Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

Bush disappointed me. I’m sure he’s really torn up about it, too.

In his State of the Union tonight, he spoke of goals for the future when it comes to technology and competitiveness in the world market. He paraded his new “initiatives” for cultivating the talent and creativity of the next generation by giving “our Nation’s children a firm grounding in math and science.” (Is this truly the best way to foster creativity?) He pronounced increased funding for scientific research and a plan to train more math and science teachers. Wonderful.

When it came to the character and culture of America, however, the president spoke in vagaries. Where were the initiatives? Where was the funding? Where was the push for more “arts and humanities” education? We were led to believe that no such efforts are required – everything is fine in this department. He trotted out a litany of statistics about declining abortions, fewer unwed mothers and dropping crime rates, and passed this off as evidence of moral progress. “These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation – a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment.” Is it just me, or does anyone else fail to share the President’s optimism about American mores?

Perhaps this is simply an inexorable feature of a capitalistic society. When the dollar is the bottom line, culture gets the shaft. Training high school students in art, music and history does not prepare them for high-paying jobs. It does not ensure our competitiveness in the endless race for technological superiority. It isn’t quantifiable. It isn’t practical. Arts and humanities are nice for hobbies, but not for serious careers.

President Bush mentioned that, “we must never give in to the belief that America is in decline, or that our culture is doomed to unravel.” I disagree. There is one condition under which we should give in to this belief – when it becomes true.
Monday, January 30, 2006

Belated Birthday to Tommy Boy

Celebrating the Birth of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of my heroes. January 28, 1274.


You have to see/hear this. Stunning rendition of a classic Beatle's tune done on a ukelele by Jake Shimabukuro.
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Quote of the Week

"[Religious] Belief can be explained in much the way that cancer can. Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world - that's a hopeless idea. There is no such thing."

~ Daniel Dennett, Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University

You can read the New York Times interview with Dennett here.

HT to Maverick Philosopher
Friday, January 27, 2006

Pharmacology and Flourishing

I’m hoping achieve some clarity and precision in this debate over the use of chemistry in mental wellness. My clumsy efforts so far have led me to consult an expert, Dr. Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics. He does a great job, so I’ll let him talk.

Here are a few selections from an article of his (January 2003). You can read the whole thing here. If you want to take issue with him, be sure to read the whole article first.

“And what about pharmacologically assisted happy souls? Painful and shameful memories are disquieting; guilty consciences disturb sleep; low self-esteem, melancholy and world-weariness besmirch the waking hours. Why not memory blockers for the former, mood brighteners for the latter, and a good euphoriant – without risks of hangovers or cirrhosis – when celebratory occasions fail to be jolly? For let us be clear: if it is imbalances of neurotransmitters – a modern equivalent of the medieval doctrine of the four humours – that are responsible for our state of soul, it would be sheer priggishness to refuse the help of pharmacology for our happiness, when we accept it guiltlessly to correct for an absence of insulin or thyroid hormone. An attempted answer to this challenge comes in several parts.”

“First, there is something wrong with the pursuit of utter psychic tranquility, with the attempt to eliminate shame, guilt, and all painful memories. Traumatic memories, shame, and guilt, are, it is true, psychic pains. In extreme doses, they can be crippling. Yet they are also appropriate responses to horror, disgraceful conduct, and sin. Once again, the point is the fitness of awareness and emotional response. Witnessing a murder should be remembered as horrible; doing a beastly deed should trouble one's soul. Righteous indignation at injustice depends on being able to feel injustice's sting. An untroubled soul in a troubling world is a shrunken human being. More fundamentally, to deprive oneself of one's memory – in its truthfulness also of feeling – in to deprive oneself of one's own life and identity.”

“Second, these feeling states of soul though perhaps accompaniments of human flourishing are not its essence. Ersatz pleasure or feelings of self-esteem are not the real McCoy. They are at most but shadows divorced from the links to the underlying human activities that are the essence of flourishing. Not even the most doctrinaire hedonist wants to have the pleasure that comes from playing baseball without swinging the bat or catching the ball. No music lover would be satisfied with getting from a pill the pleasure of listening to Mozart without ever hearing the music. Most people want both to feel good and to feel good about themselves, but only as a result of being good and doing good.”
. . .
“In a word: one major trouble with biotechnical (especially mental)"improvers" is that they produce changes in us by disrupting the normal character of human being-at-work-in-the-world, what Aristotle called energeia psyches, activity of soul, which, when fine and full constitutes human flourishing. With biotechnical interventions that skip the realm of intelligible meaning, we cannot really own the transformations nor experience them as genuinely ours. And we will be at a loss to attest whether the resulting conditions and activities of our bodies and our minds are, in the fullest sense, our own as human.”
Thursday, January 26, 2006


