Controversy: Can Baptists still tolerate sacrifice?

August 19, 2011

After that somewhat intentionally vague and provocative title, let me narrow in on the subject at hand:

“A New Bedford (MA) barbershop has been closed after city officials found evidence of ritualistic animal sacrifice at the site. [The owner] disputes the claim, saying…that his religious freedoms have been violated.”  (link)

With a nod to Mark at HereIBlog, let me open the floor (which means comment…respectfully!):

Where does the boundary between defense of religious liberty end and toleration for a loose ecumenism begin?

I will reserve my opinion until a few others have stated their own case….


Guess I should post my latest conspiracy theory…

August 17, 2011

It occured to me this morning that three interesting financial news reports have converged this summer:

  1. Someone…but obviously someone VERY wealthy…left their ATM receipt behind, revealing their almost 100-million-dollar cash reserve
  2. For the first time in history, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the USA…which most likely contributed to two-year lowball on Fed rates
  3. Following this latest shock to the financial system, the stock market faced the most volatile one-week period in its history

The author of the ATM receipt story made the (historically ironic) comment of “Anyone with that amount of cash would know that keeping $100 million in a savings account isn’t the wisest investment move.”


Well, seems that the Hamptons Moneybags might have guessed the right course for this historic summer….

My take on the 2011 SBC messenger count…if anyone still cares!

July 19, 2011

…with some homage to Jonathon Woodyard

In 2011, 4852 messengers from 2158 churches showed up in Phoenix to condut the business of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Many have ballyhooed this drop-off in attendance….

Others surely have ignored it….

I have belatedly added my two cents, with a spin: some math-modeling! As an amateur statistician-nerd, I used a 5-year exponential moving average (EMA) to smooth the data over the presidential election cycles…

and noticed how dramatic the 2011 drop-off actually was!

For the first year since 2002*, the messenger count came in not only the lowest in years, but UNDER the moving average!

Which, at least in the field of stock-market economics (I said I was a statisician-nerd!) is a negative signal–as in RUN FOR THE HILLS!

To answer why I used an EMA to study the messenger trend, I wish to only add one additional interesting observation:

“VMAs are used to observe volume changes over time and have a smoothing effect on short-term volume spikes…. Significant volume surges often precede trend reversals on the indexes.” (Technical Analysis, Studies, Indicators: VMA (Volume Moving Averages), accessed 7/19/2011)

So I projected what should have been the expected messenger count using the EMA trend. Without getting too deep into the math, let me just say that 2011 should have seen 9,800 – 11,200 people.

Well, why didn’t we?

Again, skipping over the math, let look at two other messenger count misses:

2006 – noted for the election of Frank Page – should have seen 14,000…or about 2400 MORE people. Why did we?

  1. the previous year was Nashville, which may have artificially inflated the numbers
  2. the election was thought to have been a done deal for Ronnie Floyd…and it was until the nomination speeches!

2009 – noted for the sesquicentennial celebration of SBTS – should have seen 7,700..or about 1000 FEWER people. Why did we?

  1. the previous year was Indianapolis, which was deflated with being outside the core 14 SBC states AND the flooding in southern Indiana
  2. the mother seminary’s anniversary drew a fawning crowd…of which I was one.

From this brief study, I propose two reasons for the down interest in the Annual Meeting:

  1. The previous year was Orlando…vacation plus controversy equals blowout attendance!
  2. There was nothing to rush to after the GCR report.

My prediction…to be returned to in one year and possibly revised!

2012 will see an higher-than-expected attendance for three reasons:

  1. New Orleans is both a vacation spot and the home of a beloved seminary
  2. the presidential election will be contentious, I fear
  3. backlash from both upstarts and denominational loyalists to change/preserve things at the next opportunity

I would love to hear thoughts on the trend or the 2012 prediction….



* = the data used is very limited, given the availability of messenger and church numbers at past years’ Conventions online – as a good amateur statistician, I will advise that these statements should be reviewed when more data is available…and I’m going to the denominational library as soon as I find one!

Tuesday Theology Musings: 0.1A – Can miracles exist?

July 5, 2011

Last week, we discussed how classical skepticism and the Bible interact in their perception of reality. Today, we will explore the implications of Pyrrho‘s eighth mode: constancy and rarity.

