What the resurrection means for Christian political theology

19 Apr

From Dr. William Edgar

From the beginning of Christendom and through the end of the Middle Ages, most theologians put considerable distance between the rule of Christ and human institutions. This was an unintentional result of the attempt to have Christ rule directly, but only through the church. In his great masterpiece The City of God (c.422), Saint Augustine (354-430) began a tradition which saw the heavenly city as the ultimate goal, echoed only poorly by life on this earth; the “city of man” is only a shadow of the full reign of Jesus Christ in the “city of God.” Much later, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) divided reality into the natural and the supernatural (nature vs. grace). Christ lives in the supernatural realm, and politics exists in the natural realm.

Such approaches often led to a confusion of realms. Many of the so-called “Imperial Cities” were ruled by a bishop who was in effect a governing prince. Attempting to free the church from such earthly entanglements, the Reformers tried to see Christ ruling his church directly, but the realms outside the church indirectly. Martin Luther (1483-1546) advanced the view sometimes called “Two Kingdoms,” wherein Christ rules his church directly by the Word and the Spirit, but rules the world outside the church by his providence and the use of force. A modern version of the “Two Kingdoms” vision is alive and well in parts of the church today.[1]

Many approaches developed after Christendom to deal with a world in which the church was no longer directly in control of the other sectors of society. In his excellent book The Good of Politics, James Skillen enumerates some of them: “Believing that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, or not of this world, or only ecclesiastical, or only future, Christians have turned to nationalism, civil religion, liberalism, Marxism, and various forms of quietism … as guides to their engagement or non-engagement in earthly politics.”[2] I might add the temptation to “theonomy,” wherein the law of Moses is pretty much directly applied to government, including sanctions against adultery, blasphemy, or homosexuality.

The basic weakness of all these views is that Christ really does not govern either his church or the other spheres of life as the true king of the entire world. These views lack a solid understanding of the integrity of the original creation. Though indeed fallen, the world still has a fullness over which Christ is Lord (Psalms 24:1; 50:12). In its fullness, it contains numerous spheres and institutions. It was never God’s intention to rule those institutions through any one particular body. That was true in the order of creation and remains true in the order of redemption.

To put it in Kuyperian terms, Christ rules each institution in the world with the norms appropriate to each. The government should not run the church, nor should the church run the government. But both are governed in appropriate ways by the rule of Christ whose single purpose is to redeem the entire creation. Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that the Second Person of the Trinity is both “firstborn of all creation” who rules over every part of the world, including “principalities and powers,” and also “head of his body, the church.” The problem with so many views we encounter is that they do not begin with creation, but rather with the fall. Paul’s teaching never separates realms into sacred and secular (or natural). Christ has come to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…” (v. 20a)

Here is the important piece: Christ is empowered so to rule not only because he is the great mediator of creation, but because he became human, subject to death, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” (v. 20b) The Second Person was incarnate, “and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) Without his atoning death, he could not reconcile all things to himself. But he did die and was raised from the dead, and he now sits at the right hand of God from which he rules the world.

The message of Good Friday is that Christ is fully empowered to lead the new humanity and the entire creation to redemption because he is the new Adam who takes up where the first Adam failed. Because of Christ’s perfect obedience and humiliation, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (vv. 9-10)
Christ has become the true ruler over all creation because he died on Calvary’s cross. He rules each sphere in the appropriate way: the church through preaching, sacraments, and discipline; the government through magistrates who enact just legislation; the family through parents who raise children with loving care. Indeed, nothing is outside his control. Though we do not see this reign clearly, it is real and active because we do see Christ. Every kind of distance is now breached because of his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection. Alleluia!
- William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

- See more at: http://www.capitalcommentary.com/creation/good-friday-and-politics#sthash.Dh4UTIyh.dpuf

The New Atheists tried, but failed, to establish a Godless morality. Mature thinkers move on (or back)

18 Apr

From Theo Hobson:

Like any movement or religion, atheism has ambitions. Over the years it has grown and developed until it has become about far more than just not believing in God: today atheism aspires to a moral system too. It comes with an idea of how to behave that’s really very close to traditional secular humanism, and offers a sense of community and values. Atheism has crept so close to religion these days that it’s de rigueur for political atheists like Ed Miliband to boast about a dual identity: a secular allegiance to a religions tradition, in his case Judaism. They don’t of course believe any of the mumbo jumbo about God, prophets and angels.

