Tom Gilson

Are We Not In Like Danger?

Sometimes the news is so horrifying it takes your breath away, and you don’t know how to begin to respond. That’s the effect the earthquake in Haiti has probably had on all of us. For now, there seems to be little we can do except to pray and to give financial support to relief efforts. And grieve for our fellow human beings who have been so devastated, and who must deal with the possibility of even more damage from aftershocks.

Pat Robertson also responded by suggesting that the earthquake had something to do with Haitians having made a pact with the devil in their practice of voodoo. One’s immediate response is to denounce that kind of statement as judgmental, condescending, and assuming too much freedom to speak for God. I think all of those reactions are appropriate.

The error he made was not, however, in suggesting that God would never punish a nation for gross sin and idolatry. He did it with Sodom and Gomorrah, he did it with almost the whole human race in the flood, and he has warned us of further judgment yet to come. We fallible humans know that crime cannot be glossed over, for it would be unjust, and it would encourage crime to proliferate still more. God, who is all-wise and perfectly good, also practices his justice by giving crime (sin) its due. Only if one’s sin is forgiven through Christ is there freedom from this consequence.

Theoretically, then, if Haiti has made a pact with the devil, then it is possible that God has expressed his judgment on that. But I am not at all sure their sin is greater than America’s, India’s, Russia’s, Morocco’s, or any other country’s. I am really not sure that Robertson knows that God has directed this disaster toward Haiti as a particular punishment for their sin. Above all I cannot see how this meets a terribly wounded country’s need for pastoral help and love.

Robertson could have done far better to echo Jesus’ words following disasters at his time (Luke 13:1-5):

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

It was a warning to the smugly self-righteous. Do we suppose the Haitians are worse sinners than us? Or do recognize that we all stand equal before God, in like danger of perishing unless we turn to God through Christ? There is a true way to life and freedom, but it is the way of confession, humility, and trust.

(See further from Stand to Reason)

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26 thoughts on “Are We Not In Like Danger?

  1. You wrote “he did it with almost the whole human race in the flood”. Do you actually, literally, believe this? The complete lack of any physical evidence for this amazing claim doesn’t trouble you? Do you reject all of science, and if not, how do you disentangle the bits you accept from the bits that are contradicted by your religious beliefs?

    Good grief. If this is a thinking Christian position, I shudder to think what an unthinking one might be like….

  2. It’s OK – I stopped shuddering. Rather uncomfortable, actually.

    I’ve always had a particular morbid fascination with people who use computers, and other devices which can only be constructed on the basis of a firm grasp of the fundamentals of science, to disseminate points of view which are absolutely incompatible with these scientific principles. How is it, I wonder, that physics and chemistry are correct when we use them to design the microprocessor inside your PC, but incorrect when we apply them to carbon dating and geomorphology? The science is the same in each case….

  3. Is experimental science identical to historical science, now? Really? I could develop a morbid fascination with people who claim to understand how science works but fail to recognize the massive differences there.

    My view on the flood, since you asked, is that it is well supported by the record of a trustworthy historical document. I recognize that contemporary uniformitarian interpretations of geomorphology are completely inconsistent with that record. You would say that the historical documentary record is therefore not trustworthy. I would say instead that we have two records (nature and the Bible) that disagree based on a certain set of interpretations. We are interpreting either one or the other incorrectly, and it is false to assume automatically that it is the Bible that is completely, 100% factually in error (or our interpretations thereof). Interpreting geological history is also fraught with the danger of error.

    I don’t have “the answer” on this. I think it’s possible that uniformitarian theories of earth’s history are wrong; or conversely, it may be that the human race at the time of the flood was localized and the flood was less than global, but enough to accomplish God’s goal of judging the many while rescuing just the one family. Either position will earn me enemies from one side of this discussion or the other. I’m not landing in one position or the other, and it’s not because I’m trying not to make enemies, it’s because I don’t know which position is more likely in the end to be correct.

  4. Of course it is, Tom. Didn’t you know? To find out whether George Washington was president, you must exhume his body, drop it in a pool of warm distilled water (26.5°C, mind you, at no more than ± 100 Pa deviation from standard atmospheric pressure and as close to 70% relative humidity as possible), and see if it floats like a bar of soap (but not like an iceberg, of course). If it does, and we can measure the buoyant force, we can predict he was president. Oh… don’t forget to use your computer–otherwise your results will be invalid…

    Atheists are among the most ignorant or incapable of distinguishing the formal and material objects the various sciences study, or distinguishing methodologies employed. Welcome to “intellectual” flatland…

  5. I’m shuddering to realize that the very people who developed the fundamentals of science also disseminated a point of view absolutely incompatible with their own invention. I guess they didn’t realize that their positions on the level of C14 in the atmosphere and its decay rate or catastrophism v. uniformitarianism would one day be intrinsic to microprocessing.

