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The history of the Science vs Religion Myth

10 May

From The Gospel Coalition:

Ronald Numbers grew up as the son of a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist minister, attending Adventist schools and being taught young-earth creationism until adulthood, where he lost his faith and became an agnostic. Today he is perhaps the world’s leading scholar on the history of the relationship between science and religion.

If you were to ask Professor Numbers for the “greatest myth” about the historical relationship between science and religion, he would respond that it’s the idea the the two “have been in a state of constant conflict.”

Timothy Larsen, a Christian historian who specializes in the nineteenth century, agrees: “The so-called ‘war’ between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured . . . . It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes.”

If these two historians—one an agnostic, one a confessional Christian—both agree this is a manufactured myth, then who is to blame for inventing it?

That distinction falls to American scholars from the nineteenth century: (1) Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and (2) John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

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On being a Southener

18 Apr

By Barton Swaim at New Criterion:

Two-thousand-eleven marked the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the Battle of Bull Run, and the beginning of America’s bloodiest war. In Charleston and in fields outside Manassas, Virginia, war re-enactors put on lavish displays of martial conflicts. Essays and articles on the War appeared in all the major newspapers, books on the conflict were widely reviewed, and PBS again ran Ken Burns’s documentary series The Civil War, provoking at least one observer to express irritation that the Confederacy lends itself so easily to romantic portrayal. Once again (or so I imagine) people found themselves asking, perhaps with the red and blue map of Electoral College results in the back of their minds: Who are these Southerners? Are they the racists and political reactionaries we’ve always suspected them to be? Are they Americans in the deepest, most genuine sense, or is the South some aberration about which we ought to be embarrassed?

Jacques Barzun once remarked that Darwin’s Origin of the Species is one of those books on which people have always felt free to discourse without having read it. That’s true of the American South, too, and has been for a long time. “In the Southern states, gaming, fox hunting and horse-racing are the height of ambition; industry is reserved for slaves”: so wrote a twenty-six-year-old Noah Webster who had never been further south than New York. Exactly that sort of confident ignorance has long animated the American entertainment industry. Every Southerner has a favorite complaint: the apparent inability of film and television producers to find actual Southerners to play the part of Southerners; the routine association of the South with incest and abject stupidity; the location of all forms of bigotry in the South, even those for which Southerners aren’t known; and of course the amazingly resilient idea that the Civil War was merely and exclusively about racism—a belief lampooned by Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) in the television comedy “The Office.” Defending himself against imputations of racism, Michael remarks, “As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘If you are a racist, I will invade you with the North.’”

Southerners themselves, or at least the writers and intellectuals among them, have long been preoccupied with defining Southern identity—often with results that confuse rather than clarify. Before the War, a number of influential Southern writers circulated the bogus notion that Southerners were descended from Cavaliers (mannerly, aristocratic, unmindful of money) and Northerners from Puritans (earnest, plain in habits, inclined to moneymaking pursuits). After the War, a disparate variety of journalists, industrialists, and politicians promoted something they called the “New South,” a region that would foster economic and cultural vibrancy without giving in to the worship of Mammon (or, for some, to racial equality). It was against this latter collection of hopes and ideas that the Agrarian intellectuals reacted in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. The twelve authors of that book—among them Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Frank Owsley—inveighed against the project, as they felt it to be, to make the South more like the North: more vulnerable to the cultural volatility and spiritual shallowness of an unregulated economy, more hospitable to radical individualism.

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Perhaps not all that was lost in the Lost Cause was a good riddance

17 Apr

Form Dr. Boyd Cathey:

it was a war between two ideas of government, and, in reality, two ideas of history and progress.  For the North, which now controlled the Federal government, it was a war to suppress what was seen as a rebellion against constituted national authority. For the states of the Southern Confederacy, it was a defense of their inherited and inherent rights under the old Constitution of 1787, rights that had never been ceded to the Federal government. And, more, it became for them a Second War for Independence against an arbitrary and overreaching government that had gravely violated that Constitution.