But as pleasant and rational as this all sounds, the new atheists are now hitting the intellectual buffers. The problem that confronts them is as stark as it is simple: our morality has religious roots. Put another way: when God is rejected, the stakes are gulpingly high; the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question.

This was the insight of Friedrich Nietzsche — and for all the different atheist thinkers and philosophers since, it remains just as true today. It’s all very well to say that blind faith is a bad idea, and that we should move beyond it to a more enlightened ethical system, but this raises the question of what we mean by good and bad, and those ideas are irrevocably rooted in Christianity. Nietzsche saw this, and had the courage to seek a new ethos amid the collapse of all modern systems of meaning. Did he find one? Yes, in pagan power-worship — the sort that eventually led to fascism. We think of him as mad and bad — but he was brave. Imagine Ed Miliband trying to follow in this tradition, gazing into the abyss of all meaning, the dark crucible of nihilism.

The trouble is that too many atheists simply assume the truth of secular humanism, that it is the axiomatic ideology: just there, our natural condition, once religious error is removed. They think morality just comes naturally. It bubbles up, it’s instinctive, not taught as part of a cultural tradition. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins tries to strengthen this claim using his biological expertise, arguing that humans have evolved to be altruistic because it ultimately helps their genes to survive. But in the end, he admits that no firm case can be made concerning the evolutionary basis of morality. He’s just gesturing with his expertise, rather than really applying it to the issue at hand.

Here’s his muddle. On one hand he believes that morality, being natural, is a constant thing, stable throughout history. On the other hand, he believes in moral progress. To square the circle he plunges out of his depth, explaining that different ages have different ideas of morality, and that in recent times there has happily been a major advance in our moral conventions: above all, the principle of equality has triumphed. Such changes ‘certainly have not come from religion’, he snaps. He instead points to better education about our ‘common humanity with members of other races and with the other sex — both deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution’. But biological science, especially evolution, can be used to authorise eugenics and racism. The real issue is the triumph of an ideology of equality, of humanism. Instead of asking what this tradition is, and where it comes from, he treats it as axiomatic. This is just the natural human morality, he wants us to think, and in our times we are fortunate to see a particularly full expression of it.

The Rest Here

“My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?”

18 Apr

From J.C. Ryle (Matthew 27:45-56):

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Some of them who stood there, when they heard it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him a drink. The rest said, “Let him be. Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things that were done, feared exceedingly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Many women were there watching from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, serving him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

In these verses we read the conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s passion. After six hours of agonizing suffering, He became obedient even unto death, and “yielded up the spirit.” Three points in the narrative demand a special notice. To them let us confine our attention.

Let us observe, in the first place, the remarkable words which Jesus uttered shortly before His death, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

There is a deep mystery in these words, which no mortal man can fathom. No doubt they were not wrung from our Lord by mere bodily pain. Such an explanation His utterly unsatisfactory, and dishonorable to our blessed Savior. They were meant to express the real pressure on His soul of the enormous burden of a world’s sins. They were meant to show how truly and literally He was our substitute, was made sin, and a curse for us, and endured God’s righteous anger against a world’s sin in His own person. At that dreadful moment, the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him to the uttermost. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and put Him to grief. (Isaiah 53:10.) He bore our sins. He carried our transgressions. Heavy must have been that burden, real and literal must have been our Lord’s substitution for us, when He, the eternal Son of God, could speak of Himself as for a time “forsaken.”

Let the expression sink down into our hearts, and not be forgotten. We can have no stronger proof of the sinfulness of sin, or of the vicarious nature of Christ’s sufferings, than His cry, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” It is a cry that should stir us up to hate sin, and encourage us to trust in Christ.

Let us observe, in the second place, how much is contained in the words which describe our Lord’s end. We are simply told, “He yielded up His spirit.”

There never was a last breath drawn, of such deep import as this. There never was an event on which so much depended. The Roman soldiers, and the gaping crowd around the cross, saw nothing remarkable. They only saw a person dying as others die, with all the usual agony and suffering, which attend a crucifixion. But they knew nothing of the eternal interests which were involved in the whole transaction.

