Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Intelligent Design Is Common Sense

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Romans 1:18-21

These days there is much controversy being reported by the media because a number of American school districts are challenging the school science curriculum that teaches only evolution. Some want to teach theories such as intelligent design or creationism alongside evolution, which according to its critics (and even some of its proponents) is a theory with serious flaws. Critics of this proposal say that intelligent design is not science; if taught at all, it should only be included as part of a humanities curriculum.

Intelligent design is not the same as creationism. Intelligent design is a scientific theory that posits that the complex nature of life and of the universe is best explained as the result of a genuine design, rather than by the random or spontaneous processes speculated by evolutionary theory. Although some who believe in intelligent design are theists, the theory itself does not attempt an explanation of the source of the design, only that there is a design.

I am no scientist. But I like to think that I have some common sense. And intelligent design makes more sense to me as an explanation of how this world came to be than evolution. Just as the passage above states, we see all around us evidence of a very intricate and complex universe, in which all parts fit together just so, in order for life as we know it to exist. That such a universe could have come into being as a result of random, un-designed events seems to me preposterous and absurd. It's like saying my car spontaneously manufactured itself and appeared in the driveway.

It seems to me that the reason evolution has such a stronghold on the minds of academia, in spite of the common-sense objection I have just stated, and despite the fact that the scientific evidence simply has not borne out the validity of the theory, must be due to a profound desire (on the part of those who hold the theory) for it to be found true. Why? Simply because if evolution is true (at least the atheistic brand commonly known and taught in American high schools and colleges) then God is removed from the picture-- and if there is no God, there is no claim of God on my life and I can live as I like.

I believe that Paul summed it up quite well: men unrighteously suppress the obvious truth that we live in an intelligently designed universe, which in turn means that there is an Intelligent Designer. They do this because they do not want to honor God nor thank Him; they want to live their lives just as they please, and by suppressing the knowledge of God they attempt to do so.

Unfortunately the result is only to bring upon themselves the wrath of God, since He designed the universe to function in a certain way which humanity only ignores at its own peril.

For deeper exploration of this topic, check out these links:

Design for Living- Article on Intelligent Design by one of its leading proponents, Michael Behe

Chuck Colson’s Ten Questions about Origins

More Than Coincidence. Positive Arguments for Creation By Chuck Colson

The Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center

Friday, May 20, 2005

An Evening With Pastor David Cho

Last night a men’s prayer group I’m part of attended a revival service at which the main speaker was Pastor David Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church (750,000 members in Seoul, South Korea) and author of hundreds of books, both in Chinese and English, including “The Fourth Dimension”.

I have to admit I went to hear Cho with a certain amount of skepticism, not because I’m not open to signs and wonders (which are supposed to occur often during his services)-- after all, I attend a charismatic church where people regularly speak in tongues and pray for "signs and wonders". But I was concerned by what I had read on the Internet about Cho, especially concerning his theology.

It had been years since I read “The Fourth Dimension”, but I remember when reading it thinking that the visualization techniques Cho suggests might be misdirected towards the pursuit of goals not necessarily God’s will for one’s life. For example, he told a story of a woman he counseled that had been praying for over 10 years for a husband, but had not received an answer. Cho identified her problem as not praying specifically. He took out paper and pen and interviewed the woman, asking her questions about the kind of husband she wanted and writing down her answers. Now, with a mental picture of her husband based on the characteristics she desired, he advised her to begin praying daily according to this specific vision, by faith believing that her prayers would be answered, because she was now praying specifically. Sure enough, a short time later a man visited her church fitting the description in her vision; he took an interest in her and soon after they were married.

It is a nice story, but I wondered about some of its implications. Could it be presumptuous for a believer to decide in advance what kind of outward characteristics they want in a spouse and then expect God to answer according to their desires? What if God has a person in mind for you that doesn’t match your specific vision? I noticed too that Pastor Cho asks her the specifics of what she desires in a husband, yet he asks only about outward characteristics, such as height, occupation, hobby, etc.; no questions are raised concerning the character of her future husband. Why is this? The moral the story seems to teach is that so long as I’m praying specifically it doesn’t matter what I’m praying for? Wouldn’t God be more concerned about the character of my potential spouse than about merely outward traits? Perhaps Cho takes it as a given that the woman, being a believer, would have new desires that are directed by the Lord, and therefore her specific desires and the Lords’ will would line up together. However, he doesn’t make that very clear.

