Remembering Hiroshima: an Apocalyptic Lullaby

Neutrons stream
Atoms smash
A city dead
Reduced to ash.

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Hiroshima: 1945

 

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How College Has Changed

How has college education changed in the past 200 years?

The short answer is that research universities replaced classical universities.

“And while our universities are under greater pressure than ever to emphasize pragmatic results–technological achievements and career-oriented skills–there are voices calling for a reaffirmation of the classic role of education as a way to articulate private aspirations with common cultural meanings so that individuals simultaneously become more fully developed people and citizens of a free society…When education becomes an instrument for individual careerism, it cannot provide either personal meaning or civic culture.

“[In classic universities], the purpose of education was to produce a ‘man of learning’ who would have ‘an uplifting and unifying influence on society.’ Literature, the arts, and science were regarded as branches of a single culture of learning. It was the task of moral philosophy, a required course in the senior year, usually taught by the college president, not only to integrate the various fields of learning, including science and religion, but even more importantly to draw the implications for the living of a good life individually and socially…It was only late in the nineteenth century that the research university replaced the college as the model for higher education…The prestige of natural science as the model for all disciplined knowing and the belief that the progress of science would inevitably bring social amelioration in its wake partially obscured the fact that they unity and ethical meaning of higher education were being lost…There were great positive achievements in this transformation of higher education. The new educational system prepared vastly larger numbers of people for employment in an industrial society, and it included as students those who, because of class, sex, or race, were almost completely excluded in the early nineteenth century. The authors of this book and, in all probability, most of its readers, are beneficiaries of this great change. Yet we must be aware of the costs. One of the major costs of the rise of the research university and its accompanying professionalism and specialization was the impoverishment of the public sphere. Tocqueville as our example [of man of classical education]…was…intelligible to any educated reader. Today’s specialized academics, with notable exceptions, write with a set of intellectual assumptions and a vocabulary shared only by their colleagues” (Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in America by Robert Bellah, pp. 293, 299).

Spurgeon on Teaching Children

“The prophet, it is written, ‘stretched himself upon the child.’ One would have thought it should be written, ‘he contracted himself!’ He was a full-grown man, and the other a mere lad. Should it not be ‘he contracted himself’? No, ‘he stretched himself;’ and, mark you, no stretching is hard than for a man to stretch himself to a child. He is no fool who can talk to children; a simpleton is much mistaken if he thinks that his folly can interest boys and girls. It needs our best wits, our most industrious studies, our most earnest thoughts, our ripest powers, to teach our little ones. You will not quicken the child until you have stretched yourself; and, though it seems a strange thing, yet it is so. The wisest man will need to exercise all his abilities if he would become a successful teacher of the young” (The Soul Winner, p. 156).

STEM and the Humanities are Both Important

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STEM and the humanities are both good. We must not elevate STEM to the neglect of the humanities.

Many of my educator friends lament the decline of humanities. Today I want to explain why.

The problems in education today are multi-faceted with multiple causes, and I don’t pretend to understand them all, but I will offer one cause, a philosophical one, for the decline of the humanities: Baconian philosophy. First, I want to draw your attention to this web comic by xkcd. In this comic, xkcd offers a hidden argument for what is called a Baconian view of science. Charles Taylor explains:

“Bacon insists that the goal of science is not to discover a noble over-all pattern in things (as he somewhat tendentiously describes the sciences of Aristotle), which we can take pride in making evident, but the making of experiments which permit us to ‘improve the condition of mankind’” (A Secular Age, p. 543).

Richard Weaver sees this shift from an Aristotle to Bacon, from truth to utility, as a great degradation in culture: “The final degradation of the Baconian philosophy is that knowledge becomes power in the service of appetite” (Ideas Have Consequences).

What the xkcd comic is doing is arguing for the Baconian view of science at the hidden presuppositional level. It’s implicitly arguing that utility is more important than truth without explicitly saying so. People drink in the Baconian view as if it’s the only one that’s true and don’t realize there are other options like the Aristotelian view.