That death discharged in full the mighty debt which sinners owe to God, and threw open the door of life to every believer. That death satisfied the righteous claims of God’s holy law, and enabled God to be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. That death was no mere example of self-sacrifice, but a complete atonement and propitiation for man’s sin, affecting the condition and prospects of all mankind. That death solved the hard problem, how God could be perfectly holy, and yet perfectly merciful. It opened to the world a fountain for all sin and uncleanness. It was a complete victory over Satan, and spoiled him openly. It finished the transgression, made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness. It proved the sinfulness of sin, when it needed such a sacrifice to atone for it. It proved the love of God to sinners, when He sent His own Son to make the atonement. Never, in fact, was there, or could there be again, such a death. No wonder that the earth quaked, when Jesus died, in our stead, on the accursed tree. The solid frame of the world might well tremble and be amazed, when the soul of Christ was made an offering for sin. (Isaiah 53:10.)

Let us observe, in the last place, what a remarkable miracle occurred at the hour of our Lord’s death, in the very midst of the Jewish temple. We are told that “the veil of the temple was rent in two.” The curtain which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, and through which the high priest alone might pass, was split from top to bottom.

Of all the wonderful signs which accompanied our Lord’s death, none was more significant than this. The mid-day darkness for three hours, must have been a startling event. The earthquake, which rent the rocks, must have been a tremendous shock. But there was a meaning in the sudden rending of the veil from top to bottom, which must have pierced the heart of any intelligent Jew. The conscience of Caiaphas, the high priest, must have been hard indeed, if the tidings of that rent veil did not fill him with dismay.

The rending of the veil proclaimed the termination and passing away of the ceremonial law. It was a sign that the old dispensation of sacrifices and ordinances was no longer needed. Its work was done. Its occupation was gone, from the moment that Christ died. There was no more need of an earthly high priest, and a mercy seat, and a sprinkling of blood, and an offering up of incense, and a day of atonement. The true High Priest had at length appeared. The true Lamb of God had been slain. The true mercy seat was at length revealed. The figures and shadows were no longer needed. May we all remember this! To set up an altar, and a sacrifice, and a priesthood now, is to light a candle at noon-day.

That rending of the veil proclaimed the opening of the way of salvation to all mankind. The way into the presence of God was unknown to the Gentile, and only seen dimly by the Jew, until Christ died. But Christ having now offered up a perfect sacrifice, and obtained eternal redemption, the darkness and mystery were to pass away. All were to be invited now to draw near to God with boldness, and approach Him with confidence, by faith in Jesus. A door was thrown open, and a way of life set before the whole world. May we all remember this! From the time that Jesus died, the way of peace was never meant to be shrouded in mystery. There was to be no reserve. The Gospel was the revelation of a mystery, which had been hidden from ages and generations. To clothe religion now with mystery, is to mistake the grand characteristic of Christianity.

Let us turn from the story of the crucifixion, every time we read it, with hearts full of praise. Let us praise God for the confidence it gives us, as to the ground of our hope of pardon. Our sins may be many and great, but the payment made by our Great Substitute far outweighs them all. Let us praise God for the view it given us of the love of our Father in heaven. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely with Him give us all things. Not least, let us praise God for the view it gives us of the sympathy of Jesus with all His believing people. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows what suffering is. Jesus is just the Savior that an infirm body, with a weak heart, in an evil world, requires.

 

The price of college is rising dramatically. Why? What’s more, students are ” more likely to default than graduate.”

17 Apr

From Boston’s Ronan Keenan (original link):

The growing $1.1 trillion student debt burden in the US has been well documented, yet concerns are subdued. That’s because the burden, unlike the housing crisis, won’t cause a sudden economic crash. Instead, it will prompt a slow strangulation of spending spread over many years. Congress has made some minor efforts to reduce interest rates on debt, but the necessity for such large loans must be scrutinized. And that means confronting the indulgences of colleges.

Tuition costs have soared in recent decades. In 1973, the average cost for tuition and fees at a private nonprofit college was $10,783, adjusted for 2013 dollars. Costs tripled over the ensuing 40 years, with the average jumping to $30,094 last year. Even in the last decade the increase was a staggering 25%.

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The ability of colleges to raise costs has been facilitated by a sharp increase in federal student aid. Lenders freely dispense credit to students, safe in the knowledge that all loans are guaranteed by the government. Between 1973 and 2012, federal aid (inflation-adjusted) increased more than 500%. Looking at a shorter period, between 2002 and 2012, total federal aid to students ballooned an inflation-adjusted 106% to $170 billion.