The ninth depends upon the frequency, or rarity, or strangeness of the thing under consideration. For instance, earthquakes excite no wonder among those nations with whom they are of frequent occurrence; nor does the sun, because he is seen every day. (from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, trans. C.D. Yonge, 1853, Book IX – The Life of Pyrrho, Chapter IX)

Many modern skeptics believe that miracles, like to the kind recorded in Scripture, are impossible because they violate the natural order, as “codified” in repeatable scientific empiricalism. Iwould like to venture a rebuttal on three propositions, inspired by Pyrrho:

1) The rare is not the impossible

Modern particle physics is presently searching for the Higgs boson, also known colloquially as the “God particle”.

However, as of today, it has not been discovered/detected. To quote a particle physics blog:

“The Tevatron by the end of 2011 will have acquired 10-12 inverse femtobarns of luminosity…. To unravel this, here is a handful of back-of-a-madgraph estimates of how many interesting events can the colliders get by the end of 2011.

Higgs Boson (120 GeV Higgs produced in gluon fusion) events:
Tevatron: 10 000
LHC: 11 000

Both experiments will have a similar sensitivity to the Higgs. Although 10k looks like whole lotta events, Higgs signatures are notoriously difficult to search. For example, one promising discovery channel at the LHC is when the Higgs decays into two photons, which happens roughly twice per thousand events for a 120 GeV Higgs. For this and other reasons, neither Tevatron nor the LHC has good prospects of discovering the Higgs, unless in lucky circumstances (e.g. production cross section larger than in the standard model, or Higgs mass sitting close to the sweet spot of 160 GeV).” (Resonaances, accessed 7/5/2011)

To be at least intellectually consistent, if rare events in science can be expected, then so to rare events beyond the comfort threshold of the scientist.

2) The common is not the non-miraculous

As stated in Pyrrho’s own words, ” the sun [does not excite wonder] because he is seen every day.” This is better explained by those more versed in the subject, so I will point you to two takes:

…to which I again appeal for equal treatment under my first proposition!

3) The “laws” of science are never set

The scientist is alwasy questioning and exploring. In science, there are relatively few laws: explanations of the mechanism of a process so rigorously upheld by empirical data (evidential test) and so entrenched in other corollary aspects of scientific understanding (logical-conceptual test) as to conceive of their not being true/real is tantamount to undercutting the whole existence of life/the universe as we know it. However, most scientific understanding is only about a hundred years old (at least, in its present formulation)…why should we not expect the rules of scientific thought to change again?

In conclusion, miracles cannot be discounted or disregarded simply because they do not fit our modern sentiments on the subject.

Tuesday Theology Musings: 0.0 – Can we know?

June 28, 2011

How do we know what we know? (or epistemology)

I tend to be a fallibilist because of my scientific background, but as a Christian, I must also deal with the existence (though the unattainability of certainty about said existence) of Absolutes. Revelation (and the concomittant doctrines of inspiration and illumination) is the divine mode through which we perceive the True in the Cave of our lives.

Having said that, let us explore how the Bible relates to the Five Modes of Perception, as developed  by Agrippa the Skeptic.

(from The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, trans. C.D. Yonge, 1853, Book IX – The Life of Pyrrho, Chapter X)

“One derived from the disagreement of opinions; another from the necessity of proceeding ad infinitum from one reasoning to another; a third from relation; a fourth from hypothesis; and the last from the reciprocal nature of proofs.

That which refers to the disagreement of opinions, shows that all the questions which philosophers propose to themselves, or which people in general discuss, are full of uncertainty and contradiction.

That which is derived from the necessity of proceeding incessantly from one reasoning to another, demonstrates that it is impossible for a man ever, in his researches, to arrive at undeniable truth; since one truth is only to be established by another truth; and so on, ad infinitum.

The mode which is derived from relation rests on the doctrine that no object is ever perceived independently and entirely by itself, but always in its relation to something else; so that it is impossible to know its nature correctly.

That which depends on hypothesis is directed against those arguers who pretend that it is necessary to accept the principles of things taken absolutely, and that one must place one’s faith in them without any examination, which is an absurdity; for one may just as well lay down the opposite principles.

The fifth mode, that one namely which arises from the reciprocal nature of proofs, is capable of application whenever the proof of the truth which we are looking for supposes, as a necessary preliminary, our belief in that truth; for instance, if, after we have proved the porosity of bodies by their evaporations, we return and prove the evaporations by the porosity.”

Dissent – the Bible becomes the arbiter of revealed truth, but we as human interpreters can (and probably should) disagree about the message received. Thus the dual (Baptist?) doctrines of inerrancy and priesthood of all believers become essential for our (admitted limited) knowledge of God.

