Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Eleven

The following is a summary of week eleven, which is the first lesson in my class Systematic Theology II, in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Reflecting on Grudem’s discussion of titles and words used to describe Jesus (“God,” “Lord,” etc.), as well as what Elwell may contribute, address this question: Why was “Messiah” or ”Christ” not one of the major titles Jesus used for Himself? In your initial post you must include at least one quote each from Grudem, Elwell, and Scripture. Other sources are welcome but not required.

Jesus was fully man and fully God. Adam was the first man, made in the image of God, called to be His image bearer. In a similar manner, Jesus was the second man, called to stand in for all mankind as a propitiation for the sins of humanity. D.J. Treier says Jesus’ was the “inauguration of a new humanity.” I believe Jesus chose to not “promote” Himself as the Messiah or the Christ in order to best identify with what it means to be human and to be tempted. There is no aspect of the life, ministry, and words of Jesus are not fit for sound doctrine, proper instruction, and exemplification. We are urged to pray as Jesus did, to care for the sick and the widow and the less unfortunate as He did, and to stand against temptation (and the wiles of the devil) by proclaiming the Word of God and having faith in the redemption He purchased at Calvary.

Jesus was fully man (fleshly body) and fully God (spirit), tempted in every way that we are. We’re created in the same manner—part flesh and part spirit. Jesus provided an example or pattern for how we are to live, love, and worship God. He experienced the “humanness” of living in a physical body, subject to temptations and distractions. Jesus preferred calling Himself the “Son of man” (Matt. 20:28). There is an amazing degree of humility and putting the Father’s plans first over anything that could detract from the mission. D. H. Wallace says Jesus essentially fused together His roles as Messiah, suffering servant, and son of man into one “messianic” person. Regardless, it is Wallace’s opinion that Jesus avoided public acknowledgment of that role due to the likelihood His followers and supporters would try to have Him installed nationally as King of the Jews, thereby establishing a kingdom on earth, forcing the Roman empire out of power. The term “Son of man” was particularly definitive relative to Jesus’ mission: His death on the cross in fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation preordained before the foundation of the world. Jesus noted the will of the Father many times during His earthly ministry. Grudem says Jesus had to become like us in every respect to assure that He could be a merciful and faithful high priest. If Jesus were to focus solely on His divine nature, promoting Himself as the anointed one, this would have exalted Him, perhaps lessening His humanness.

Grudem tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself” as described in Philippians 2:7-8. God saw fit to exalt Jesus after His death, conferring on Him the name which is above all names. Theologians who ascribe to the kenosis theory believe Jesus gave up some of His divinity while on earth—a self-limitation of His divine nature. Grudem denies this theory, stating Scripture does not say that Christ “emptied himself of some powers” or “emptied himself of divine attributes.” Jesus focused on His role in God’s ultimate plan for redemption of mankind. In this manner, Jesus became obedient unto death. Although Jesus was fully God and an intimate part of the Godhead, He “gave up” His equality with God, choosing to suffer and die to put the redemption of man before all else. Treier notes the theological concern of how to fully acknowledge the humanness of Jesus, and how best to affirm His full divinity, without choosing a title that would mesh with the political atmosphere present at the time. There was ample underlying prophetic authority of Jesus’ “office” as Messiah. He did not need to promote His earthly mission in any manner, with any title, that would incite the leaders of the church. Accordingly, He told His disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ (Matt. 16:20). He simply didn’t want this fact to be announced at the time because it was not yet time: no one would understand or accept the revelation. The Jews were expecting God’s “anointed one” to come in power and glory, overthrow the Roman government, and reestablish a Davidic-type rule over Israel and the world. Treier notes the political fallout this untimely revelation would have caused. I believe this could have ended His ministry prematurely.

References

D. J. Treier, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 2017.

D. H. Wallace, “Messiah,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 2017.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press), 1994.

The Basis for True Science

WHAT IS SCIENCE? How do we determine if it leads to truth? Whose truth does it represent? Stripped down, science essentially means “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Is true science an elitist or Gnostic pursuit? In other words, can it be understood by only a handful of people. How do we do science? Although the average person will never master science to any degree,  there is a desperate need for non-technical arguments that stand on their own merits, independent of any technical work, and that are at least somewhat comprehensible.

It is important to note that all humans are “scientists” to some degree. In fact, scientific study encompasses more than we realize on the surface—it touches on the philosophical, biological, social, and cultural aspects of life as well. Without realizing it, throughout the day we tend to carefully observe and analyze many aspects of the physical universe. We constantly make “mental notes” of what we observe, and we use those notes to build a conceptual model (or worldview) of how it all works. Each of us, regardless of our mental capacity, constantly acquires and analyzes data in the pursuit of meaning and cause-and-effect.

Stephen Hawking established two sets of questions to be considered when applying science to life and its “big questions.” The first batch of queries focuses on the “hows” of existence:

  • How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves?
  • How does the universe behave?
  • What is the nature of reality?
  • Where did this all come from?
  • Did the universe need a creator?

Hawking’s second set of questions relates to the “whys” of existence:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why do we exist?
  • Why this particular set of scientific laws and not some other?

Neil deGrasse Tyson says—

[Science] is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adhering to a simple set of rules: test ideas by experiment and observation; build on those ideas that pass the test; reject the ones that fail; follow the evidence wherever it leads; and question everything. Accept these terms and the cosmos is yours.

The “Religion” of Science

Unfortunately, many empiricists believe science and religion are locked in a bitter and contentious war for our minds. Stephen Weinberg, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, said, “The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact by our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic].” It has been argued that religion cannot cure disease; it cannot usefully explain where humans came from, the origin of life, or how the universe came to be; it is said to be unable to explain volcanoes, earthquakes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, epidemics, allergies, birth defects, diseases, and so on. Scientists dogmatically claim that religion cannot usefully explain one single thing. Of course, there is no basis for a categorical denial of religion’s usefulness in explaining the physical realm.

Consider the following position:

Science is an unstoppable force for human development that will deliver answers to our many questions about the universe, and solve many, if not all, of our human problems: disease, energy, pollution, poverty. At some stage in the future, science will be able to explain everything, and answer all our needs.

It would seem the above is a very narrow viewpoint. I suggest the following as a more accurate and equitable concept: (1) religion is based on faith; (2) science is based on faith; (3) both religion and science give us knowledge of the unseen world; (4) all knowledge of the unseen world must be based on faith; therefore (5) science is a religion.

To a great extent, today’s culture holds the dramatically one-dimensional opinion that what we see is all there is and, accordingly, nature is all we need to explain everything. Charles Colson, in his book How Now Shall We Live? describes this as the philosophy of naturalism. We can define naturalism as the philosophical belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural, metaphysical, or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Natural laws are the only rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe; the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws and nothing else. Philosophical naturalism is a special instance of the wider concept of philosophy, taking the subject matter and method of philosophy to be continuous with the subject matter and method of other disciplines, especially the natural sciences.

Naturalism is essentially synonymous with humanism. Of course, both schools of thought exclude the supernatural by definition. Interestingly, naturalism claims to answer the how and the why of existence, holding itself as the cultural authority to rule on what is, why it is, and what it means. It can be considered an ism because it lives as a tendency, a stance, a frame of mind, a sequence of mental habits and reflexes. Naturalist philosophers believe no other intellectual enterprise—except pure mathematics—has such reliable and effective means for defining and explaining the universe. Typically, and to the contrary, making sense of human life is the principal business of organized religion. Methodological naturalism is a subset of naturalism, involving a cognitive approach to reality that ignores the metaphysical realm.