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Colleges have effectively been guaranteed an income stream and have used that certainty to partake in an arms race against each other by constructing lavish facilities and inflating administrative processes. The pursuit of education has turned into a vicious circle in which students need bigger loans to pay for higher costs, and colleges charge higher costs because students are getting bigger loans.

The apparent escalation in college bureaucracy may be reflected in changing patterns of teaching hours. A national survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute found in 2011 that 43.6% of full-time faculty members spent nine hours or more per week teaching (roughly a quarter of their time), which is a down from 56.5% in 2001 and a considerable decline from a high of 63.4% in 1991.

Notably, hours spent preparing for classes fell at a similar rate, while there was little change in time devoted to research. Administrative bloat fueled by excessive spending seems to be diminishing the focus on what college is supposed to be about, with the study showing that almost a quarter of professors at four-year universities do not consider teaching their “principal activity.”

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Time spent teaching may be declining, but compensation for those at the top has increased sharply in recent years. Presidents are now paid like the CEOs of successful businesses, as evidenced by the Chronicle of Higher Education’s latest report. The findings showed that 180 presidents at private colleges earned more than $500,000 in 2011, compared with just 50 in 2004. Moreover, the top two highest paid presidents each received more than $3 million.

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All this spending has been encouraged by a flawed student loan system that enables unwieldy inefficiencies. Today’s loan model was built with good intentions, tracing its roots back to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society ambitions, but it was not designed for extended periods of stagnant wage growth and a widening gap in pay scales.

Both colleges and employers must embrace three-year bachelors degrees; the traditional four years is an arbitrary number that just extends the time in education. Institutions can also reduce costs by adapting to the modern age and offer more online learning. But they will only do this is if the government limits the ability of students to pay the prevailing high tuition costs.

The current model has inflated spending beyond the nation’s means, with colleges reaping the rewards while the government takes all the risks and graduates drown in debt. With an abrupt crisis unlikely, hard action may be delayed for years, allowing the noose to tighten on an already fragile economy.

Quakerism and religious freedom in America

17 Apr

From Thomas Kidd:

As I noted in a recent post for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Founding Fathers were quite familiar with the concept of religious exemptions from laws. In the eighteenth century, among the groups most often calling for such exemptions were the Quakers. The Quakers were pacifists who would not serve in the colonial militias, and they also would not take oaths in court, or ones to serve in political office. The Quaker exemption on oaths even made it into the language of the Constitution’s presidential oath of office, in which he says “I swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” Quakers would only “affirm” their intentions, refusing to swear because of the seeming prohibition against swearing by Christ in Matthew 5.

William Penn

Quaker convictions about religious liberty, like Baptists’, emerged from the experience of persecution. I have recently been working on a chapter on the Middle Colonies for a book on early American history that I am writing for Yale University Press. One of the books I am consulting is John Smolenski’s Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania (2010). While Smolenski’s excellent book is primarily written for scholarly experts, it includes fascinating details about the Quakers’ early theological and social struggles, both in England and in Pennsylvania.

William Penn converted to Quakerism in 1667, when he was twenty-three years old, and soon began publishing on behalf of his new faith, and criticizing the English government for its suppression of those who stood outside the established Anglican Church. Penn then became the target of that oppressive church-state power, and he landed in Newgate Prison for almost a year in the late 1660s. His participation in an outdoor worship meeting in London in 1670 earned him a second detention, and a trial for disturbing the peace.

Penn and his Quaker co-defendant argued that public worship did not entail disturbing the peace, and surprisingly, the jury agreed. The judge in the case, expecting a verdict against the Quakers, angrily ordered that the jury members be detained overnight, with no food, drink, or even a “Chamber-Pot, though desired.” Eventually the Quakers and the jury were vindicated and released, which in itself was an important milestone in the independence of juries under Anglo-American law.

Quakers published a popular account of the trial, in which Penn argued that the charges against him violated the rights of Englishmen as established in the fundamental law of Magna Carta. [This piqued my interest, as my family and I have seen copies of Magna Carta at both the British Library and, over Spring Break, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, an exhibit well worth your time.] Punishing people for worshiping God according to their consciences was “destructive of the Great Charter,” Penn insisted.

