If your belief system is not founded in an objective reality, you should not be making decisions that affect other people.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) September 15, 2014
Let’s pause and consider Dr. Tyson’s statement.
I have heard atheists explain that they don’t believe, they know. Belief, they claim, is not based on evidence but knowledge is. That statement in itself is loaded with difficulties but let’s let it slide for the moment. Does Dr. Tyson have a “belief system” and is it grounded in “objective reality”? If it is, is it still a belief system? Isn’t it knowledge?
Since this tweet appears to be Dr. Tyson’s opinion, it is subjective and no longer objective. Therefore, Dr. Tyson should not be making this decision for other people.
Does Dr. Tyson believe his statement to be true? What portions of “objective reality” lead Dr. Tyson to this conclusion? There are countless examples of people making sound decisions for others whose belief systems are based on things Tyson would, no doubt, claim are not founded in objective reality. Christian or Muslim or Buddhist doctors successfully make decisions for others on a regular basis, for example. Did these get included in the “objective reality” that lead Dr. Tyson to his conclusion? I rather doubt it.
If we accept Dr. Tyson’s statement as true, that means that only those who have a belief system founded in objective reality can make decisions that affect others. Parents whose belief systems don’t meet Tyson’s criteria would be excluded from making decisions for their children; others would have to do it for them. The same goes for care givers of elderly parents or the mentally ill.
In the end, this statement is nothing more than a bald-faced power play. While organized religion is often presented as the boogieman who wants to control how you think, this form of scientism actually has that goal in mind. Were Dr. Tyson and others like him really in favor of free thought, this notion would never have occurred to him. Don’t be mislead, scientists are human too and subject to the same foibles as others, hubris and desire for power included.
What troubles me is not so much that Tyson said it, it is that at the time of my writing, 20k+ people agreed with him.
When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:24-27
It can be surprising what you can learn from seemingly simple passages like this. This is just Noah getting ticked off at one of his kids and praising his favorites, right? Not by a long shot. There is nothing that says Noah was being prophetic here but he was. He was, after all, a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) and though Jacob isn’t called a prophet, his blessings on his kids proved to be prophetic (Gen 49) since the scepter didn’t depart from Judah, for example.
In the past, some in the church have talked about “the curse of Ham” and “the mark of Cain” being upon different people groups, whom they refer to as ‘races’. This was then used to give Biblical justification to treating those ‘races’ as less-than-human. Obviously, Cain’s mark was on Cain and not anyone else. Cain complained that once others found out what he’d done, they’d kill him (Gen 4:14). God’s purpose in putting his mark on Cain was to prevent that (Gen 4:15). After the flood, God had a different solution for murder: execution (Gen 9:6) not Cain’s mark. Besides, Noah was from the line of Seth (Gen 5:6-28) not Cain’s so if the mark was genetic, it died in the flood.
Well, what of the curse of Ham? Ham’s descendants settled in Africa so the theory goes that the children of Ham bear his curse. Except, Ham didn’t get cursed. Noah/God cursed not Ham, for that would be a third of humanity at that point, but he/they cursed Ham’s son Canaan. Canaan’s descendants didn’t make it to Africa, they settled in the Promised Land (Gen 10:15-19). God endured with them not for only 400 years while Israel was in Egypt (Gen 15:16) though that would be significant. But more than that, God endured with that cursed people from the days of Noah! Their deeds were exceedingly evil (cf. Lev 20:2-5) and yet it took that long for the full measure of their sin to equal the full measure of God’s patience with them.
What happened was that Ham was not curse. Nor was he blessed. He was simply cut out. The blessing to Japheth was that he be enlarged. It is a play on Japheth’s name which is the same Hebrew word as “enlarge” but it is more than that. Japheth will, one day, dwell in Shem’s tents. Shem who’s God is Yahweh. Those tents. We can see this idea of Ham being ignored again in the genealogy of Genesis 10. When we get to Shem’s descendants, Shem is introduced as “the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth.” “Eber” is where we get the name “Hebrew” and Shem is his father which is where we get the term “Semite” as in “anti-semite”. Also, Shem is the elder brother not of Ham and Japheth, but only Japheth. Moses is pointing out that Ham’s descendants will be included in Japheth’s blessing (he will be enlarged) and only Canaan will be cursed.
Seem thin? Let me fill it in just a bit then. Back to Genesis 10 but let’s take a look at Ham’s descendants for a moment. One is Nimrod, a mighty man and a mighty hunter. He founded two important cities, Nineveh and Babylon. These become very important later in redemptive history when God judges Israel and Judah for their faithlessness. Nebuchadnezzar is the king of Babylon and God repeatedly refers to him as “my servant” in Jeremiah (Jer 25:9, 27:6, 43:10). In Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are delivered from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace he makes the proclamation that “Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Dan 3:29). Then in chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar himself seems to be the author of inspired scripture, God doesn’t destroy Nebuchadnezzar for his sin but sends him a dream and Daniel to interpret it. He then causes Nebuchadnezzar to go mad for a time so that when he is restored he praises God. Sounds like this son of Ham is dwelling in Shem’s tents. Also, God sent Jonah to Nineveh and extended his mercy to them.
