Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Evolution, Pt. 5: What Are We Afraid Of?

Aside from bad grammar, what are we afraid of? Sometimes I just can't get over the inordinate displays of emotion connected to the evolution debate. I suppose many people are convinced that their faith, the very truth of Christianity, is at stake. I no longer see this as the issue. However, even if this was the issue, should we be afraid? Should we be trembling? Do we really see the church and her creeds as being so fragile and tenuous that they might topple over at any time? God forbid.

What of scientists? Why are they so dogmatic and red-in-the-face concerning Darwin and his Holy Inquisition? Are they afraid their 100+ years of research and bone-digging will be wisked away with the next breeze? May it never be!

Then wherefore our fears? Why is it easier to conduct a middle-east peace summit than an affable debate on evolution?

The next time you feel your pulse race and your palms sweat at the first mention of Duane Gish or Australopithecus, ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?" Perhaps we can banish the spectre that looms over this debate and begin to make some progress through friendly, rational discourse.

Freud Sells Beer

I heard a great story on NPR the other day about how a man named Edward Bernays, a nephew of Freud, used Freud's ideas to pioneer the public relations/advertising industry. Essentially, he learned from his uncle that people aren't motivated by reason and rational argument, but rather by unconsious, primitive desires and repressed sexual urges. Thus, the way to successfully market a product involved bypassing the rational and appealing to the unconscious, irrational and emotional. Sound anything like today's TV commercials?
Monday, April 25, 2005

A Little Learning

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first Sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Arts,
While from the bounded Level of our Mind,
Short Views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But more advanc'd, behold with strange Surprize
New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!
So pleas'd at first, the towring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the Vales, and seem to tread the Sky;
Th' Eternal Snows appear already past,
And the first Clouds and Mountains seem the last:
But those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing Labours of the lengthen'd Way,
Th' increasing Prospect tires our wandering Eyes,
Hills peep o'er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Is the internet a blessing or a curse? It puts vast storehouses of knowledge at our fingertips, and yet it is not able to impart wisdom and understanding. All too often I encounter people who have been seduced by their own trivia-accumulation into believing that they actually know something. Our limitless access to information has made the virtue of intellectual humility more difficult to come by.

What we need is not more information, but a deeper understanding of the few things that actually matter. Even the average Christian knows too much Bible. As Howard Hendricks, professor emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary, says, "Many Christians are like bad photographs -- overexposed and underdeveloped." We pity our fellow faithful from past centuries who were deprived of their own personal Bibles and countless Christian books. But has our formation kept pace with our bookshelves?

Whether in our universities or our churches, our penchant for bite-size wisdom and incessant google-ing is crippling our minds and souls. We don't even know how much we don't know. Arrogance abounds and opinons multiply, but are we really learning anything?
Saturday, April 23, 2005

Remembering Clive

A post from another of my favorite blogs encourages us all to revisit Mere Christianity as an annual tribute to the genius and faith of Prof. Lewis.
Thursday, April 21, 2005

Does God Play Dice?

A friend at Duke Divinity School sent me a great quote from Stanely Hauerwas concerning Open Theism. I'm not necessarily endorsing Hauerwas' views, but he is one smart guy. Here it is:

"Open Theism is speculative metaphysics for evangelicals who never learnedhow to think theologically to being with. They could not recognize the doctrine of the Trinity if their lives depended on it. I have no use for OpenTheism."

Arnold Meets Jesus

My blog needs some comic relief. Find it here.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dropping the "A": An Interview with Antony Flew

I've spoken to several people lately about an exclusive interview done by Philisophia Christi with former atheist Antony Flew. Flew was undoubtedly the most famous living atheist, having published many of the most important essays defending unbelief in the last century. Read here how at 81 years old Flew has abandonded atheism and what changed his mind.

Habemus Papam

Pope Benedict XVI
Thursday, April 14, 2005

Loving God with Your Mind

A theologian and an astronomer struck up a conversation at a party one evening. The astronomer declared, “I don’t know why you theologians fuss over things like transubstantiation, substitutionary atonement and predestination. All I need to know about theology I learned in kindergarten – ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’.” To which the theologian replied, “I don’t know why you astronomers make such a big deal about astrobiology, dark matter and molecular gas-clouds. All I need to know about astronomy, I too, learned in kindergarten – ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.”