William Lane Craig once gave this quiz to a college audience. It was his opinion that any mature Christian should be able to identify the following:
  1. Augustine
  2. Council of Nicea
  3. two natures united in one person
  4. Trinity
  5. Thomas Aquinas
  6. pantheism
  7. Reformation
  8. Martin Luther
  9. substitutionary atonement
  10. Enlightenment

How did you score?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Unhappy Brains

"Your happiness level is determined mostly by the structure in your brain — not by whether good or bad things happen to you.” So says Jonathan Haidt, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the new book The Happiness Hypothesis. "The key to the psychology of happiness is to move to the upper range of your potential,” which is predetermined by genetics. Haidt claims that it is not the events in life that really determine our happiness, but rather how our brains respond to those events.

OK. There is a profound truth here, along with a disturbing error. The wisdom traditions of the world have taught for millennia that how you respond to events is more important than the events themselves. Pain can refine us, and success can corrupt us, depending on our mindset and reaction. However, brains to not make decisions about how they will respond. Brains react. People decide. My decision, which is of course influenced by bio-chemical factors in my body, precedes the state of my brain in the midst of a crisis. It is at least a 2-way street – brains affect attitudes and vice versa. At most, our minds and souls are really the source of control here. True freedom resides in the soul, which is ultimately free to transcend the body.

Why is this important? Because if we embrace the idea that good psychology is really nothing more than good chemistry, then we are not far from the brave new world of Huxley. Pills will be the solution to every problem in life. (Sound familiar?) This is fundamentally dangerous because it is grounded in the belief that thoughts and beliefs and desires are nothing but neurons firing in your brain and certain chemicals being released. Electro-chemical brain states are not “true” or “false," "good" or "evil." Also, if this is all our mental life amounts to, then freedom is an illusion. We cannot really be considered responsible for any of our attitudes, emotions, or desires. Soon every person can attain happiness and enlightenment through the right combination of drugs. People who display unacceptable psychological conditions like anger, depression, shyness, or even religious intolerance could have mandatory medication imposed on them (for their own good, of course.)

If you’re a pharmacist, however, this is really good news.
Friday, January 20, 2006

Good Without God?

Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People made a big splash a decade ago. Why? In one word: hokmaspondence. I just made that word up. The Hebrew word for wisdom in the Bible is hokma, which really has a much richer and broader range of meaning than simply wisdom. It refers to the order and structure of the cosmos -- the fabric of reality itself. That is why wisdom essentially means aligning yourself with reality -- living in correspondence to hokma.

Proverbs is replete with ideas like, "if you do such and such, then such and such will probably happen to you." These are generalizations, of course, and not absolutes. They simply describe hokma and how to live in hokmaspondence. It is foolish to ignore the Laws of Wisdom, just as it is foolish to ignore the Laws of Nature, such as gravity. Many ancient near-eastern (ANE) cultures had lists of proverbs very similar to our own, because these truths were pretty much obvious to any level-headed observer.

So what sets the Wisdom of the Bible apart from other ANE wisdom? The one thing that Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes) teaches that is truly unique, and is the foundation and starting point for all true wisdom -- the fear of the Lord. Without this, wise living can erode to mere moralism. Can we be good without God? Yes. Goodness in human effort alone, however, is a mere shadow of true human existence. In fact, it is an affront to God of the most egregious sort. Anyone can decide to live in hokmaspondence, but it is a hollow shell without the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Covey's book was a success because the principles it taught were probably true, in the sense that they describe real aspects of cosmic hokma. To follow them is wise, but such wisdom, pursued in human effort alone, is a dead end street. We do not worship and serve hokma, we worship and serve its Maker.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Beautiful Kiss

I finish books neurotically. Only one book has surmounted my obsessive nature – The Brothers Karamazov. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Ponderous Russian novels – blech! Well, the hound of Dostoyevsky has been at my heels lately, and I’ve been inspired to give it another try. So far, it’s been rewarding.