Progress ad infinitum – This becomes both a non-issue and a mystery for the Christian faith. In one way, God is the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause, the end of the infinite regress as Creator God. In another way, many of the issues with which our human minds struggle, “how do sovereignty and responsibility coexist?”, “If God, why evil?” have their explanation and origin in the deep, unsearchable Infinite that is eternity and the God who inhabits it.

Relativity – Existence, substance, and essence only have meaning in relation to the Creator. What is strange is that in some ways, God is Himself relative, or more precisely related, to His creation…in His role as Savior, for instance.

Assumption – Again, a dual approach is taken by Scripture. In one way, the moral Law is absolute and extensive (who hasn’t wondered about the purpose of the mixed fabrics prohibition?). In another, the Bible takes for granted many philosophical concepts…like the existence of a Divine separate from this reality.

Circularity – The Bible, it does not seem to me, to fall for the circular argument. Most of its arguments point back to the revealed character or reputation of God…and sometimes past the revealed into the mystery beyond human comprehension.

Let us now answer the question: “Can we know?” Well…maybe…? Faith requires the leap…but is rewarded with evidence and experience. Revelation, to me, is more than just the transmitted and preserved Word of God in Scripture – it is also the life-long journey with the God who reveals.

My Take: Welcome to the Downward Slope of Peak Oil

June 24, 2011

The economic world was agog yesterday with the sudden and unexpected announcement that the 28-nation International Energy Agency announced that they would release 2 million barrels of of oil daily for the next 30 days.

Many welcomed this development, for its impact on gas prices and economic growth, but were stymied why it should occur. The IEA stated that “supply disruption has been underway for some time and will only become more exacerbated with the normal seasonal increase in refiner demand through the summer.”[1] Many commentators see the ongoing conflict in Libya and the lingering effects of the Arab Spring as the cause of this disruption. What is also disconcerting, and the reason for my own comment on the subject, is that “the IEA’s announcement comes…despite assurances from OPEC’s biggest producer Saudi Arabia that it would lift supplies unilaterally.” [2] There can be only one conclusion….

Welcome to the downward slope of peak oil…where available supplies diminish, technology must be used to extract the dwindling and intransigent sources, and we must adapt or die as economies!

The previous two IEA actions of this kind were in response to the source disruption of the First Gulf War (when Iraq invades Kuwait in 1990, for the Gen Y crowd) and the refiner disruption after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.[2] I am not convinced that the Libya shutdown (and with it, commentators mention, a source ofthe preferable light sweet crude oil) since Libya’s output is minimal…given that LSC is marketed under aegis of the most historic source: Brent (North Sea) and West Texas Intermediate. Also, the refiner backup argument does not hold its weight since this is an annual phenomenon (for those drive regualrly, this is why summer gas is more expensive than wintertime…and blame California and its air standards, by the way).

What compounds, and points toward the true reason, is that this release is the LARGEST of the three since 1974.[1] “In the 1990-1991 Gulf conflict when Iraq invaded Kuwait much larger volumes of crude were shut [down]”[3] but the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve released only 17 million barrels then. After the one-two Gulf Coast hurricane punch knocked out New Orleans and Houston (as well as offshore drilling), the SPR released 21 million barrels to offset downed refiner output. But this year, the US is slated to release 30 million barrels (50% of IES total and 4% of the SPR).[4]

Why such a dramatically unpredicted action without a clear rationale? It would appear that Saudi Arabia cannot keep the extra-OPEC promises it makes. The 2 million barrels/day they proposed to produce seemed to have come in short.[5] When they lost their battle in the OPEC meeting, the Kingdom made the bold promise, but can’t deliver…is it so off-the-wall to suggest that they asked their consumer-nation ally (i.e. the US) to cut them some slack and let them save face? In other words, “available supplie diminish” – the first characteristic of peak oil.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room: the age of oil depletion. Recently, American cable audiences have been told that “clean coal is America’s future energy source” and “We at Company X are working to develop new sources of oil from Canada”…in other words, “technology must be used to extract the dwindling and intransigent sources” the second characteristic of peak oil.

