Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does Jesus use hyperbole to make a point?

From Hank Hanegraaf’s Christian Research Institute web site.


I want to pay particular attention to Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

One way to misinterpret this verse is to take it literally. Cults often operate on the premise that the statement is literally true — that it pits loyalty to the group against love for family. In doing so, they attempt to distance followers from family members who might make them fall away.

Critics of Christianity in turn point to the verse in order to denigrate the Christian faith. An atheist, for example, quotes the verse as “a perfect illustration of how a cult operates. Sort of makes you wonder about all those conservative religionists that preach ‘traditional family values!’”

[...]It is obvious that a literal interpretation of Jesus’ statement leads to disastrous results; but what is the alternative to interpreting it literally? The only viable option is to regard the statement as being a hyperbole — a conscious exaggeration that expresses truth in a nonliteral manner.

It apparently is not easy for people to label a statement as being a hyperbole. On the surface, it may seem to signal a lack of faith when we do not take the great promises of Scripture at face value. After all, “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Interpreting hyperbolic statements literally, however, lands us in much greater difficulties than interpreting them figuratively does.

[...]Elton Trueblood shows in his book The Humor of Christ that the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ discourses is their use of exaggeration — the preposterous overstatement in the mode of “our conventional Texas story, which no one believes literally, but which everyone remembers.” G. K. Chesterton notes that “Christ had even a literary style of his own.…The diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea.”

This is, in fact, accurate; for example: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3); “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24); The kingdom of God “is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

The rest of the article is worth reading – the author talks about how hyperbole works in the Bible and how to recognize it.

I thought this was important to highlight since I love to exaggerate for effect, and now we know that it’s ok that I do. It’s a teaching tool that is useful for emphasizing a point.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cosmos series promotes naturalism by distorting the history of science

Casey Luskin posted this in The Blaze. (H/T Nancy Pearcey tweet)


The host is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.” Executive producers include comedian Seth MacFarlane, who expresses his desire to be “vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith,” and Star Trek writer Brannon Braga, who says “religion sucks” and admits he “longs for” the day when “religion is vanquished.”

With Tyson himself admitting we must view “‘Cosmos’ not as a documentary about science,” the series barely hides its ambitions to bring Sagan’s materialistic views to a new generation.

[...]But have its creators pushed the agenda too far? “Cosmos” faced sharp criticism—from leading evolutionists—for inventing stories about religious persecution of scientists while whitewashing religion’s positive historical influence on science.

The first episode portrayed the 16th century scientist Giordano Bruno being burned at the stake by Catholic priests for teaching that the Earth orbits the Sun. The problem? Bruno wasn’t a scientist and he wasn’t persecuted for his heliocentric views. Of course Bruno’s persecution was tragic, but the church killed him for promoting the occult worship of Egyptian deities and other quirky theological beliefs.

Throughout the series, Tyson repeats this theme that religion opposes scientific advancement, whitewashing the chorus of historians who believe that religion had a positive influence on science.

As prominent historian Ronald Numbers argues, “[t]he greatest myth in the history of science and religion holds that they have been in a state of constant conflict.” One scholar at the staunchly pro-evolution National Center for Science Education even blasted “Cosmos” for its “slipshod history of science” and “antireligious bias.”

Numbers is not a theist – he is secular, so that’s an interesting quote.

The story also notes that Barack Obama endorses the series,and that’s not surprising to me. As I’ve argued before, the man is an atheist. This series is defending his religion.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , ,

Friday night movie: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

Here’s tonight’s movie in English, but black and white:

IMDB rating: [7.6/10]

Or if you are brave, you can watch the newer, color (1990) French-language version, with subtitles.

IMDB rating: [7.6/10]


Cyrano de Bergerac is a Parisian poet and swashbuckler with a large nose of which he is self-conscious, but pretends to be proud of. He is madly in love with his “friendly cousin” (they were not actually related as cousins), the beautiful Roxane; however, he does not believe she will requite his love because he considers himself physically unattractive. Soon, he finds that Roxane has become infatuated with Christian de Neuvillette, a dashing new recruit to the Cadets de Gascogne, the military unit of which Cyrano is the captain. Christian however, despite his good looks, is tongue-tied when speaking with women. Seeing an opportunity to vicariously declare his love for Roxane, he decides to aid Christian, who does not know how to court a woman and gain her love.

Gascony (Gasgogne in French) is the south-west of France, and Normandy is in the north of France. Cyrano and the other cadets are from Gascony, but Christian is from Normandy.