Today I was reading a particular passage in which two brothers, Alyosha and Ivan, are just concluding a lengthy discussion about the problem of evil (for which the book is famous). Ivan has “come out of the closet” as an atheist and moral relativist to his monk-in-training little brother, anticipating disapproval and rebuke. Here’s how it pans out:

[Ivan] “I thought, brother, that when I left here I’d have you, at least, in all the world,” Ivan suddenly spoke with unexpected feeling, “but now I see that in your heart, too, there is no room for me, my dear hermit. The formula, ‘everything is permitted,’ I will not renounce, and what then? Will you renounce me for that? Will you?”

Alyosha stood up, went over to him in silence, and gently kissed him on the lips.

A powerful scene, even if you don’t know the context. I think this is the sort of response Christians should have towards non-believers. They have come to expect condemnation – how puzzled and blessed they would be by love instead!
Monday, January 16, 2006

A Great Man

A great man.
Sunday, January 15, 2006

Quote of the Week 1/15/06

"Religions appeared worshipping the nonbeing and self-annihilation for the sake of an eternal repose in nothing ness."
OK, before you shake your head and click away to ESPN or EBay, this quote isn't all that abstruse. (Although, the word 'abstruse' may be.) Philosophical guru Douglas Groothuis (that's pronounced "Grow-tyce") explains that this is an erudite, although biting, description of Buddhist-type relgions.

If you're not familiar with Buddhism, Dostoyevsky is simply pointing out that essentially the ultimate reality, for them, is not a god, but rather nothingness. Also, the ultimate goal of the religion is not enlightenment, but rather to deny your identity and become nothing.

If anyone actually read this blog, I'd be worried about unintentionally misrepresenting or offending Buddhists.
Friday, January 13, 2006

Keeping the IRA in Check

It seems that Uncle Sam is slipping in the war on terror. I heard that the limit on IRA contributions is now $5,000 for U.S. citizens (up $500 from last year). How will we ever see peace in Ireland if we allow this sort of thing?

Just a Thought . . .

Just a thought . . .

Am I being a bit sesquipedalian if I use the word in a sentence?
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Philosophers and Morticians

[I revised this post 1/13]
Our culture fears and loathes death. This is why morticians make such a good living. We want our corpses well-groomed and beautiful, thank you. It always strikes me as odd when a relative at an open casket funeral says, “Oh, he looks so good.” Why do we hate being confronted with the reality of death?

Tota philosophorum vita, commentatio mortis est. The entire life of a philosopher is a contemplation of death. This famous quote of Cicero summarizes the courageous words of Socrates prior to his execution. In Phaedo, he is trying to explain to his friends that he has no hesitations about his death. He says this:

“. . . a man who has truly spent his life in philosophy is probably right to be of good cheer in the face of death . . . the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death. Now if this is true, it would be strange indeed if they were eager for this all their lives and then resent it when what they have wanted and practiced for a long time comes upon them.” (64)

The philosopher spends his whole life preparing for death, and then he is upstaged by a mortician. (Nothing against morticians.) In any case, Socrates died well. His was not an unexamined life. Most of us let the hustle and bustle of living distract us from the really important questions in life. So when the Reaper comes, we are not ready. I want to die well. Maybe like my grandfather – peacefully, in my sleep. Not screaming and crying like the people in his car.

But here's what I'm trying to say: If Socrates could face death with such hope and confidence, how much more should a Christian look death in the eye unflinchingly! Unplug from life for a little while now and then so you can think about what's really important. Don't count on the mortician to create the illusion of a good death.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Brain in A Vat Drives Runaway Trolley

Consider the following case: A brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley approaching a fork in the track. The brain is hooked up to the trolley in such a way that the brain can determine which course the trolley will take. There are only two options: the right side of the fork or the left side. There is no way to derail or stop the trolley and the brain is aware of this.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If Jones lives he will go on to kill five men for the sake of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans' bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans who will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who made good, utilitarian men do bad things, another would have become John Sununu, and a third would have invented the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill another railman, Leftie, and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that would have been transplanted into ten patients at the local hospital who will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he, too, will kill five men--in fact, the same five that the railman on the right would kill.

However, Leftie will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men as he rushes the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of Leftie's act is that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by Leftie is the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley. If the ten hearts and Leftie are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available, but the brain does not know this.

Assume that the brain's choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains in vats, and thus the effects of its decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, whereas if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war comes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a way that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived. Question: Ethically speaking, what should the brain do? Justify your answer.

Harper's Magazine, May 1996, pp 26-30.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jesuit Football?