Naturalistic scientists try to give the impression that they are fair-minded and objective, thereby hinting that it is “religious” people who are subjective and biased in favor of their personal beliefs. This is basically a ruse; naturalism is as much a philosophy, a worldview, a personal belief system, as any religion. Of course, to claim that observable nature is all there is or ever will be is particularly narrow. This reminds me of Carl Sagan’s trademark statement (at the beginning of his PBS series Cosmos), “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” This is remarkably similar to the Christian liturgical recitation, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.” I make this comparison merely to show the “religiosity” of naturalism.

The Big Bang theory seems to destroy naturalism, for the naturalist claims that reality is an unbroken sequence of cause-and-effect which can be traced back endlessly. From a purely scientific vantage point, however, the Big Bang suggests a sudden discontinuity in the chain of events. By its very definition, science can trace events back in time only to a certain point—the moment of an originating explosion. It is at this point in time that science reaches an abrupt break; an absolute time barrier. This concept presented Einstein with a dilemma which he wrestled with. He kept tweaking his equations in hopes of avoiding the conclusion that the universe had a beginning. Astronomer Robert Jastrow, an agnostic, believed science had reached its limit, adding it would never be possible to discover whether the “agent of creation” was the God of the Bible or some familiar force of physics. Yet the laws of physics contradict the concept of something from nothing. Matter cannot create itself.

Unfortunately, scientists and educators ignore the perplexing philosophical and religious implications of the Big Bang. In defense of their passing the buck, they say We only deal with science. Discussion of the ultimate cause behind the Big Bang is dismissed as philosophy. Some scientists attempt to sidestep the physics and mathematical implications of the Big Bang and simply say that matter is eternal after all. Of course, they provide no logical or scientific basis for this claim. Carl Sagan tried to bury this ultimate puzzle in a series of events wherein the universe has been expanding and contracting over an infinite amount of time. Sagan’s speculation runs up against the basic laws of physics. Even an oscillating universe would use up the available energy in each cycle, and it would eventually run down. The second law of thermodynamics, the law of decay, negates the notion of an eternal universe.

We should not oppose science with religion; we should oppose bad science with better science!

The Science of Religion

What does observation and induction have to do with discovering the existence of God? Everything! In 1927, the expanding of the universe was observed by astronomer Edwin Hubble. Looking through a 100-inch telescope at California’s Mount Wilson Observatory, Hubble discovered a “red shift” in the light from every observable galaxy, which meant that those galaxies were moving away from us. This was a direct confirmation of General Relativity—the universe appears to be expanding from a single point of origin in the distant past. Einstein reviewed this data and decided he could no longer support the idea of an eternal physical universe. He described the cosmological constant as “the greatest blunder of my life.” Einstein believed God was pantheistic (God is the universe). In any event, he thought perhaps his theory of General Relativity was strong evidence for a theistic God.

If the universe had a beginning, then the universe had a cause. This is the cosmological argument of creation. In logical form, the argument states:

  1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause. This is the Law of Causality, which is the fundamental principle of science. Francis Bacon (the father of modern science) believed true knowledge is knowledge by causes. David Hume, a skeptic relative to God, could not deny the Law of Causality. He eventually stated, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition that something could arise without a cause.” There was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang. Since a cause cannot come after its effect, natural forces cannot account for the Big Bang.
  2. The universe had a beginning. If the universe did not have a beginning then no cause was needed. However, science and Christian theology admit the world began abruptly in violation of the laws of science.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a cause. If the universe had a beginning, in other words if it is not eternal, then there must be an underlying cause. Robert Jastrow said, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world… the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

Faith—when it is truly faith rather than a mere intellectual assent to some proposition or other—will always seek to enter into a fuller and deeper knowledge and understanding of that which matters most to it. Trevor Hart, in Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology, says faith is concerned with what he calls the internal coherence of its own story or gospel. This involves the ability of educators in a subject to connect and align available resources to carry out the advancement of its theory, engage in collective learning, and use that learning to provide richer educational opportunity for those who continue the study of said theory.

Faith, by its very definition, is a critical reflection of knowledge and not a mere reiteration of some established body of truths. If our intention is genuinely to know the truth, and to allow that truth to shape our thinking and our speaking, then we must approach faith (or, if you prefer, religion) from an interrogative and outward-looking vantage point rather than with a dogmatic or individualistic bend. There is an unfortunate dogmatic warfare between science and Christianity that, if allowed to fester, blocks the science of Christianity from coming to the surface. Zoologist and New Atheist Richard Dawkins insists that all scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, but myths and faiths are not. He likens belief in God to belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or fairies and elves.

J.P. Moreland, a modern-day philosopher from Biola University, believes Christianity is a matter of knowledge, which is supported by logical reasoning and empirical evidence. Faith is not mere emotion or opinion. Personally, I believe all truth is God’s truth. Whatever science proves, it will not contradict the Word of God. The Christian faith is a source of much original knowledge (through its many scientists) that served as a unifying vision, leading to advancement of Western civilization, education, and science. Today, that information (especially its origin) has been pushed indoors as part of a private belief that supposedly has no place in public forums. The problem is not with science, as most of what we consider to be fundamental scientific principles today were established by Bible-believing Christians. The key issue is the philosophical stance of scientism; one of the three major planks of naturalism, the other two being determinism and materialism.

Faith in Something!

Why should we consider belief in spontaneous creation (something from nothing), Darwinism, mutations leading to “new” species, and the Big Bang (as it is taught in public school) to be belief by faith? Because these “theories” go beyond the reach of scientific method. There is a huge difference between “historical” science and that which can be proved through experimental methods. Accordingly, when a “scientist” speaks of the origin of life or the universe, he or she is postulating something that is outside the scope of scientific theory. Unfortunately, many evolutionists refuse to admit that their idea regarding the origin of life and matter is a faith-based system. They argue that science will some day prove their theory. They base this on their comment that we only know part of reality at present, but science will provide all answers some time in the future.

I propose that the Christian and the atheist both live by faith. Each has his or her way of thinking, which is essentially their worldview. It is what they believe about life. Some scientists hold the view that matter and energy are eternal. They believe in a state of equilibrium before our ever-expanding universe burst forth from a very hot, very dense singularity. Of course, there is a contradiction within that very core belief: a state of harmony or equilibrium ceased to be so, bursting forth in a chaotic expression of energy and matter, without intervention. This “theory” has never been proven, yet it is being taught in our public schools as though it is true beyond doubt—that the only explanation for the origin of life is the evolution of “molecules to man.”

If everything was in a “neutral” state of equilibrium before the Big Bang, what made the Big Bang explode? If you believe in the Big Bang from the standpoint of modern science—eternal matter and energy sprang forth from an infinitely dense speck of matter—then you are postulating that the powerful inward pull of gravity somehow overcame its own force and went BANG! Moreover, you believe this tremendously huge and powerful explosion slowed down just enough for every molecule and every universe (great and small) to begin rotating in extremely precise orbits. Then, somehow, these random molecules, created from a random explosion billions of years ago, assembled themselves into water, air, carbon, fiber, enzymes, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, and so on.

Then there is the matter of biological information. High school teachers never tell their students that the evolutionary model of one cell to man is based on unproven assumptions. Historical science is built exclusively on assumptions. Many necessary steps are taken for granted in the “molecules to man” model. Evolution assumes that non-living chemicals gave rise to the first “living” cell which, in turn, randomly evolved into more complex forms. Of course, this theory is not scientifically testable or experimentally verifiable.