The danger in Cho’s teaching about visualizing goals then, is that he doesn't always balance it with teaching about God’s sovereignty. One could easily read the example above and go away with a strategy to seek out a spouse in a way that makes my personal desires paramount, over and above what the Lord’s will might be. How do I know in advance the precise characteristics of the spouse God has in mind for me, especially in context of His sovereign plan for my life? I cannot. Certainly as a human being I will have preferences and desires, and should pray to God about these. But because the Lord sees my future and is all-wise, I should pray with an attitude of humility that leans upon Him for understanding, and trusts Him to provide for my best, rather than dictating what I think is best. Cho elsewhere does speak of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction, so I think that he isn’t saying that all of our visualized goals are necessarily right to pursue, but only those imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I think his teaching would benefit from making that important point more clear.

Thankfully, Cho’s evening message turned out to be both God-centered and gospel-oriented. A diminutive yet charismatic presence, Cho spoke powerfully and convincingly, with many examples from his life and ministry, of the believer’s need to learn to think in a new paradigm. Although he did not title his message, it probably could have been called something like, “Living Out the New Paradigm of Faith”. He began the message by pointing out how a believer might remain stuck outside of the “promised land” that God is trying to lead him into, just as the Israelites wandered around in the desert for 40 years after the Lord delivered them from Egyptian captivity. This happens he says, because even though God brings us out of Egypt, Egypt hasn’t left our hearts. In other words, worldliness continues to exert a strong grip on our minds and in our hearts, keeping us from thinking and acting in the new way we ought.

So Cho’s first key to entering into the inheritance God has for us as believers is renewing of the mind according to” revelation knowledge”(God’s word), which enables us to think in terms of faith, rather than according to mere “sense knowledge”. This is living the God-centered life of faith, which learns to see things according to God’s word and is not limited to man’s wisdom or ingenuity in response to solving life’s problems.

Cho taught on themes familiar to those who have read his books. He spoke of knowing, through the revelation gained by much study and meditation in God’s word, our true identity as believers. He showed how our new identity is directly linked with what Jesus did for us on the cross, explaining that on the Cross, the old person we were died when Jesus died, and the new person we have become arose when Jesus arose. He said that Jesus became a curse, in order to remove the curse of the law (sin) that was destroying our lives, quoting Galatians 3:13.

Cho mentioned Abraham as an example of someone who was able to possess the promise of God because he was first shown it— God had him look and count the stars above and also look all around him at the land he was treading upon. These actions of seeing according to the vision God has for our lives is key to realizing that vision: “Seeing precedes possession”, said Cho.

Cho also described poverty as a curse, and spoke of how envisioning a successful outcome in business will bring about the power of God working in your situation, bringing supernatural wisdom and vision (he used the story of Jacob with Laban’s sheep as an example to illustrate his point).

But as I mentioned above, there are times that Cho is so enthusiastic about emphasizing our potential as believers to act on our dreams and goals that it is possible that some of his listeners may receive a lopsided message. For example, although I agree that poverty and sickness are curses, I think too that there are seasons in which God may sometimes permit these to touch us. The Apostle Paul was afflicted by difficult trials and difficulties in his ministry, including at times, lack of money or physical ailments. Yet certainly this was not a sign that Paul was no longer in God’s will. Rather, the apostle states that through such experiences he had learned the secret of contentment. "Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little" Phippians 4: 11-12 (NLT).

I agree with Cho that our God is very good and certainly I want to grow my faith to receive all that God has for me. Yet I am troubled by teaching that seems to imply that all Christians must become rich, or that we can never ever be sick. Again I think balance is needed in teaching abot these things, because the Scriptures are balanced in their teaching about money and health. Regarding money for example, there are numerous warnings about the danger of money and possessions becoming an idol that distracts us away from serving the Lord and the kingdom priorities– at the same time, money and resources are seen to be desirable and good when used rightly. My impression is that Cho’s ministry uses its vast resources towards ends which fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples and being salt and light in the community. This is wonderful. At the same time, we must always be on guard against materialism and greed creeping into the ministry. Some ministries that begin with right motives are corrupted by the allure of worldly wealth. And since the marketing and selling of all kinds of Christian merchandise these days is something that even turns me off, as a believer, I can imagine how it might be really distasteful to those outside of the church. Many are looking for justification to reject Christ and His teaching. Therefore I think that we ought to be very, very watchful in this area for two reasons. One reason that vigilance is needed is so that we are not seduced by the materialistic spirit of this age. Another reason is to guard our witness to the world from being compromised by appearing to be more about profit and greed than about the love of Jesus. We ought not to give any unbelievers any ammunition to be able to say that the way of Christ is somehow phony.