I almost threw up during the 1994 Orange Bowl. Florida State vs. Nebraska. I wanted to win so badly it hurt – to win that game and the national championship. I had endured the racking pain and heart-break of FSU’s loss to Notre Dame a month earlier. This was too much. I had to leave the room. But, in the end, we won. Whoo hoo! High-five! Yeah!!

Here’s the question: is there anything wrong with being so emotionally involved in a football game?

The Recent Mining Tragedy

I can’t get the images of the miner’s families out of my mind. There are two distinctly different pictures: the triumphant, God-praising families gathered around a small town church in song, and the grief-stricken, angry, weeping families spewing invective at nearby cameras. Both pictures are of the same group of families – families on a hellish roller coaster of emotion.

What happened is this – after hours and hours of searching and waiting, the mining company erroneously reported that the miners were all safe. Praises erupted spontaneously. Shortly thereafter, the report was corrected, throwing the families into confusion and deflated despair. Only one of the thirteen had survived.

What bothers me about this? Let us set aside the emotion for a moment. The responses of the families are understandable, given the situation. What concerns me is how we imagine God’s part in all of this. We evangelicals have a troubling tendency toward triumphalism. We are, after all, Americans, and Americans are, first and foremost, winners. Watching events unfold for us is like watching a football game. We are so emotionally identified with the home team, that a win brings shouts and cheers, jumping and hugging. But a loss brings tears, sorrow, and anger. We want God to win for us. We expect it – after all, who can beat God?

When God doesn’t win, we are thrown into a tailspin. The spiritual horizon whirls out of control, and we no longer know up from down. The families in West Virginia openly questioned their faith and God’s very existence upon hearing the truth. I would probably have felt the same way. This only exposes a shallow and distorted understanding of God. God is not our football team, marching down the field to our cheers to score the winning touchdown.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, wrote something that has stayed with me since the day I read it. He said that we should live in this world with an attitude of “active indifference” (indiferencia). With a grain of salt, I think this rings true. We are not here to “win.” We are here to bring glory to the Lord and draw ever nearer into the pleasure of his company. The final score of history is not our main concern. Ingatius knew that an unhealthy attachment to or an over-identification with the things of this world hinders our service and intimacy with God. We are not uncaring nor passive, but we do not take sides – only the Lord’s side. We are free to hear God’s voice and obey what he commands.

Watching Football Like a Jesuit

This year FSU was in the Orange Bowl again. Once again, the game came down to a last second field goal. Three of them. Somehow, it wasn’t so hard to watch. Granted, it wasn’t the national championship, but that didn’t really matter. I’ve learned to watch football like a Jesuit. Active indifference. I noticed two things during the game – I didn’t get quite as giddy when we were winning, and I didn’t get quite as distraught when we lost. Maybe this is how we should view life. The operative word being should. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that when it comes to my family, and I don’t want to criticize the families who lost loved ones in West Virginia. I mean to criticize myself and the Church for our spiritual superficiality.
Sunday, January 08, 2006

Quote of the Week

Quote of the week:

“If you work in the field of science but denigrate philosophy, you aren't a real scientist at all ... you are a glorified lab tech.”
~ Richard Scott Nokes, professor of medieval literature at Troy University

See his the rest of the quote here.

Bubble Gum Bible

I love Christian kitsch. (See my very first post on this subject.) A fly on the wall at Dubble Bubble, Inc. overhears a conversation:

Sales: We need to sell more gum! Hershey's is killing us.
Marketing: Well, people buy a lot of candy at Christmas -- maybe we can cash in.
Sales: But what does bubble gum have to do with Christmas?
Marketing: Nothing -- what difference does that make? I've got it! We'll sell Bubble Gum Bibles! It's basically a box of gum, with the Christmas story on it. And fancy pictures. And our brand name logo.
Sales: Brilliant!

Perhaps this is why, when I asked my 5 year old son what Christmas was about, he said:

"Christmas is about candy and Jesus' birth."

When a child receives the "Bubble Gum Christmas Story Book," what do you think their reaction is? "Oh boy, a beautifully illustrated, 5-sentence version of the birth narrative! Thanks, Dad! Oh, and there's gum in it, too!"

If you could see inside, you'll notice the Wise Men are conspicuously absent. Maybe they got sidetracked following the enormous Dubble Bubble logo in the sky.

Thanks, Dubble Bubble, Inc., for bringing the Christmas story to the children of the world.
Saturday, January 07, 2006

Our Lady of Prom Sucker

My wife and I were racking our brains trying to figure out what the heck that lady on NPR was saying. "Our Lady of Prom Sucker?" She was covering a great story in Nawlins (that's New Orleans for you Yankees) about an Ursuline Order of nuns, their church and their school. I turned to the true fount of all knowledge for help -- the All-Seeing Google. I quickly discovered that it was "Our Lady of Prompt Succor," and of course, we all know what succor means. The nun singing about prom sucker was much funnier.

