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).
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula offers this chilling vision of Dracula and accurate depiction of the power of evil. The protagonist John Harker is at Dracula’s doorstep, and Dracula greets him:
“‘Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own free will!” He [Count Dracula] made no motion of stepping to meet me, but stood like a statue, as though his gesture of welcome had fixed him into stone. The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold, he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength which made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed cold as ice, more like the hand of a dead than a living man. Again he said, ‘Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!'”
Evil has the power to grip the soul.
But perhaps even more terrifying is that Jesus is in perfect agreement with this assessment: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).
Evil has the power to grip the soul. But then we must personalize it as Jesus does: evil has the power to grip my soul.
Evil is not something that can be managed. Evil is something from which the Son must set us free.
If you are struggling to understand the relationship between science, Christianity, and secularism like I am, I wholeheartedly recommend J.P. Moreland’s book, Christianity and the Nature of Science: a Philosophical Investigation. Here are a few important takeaways:
Scientists and philosophers of science disagree about the definition of science. Is science scientific realism, scientific antirealism, inductivism, phenomenalism, operationalism, pragmatism, instrumentalism, or nonrational nonrealism? J.P. Moreland, for example, holds to a combination of scientific realism for problems like cosmology and antirealism for problems like quantum physics. Are there such things as natural laws pointing to unseen realities, or are scientific equations really untrue but useful approximations of natural phenomena? When people justify a claim with the statement “because science” what does that even mean considering there are so many different positions? Christians and secular humanists naively assume scientific realism in their arguments, but scientific realism is not the only option available.
Science is intimately connected to philosophy. I wrote another piece about that here. “What is science?” is a philosophical question. One of the biggest weaknesses with American public school education today is that science is naively viewed as a discipline severed from philosophy. Or, more dishonestly, materialist philosophers combine their philosophy with science and then say science has no relationship to philosophy. If American schools are serious about reform, they must start teaching history of science and philosophy of science courses.
Scientism or scientific imperialism is a philosophy that is self-refuting and undermines science. See J.P. Moreland’s argument here. Basically, the statement “scientific knowledge is the only knowledge that is rational” is a philosophical statement; therefore this statement presupposes that philosophical knowledge is rational in addition to scientific knowledge; therefore the statement “scientific knowledge is the only knowledge that is rational” is false and self-refuting. Philosophy is inescapable.
After reading this book, if you are still a scientific realist, you will have a healthy appreciation for the antirealist arguments. (You will be a scientific realist “chastened” by antirealism).
A few days ago I went into the crawl space for the first time.
Our kitchen sink seemed to be pouring water at a lower pressure than normal, so I needed to go down into the crawl space to make sure there wasn’t a leak in the water piping. Donning boots, pants, a hoodie, and a particulate mask, I lowered myself into the crawl space. My two-year-old daughter, Anastasia, stood by nervously, unsure why I had to go into such a small, scary, dark, and unsavory space all by myself. “Dada? Dada?” she inquired with uncertainty.
Crouching, army-crawling, ducking underneath and over piping, fighting the feeling of claustrophobia, past support pillars to the rear of the house, I made it to the back of the foundation and the kitchen water piping. No leaks. I made my way back to the crawl space entrance, glad I didn’t run into any spiders the whole time. I popped my head out of the crawl space looking like a bespectacled prairie dog, and Anastasia shouted a relieved, “Dada!”
As it turns out, a piece of debris had clogged the diverter valve in the kitchen faucet. Removing the debris fixed the sink. Though I didn’t find the problem in the crawl space, going into it was a valuable experience. Before entering the crawl space, I would walk around on top of the floor taking for granted it was not going to cave in underneath my feet. I didn’t know there was so much going on underneath the surface of the house to keep the floor stable. If I go into the crawl space and discover one of the support beams is rotting or broken, or the foundation is broken, I shouldn’t trust the floor or the house until I fix the problem.
