Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Battle for the Emergent Church

Defining the Emergent Church in the next decade or so will become an important component to the life of the evangelical church. Many of the leaders in the movement will tell you-accurately so-that there is no good way to define to Emergent Church right now. So far it is an effort of deconstruction and not yet ready for construction (although some in the Emergent world are calling for construction and definition).

This is why this moment is poised to be so important. I see disturbing trends in some of the leaders and voices of the Emergent Church, and I hope they can be changed before they become the vanguard for the latest incarnation of evangelicalism. I wish the best for the Emergent Church movement, but I sincerely hope it does not drink the kool-aid and bow its knee to postmodernism.

There are a lot of interesting discussions taking place in the blogosphere concerning the Emergent Church and the nature of Christian theology and philosophy. I recently ran across Nathan’s blog, Fighting the Little Fights, where he details some of his correspondence with emergent bloggers. Additionally, Adrian has been writing extensively about what he labels “neo-liberalism” and the Emergent Church (here, here, here, here). I think “neo-liberal” is a good label for many of the leading ideas in the movement.

In my opinion, one of the jobs of contemporary Christian philosophers and theologians is to reaffirm and defend the concept of objective truth. We have reached a stage in our culture where the notion of truth is up for grabs, and, unfortunately, an unhealthy form of skepticism has reached its way into the church. If the Church does not stand for the truth, who will?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Where can I go to donate for tsunami relief?

For those who do not want to send their money to the U.N., here is a short list of organizations you can donate to in order to help with the tsunami relief in Asia. Besides, you are guaranteed to get more bang for your buck if you donate to a non-governmental organization.

Assemblies of God Relief

PCA relief organization

Hugh Hewitt recommends World Vision

Compassion International

Modern Culture: Evangelism and Pastoring

I received a support letter in the mail from Mars Hill Audio Journal recently penned by Ken Myers. I found it to be a deeply insightful and thought provoking letter concerning the contemporary church and modern culture. I thought a couple of quotes would be worth a little discussion.

If someone who was a stranger to Christian belief asked you to explain what is meant by the “Great Commission,” what would your short answer be? If I were a gambling man, I would bet that the answer of most American Christians would focus on the necessity of evangelism: Christians have a mandate from their Lord to make converts.

Of Course, Jesus said no such thing. He said to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey everything he ever taught. Obviously the first step to making disciples is to encourage conversion, but the Church has not honored the Great Commissions if it has failed to nurture obedient and baptized disciples.

I have actually discussed this from time to time with friends. Where is the injunction to just evangelize? Probably the closest we can get is the example of the disciple’s lives, but even then we are faced with their strenuous efforts to reorient new converts. I see the early disciples has having a two-pronged approach to conversion-What makes me a Christian, and what does being a Christian make me?

For one reason or another, we have been lulled into thinking numbers of converts are all that count. Success is measured by the number of cards filled out or the number of people in the pews. I think it is clear that if the Church fails to make disciples, then it has failed to accomplish the Great Commission. And of course, it is much harder, if not impossible to “count” discipleship.

Here is another quote that I think needs to be shouted from the rooftops of denominational headquarters:

Many pastors see themselves as service providers of techniques of attitude adjustment, seeking the eager enthusiasm of fans and the safe contentment of satisfied consumers, instead of being shepherds committed to the deep and often painful reorientation of souls.

It is my contention that if you surveyed people on the streets about the job descriptions of psychologists and clergy, the results would be almost indistinguishable. I am afraid that not only do most people view pastors as “spiritual counselors,” but that most pastors do as well. There is certainly nothing wrong with pastoral counseling, don’t read into my comments here. But there is something wrong when pastors have lost the high calling of shepherding souls and replaced it with the latest pop-psychology technique. Quite frankly, as a pastor I am neither trained nor suited to do the things counselors do. As a pastor I must find my role in the calling of the shepherd.

The recent glut of “church growth” techniques has reduced pastors to mere administrators and cheerleaders. When pastoring a church is about “eager enthusiasm” and “satisfied consumers,” the role of biblical shepherd has been lost.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Training for Eternity - Blog from a Chaplain in Mosul

Training for Eternity

This blog is written by a chaplain who was in Mosul a couple of days ago when the explosive hit the chow hall tent.

People like this chaplain are incredible to me-may God richly bless them. The story is deeply touching.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bertuzzi in Court for Hit on Moore

Moore off Ice
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
I watched this game unfold and the literal bloodbath that ensued. The NHL did well when it suspended Bertuzzi in a way that tied his return to hockey to Moore's return. Moore suffered several injuries including a fractured neck, amnesia, and a concussion as a result of a sucker-punch from behind thrown by Bertuzzi.

What is more interesting for violence on the court/field/rink and the future of sports is that Bertuzzi has been brought before a civil judge on assault charges. He plead guilty and received community service.

X-mas Censorship-The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Just so I can join fray of news stories and blogs dealing with the spate of Christmas fright, this item showed up on our local news recently. A student’s editorial column was removed from the high school paper allegedly because it was not well written. The topic of the editorial was the commercialization of Christmas and was entitled, “The True Story of Christmas.” The students are fighting back claiming censorship. Without dealing with the whole, “does the religious notion of Christmas belong in the public square” debate, I want to bring up one issue raised in the article. When asked for reasons why the editorial was banned, one of the answers was:

"The principal would have hoped it was a little more inclusive of other perspectives, but that would not have stopped it," said District 60 spokesman Greg Sinn.

Did I miss something, or was this an editorial? By definition it is an opinion written by an individual in order to express their opinion! This excuse, along with the 'poorly-written' reason, makes me very suspicious that the school was scared to death to publish an editorial with this title.

How have we gotten to the point where this level of sloppy thinking is tolerated in the public square? The excuse quoted above is so paper thin you can see the vacuum of mental space behind it.

You can be the judge as to whether the editorial was well written.

Monday, December 20, 2004

An Ultimate Irony: Can the Emergent Church Reform Evangelicalism?

I continue to be thrilled with the critical work done in the book, Reclaiming the Center. I have made one set of comments in the near past, and I would like to raise another issued inspired by another of the contributors.

The chapter entitled, “Postconservatism, Biblical Authority, and Recent Proposals for Re-Doing Evangelical Theology: A Critical Analysis” by Stephen J. Wellum proposes that the discussion between postconservatism (the theology proposed by Grenz, Olson, Franke, and McLaren among others, and embraced by much of the Emergent Church movement) and traditional evangelicalism is essentially a worldview discussion. That struck me as a valuable and accurate way to frame the theological discussion between the camps.

Postconservatism wants to revision evangelical theology in such a way as to embody the insights of postmodern language theory and epistemology. Those insights lead us to the proposals that we cannot get outside our language and that we cannot be certain about the things we know about God. The only certainty that we can have as Christians is that within our faith community God has spoken to us in a meaningful fashion. Ultimately that is all we need from God, and any attempt to speak of “truth” beyond our faith community is either simply useless or just wrong-headed.

Standing in stark opposition to this set of proposals is traditional evangelical theology in which speech about God can be objectively and universally true or false. According to this view we are able to get at reality through our language, even if a healthy dosage of humility is in order. Additionally, the things we know about God can be known with universal certainty (we can know them to be true at all times for all people) even if we will never have universal knowledge about God and reality.

To put the two views side-by-side in a kind of worldview comparison, we might summarize the debate this way:


Is it possible to get outside our language to the “real” world?
P-con: NO
Evangel: YES

Did God speak to all people at all times through His revealed Word no matter their faith community?
P-con: NO
Evangel: YES


Can we know something about God to be true no matter the faith community?
P-con: NO
Evangel: YES

Does the concept of “epistemic humility” demand that we avoid asserting objective truth about God?
P-con: YES
Evangel: NO

The consequences of coming down on one side or the other in this worldview debate are multitudinous!