When Penn founded Pennsylvania, it joined Roger Williams’ Rhode Island as the second American colony that offered liberty of conscience to all with no established, tax-supported church. As much as I (as a Baptist myself) admire the contributions of Baptists in fighting for America’s tradition of religious liberty, the work of many kinds of dissenters helped to build that tradition. It is fascinating to see how the Quakers’ convictions, and Penn’s claim on the 13th century precedent of Magna Carta, helped to establish the principle that the government should not punish people for living out their religious convictions. By the time of the Revolution, the Founders had also come to believe that in the case when a legislature passes a law (or, befitting modern circumstances, a bureaucratic agency issues a mandate) that violates the consciences of such dissenters, the government has a special obligation to offer accommodations or exemptions, so as not to coerce anyone into acting against deeply-held beliefs.

Source

It is that time of year! Bring out your skeptical arguments about the gospels!

16 Apr

From Robert Barron:

http://wordonfire.org/Written-Word/articles-commentaries/April-2014/Why-Jesus-is-God–A-Response-to-Bart-Ehrman.aspx

Why Jesus is God: A Response to Bart Ehrman

By Very Rev. Robert Barron

Well, it’s Easter time, and that means that the mainstream media and publishing houses can be counted upon to issue de-bunking attacks on orthodox Christianity. The best-publicized of these is Bart Ehrman’s latest book How Jesus Became God. Many by now know at least the outlines of Ehrman’s biography: once a devout Bible-believing evangelical Christian, trained at Wheaton College, the alma mater of Billy Graham, he saw the light and became an agnostic scholar and is now on a mission to undermine the fundamental assumptions of Christianity. In this most recent tome, Ehrman lays out what is actually a very old thesis, going back at least to the 18th century and repeated ad nauseam in skeptical circles ever since, namely, that Jesus was a simple itinerant preacher who never claimed to be divine and whose “resurrection” was in fact an invention of his disciples who experienced hallucinations of their master after his death. Of course Ehrman, like so many of his skeptical colleagues across the centuries, breathlessly presents this thesis as though he has made a brilliant discovery. But basically, it’s the same old story. When I was a teenager, I read British Biblical scholar Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot, which lays out the same narrative, and just a few months ago, I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot, which pursues a very similar line, and I’m sure next Christmas or Easter I will read still another iteration of the theory.

And so, once more into the breach. Ehrman’s major argument for the thesis that Jesus did not consider himself divine is that explicit statements of Jesus’ divine identity can be found only in the later fourth Gospel of John, whereas the three Synoptic Gospels, earlier and thus presumably more historically reliable, do not feature such statements from Jesus himself or the Gospel writers. This is so much nonsense. It is indeed the case that the most direct affirmations of divinity are found in John—“I and the Father are one;” “before Abraham was I am;” “He who sees me sees the Father,” etc. But equally clear statements of divinity are on clear display in the Synoptics, provided we know how to decipher a different semiotic system.

For example, in Mark’s Gospel, we hear that as the apostolic band is making its way toward Jerusalem with Jesus, “they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mk. 10:32). Awe and terror are the typical reactions to the presence of Yahweh in the Old Testament. Similarly, when Matthew reports that Jesus, at the beginning of the last week of his earthly life, approached Jerusalem from the east, by way of Bethpage and Bethany and the Mount of Olives, he is implicitly affirming Ezekiel’s prophecy that the glory of the Lord, which had departed from his temple, would return from the east, by way of the Mount of Olives. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the crippled man who had been lowered through the roof of Peter’s house, saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven,” to which the bystanders respond, “Who does this man think he is? Only God can forgive sins.” What is implied there is a Christology as high as anything in John’s Gospel.

And affirmations of divinity on the lips of Jesus himself positively abound in the Synoptics. When he says, in Matthew’s Gospel, “He who does not love me more than his mother or father is not worthy of me,” he is implying that he himself is the greatest possible good. When in Luke’s Gospel, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away,” he is identifying himself with the very Word of God. When he says in Matthew’s Gospel, in reference to himself, “But I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here,” he is affirming unambiguously that he is divine, since for first century Jews, only Yahweh himself would be greater than the Jerusalem Temple. Perhaps most remarkably, when he says, almost as a tossed-off aside at the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said, but I say…” he is claiming superiority to the Torah, which was the highest possible authority for first century Jews. But the only one superior to the Torah would be the author of the Torah, namely God himself. Obviously examples such as these from the Synoptic authors could be multiplied indefinitely. The point is that the sharp demarcation between the supposedly “high” Christology of John and the “low” Christology of the Synoptics, upon which the Ehrman thesis depends, is simply wrong-headed.

