Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Thoughtful History of Thought

A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to LivingA Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living by Luc Ferry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ferry is an insightful and honest philosopher who sees the beauty of Christianity while remaining an atheist. He realizes that the most important question in philosophy concerns human salvation. He acknowledges the debt of the world to the Greeks and especially to Christianity and its commitment to equality based in humankind made in the image of God. He notes how the Enlightenment undermined confidence in religious authority and made man the center giving us secular humanism.

Then came Nietzsche and the postmodern, which declared the death of God and smashed confidence in human reason and science. Nietzsche replaced the "idols" of Christianity and humanism with power and the deconstruction of power. But Ferry understands that even Nietzsche couldn't live consistently with materialism because he couldn't resist value judgments and denunciations.

This leads Ferry to abandon materialism and propose a humanism without transcendence or a transcendence within immanence. This is where Ferry is the least convincing. How can you salvage transcendence if there's nothing "above our heads?" He tries to say that since death will separate us from our loved ones we must keep our relationships in good repair. Fair enough, but I'm not sure how this recaptures transcendence in anyway that can account for our value judgments.

He admits that his version of transcendence is "small beer" compared to Christianity, which teaches that salvation means victory over death through the resurrection and an everlasting life of love with God and other humans. He says he prefers Christianity over every other doctrine of salvation but can't bring himself to believe. Ferry quotes Pascal approvingly but doesn't take his wager seriously.

Pascal says if you want to believe then wager that he is, and do the things that lead to faith like attending divine worship, prayer, and reading Scripture. Ferry also dismisses the argument for God's existence from human desire. He says the fact that we want to believe something is not evidence for its existence but shows the likelihood that we will make it up. But as C. S. Lewis pointed out, the presence of a desire is "usually" evidence for the thing that fulfills that desire. We long for beauty and there are beautiful things that satisfy that desire. Plus if we are nothing more than chemical circuitry then why do we "rage against the dying of light?" If we're temporary why do we fear death and long for the eternal? I recommend reading Tim Keller's Making Sense of God along with A Brief History of Thought. Both are great but Keller rings truer.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Meaning of Life if Nihilism Is True

This past week I was discussing nihilism with a class and some students argued that if we came from nothing (i.e. God didn't put us here) and we're going to nothing (i.e. annihilation) then we would have no purpose for life. Then another student argued that if this life was all there is it would follow that this life was more meaningful. You only go around once so make the most of it!

I suggested that both were right in their own ways. If atheistic Darwinism were true life wouldn't have ultimate meaning, because not only are we going to nothing but everyone and everything is going to nothing. It won't matter what we did or what we were because all will be forgotten in that utter extinction.

So if this life is all there is, then we could find subjective meaning for now in getting our way. Dominating others with our strong will and clever cunning would make the most sense. Time is limited so the need to live for your own immediate enjoyment would be felt most acutely. Sacrificing for others now might lead to a greater benefit for yourself later if you made them feel indebted to you, but there would be no reason to help those who could never help you back. Aiding strangers would be counterproductive. Enlightened self-interest is still selfish and would only lead to selective serving of others.

So immediate meaning in power plays yes, but ultimate meaning in the end no.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

School and Religion

Teaching religion in school is unavoidable. We either teach it or, by ignoring it, teach that it is irrelevant. For instance, teaching evolution as the origin of life, not just the origin of species, has religious implications. Either God started the evolutionary process or it didn't need him or there was some degree of special creation and evolution isn't the whole story. But ignoring the question of God implies that he is an unnecessary hypothesis. You can't get around religious teaching.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Speaking Up Over Endo's Silence