We would never accept such a childish understanding of astronomy among adults, but it’s often a different story when it comes to Christianity. Most believers today would see intellectual pursuits and complex, theological discussions as detrimental to the life of faith – something to be avoided. The virtues of “simple faith” are applauded, and we are encouraged to guard ourselves against the enemies of “philosophy and empty deception.”

Anti-intellectualism has had many detrimental effects on the American church, one of which is the spawning of an irrelevant gospel. Most gospel presentations are aimed at felt-needs and emotions, rather than the mind or will. The trouble with this is it fails to reach people who have no felt-need for the gospel. We need to contend for the veracity of our faith, not merely its psychological benefits. Consider this exchange that recently took place between William Lane Craig and a frustrated, skeptical student:

“Many students have difficulty grasping the idea that religious belief is anything more than subjective feelings. One student asked, “Shouldn’t we just rely on ourselves instead of placing our faith in some illusion?” When I responded that I had given extensive evidence that the resurrection was not an illusion, he retorted, “But I have no need to believe in that!” I replied, “I’m not telling you to believe in it because you need to; I’m telling you to believe in it because it’s true,” which brought loud applause and laughter.”

Another consequence is the marginalization of the church in American culture. When Christians began to withdraw from academia in the 19th century and early 20th century, we left our posts unguarded. As a result, the enemy has invaded and taken over. Now we are unwelcome in the halls of higher learning, and religion is expected to remain a privatized activity. R.C. Sproul says it well:

“The church is safe from vicious persecution at the hands of the secularist, as educated people have finished with stake-burning circuses and torture racks. No martyr’s blood is shed in the secular west. So long as the church knows her place and remains quietly at peace on her modern reservation. Let the babes pray and sing and read their Bibles, continuing steadfastly in their intellectual retardation; the church’s extinction will not come by sword . . . but by the quiet death of irrelevance. But let the church step off the reservation, let her penetrate once more the culture of the day and the . . . face of secularism will change from a benign smile to a savage snarl.”

The current Creation-Evolution debate (see previous posts) that rages on here in Oz is a prime example. Christians abandoned the universities long ago, and now the chickens have come home to roost. Scientists and educators don’t want us bringing “religion” into the state-sponsored classroom, and Christians don’t want the state contradicting what their children learn in church. When worlds collide – watch out. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

What the church needs is a renaissance of its rich intellectual history. Instead of churches eyeing academia with suspicion, they should be encouraging their young people to integrate their Christianity with their studies and pursue terminal degrees in all fields. We need not only the average believer to love God with her mind, but the academically-gifted must answer the call to defend the Church against her enemies. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. . . .The learned life then is, for some, a duty.”

If the Church wants to have an impact in our culture, it must rediscover the life of the mind and its crucial role in the renovation of the soul.
Thursday, April 07, 2005

Evolution, Pt. 4: Is MN Question-Begging?

One of the main road blocks that the Intelligent Design (ID) movement faces is the widespread acceptance of methodological naturalism (MN). I should mention that it is not clear to me that all the claims of the ID movement are true, but the more interesting question is, “Is ID real science?” Defenders of MN would say, “No.” But is MN itself merely question-begging?

Question-begging, or petitio principii, is when one’s conclusion is simply a restatement of one’s premises. An example would be, “Capital punishment is wrong because taking someone’s life is something we have no business doing!” or “The Bible is the Word of God because it is divinely inspired.” So how is MN also an example? MN essentially claims that science should not entertain non-natural causes. Why? Because non-natural causes are simply not allowed in scientific endeavors. No real argument is being given as to why we should accept this conclusion. It is simply being asserted.

Some theistic scientists will claim that MN is justified based on the idea that God acts in the universe “exclusively through natural secondary causes.”[1] But on what grounds is this claim to be justified? Robert Larmer states, “All the great theistic religions seem to claim precisely the opposite. They all claim events that seem best explained in terms of God acting directly in nature. It seems difficult, for example, to think of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes as an event that would naturally occur.”