G.A. Jerkut, an evolutionist, admitted to the following assumptions of evolution:

  1. Non-living things gave rise to living material; spontaneous generation occurred;
  2. Spontaneous generation occurred only once;
  3. Viruses, bacteria, plants, and animals are all genetically related;
  4. Protozoa (single-celled life forms) gave rise to metazoa (multiple-celled life forms);
  5. Various invertebrate phyla are interrelated;
  6. Invertebrates gave rise to vertebrates;
  7. Within vertebrates, fish gave rise to amphibia, amphibia to reptiles, reptiles to birds, and birds to mammals.

However, no cell is simple. For example, bacterium can synthesize some 3,000 to 6,000 compounds at a rate of about 1 million reactions per second. Cells of bacteria and blue-green algae contain just a single molecule of DNA, and they lack well-defined internal structures, such as a nucleus, chromosomes, and internal membranes. They lack the innate capacity to morph into anything else. This is true because they contain information specific to them, and such information cannot rewrite itself, becoming a completely different species. What kind of information does DNA contain? What kind of information must origin-of-life researchers explain the origin of? DNA contains specific information that deepens the mystery surrounding life.

DNA is the specific “code” of life itself. It is a rather dubious claim to state that genetic information came from nothing; that it “wrote” itself. Moreover, information specific to the second definition equals an arrangement or string of characters that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a function of communication. This is no more possible than the idea that a piece of computer hardware (my laptop, for example) can write code. Moreover, computer software is, by its very definition, the compilation of zeros and ones in a “code” or “language” that tells the hardware what to do. Every single aspect of what I’m doing right now, from the appearance of each distinct letter on this screen to the bold or italic command, to the period at the end of this sentence. Code cannot write itself; it requires a programmer.

Here’s something to ponder. It’s been argued by atheists that if the universe needed a programmer (an intelligent designer), then that intelligent being needed a cause or creating force. This claim misconstrues the argument. Theists say everything that begins to exist needs a cause. The first premise of creationism does not say everything needs a cause. Since God did not begin to exist, He does not need a cause. Atheists also commit the category fallacy in which things from one category are applied to another. Granted, we can debate What caused God for decades, but such arguments are not mere scientific debates; they are disagreements between worldviews. Remarkably, even critics of creationism recognize that the beginning of the universe required something that was not itself caused. Atheists simply state that the laws of physics just exist, period

Concluding Remarks

It is obvious that Darwinism, secularism, and naturalism are prevalent in academia today. It is not necessarily a bad thing to discuss these “theories.” The harm comes when an instructor teaches them as scientific fact, ignoring any alternative theory such as intelligent design. They decide for themselves that the biblical account of creation is entirely unscientific. They fail to distinguish between theory, historical science, and provable science. Instead, they teach evolution in the same manner that they teach mathematical formulae, gravity, friction, thermodynamics, chemistry, and genetics. In fact, they base everything in the universe on the unproven assumption that something came from nothing. They assume that naturalism can account for the origin, organization, development, and fine-tuning of the universe and everything in it regardless of the mathematical impossibility of life beginning without an intelligent designer. (See my blog article Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life.) 

Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of variation between species. Species—groups of similar organisms within a genus—are designated by biochemical and other phenotypic criteria and by DNA relatedness, based on their overall genetic similarity. You may recall from ninth-grade biology class that living organisms (whether animal or plant, zebra or zucchini) are divided into seven levels: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The arguments presented by today’s New Atheists fly in the face of logic and probability. The laws of physics, when applied uniformly and fairly, indicate that the universe could not have created itself. Nor could the information of biology write itself.

It is worth stating that people have personal rather than evidential reasons for rejecting God. The assumption that all knowledge must be scientifically provable isn’t scientifically provable. It’s a philosophical claim. People who deny the existence of God want to run their own lives, and they don’t want anyone to interfere with the way they’re living. They want to be in control of everything they do, and they know that if they were to believe in God, they’d have to change their lifestyle. Instead of living by their own list of what’s right and wrong, they’d have to take seriously God’s moral standards.

Paul said in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot” (RSV). Why, then, should we allow our children to be taught unproven theories by secularists who refuse to put aside their presuppositions, misconceptions, biases, and personal worldview?

“Darkness” by Lord Byron

When I read this poem by Byron, it reminds me of the apocalyptic vision John shares with us is his Book of Revelation.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bring sun was extinguish’d, and the
stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the
moonless air;

Morn came and went—and came, and
brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the
dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light;
And they did live by watchfires—and the

thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were
consum’d.

And men were gather’d round their
blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the
eye
Of the volcanoes, and their mountain-
torch:
A fearful hope was all the world
contain’d;

Forests were set on fire—but hour by
hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling
trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was
black.

The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; lay
down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some
did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands,
and smil’d;

And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d
up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the
dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d; the
wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest
brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers
crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the
multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for
food,
And War, which for a moment was no
more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was
bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was
left;

All earth was but one thought—and that
was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as
their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were
devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save
one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at
bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping
dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out
no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he
died.

The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but
two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy
things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold
skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted
up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d,
and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they
died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose
brow
Famine had written Friend. The world was
void,
The populous and the powerful was a
lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless,
lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.

The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent
depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal; as
they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge

The waves were dead; the tides were in
their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d
before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant
air,
And the clouds perish’d;
Darkness had

no need
Of aid from them—She was the
Universe.

©1816 Lord Byron

Illegal Pills: An Overlooked Threat

A Joint Project by National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, and the Partnership For Safe Medicines. This Article was Originally Posted to opioidlibrary.org.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

For less than $500, an individual with ill intent can purchase a pill press and a counterfeit pill mold that allows them to turn cheap, readily available, unregulated ingredients into a six-figure profit. Criminals rely upon these pill presses to create dangerous counterfeit medications with toxic substances such as cheaply imported Fentanyl. Their deadly home-made products have reached 46 states in the United States. Of grave concern is the significant lack of manufacturing control utilized in the making of these counterfeit products. The inexperience of these “garage manufacturers” has killed unsuspecting Americans in 30 states.

Counterfeit medications that can kill someone with a single pill are a reality that is increasing at an alarming rate. This is a critical health issue that all three of our organizations are urgently striving to stay on top of.How do these criminals get their hands on pill presses? How are they evading customs inspections? Is possession of these presses illegal and if so, why are more people not charged with it?Recently, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and The Partnership for Safe Medicines joined together to research the extent of the pill press challenge for law enforcement and other first-responders. Key findings include:

  • Pill presses are broadly available for sale on the Internet and virtually untracked. These devices are successfully smuggled through customs because the enormous volume of packages makes compliance challenging. Data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shows pill press seizures at International Mail Facilities are increasing every year, growing 19 fold from 2011 to 2017.
  • The broad availability and sale of pill presses allow novice criminals to make millions of doses of nearly perfect-looking counterfeits that can have deadly consequences.
  • Possession of a pill press, while not well regulated, is at most a violation of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration requirement carrying no jail time. It only becomes a crime once you add a counterfeit pill mold. However, the prosecution of individuals for possession of a pill press with a counterfeit pill mold is also a rare occurrence and does not carry a sentence high enough to be a deterrent.
  • Disrupting the availability of pill presses will be a challenging process. Our research suggests that increasing criminal penalties for the possession or non-registration of a pill press alone is not likely to provide a sufficient deterrent because it relies on a change in charging behavior by prosecutors. Note: Some law enforcement interviewed suggested adding a sentencing enhancement that increases penalties for committing a drug-related crime with a pill press and suggested exploring serialization or registration as a technique to increase the frequency of indictments for illegal possession and manufacturing operations.

