Americans, lawmakers, sometimes ignore or overrule science. That’s a good thing.

27 Aug

From Dr. Adam Seagrave

The feature article of the March issue of National Geographic attempts to explain the results of a January 2015 Pew Research Center report that demonstrates how many Americans seem to be out of step with the triumphal march of modern science. Not only are decreasing percentages of the American public expressing positive stances toward science in general, but many are rejecting outright the scientific consensus on several key issues. When it comes to topics such as evolution, climate change, vaccination, population growth, and GMOs, large numbers of ordinary people in the US seem to think that they know better than the scientific community. How could so many people—a substantial number of them highly educated, no less—be so backward?

According to the article’s author, it’s because “the scientific method leads us to truths that are less than self-evident, often mind-blowing, and sometimes hard to swallow.” “The scientific method is a hard discipline,” requiring us to repress the “naïve beliefs” to which we tend to cling like a child does to a tattered and useless blanket. “Science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be,” jolting us awake from our intuition-induced and religion-reinforced stupor. The conclusion to which the author is led is that “scientific thinking has to be taught.” Ordinary Americans must be dragged out of the cave of naïve pre-scientific thinking and brought into the light of day where they can see and understand what scientists have been trying to tell them.


The cave analogy is particularly apt here, for the argument represented in this article (and repeated in many other places) is not merely that science is valuable because it furthers our understanding of the world in which we live. The scientific method that characterizes the scientific profession is, in fact, the onlyway to really understand the world in which we live, and as such should be “our only star and compass” (to paraphrase Locke) when formulating public policy. Science education isn’t important the way taking a child to a local discovery museum is important; it’s important the way Plato’s philosopher-king is important.

The crux of the argument is far from new, and was put best by Plato millennia ago:

Until [scientists] rule as kings in their cities, or those who are nowadays called kings and leading men become genuine and adequate [scientists] so that political power and [science] become thoroughly blended together . . . cities will have no rest from evils . . . nor, I think, will the human race.

Of course, Plato speaks of “philosophers” rather than scientists, but in the self-presentation of modern science these amount to the same thing. “Science” simply means “knowledge,” and “wisdom”—the Greek “sophia,” from which we get “philosopher”—means knowledge of the highest things or of the whole. And so we are brought to the real exposed nerve of the modern scientific method and the myriad modern scientists it has spawned: namely, that this scientific method presents itself as the way of knowing absolutely everything there is to know. Of course, the ultimate goal of knowing everything may never be reached—the same way “philosopher” means “lover of wisdom,” not “possessor of wisdom”—but the scientific method is offered to us as the only avenue of approach to this goal.

As the modern guardians of all knowledge, scientists wield a tremendous amount of power. And like Plato’s philosopher-kings, some scientists have engaged in the dissemination of “noble lies” for the purpose of aligning public policy with their judgments of what is desirable for all of us. As the author of the National Geographic article admits, even scientists are susceptible to “confirmation bias,” or the tendency to tailor their interpretations of the evidence to the theories and predilections they unavoidably bring to their work. Scientists are human beings too, subject to precisely the same “will to power” Nietzsche ascribed to philosophers.

This danger has become evident in recent years in the cases of embryo science and climate change. In the case of embryo science, as is shown in a 2006 exchange Patrick Lee and Robert George had with Lee Silver, it is clear that at least some policy-minded scientists distorted key scientifically-established facts in order to further the political agenda of embryonic stem cell research. And in the case of climate change, the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University has been twice embroiled in scandal over the release of numerous emails that clearly belie the usual story of an objective scientific consensus on the issue.

Power corrupts and knowledge is power, and so it should come as no surprise that some scientists succumb to the temptation to use their position as the gatekeepers of knowledge to further their political influence. Political influence, moreover, often translates into economic advantage, another universally potent motivator for human beings. Dishonest scientists exist and should be exposed; but what of the many honest, competent scientists? Should they be treated as scientist-kings?

Can Science Know Everything?