  6. Amazing that God’s judgment on Haiti (and everywhere else) looked like natural causes. How come he didn’t use zombies or vampires? Or make all the women and children write confessions about devil worship before slitting their own wrists? This God has no imagination.

  7. There’s a secular version of Pat Robertson, and his name is Danny Glover: “When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I’m sayin’?”

    They walk among us…

  8. Geoff,

    I don’t know one way or ‘tother ’bout the flood thing. It’s pretty clear that there are parts of the Bible which are not to be taken literally, e.g. – Jesus is cited as saying He is a “gate,” and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about being a bunch of whitewashed pine slats with wrought-iron hinges and a latch.

    The plausibility of the flood wasn’t the point of the post. (You probably know that, though.) The point was about what one’s response should be in the face of such a disaster, and the author some suggestions to that end while referencing his faith.

    If you take a moment to re-read the post, if one were to grant that Sodom/Flood references as merely illustrative of one facet of the character of the God the author follows – that God hates sin and judges it – the main point remains.

    The author provides a couple of perspectives – comparing Haiti’s alleged sin with those of other countries such as his own, and then suggests a response he believes is more appropriate, using Christ as the example. I would suggest that even those who think that Christ wasn’t a historical figure would agree with Tom’s suggestion(s).

    I am curious whether you have a response to the situation in Haiti and to the author’s suggestion(s) other than to impugn his intelligence by pointing out what at least one person thinks is a rather insignificant element of the post.

  9. Tom: I’m going to follow this topic in this thread rather than the “Disentangling Beliefs”, because I want to keep things focussed on what you actually said, not your strawman interpretation of my position.

    Earlier you wrote:

    I’m not landing in one position or the other, and it’s not because I’m trying not to make enemies, it’s because I don’t know which position is more likely in the end to be correct.

    And this is an admirable admission. But now what? Let us suppose that you actually desire to resolve your uncertainty: how would you go about this?

    To save time, let me suggest one approach. You might consider your two hypotheses, and try to identify a test – an observation, an experiment – for which (a) you don’t already know the result, and (b) the result would falsify at least one of the two hypotheses. “At least one”, because you shouldn’t rule out the possibility that both of your hypotheses are incorrect. If either hypothesis is unfalsifiable, you have a problem, but you’ve already said that you don’t know which is more likely to be correct, so we can dismiss this. (Can’t we?) Then do the test, and discard the falsified hypothesis. This of course is the classic hypothetico-deductive approach. If you have a better suggestion, please explain.

    As an aside, you began that comment with the words “Is experimental science identical to historical science, now?” The answer, of course, is that there is only one science: the purported distinction is meaningless. A hypothesis about the cause of an historical event (such as the recent earthquake in Haiti) can be tested by direct measurement of the 20mm/year lateral slip between the Caribbean and American plates, and confirmed by measurements of the general motion of the various plates due to the seafloor spreading centered on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge over the last 180 million years, which is further confirmed by the observations of characteristic patterns of magnetization of the seafloor due to geomagnetic reversals.

    Do you have a problem with any of that?

  10. Justaguy: your curiosity does not bother me.

    But OK, chew on this. Everybody is castigating Robertson for his “pact with the devil” language. Even Houlo seems dismayed, although it seems that the only way he can express it is to drag in another wacko to demonstrate that stupidity is an equal-opportunity condition. But consider this: Tom seems to be saying that Robertson’s statement is wrong, and factually false, but possible. He doesn’t say “the idea of a nation making a pact with the devil is absurd”, he says (and I quote)

    Theoretically, then, if Haiti has made a pact with the devil, then it is possible that God has expressed his judgment on that.

    So he seems to consider it a theoretical possibility. This strikes me as quaint; a bit like taking demonic possession or witchcraft seriously.

    So where do you stand? How old is the earth? Why do you think that? Was there a literal flood, and a literal ark, captained by a literal Noah? Inquiring minds, etc.

  11. Geoff, you wrote at 3:01 (US Eastern):

    But now what? Let us suppose that you actually desire to resolve your uncertainty: how would you go about this?

    And at 4:44 am, to justaguy:

    So where do you stand? How old is the earth? Why do you think that? Was there a literal flood, and a literal ark, captained by a literal Noah? Inquiring minds, etc.

    But you had also said,

    your curiosity does not bother me.

    Your curiosity doesn’t really bother me, either.

    If you think the hypothetic-deductive approach is the only one that science ever follows (which strikes me as rather a quaint view), I have an interview to suggest you listen to. It’s not the only place you can go to find out that science is not just one kind of thing, but it does happen to be handy.

  12. Geoff,

    Thank you for your response.