Thus, at Appomattox were set into motion momentous events in the future of the reconstituted American nation.  With the defeat of the South, the restraints on industrial, and, eventually, international capitalism were removed. The road to centralized government power was cleared. But even more significantly, there was a sea change in what we might call “the dominant American philosophy.”

In the old ante-bellum Union the South had acted as a kind of counter-weight to the North and a quickly developing progressivist vision of history. Certainly, there were notable Southerners who shared the growing economic and political liberalism of their fellow citizens north of the Mason-Dixon Line (e.g, DeBow’s Review). Yet, increasingly in the late ante-bellum period, the most significant voices in the Southland echoed a kind of traditionalism somewhat reminiscent of the serious critiques being made in Europe of “the Idea of Progress” and of the deleterious effects of 19th century liberalism.

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Why I Became a Conservative – Scruton

19 Jan

From the British Political Philosopher Roger Scruton:

I as brought up at a time when half the English people voted Conservative at national elections and almost all English intellectuals regarded the term “conservative” as a term of abuse. To be a conservative, I was told, was to be on the side of age against youth, the past against the future, authority against innovation, the “structures” against spontaneity and life. It was enough to understand this, to recognize that one had no choice, as a free-thinking intellectual, save to reject conservatism. The choice remaining was between reform and revolution. Do we improve society bit by bit, or do we rub it out and start again? On the whole my contemporaries favored the second option, and it was when witnessing what this meant, in May 1968 in Paris, that I discovered my vocation.

In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing. The plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back, shudder for a second, and then give up the ghost, as the reflections suddenly left them and they slid in jagged fragments to the ground. Cars rose into the air and landed on their sides, their juices flowing from unseen wounds. The air was filled with triumphant shouts, as one by one lamp-posts and bollards were uprooted and piled on the tarmac, to form a barricade against the next van-load of policemen.

The van—known then as a panier de salade on account of the wire mesh that covered its windows—came cautiously round the corner from the Rue Descartes, jerked to a halt, and disgorged a score of frightened policemen. They were greeted by flying cobble-stones and several of them fell. One rolled over on the ground clutching his face, from which the blood streamed through tightly clenched fingers. There was an exultant shout, the injured policeman was helped into the van, and the students ran off down a side-street, sneering at the cochons and throwing Parthian cobbles as they went.

That evening a friend came round: she had been all day on the barricades with a troupe of theater people, under the captainship of Armand Gatti. She was very excited by the events, which Gatti, a follower of Antonin Artaud, had taught her to regard as the high point of situationist theater—the artistic transfiguration of an absurdity which is the day-to-day meaning of bourgeois life. Great victories had been scored: policemen injured, cars set alight, slogans chanted, graffiti daubed. The bourgeoisie were on the run and soon the Old Fascist and his régime would be begging for mercy.

Read the rest here from the New Criterion

Two Americas

20 Oct

Gertrude Himmelfarb in her book One Nation, Two Cultures (2010) argued that America is comprised of two distinct cultures.  A traditionalist one (conservative, Puritan heritage) and a dissident one (counterculture of the 1960s).  She wrote:

As a minority, the traditionalist culture labors under the disadvantage of being perennially on the defensive.  Its elite — gospel preachers, radio talk show hosts, some prominent columnists, and organizational leaders–cannot begin to match, in  numbers or influence, those who occupy the commanding heights of the dominant culture; professors presiding over the multitude of young people who attend their lectures, read their books, and have to pass their exams; journalists who determine what information, and what ‘spins’ on that information, come to the public; television and movie producers who provide the images and values that shape the popular culture; cultural entrepreneurs who are ingenious in creating and marketing ever more sensational and provocative products.  An occasional boycott by religious conservatives can hardly counteract the cumulative, pervasive effect of the dominant culture.

Is America drifting away from its Virginian – New England founding?