Science is often juxtaposed with religious belief in popular discourse as the two primary—and opposed—pathways to understanding the world. Religious believers argue that the scientific method runs up against a limit in its quest to know everything, and that this limit marks the starting point of faith. Scientists tend to bridle at this proposed limitation. Perhaps this is because the objects of religious belief—God, Heaven, Hell, the Devil, Angels, etc.—would, if they did exist, obviously be more important and compelling than the objects of scientific knowledge.

I would argue, though, that this sort of argument regarding the limitations of the modern scientific method already concedes far too much to scientific pretensions. One need not even go beyond the realm of mundane, ordinary, everyday human life to see clearly that the reach of modern scientific knowledge stops well short of what is most important to human beings. Modern science might have the teeth, and certainly the roar, of a T-Rex, but it also has its arms.

Take the recent movie Gravity. This film provided the most stunning widely-viewed visual depiction ever seen of outer space, perhaps the most widely intriguing object of modern science. The stars of the movie, though, were not the actual stars, but, rather, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Nor, moreover, were Bullock and Clooney of interest because of any of their scientifically-accessible features, such as the physical composition of their bodies, the chemical reactions going on inside them, or their medical health.

Bullock and Clooney were of interest because of their relationship with each other, their relationships with those they had left behind on Earth, and their relationships with themselves. They cared about each other. They experienced happiness, despair, hope, and love. When Clooney’s character was lost, much more had been lost than his physical-chemical existence; he even reappeared to save Bullock’s life after this scientifically-analyzable aspect of his existence was presumed to be long gone.

There is a reason why these elements of the movie were the most compelling ones to most viewers, and it’s not that most viewers are “naïve” and deficient in scientific education. Things like happiness and love are simply much more important to human life than astronomy and astrophysics, as “mind-blowing” as these undeniably are. People care much more about being happy, finding love, fighting for justice, and securing peace than they do about the chemical composition of the atmosphere—and they should. The scientific method can certainly tell us quite a bit about the physical, chemical, or otherwise material epiphenomena surrounding the things that are most important to our lives as human beings, but it can’t even begin to analyze or understand these things in themselves.

Upon seeing a loved one, for example, there are all sorts of scientifically measurable and analyzable chemical and physical changes in one’s body. These changes captured by the scientific method and understood by the scientist, though, aren’t themselves the love that is experienced. If one remains steadfast in claiming that such scientifically accessible properties are in fact constitutive of love, then one is merely claiming that what we mean to signify by the term “love” doesn’t exist—a claim that is ridiculous on its face. And such is the case even more clearly for more abstract concepts such as justice or peace. Because these things aren’t made of stuff that the scientific method can get its hands on, does that mean they don’t exist? Or that we can’t know anything about them?

Science and Public Policy

This brings us back to the puzzlement of the National Geographic article’s author, who cannot comprehend the failure of Americans to allow scientific facts and the various consensuses of scientists to dictate public policy on issues such as climate change, evolution education in schools, GMOs, population growth, or vaccination.

Perhaps it isn’t the ignorance or naiveté of ordinary, non-scientific Americans that prevents them from accepting what scientists tell them; perhaps it’s their knowledge of and experience with realities which they rightfully judge to be more important than the objects accessible to modern science. Perhaps it isn’t that “scientific thinking has to be taught” to non-scientists; perhaps it is scientists who should learn from the rest of us.

Adam Seagrave is an assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University and author of The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law.

What of a society as “sexless as the bees”?

24 Aug

From Dr. Susan Hanssen

Alexis de Tocqueville called “the strength of American women” the great secret of the strength of the American republic. Likewise, strong women were the backbone of the Adams family and its contribution to the political integrity of the American republic.

The letters of John and Abigail Adams were first published by their grandson, Charles Francis Adams (President Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Britain). The diaries and letters of John Quincy Adams’s wife, Louisa, have just been published this year, a project explored by their grandson, Henry Adams. Henry Adams—who called Tocqueville’s Democracy in America the “bible of my own private religion”—worried that American men and women were losing their appreciation for the complementary strengths and gifts of men and women. He thought the best remedy was to hold up for Americans the image of his grandmother.