The Reformer’s Dilemma

In order to further highlight the deep differences between the two points of view, I want to employ a thought experiment. In the Reformer’s Dilemma we are asked to consider whether our worldview allows us to accept the reality of any kind of intellectual or social reformation. In other words, if I believe in worldview X, can my worldview be reformed?

Intuitively, we all accept worldview reformation. We all believe, for example, that what Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. did was right, and if we believe that, then we are committed to the notion that the state of society was wrong before their labors took effect. But if we come across a worldview that does not have the logical structure to allow for reformation and we extend that worldview to its logical conclusions, then we are forced to disagree with the preceding intuition. If we discover that reformation is not possible, we are forced into a position where we believe that totalitarianism was neither right nor wrong in India and the institutions of slavery and racism were neither right nor wrong. When the “reformers” came along, all they really did was change the way society functions; they did not reform a wrong into a right!

So what kind of worldview does not allow for reformation? In short, any worldview which cannot get outside of itself to make judgments about the world cannot support a reformation from a wrong state of affairs to a right/better state of affairs. For example, if I believe that either the nature of language or the nature of epistemology does not allow me to judge the moral state of another culture or faith community’s state of affairs, then I cannot make a moral judgment about what is morally better or worse about another culture. Let us then say that my culture is a slave owning culture. By definition I think slave owning is just fine morally (I have no other ethical resource than what my culture has taught me, so I believe slave owning is OK because I have been taught that by my culture). But along comes someone on the fringes of my culture, or from a completely different culture altogether who tells me that slave owning is wrong. The only response I am even able to have is, “that’s great for you, but we are a slave owning culture.” I can’t even make a moral statement about either culture! I have absolutely no impetus to change my culture, because I have no resources available to me to judge whether my culture ought to be reformed-it simply is.

The Reformer’s Dilemma is a dilemma because this strikes us as completely wrong!

Unfortunately, the philosophy that the postconservative movement is beginning to embody is just the kind of worldview that fails the Reformer’s Dilemma thought experiment. If we cannot get outside our language games and we cannot either know or assert anything objective about God and His plan for humanity, then there is no reason or way to reform another individual’s heart.

In the ultimate twist of irony, those who wish to “revision” evangelical theology are embracing a philosophy which makes it literally impossible to do so.

Friday, December 17, 2004

CRUX MAGAZINE - Looks like an exciting new resource


I don't know exactly how new this project is, but I am glad I ran across it. It has an impressive list of editors. Here is a snippit from the Editor's Letter describing CRUX:

Enter CRUX, a new quarterly resource for the systematic exposure of all the double talk, circular reasoning, shoddy scholarship, and logical sleights of hand that have transformed reality into a hall of funhouse mirrors. At CRUX you will find revealing conversations with some of the leading cultural figures of our day, unconventional insights gleaned from popular movies, music, and literature, eye-opening features on everything from Paris Hilton to postmodernism, and regular inquiries into the latest trends impacting contemporary philosophy, science, and theology--all with the nuance and precision that such subject areas demand.

I found the link on Mere Comments.

Great Christmas Music Listening

VG-Charlie Brown Christmas
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
We have a tradition at the Steiger house in which we purchase at least one new Christmas CD each year. Last year I bought this one, and it has prooved to be a great CD.

There is the nostalgic factor: I feel like a kid watching the classic Charlie Brown Christmas Special all over again. (The likes of which will never be repeated in today's culture.)

Then there is the quality of the music. Guaraldi is a lesser known jazz pianist, and this is not a particularly technical recording, but it is high quality musicianship nonetheless. On top of that, if you want the original recording of "Linus and Lucy", then this is your CD. Purchase and enjoy!

"Amber Alert for the missing fetus."

Apart from the obvious horror of this situation, the story is a fascinating read. A pregnant mother was killed and her unborn child appears to have been cut from her womb. Police believe the child could still be alive, so they have issued an “Amber Alert”-the alert system reserved for kidnapped and missing children. You don’t read a pair of sentences like this every day, “The sheriff issued an Amber Alert for the missing fetus. Police are searching for an 8-month-old white, female fetus.”

I have blogged on this from time to time in large part because I am fascinated by the cognitive dissonance in our culture. If the mother had been in an abortion clinic the day before, no one would be referring to this human infant as a child. What if this murder/abduction scene happened on the abortionist’s chair? Is it a human worthy of our time and effort, or isn’t it?

Here are a couple of my earlier thoughts on conferred verses innate personhood, and some of the possible consequences:

To the contrary, human personhood is not conferred, it is innate. The argument for conferred personhood rests on a very postmodern and, might I add, Darwinistic metaphysic. If human dignity, value and morality are constructed by culture, then there are no innate values that come with being a particular kind of organism. Instead, a culture can determine among themselves what is and what is not worthy of their attention as special and protected creatures. This is not that different from extreme forms of xenophobia and slavery. In those cases one ethnic culture has decided that another ethnic culture is less human than they are and are not endued with the same value. In some of the more radical cases like that (think Rwanda, Sudan, etc.), human value is conferred based on the shapes of noses. In our case, value is conferred on the basis of things like matriarchal emotion, physical visibility, or economic viability.

As Christians, we see personhood as something much more inviolable and divine than this. Although personhood is still in many respects a mystery (and it will remain that way until the Beatification), it remains rooted in the work and will of ourCreator. It is a property we have qua humans. There is nothing in this world which can either confer or remove our humanity or the humanity of an unborn child, especially something as protean and unreliable as the emotion of desire. We are humans by divine decree.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Should You Know? Just Say No!

One of the drives behind postmodern language theory is the sense that any sort of epistemic certainty is equivalent to being an arrogant knower-to be able to know anything with certainty is to arrogantly assert some kind of omniscience. We see this kind of reasoning all the time in our world, especially when it comes to moral judgments. Any moral judgment is totalitarian, and any sense of moral right and wrong is seen as oppressive.

And this view of the world is not just limited to weirdoes on Jerry Springer who have salmon taped to their bodies. One of the motivations behind some of the leaders in the Emergent church movement is this very sense of epistemic humility. It is their contention that any flavor of epistemic foundationalism is tantamount to pride. Part of their corrective is to become more humble about what we know and to be very careful in asserting truths about God and the proclamations of Scripture.

Humility is clearly a biblical virtue, but it is a tricky virtue. About what should we be humble? If we are truly humble, will be know it and be tempted to be proud of it? How should we handle absolute and universal truth if we are limited knowers who need to exercise humility? For instance, what is true of “2+2”? If you know the sum, you probably believe it is the correct sum for everyone at all times. Is it arrogant for you to assert to an 18th century French existentialist that the answer is “4”? Of course not! It would be silly to believe that you should allow the Frenchman to come up with his own answer, whatever that may be. It is not arrogant to claim that something, whose truth value has nothing to do with you, to be true (or false).

I ran across this quote from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (chapter title, “The Suicide of Thought”) recently, and I thought I would let him have the last word in this post:

But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Reclaiming the Center-The Emergent Church and Postmodern Language Games

Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
I picked up this book just last week and I am already engrossed. I am deeply interested in how the Emergent Church movement is going to develop in the near future, and this book addresses many of what I think are major concerns. It is written on a pretty academic level, so if you decide to flip through it, be prepared to stop and think along the way.

I hope to blog from time to time about the arguments and concerns in the book, and if you have read it (or want to read it) and want to chime in, please do.

First of all, I must admit my personal bias-I don't like postmodern or pragmatist philosophy at all, and I am weary of Christian writers who speak of it too highly. It is one thing to describe our culture as postmodern, and it is another thing altogether to prescribe some form of postmodernism for the church. To be fair, the Emergent movement is not yet a wholesale postmodern movement, but I have seen a lot of leanings in that direction.