What struck me about the story, although it was done well, was the imagined reaction in the minds of NPR listeners everywhere. I imagine it was exactly the sort of reaction that the journalist expected. The crux of the story, of course, was that although for two centuries, Our Lady of Prompt Succor (or OLPH to her friends) had preserved them from the fury of numerous hurricanes, Katrina was just too much for the ol' girl. What an unholy catfight that must've been. The nuns had egg on their faces. They prayed, but this time, it didn't work.

How do most of us view those nuns? With pity? Ridicule? Scorn? To the modern mind, their story must have sounded a little pathetic, especially with the tune of "prom sucker" being sung int he background. They honestly believed that the statue of Mary in their chapel had some kind of holy imprimatur. The really thought that Mother Mary could stand up to Mother Nature. Don't they understand science? Don't they know how hurricanes work? Don't they realize that it is nothing more than the product of natural forces -- temperature fluctuations, air pressure, the Gulf Stream, etc. These things don't listen to reason.

This really bothers me. It bothers me because I thought those things in my heart. I pitied them. But as I thought about it, I pitied myself. I have become cynical and skeptical of miracles and the power of prayer*. The world has been so meticulously dissected by science that I couldn't possibly believe that God could endue a statue or a church with a special manifestation of his presence. I would be embarassed to suggest that God could have turned that hurricane around or snuffed it out instantaneously. I have become worldly. The horizon has been wiped away.

*I won't go in to the nature of prayer -- that's for another post.
Thursday, January 05, 2006

Satisfied with God?

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD.” Psalm 27:4

“’I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people will be satisfied with my goodness,’ declares the LORD.” Jer. 31:14

Oh how I wish I would see more of God’s beauty and goodness. What a difference it would make in my life. I don’t know which problem is bigger – that I am simply too fallen and limited to see God’s beauty, or that I am too independent and rebellious to want to see it. Am I unable, or unwilling? I’m sure it’s both.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006

My Pirate Name

These things are fun.

My pirate name is:

Captain Harry Cash

Get your own pirate name here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trust in vs. Trust that

It is arduous to trust God. I see more than ever how little I really trust Him. Then I wonder, “If I find it so hard now, how much less I must have trusted Him as a young Christian?” Is this true? When I think back to my early days as a beginner in the faith, did I trust less? It seems not. In a way, I trusted more. I was unfettered by the cynicism that so often plagues me now. I believed that God could do anything and saw Him work wonders with great frequency.

What is the difference now? Have I regressed somehow? No. I am learning a new kind of trust. In the honeymoon of my relationship with Christ, I learned to trust that God would provide, that He would protect, that He would deliver, that He would grant wisdom, that He would use me. But all these discoveries involved a particular expectation of God to “come through for me.” I trusted Him to act in a certain way – a way that I could predict and understand. I trusted that God would ____________ (fill in the blank).

Now I am learning to trust in God. In any given situation, I am yearning to release my expectations and simply trust that whatever God does will be deeply and profoundly good. I can’t predict or comprehend His ways or plans, but I can trust Him. As Mr. Beaver says of Aslan, “Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.” So much of my anxiety and fear is grounded in a concern that something bad might happen to me or my family. What if God doesn’t come through? What if we don’t have enough money? What if my child doesn’t get better? What if ____________?

In Psalm 26:3, David writes, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” The peace I long for comes when I trust in God, and not in anything that I want or need him to do.
Monday, January 02, 2006

The Great Submission

Modern society is worldly. Sadly, so is the church, in many ways. Author and Regent College professor Craig Gay argues that worldliness is essentially “an interpretation of the realm of human affairs that places far too much emphasis upon human agency and far too little (if any) upon God’s.”[1] Christians have always danced between the Scylla and Charybdis of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It is difficult to find a middle ground.

In the modern world (or as some would claim, postmodern) in which we live, Americans naturally gravitate toward human sufficiency. This ideological residue of the so-called Enlightenment permeates the church. It is so insidious, so hidden in the foundations of our muscular evangelicalism, that we are utterly oblivious to it.