Part of the charm of John and Abigail Adams’s letters (which are frequently addressed with terms such as “Dear Miss Adorable” and “My Dearest Friend”) is the way that the two weave a life-long conversation about universal human virtue into their ongoing inquiry into their complementary contributions to mothering and fathering their “little flock” of children. Louisa Adams had a hard act to follow in such a renowned mother-in-law, but her journals reveal a woman of profound reflection—on the meaning of piety (filial, patriotic, and religious) and her role as daughter, wife, and mother.

The Only Perfectly Balanced Mind in the Adams Family

Louisa Adams is the only American First Lady to have been born in a foreign country. Her American parents were living in London when she was born, and during the Revolution she was educated in a French convent school. She married John Quincy Adams during his diplomatic work, and the two immediately set off for Prussia, where he was stationed. She had already endured a number of difficult miscarriages and given birth to her three sons—little George Washington, John II, and Charles Francis—before she made her first visit to her “native” land.

She was soon called on to leave her two oldest sons behind and accompany her husband to Russia with her youngest child. In Tsarist Russia, she endured a very personal “winter”: painfully separated from her older children, she lost her only infant daughter, received news of her own mother’s death, and had to travel alone from St. Petersburg to Paris in the midst of the Napoleonic wars.

Late in life, she bitterly reproached herself for having left her oldest sons behind while she accompanied her husband on his diplomatic mission to Russia. Both of those sons were deeply troubled youths, impregnating women before wedlock, and dying young from drink or suicide.

Only the son whom she had kept close to her carried on the family tradition of public service, political integrity, and a lifelong happy marriage with many children. In fact, his sons marveled at Charles Francis Adams as a man “singular for mental poise.” It seemed to them that it was the influence of his mother who had balanced the analytical tendencies of his father, which often led members of the Adams family to deep depression, bitterness, and drink. With a good dose of both mothering and fathering, he struck his sons as “the only perfectly balanced mind that ever existed in the name.”

Sexless as the Bees

When her grandson Henry Adams read Louisa’s diary, he was inspired to compare Russia to Woman, Woman to Russia—the two conservative forces at the beginning of the twentieth century. Russia acted as a conservative political force in Europe comparable to Woman as a conservative social force in America. Perhaps with the help of Russia the threat of an imperial Germany could be contained. Perhaps with the help of Woman the threat of a corroding materialism might be contained.

Each was powerful, but each powerfully directed its forces internally. Russia, he argued, had its axis of rotation around the Church and around agricultural production to feed its enormous population. It had not yet turned its forces toward industrialization and modernization. If Russia’s forces were ever to be ripped from its axis by, let’s say, an atheistic modernizing revolutionary regime, Adams wrote in 1905, it might destroy all of Europe.

But if Woman were to be torn from her axis of rotation around the cradle, it wouldn’t just destroy Europe—it could destroy human society. In his wide-ranging third-person autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, Adams observed:

The woman’s force had counted as inertia of rotation, and her axis of rotation had been the cradle and the family. The idea that she was weak revolted all history; it was a palæontological falsehood that even an Eocene female monkey would have laughed at; but it was surely true that, if her force were to be diverted from its axis, it must find a new field, and the family must pay for it. So far as she succeeded, she must become sexless like the bees, and must leave the old energy of inertia to carry on the race.

In this context of a Tocquevillean fear of whether Russian absolutism or American freedom would triumph in the coming century and whether the American triumph would indeed be a victory for liberty or for the incessant pursuit of petty and paltry pleasures that “enervate the soul and noiselessly unbend its springs of action,” Adams held up, at the beginning of The Education, the image of his grandmother.

Education by Grandmothers

Henry Adams recalled his grandmother as the very portrait of religious peace. She was “a peaceful vision of silver gray” presiding over her old president, her china tea set, and her box walks. She was refined, gentle, fragile, delicate, and remote. As a boy, Adams “knew nothing of her interior life” but he sensed that she was “exotic”—that she did not belong wholly to the political world of Boston, with its confidence that a political utopia could be achieved on earth.