METHODOLOGY

To develop this study, staff from all three of our organizations conducted many hours of interviews, studied dozens of prosecutions, and reviewed interviews with many families of victims killed by illegally pressed pills. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI), and The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) each bring complementary expertise in patient safety, law enforcement, and regulatory issues related to the secure pharmaceutical supply chain. The goal is to help understand why America has seen a sudden increase in domestic counterfeit production, its impact on patient safety and law enforcement, and what is required to address the problem.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM

We are currently living through a public health emergency of unprecedented proportions: the opioid crisis. A factor that has made this crisis worse is how cheap and accessible tableting machines (often called pill presses) and counterfeit pill molds are a readily available tool to drug traffickers and organized criminal organizations. According to a 2016 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) brief, a small investment of $1,000 for a pill press and a pill mold, and a few thousand more for materials, including illicitly imported Fentanyl and binding agents, could yield between $5 to $20 million in salable counterfeit opioid pills. Desk-top pill presses can produce hundreds of pills per hour while easily fitting inside the trunk of a car. The demand and supply for these counterfeit pills have increased rapidly due to a multitude of varying factors. As regulators and policymakers focus on the problem of opioid over-prescribing by implementing important regulations such as prescription limits and production quota reductions, the street price of genuine diverted opioids increases.

In addition, illegal websites, many of them posing as Canadian pharmacies and/or operating on the increasingly accessible dark web have proliferated, and peddle an ever-increasing supply of counterfeit opioids to unsuspected patients. Pill presses provide an even faster and easier way to supply the increased demand. Today, pill presses, pill molds, and the ingredients to make counterfeit pills are illegally smuggled into the United States through trafficking networks, commercial cargo, and small packages with ease.

The overall number of products being shipped in small packages creates a volume so large that many things, including pill presses and molds, are easily concealed. Since Fentanyl is very potent, importing just a kilogram of illicit Fentanyl can help create a multi-million dollar operation. The pill presses themselves hide among the even larger amount of non-medical products, machine parts, industrial parts, and legitimate merchandise. Pill presses are such a poorly-recognized item that sellers can merely break them into three parts to completely obscure their nature.© March 2019 NABP, NADDI, and PSM.

Once illegal pill presses arrive in the United States, the “bootleg” product created can wreak havoc across an entire city in a single weekend. United States law enforcement has seized pill presses capable of producing thousands of counterfeits pills per hour. A single, poorly-made counterfeit containing one extra milligram of Fentanyl is deadly. As PSM’s research shows, fake pill makers both in the United States and outside the United States frequently add toxic levels of Fentanyl to counterfeit pills. More than half of the states in the United States have seen deaths due to these counterfeits containing lethal doses of synthetic opioids, especially Fentanyl.

While people struggling with substance use disorder are at the highest risk of being exposed to these dangerous counterfeits, the increased presence of deadly Fentanyl-laced counterfeits in America has seeped into every community. As these pills circulate, they find their way into the medicine cabinets of people unaware of the existence and potency of these “knockoff ” products. These “knockoffs ” are finding their way into the hands of United States residents and killing them. The existence of a counterfeit pill endangers all Americans, not just the purchaser.

HOW THESE PILLS ENTER THE MARKET

The declaration said the package contained a “hole puncher,” but upon examination, CBP concluded it was a pill press. CBP queried the DEA because it is illegal to import pill presses without prior permission from the agency.

The DEA Coordinator alerted field agents working on a case in the Long Beach, California area about the shipment and its intended destination. Multiple teams around the country were already working on investigations related to Subject Gary Resnik and his ring of drug dealers. The DEA obtained a warrant to put a GPS tracker on the pill press, and in April it was released to ship to Resnik and followed by law enforcement.It’s important to recognize when the interdiction process works. In this case, CBP caught the illegal pill press despite attempts to mislabel it to evade detection. Not only was it found, but it became a direct conduit and useful tool in uncovering a ring of counterfeiters and preventing the potential poisoning deaths of countless Americans. This is the type of story we heard over and over again as we talked to law enforcement; criminal conspiracies to make counterfeits require specific materials, and those materials are the threads you can follow to discover the crime and eradicate a criminal organization.

Based upon this data and other information gleaned during the investigation, the DEA agents working the case raided three locations used by the gang and seized six pill presses, presumably including the one shipped to them that was being monitored by law enforcement. While this case clearly outlines a success and is a great example of how the process is supposed to work, a few important lessons can be drawn from this example:

  1. Discovery of an illegal pill press’s importation is often used by law enforcement to locate illegal production sites, to uncover a counterfeiting ring, or to provide probable cause for search warrants and further investigation.
  2. This case study shows how well the interdiction and investigation teams can work, but also exemplifies how the criminal organization had already gotten their hands on five other pill presses that evaded interdiction.Seizures of pill presses are up 19-fold since 2011. In Tennessee alone, law enforcement seized 12 pill presses in 2017.

On the morning of September 18, 2017, while his parents were sleeping, ten-month-old Leo Holtz put a pretty colored pill that had fallen out of his father’s pocket into his mouth. Around 8:25 am his parents woke and found their baby blue and unresponsive. They called 9-1-1, but Leo could not be revived and was declared dead at Rady Children’s Hospital. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, investigators believe Leo’s father, Colin, bought the pills from Melissa Scanlan, who sourced her counterfeit Oxycodone pills from a drug cartel in Mexico. How-ever, even if the counterfeit Fentanyl pills came from someone else, nothing will ever change the fact that ten-month-old Leo Holz’s life was cut short because of a counterfeit Oxycodone pill made with Fentanyl. 

FEDERAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS

Possession of a pill press is not illegal. Buying or selling requires notification to the DEA, but there are no known penalties failing to do so. Possession of a counterfeit pill mold with or without a pill press violates 21 United States Code, § 333, with a criminal penalty of up to one year in jail and a possible fine of $1,000. If the perpetrator intended to defraud or mislead others regarding pill manufacturing the penalty can be up to three years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Actual use of a counterfeit pill press or pill mold in commerce violates 21 United States Code, § 333, and carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a possible fine of $1,000. Again, if the perpetrator intended to defraud or mislead others regarding the authenticity of the pill the penalty can be up to three years and a possible fine of up to $10,000.

Additionally, buying, selling, reselling, giving, importing, and exporting of pill presses is regulated by DEA. Any time a change of ownership occurs for one of these machines, the DEA requires you to file an electronic report. Importation requires this notification to be made in advance. Domestic transactions require that this notification is submitted within 15 days of the transaction. Domestic transactions also require additional verbal notification to the local DEA office or Special Agent in Charge. The electronic requirement for all transactions including domestic was added in 2017 and is outlined in this helpful presentation from the DEA’s Diversion Control Department.

STATE LAWS AND REGULATIONS

Many, but not all, states have laws that govern the practice of manufacturing prescription medications. These statutes often mirror the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Illegally owning a pill press with a mold to produce counterfeit pills is a criminal violation of such state laws. It’s important to note the distinction. The possession of a mold used to make copies of a trademarked pill (with the imprint of a trademarked logo) is an illegal act under state law. Only a handful of states regulate the pill press itself. Two of these states are Texas and Florida.

Discovery of a pill press may indicate that someone is engaging in the crime of counterfeit medicine manufacturing. Following the pill press to its destination can lead investigators to members of a criminal conspiracy that they might not have known about. It can also provide reasonable cause needed to obtain a search warrant. Dan Zsido, a veteran law enforcement officer from Florida and the National Training and Education Director for NADDI, explained that there is no point bringing a charge that will be dropped. He said, “Loading up a case with charges consumes valuable, limited, court resources with charges that are just going to be dropped or merged into the more major indictment anyway. This is how narcotics prosecutions have worked for years: if you get charged with trafficking, nobody will take the time to charge you with drug paraphernalia.”