This movie is very special to me, because I share many of the character traits and experiences of Cyrano. In fact, whenever I want to explain myself to a woman, I show her this movie and highlight certain parts. Like me, Cyrano has a distant relationship with his mother, and no sisters. Like me, his favorite color is white. For him, it symbolizes independence. For me, it symbolizes independence and also chastity, fidelity and secrecy. He wears a white plume in his hat, symbolizing his independence.

At one point in the movie, Cyrano is shown to be fond of making enemies rather than friends, because he resents the way that people are constantly trying to make friends and trying to make people like them. I have that same view. I get very annoyed with Christians who hide their convictions about truth and morality in public in order to be liked by others. In fact, I think that the two biggest challenges to being a Christian are the expectation that if God is real, then he will make you happy and the expectation that following Jesus will make people like you. It’s much better if Christians expect to not be happy and to not be liked – that’s the normal Christian life. Many Christians fall away from their faith because they feel that God should make them happy and that people should like them.

I wish that everyone watching the movie could understand French, because Cyrano always speaks in rhymes in the French. He is asked by someone how he expects to survive after he has offended some fool who is protected by a powerful nobleman. Does Cyrano have a powerful protector? His reply: “No, I have no patron… but a patroness” while putting his hand on his sword. In other productions of the play, like this one, he draws his sword.

Cyrano is also very lonely, and finds women very mysterious, and therefore very desirable. But he has a long nose, so he feels that he has no hope with them, and he doesn’t even try.


Look well at me–then tell me, with what hope
This vile protuberance can inspire my heart!
I do not lull me with illusions–yet
At times I’m weak: in evening hours dim
I enter some fair pleasance, perfumed sweet;
With my poor ugly devil of a nose
I scent spring’s essence–in the silver rays
I see some knight–a lady on his arm,
And think ‘To saunter thus ‘neath the moonshine,
I were fain to have my lady, too, beside!’
Thought soars to ecstasy. . . O sudden fall!
–The shadow of my profile on the wall!

If you watch the 1990 version of the movie with subtitles, you can at least hear the rhymes – everything he says rhymes. French is a beautiful language. Here’s the play in French and in English for those who prefer to read rather than watch. If you read the play, you get more details but you lose the swordfights. Cyrano is the best swordsman in Paris, and not afraid to use his sword to make a point, so to speak.

Happy Friday!

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A must-read series of posts on cosmic fine-tuning by Allen Hainline

There are four posts in the series, so far. I think Allen might be done, so I’m going to link to all four and snip something I like from each one.

The first post is on whether the fine-tuning is real, and whether a multiverse explains the fine-tuning so that there is no need for a cosmic Designer.

I just have to choose this quote from the atheist Stephen Hawking on the fine-tuning:

The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [i.e. the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example, if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers [i.e. the constants of nature] that would allow for development of any form of intelligent life.

And from Luke Barnes, who I’ve mentioned before on this blog:

In my years of researching this topic, I’m amazed at how few scientists who have studied the fine-tuning details disagree with this core claim that the subset of life-permitting physics is a tiny fraction among possibilities. Since Luke Barnes is a top researcher on this topic, consider his input on the level of acceptance of the fine-tuning claim: “I’ve published a review of the scientific literature, 200+ papers, and I can only think of a handful that oppose this conclusion, and piles and piles that support it.[3]

And on the multiverse as a way to escape the fine-tuning:

The key issue though is that for the multiverse to be an adequate explanation for the fine-tuning it requires the conjunction of several hypotheses for which we lack any empirical evidence:

  1. A universe-generating mechanism that generates a plethora of universes
  2. That this mechanism doesn’t itself require fine-tuning
  3. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  4. The ability to widely vary constants in those universes. If you think that it’s a foregone conclusion that String Theory/M-Theory[8] will come to the rescue in this area, you should watch this video clip by Oxford physicist Roger Penrose where he exclaims that “it’s not even a theory … it’s a collection of hopes”.

Occam’s razor therefore does seem to favor design over the multiverse. When one accounts for the extensive problems in affirming premise 2 and how these multiverse theories make predictions incompatible with our universe, the hypothesis that God designed the physics of the universe to bring about life is more plausible.

Here’s the second post, where he explains the fine-tuning argument philosophically, and gives an example of one of the constants that has to be fine-tuned in order to support complex, embodied intelligence of any kind.