And now to the “hallucinations.” Most of the skeptical critics of Christianity subscribe to some version of David Hume’s account of the miraculous. Hume said that since no reasonable person could possibly believe in miracles, those who claimed to have experienced a miracle must be unreasonable. They must, then, be delusional or naïve or superstitious. Hume’s logic was circular and unconvincing in the eighteenth century, and it hasn’t improved with age. Yes, if we assume that miracles are impossible, then those who report them are, to some degree, insane, but what if we don’t make things easy for ourselves and assume the very proposition we are trying to prove? What if we keep an open mind and assume that miracles are, though rare, possible? Then we don’t have to presume without argument that those who claim to have experienced them are delusional, and we can look at their reports with unjaundiced eyes.

What in fact do we find when we turn to the resurrection appearance accounts in the New Testament? We find reports of many different people who experienced Jesus alive after his death and burial: Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, the twelve, “five hundred brothers at once,” and Paul. Does it strike you as reasonable that all of these people, on different occasions, were having hallucinations of the same person? The case of Paul is especially instructive. Ehrman argued that the visions of the risen Jesus were created in the anxious brains of his grief-stricken disciples, eager to commune once more with their dead Master. But Paul wasn’t grieving for Jesus at all; in fact, he was actively persecuting Jesus’ followers. He didn’t crave communion with a dead Master; he was trying to stamp out the memory of someone he took to be a pernicious betrayer of Judaism. And yet, his experience of the risen Jesus was so powerful that it utterly transformed his life, and he went to his death defending the objectivity of it.

Debunkers of orthodox Christianity have been around for a long time. In some ways, it is testimony to the enduring power of the Christian faith that the nay-sayers feel obliged to repeat their tired arguments over and over. Faithful believers have simply to declare their Christianity with confidence and, patiently but firmly, tell the critics that they’re wrong.

The fallacies of scientific fundamentalism

15 Apr

From Philosopher John Crosby:

In a recent high-profile debate, Steven Pinker defended science against Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, who for his part ably defended the humanities against Pinker. Wieseltier says that Pinker’s position is “scientism,” to which Pinker responds that “scientism” is a “boo-word,” the meaning of which is more emotive than conceptual. But Wieseltier uses the term with all due precision: scientism takes the paradigm for knowledge and truth to be the knowledge and truth gained by the natural sciences. To the extent that philosophy or literature or religion is not amenable to the methods of natural science, it is treated as a sub-standard form of knowledge. In this straightforward sense of the word, Pinker clearly defends scientism.

Consider his remarks about religion. “The moral worldview of any scientifically literate person—one who is not blinkered by fundamentalism—requires a radical break from religious conceptions of meaning and value,” writes Pinker. He argues that to believe in a God who works in human affairs is to turn one’s back on science. Since divine providence cannot be known in the way in which electromagnetism is known, Pinker argues that it cannot be known at all; it can only be ignorantly asserted in the spirit of fundamentalism.

If Pinker had said that science does not reveal the working of divine providence, he would  have spoken with scientific precision. Or if he had said that certain conceptions of providence have become untenable in the light of modern science, he would have made a valid non-scientistic point. He might have said, for instance, that once we learn about the inner-worldly causes of thunder, we will not be so quick to discern divine anger in the thunder. And from here he might have gone on to warn believers not to be too quick to infer direct divine action in the world on the basis of gaps in our empirical knowledge; once those gaps are plugged by the advance of science, the divine action will seem to be discredited. But to say that the very idea of divine providence, along with other fundamental categories of religion, is discredited by the scientific world view—well, that is vintage scientism.

Pinker’s scientism is a kind of “scientific fundamentalism” or “fundamentalist science.” He is not so different from the Christian fundamentalist who tries to determine the age of the earth using the Bible alone. The Bible is a religious document and is not suited to settling questions of geology—just as natural science is not suited to settling the question of God’s existence and of His actions within the finite world. Pinker understands the limits of scientific knowledge no better than the fundamentalist understands the limits of biblical knowledge.

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