Advocates who study medicine safety detest the broadly dispersed, cottage industry of drug counterfeiters. As with the fear of small meth labs percolating throughout the country, they are concerned that hundreds of criminals are capable of producing millions of doses of perfect-looking but deadly fake medicines. It is a public health and public safety concern.Even if you could make Fentanyl in the United States disappear tomorrow, this manufacturing capacity would still exist. Criminals could turn to other substances to use as the active ingredient in their counterfeit medicines. Unfortunately, drug traffickers adapt to the “drug of the day,” so merely removing a specific controlled substance does not minimize the threat of drug activity; it’s a social behavior issue.

IN CONCLUSION

Today the volume of medical products coming across the border is enormous. FDA Com-missioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. reported in March 2018 that less than 1% of all medical products coming into the country through International Mail Facilities are inspected. Counterfeit medicines are already extremely difficult to detect. If we legalize drug importation, it will be the same as tripling the size of that haystack (or worse). Finding the Fentanyl-type substances used to make these counterfeits products domestically with unregulated pill presses will be even more difficult and will create an even higher risk of harm to human life.

Law enforcement resources are currently stretched thin stemming the tide of synthetic opioids that are flooding our country. Many of them are presently chasing counterfeit opioids that are flooding our streets, as well as, responding to the overwhelming increases in daily overdoses. If we flood the country with suspect medications through drug importation, our first-responders’ workload would significantly increase because of the increased suspect drug supply and the resulting fallout.

Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Ten

Unfortunately, my weekly theology class posts got a bit behind. So today I am jumping to the tenth week of class. I started Systematic Theology II today, and will begin summarizing lessons from that class next Monday.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

We are presented with a critical theological question: Have we inherited Adam’s sin nature and his guilt?

MY PERSONAL BELIEF IS we are all held accountable for our own sins and called to work out our own salvation daily (Phil. 2:12). Paul says we are to do whatever God puts before us without complaining or questioning, adding, “for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13-14, RSV). Ezekiel covers this issue succinctly in chapter eighteen. He writes about a “word from God” in which the LORD said Israel was to no longer refer to the proverb that “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2).God clarifies in 18:4 that it is the soul who sins that shall die. This passage of Scripture clearly indicates that a father must “model” good and righteous behavior for his son.

Through what psychology calls social learning theory (to borrow from my undergraduate studies), children tend to mimic the behavior of their primary care givers or role models. This dovetails nicely with Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” If an upright father begets a son prone to evil and violence, that son shall lose his life. In fact, “his blood shall be upon himself” (18:13). Moreover, if a father who has done evil begets a son who chooses a righteous path rather than repeating the sins of the father, “he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live” (18:17, italics mine). God said, “The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (18:20).

I would be remiss, however, if I did not address Exodus 20:5b, which says, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” I’ve heard this passage explained from a sociological (albeit Judeo-Christian) perspective. The Zondervan Bible Commentary indicates that “the third and fourth generation reflects the greatest probable extent of the range of members of any one family actually living together in one household.” In other words, God wanted the Israelites to see the “lasting” impact their choices would likely have because of the nature of extended families at that time. This seems to indicate the “social learning theory” of children and grandchildren observing and imitating sinful or disobedient behavior. Isaiah 14:1-23 suggests it is Israel’s cause that will be pleaded in the quarrel with Babylon prophesied in Revelation 18.

There is much symbolism afoot regarding the oracles on God’s word to the nations (Isa. 13:1-23:18). I see this as a corporate issue rather than one of individual “guilt” or condemnation. Paul addresses the concept of guilt under the New Covenant. He says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:12-14, 17).

If we look at the question of inherited guilt versus inherited sin from a position of covenant, we can better understand that there was no remedy for our sin nature under the Old Covenant. Consider the Abrahamic (or Land) Covenant. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and of many descendants, and that He would give the entire Land of Canaan to Abraham’s heirs. Unfortunately, many Jews had begun to mumble and complain, and to doubt God. They were fearful of the “giants” occupying the land promised to them by God. Because of disobedience and fear (indeed, the lack of faith, which is sinfu), the Israelites living at the time of the Land Covenant were barred from entering. God was angered, but His response was very specific: “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephun’neh; he shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land upon which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD” (Deut. 1:36, italics mine).

Wayne Grudem, in Systematic Theology, is adamant that we inherited Adam’s guilt. The biblical authority for his position is Romans 5:12: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” He also cites Romans 5:18, “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” In context, however, the apostle Paul seems to be talking about justification and reconciliation, juxtaposing it with condemnation and trespass. Paul writes, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (5:19). There is a comparison here of law, sin, and offense to grace and righteousness. The Revised Standard Version does not use the word “guilt” in any of these passages. Neither does the KJV, NASB, or the NIV. Instead, there are numerous references to sin and trespass. The word trespass in Greek and Hebrew indicates an action or offense. It seems to point to an “event” wherein man chose to defy God and commit a forbidden act. For me, we inherit Adam’s nature to sin and disobey, but we are not held accountable for his personal act of disobedience. If this were so, would the Word of God not explicitly state that we are condemned because of Adam’s disobedience; that we must be sentenced to eternal damnation to excuse Adam’s offense?

In addition to the above exegetical reasons, I do not think God expects us to carry our own guilt, let alone the guilt of previous generations. Paul wrote these words, which I believe will clarify how we are viewed by God, and how we should see ourselves, under the New Covenant: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 7:24-8:2). Grudem says, “The most persuasive answer to the objection [that we inherited Adam’s guilt] is to point out that if we think it is unfair for us to be represented by Adam, then we should also think it is unfair for us to be represented by Christ and to have his righteousness imputed to us by God” (p. 495). I agree with Grudem in part, but I don’t see it as indicating we are “guilty” of someone else’s sin or offense. Paul says sin came into the world by one man (Rom. 5:12), and, accordingly, the judgment following man’s original offense brought condemnation (Rom. 5:16). Agreed. Man is condemned to sin because we inherited Adam’s sin nature. Paul does not say, however, that we are being held accountable (adjudicated as guilty) for Adam’s original offense.

In fact, looking into Romans 5 using the Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament, I see reference to sin entering the world through one man, which verse fourteen calls “transgression” and “offense.” Because of this original offense, “many died.” Analysis of verse seventeen indicates death reigned because of original sin, but it has been countered by grace through the “second” man, that is Christ. According to the Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans 5 serves to contrast the hopelessness of man (through Adam) with the gift of righteousness (through faith in Christ). Adam is said to be “a pattern, foreshadowing his future Counterpart: both are heads and inclusive representatives of the human creation, Adam of the old and Christ of the new.” This makes perfect exegetical sense to me. This “foreshadowing” includes all of  mankind, as Adam’s disobedience carried with it the consequence of both physical and spiritual death. Because of Adam, man was forcibly removed from the Garden; this served to cut him off from “direct access” to the tree of life and communion with God.

A “veil” as it were was put between man and God. The Zondervan Bible Commentary includes a quote from F. J. Leenhardt: “Since the entry of sin each man who is born into the world… finds a compromised situation confronting him…each generation and each individual act in such a way that the inner strength of rising individuals and generations is enfeebled, deflected and at times destroyed.” It seems clear to me that we are not held accountable for Adam’s original sin, therefore we are not guilty of that offense. However, we are under the control of sin because of Adam’s initial transgression. All have sinned since the time that our first parents disobeyed God. Our inherent sin nature takes away our freedom to choose righteousness and goodness. But through the obedience of the “second” man, there is therefore no condemnation. We are not held accountable for our own sins after accepting Christ. How could we be held to answer for what Adam did?