SilenceSilence by Shūsaku Endō
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to work through my thoughts and feelings about this historical novel. Silence is very well written and Endo's style is enjoyable. I admired the two Portuguese priests Rodrigues and Garrpe for going to Japan to find their reportedly fallen mentor Ferreira and support the Japanese Christians in their struggle against persecution from their government. The events surrounding the suffering and martyrdom of the Japanese church during the seventeenth century were deeply moving and heroically inspiring. The book is worth reading for this testimony alone. I certainly felt compassion for the weak faith of Kichijiro and longed for him to find strength. But then came the ambiguous final chapters. The rest of my review contains spoilers.
After the Japanese authorities capture Rodrigues, they explain that they have outlawed Christianity because, while it may be true for Portugal, it is not true for Japan. I cheered when Rodrigues responded, "It is precisely because truth is common to all countries and all times that we call it truth. If a true doctrine were not true alike in Portugal and Japan we could not call it 'true'." Then the "fumie" began.
The Japanese leaders had realized that getting Christians to apostatize was much more effective for defeating the faith than merely martyring its followers. The "fumie" was an image of Christ and Christians were told to step on it or face the agonizing torture of being hung upside down over a pit of filth, while blood slowly dripped out of a cut inflicted by the persecutors on the victim's forehead. Death took days. The persecutors force Rodrigues to listen to the moans of the Christians in this condition.
By striking the sheep they try to get the shepherds to apostatize. Fallen shepherds mean dispirited sheep and dispirited sheep were more likely to roll over for their persecutors. When Ferreira appears in the story as just such a fallen shepherd, he implores Rodrigues to apostatize. If he does so, the authorities have agreed to release the suffering Christians. Ferreira says that God won't do anything to help them, but if Christ were here he would apostatize for the Christians. Rodrigues had been struggling with the silence of God and other doubts throughout the novel and now it comes to a head. Under that twisted pressure Rodrigues looks at the "fumie" and hears what may or may not be the voice of Christ say that it was to be tread upon by men that he came into the world, so go ahead and trample. But as soon as Rodrigues does so a cock crows in the distance. What should the reader think?
The ambiguous book ends with Rodrigues and Ferreira taking Japanese names and wives and working with the government to identify Christian symbols and thus oppress those who bear them. Rodrigues comes to the conclusion that though Christ seemed to be silent during his trials he was always speaking through him. But the reader is left wondering what the message was. Rodrigues dies ministering forgiveness to the returning Kichijiro, and so he still seems to have faith though living in contradiction to it.
While I sympathize with weakness, I am also reminded that the current powers that be in the world at large want Christians to do exactly what the two priests do in the story: apostatize a public faith without giving up a private faith. The interpreter says, "It is only a formality. What do formalities matter. ... Only go through with the exterior form of trampling." "Go ahead and keep your faith to yourself," secularism pleas with us, "just don't bring it up anymore." Endo's book, which is now a movie directed by Martin Scorsese, seems either to serve up what the world has ordered or lament apostasy.
Endo was a Catholic Christian so it must be a lament over apostasy, but I couldn't help being disappointed. Throughout the novel, I kept wishing that Rodrigues would see that God was not silent but speaking to the Japanese Christians through his ministry and would also speak through his firmness in the face of fear. But Endo's priest doesn't realize this until after he has betrayed and then it seems the priest is on the wrong side.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Christianity claims to account for man's conscience and his consciousness. He is made in the image of God.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Spaghetti Is a Delicious Part of the Space-Time Universe

It is often assumed by atheists that the burden of proof is on Christians. You can’t just posit anything, they say, much less an undetectable omnipotent Creator who has existed from all eternity. You might as well say that the flying spaghetti monster created the world.

When it comes to a creator however, notice that Christians aren’t just positing anything, especially not something akin to an undetectable flying spaghetti monster. The Bible teaches “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So there was a “beginning,” which is a time word, when physical matter also came into existence and thus space as well.

Interestingly enough the big bang cosmology also affirms that the universe had a beginning. The cosmos began when an infinitely dense singularity expanded into the space-time, material universe that we now inhabit. It did not happen on the time-line but began the time-line. It did not happen while the clock was ticking but started it ticking. It didn’t happen in space but it’s expansion created space. Prior to this the laws of physics didn’t exist, as they require the material universe in order to have something to govern.

So Christians aren't positing something that's undetectable or unfalsifiable. The Bible and the best science we have right now says that time, space, and matter (i.e. the universe) all had a beginning. We are positing that since time had a beginning, whatever brought it into existence is timeless. Since matter had a beginning, whatever brought it into existence is immaterial or spirit. Since space had a beginning whatever brought it into existence is omnipresent. An eternal, omnipresent, spirit – these are the attributes of the Christian God: "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20 ESV). I would argue that the burden of proof is on those who would deny this God’s existence. The late Nasa scientist Robert Jastrow would seem to agree:
Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.  
At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries
Flying spaghetti monster? I don’t think so, since spaghetti is part of the space-time universe. Calling it it an undetectable flying spaghetti monster is an oxymoron as spaghetti is delicious.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"The Heavenly Chariot Flies Thundering Through the Ages"

This summer I picked up Ian Ker's G. K. Chesterton: A Bio again. Modernists  and now post-modernists have always questioned whether the church got it right. Maybe the heretics were the good guys who got squashed by the powerful. The problem with this is that Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against the church. Chesterton compared the church to a tree that changes around the edges of a solid middle but the modernist is like a cloud always shifting with winds of change. No one has probably ever described the hair plastering adventure of orthodoxy quite so well:

People have fallen into the foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.... It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.... She [the Church] swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles.... The orthodox church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.... It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.... To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fix the Morals

If morals evolve, they keep evolving. There is no fixed moral code if evolution is the explanation of all of reality.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mind and Body Democracy

I've started reading James K. A. Smith's Imagining the Kingdom, which is a follow up to his Desiring the Kingdom. He succinctly summarizes his previous book in response to his critics:
The argument of Desiring the Kingdom  is not that we need less than worldview, but more: Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices. And the "core" of those formative practices is centered in the practices of Christian worship (10).
Smith argues that "the way to the heart is through the body and the way to the body is through story" (14). Smith seems to be arguing against the primacy of the intellect, and for the primacy of the body.

He maintains that we don't merely have a body but we are a body. I think Smith means that we are a body but not merely a body. If we were merely a body we would lose our identity when we die. Death is the unnatural separation of body and soul. We continue in our personal identity after the body is laid down but this unnatural state is remedied by the resurrection.

Smith's emphasis is well taken but we need to remember that when God breathed into us we became a living soul. In other words, God prepared a body to be united to the soul, but the soul itself animates the body. In this way, the soul can continue to preserve the human self separate from the body.

Instead of arguing for the primacy of the mind or the primacy of the body in forming the heart, I think we need to see the mind and body in a democracy. They are united in the image of God and both play an equal role in forming the heart. The intellectual tends to underestimate the body and the hedonist underestimates the mind.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Spirit and Body

In the same way that Christ speaks from his Spirit to our spirit, he brings blessings from his body to our body.

The former is through the Word, while the later is through the Word made flesh.

The former is through hearing, prayer, and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, while the latter is through the incarnation, resurrection, and partaking in the Lord's Supper.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Wilberforce to Be Reckoned With

Amazing GraceAmazing Grace by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wilberforce is the embodiment of Chesterton's quip, "The only thing to be done with the ideal is to do it." Wilberforce and his group not only brought slavery to an end in the British empire but also re-christianized Britain with their reformation of manners.

Manners here refers to how man relates to his fellow man. Britain was so barbaric at the time it's hard to imagine that the Victorian Age was coming. The Victorians had their excesses to but it was an incredible improvement over the barbarism of the gladiatorial-esque cruelty to animals, prostitution, and incivility in the streets. By advancing his Christian worldview Wilberforce liberated Britain from Enlightenment racism and paganism.

My only criticism is that the book is short on critique of Wilberforce though there are a few. He comes off as a can-do-no-wrong-hero. Even heroes have their flaws and he would be even more believable if we knew more about them. The book is well written, truly inspirational, and all the more moving because the story is true.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Comfortable with Our Creator

Luther once wrote, "When I heard the name of Christ I used to turn pale, but then I clung to his humanity and I was not afraid of his being God." It is Christ who makes us comfortable with out creator.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shows About Nothing

A student repeated back to me a point I was trying to make in class the other day. He said, "So a well told story is one that's told the way God tells the gospel." To which I could only reply, "Yes! I couldn't have said it any better.

God's story begins with creation (setting), then moves to fall (conflict), redemption (climax), and consummation (resolution). This is the Christian metanarrative or grand story that gives our personal stories ultimate meaning, hope, and a goal for which to strive.

Jean Francois Lyotard famously put it, "Postmodernism is skepticism toward all metanarratives." Post modern stories tend to remove redemption and resolution in favor of distress and despair. There is no hope of improvement for the characters, justice in the face of evil, or redemption through repentance. For instance, the characters in Seinfeld end up in prison discussing the same things they discussed in Jerry's apartment. Hannibal Lector and the Talented Mister Ripley live on. Justice is not done and that's the point: Life is ultimately pointless. As Seinfeld admits a show can be about nothing. Nothing is working together for a greater good. There is no providence, just a demonic anti-providence. See Thomas Hibbs Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture

Yes there are tragedies in the Bible like the Levite and his concubine but they are set in the meta-narrative of the gospel comedy where sad things come untrue.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Before the Fall

G. K. Chesterton on the Fall of Man as a Worldview:

The Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds … that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate. A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, … on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans an skeptics: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not”; which cries … out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; that we are all kings in exile.

If we were entrapped in a bad world we would not cry for what is not. We would not protest the way things are. We would surrender to what is.

If the world was messed up from the beginning, as all the pagan myths say and Darwinism implies, we would know nothing different and not differ with the way things are. When we do cry for justice and try to right the wrongs we are remembering our origins in a good creation and longing for our return there. We appeal to a lost standard that can only be recovered in Christ.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Peter on the Pond with No Place for Pride"

“Peter on the Pond”
Sermon by Matt Heckel, PhD

Read Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-8

(Attention) Ever wonder what it would be like to be Peter? Crazy, right? Peter lived a crazy life of ups and downs, but he also lived a full life. A life that we are normally scared to live.