Language Games

My first reflection from the book derives from a few of the critiques raised in Groothuis', Moreland's and DeWeese's chapters, and the topic of Smith's chapter. I was surprised to learn how enamored many of the leading Emergent thinkers have become with postmodern language theory. In a nutshell, variants of postmodern language theory attribute the meaning and value of language to a culture and their immediate purposes. We live in a language-constructed reality as a result of our social surroundings, and any meaning or reference language has is a result of what that culture imbeds within it. Language, then, has no real referent to extra-cultural, or metaphysical, reality (at least none that we can get at).

How then is a theology which claims to make assertions about metaphysical, universal reality possible? That is the rub, isn't it? I think is it accurate to say that a postmodern theory of language, as apparently accepted by thinkers like Grenz, Franke, and Nancey Murphy, is incapable of asserting "God exists" in a universal, transcultural way. If these writers are accurate about how language constructs our reality, then we are left in a postmodern haze when it comes to ultimate truth or reality. If you remove the metaphysical referential nature of language, you remove your ability to claim that something is true for all people everywhere and actually mean something. (Notice how subtle a theory of language like this can be-it is not necessarily a denial of metaphysical reality, just our ability to get to it/talk about it.)

I would send the reader to Smith's chapter on language for a much deeper treatment of the issue, but the basic biblical assumption is that theological language is intended to convey metaphysical truths. Scripture intends to convey something like "God exists" in a way that makes it true for all cultures at all times. If we are completely imprisoned by our language, then such an assertion simply cannot apply across the board to all people. That is a serious problem with the growing theological reflection in the Emergent movement.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Anthony Flew the Coop?

The news about noted atheist Anthony Flew’s recent change of view is beginning to hit the surface. For a long time now, he has been one of the standard bearers for philosophical atheism, so this change comes as somewhat of a monumental move. As he makes clear in the article, though, he is a long way away from the God of Christianity, or any other notion of a personal god.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

So his view of the personal nature of God remains less than charitable.

Here is his explanation for what lead him to be a kind of deist:

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"
Very interesting. First of all, the philosophical and scientific background behind the Intelligent Design movement is what seems to have lead him to this point.

Secondly, I find his kind of conversion (to deism and not Christian theism) telling. Critics of the standard arguments for God’s existence have always said that the arguments never lead to the God of the Bible, and are therefore useless. The best they can do is some kind of Prime Mover of deistic entity. In Flew’s case, that seems to be exactly what has happened.

I have always agreed that the standard arguments don’t argue for the full-fledged God of the Bible, but I am not sure that that is their burden. I have been of the opinion that if you have brought someone closer to belief, then you have brought down at least some of their barriers, and that is a good thing. In evangelical terms, is Flew closer to the God of Christianity now than before? Is his move to deism a good move for his eternal soul?

For those interested in more information, I think the next edition of Philosophia Christi will contain an interview with Flew about his new view on God.


The interview with Flew conducted by Habermas is already up on the Philosophia Christi website. Thanks to Mere Comments for the link.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Science as Savior: Just Because We Can Does Not Mean We Should

Phillip Johnson has written a fascinating article for Touchstone concerning prescription medications and their side effects. I highly recommend the article for the information it contains and the observations Johnson makes. The issue of psychological and physical problems and the drugs that treat them leads to a whole slew of implications and issues.

What do Antidepressants Accomplish?

I firmly believe that many people are in a kind of life situation or have a kind of chemical imbalance in their brain which requires the use of antidepressants. I am not anti-antidepressant. But in the story related by Johnson’s article (which is doubtless repeated thousands of times a year), a young girl’s relationship problem was treated with a brain altering drug. What strikes me is that the drug (there was no mention of accompanying therapy) didn’t address the real issue. All the drug could do was change the way the girl felt about the problem she was having, and in her particular case, it failed miserably.

If a drug alters your brain chemistry, you may feel differently about your circumstances, but those circumstances have not gone away. The reason the girl was still struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies is because the drug didn’t address the issue.

If you take a drug to treat depression resulting from a life situation, are you actually doing harm by tricking yourself out of being able to address the actual issues involved? If your view of reality has become prosaic, how can you accurately address it? In order to accurately and effectively address a bad situation, doesn’t a person need an accurate and honest assessment?

(As a side note, there is a
fascinating field of research out there concerning memory altering drugs and people’s ability to handle life.)

Again, I believe antidepressants have their place in our world, but I think this thought from Johnson needs to be heeded and understood in this context:

The financial corruption is real, and its consequences are incalculable, but there is a spiritual corruption that goes deeper than that, and this may have been the true culprit in Kaitlyn’s suicide. I refer to the philosophical materialism that is a sacred dogma in Darwinian biology. This philosophy decrees that the mind is merely an artifact of the physical brain, there being nothing else that it conceivably could be.

It follows that all ailments of the mind and spirit are reflections of some flaw or imbalance in brain chemistry, and that the logical remedy is to prescribe a drug and then, if that does not seem to help, to increase the dose until it does. Undoubtedly there are psychiatric problems that can be helped greatly by drugs, but once a dominant philosophy has decreed that all phenomena are the direct or indirect result of chemical conditions, over-reliance on chemical remedies is virtually certain to follow.

In other words, a physicalist/materialist worldview will naturally lead to an over-dependence upon pharmaceutical solutions to life’s problems.

What Is With All The Drug Commercials?

I continue to be amazed at how many commercials there are aimed at the general populace for prescription drugs. I can understand a TV or radio commercial that begins by addressing health care professionals, but they don’t. I am amazed that pharmaceutical companies can appeal to the common man; the common man gets sick, demands a certain drug from their doctor, and they get it! Shouldn’t we be relying on the heavily trained expertise of our medical profession instead of a paid-for sixty second commercial?

Again, Johnson addressed this issue by quoting a New York Time article:

On the same day that the Globe reported Kaitlyn’s suicide, the New York Times published an article headlined “As Doctors Write Prescriptions, Drug Company Writes a Check.” It began with this disclosure:

“The check for $10,000 arrived in the mail unsolicited. The doctor who received it from the drug maker Schering-Plough said it was made out to him personally in exchange for an attached “consulting” agreement that required nothing other than his commitment to prescribe the company’s medicines. Two other physicians said in separate interviews that they, too, received checks unbidden from Schering-Plough, one of the world’s biggest drug companies.”

This leads us to our next implication.

What Are The Motivations Behind Prescribing Drugs?

As much as I would like to believe that doctors are objectively diagnosing and prescribing, I worry about the kinds of pressures indicated by drug companies advertising to the general populace and private pharmaceutical firms pressuring doctors to prescribe their drugs. These and other pressures invariably lead to potentially ugly incentives and drugs that are prescribed unnecessarily.

friend of mine sent me some notes of his regarding a talk he went to on the Notre Dame campus. The talk was based on the lecturer’s book entitled, “Science in the Private Interest : Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research?” The basic point of the lecture is obvious from the title of the book. The incentives for private companies to produce drugs boils down to profit whereas it is more likely that a governmental organization will be driven by more noble and humanitarian goals. There may be other competing incentives in a private company such as the public good, but over time they are overwhelmed with the need for the company to increase their market share and net profit.

More and more we are becoming a culture which believes science, and specifically pharmaceuticals, will lead us to a better life. A good corrective might be to meditate on these words from James 1:2-4:

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Christian Persecution in China-Pastors forced to assemble Christmas Lights

Lights of Christmas

From time to time we all need to be reminded of the horrific levels of Christian persecution in the rest of the world.

Maybe you can come up with a unique way of remembering these pastors in prison this Christmas season.

Stem Cell Conspiracy?

The news about adult stem cells doing actual work in the real world is beginning to hit the surface. This author’s take on the lag between the breakthrough and the media coverage is just short of conspiracy. If a group-in the media or in politics-has invested so much time, money, and celebrity face time on fetal stem cell research, there is a heavy incentive to ignore the competing claim.