Science is like a house. Many people naively use science or trust science without knowing that there are philosophical support pillars, presuppositions, in the crawl space under the house. This list is not exhaustive, but here a few of the presuppositions of science:
The external world exists.
The universe is orderly.
The universe is knowable.
Nature is uniform.
Induction is possible.
Logic, epistemology, and truth exist.
The senses are reliable.
The mind is reliable.
Mathematics and numbers exist.
Ontology exists and classification is possible.
Certain moral values are necessary to science (honest reporting of data).
Singularities, ultimate boundary conditions, and brute givens exist.
You can run thought experiments on each of these to see how, if the philosophical presupposition fails, science fails. I will give a few examples: 6) Truth exists. Postmodernism denies the existence of truth. If postmodernism is true, science fails. 8) The mind is reliable. Charles Darwin and C.S. Lewis were both haunted by a thought: if my mind is just a deterministic chain of chemical reactions, how can I trust my thoughts? (I have not read it yet, but I have heard Nagel’s book deals with the problem of mind when approached from a materialist perspective.) If the human mind doesn’t work, science fails. 11) Certain moral values are necessary to science, including honest reporting. Not every scientist is committed to accurately presenting data. John Grant wrote a whole book about this. The film “Interstellar” (spoiler alert) reveals the disaster that occurs when scientists lie. If scientists do not honestly report data, science fails.
Charles Taylor, in his masterful book on secularism, explains that every belief in Western Culture has become open to doubt, questioning, attack, and criticism; every belief has become fragilized. The philosophical presuppositions of science are no exception. When you delve into the crawlspace of Western Civilization, you will see that the philosophical pillars holding up the house of science can no longer be taken for granted. They are under attack from postmodernism, nihilism, reductive materialism, the Enlightenment thinkers like Immanuel Kant, and some counter-Enlightenment thinkers who deny the presuppositions necessary for science.
In this confused world, Christians need to walk a narrow path: a path where we avoid the futility of scientific idolatry, but also unashamedly show that Christianity provides a firm philosophical/metaphysical foundation for science.
Science is an inescapable feature of the modern world, so it important to think clearly about it. Real science must be distinguished from something called scientism. J.P. Moreland explains:
“When a statement includes itself within its field of reference and fails to satisy itself (i.e., to conform to its own criteria of acceptability), it is self-refuting. For example, ‘There are no true statements,’ ‘I do not exist,’ and ‘No one can utter a word in English’ (uttered in English) are all self-refuting…If they are assumed to be true, what they assert proves them false…A dogmatic claim of scientism (e.g., ‘only what can be known by science or quantified and tested empirically is true and rational’) is self-refuting. The statement itself is not a statement of science, but a second-order philosophical statement about science…Another way to put this is to say that the definition, aims, and justification of science are philosophical presuppositions about science and cannot be validated by science…The validation of science is a philosophical issue, at least in part, and any claim to the contrary will itself be philosophical” (Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation, p. 107).
In other words, real science is honest about its connection to philosophy. “What is science?” is a philosophical question. Scientism, in seeking to establish a “science” standing alone apart from philosophy, actually undermines science. Schools in America are raising a whole generation of students (I am among them) who are taught scientism and are ignorant that 1) scientism undermines science and 2) real science is connected to philosophy in essential ways. It is deception, self-refuting deception, to present scientism as mere “Science.”
They begin their book by pointing out, rightly, that science starts with certain philosophical assumptions, namely the correspondence theory of truth, the ability of the human mind to obtain knowledge, and the existence of natural law. Scientists need to study philosophy because they need to see that, when postmodernists deny truth, postmodernists undermine science.
College education is becoming too expensive in America. What happens when college costs $100,000 and doesn’t improve a student’s employment prospects? Either people quit going to colleges and colleges go out of business, or colleges will reform to become more competitive.
Favorite quote: “The whole [student loan] scheme seems like the debt-slavery regimes used by coal mines and plantations to keep workers and sharecroppers in debt peonage for life.”
John Gray is a something of a nihilist atheist who attacks secular humanist narratives. A very weird and thoughtful book.