(Textual Analysis) Let’s try and relive this story from the vantage point of Peter. Peter is cleaning his nets after a miserable night of fishing. If he could’ve known how it would go, he surely would’ve spent it at home in bed. So Peter is experiencing a sense of loss. He is frustrated. Then he sees a probably most unwelcome sight. A huge crowd following Jesus comes into view. But that will be tolerable if they mind their own business.

But then Jesus just steps in it. Yep, he steps into Peter’s boat and right into his business. Here’s a good word of advise, “Don’t step into a fisherman’s boat uninvited.” Peter must be thinking, “Who does Jesus think he is.” Then Jesus imposes himself on Peter. “Peter, could you push me out a little into the lake so the people can hear me better.” Can you picture yourself as Peter throwing your nets down, walking over to your boat and pushing this preacher out into the lake. You might think, “If he wants a floating pulpit I’ll play along, but he better not get long-winded. I need to get home and crash.”

So the sermon is finally over but we don’t have any record of what Jesus said. Why? Because the most important part of the sermon is about to be lived out. Hearts are going to be revealed and a soul is going to be saved.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Worldview Is Religion

If, as Henry Van Til said, "Culture is religion externalized," then worldview is religion internalized.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Life Is not a Tree but a Forest

Irreducible complexity is the foundational argument for intelligent design (ID) and its critique of Darwinism. The argument was popularized by Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box. Darwin's black box, the thing he couldn't penetrate, was the cell. Today we can see into the cell and know it's more complex than Darwin dreamed, even more complex than our most complex machines. Not only is it complex but it's "irreducibly complex," as Behe argues.

Darwinists assume, for good reason, that nature selects mutations that have survival qualities to be passed on to the next generation. As these mutations build up complexity increases. This is not really controversial. Plague survivors of the Middle Ages passed on their plague resistant genetic mutations to future generations who were naturally more resistant to the plague. When they came into contact with nonEuropeans whose populations had never been exposed to the viruses, the natives suffered plagues of their own. These plagues decimated their populations until nature selected the fit among them to survive and pass on there survival qualities to future generations. This is why the plagues eventually faded.

The problem occurs when Darwinists use the engines of mutation and natural selection to explain all of life in all of its species diversity. They even try to explain the origin of life in Darwinistic terms. It seems however that Darwinism has major trouble explaining the cell and even parts of certain simple cells like the bacterial flagellum. Some bacteria swim because they have a flagellum that propels them like a little outboard motor. The flagellum has multiple moving parts that work together in the propulsion system. None of these parts are favorable or have survival value by themselves but only as parts of the more complex whole. See a diagram here. They could not have evolved in a step by step selection process. The bacterial flagellum is an irreducibly complex system. The rotor doesn't make sense without the stator, bearing, hook, multiple membranes, and flagellar filament that whips like a propeller.

Even more problematic is the origin of life itself. No clever arrangement of inorganic matter will ever produce a living cell. No effect can be greater than its cause. The appearance of higher taxa in what has been called the cambrian explosion is also problematic, because Darwinists are committed to gradualism. Mutations build up step by step until a new species slowly emerges on the tree of life. But life is not a tree with a missing root, but a forest in a miraculous ecosystem.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Maddening Love

Sometimes it is more loving to make people mad, than to make people happy.

Legalizing gay marriage would make a lot of people happy but it would not lead to their happiness. Restraining them would make them unhappy, but might lead to a greater happiness. This is because living in harmony with "nature and nature's God," despite their desires, will lead to true happiness.

Heterosexual people must do this too. They have to resist their desires to be unfaithful to their spouses.  Desires, by themselves, are not a guide to what's natural.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Luther the Monk

The content of Luther's theology is heavily influenced by Augustine's doctrine of grace, which his father-confessor Johan von Staupitz introduced to him in the Augustinian monastery. Luther's theological method came from Ockham and Gabriel Biel who were monks and part of the via moderna tradition in the Catholic church.

Luther's whole quest for a gracious God is a monk's quest. Monks were experts on expiating sin and guilt through works of satisfaction. Luther said, "If there was ever a monk who got to heaven by his monkery it was I." It was the failure of the monastic solution at the time, which led Luther the monk to find the solution in Scripture with help from Augustine.

Another influence on Luther of comes from Renaissance humanism, which taught Luther to approach texts grammatically and historically.