Why is this practically significant? Our culture is flux, devaluing truth and forms in exchange for what is useful.  Western education used to value both the humanities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Now Western education values STEM and devalues the humanities, I would argue, because we have believed bad parts of Baconian philosophy. The simplest way for parents, students, and educators to oppose the bad parts of Baconian philosophy is to insist that truth is more important than utility.

As an engineer, I am against the current obsession with STEM if the obsession comes at the cost of devaluing truth, devaluing the humanities, and believing bad parts of Baconian philosophy. STEM and the humanities are both important. Pursuing truth often turns out to be useful. Pursuing what is useful destroys truth.

A warning to Christians: Paul warns Christians, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Christians working for reform in education while believing the Baconian idea that utility is more important than truth have been taken captive by false philosophy.

A Brief History of Love

When I say “love,” what images come to your mind?

Here are just a few images of love I see in my community. A group of friends gathers around a family to help them load their moving truck and move to a new home. A group of young friends offer free childcare so parents can go on a date night. When a young couple loses their newborn child soon after birth, their pastor visits them in the hospital to weep and mourn with them, and their friends buy them a vacation to help them recover. A 10 year-old hugs his 25-year old friend good-bye. Two grown men meet over a cup of coffee to talk honestly about their struggles, fears, work, families, and dreams. A young couple are struggling to take care of their newborn, so their friends bring them dinner every night for two weeks. A family has a leak in their roof, and their friends fix it so the family can save money. A single man needs housing; a family welcomes him in their home and he becomes a part of their family. A family joyfully adopts a child.

The reason I share these verbal images is this: when writing about love, there is a very real danger. The danger is that love would be reduced from a concrete and beautiful part of personal experience to a bland and abstract idea. When I speak about love here, in somewhat abstract terms, it is my sincere hope that love will take concrete expression in your personal experience and in mine.

A Brief History of Love Since the Middle Ages

Augustine (354 A.D. to 430 A.D.), following biblical teaching, asserted that God is love, and love is from God. He believed that man is in need of divine grace in order to love God and love his neighbors as fully as possible. Pelagius (360 A.D. to 418 A.D.) contradicted Augustine, insisting man doesn’t need divine grace in order to live righteously and love others properly. (If you are unfamiliar with the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius, see R.C. Sproul’s piece here.) As the Enlightenment eclipsed the Middle Ages, Rousseau (1712 A.D. to 1778 A.D.), the father of modern secular humanism, insisted that man, not God, is the source of love. Then came the counter-Enlightenment: reductive materialist thinkers like Nietzsche (1844-1900) insist that love is just chemical reactions.

I realize I am painting in broad brushstrokes to the point of oversimplification here, but it is helpful. Charles Taylor connects the Middle Ages and Enlightenment concisely with a key insight: “Rousseau is Pelagian Augustine, the good will is now innate, natural, entirely anthropocentric” (A Secular Age, p. 202). (“Anthropocentric” means “man-centered.”) In other words, contrary to Augustine, Rousseau says that man is the source of love and doesn’t need divine grace in order to love properly.

 The process looks something like this:

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The devolution of love

The counter-Enlightenment presents a severe challenge to both Christianity and secular humanism: its cold, cruel logic destroys any beauty in love.

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This is the kind of stuff I agonize over as I fall asleep at night.

Applications

1) When someone uses the word “love,” ask them what they mean. Is stealing loving? Is sexual immorality loving? As we have seen here, there are at least three definitions of love. The typical Westerner has a definition of love that is a compromise between Augustine’s and Rousseau’s.

2) In a world where good and evil exist, it is not enough to know that a man loves. We should want to know whether that man loves good or loves evil. Pagan One-ism, in blurring the separation between good and evil encourages a man to love evil.