So how should we proceed? “We must adapt or die as economies!” The road ahead is a hard one, but if we take a page from weight-loss programs, we can get healthier with a few steps:

  1. Eat less – we must decrease demand for oil – major culprits: transportation, both individual and industrial, and energy. We as Americans (and the rest of the developed world can tag along too!) must change our consumption habits. First, drive less and ride more – we must make efforts to encourage the development and use of public transportation, moving closer to main lines and core cities. Second, get green – we need to advocate with the only voices we have: our pocketbooks! Buy products that reduce packaging (i.e. useless weight) and recycle/reduce/reuse as much as possible – the trucks/trains/planes have to run, but they don’t have to burn as much oil! Third, go dark – use that Daylight Savings Time for good purposes: open your blinds (but put on some pants first!) Again, pay for products that encourage good energy practices – caulking for windows/doors, alternative energy credits, maybe even a solar water heater or electic panels!
  2. Exercise more – discipline, that is. I usually drive around with my windows cracked instead of using the A/C…and I live in the most humid palce on earth, central South Carolina. There are many ideas for reducing your own personal gasoline waste…feel free to suggest some other in the comments!
  3. And take some supplements – We also need to advocate government support of the economic transition. Public transportation is just that: public…we need to request/demand its construction or extension. Alternate forms of power, like hydroelectric and solar, require up-front assembly…guess it’s time to bring back the WPA (if I ever run for public office, hold me to that promise!) Finally, subsidies are not inherently bad – they just need to be tied to a benchmark, like penetrance of the subsidized power source or technology in the market (i.e. decreasing support as more market share is absorbed).

I remember clearly when gas prices were about one dollar (I remember 90 cents a gallon at one time!)…and when they crossed $2 (Spring 2004)…and when they crossed $3 (Summer 2008…were briefly above after Katrina, but sustainably so after 2009, I think). We must adapt or die…paying $10 a gallon like Europe!














I also highly suggest that you find and watch Oil Storm, released in June 2005 (and I thought almost fulfilled with Katrina!)…I fear the the end (economic battle with Asia) is the next crisis in our future….


SBC-Phoenix 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part Drei

June 22, 2011

First, please see the sunny side: Part Uno – The Good

Then, check out the dark side: Part Deux – The Bad

Now, let’s take a stroll on the weird side – Part Drei – The Ugly

1. The Thom Rainer/Channing Kilgore fiasco: I cite this blog only because it presents the video of said interaction easily…I have my own take on the Q/A throwdown. Rev. Kilgore, for those who read the Book of Reports and keep track of who made which motion when, seems to be somewhat of a thorn in the side of Dr. Rainer and LifeWay. While Dr. Rainer could have been a bit more tactful and kind, it was apparent that Rev. Kilgore’s repeated assaults against the staff, trustees, and leadership of LifeWay because they choose to sell books that people are buying (Shock of the century, for many of you, I’m sure!) wer, in the words of parliamentary form, “not well taken”. Rev. Kilgore was also the proposer of (best case scenario) misguided, (worst case scenario) anti-ethnic motion during the EC report, Part 1. Must we endure such inanity from messengers? No wonder many, both in and outside the church, today see us as irrelevant and disconnected from reality!

Advice: Please have your questions pre-read by another member of your church or someone you trust…and move on even if you don’t like their answer!

2. The Al Mohler/Peter Lumpkins fiasco: As he promised, Peter Lumpkins confronted Dr. Mohler during the Southern Seminary Q/A…and got his lunch handed to him, in my opinion. While the question needed to be answered…and it is curious that Dr. Mohler didn’t clarify his statements when the instigating article in the Christian Science Monitor appeared…it is unfortunate that we will now discuss and parse the words of both men instead of responding to the cultural issue they’re discussing.

Advice: Denominational leaders should be forthcoming and transparent (M.Burg will know that this is true of other seminary presidents we know). Ask questions…but also work toward solution and reconciliation, both with those discussed and those disagreed with.

3. The split floor on immigration policy: First, the action of the Resolutions Committee to touch this third-rail issue in a border state is curious…and that we had to go to a vote about the phrasing BEFORE they offered to amend it shows a degree of recalcitrance that should be avoided in the future. Second, I am glad that the emotional exchanges about this issue did not make front-page news or a prominent slot in the cable news cycle…probably only because Casey Anthony gets more viewers/readers! Finally, I have grown tired of the need at the Annual Meetings for us to “express our opinion” on every secular political issue…I realize that we are one of the largest and most conservative voting blocs, but can’t the ERLC make these recommendations without us taking up an afternoon to fight about them?

