced from the ethical environment. A hierarchy of values is generated whereby one evil may justify the performance of another evil. Thus, suicidal terrorist acts, the organized mistreatment of women, the debauchery that occurs in all Muslim countries are all condoned since the ends justify the means. My experience of having spent time in several Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Northern Africa) confirms this through observations of women essentially having the same social status as animals. This is not superficially observable as many Muslim men treated their wives with respect, even though they still remain second-class citizens in society. Attempts have been made to accuse Western society of demeaning women, yet, the difference is such that females are considered equal but different, contrary to a feminist ideology that considers females not only equal but not different. Either is a far cry from the Muslim world, where a female might be imprisoned for driving a car or speaking out in public.
The director of this movie did a brilliant job of character development, scene portrayal, and plot flow. It will hold you by the seat of your pants, in spite of the fact that I have just given away the plot of the movie. I highly encourage you to watch this film at your first chance.