3) According to Christ, true love is love for God and love for neighbor (Luke 10:27). True love is expressed in obeying God’s commandments (John 14:15), and Christ’s disciples can only love properly when we are enabled by divine grace (John 15:5). The secular humanist definition of love is false, for it ignores God. The reductive materialist definition of love is false, for it minimizes the glory of love. The theological liberal definition of love is false, for it trifles with God’s commandments.

4) The logical and just consequence of rebelling against God and ignoring Him is that reductive materialism destroys love, robbing it of its transcendence, beauty, and glory. Similar arguments can be made for truth, meaning, morality, and beauty. If God is love, we should want to be connected to Him, not ignoring Him!

5) The supreme demonstration of love is not man’s love, but in Jesus acting as the propitiation, the substitutionary sacrifice, for rebels like you and me. When we trust in Jesus, we are reconciled to the God of love. When we delight in God’s forgiveness, God’s love flows through us like a vine nourishing its branches.

6) The world is aching to see love for God and love for neighbor. I have written about love in somewhat abstract terms here, but again, it is my sincere hope that love will saturate your personal experience and not remain an abstract idea. The biblical writer John makes the astounding claim that Christians’ love for one another makes God’s beauty visible in the world (1 John 4:12). Wow! God, help us to love You and our neighbors. Help us to make Your excellence and beauty visible through our love. Amen.

Who Was Nietzche?

Who was Nietzche, and why is he important?

Nietzsche is “the first real atheist…it is Nietzsche above all who confronts the terrifying, exhilarating consequences of the death of God…Nietzsche sees that civilization is in the process of ditching divinity while still clinging to religious values, and that this egregious act of bad faith must not go uncontested. You cannot kick away the foundations and expect the building still to stand…Our conceptions of truth, virtue, identity and autonomy our sense of history as shapely and coherent, all have deep-seated theological roots. It is idle to imagine that they could be torn from these origins and remain intact” (Culture and the Death of God by Terry Eagleton).

C.S. Lewis on Liberty

I recently saw this following image on the internet:

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It reminds me of an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. If you are not familiar with Lewis, The Last Battle is a vision of a fantasy world, Narnia, coming to an end. The villain, an ape named Shift, has gained power over the talking animals of Narnia through a complex web of lies. One of his lies is that Aslan, who represents the true God, is the same as Tash, who represents a false demon god:

“‘And now here’s another thing,’ the Ape went on, fitting a fresh nut into its cheek, ‘I hear some of the horses are saying, Let’s hurry up and get this job of carting timber over as quickly as we can, and then we’ll be free again. Well, you can get that idea out of your heads at once. And not only the Horses either. Everybody who can work is going to be made to work in the future. Aslan has it all settled with the King of Calormen—The Tisroc, as our dark-faced friends, the Calormenes, call him. All you horses and bulls and donkeys are to be sent down into Calormen to work for your living—pulling and carrying the way horses and such do in other countries. And all you digging animals like moles and rabbits and Dwarfs are going down to work in the Tisroc’s mines. And——’

“‘No, no, no,’ howled the Beasts. ‘It can’t be true. Aslan would never sell us into slavery to the King of Calormen.’

“‘None of that! Hold your noise!’ said the Ape with a snarl. ‘Who said anything about slavery? You won’t be slaves. You’ll be paid—very good wages too. That is to say, your pay will be paid in to Aslan’s treasury and he will use it all for everybody’s good.’ Then he glanced, and almost winked, at the chief Calormene. The Calormene bowed and replied, in the pompous Calormene way:

“‘Most sapient Mouthpiece of Aslan, the Tisroc (may he live forever) is wholly of one mind with your lordship in this judicious plan.’

“‘There! You see!’ said the Ape. ‘It’s all arranged. And all for your own good. We’ll be able, with the money you earn, to make Narnia a country worth living in. There’ll be oranges and bananas pouring in—and roads and big cities and schools and offices and whips and muzzles and saddles and cages and kennels and prisons—Oh, everything.’

“‘But we don’t want all those things,” said an old Bear. ‘We want to be free. And we want to hear Aslan speak himself.'”