Honorable Mention: The growing tension between theological factions in the SBC9Marks and Baptist21, for all of the good that they do to empower and connect younger pastors, will end up being the new “union elites”, just like Baptist Identity and Founders…will we survive our compartmentalization to actually accomplish the Greats (Commission, Commandment, or Glory of God)?


SBC-Phoenix 2011: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Part Deux

June 21, 2011

For those who like to see the sunny side, please check out the first post: Part Uno – The Good

Part Deux: The Bad

1. The decline of Wiley Drake: Anyone who was at the business sessions (or watched them over the internet) realizes that Rev. Drake has finally jumped the shark. I overheard many who found his comment, that the recent death of his wife has reduced his number of motions for this year, crass and shameful. I also experienced personally the awkwardness of his rebuke of a unheard messenger trying to silence him during one of his (many) speechs.

Advice: exit stage right!

2. The food service in the area: Now let me start with that the food itself was excellent, BUT…I and two friends actually waited several minutes at a restaurant across from the Convention center before the server crossed the nearly-empty room to attend to us. This happened not once, but at least THREE times, resulting in us seriously contemplating walking out on the check…which was also slow in coming!

Advice: bring a box lunch or order online ahead of time!

3. The heat: Phoenix hit a record high (At least I hope 110 is a record!) while we were there. Luckily, I planned ahead and regularly drank a whole bottle of water during each session (that’s a half-gallon a day, not including any beverages at meals!) I suspect that this may be a factor for this year’s low attendance….

Upside: no nose bleeds (I was warned about them before going)

Downside: have you ever been to public bathrooms at a convention…exactly!

Advice: Could we have a sprinkler set-up near the children’s area…for the adults?

(Dis)Honorable Mention: The anti-GCR “cranky old men” meeting: The whole notion of the motion was out of place to begin with. Then having Tweedle-Loudmouth and Tweedle-Crazy headlining it didn’t help their credibility. The low attendance (22) with no real support from the elites (saw only two and they stayed conspicuously off to the side) means that it is more of a whine-fest. Now that I have stated my allegiance thereof, let me comment briefly on the desire expressed in said meeting of “taking back the Convention”: admirable given their straw-man opponent, but never going to happen with their vanguard as such. Guess I’ll go back to Plan O…for Outlive the Gray-heads!

SBC-Phoenix 2011: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Part Uno

June 20, 2011

I’ll try to post my thoughts over the next week about the recent Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention which I attended.

HT: M.Burgett for asking for such posts on my Facebook!

Part Uno: The Good

1. The location: The Convention Center was right off the light rail system of Phoenix, making it very convenient (and green!) to get to from far-flung hotels.

2. Frank Page and the ExCom report: Dr. Page’s speech was thrilling and encouraging. Several were wondering what side he would take amid the denominational tensions (more on that later). I was glad that he took neither…or at least the side of unity/cooperation/non-fighting. I was also very encouraged by the adoption of the Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation.  

View here: Video archive, look for “Executive Committee report, part 1” especially.

3. The chance to make new friends: I was at a meeting Monday evening and met a couple from South Carolina…we talked for a few minutes afterward, then went to dinner together and talk for a few more hours! This is the kind of instant kinship we need more of in the SBC!

Having hit (some) of the high points, we’ll descend to the level of disappointment with our next installment…Feel free to add other good points or comment!

Ethics Quandary: How do we deal with single IVF mothers?

June 11, 2011

Here’s the situation:

A friend of my mother, who has known me since I have little, recently offered to “set me up” with her son’s sister-in-law (trust me, it’s even weird than it sounds!) She sounds like a totally great gal, we’ve got similar interests, but there’s one problem:

She has a daughter by IVF…and she’s never been married…. I guess she decided a few years ago that she didn’t want to wait on having children since a husband was not in the picture. My conundrum is two-part:

  1. What is the church’s/Bible’s position on children out-of-wedlock by this manner? I’m a little rusty on my casuistic thinking. First, we have to tread the Regulative/Normative principle waters here, since obviously the technology to have a child without sexual intercourse (at least directly) was not present in Biblical times. Second, there’s the awkward progressive revelation point: Mary, the mother of our Lord, was also (by obviously a different method) found in the same way
  2. The higher standard being the station of the pastorate: What should a pastor do when in my situation? She and I are in similar waters. We both have not “found” the one to marry due to God’s timing. We both want children, but also want to follow God faithfully. I have time, but she does/did not. But it is not exactly like marrying a widow with children…or is it?

I’d like to hear discussion on this, but I will moderate the less kind or on-topic comments as needed.