It is incredibly unfortunate that this is the case. I believe that not only does the science give credence to adult stem cell research, but the ethical considerations completely obliterate the option of fetal stem cell research.

Look at it this way:

1. There are two possible avenues of stem cell research-embryonic and adult.
2. In order to retrieve fetal or embryonic stem cells, the embryo or fetus needs to be destroyed.
3. In order to retrieve adult stem cells, no adults (or any human for that matter) are harmed in the process.
4. The benefits of fetal and adult stem cells are basically equivalent (I believe the benefits are tilting in the direction of adult stem cells, but assume for now that they are at least similar).
5. Both fetuses and embryos are humans.

Given this set of propositions, the choice for adult stem cell research is clear. As far as I am concerned, if all the real life applications were favoring fetal stem cells at this point, I would come to the same conclusion based on the weight of the ethical considerations. To argue, as many are doing today, that we should kill several people in order to possibly save some is a little too Naziesque for my taste.

Here are a couple of quotes for the Chicago Tribune column. After wondering if the oversight is due to the stupidity of newspaper editors, the author writes:

Not likely. More likely it's because the stem cells used in Hwang's therapy were from umbilical cord blood instead of embryos. Why should that make a difference? Because if you favor embryonic stem cells, you are a smart, loving person. But if you favor cord cells, you are a Luddite. If you want to avoid the ethical, moral or religious difficulties posed by killing embryonic human life or by creating it solely for the purpose of prospecting, you are a cruel person who would let people suffer and die from horrible, painful diseases or injuries. Same goes for advocates of "adult" stem cells extracted harmlessly and without any ethical problems from living tissues of adults and children. In short: Good guys equal embryonic stem cells; bad guys equal adult and cord stem cells.

Unfortunately for Bush-haters, conservative bashers and others who have canonized embryonic stem-cell therapy, Hwang's miracle was pulled off with cord therapy--news that a biased media would prefer to ignore. I find it hard to believe that media bias explains such a news brownout, but what else could? Media ignorance on a stunningly massive scale about the significance of Hwang's cure? Or near-universal journalistic skepticism about the validity of the claims?

In fact, adult and cord stem cells hold as much, if not more, promise as the embryonic types. For years, it has been used to treat leukemia. The good newsabout adult and cord stem cell advances flows so steadily, it's hard to imagine how a journalist with any news judgment could ignore it.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Scientists Make Phone That Turns Into a Sunflower

Yahoo! News - Scientists Make Phone That Turns Into a Sunflower

I love the Sunflower touch. I want the one that will turn into a Venus Fly Trap.

Is Global Warming a Religious Belief?

This article in the Toronto Free Press is fascinating on several different levels. It tells the story of an MIT professor, Richard Lindzen, who claimed in a speech to the National Press Club in D.C. that fears of global warming are akin to religious beliefs. The way in which he related fears of global warming to religion is telling. Here are a few of what I think were the more telling quotes:

"Do you believe in global warming? That is a religious question. So is the second part: Are you a skeptic or a believer?"

Once a person becomes a believer of global warming, "you never have to defend this belief except to claim that you are supported by all scientists--except for a handful of corrupted heretics," Lindzen added.

"With respect to science, the assumption behind the [alarmist] consensus is science is the source of authority and that authority increases with the number of scientists [who agree.] But science is not primarily a source of authority. It is a particularly effective approach of inquiry and analysis. Skepticism is essential to science--consensus is foreign," Lindzen said.

So, if I am reading the tea leaves correctly, the argument Lindzen is making is that global warming fears and religion are the same in two, related ways: their assertions should not be questions if you are a true believer, and their assertions rely wholly upon authority and consensus.

This is, obviously, a bit of a back-handed comment about both religion and the science of global warming. Lindzen does not believe the global warming claims are true, and in order to express his frustration with his ostracized skepticism he relates his interlocutors to religious types. I find his opinion about global warming and the state of the science interesting (there is a bit of that in the article), but I am more concerned with the idea that religion does not tolerate skepticism.

To put my view one way, I believe that God would want every honest question answered. Plenty of people want to “question” Christianity out of spite and pure disagreement, but that is argumentation and not honest skepticism. And to answer the next question, I believe firmly that Christianity can stand the test of academic argumentation. If it is true, it will stand the test of honest scrutiny.

Although there are plenty of examples of the church not tolerating skepticism, belief in this world is a tightrope walk of faith and reason and clearly from time to time the church has erred on the side of fideism. A healthy church, though, thrives on those among its ranks who press on thoughtfully and sincerely in their faith.

Can knowledge concerning God and the Christian faith rightly be called knowledge if it is some kind of mixture of faith and knowledge? There is one way of knowing things, sometimes called fiduciary knowledge in which we honestly know things as a result of experience or personal history. I know chairs work because I have sat on a few-I trust most chairs. I know God exists, in part at least, because I have experienced him and know Him to be real. For some more info on types of knowledge, try this link at prosthesis.

Friday, December 03, 2004

True Love vs. Happiness

I have written from time to time that the notion of “love” in our present day culture is a poor shadow of its former self. We are loosing a robust notion of love, along with what love does and does not do, and we are replacing it with a shallow and egotistical sense of personal happiness and individual rights.

I ran across a couple of good articles which deal with this issue through
this note on Mere Comments. The articles, in Boundless, are here and here.

For the more adventurous, I would recommend this
Interview with Satan. If you have not experienced The Door, be prepared for a heavy dosage of satire.

Could the NHL be back on track?

Yahoo! Sports - NHL brass, locked-out players agree to resume talks

Hope springs eternal!

Maybe it won't be long before the Avs are out there doing their thing once again...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

ALLELON Ministries - Article on Christian Spiritual Formation

ALLELON Ministries - Articles: Spiritual Formation

This is a good synopsis of what "Christian spritual formation" means. Here is one quote from the article I found insightful:

Christian spiritual formation is the redemptive process of forming the inner human world so that it takes on the character of the inner being of Christ himself. In the degree to which it is successful, the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus. But the external manifestation of "Christlikeness" is not the focus of the process; and when it is made the main emphasis the process will be defeated, falling into crushing legalisms and parochialisms. "That Christ be formed in you" (Gla. 4:19) is the eternal watchword of Christian spiritual formation, fortified by the assurance that, while "the letter of the law kills, the spirit gives life." (II Cor. 3:6)

Dallas Willard has reflected the same concept when he refrences the image of a tree and its fruit. He has said that to try to change the fruit is pointless-but if you change the tree, the fruit will naturally change as well.

Note: You will need to register on the web page to view the article. The registration is free.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Stem Cells: Adult Stem Cells Doing Real Work

I have blogged from time to time on the issue of adult stem cells, and I share a concern with many that their viability is being deliberately overlooked. The recent headlines about stem cells being used to actually treat conditions, however, relate to adult stem cell, not fetal stem cell, research. bLogicus has a nice set of links.

Thanks to Dory at Wittenberg Gate for the link.

One quote from the AFP article:

Additionally, umbilical cord blood stem cells trigger little immune response in the recipient as embryonic stem cells have a tendency to form tumors when injected into animals or human beings.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Justice Scalia: Religion and the Law

Justice Scalia has recently made some remarks in a speech that would certainly upset some regarding the role of religion in the public square. Here is the Christianity Today article, and the Jerusalem Post article. A couple of quotes:

"We are fools for Christ's sake … We must pray for the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of religious lawyers.

Sometimes that takes a pretty thick skin-and I can only imagine what he faces in his position.

He told the crowd, "There is something wrong with the principle of neutrality." Neutrality as envisioned by the founding fathers "is not neutrality between religiousness and nonreligiousness; it is between denominations of religion."

This sentiment is obviously not PC, but it is, I think, correct. Take these statements about religion:

1. There is no God.
2. Even if there is a God, He/She/They/It do not belong in the public square.
3. God exists.
4. The public square needs to take God into consideration.

