Content Muster #1

I will occasionally share here clusters of 3-10 pieces of content I find interesting, helpful to building up believers, or helpful to believers and secularists to help both understand secularism. Sharing content here does not mean I affirm everything being said in each article, but do believe they are helpful for provoking thought. I do take full responsibility for my commentary.

The New York Times: “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance”

Commentary: A progressive reflects on how progressives discriminate against conservatives.

The Gospel Coalition: “Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality

Commentary: many Christians claim that secularism’s approval of homosexual practice will result also in an approval of pedophilia. According to this article, that is a straw man argument. In a contractual view of sexual ethics, which seems to be the view secularism is adopting, homosexual practice between consenting adults is OK whereas pedophilia is wrong.

The Washington Post: “As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.”

Commentary: It is possible to be a rational professional inhabiting secularism and believe in demons and the supernatural.

First Things: “A Subjective Definition of ‘Death’ Would Unleash Great Evil

Commentary: Radical self-autonomy denies the objective biological realities of male and female. Will radical self-autonomy go so far as to deny the objective realities of life and death? Could a man self-identify as “dead” so he could collect his own life-insurance policy?

The Federalist:“Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s ‘Rationalia’ Would Be A Terrible Country

Commentary: scientism is a philosophy masquerading as “science.” All science rests on philosophical presuppositions. We are either self-aware, or unaware, of how philosophy and science interact with one another.

A Brief Refutation of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment project (1685-1815)-that is, the attempt to establish a secular and rational basis for morality-is a failure. As someone who grew up steeped in secularism and Enlightenment philosophy yet was saved by Christ as an adult, I will briefly communicate my change of heart.

Western culture has gone through 3 stages:
1) There is an objective standard of morality that can be rationally justified.
2) The Enlightenment: moral claims are still made; appeal to objective standards and rational justification start to deteriorate.
3) Emotivism: all moral judgments are expressions of personal preference.
 
America and Europe are in Stage 3 emotivism, reflected in statements like “that works for you” or “I would never murder someone, but who am I to deny someone else that right?” We will either repent and return to Jesus and the Christian roots we had in Stage 1 or become just as bad as Nazi Germany. Secular humanism will no longer be humanism, but Nietzschean anti-humanism: the statement “we are descended from apes, so let us love one another,” will turn into the statement “we are descended from apes, so let us dominate and oppress one another.”
 
Nazi Germany was described by Hannah Arendt exactly this way, “…the few rules and standards according to which men used to tell right from wrong, and which were invoked to judge or justify others and themselves, and whose validity were supposed to be self-evident to every sane person either as a part of divine or of natural law.… without much notice… collapsed almost overnight, and then it was as though morality suddenly stood revealed in the original meaning of the word, as a set of mores, customs and manners, which could be exchanged for another set with hardly more trouble than it would take to change the table manners of an individual or a people.”
 
The Holocaust shows us how this type of thinking fleshes itself out, embodying death, destruction, and chaos.
 
In the presence of moral chaos and darkness, the local Church and local community are absolutely essential. Alasdair MacIntyre argues we must construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”
after-virtue

Death and Radical Self-Autonomy

There is a helpful article about death over here at First Things.

Does radical self-autonomy extend even to death?

If death is purely subjective,
1) Those in power get to decide who is and who is not important. (Hitler can arbitrarily decide the Jews are non-humans.)
2) A man with a life insurance policy could self-identify as dead so he, his wife, or his family could cash his life insurance check.

The Goodness of Violence?

What is the relationship between secular humanism, the desire for sex, anti-humanism, and the desire for violence?

Consider the typical Enlightenment argument in a nice AAA-1 syllogism:

All sexual desires are natural desires.
All natural desires are good.
Therefore, all sexual desires are good.

Then, consider in an identical AAA-1 syllogism a similar argument of some in the counter-Enlightenment:

All desires for violence are natural desires.
All natural desires are good.
Therefore, all desires for violence are good.

If we take the premise “all natural desires are good” seriously, we are brought to a troubling conclusion, what Charles Taylor calls anti-humanism: “Anti-humanism is not just a black hole, an absence of values, but also a new valorization of death, and sometimes violence” (A Secular Age, p. 638).

To follow Jesus, Christians must say not all of our natural desires are good (Matthew 15:19). We oppose 1) anti-humanism’s valorization of death and violence, and more controversially we oppose 2) secular humanism’s approval of sexual immorality.

Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19, emphasis mine).

Why Love is not Lust

“…And God separated the light from the darkness.” ~Genesis 1:4

From the very beginning of the Bible, God is a God who makes distinctions and separations. The Bible presents a binary view of reality: there is truth, falsehood; good, evil; righteousness, unrighteousness; light, darkness.

This binary view of reality is not something unique to the Old Testament. God in the New Testament makes distinctions as well:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality…” (Galatians 5:19).

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22).

According to the Bible, love is not sexual immorality; love is not lust; and lust is not the deep erotic passion between a husband and wife celebrated in Song of Solomon. Love and red-hot sexual attraction in marriage are good and lovely. Lust and sexual immorality are evil.

As Western culture becomes more influenced by pagan One-ism, we will see these boundaries blurred, melded, and obscured:

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The Brave New World has an orgy-porgy.

According to pagan One-ism, lust is love. The biblical separation between love and lust has been melded and obscured.

The average person objects at this point: lust isn’t a big deal. But let me explain it this way: if adultery is the lie that God cheats on people He loves, lust is the lie that God would even think about it. Lust is something horrifying and evil that strikes at the very heart of God’s character: His love, purity, holiness, covenant faithfulness, and His commitment to keep His promises in thought and in action.

Love is not lust.

 

Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Review

If you are struggling to understand the relationship between science, Christianity, and secularism like I am, I wholeheartedly recommend J.P. Moreland’s bookChristianity and the Nature of Science: a Philosophical Investigation. Here are a few important takeaways:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

 

 

The Presuppositions of Science

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:

  1. The external world exists.
  2. The universe is orderly.
  3. The universe is knowable.
  4. Nature is uniform.
  5. Induction is possible.
  6. Logic, epistemology, and truth exist.
  7. The senses are reliable.
  8. The mind is reliable.
  9. Mathematics and numbers exist.
  10. Ontology exists and classification is possible.
  11. Certain moral values are necessary to science (honest reporting of data).
  12. 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.

When the wolf huffs, and he puffs, will he blow the house down?
When the wolf huffs, and he puffs, will he blow the house down?

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.