29 Aug

From Peter Lawler:

There were the original settlements — one in Virginia and one in New England. And ever since that time, you’ve had two conflicting impulses in American political life. The Virginians are all about liberty, as in Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. And the New Englanders — the Puritans or the Pilgrims — are all about participatory civic equality through the interdependence of the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty. America works best when the Americans harmonize by curbing the excesses of both Virginia and New England. That’s what the compromise that was the completed Declaration of Independence, as opposed to Jefferson’s rough draft Yo, did. You see that in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which dedicated our country to the proposition that all men are created equal. And you see that in the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. at his best. The Puritans, in general, tend to be too moralistically intrusive, to turn every sin into a crime. They’re an important source of our history of taking sexual morality very seriously, and for believing that American liberty depends on Americans sharing a common religious morality. They’re also the source of some of our most ridiculous and meddlesome legislation, such as prohibition (and, in some indirect way, Mayor Bloomberg’s legal assault on our liberty to drink giant sodas in movie theaters). On the other hand, the individualism of American liberty sometimes morphs in the direction of cold indifference to the struggles of our fellow citizens. Mr. Jefferson spoke nobly against the injustice of slavery as a violation of our rights as free men and women. But he wasn’t ever moved to do much about it. And today members of our “cognitive elite” are amazingly out of touch with those not of their kind, living in a complacent bubble. Puritans, you might say, care too much about what other people are doing, and they say “there ought to be a law” way too to often. But they’re free from the corresponding excess in the other direction: the cruelty of indifference.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/439404/teaching-american-government-tocqueville-virginia-puritan-new-england-liberty-equality

What does the Christian church really face after Obergefell?

22 Apr

From Jake Meador:

Hope, History, and the American Church After Obergefell
It’s a truth universally recognized by anyone who has ever talked about the BenOp that a person who expresses concern about the church’s future is in want of a person to quote Tertullian at them.

Sorry, is that cheeky? Here’s the quote and we’ll get to why it grates on my hear so in a moment: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The problem isn’t that Tertullian is always wrong. The problem is that this quote has become a sort of truism reflexively recited by American evangelicals who can only imagine that government-sanctioned opposition to the church will be a good thing for the American church. And while there will likely be some benefits to come from opposition, it’s essential that evangelicals not be overly sanguine about the American church’s short-term prospects.

The Historical Precedent for the Death of Regional Churches

The first point we need to get clear is that, historically speaking, it is simply not true that persecution always helps to strengthen and refine the church. Sometimes persecution simply destroys a church. Once upon a time there were thriving churches in northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and Japan. Then they died. (You can read about them in this fine book by Philip Jenkins.)

Those churches were all either destroyed (in the latter cases) or driven to the very edge of society (in the case of the two former groups). Indeed, what little remained of the historic churches of the Middle East has been largely eradicated by ISIS.

Thus we need to first figure out why these churches were destroyed or simply made into permanent extreme minorities. There are a number of factors in play:

In some cases, the church was closely tied to a ruling elite and when that elite was overthrown the church lost its standing and was crushed.
In other cases, the faith was actually only professed by a small minority of social elites and never penetrated into the mass population.

Finally, in still other cases, Christian identity has become conflated with a set of other characteristics or cultural values which, over time, erode the distinctly Christian characteristics of a people. So there is still a superficial Christianity, but it is badly compromised by its close ties to nationalism. Greece is a good example of this as somewhere between 88 and 98% of the population profess to be Greek Orthodox but only 27% of those people actually attend church weekly. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are even more dire. In Denmark, 80% of the population is Lutheran but only 3% attend any kind of church service weekly. This critique also applies to cities and states in the USA that are historically Catholic, such as Chicago or Boston. The gap between those who claim to adhere to a specific faith and those who attend church weekly is enormous.
What all this means is that there are a number of conditions that have historically caused local churches to crumble and regional churches to disappear or lapse into a kind of permanent minority status. And the key thing to get clear is that this is very much a live possibility in the United States.

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