One might argue that statements 1 and 2 are “public” and reasonable while statements 3 and 4 are “private” and belong in the home or the church. What is it that distinguishes the two sets? Why are two considered public and the others private?

Typically the answer is that making the second two statements public would force a point of view or a morality on the rest of the populace. But this is certainly no different than making the first two public. Statements 1 and 2 come with a metaphysical, political, social and moral point of view, and if they are made the standards for social interaction, they then force a certain point of view on the populace.

Sometimes the argument is made that the public square should be free from religious convictions so all can be free to believe what they want. Statements 1 and 2, however, are not free from religious conviction, and as the slew of recent ACLU lawsuits make clear, they are statements which force a certain kind of religious practice upon believers. A public position of “there is no God” is not a moderating position for “there is a God”-it is its opposite.

In the sense that all four statements are propositions about religious matters and that they carry with them certain political, religious, social, and ethical points of view, they are no different. They certainly differ on what they assert about these matters, but it is a commonly accepted fallacy that the first two do not contain religious and ethical convictions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Plato. Socrates, Aristotle, Kant...Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson Teaches Class at Temple U

It is almost as if our culture no longer knows who is, and who is not a good thinker. The very fact that someone at Temple takes him seriously is a smear on the institution. And any time MTV takes an interest in a college (Art and Society-thanks for the clarification, Mr. Pierce) class, you know you shouldn't touch it with a ten foot poll.

There is so much wrong with this one, it is not even funny...

Moral Liberation?

The NY Times recently ran a story about their polling efforts of Kerry and Bush voters in regard to moral views. What came out of the poll, and what has been discussed almost ad naseum since the election, is that there is a significant portion of our society who is afraid of people who hold religious views. One little segment of the article pointed out that a significant portion of voters were worried about candidates who were “too close to religion and religious leaders.” Although the context of the Times article was political, the point of this post is a bit more philosophical. I would like to comment on what seems to be a growing view of religion, morality, and the public square.

I think what is coming out in these kinds of polls and punditry is a kind of moral calculus which can be described this way:

Religious/Absolute moral standards=moral constriction (read “evil”) and lead to intolerant (read “evil”) behavior.


The only good moral code is non-religious and allows for a greater moral flexibility and freedom.

Is this kind of moral freedom good for humanity?

I think those who think and argue along these lines have lost track of some very important historical and sociological lessons. Hitler went wrong in part because he freed himself from the Christian ethic “love thy neighbor.” The Crusades went wrong for the same reason. The excesses of a consumer culture are a result of freeing ourselves from the Christian ethic, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Dysfunctional families are dysfunctional in large part because people feel liberated from the Christian moral codes “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house….” Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in our pharmaceutically rich nation because people don’t feel constrained by the Christian ethic of Chastity.

The teleology of the human moral structure is analogous to the teleological structure of something like a watch. If you liberate your watch from your wrist and try to use it to sail to England, you will not fare well; if your liberated watch and you engage in a dual in which you feel it discriminatory to not allow your watch to not take part, it will be a short and one-sided duel indeed. One will discover that a watch functions best, and will function successfully, when it is used in the context for which it was created.

So it is with the human moral structure. Francis Schaeffer has famously said that though people disagree with God, they are still beings created in his image and living in the world He crafted. In other words, people may try to liberate themselves morally, but they will be uncomfortable and uneasy until they find themselves back in the hands of the God who created them. Paradoxically, it is the Christian moral structure which provides us with the freedom to really be human.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Another Update on the Science of ID and its Impact on the Scientific Culture

BreakPoint You Can�t Have It Both Ways

You can also find summations of this issue here.

For the longest time, the Intelligent Design movement has been cast aside because they didn't have articles published in peer reviewed journals. Now that there is one, the back-peddling has begun.

Squeezing Morality Out of the Public Square

A friend gave me this article this morning, and I found it to be a very incisive comment on the state of moral judgment in our culture today. Here is a snippit:

Those who think Christians should keep their moral views to themselves, it seems to me, are logically bound to deplore many praiseworthy causes, including the abolition movement, which was mostly the work of the evangelical churches courageously applying Christian ideas of equality to the entrenched institution of slavery. The slave owners, by the way, frequently used "don't impose your values" arguments, contending that whether they owned blacks or not was a personal and private decision and therefore nobody else's business. The civil rights movement, though an alliance of Christians, Jews, and nonbelievers, was primarily the work of the black churches arguing from explicitly Christian principles.

Double standard. The "don't impose" people make little effort to be consistent, deploring, for example, Roman Catholics who act on their church's beliefs on abortion and stem cells but not those who follow the pope's insistence that the rich nations share their wealth with poor nations or his opposition to the death penalty and the invasion of Iraq. If the "don't impose" people wish to mount a serious argument, they will have to attack "imposers" on both sides of the issues they discuss--not just their opponents. They will also have to explain why arguments that come from religious beliefs are less worthy than similar arguments that come from secular principles or simply from hunches or personal feelings. Nat Hentoff, a passionate opponent of abortion, isn't accused of imposing his opinions, because he is an atheist. The same arguments and activity by a Christian activist would most likely be seen as a violation of some sort.

I agree. It seems the very fact of some religious backdrop to a decision disqualifies it from the public square. As Leo points out, those who think this way have massive lacunae in their understanding of the shape of the modern world. Trying to squeeze moral positions out of the public square simply because they are religious is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. We might as well disqualify murder, theft, adultery, etc.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Yahoo! News - NBA Suspends Artest for Rest of Season

Yahoo! News - NBA Suspends Artest for Rest of Season

Good for the NBA! That sport has become a joke the more it has played to the egomaniacle segment of our culture.

Oh for the days of Bird, Johnson,Jordan, Jabar, Ainge, Merovich...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Good To Know God Still Has Something To Do...

I am on the mailing list of a Philosophy department at a major University which shall remain nameless, and I recently received this email regarding their Theology Forum:

Since Plato's Euthyphro, it has been problematic to try to provide a divine justification for normative claims. For if something is good merely because God loves it, then his love seems arbitrary and capricious and so unworthy of moral allegiance; while if God loves something because it is good, then he is responding to some independent standard of value rather than providing such a standard himself. I argue that the first possibility -- that something is good or valuable because God loves it -- becomes more plausible and appealing if we consider various ordinary and everyday examples of ways in which love can confer value on the object loved rather than responding to its prior loveability. This opens the way to provide some (limited) role for God as a source and ground of value.

Before I make a couple of comments, I want to make sure people are familiar with the issue typically labeled, “Euthyphro’s Dilemma.” Socrates once discombobulated an interlocutor (poor Euthyphro-how would you like to be immortalized for loosing an argument?) by spearing him on the horns of a dilemma regarding the nature of the gods and goodness. The dilemma is this: Are good things good because God commands them, or does God command good things because they are good?

If you answer in the affirmative to the first half of the dilemma, you have made the god’s commands arbitrary, saying they can command anything they want to and it would be deemed good. If you like the second half of the dilemma you have agreed to a position in which the gods are inferior to a higher standard of goodness to which they are bound.

As a Christian, how does one respond? Do we grab the horns and prepare to be philosophically impaled claiming we hold to Christian goodness on blind faith? There may be another way to handle the problem before the blood-letting begins.

An influential paper written on this very issue a few years ago was entitled (something like), “What Euthyphro Could Not Say.” The point of the article was that Euthyphro was successfully impaled on the horns because there was no third way out of the argument. In other words, if Euthyphro could argue that the dilemma was a false choice and that there was another way to see the issue, then he might have escaped Socrates’ famous question. But given the nature of the pantheon of Greek gods, Euthyphro did not have another theological escape valve. It appears that believers in the God of the Bible do.