My thoughts on this matter are rooted in Augustine and Arminius. It was Augustine’s opinion that because man is a totally depraved sinner, lacking the ability to choose righteousness or good, it was necessary for God to initiate the process of salvation. Augustine believed that all individuals existed in Adam’s nature, so Adam’s sin was actually our sin. He said we inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin and its ultimate penalty: death. Of course, man was banished from the Garden, and, therefore, access to the Tree of Life (archetypal Jesus?). It seems the Reformed belief is that Adam was our “corporate” representative, and that when he sinned it was counted as sin for everyone. God’s grace is required in order to preordain man to choose properly, and it must precede any response to salvation. Augustine held that this so-called prevenient grace was given only to the elect.

This is quite similar to what Calvinists call special or electing grace. Arminius believed that man is depraved in every area of his being and, therefore, devoid of any righteousness or goodness. He did not believe we suffer any penalty for Adam’s original sin. In fact, Arminius said, ” It may admit of discussion, whether God could be angry on account of original sin which was born with us, since it seemed to be inflicted on us by God as a punishment of the actual sin which had been committed by Adam and by us in Him…. I did not deny that it was sin, but it was not actual sin…. We must distinguish between actual sin, and that which was the cause of other sins, and which, on this very account might be denominated “sin” (emphasis mine).

Wesley is well-known for believing nothing is sin, strictly speaking, except one’s individual transgression of a known Law of God. Based on Romans 5:15-19, Wesley believed that the death of Christ completely absolved Adam’s posterity of the eternal guilt of his original sin. In any event, I believe two things regarding God’s preordained plan for redemption: (1) that it was intended to provide the ultimate blood sacrifice for all of man’s sins, regardless of who committed them or how intentional or “accidental” those offenses were; and (2) that the death of Christ severed the “chain” of sin at the time Adam sinned (as God and all His intentions are not subject to time restrictions), and continues to this day to have interrupted the chain of guilt. We still have to consider Scripture, some of which you quoted in your reply to my initial post. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (RSV). Ephesians 2:3 tells us we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Matthew Henry indicates that Ephesians 2:1-10 addresses the nature of sin, man’s tendency toward sin, man’s state of “being naturally children of disobedience” and “children of wrath.” He adds, “Being born of God: he lives, being delivered from the guilt of sin, by pardoning and justifying grace.” 3 According to Dake, Ephesians 2:3 is specific to our being sinners by nature, born into sin. Romans 5:12 says, ” Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam” (emphasis mine). What does this mean to you? If we are held accountable for sins “not like” those of Adam, does Paul indicate here we are not adjudicated “guilty” for Adam’s individual sin, but are burdened with our own transgressions after the nature of disobedience exemplified by Adam? Please understand that I believe we inherited our sin nature from Adam; I am not convinced we are considered “guilty” in God’s eyes for Adam’s personal offense, i.e., his disobedience.

Universalism would say all babies go to Heaven because they believe everyone (eventually) will be saved. Universalism is not based on biblical doctrine. Because the Bible reveals that we are born tainted by original sin, we cannot claim that infants are born in a state of innocence. This question requires careful and faithful biblical exegesis and theological reflection. From a sentimental vantage, many will assure the parents of those whose child died very young that their child is in Heaven, but we must never base doctrine on what we hope may be true. We must determine what the Bible reveals to be true. It is also important to note that merely basing our answer on election actually avoids answering the question. Let’s remember that God is absolutely sovereign in salvation. He provides salvation to us despite the fact that we do not deserve it and can do nothing to earn it. It is all of grace. Accordingly, I believe Jesus graciously and freely receives those who die in infancy, but this is not based on their innocence or worthiness. It is based solely on His grace, and made possible by atonement He purchased on the cross. Any response beyond this would require an exegetical study.

References

Bruce, F.F., editor, Zondervan Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2008.

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 1997.

Marshall, A., editor. The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1958.

 

Scientism: Is it a “Religion” or is it Science?

Our children are growing up in a post-Christian culture in which the public often views people of faith as irrelevant or even, in some cases, extremist. In his book Scientism and Secularism, J.P. Moreland articulates a way of friendly engagement with the prevailing worldview of Scientism.

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IN HIS BLOG POST Be Careful, Your Love of Science Looks a Lot Like Religion, Jamie Holmes writes, “Science is usually equated by proponents of this view with empiricism or, in many fields, with a method of inquiry that employs controls, blinding, and randomization. Now, a small group of contemporary psychologists have published a series of provocative experiments showing that faith in science can serve the same mentally-stabilizing function as religious beliefs.” What is this thing called “Scientism?” It is said to be an excessive or exclusive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. It names science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

Okay. But what does that mean? The claim that scientific judgement is akin to value judgement is often accompanied by the normative claim that scientific judgment should be guided by so-called epistemic or cognitive values. Epistemology refers to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. We can immediately recognize the “religious” language in the above definition: e.g., justified belief. The problem with such a viewpoint is this: Justified by whom and against what ultimate truth?

Much of this worldview, which is actually a secularization of nature and existence, is rooted in the Enlightenment, during which time philosophers decided that reason and individualism should prevail rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by seventeenth-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent promoters include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith. We must remember that worldview means a set of presuppositions (assumptions that may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world. Scientism is, accordingly, a worldview. Admittedly, Christianity is also a worldview.

A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance of the evidence. Generally, a presupposition is a core belief—a belief that one holds as “self-evident” and not requiring proof for its validity. A presupposition is something that is assumed to be true and is taken for granted. Of course, there is a pejorative quality to this term. Synonyms include prejudice, forejudgment, preconceived opinion, fixed conclusion, based upon a priori knowledge. To be fair to this concept, a priori knowledge simply means knowledge possessed independent of experience—that knowledge which we cannot help but bring to our experience in order to make sense of the world. Some philosophers, such as Locke, believe all our knowledge is a posteriori—that the mind begins as a “blank slate.” In order to level the playing field, we must all come to realize that every worldview, whether secular or Christian, contains a degree of presupposition. Christianity, however, has been coming up true and accurate more and more as science and archaeology uncovers empirical proof of the accuracy of the Bible.

Charles Colson, in his book How Now Shall We Live, writes, “We must show the world that Christianity is more than a private belief, more than personal salvation. We must show that it is a comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose?” (Colson and Pearcy, 1999, xi) [italics mine]. The Christian worldview breaks these huge questions down to three distinct categories:

  • Creation. Where did we come from, and who are we?
  • Fall. What has gone wrong with the world?
  • Redemption. What can we do to fix it?

Christianity is a Worldview

Colson believes the way we see the world can change the world. As believers, in every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world (part of the problem) or participating with God, through his Son and us, to transform the world to reflect His righteousness and grace (part of the solution). This requires us to see reality through the lens of divine revelation. Arguably, the term worldview may sound abstract or “philosophical” (indeed, it may even sound like a “head in the clouds” perspective); a topic that must be relegated to college professors and students in the halls of academia. Keep in mind, however, that understanding and acknowledging one’s worldview is tremendously productive.

Christianity cannot sit back and consider itself a mere belief system, reduced to little more than a private feeling or “experience,” completely devoid of objective facts or physical evidence. In their book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell consider evidence for matters such as the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the historical (actual) resurrection of Jesus from the dead, revealing strong historical evidence that confirms the Christian worldview. If we have the authentic words of Jesus claiming to be God, evidence that He genuinely performed miracles, and confirmation that Jesus rose from the grave, then Christianity is undeniably true.