Another son of Ham is Egypt (Gen 10:6). When God brought Israel out of Egypt he judged their gods, not them (Ex 12:12, Num 33:4). God later calls Egypt “my people” and Assyria “the work of my hands” (Isa 19:24-25). And these two sons of Ham will surely be among the “strong nations” that will lay hold of the robe of a Jew and say “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech 8:22-23). Again, that sounds like they are dwelling in Shem’s tents.
I’m not saying that these men or nations were eternally saved, but they had an encounter with Yahweh that the Canaanites didn’t. That isn’t to say that God didn’t extend opportunities for repentance to Canaan, he did, but he didn’t take the extraordinary steps he took with others of Ham’s children. Caleb’s father, a Kenizzite (Num 32:12, Gen 15:18-19), turned to Yahweh. Rahab and her family heard about Yahweh’s might and turned to him (Josh 2:8-13). When God’s wrath fell on the people of the land of Canaan, these were saved so even in his judgment, God saved some. In the end, Japheth is enlarged and dwells in Shem’s tents while Ham is pretty much ignored.
Which one do you like better? The cranky God of the Old Testament or mild mannered Jesus of the New Testament? You actually don’t get that choice.
Back in 2008 I attended the Wheaton Theology Conference on Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry. One of the speakers was Edith Humphrey. I just stumbled across my notes from her talk and found this interesting observation.
We often assume that the Old Testament is the era of the Father, the New Testament is the era of the Son, and the church age is the era of the Spirit. Humphrey suggested an alternative. The Old Testament is the era of the Son incognito and the New Testament is the era of the Son revealing the Father by the Spirit. She referred specifically to John 1:18 to support this version.
As I’m preaching through Genesis, I find this to actually be a better description of what is happening. Of course the Father is present and active in the Old Testament but what we’re seeing more of is Jesus there. Pictured and promised but there he is.
To add to the strength of this, consider this from an older post of mine:
So my act of rebellion was to see “the LORD” and read it as “Yahweh” every time. After a bit I got worried that I was just being proud and clever; never a good thing. But then I thought about how the New Testament handles this…
And that’s when it came together. What I was actually doing was what the church had been doing. Seeing “Yahweh” and thinking/saying “Lord” for whatever reason; theological persnickety-ness or honoring God. But in the New Testament “Lord” is applied to Jesus. So when I read in the New Testament “Jesus is Lord” and hear in my head that habit from reading “Lord” in my Old Testament as “Yahweh” I’m actually doing the right thing! Jesus is Yahweh!
What I’m getting at is we read “LORD” and think “God the Father” but in reality we should be thinking “Jesus” since the New Testament applies “Lord” to Jesus. That would mean that the God we see in the Old Testament, the one everyone says is cranky and mean, is actually Jesus. On when he came did he reveal God the Father.
The Sabbath was a holy sign of the covenant bond between God and His people. It was as much a part of the order of creation as was creative labor, and in being obedience in the work and rest, Israel would demonstrate its total allegiance to God.
As the Sabbath (like work and marriage) is rooted in the nature of creation, it is certain that the Sabbath (like work and marriage) was part of the cultural expression of Eden. While we have no explicit mention of human observance of the Sabbath in the first chapters of Genesis, the arguments made in passages such as Exodus 31 about the nature of the Sabbath indicate that God’s sanctifying of it (Genesis 2:2ff.) was from then on part of how creation functioned. The intimate fellowship between God and man in the Garden presupposes that man would honor what God had established as holy. Since the Fall is the first occurrence of human disobedience to the divine order established in creation, it is impossible that man would not have observed the Sabbath in the original culture of Eden. – Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes
The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to the other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, strong, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the the right parts of us. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1,7-8
I read the following discussion on Twitter about the unrest in Ferguson, MO.
— Denny Burk (@DennyBurk) August 20, 2014
— Thabiti Anyabwile (@ThabitiAnyabwil) August 20, 2014
Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a blog post about evangelicals exercising theological and practical leadership on this. The twitter thread is a bit of a rebuke of evangelicals who’ve remained silent. I’m one of them and so it prompted me to ask myself why I have chosen to remain quite. Here are some of my reasons:
1) Privilege. I am a white, middle-class male in my 50s. The only reason employees in a store watch me closely when I walk in is because they are working on commission and want to make a sale. When/if I ever get pulled over it by the police they worst they will suspect me of is drunk driving. I cannot imagine what the situation on the ground is in Ferguson because of my privileged position in American society. This leads to:
2) Ignorance. I have never been to Ferguson, MO so I don’t know what the conditions are there. I don’t understand all that transpired between a white, well-armed cop and a large, unarmed black teenager and so I am profoundly unqualified to comment upon it. The only thing I can say that would be acceptable due to my privilege would be to condemn the shooting of yet another black man. I condemn that since every human life is precious. But which reason for the shooting shall I condemn? Systemic racism in the police force? Unyielding economic oppression of blacks in America? Generational un/underemployment and an American society that perpetuates huge obstacles to changing that situation? The militarization of local police forces? Yes, all of these but I have no idea what the mix of these factors and others are at play in Ferguson.