My life as a Christian has been primarily shaped by an organization (which shall remain nameless) that displays this very problem. We subtly believe that we can save the world through our strategic planning. We baptize our models and methods in prayer, trusting that God will come through in a big way. But the essence remains unscathed by our spiritual talk – we believe it is up to us. Gay asserts that modern people see the world as “amenable in principle to calculation and planning,” and that our ideologies “tend to be rationalistic” and “rule out things such as mystery, transcendence, and wisdom.” (50) Those that raise critiques of this sort become targets of reproach “for standing in the way of ‘progress’ and for obstructing the practical task at hand.” (50) We are “deeply distrustful of tradition – for its . . . hesitancy.” We think that the church has more or less been steeped in futility for the last 2,000 years, and now, with our technology and superior strategies, we will bring the task to completion.

Case in point: Eric Swanson, of Leadership Network, (whose blog I enjoy) posted a conversation which began between Jim Collins and Bob Buford concerning the remarkable growth of the early church. Collins asked Buford how he might explain this growth, and Buford asked his readers. What troubles me is how the question is being asked. Buford writes, “As Collins put it, ‘What were the social mechanisms and organizational tools that allowed this statistically remote outcome to happen?’” Do you see it? Do you see the assumption?

Most of the reader responses handled the question in the same worldly spirit. All the leadership pundits chimed in (Buford has an exceptional class of readers), and they all had their theories that essentially revolved around strategy, method, technique and other humanly-controlled variables. One obscure reader from South Africa showered the discussion with sanity. What explains the growth? “Ordinary people, from ordinary backgrounds, in ordinary circumstances, in the context of a certain time in eternity, acting in radical obedience by the power of the HOLY SPIRIT, orchestrated by Almighty God not limited by science, time, space, or comprehension of man.” Dallas Willard, one of my heroes, gives a sober and balanced response, emphasizing the winsome nature of the Christ-life emanating from believers.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter what we do as Christians, that God is going to do his thing despite our insignificant doddering. What I’m saying is that our perfunctory planning needs a shot of submission to the Sovereign.

[1] From Gay’s excellent book, The Way of the Modern World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live as if God Doesn’t Exist. Eerdmans, 1998. p.4.
Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Just for Fun?"

Several friends recommended a book to us during our engagement entitled Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat.  If you’ve never heard of it, one of the key ideas the author argues for is that sex is not merely a utilitarian reproductive chore, but rather is meant to be enjoyed.  Many Christians have been accused, over the centuries, of treating sex as a necessary evil.  Wheat argues that this view is fundamentally flawed and unbiblical.  The pleasure associated with sex is God’s way of saying, “Have fun!”  (By the way, while I agree with Wheat whole-heartedly, I’m hesitant to endorse his book for other reasons.)  

Scientists and philosophers, however, are in disagreement over the role of a particular form of sexual pleasure in the evolutionary story – the female orgasm.  They’ve puzzled, in recent decades, over how it could possibly be linked to natural selection, given that it is not a universal experience among women.  What evolutionary purpose could it serve?  Consensus eludes academia.  

I’ve been intrigued by the work of Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, who argues that the female orgasm has no evolutionary function whatsoever.  She suggests that they are a left-over of embryonic development, similar to the case of male nipples.  The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."  (I won’t even go into the purpose-laden language that Lloyd employs here – something completely foreign to evolutionary biology.)

Now, you may ask yourself, “Where is Chris going with this?”  OK – here are two points:

  1. In my view, the existence of the female orgasm could be seen as evidence for intelligent design.  Evolution doesn’t seem to be able to account for it.  Women don’t have to have an orgasm in order to produce offspring.  Now that’s putting it rather crudely, but you can check out the counter-arguments in an excellent piece from the New York Times.  (You may have to register to view the article, but it’s free and worth it.  Wait, I mean it really is worth viewing, not worth nothing.)  To slightly amend one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin, “Female orgasms are evidence that God wants us to be happy.”   Franklin, in the original quote, was referring to beer.

  2. Could we advance a similar argument for the existence of male nipples?  Evolutionary biology predicts that vestigial organs will prove to be just that – purposeless left-overs.  ID biology predicts that truly vestigial organs are highly unlikely.  Everything about us has a function, even if we don’t know yet know what it is.  Are male nipples intended for pleasure?  Are they just “for fun?”  

Do we stop researching the mechanics and function of the female orgasm?  No.  Just because I currently believe that the best explanation is design does not imply in any way that we should end our quest for understanding.  This is what ID critics fear – that talk of God will halt scientific progress.  We have nothing to fear but fear itself.  If ID is bad science, let it discredit itself.