Naturalism, the other side of the coin, permeates Western culture, claiming that only physical things exist and that all phenomena can ultimately be explained by the combination of chance and natural laws. This worldview underlies much rejection of metaphysical causes or origins. The New Atheists take particular aim at intelligent design and the deity of Christ. Interestingly, naturalism has absolutely no explanation for the origin of matter or life, the existence of consciousness, the nature of free will, or objective morality. This quest is  true regardless of geopolitical position. All of mankind asks these basic questions. In any event, Anthony Flew (in Licona, 2010, p. 115), a former atheist, said “The occurrence of the resurrection [has] become enormously more likely.”

Scientism as Religion

In 2013, a study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology​ found that when subjects were stressed, they were more likely to agree to statements typifying science such as, “the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.” When people felt anxious, they esteemed science more highly than calmer subjects did, just as previous experiments have shown to be the case with religious ideals. Therefore, beliefs about science are often defended emotionally, even when they’re wrong, as long as they provide a reassuring sense of order. That is to say, beliefs about science may be defended thoughtlessly—even unscientifically. Scientism, accordingly, seems to both religious and scientific outlooks as a soothing balm to our existential anxieties. What we believe, the parallel implies, can sometimes be less important than h​ow ​we believe it. This would indicate that a deep faith in science as the only means for explanation of the origin of matter and life, and the meaning existence, is a form of irrational extremism.

Does this view merely negate scientism, or does it also indict Christianity? This is not meant to be a cop-out, but the answer depends on individual worldviews. In other words, if a believer in Christ refuses to consider science at all, stating it has no explanation for the natural world, he or she is viewing the world with eyes closed, misunderstanding all they see. Moreover, such an individual is ignoring the numerous scientific discoveries proposed by Christians and theists over the centuries; please note the wide range of scientific fields represented below (philosophy of science; botany; astronomy; physics; mathematics; chemistry; electricity and electromagnetism; biology, microbiology, and neurobiology; subatomic theory; psychiatry; neuropsychiatry; genetics; information theory):

  • Robert Grosseteste, patron saint of scientists, Oxford, founder of scientific thought, wrote texts on optics, astronomy, and geometry.
  • William Turner, father of English botany.
  • Francis Bacon, established inductive “scientific method.”
  • Galileo Galilei, revolutionary astronomer, physicist, philosopher, mathematician.
  • Blaise Pascal, known for Pascal’s Law (physics), Pascal’s Theorem (math), and Pascal’s Wager (theology).
  • Robert Boyle, scientist, theologian, Christian apologist, who said science can improve glorification of God.
  • Isaac Newton, discovered the properties of gravity.
  • Johannes Kepler, astronomer, discovered planetary motion.
  • Joseph Priestly, clergyman and scientist, discovered oxygen.
  • Michael Faraday, established electromagnetic theory and electrolysis.
  • Charles Babbage, information theorist, mathematician, pioneer in computer programming.
  • Louis Pasteur, biologist, microbiologist and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization.
  • Lord Kelvin, mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. 
  • J.J. Thompson, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron and discovery of the first subatomic particle.
  • Johannes Reinke, phycologist and naturalist who strongly opposed Darwin.
  • George Washington Carver, American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life.  
  • Max Born, German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. 
  • Michael Polanyi, appointed to a Chemistry chair in Berlin, but in 1933 when Hitler came to power he accepted a Chemistry chair (and then in 1948 a Social Sciences chair) at the University of Manchester. Wrote Science, Faith, and Society.
  • Rod Davies, professor of radio astronomy at the University of Manchester, known for his research on the cosmic microwave background in the universe.
  • Peter Dodson, American paleontologist who has published many papers and written and collaborated on books about dinosaurs.
  • Charles Foster, science writer on natural history, evolutionary biology, and theology.
  • John Gurdon, British developmental biologist, discovered that mature cells can be converted to stem cells. 
  • Paul R. McHugh, American psychiatrist whose research has focused on the neuroscientific foundations of motivated behaviors, psychiatric genetics, epidemiology, and neuropsychiatry. 
  • Kenneth R. Miller, molecular biologist, wrote Finding Darwin’s God.
  • John D. Barrow, English cosmologist based at the University of Cambridge who did notable writing on the implications of the Anthropic principle.

J.P. Moreland

In his book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, Moreland (2018, p. 16) writes, “As the ideas that constitute scientism have become more pervasive in our culture, the Western world has turned increasingly secular and the centers of culture (the universities, the media and entertainment industry, the Supreme Court) have come increasingly to regard religion as a private superstition. It is no surprise, then, that when our children go to college, more and more of them are just giving up on Christianity.” Scientism claims that only the “hard” sciences can discover and explain reality. It also believes everything else is based on private emotions, blind faith, or cultural upbringing. Moreover, scientism believes reliance on religious explanation for the origin of matter and life has yielded no reality at all. Simply put, theology and philosophy offer no truth whatsoever and, accordingly, are of no repute.

I find it fascinating that Christian theology does not make the same stinging conclusion about science. As we saw above, many great scientists, inventors, and discoverers throughout history (including many contemporary pioneers in science) were or are Christians or theists. Each of them believe God’s general revelation (that is, the natural order of things and the origin of matter and life) speak loudly of God as our intelligent designer. I, too, hold this view. Nanoscientist James Tour said, “Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.” This is the basis for the Teleological Argument that (i) every design has a designer, (ii) the universe has a highly complex design, therefore (iii) the universe had a designer.

Atheism Requires More Faith Than Not Believing!

Postmodern culture has made every attempt to destroy truth. It teaches that the idea of truth and morality are “relative” to the circumstance, person, or era; that there is no such thing as absolute truth. This zeitgeist is prevalent in academia today in our public schools and most (if not all) secular universities. The postmodernist thinks not believing in ultimate truth or metaphysical explanations regarding the universe means one is “enlightened” and, therefore, not reliant on “dogmatic thought.” Interestingly, despite the postmodern belief that there is no absolute truth or morality, society seems to behave as though it exists. Yet these supposedly bright and enlightened ones insist that “truth” is merely a social contract defined and maintained by the powerful to remain “in power.” Admittedly, truth has fallen victim to modern culture. The modern ideas of tolerance and pluralism are a direct result of taking God out of the equation.

The term “university” is actually a composite of the words “unity” and “diversity.” Our universities should allow for the pursuit of knowledge and truth through such unity.

I find it curious that liberal secularists insist on tolerance, yet they have absolutely no tolerance for non-secular worldviews. This is non-tolerance! Perhaps they see “tolerance” differently than the rest of us; they seem to think it does not simply mean treating those with different ideas respectfully and civilly. If you think they are not using disrespect and intolerance to defend their “religion” of naturalism and scientism, then log on to YouTube and find a couple of debates to watch between believers (such as Dinesh D’Souza, Ravi Zacharias, Ken Ham) and the so-called New (or “militant”) Atheists (which includes Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins). In nearly every instance, and despite some atheists with a background in science, they attack Christ, Christianity, and, more typically, the believer rather than providing a convincing argument against intelligent design.

It is rather easy for the postmodern secularist to avoid confronting or defending the notion of intelligent design and creation science because he or she rejects the idea of absolute truth and the Law of Non-contradiction at the start. Rather than engaging in an intelligent point/counterpoint debate, the postmodernist goes about town moralizing to everyone about the importance of tolerance without having to explain the inherent contradiction presented by his or her closed mind regarding all things spiritual or metaphysical. This smacks of intellectual fraud. They simply do not practice what they preach—especially toward Christians. Why is this? One thought is because Christianity is truth, and Jesus knew the world would reject his followers in the same manner they rejected Him. Truth, on one hand, sets us free. But it also confounds and convicts those who reject it and peddle a counterfeit reality.