The article goes on to point out that the best way to escape the dilemma is to argue that God’s very nature determines what is good. That way, God’s commands are not arbitrary because His good nature determines what He commands, and God is not beholden to something outside of Himself. Avoiding the arbitrary charge, God could not command, “torturing babies is good,” because it would go against the goodness of His character. Additionally, humans have a nugget of that goodness built into their natures, giving further accountability to what is good and not good. We know (morally speaking) that torturing babies is evil, and if God commanded it, we would still know it was evil. But because we were created with the image of God implanted within us, we share (on some analogous level) God’s sense of goodness.

Having touched on the dilemma, we can now talk briefly about the issue raised in the e-mail.

Does God Provide Some Level of Moral Grounding?

The proper notion of God provides the only source of moral grounding. Ultimately there are two sources of possible moral grounding-something human and something superhuman (beyond the physical-not Clark Kent). The variants of “something human” are multifold. Maybe morality is built into our DNA. Maybe morality is a kind of shared, communal experience. Maybe morality is a matter of personal choice. Maybe morality is a matter of pragmatism.

Though the DNA option is a popular one, it fails for the reason that a physical, descriptive state of reality can never produce a prescriptive injunction. Because something is the case does not mean it ought to be the case. Justifying the ought of morality takes more than describing the is of physicalism.

The other sources of moral grounding reduce to some flavor of relativism, be it cultural or individual. Even if a large culture develops a moral structure over time, there is nothing which binds other cultures to that ethic. For example, there is no moral justification for going to war against people like Hitler. So what if Hitler wants to commit genocide? Maybe that is just what his culture has decided to allow him to do. Even if Hitler attacks our country directly, that may be the moral value of their culture and who are we to impose our sense of peace on them? But if a culture wants to stop a maniac like Hitler, it has to believe that its moral code has some kind of trans-cultural authority. At that point we are beyond human sources of moral grounding.

It is a pretty major concession for a non-theist philosopher to grant that God plays some role in grounding morality. Good to know that God still plays some role in the modern, enlightened world…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What is Christian Meditation?

I ran across this article from a former professor of mine in which he distinguishes between meditation that is Christian in nature, and meditation which is not. It is becoming more and more popular in Christian circles to be involved in eastern-style meditation as a form of mental and/or physical health, and more and more people no longer understand what it means to “meditate” as a Christian. The concept people are typically confronted with today is a fuzzy, “harmless” notion of meditation for some kind of inner-peace, and as a result, many believers don’t know the difference between yoga and the meditation enjoined in Scripture.

So what are the differences between the two? One passage from the article states:

The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is "with groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7).

Christian meditation, then, is a matter of reflection, discernment, reason, and prayer (communication). There are many biblical passages which talk of meditation, and each and every time they refer to meditating on precepts, works, laws, teachings, etc. When the Christian mediates, they are thinking about God. Some representative passages include:

Joshua 1:8 - Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Psalm 48:9 - Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

Psalm 77:12 - I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Psalm 119:27 - Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.

Psalm 119:99 - I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

On the other hand, when one mediates in the tradition of eastern mysticism, the exercises people engage in are designed to turn off the mind to all things. As people “empty” themselves, they, according to eastern teachings, finally open themselves to the reality beyond the physical world and achieve enlightenment. Mantras and koans are designed to disengage a person’s rational capacity and open them up physically and spiritually to the spirit world.

The differences could not be deeper. A famous Zen koan is, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ It is not designed to be answered-it is designed to make the adherent comfortable with not answering questions. In direct contrast to that, take a question posed by the scriptural passages I noted above, “what is God’s love like?” That question is designed to be answered, even if analogously.

Christians should not swallow what passes for popular meditation whole. They should be discerning and discipline themselves to turn on their minds and hearts when the do meditate.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Ironic Connection Between The Emergent Church and The Church Growth Movement

If you were to read up on the postmodern movement in the evangelical church world right now, you would discover a vehement distaste of Modernism and what I have called the “Pragmatic Church.” Postmodern, or Emergent, pastors and leaders talk a lot about how the Church Growth movement in general sold out to the reigning cultural paradigm of Modernism. As a result, they say, we must separate ourselves from the consumer church culture and recognize the postmodern tide around us.

There is nothing wrong in recognizing and describing the postmodern world around us, but many in the Emergent movement have gone a little over the edge and are consciously becoming postmodern themselves. It is not uncommon to hear that someone is planting a “postmodern church.”

Of all the pitfalls inherent in postmodernism, one that seems to not be noticed is the philosophical heritage Emergent churches and Church Growth churches share. That common ancestry is found in the tenants of pragmatism. In an ironic twist of cultural fate, pragmatism is a key component of the Church Growth movement, and is a subset of postmodernism. In short, pragmatism teaches that if something works, it is true. Or from the other side of the equation, the value of truth is wrapped up in whether something works. This philosophy is easy to see in the Church Growth movement; size equals success. In the Emergent church movement, it is a little more sly than that.

Pragmatism is a part of the philosophical tradition that holds to a heavy-duty skepticism concerning Truth. The skepticism is so deep that contemporary pragmatists deny not only metaphysical truth, but the possibility of talking about metaphysical truth in any meaningful way (see Richard Rorty and the recently departed Derrida whom too many Emergent writers have held in high esteem). In my adventures in reading Emergent authors and bloggers, there is an unnerving similarity to this level of skepticism. So much so, that some of them even question the heretical moniker of people like Arius.

In addition, there is a general move away from the shared tradition of inerrancy and theological authority. You might be hard pressed to find an evangelical, emergent pastor who flat-out denies the role of scriptural tradition, but too many of them are ready to think so far “out of the box” that they have entered a whole other box altogether.

Here is my prediction about Postmodern Christianity: Because it is based on a worldview that is so vacuous and dangerously skeptical, it will disappear as a major evangelical movement within a generation. There is no doubt there will be plenty of postmodern churches around for a long time, but they will cease to be the intriguing and influential movement they are now. If a house is built on the sand…

The Bigoted Beat Goes On...

After posting my last blog on evolution and the ID movement, I ran across this article on CNN. It actually contains these words from an evolutionist:

"We're really busy. We have a lot to do. And here we are, having to go through this 19th century argument over and over again," said Sarah Pallas, who teaches biology and neuroscience at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

You gotta love that kind of myopic bigotry!

National Geographic and Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

National Geographic (NG) magazine has decided to throw its two cents in on the current tide of evolution and Intelligent Design (read “creationism” in all of NG’s writings). It is not that NG has not been solidly in the evolutionary camp, but it recently ran a cover story with the question ,”Was Darwin Wrong?” The answer comes in swift fashion on the first page of the article in one sweeping sentence, “NO.”

I don’t want to spend my time detailing too many of the issues raised in the article. New Covenant has done a fair bit of that and has dealt with many of the specific issues involved. Ultimately, I want to raise a couple of other issues with the evolution/ID debate, but I can’t pass up at least one specific jab at the article.

One of the favorite justifications of the evolutionary model, and one that is used throughout the article, is any kind of analogy to domestic breeding. Although this has been a favorite argument from the days of Darwin himself, I am frankly shocked that it has not been banished from the evolutionary world due to its clear ID-style implications. The argument is simple-domestically bred animals change over time into new breeds. The implication is also simple-an intelligent mind guided the domestic process to achieve a predetermined goal. Every time that argument is made by an evolutionist, they are cutting off the branch they are sitting upon.

One might wonder why this argument is still in play in evolutionary circles. I have a hunch. It is my theory that evolutionists lack the amount of evidence they need to get rid of bad arguments. Hence, they return again and again to arguments from similarity in shape and domestic breeding.

J.P. Moreland agrees when he writes:

The blind watchmaker thesis is crucial to the naturalist, and it is precisely this sense of evolution that has far less evidence in support of it than is often realized. Whether or not you agree with this statement, one thing seems clear: the certainty claimed for evolution and the ferocity with which it is held go far beyond what is justified by scientific evidence and empirical testing. No one could read Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity, 1991), Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1986), or JP Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (InterVarsity, 1994) without realizing that a serious, sophisticated case can be made against the blind watchmaker thesis even if one judged that, in the end, the case is not as persuasive as the evolutionary account.