Other defenders of MN will use argument based on pragmatic grounds, i.e., “the way we do science now works the best.” I will not take issue with this claim at the moment, but it fails to address the charge of question-begging, and thus fails to uphold MN on rational grounds.

[1] Robert A. Larmer, “Is Methodological Naturalism Question-Begging?” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 120-1.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Evolution, Pt. 3 (Cont'd.)

Here is a helpful post by William Dembski dealing with the "Is ID science?" question.
Monday, April 04, 2005

Evolution, Pt. 3: What Is Science?

One of the seminal questions in the entire evolution debate is, "what qualifies as science?" The majority of the scientific community adheres to a view frequently called methodological naturalism (MN). In this view, the scientist must assume naturalism (the belief that the universe is a closed, physical system) for methodological purposes. I.e., a scientist cannot include supernatural agents or causes, viz., God, in the range of possible explanations for the phenomena being studied. This is not to be confused with metaphysical naturalism (MphN), which is the view that such supernatural agents do not, in fact, exist. This would be the equivalent of atheism, which a significant percentage of scientists would not embrace.

The justification for MN is typically a pragmatic one. "If we start positing God as an explanation for phenomena, then scientific research will be stunted. What further explanation or inquiry would be needed?" I can sympathize with this view, but I must bring up one issue that concerns me. While I agree that we should pursue naturalistic explanations whenever possible, is there no point at which we would accept a supernatural one? What kind of evidence, or lack of evidence, would be necessary to justify a supernatural explanation? If you hold that there is no possible scenario in which such a conclusion would be warranted, i.e., supernatural explanations are disqualified a priori, then doesn't this seem like unscientific prejudice? Don't we always follow where the evidence leads, no matter what?

I would welcome the thoughts of my more enlightened scientific brethren here. I am a mere philosopher, and I am susceptible to error in scientific matters.
Saturday, April 02, 2005

Honoring Pope John Paul II

In honor of Pope John Paul II, here are some excerpts from his writings on St. John of the Cross (one of my spiritual heroes):

On St. John's Authentic Faith
"Faith promotes communion and dialogue with the brethren in order to help them to travel the paths that lead to God. Friar John was an authentic former of believers. He knew how to introduce people to familiar conversation with God by teaching them to discover His presence and His love in all circumstances, whether favorable or unfavorable, in moments of fervour and in periods of apparent abandonment alike."

On the Value of Human Reason
"It might surprise us that the Doctor of Faith and of the Dark Night extols so earnestly the value of human reason. His is the celebrated axiom: "One thought alone of man is worth more than the entire world; hence, God alone is worthy of him" (14). Rational man's superiority to the rest of mundane reality should not lead to pretensions of earthly dominion. Instead it ought to guide him toward his most proper end, union with God, to whom he is similar in dignity. For that reason, faith does not justify scorning human reason. Nor is human rationality to be regarded as opposed to the divine message. On the contrary, they work together in intimate collaboration: "A person can get sufficient guidance from natural reason, and the law and doctrine of the Gospel" (15). Faith is not a disincarnate reality. Its proper subject is man a rational being, with his lights and limits. The theologian and the believer cannot renounce their rationality; instead, they must open it to the horizons of mystery (16)."
Friday, April 01, 2005


I feel the need to identify a new species of participant in this debate: the "middlers." I have dubbed them thus due to my inability to shoehorn them into my false dichotomy. Stubborn middlers.

But seriously folks, I didn't intend to misrepresent anyone. I only mentioned the polar opposites because therein lie the real sources of the problem. I know many of you are quite level-headed and have approached the debate with fair and balanced judgment.

I would encourage all of us, however, to take a minute or two to examine ourselves and our attitudes. If you were being dogmatic or disrespectful of the opposition, you probably wouldn't realize it without some reflection or outside input. That's why we call 'em "blind spots." So, pause for a moment, look in the mirror, and say, "I'm reasonable, I'm respectful, and doggone it, I'm the humblest guy I know."