Favorite quote: “The shock is captured in the account Fergusson cites of a middle-aged widow, who went to the bank to be told her life savings had lost three-quarters of their value. Remonstrating with the banker, she objected: ‘Yes, but mine are government securities. Surely there can’t be anything safer than that.’ The banker replied: ‘Where is the State which guaranteed these securities to you? It is dead.'”
This is an excellent commentary on American culture from an outside perspective. De Tocqueville observed that liberty and equality are two virtues that must be held in tension. Our current political situation indicates equality is overtaking liberty.
Favorite quote: “I am also convinced, that democratic nations are most likely to fall beneath the yoke of a centralized administration.”
Schaeffer’s thesis is compelling: worship of Reason ends in unreason.
Favorite quotes: “Christianity was necessary for the beginning of modern science for the simple reason that Christianity created a climate of thought which put men in a position to investigate the form of the universe.”
“The early scientists believed in the uniformity of natural causes. What they did not believe in was the uniformity of causes in a closed system. That little phrase makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between natural science and a science that is rooted in naturalistic philosophy. It makes all the difference between what I would call modern science and what I would call modern modern science. It is important to notice that this is not a failing of science as science; rather that the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system has become the dominant philosophy among scientists.”
A super-enjoyable introduction to Augustine’s thought, especially his epistemology.
Favorite quotes: “Augustine believes that the true philosophy is also the true theology. Faith and reason are not psychologically separate activities that may be exercised independently.”
Charles Taylor is highly critical of so-called “subtraction stories” told by modern secularism, namely that once God, superstition, theology, and the Church are outgrown, we are left with an uncontaminated, rational reality. One such subtraction story pertains to authority: once we are liberated from the Protestant authority, God speaking through the Bible, or the Roman Catholic authority, the Church, man is free and no longer burdened by these shackles of external authority.
This is false. Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who visited America, observed that Americans did not merely remove the external authority, they set up the Self as the religious and epistemic authority. (I’m not sure if Charles Taylor explicitly takes up de Tocqueville’s argument, but he would probably agree.) According to de Tocqueville, man did not merely remove all authority (the typical subtraction story); he actively established a new one, that of the Self.
Consider Gary Dorien’s extremely helpful definition of theological liberalism:
“Fundamentally it is the idea of a genuine Christianity not based on external authority. Liberal theology seeks to reinterpret the symbols of traditional Christianity…liberal theology is defined by…its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people” (The Making of American Liberal Theology, p. xxiii, emphasis mine).
In other words, we all have set up an authority to govern our lives. People who say they don’t have an authority are either lying or not yet aware that their Self is the authority. If you are a secular humanist or theological liberal, why is the Self a more legitimate authority than the Bible or the Church? If you are a Protestant, why is God speaking through the Bible the legitimate authority? If you are a Roman Catholic, why is the Church the legitimate authority?
Here is how I would answer the question of authority:
In the Sermon on the Mount, authority is something absolutely attributed to Christ. “He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as one of their scribes” (Matthew 7:29, ESV, emphasis mine). Hating all authority therefore includes hating Christ.
Christ is the God of the Cosmos and the Servant King. When washing His disciples’ feet, He demonstrates His authority through love, service, and humility. Good authority is possible.
Secular humanists are absolutely right to point out when Protestant and Catholic churches are demonstrating poor authority by lacking love, service, and humility.
If a Protestant or Catholic church preaches a false gospel, it disqualifies itself as a spiritual authority (Galatians 1:8). (Here my Protestant leanings are coming out a little bit.)
Trusting the Self is fraught with peril. Proverbs is brimming with warnings about trusting our own understanding. Jesus thanks the Father that He hides the Gospel from the wise and discerning, yet reveals it to little children (Matthew 11:25). Claiming to be wise, the wise have become fools (Romans 1); God loves us and has mercy on us in our blindness, sin, and folly (Romans 2-11); therefore by the mercies of God (12:1) “never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:16).