The curious reader could follow the trail of evidence and argument many places. I want to raise two philosophical arguments against the naturalism of evolution. First, if you are not familiar with the “argument from reason,” you should peruse these posts (here, here), which, if successful, undercut the paradigm of naturalism altogether. Here I want to briefly raise the problems of values and agency.


If naturalism is true, then it would be hard, if not impossible, to account for values. If I noticed that, “the apple is green,” we would be able, in completely naturalistic terms, to account for all the portions of the proposition. We would be able to physically locate the apple, genetically prove it is an apple, and then verify through wavelength experimentation that it might be the most delicious of all apples, the Granny Smith. On the other hand, take a statement like, “love is a virtue.” In short, there is nothing in that statement which can be verified through naturalistic experimentation or verification. Neither “love” nor “virtue” are natural/physical properties or substances, and yet they are real.

The fact that we experience values and act on values stands as a strong argument against a universe which is wholly physical. Atoms and molecules cannot account for love, humility, courage, humor, fear, guilt, altruism, etc. For a fuller treatment, see this article.


This section is, in part, a restatement of the arguments from reason noted above. Kant was famously one of the more dominant thinkers to take naturalism to its natural conclusions regarding agency. He argued that the physical universe acted only as a matter of physical input and output and was hence deterministic. Output could be determined by input, and output could not occur without the right input. At the same time, he was struck by the inescapeable reality of human agency and ethical responsibility. In fact, agency and responsibility were such powerful and intuitive notions for Kant that he built another level into his philosophy to account for them. As a result, he argued that although the physical aspect of the human was guided by deterministic input/output, the non-physical aspects of the human were detached from the cycle of determinism.

Whatever is true or false about the details of Kant’s philosophy, he was right to conclude that we as humans simply cannot get rid of agency and responsibility. “Cannot” in this sense does not mean “we hope to keep these notions,” it means “it is a philosophical absurdity to get rid of them.”


Thanks to New Covenant for the link.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

What's In A Name?

What’s in a name? Just today I decided to give this blog a bit of a fresh life by updating some of my links and working a little harder to hit the rest of the blogging world. Part of the new wax job is a name change from the minimalist, but satiated with meaning, “sentio.” Sentio is latin for “thought,” “meaning,” or “purpose.” It sounded good when I first created the blog, but I have decided since to make my existence and purpose a bit more accessible to the English speaking world. (Not that I speak anything much but English, a bit of impromptu Spanglish, and engage in the occasional Ebonics spelling contest myself.)

Hence the new name, “every thought captive” taken from 2 Corinthians 10:5. That little phrase captures what I am intending to do with this blog-see the world through the eyes of a holistic Christian worldview. You can be the judge as to how successful I am.

But keep in mind the words of Paul from Philippians 3:15 as you do, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

G.K. Chesterton - Reviews

I have recently run across a couple of articles/reviews on Chesterton that I think are worth reading when you have the time. Of all the accolades heaped upon this prolific writer, I think one thing that can be said of him in certainty is that there is no Christian writer alive today who is quite as lucid, witty, and right as he was. Plenty of Christian writers are incisive and revealing, but very few are as fun to read as Chesterton.

This one is written by the head of the Chesterton Society.

This one is a review of the TV show, G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, which, by the way, is proof that TV can be redeeming.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bumper Sticker Science: Intelligent Design, Evolution, and Public Education

I don’t mean to be a one note samba of late, but this issue of evolution and Intelligent Design has hit the news hard, and the results of people questioning the intellectual hegemony of Darwinism are laughable. If you don’t believe that the scientific community at large is afraid of anything which would question naturalistic evolution, consider the outrage sparked by this sticker in a text book in Atlanta: (here, here)

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
As a result of this “warning sticker,” the chicken littles of the scientific community are running to the courts claiming this is a violation of the so-called separation of church and state. I must have missed something, but did you happen to catch the Nicene Creed or the Lord’s Prayer in the warning sticker? Did you feel the need to repent and seek religious conversion as a result of the sticker?

What is really happening is that the scientific community has defined the science of human life and origins as evolution, and defined all other contenders as religion. If you wanted to put it in a formula, it might be: Evolution=Science; Every Other View=Private Religious Value. They are scared to death of anything which might challenge their scientific sugar daddy. If they were not frightened, they would challenge ID on the merits, but they don’t. I don’t claim to have read everything which is a challenge to ID science, but the fair amount I have read boils down to ad hominum and ad hoc attacks.

Another thing which strikes me as ironic, is that the sticker in question is altogether scientific. It states the position which follows and encourages the reader to be critical and open minded. If one replaced the second sentence with just about anything else, there would be no furor; but because it addresses evolution specifically, some very scientific shorts are in a bunch.

In case you did not know, the nexus of the ID movement can be found on the Discovery Institute web page.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Opposing Intelligent Design by Loading Terms

This story highlights the latest battlefront for the ID movement. You wouldn’t know it to read this article, but what is at stake in Wisconsin is not Christian theology, but the science of Intelligent Design. Why wouldn’t you know it? Because the terms of the “debate” have been determined beforehand, and it has been decided that anything but Darwinist evolution be described in loaded theological terms.

That way, the science of Intelligent Design can be opposed in terms of “separation of Church and State,” as well as “bad science.” But if ID is described as what it honestly is-a viable scientific option to the standard evolutionary model-then these stories can’t use those kinds of emotionally loaded terms. Who could oppose scientific theory being taught in schools? Well, not too many people. But who could oppose religious dogma being forced down the throats of unwitting school children? Why, everyone!

In one way, it is great these issues keep on hitting the press. It means more people are getting the science of ID. Certainly there are probably those on school boards who have religious agendas, but if they are using ID to express them, then they are using a solid theory to do so.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Why NBA Centers are Descended from Festivus Poles

The human eye stands as one of the outstanding examples of a complex biological mechanism that is either difficult or impossible to explain in purely evolutionary terms. The fundamental concept behind “irreducible complexity” is illustrated well with the eye-it doesn’t work unless all the major parts are there all at once.

Therefore, the eye represents one of those hills that evolutionary theory would like to take. Many are sure it can be explained by purely naturalistic processes (if that is the only interpretive model you have then by definition, everything is or will be explained by it) even if there is no robust theory at this time. Enter one of the oldest moves in the Darwinist playbook. If the chemical or biological pathway can’t be explained, then surely the physical approximation theory has to work. Something smaller and older looks like the latest evolutionary branch in the tree, so the two must be related.

This kind of move has been a major justification for the evolutionary model for a long time. We all remember the sketchs of human embryos and tadpoles whose purpose (which turned out to be deliberate hoaxes) was to make us all believe that becuase we all looked like tadpoles at one point, we are therefore related to them. That explaines why tall, skinny NBA centers are evolutionarily descended from Festivus poles.

This commentary, put out by the Intelligent Design movement, links to the latest incarnation of this visionary model. Don’t be taken in by the level of similarity (sub-cellular). The argument is the same: If they look alike, they must be related.

Confusing Political and Spiritual Kingdoms

It is difficult at times to figure out what view a Christian should take on political matters. That Christians should vote based on their theological and ethical principles is certain, but how that gets worked out in reality is a lot more complex and nuanced.

From time to time Chuck Colson speaks wisely to these matters. His recent column does this pretty well. In it he writes:

With the presidential election finally over and with the re-election of
President Bush, some are thinking, “Hallelujah! We have a president who’s going to promote a godly moral agenda. All is well because we’ve won.”