    Side note: I took a quick peek at your blog since you graciously provided a link. A friend of mine runs a gallery and concert series, among other things, in one of the cities where you’ll be soon. I was last in China in 2003 and keep hoping to return soon, but alas…If you have a chance, check out Two Cities Gallery (http://www.twocitiesgallery.com/). I hope you have a great trip!

    Back to the discussion. You still haven’t addressed the point of the post; I’ll reply anyway. 😉

    First, the logic (if you’ll allow):
    Tom’s logic is fine. Given Robertson’s premise (pact with Satan – a grievous sin in Christianity, one would assume) and Gilson’s premise (God hates sin and judges it, and sometimes punishes it severely), the conclusion (it’s possible that Haiti is experiencing judgment and punishment) is sound. The logic is internally consistent (given my shorthand).

    Tom proposes that there’s another way to respond to the tragedy in Haiti given those premises. I am curious as to your response to Tom’s re-framing (the point of the post).

    Second, “the flood” refutation (thanks for going with me):
    The problem with using the “flood” argument in response to the post is that the falsity of this event doesn’t necessarily invalidate the 2nd premise (that God – as Christians understand God to be – hates sin and judges it – sometimes harshly). Logically, the two aren’t as entwined as some mistake or misrepresent them to be.

    While if the premise “God hates sin and sometimes judges and punishes it severely” is false, then “the flood” as an example of this is surely false. However, the opposite is not necessarily the case. [Despite his journalistic weenieness, Dan Rather was logically sound when he responded to the fake Bush/National Guard “gotcha” letter he kept presenting by stating something like, “Just because the letter is a fake doesn’t mean its contents aren’t true.”]

    Granted, if one is able to soundly discredit each of the stories upon which many Christians rely to understand God’s position on “sin,” then one could toss out the 2nd premise and we’re left with the (apocryphal?) Haiti/France/Beelzebub story and perhaps with a God Who doesn’t have a position on sin.

    So, you see, logically, your “flood” argument doesn’t hold water. (Ouch. Sorry. “…is all wet.” Again – sorry. It’s just that when it rains…OK. I’ll stop now.)

    Stated another way, whether there was a literal flood or not doesn’t preclude God’s position on sin and potential responses toward it, just as you not directly answering my question about the main point of the post doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of an intelligent and honest response. 😉

    Answering your questions of me:

    As I stated to you in my previous post, I really don’t know about “the flood” and it doesn’t really matter to me. It seems to matter to you, though. Could you elaborate on why you feel so strongly about it and how that event informs on your life?

    I also don’t know how old the earth is, and I also don’t really give much of a rip about that, either. I’m pretty intensely immersed in the here and now (except for some brief ambushing pinings for various past girlfriends) and the immediate future and expect I’ll continue to be.

  13. Tom:

    Geoff’s notion that the hypothetic-deductive approach is the only one that science ever follows is indeed quaint… and quite ignorant, serving merely to expose his naïve a priori unscientific commitments. Perhaps Geoff should acquaint himself with the work of those physicists (among many other examples in science) who rely on intuition animated by—hold on, here it comes—an attraction to beauty. (Wasn’t it that intellectually-challenged luminary Dawkins who asserted there is no beauty, good, evil, etc.?) Beauty as a concept is something MES scientists qua MES scientists can in no way grasp, and yet they’ll be the first to assert Euler’s equation or Maxwell’s equations are beautiful. Dirac looked for beauty in the mathematical formulations of quantum mechanics. Geoff is manifestly and demonstrably ignorant in his misunderstandings of science…

    But there are bigger fish to fry: the one for which DL, Nick, and Geoff consistently refuse to address, and are afraid to address because of their ignorance. It is the one for which you scolded DL, it is the one that most glaringly (IMHO) exposes an intellectual cowardice masked by a false air of authority (Nick’s big problem) and alleged erudition in most of the subjects debated here.

    Cowards. Pseudo-intellectual cowards.

    They cannot and will not—either scientifically or philosophically—account for the following: their ontologically-reductionist presumption of reality as material-only, and their epistemically-reductionist validation of knowledge that is only sensory-accessible. (Additionally, DL’s cute commitment to Idealism—that we only know the ideas in our minds—is utterly destructive to science.) The example of the scientific method—a methodology they worship in a metaphorical sense—remains inexplicable to them. Not only is this true from the straight-forward demand (employing their own rules of the game) “okay, show me a scientific method, i.e., measure it, put it in my pocket,” but also from the perspective of the MESs having jettisoned final causality.