After “being beaten about a stormy world” and enduring a life of “severe stress and little pure satisfaction,” it was clear that she placed her hopes in eternity. The political world believed that absolute democracy, state education, and total freedom of speech would usher in the end times of history. The political creed was that “Human nature works for the good and three instruments are all she asks—Suffrage, Common Schools, and the Press.” All doubts of this creed were political heresy.

From his grandmother, Henry Adams gleaned his sense that there were values beyond the negotiable values of politics. Without her, his education would have been all Mars and no Venus—a purely political education with no religion—all war and no contemplation of beauty, all work and no genuine leisure. In the “Boston” chapter of the Education, Adams wrote:

The children reached manhood without knowing religion, and with the certainty that dogma, metaphysics, and abstract philosophy were not worth knowing. So one-sided an education could have been possible in no other country or time, but it became, almost of necessity, the more literary and political. As the children grew up, they exaggerated the literary and the political interests.

Without religion, the poetic imagination became utopian, and the political imagination became utilitarian. Americans worshipped “the Dynamo”—of the physical and mental energy of man—and were utterly lacking the cult of “the Virgin”—the contemplation of the laws of Nature and Nature’s God, and openness to the grace needed to fulfill them.

Louisa Adams always felt herself a fish out of water in a culture that gave more attention to the virtues of equality than to the virtues of piety and pity. She saw her role as wife and mother as that of an educator in the refined art of deference and condescension—the discernment and acknowledgment of realities of inequality, weakness, strength, power and infirmity, and a careful attunement to the unequal duties such differences gave rise to.

She considered a culture that saw nothing but equal duties, equal rights, and relations of convenience and mutual interest as a tyranny against her own nature. “My temper is so harassed and I am I fear so imbued with strange and singular opinions, and surrounded by persons with whom it is decidedly impossible for me to agree,” she exclaimed. “I feel that I have strange exaggerated ideas on most subjects which must be utterly incomprehensible but are utterly impossible for me to eradicate.”

One of her most ineradicable ideas was the sacredness of the bond between parents and children, the most palpable bond of piety and pity. She wrote:

It has been the fashion to say that as Children were not born to please themselves, no real ties bind them to their parents; and that blood relationship, should exact neither affection or gratitude—To my mind there is no truth whatever in such an assertion . . . From the moment of the birth, we incur a vast debt of gratitude which a life cannot repay

. . . There must be a great dereliction in that mind which could for a moment shrink from the acknowledgement of so vast a debt: founded in the weakest of all vanities, self idolatry!

Louisa Adams herself attributed the deepening of her sense of piety and pity to her experience of motherhood. She wrote that her religious opinions and sentiments had “‘grown with my growth, and strengthened with my strength’ though until I became a Mother; perhaps not properly weighed and considered; one more of precept, habit, and example than of meditated reflection.”

Adams worried that as Americans pursued a culture that was “sexless as the bees,” the complementarity that had produced the remarkable personal poise of his father—the balanced judgment, the eye for both contractual duties, and the more delicate bonds of affection—would be lost. To his mind, the proper education of the young American required both father and mother, grandfathers and grandmothers.

Susan Hanssen is an associate professor of history at the University of Dallas.

Copyright © 2015 The Witherspoon Institute, all rights reserved.

Christians should not fear death, but they should resist it | thereformedmind

15 Aug

How much gospel content is in the command to “ask Jesus into your heart”?