I am happy to say that overall I was encouraged and inspired by Pastor Cho to believe that God will do incredible things in us and through us as we are seeking to do His work on earth and submitted in obedience to His word.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Imagine- A New Heaven and a New Earth

It is hard to believe that 30 years have already passed since the Beatles disbanded and went their separate ways, and John Lennon and his wife Yoko went off and staged their famous "Bed-In" for peace. I was only a young child in the decade of the 60's, but the social landscape today seems so far removed from that era's idealism. The 1960's had been a time of great unrest and turmoil-- the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Dylan, The Beatles, hippies, drugs, "free love", and the Vietnam War were just a few of the personalities and phenomena making up the volatile social scene. But with all the unrest and violence that existed, there was yet a feeling, reflected in the arts and especially the music of the time, and perhaps bolstered by the elections of youthful and different kinds of leaders, like President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, that the love and peace movement would somehow triumph over the evils of the "establishment". If people could somehow find the love and peace existing within themselves, and want them badly enough, they could foment a social revolution that would stop the evils promulgated by the "establishment"--the wars manufactured out of greed, the repressiveness of traditional societal roles, racism towards the Negro, intolerance of alternate sexual expression, and conformity to the status quo. The ideal of seeking harmony through "free love"-- the "Make Love, Not War" attitude--appealed to a young generation that, behind the facade of happiness of the previous generation, saw what it thought was hypocrisy, prejudice, hate and materialism.

I recently watched a documentary entitled "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" (2000), which follows John and Yoko's activities in the year 1969. The Beatles were soon to break up when John Lennon met Yoko Ono, an avant-garde Japanese artist, at one of her exhibitions, fell in love and married her. Like star couples of today, John and Yoko were major celebrities whose every move was being reported by the media. So Lennon and his new wife, spurred on by the thrill of honeymoon love and by their idealism, ingeniously decided to turn the media circus to their advantage and promote the cause of peace.

Watching footage of the Lennons in various interviews, including the famous "Bed-In" (the honeymoon rendezvous in which John and Yoko invited reporters to interview them while in bed to talk about peace), I was struck by the seriousness of their demeanor, yet also their light-heartedness and humor. Lennon is articulate and intelligent, gentle but also forthright when expressing his views. Yoko is serene and less vocal, but also shares her views with dignity and conviction. They talk about the cause of peace in the world with the optimism and sincerity of true believers. They seem convinced that their voice, being just one of many, will help spur on many like-minded people to speak out for peace, to become an effective worldwide movement. As their famous slogan plastered all over the world at the time declared: "War is over, if you want it".

Alas, we know today that Lennon's peace crusade, admired by some and vilified by others, did not mushroom into the powerful force for peace that they had hoped for. Conservatives shunned them, viewing the Lennons as foolish and naive at best, arrogant and dangerous at worst. Liberals sympathetic to their cause may have been too busy pursuing other agendas to join in mass, although the documentary shows that the Lennon's campaign did generate a certain momentum, which included a concert. Like Woodstock, the Lennon's year of peace seemed to be of the moment, generating a buzz that dissipated quickly. Yet the social and sexual revolution of the 60's did result in a certain measure of envisioned changes, including improved treatment of black people in America, better opportunities for women in the marketplace and new trends in politics, media and the arts that began then and continue to unfold today. Depending on your worldview, these changes have been either good or bad (or somehwere in-between) for America.

As a person of artistic temperament and an admirer of the songwriting genius of Lennon, I was, in my pre-Christian days, quite drawn to his message of love and peace. I would say that I'm still of course, sympathetic to his dream of a world where love and peace triumph over hate and war. Yet I also believe that Lennon was short-sighted in that, rejecting the Christian explanation of reality, he necessarily moved into a position that required him to believe that the innate "goodness" of humanity was a real thing, and if tapped into would become a potent force for radical change. In his song Imagine, Lennon dreamed a utopian world where, through the power of vision, humanity would reject all the illusions that separate us from one another-- "Imagine there's no... "Heaven", "hell", "religion", "countries", "possessions". Detached from all these divisive influences, these constructs of man, mankind's beauty would shine forth, enabling people to live "life in peace" and "be as one".