    The ironic thing about the latter is just how foolish Nick’s supposed authoritative command of the material looks—by the way, Nick is degree-less and nicely mimics Dawkins’ ignorance. First, without final causality, efficient causality is incoherent. The mechanistic, non-teleological vision of the natural world that supposedly made the MESs possible in fact makes them unintelligible—really. I mean, come on: for these guys (for example and to whatever extent) to deny free will and final causality in nature is really, really dumb—quite appropriate for Aristophanes’ characterization. Isn’t science itself one of the most teleological of human endeavors—directed, goal-oriented, purposefully intended to the pursuit of truths of the natural world? Doesn’t that presuppose a really real free will by which one chooses to pursue truth… or are we to believe the silly notion that it’s all just an illusion that support survival of our species? (Oops… isn’t a struggle for survival, umm, goal-oriented?)

    What about DNA as a carrier of genetic “information,” which Darwinists employ all the time? What possibly could information mean without directedness? DNA is not just teleonomic but teleological through and through. Don’t Darwinists themselves make constant reference to the “information,” “data,” “instructions,” “blueprints,” “software,” “programming” somehow “contained” within DNA? How can these guys go from employing such teleologically-loaded terms to concluding there is no final causality—no purpose—in the process of descent with modification or in the universe in general? How? By leaving their brains at the door of the laboratory, not doing science or philosophy, and imposing their stupid a priori commitments upon scientific findings. How does a Darwinist think he can be taken seriously by any critical thinker when they claim—without blushing—that we cannot know the function of a thing unless we know how it evolved and that nothing could in principle even have a biological function unless it evolved? Think for a moment just how stupid—really stupid—that claim is: didn’t we know the functions of all sorts of bodily organs long, long before Darwinism came on the scene? Didn’t we know that the eye is for us to see?

    And this kind of non-thinking, jack-booted thugishness pervades the so-called “reasoning” of many, many secular scientists. Efficient causality becomes unintelligible without final causality; substance becomes unintelligible without the hylemorphic distinction between form and matter; fee will and dignity become unintelligible when human action is asserted to reducible to bodily movements governed by chains of efficient causation (witness DL’s repugnant and ignorant dehumanization to “material mechanisms”); etc., etc., etc.

    Cowards. Pseudo-intellectual cowards.

    Here’s the unscientific, pseudo-philosophical commitment which they refuse to address: They insist on looking only for those features of nature that can be accessed by the senses through the MESs in the language of mathematics. But, given that, then of course that is all they will see. Intentional (oops, that’s teleological) blindness. Self-fulfilling, tautological pseudo-prophets. I dare anyone of them to try to convince a critical thinker that their a priori insistence is scientific, i.e., accessible to the MESs per their rules of the game. (Without teleology or free will, what does “convince” mean, by the way?) If they refuse to look for or even to acknowledge the existence of final causes (even while they hypocritically presuppose it in their commitments and work), then it is hardly surprising they won’t “see” any or discover any. Their refusal to remove their red eyeglasses doesn’t “prove” everything is therefore red. Quite literally, these guys pretend (DL is buoyed by his mechanistic Shamanism) that it’s okay to let their methods and a priori unscientific commitments dictate what counts as reality, rather than really using their capacity to reason and let reality determine one’s methods and commitments to truth.

    Cowards. Pseudo-intellectual cowards trying to impose their worldview on others. Atheism: deadly to reason.

  14. Tom: you said

    If you think the hypothetic-deductive approach is the only one that science ever follows (which strikes me as rather a quaint view), I have an interview to suggest you listen to.

    Since I do not think this, the suggestion is irrelevant. Perhaps you could return to my comment and actually answer the question:

    Let us suppose that you actually desire to resolve your uncertainty: how would you go about this?

    I merely suggested one approach, but if you have a reliable alternative, please tell us.

  15. Uh… the onus is on you, Geoff: you’re the one who asserted the one approach for science (later qualified as “merely suggested one approach”). So, what is “another approach”? Point one.

    Point two. Here’s you again refusing to take off your self-imposed strictures: “Let us suppose that you actually desire to resolve your uncertainty: how would you go about this?” The underlying implication–and the only one you unscientifically, pseudo-philosophically permit–is that uncertainty is only through the MESs, and in particular through the “hypothetic-deductive approach.” Hmm… are you certain about that, and if so upon what basis? Upon a “scientific hypothetic-deductive” one? Then file properly relegate your tens-of-millions-body-count atheism to the circular (argument) file. If not, we’re all ears…

    You’re not a serious thinker.

  16. Geoff wrote:

    Perhaps you could return to my comment and actually answer

    Ditto, Geoff. I’ve answered you…

  17. Holopupenko,

    I have something I wish to send you, as I believe it would be best to address it offline. At the very least, my comments to you are off the present topic.

    I’d like to respect your wishes for privacy (i.e., you have your blog closed to all but your invitees), so do you have a suggestion as to how I would contact you?

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