9 Aug

Sadly, some think they are sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ when they tell others to “ask Jesus into their heart.” But one will search in vain throughout all of scripture for the gospel message to be described or presented in such a way. To be sure, someone who says they have asked Jesus into their heart may indeed possess genuine saving faith. They may have a sufficient understanding of the gospel. They may grasp their own unworthiness, guilt; they may understand that their best merits deserve only the wrath of God, that they are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to contribute to their own salvation save their own sin, that their spiritual condition before a holy God is hopeless, doomed, and that their efforts to win God over are futile, that they are in desperate need of a perfect substitute, someone who obeyed all the divine laws they broke and who is able to be a sacrifice for sin in their place, and that God provided such a substitute mercifully and graciously in His own Son, Jesus Christ. So perhaps they do possess such faith. But the statement that “I have asked Jesus into my heart,” empty as it is of even minimal gospel content, tells us almost nothing of such faith, such as it is.

Must evangelicals side with Israel? If so, it should be because of justice, not eschatology

9 Aug

Originally posted on thereformedmind:

In the current controversy between Israel and Hamas, I tend to side with Israel. I side with Israel recognizing that they are not innocent, that they have made mistakes, that they have overreacted at times, that they can let their anger best their better judgment on occasion. I side with Israel not because Israel is God’s chosen ethnicity or nation-state (as classical dispensationalists argue), obligating every nation, especially America, and Christian to love and favor the nation of Israel in a special way above all other nations. No, I tend to side with Israel because I think their goal, supported by most of their actions, in this conflict is the peaceful, mutually beneficial, coexistence with the Palestinian people. I side with Israel because I believe the goal and actions of Hamas are fundamentally, unswervingly, and quite explicitly (see the Hamas Charter) different, desiring not peaceful coexistence but the obliteration of…

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Fact Checking Dan Barker (atheist apologist) on historicity of Jesus

3 Aug

From Dan Wallace’s blog:

Fact Checking Dan Barker: From our Recent Debate June 6, 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Justin W. Bass regarding his recent debate with well-known atheist, Dan Barker. The debate topic was “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?”

“I discovered that there is no evidence for Christianity” –Dan Barker (Losing Faith in Faith, 69).

Dan Barker wrote these words in 1992 in his first book Losing Faith in Faith recounting his de-conversion from a fundamentalist Christian pastor to a promoter of atheism and free-thought.

Dan first came out publicly as an atheist on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1984. Since that time he has been a preacher of atheism and free-thought as a kind of “reverse penance” (Losing Faith, 10), he says, for all the years he proclaimed the gospel.

At 15, he accepted a calling from God to live and preach for Jesus Christ. He was a self-admitted fundamentalist from the beginning believing “every word in the Bible is God-inspired and inerrant” (Losing Faith, 28). He was also taught that liberal and atheist writers were “evil servants of Satan attempting to distract believers from the literal truth of the Bible” (Losing Faith, 29-30). He describes a fundamentalist (himself at the time) this way: “A true fundamentalist should consider the English version of the Bible to be just as inerrant as the original because if we admit that human error was possible in the translation, then it was equally possible in the original writing.” (Losing Faith, 176-77).

Dan ended up attending Azusa Pacific College majoring in Religion. He describes Azusa Bible College as a “glorified Sunday school” (Losing Faith, 22). In the one apologetics class he took, he admits, “I don’t remember that we delved very deeply into the evidences or arguments for or against Christianity” (Losing Faith, 22).

Although Dan states it was the lack of evidence that convinced him Christianity isn’t true, it seems, from his own admission, that he was not exposed to Christianity’s hard “evidences or arguments” before he turned to atheism.

Dan and I debated the topic: “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?” on June 6th of 2015 sponsored by The Bible and Beer Consortium. After that 3+ hour debate, reading all of Dan’s books, and watching at least 40 of his other debates, I have come to the conclusion that Dan is still rejecting the same “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity that he rejected over 30 years ago.

I am grateful to know Dan; I’ve found him to be kind, brilliant, and an experienced articulate speaker. I appreciate his willingness to come to Dallas to debate. We had a great time at dinner together the night before the debate. We asked our waitress who she guessed was the atheist and who was the Christian. She thought Dan was the Christian and I was the atheist!

While I like Dan as a person, for over 30 years he has been fighting against a fundamentalist caricature of Christianity and misrepresenting many of the facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and one of the primary purposes of this article is to correct many of those misrepresentations.