3) Room. Because of the above two factors, I believe it is best for me to keep my mouth shut and allow the protestors and the Missouri government to surface the real issues at play there. My voice, privileged and ignorant as it is, will not contribute to that process. My social-media-fueled opinions, if they were even to matter or be heard, cannot help. The protestors need to keep the pressure on the government and the police need to be allowed to complete their investigation. Twitter and Facebook will not help and may actually hurt. It would be good if Ferguson were not in the 24-hour news cycle but were only reported on when something important happens. The media need to be there to add pressure to what the protestors are already applying but the rampant speculation and knee-jerk commentary that fuel the news cycle won’t help. My feeble contribution won’t help either.
4) Prayer. Since I am ignorant and my opinion is slanted by my place in society, I am uniquely unable to help. But I know someone who knows the intimate details of what happened down to the thoughts and intentions of every heart involved. He is sovereign over the Ferguson police and mayor, even over the Justice Department and president. He holds sway even over the crowds of protesters and scandal-hungry media. And he commands me to pray to him, to ask him to grant us peace, and for him to give our elected officials, his ministers in all of this, wisdom. Prayer is not not doing anything. It is appealing to the greatest, wisest, most benevolent power in the universe to move in human affairs. My best course of action to do something that can actually help, is to pray that God will bring justice to our divided, conflicted, drifting nation. Including and especially Ferguson, Missouri. And so I am doing the best thing I can do.
All of this does not mean that I am not interested in racial justice in America. I am sorely aware of the twisted justice system and racist economic system in this nation. The problems confound me and the solutions elude me but I do long for justice and peace and freedom to come to this place. I long for the day when slavery and its ugly shadow will be lifted from out nation. I want everyone in this nation to be able to improve their lot in life by hard work and by enjoying the fruit of the labor of their hands. I want the police to once again “serve and protect” and not be a revenue stream for municipalities. Where I can see clearly, I will speak when I believe I have something to add. Wisdom in this case seems to be for me to hold my tongue and pray.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain. – William Cowper
On earth, we get a total solar eclipse because our sun and moon are just the right size and they and the earth just the right distances apart. These eclipses give us a great wealth of information and allow us to research the cosmos.
We’re also just the right distance from the sun so that we don’t bake or freeze. And our moon is just the right size and distance so that it induces tides and it keeps our planet tilted at the right angle to allow seasons. This video explains it well:
For reference, consider what a lunar eclipse recently looked like on Mars:
The only intelligent life in the solar system is on the planet with a transparent atmosphere and a moon that perfectly eclipses the sun. If humanity is the result of random chance alignment of atoms, then not only is it astounding that those atoms should give rise to humanity, but it is also astounding that they should give rise to humanity that would become intelligent enough to figure out science and that those atoms should happen to be on a planet where observation of the universe would be pretty much optimal. It is almost like the universe wants to be understood by us. Or perhaps God wants us to see and understand the universe so we can understand something bigger than ourselves.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1 ESV)
ADDED: The very existence of this sized moon around this sized planet with this type of atmosphere is incredibly improbable. “Current theories on the formation of the Moon owe too much to cosmic coincidences.“
This is a moving telling of the experience Muhammad when he first received the revelation of the Koran. He didn’t feel triumphant or exulted but he feared that he’d been possessed by a demon (a ‘djinn’ or ‘genie’) and considered throwing himself off the mountain to end it all. Hazelton says that Muhammad experienced doubt and this authenticates his experience even though she doubts that it was an experience with God.
Consider a similar experience that Peter, James, and John had with Jesus:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. (Mark 9:2-6 ESV)
What a difference! They were “sore afraid” as the King James translates it but at the same time they didn’t want it to end. “Let us make three tents!” An authentic encounter with God does and should involve fear. We are fallen, sinful creatures and God remains utterly holy. But with Jesus present, the experience is different. We’re afraid because of the vastness, the holiness of God. The closest I have come to that is standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I was drawn to the edge and terrified at the same time.
Did the disciples doubt? Sure, but not at the revelation of Jesus as God. They doubted at the execution of the man Jesus. This experience with the divine was a point of surety for them.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)
Hazelton goes on to praise doubt and condemn fundamentalism in her talk. This is because she is an agnostic herself and therefore believes that doubt is the best we can achieve. Anyone who is sure of what they believe does not have faith, according to her. St. Peter would disagree.
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:19-20 ESV)
What did Mohammad experience on that mountain top? I don’t know for sure, but I am convinced that it was not a genuine revelation from God. His experience, according to Hazelton, was fear and doubt. The angel visited him again and again and wrestled the revelation into and out of him.
Again, Peter says the revelation that is more sure than the transfiguration is different. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV) Men were carried along, not forced and wrestled.
Doubt can be a friend to faith but not when it is embraced and coddled. At that point it becomes a replacement for faith.