There is a degree of “political correctness” in this attitude. Even many churches have been corrupted and misguided by the unsustainable notion that pluralism allows for tolerance. Many have allowed their theology to be watered down and have permitted the authority of Scripture to be undermined in favor of society’s “evolved” or “advanced” ideas on morality. Unfortunately, many Christians and their church leaders have become an accomplice to the denigration of truth. This is a conscious and deliberate disobedience of the Great Commission presented to the body of believers by Christ before his ascension (see Matt. 28:16-20).

A Dangerous Division

Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, though a prominent critic of intelligent design, has claimed he is not atheistic. Science and religion cannot conflict, he believes, because they deal with different subject matter: science is about empirical facts, whereas religion is about meaning and morality. Unfortunately, many of today’s Christians are falling for this rather dangerous division of science and theology. As a result, they are ill-prepared to give an answer for the faith they have in the gospel. A negative side-effect of this lack of preparedness is the tendency to either shy away from defending the gospel or doing so from a militant or insulting position. Neither of these reactions are within the scope of 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV).

We cannot allow the surgical division of science and Christianity to persist. As noted above, many Christians have made groundbreaking scientific discoveries over the centuries. In fact, the list I provided is incomplete. Space does not allow the listing of all scientists who were Christians or theists. It is also important to note that because all truth is God’s truth, the Bible and science are not diametrically opposed. The means by which the New Atheists make this claim is unfair. It is literally a comparison of apples to oranges. To say that science can explain every aspect of creation is to misuse applied or experimental science when the proper tool is “historical” science. We cannot test the past to see if certain empirical theories are possible. We do not have a time machine.

Further, no one has been able to “create” the building blocks of life (the necessary enzymes, proteins, and genetic code) in a laboratory. No one has an explanation for the origin of biological information needed to establish Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Modern science knows full-well that, ultimately, life is a molecular phenomenon. All organisms are made of molecules that act as the very building blocks required for origin and operation. Living cells require a constant supply of energy to generate and maintain the biological order that keeps them alive. This energy is derived from the chemical bond energy in food molecules. The proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides that make up most of the food we eat must be broken down into smaller molecules before our cells can use them—either as a source of energy or as building blocks for other molecules. The breakdown processes must act on food taken in from outside, but not on the macromolecules inside our own cells. It’s as if we have tiny nuts and bolts, gears and pulleys, of biological “equipment” inside us. How brilliant is that? We are like the pocket watch found on the ground in the woods by a hiker; we’re fearfully and wonderfully made, with highly intricate biochemical and physical operations, that can come only from a “watchmaker.”

Although it contains one, Christianity is not merely a worldview. Nor is it simply “a religion.” If it were, then it might deserve the reputation of being a narrowly pious view of the world. Thankfully, Christianity is an objective perspective on all reality, a complete worldview, that consistently stands up to the test of practical living. Additionally, it is about our relationship with the Creator. We become one with Christ when we choose to make Him Lord and Savior. This is a great litmus test for deciding whether a particular “branch” or “sect” of Christianity is genuine. Accordingly, we can admit that “false prophets” have arisen. I’m reminded of Jim Jones and David Koresh. Today’s atheists love to talk about all the people murdered over the centuries in the name of Christ. They don’t respond well to the rebuttal that millions were murdered by people who were not followers of Christ, typically in the interest of genocide: Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin, Ho Chi Mihn, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Il-Sung, Augusto Pinochet, and (drum roll please) the worst, Mao Ze Dung.

References

Colson, Charles, and Pearcy, N. How Now Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House), 1999.

Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2010.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S., Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2017.

Moreland, J.P., Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2018.

Addressing the Socioeconomic Complexities of Addiction—Lessons from the Kensington Neighborhood in Philadelphia

From the Monthly Blog of Dr. Lora Volkow, Dir., National Institute on Drug Abuse
Originally Posted October 29, 2019 here.

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This September, Dr. Volkow was invited by Thomas Farley, the Health Commissioner of Philadelphia, to see firsthand how that city is responding to the opioid crisis. With other members of NIDA leadership, she toured Prevention Point, a private non-profit organization providing harm reduction services to Philadelphia and the surrounding area. The group also visited the health unit of the city’s Prisons Department, where they recently started a program that provides medications to prisoners with opioid addiction, and they met with outreach workers from Temple University who operate a mobile treatment unit that provides medications and behavioral health services for opioid addiction, as well as basic wound care.

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Philadelphia’s rate of overdose deaths skyrocketed this past decade, tripling the city’s number of homicide deaths and greatly exceeding the peak number of deaths from AIDS in 1994. With one fifth the population of Manhattan, Philadelphia still has almost as many overdose deaths. It was humbling not only to see the challenges facing a city with a longstanding opioid problem but also to see the engagement and dedication of people on the ground attempting to help, as well as the struggles of those battling their own drug addiction amidst extremely hard socioeconomic challenges.

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Prevention Point’s Wound Care Clinic offers free, specialized wound care for all people

Whenever Dr. Volkow asks people on the front lines of America’s drug crisis what more NIDA can do to support and help their work, they remind her how essential it is to address the basic needs of individuals with addiction, such as stable and safe housing, food, basic medical care, and an opportunity for employment.  In the addiction field, NIDA has recognized the importance of addressing these basic needs as part of recovery support. Yet, it is crucial to realize that these needs have to be met even before a person is in stable recovery in order to facilitate them getting to recovery at all.  People cannot recover from addiction if they are homeless, isolated, and struggling to find food and safety.

Located in Kensington, one of Philadelphia’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, Prevention Point, which began three decades ago in response to the AIDS crisis, offers medications for opioid use disorder (buprenorphine and naltrexone), distributes Narcan (Naloxone) kits for reversal of opioid overdoses, and provides sterile syringes to reduce the risk of infections. It also offers testing for HIV and HCV and treatment referral when needed, wound care (people who inject drugs frequently develop infections), and linkage to behavioral health treatment.

Additionally, the center provides temporary housing and meals, as well as case management and a wide array of other non-medical services to people experiencing homelessness and struggling with addiction, such as legal services and mail services for clients who would otherwise be unable to file and receive needed paperwork. Under the impressive leadership of Executive Director Jose Benitez and Associate Executive Director Silvana Mazzella, Prevention Point provides these services with a very limited budget (facilitated by both public and private funding), in an old church.

Man Giving Money To Beggar On Street

By visibly providing support and care for individuals with addiction, Prevention Point is embraced by some in the community but resisted by others. Some view treatment as competition for the drug market; others fear how it may affect the neighborhood’s potential for renovation and gentrification. With addiction services historically segregated from the rest of healthcare, the “not in my backyard” (“NIMB”) problem has long been a major factor in impeding access to treatment.

NIDA’s visit to Philadelphia drove home why America needs to address the stigma that still surrounds opioid addiction and its treatment. It also drove home why addressing the crisis will require a comprehensive approach—including treatment with medications along with harm-reduction (like needle exchange), as well as case management and an array of non-medical services that can attend to people’s basic needs, including helping them build meaningful social relationships.

It is crucial that drug treatment specialists do more research to find ways of effectively delivering such services and support to all communities, both urban and rural, that need them. It will require more collaborative engagement between researchers and community-level providers, volunteers, and people suffering from substance use disorders—the HEALing Communities Study, which is getting underway in four hard-hit states, is a start.

In conclusion, Dr. Volkow said, “I also strongly encourage scientists who work in other aspects of addiction research to spend time at local addiction service providers to get a firsthand understanding of the challenges faced by those on the front lines, to visit neighborhoods that have been devastated by addiction, and to speak to those afflicted. It can be a valuable reminder of how every aspect of a person’s life—from employment, to housing, to interpersonal relationships—can be either a vulnerability or an asset on the road to addiction recovery. “