Dan’s “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity is highlighted throughout his arguments in Losing Faith in Faith (1992), Godless (2008) and his most recent book Life Driven Purpose (2015). Just for a moment, let’s consider the sources he cites in these books.

In his discussions of Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only two scholars who are credentialed and professionally teaching in the field of early Christianity: R. J. Hoffman and Bart Ehrman. In contrast to these two sources, Dan questions Jesus’ existence. He parts ways again with Bart Ehrman, arguing that the Jesus story was cut from the same cloth of pagan religions.

In writing on Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only these other sources: John Remsburg, J. M. Robertson, W. B. Smith, Barbara Walker, G. A. Wells, Randall Helms, John Allegro, Hugh Schonfield, Earl Doherty, Robert Price and Richard Carrier. A review of their credentials quickly reveal that the majority of them are inadequate sources for Jesus and early Christianity.

Just to give one example: Barbara Walker is included in Dan’s “other scholars” (Godless, 270-72) and is his primary source when arguing in Losing Faith and Godless that the Jesus story is a fanciful patchwork from other pagan religions. Walker though only has a degree in Journalism and publishes other books on knitting. In fact, James White challenged Dan in their debate on using Walker as one of his chief sources on Jesus and Dan agreed he would remove her from later editions of Godless.

That was very honest of Dan to admit that he erred in using Walker as a source, but why did Dan not cite anywhere in his books James Dunn, E. P. Sanders, John P. Meier, N. T. Wright, Paula Fredricksen, Dale Allison, Martin Hengel, Richard Bauckham, or really any of the other 6000+ scholars professionally teaching in relevant subjects of early Christianity?

With sources like the ones Dan relies on, you can see why so many facts get misrepresented in his writings and speaking regarding Jesus and ancient history.

Let me just give 7 examples from our debate where Dan got his facts wrong about Christianity and/or ancient history. I have provided clips below for the relevant exchange for each one of these 7 examples. I recommend watching the exchange first and then reading my comments.

1.) Did Nazareth Exist during the Lifetime of Jesus?

Debate Exchange 1 (1:19:41–1:25:44)

From the beginning of his opening speech, Dan stated that the city of Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus, to support his case that Jesus was a legend. Dan also made this argument back in 1992 in Losing Faith in Faith (p. 191) that Nazareth didn’t exist before the second century. However, archaeological discoveries have definitively proven that Nazareth did, in fact, exist at the time of Jesus. Bart Ehrman says, “Many compelling pieces of archaeological evidence indicate that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day and that, like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built. For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a farm connected with the village, and it dates to the time of Jesus… Jesus really came from there, as attested in multiple sources” (see morehere and in Did Jesus Exist? 191-97).

The first argument Dan made that Jesus is legend was completely at odds with the facts.

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College Tuition is skyrocketing. Why? Administrative costs we know about. But what of federal aid itself?

3 Aug

From the WSJ:

Imagine a scenario in which the federal government helps households pursue the American dream with ultra-loose credit, only to see prices skyrocket and families take on loads of debt they can’t repay.

Yes, it sounds like the housing market of a decade ago, but some say it is also the challenge of today’s higher-education system.

The federal government has boosted aid to families in recent decades to make college more affordable. A new study from the New York Federal Reserve faults these policies for enabling college institutions to aggressively raise tuitions.

The implication is the federal government is fueling a vicious cycle of higher prices and government aid that ultimately could cost taxpayers and price some Americans out of higher education, similar to what some economists contend happened with the housing bubble.

Conservatives have long held that generous federal-aid policies inflate higher-education costs, a viewpoint famously articulated by then-Education Secretary William Bennett in a 1987 column that came to be dubbed the Bennett Hypothesis.

Now, more mainstream economists and academics are adopting that view, or at least some variation. And while college institutions reject the notion that they game the federal student-aid system to jack up prices, many higher-education officials concede there is a pricing problem, and changes are needed.

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