The cosmological constant:

The inference to design will be more easily recognized if we shed some light as to the specialness of the required values. Consider the size of the bull’s eye and wall based on just 1 parameter – the cosmological constant. There is a natural range for possible values for this constant because there are known contributions that are 10120times larger than the overall net value. (There is a near perfect but inexact cancellation of contributions accurate to 120 decimal places). Let’s use the most conservative numbers in the physics literature that indicate a fine-tuning to 1 part in 1053. If the cosmological constant, which governs the expansion rate of the universe, had been larger than its current value by this tiny fraction, then the universe would have expanded so fast that no stars or planets would have formed and therefore no life. If the value were smaller by this amount then the universe would have rapidly collapsed before the universe cooled sufficiently to allow for stable information storage which is required by any self-replicating system such as life.

In the third post, he responds to objections to the fine-tuning argument. One objection you hear from atheists who don’t understand the science is that any selection of constants and quantities is as likely as any other, so our life-permitting set is just random. Now, first off, there are only 10 to the 80 atoms in the visible universe, so if the cosmological constant is fine-tuned to 1 in 10 to the 120, it’s not rational to say “it just happened randomly”.

But here is Allen’s response:

However, the assumption that any set of constants is just as likely as any other is the very thing that we want to know. Starting off with that as an assumption begs the question against design. As Luke Barnes articulates in this excellent podcast dealing with responses to the fine-tuning claim, suppose we’re playing poker and every time I deal I get a royal flush. If this continues to happen, you become increasingly convinced that I’m likely to be cheating. If I responded to an accusation of cheating by just saying “well any set of 5 cards is just as likely as any other so you can’t accuse me of cheating” you would be rational to reject this explanation. The question is not “how likely is any set of 5 cards?” but rather “how likely is it I’m cheating if I just dealt myself 10 straight royal flushes?” This question accounts for the possibility that I’m cheating which would almost certainly be true in this scenario. So the right fine-question is “given the fine-tuning evidence, how likely is it that the constants were set at random?” The values for physical constants conform to a very particular pattern – that which supports life. The fact that we have so many finely-tuned constants makes it unlikely that they were all set at random (at least in the single universe scenario and I’ve already shown some of the problems/challenges in multiverse explanations.)

Every 5-card hand that you draw is equally unlikely, but the royal flush is the highest hand in the game and always wins. Every hand you draw is unlikely, but whatever you draw is overwhelmingly likely to not be a royal flush.

Finally, the fourth post deals with the objection that the constants and quantities could not have been other than they are.

He quotes physicist John Barrow giving 5 reasons why the constants can vary, and then this:

Even if the constants and laws of physics couldn’t vary, there is even more reason to think that there were many physically possible sets of initial conditions. Paul Davies states this emphatically:

“Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn’t follow that the physical universe itself is unique…the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions…there is nothing in present ideas about ‘laws of initial conditions’ remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it…it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.[4]”

John A. Wheeler agrees: “Never has physics come up with a way to tell with what initial conditions the universe was started off. On nothing is physics clearer than what is not physics.”

The constants and quantities are not determined by physics. They were selected by whoever created nature in the first place.

So that’s the series. I noticed that he kept linking to this Common Sense Atheism podcast featuring famous cosmologist Luke Barnes. I grabbed it to listen this weekend, and you might want to get it, too. It’s over an hour. It seems like it is one stop shopping to understand common objections to the fine-tuning argument, and how strong each one is.


Filed under: News, , , , , ,

Obama rejects subpoena that would force top aide to testify in corruption probe

Business Insider reports.


White House adviser David Simas will not comply with House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa’s (R-California) subpoena to testify before the committee on Wednesday, White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a letter to Issa late Tuesday.

The White House had urged Issa to drop his subpoena, offering to brief him on the role of the administration’s political affairs office, of which Simas is the director. Issa has been conducting an investigation into the office for what he claims are possible violations of the Hatch Act, related to whether the administration is using taxpayer dollars for political purposes.

Issa refused to lift the subpoena on Tuesday, despite a lengthy briefing Tuesday from White House staff that Issa did not attend. Issa said later in a statement it would be important to get on-the-record answers from Simas at the hearing.

Eggleston sent back a letter informing him Simas was “immune” from appearing before the Oversight Committee. Eggleston said the subpoena would “threaten the longstanding interests of the Executive Branch in preserving the president’s independence and autonomy.” Eggleston also wrote to Issa that it was “regrettable” he had chosen ton continue to pursue the subpoena instead of working privately with the White House to resolve his questions about oversight.

Well, that’s one way to cover up a scandal – just give your top aides immunity from the law. If they can’t be forced to testify, then the truth will never come out.

Filed under: News, , ,

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