But world events since 1969 reveal, just as the world events did before 1969, that mankind is plagued by evils that have been part of human interaction since the dawn of history. The idea that simply getting enough people to wish for (or strongly desire) a world full of peace will bring it into reality has a certain easy charm. But can we continue to stare into the face of evil that we see all around us worldwide--the genocide, the rape, the murder, the starvation, the injustice-- all resulting from our inhumane treatment of one another--and believe that innate goodness will win the day?

Or is the answer to be found in rational thinking and education? If we train our children to be "tolerant", to view history according to our conceptions, and to think properly, will it prevent them from becoming criminals, of either the blue or white-collar variety, and instead becoming great and caring citizens?

Today across America we find among our young people rampant cheating, kids that start experimenting with sex at ever earlier ages, even kids killing other kids at school, sometimes for their iPods or sometimes just because a kid snaps and goes on a killing spree. We have heard of very young children beating each other brutally. Of course, there are many wonderful children in this country who don't steal, don't cheat and do become productive members of society. Yet it seems the negative patterns we see here in America are also present in Europe and in other "developed" nations.

The evils perpetrated by the adult world is their model. And this is not even taking into account all the horrific crimes perpetuated globally by terrorists, suicide bombers, and regimes that can only be properly described as evil in how they treat their people. With all of this wickedness surrounding us, are we naive enough to think that simply wishing for peace will make it come?

I applaud the fact John Lennon used his celebrity to advance a worthy cause (when he could just have easily, with his wealth, avoided controversy), and the fact that he was willing to confront hypocrisy and evil even as he sought to be a peacemaker; nevertheless it can be seen that his dream of peace was ultimately ineffective, because it did not properly diagnose the problem: the evil at the heart of mankind.

This is not a pleasant or politically correct message, though it is an accurate one. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" There is no time to be politically correct. Jesus may come back at any moment. The message of Jesus Christ is that we are in desperate need, and if we recognize our need, Jesus will fill it. What is our need? Our need is to know Jesus in order to be saved from our sins, which otherwise will destroy us forever.

Jesus spoke often of the reality of His kindgom and of the beautiful nature of it. It is a spiritual kingdom, one that is not of this present world, yet one that will someday physically reign over a new Heaven and a new Earth. All who are part of it will also be new people, with hearts (our spiritual center) and bodies completely made whole. And yes, peace will reign there. Yet His message to all who seek to enter this kingdom is "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

Monday, May 02, 2005

Why I Didn't Burn My Beatles Records

I don't remember what Beatle song was the first I ever listened to, but I do remember the first Beatle albums I listened to-- "The Beatles' Second Album" and "Something New"-- and the incredible thrill I experienced hearing them for the first time.

I was a very musical child. Even as a baby, my mother says I used to always stop everything I was doing and sit mesmerized the moment there was music playing. Some people are tuned in to visual beauty, some to words, some to abstract concepts; growing up, I seemed at times to be attuned to all of these, but music especially brought me joy and excitement.

My parents were great lovers of music, and we had all kinds playing in our home, from the Tijuana Brass to the Cowsills to the Sound of Music to Simon and Garfunkel and more. It was a wonderful time in popular music; a time when what was commercially appreciated also seemed to have quality, originality and creativity behind it. Not that everything one heard on the radio was great, but it was a time when strong melody, craftsmanship and creativity were abounding.

Unfortunately the demise of popular music has been steady, and it correlates with a culture that has become increasingly superficial and shallow. The triumph of vulgarity and sensuality in popular music has been far-reaching, especially the travesty that is hip-hop and rap music. I know it isn't politically correct to say so, but that genre of music generally is bad.

To me, it is almost non-music, spoken words shouted over repetitive, hypnotic rhythm tracks. Even in the backing tracks there is often little originality, as they are many times nothing but re-worked samples-- a riff or a bass line-- lifted from previous hits. Yes, there is a kind of talent or skill involved in the making of rap or hip-hop. Some of its stars have talent with words; some are engaging performers. But I feel that the true beauty of music is in melody, and rap and hip/hop major on rhythm and rhyme at the expense of tunefulness.