If that’s what you’re thinking, it’s time for a serious reality check. The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One…

I have often thought that many pastors confuse kingdoms and assume America is synonymous with the Kingdom of God. Sometimes I feel like we are being asked to worship the American flag placed neatly next to the “Christian flag” on the platform. We need to be careful about these matters and do our best to distinguish the One who will never do evil or fail us, and those political figures who are just as fallible and broken as we are.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Emergent Church and a Christian Worldview

Reading Robert Webber’s “The Younger Evangelical,” I was shocked to discover that there is a wave of young evangelical out there who rail against the notion of Christianity as a “worldview.” (pages 164-164 explicitly) Their argument is that looking at the Faith as a worldview narrows it down to a philosophy and not something that is lived out. Quoted in the book, Charles Moore says that seeing Christianity as a worldview, “abstracts reason from history and pits the existing, choosing subject against the object. It reduces Christianity to metaphysics.”

Against this view is Nancy Pearcey’s “Total Truth.” This book is a long and well developed argument that a well understood Christian worldview is a matter of life as well as thought. In fact, to reduce Christianity to “merely” a metaphysic is to do damage to the intent of the Christian faith. To properly understand Christianity is to understand it as a worldview (a metanarrative, if you will) which permeates each and every part of the believer’s life.

The first quote in “The Younger Evangelical” highlights what I think is a disturbing and sad trend in many portions of the emergent church movement. Some of the leaders of the movement don’t understand their own faith well enough to know what ideas like “Christian worldview” really mean. The leader quoted has succumbed to a poor and inadequate philosophy which probably promised him the ability to “go beyond” Modernism and Enlightenment thinking. The consequence, though, of such postmodern balderdash is not a deeper and better understanding of the faith, but a worse.

“Worldview” is one of those concepts you can’t get away from. It is a little like Truth. Although a relativist may say something like, “there are no truths,” if that statement is supposed to be true, then it collapses under its own weight. Likewise to argue that Christianity should not be understood as a worldview is to cause your own view to collapse under its own weight. That statement reveals a worldview (call it whatever you like-metanarrative, heuristic philosophy, etc.) in which Christianity is not a metanarrative. What is most likely happening in the case quoted above is that Moore has either not properly understood either the concept of “worldview” or the reality that his faith is a worldview. The first possibility is sad-the second is deadly.

As for a more specific thought on exactly what Moore wrote in the quote above, what is wrong with a Christian metaphysic? If he believes God really exists, he has a metaphysical point of view. If he believes God only exists for those who believe in Him, he has a metaphysical point of view. And so on. Additionally, it has always been the case, from the Apostle Paul on, that having right knowledge about a Christian metaphysic changed the way people behaved. Take for instance Colossians chapter 3. The whole chapter is an argument for a change of lifestyle as a result of a newly held Christian metaphysic. If a Christian wants to degrade things such as a Christian metaphysic, it will result in biting the hand that feeds them. The very thing which justifies their system of behavior is a system of metaphysics, metaethics, epistemology, etc.

Concerning the subject/object distinction brought up in the quote, is it simply a false dichotomy in a well understood Christian worldview. Living out our faith unifies the subject (disciple) and the object (creator), and is the goal of the Christian worldview.

I wrote a post a while ago about the aftertaste of postmodernism, and one of the issues I discussed was sloppy thinking. The student is like the master-if the master is a bad thinker, then the dutiful student will be as well. Postmodernism is a bad philosophy and pastors and church leaders who embrace it (to any degree) will be bad thinkers when it comes to serious matters.

Christianity is a worldview-there is no getting around it. The real issue is discipling believers to live it out in every aspect of their lives.

Gibson and Stem Cells

Way to go Mel! (here, here)

I typically cringe when a celebrity comes out of the closet politically, but this is a good move for us all. If the jejune quality of celebrity can influence people’s opinions, then I am in favor of Mr. Gibson making this stand.

Why is this not hypocritical on my part? (Supporting one celebrity endorsement and not another.) Because some celebrities are wrong (probably most of them) and some of them are right. On this issue Michael J. Fox is unfortunately wrong and Mel Gibson is right.

Missional Church: Consuming Mission

Mars Hill Audio is a great resource for those who want to keep up with a lot of the thought out there on Christianity and contemporary culture. Sometimes the interviews and subject matter can be a little esoteric (at least for a pastor and philosopher), but they are more often than not rewarding for the attentive listener.

A recent interview with Vincent Miller about his book, “Consuming Religion,” could easily fall into that category. He argues that we have separated ourselves enough from the roots and humanity of our products that we no longer treat them as real objects with real histories. Instead, products like food, clothing, and music are nothing more than commodities. We consume potatoes, for instance, and have no idea where they come from, how they got to us, and any of the issues facing potato farmers. I know that argument will excite several people, especially those who are driven by social justice issues, but what it did for me was cause me to reflect on the life of the church in the 21st century when it comes to mission.

I have always been a supporter of supporting missions. Not all of us have the inclination, the gifting, and the drive to pick up our lives, move to a foreign land, and live among the natives. As Americans, though, we more than likely do have the ability to provide for missionaries financially. In fact, I believe that we shirk our duties and blessings if we do not do such things.

When we turn our attention to the American cultures, however, more and more people are seeing the church’s job “at home” as missional. As time goes on, more Americans have no discernible Christian background, and have little to no interest in the Christian church. I believe that part of what the church will find itself doing to meet these new challenges will be augmenting the traditional formats of missional work. Given what we have typically done in the American church, I think we have flirted with consuming mission; we have turned missional work into a commodity and have separated ourselves from the human issues with our money. One friend of mine calls this “buying our way out of evangelism.”

In addition to the financial support of missions and missionaries over-seas, I think the church should pursue missions closer to home which bring the believer into literal physical contact with the mission field. It is true that many Christians have been on short term missions trips and have worked closely with needs in other countries, but I imagine it is another level of mission altogether when a believer sees themselves as living 24/7 among the need. There is no going home from this mission field.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Jamming Cell Phones in Church

This is a great little article about the growing use of cell phone blockers in various public places-most notably in a few churches. One of the priest’s comments is telling. He tells the journalist that people seem to no longer understand that Mass is about communication with God, not with your cell phone. True to our fiercely independent nature, the U.S. is apparently the only country where these blockers are illegal.

I think this raises another opportunity to think about the usage of media and technology in a church service. Specifically, what makes the use of one technology obtrusive and the use of another helpful? I think we typically accept some media as helpful without reflecting, and conversely, we take some forms of technology as distracting without reflecting. For instance, is there a way cell phones can be a benefit, and not a distraction? I don’t think so. Is there the chance that the media we typically use can be a distraction rather than a benefit? I think that possibility exists.

Have you ever found yourself toggling between a large-screen projection of a speaker and the speaker him or herself? I know the projection screens can help in large venues, but in a venue where you can see the person without aid, the screen can be an extreme distraction. Additionally, it adds to the level of separation between the speaker and the listener. Have you ever found yourself reading a power-point presentation instead of listening and reflecting on the worship song or sermon? I know power-point helps people learn words to songs they don’t know, but so does involvement and repetition. While media can be helpful in a handful of ways, it often serves to separate us from engagement with what is going on in the service.

This is not intended to be an invective against all media in worship services, but I do think we should be a little more reflective from time to time. Some churches are actually spending money to eliminate technology; maybe we should reflect on what is sometimes an unquestioning use of the latest and greatest gadget.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Oswald Chambers and Relevance

This statement by Oswald Chambers is striking.

The key to the missionary’s work is the authority of Jesus Christ, not the needs of the lost.

It puts our service to God in the right perspective, I believe. If we serve people, we are tempted to loose sight of the Sovereign and He Who is truly worthy of our time and worship. If we rightly and properly serve God at all times in all activities, we will find ourselves loving and serving His creation.

Perspective is everything when it comes to relevance.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Article on Conflicting Trends in Christian Thought

This is a good, and I think, largely true article outlining some of the fundamental differences in Christian thought today. What the author calls "ecstatic" could be largely replaced with "postmodern" in that they both have their philophical roots sunk in many of the same fields.