But worse than the missing melodies of rap/hip hop are the banal lyrics, which it seems aim to provoke and offend. The impression I have when I hear most rap/hop-hop is of insecure singers boasting about themselves in angry tirades, ranting about how their sexual prowess, their rich lifestyle and their ability to rap makes them so much better than the next rapper. Who cares?

By contrast there have been periods in American popular music when lyrics of popular tunes were urbane, witty and well crafted. There was true artistry behind the lyrics of such greats as Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Oscar Hammerstein. Perhaps some of the rappers have talent on this level, but in my opinion it is talent utterly wasted in their chosen genre.

But getting back to the Beatles. It's hard to believe, given the almost quaint words and sounds of the early Beatles, that when they first appeared on the American scene, they were considered to pose as great a danger to morals and to the culture as today's vulgarians. For in listening to the music of the early Beatles, one encounters a joy and sweetness that is completely absent from today's pop music. That is not to say that either they, or their music, were innocent. Those who have read biographies of the Beatles have learned that they were a pretty wild bunch, as far as their private lifestyles were concerned. But in their music the Beatles used their gift as songwriters to convey the exuberance of romantic love in a fresh way; yet it was not at all crass. Early hits like "Please Please Me", "She Loves You", and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" demonstrated their gift for memorable, catchy melodies, interesting musical arrangements, great harmony singing and an original way of putting all of these elements together. In their live performances, one could sense their pleasure in performing and in the music itself. They dressed in elegant, matching Pierre Cardin suits; they humbly bowed before the audience at the end of their performances.

Contrast this with the self-exalting swagger of today's performers, who pounce upon the stage and try to impress you with their incredible "badness" through raunchy dance moves and outrageous clothes (or lack of them). Many of these performers' costumes make them literally look like clowns, yet they don't seem aware of it.

Just as the Beatles were making their mark on America, the always outspoken John Lennon made an offhand remark to a reporter that the Beatles were now "bigger than Jesus". What he meant simply as an honest observation about their popularity among youth, many took offense at as the arrogant remarks of a pagan. Soon, apparently at the instigation of zealous pastors and Christian parents, Beatle records were being burnt at bonfires by the same young fans who had previously rushed to buy them. Now I suppose one might argue that if the Beatles were anti-Christian then shouldn't Christians not listen to them? Certainly, their music reflected the spirit of the times rather than a Christian approach to life.

Well, if a fellow Christian told me that they had decided that the Beatles were not good listening material for them because of their conscience, I would certainly support their choice. At the same time, I think that so few musicians that have come along that possess the musical genius of the Beatles, and it would certainly be a shame to not listen to them anymore. Besides, I believe that as non-Christian bands go, the Beatles were among those whose music was more spiritually oriented than others, with themes of seeking love, peace and understanding among humanity prevalent in their body of work.

I can appreciate the beauty and the talent in the songs of the Beatles, while at the same time, not seeking identity as a human being in their music or in following them as a band. And believing that all true talent and creativity is a gift from God, I can even glorify God for the music of the Beatles. What I celebrate is not those moments when their lyrics promoted Eastern religion or seemingly advocated the use of drugs.

But I celebrate the amazing beauty in the melodies and lyrics of songs like "Yesterday", "If I Fell", "Golden Slumbers", "For No One", and so many others. I celebrate the artistic impulse that inspired and challenged the Beatles to always try to improve, stretch and grow in their music. I celebrate their amazing instincts and innovations as recording artists, leading them from simple collections of songs on their early albums to increasingly sophisticated songs presented on the first-ever "concept" album (Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). I celebrate the exquisite three-part harmonies of "Nowhere Man", "Because" or "This Boy"; the wild inventiveness of "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "I Am the Walrus"; the wonderful energy, humor and camaraderie that the band exhibited when playing together, the idealism and depth of emotion in songs like "Hey Jude", "All You Need is Love" or "Let It Be".

I credit the Beatles with inspiring me with a view that popular music could be a vehicle for touching many people with the joy of music. That one could be an excellent musician, taking the craft of songwriting seriously as a professional, but aim for the higher goal of artistic success, above and beyond mere commercial success. The kind of a songwriter I am today owes much to their influence.

That Old Feeling: Meet the Beatles-great article on the Beatles by Richard Corliss of Time

The Beatles by Kurt Loder-Time100 Essay