The Rage Against God

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“The difficulties of the anti-theists begin when they try to engage with anyone who does not agree with them, when their reaction is often a frustrated rage that the rest of us are so stupid.  But what if that is not the problem?  Their refusal to accept that others might be as intelligent as they, yet disagree, leads them into many snares.

“I tend to sympathize with them.  I too have been angry with opponents who required me to re-examine opinions I had embraced more through passion than through reason.  I too have felt the unsettling lurch beneath my feet as the solid ground of my belief has shifted.  I do not know whether they have also experienced what often follows—namely, a long self-deceiving attempt to ignore or belittle truths that would upset a position in which I had long been comfortable; in some ways even worse, it was a position held by almost everyone I knew, liked, or respected—people who would be shocked and perhaps hostile, mocking, or contemptuous if I gave in to my own reason.  But I suspect that they have experienced this form of doubt, and I suspect that the hot and stinging techniques of their argument, the occasional profanity and the persistent impatience and scorn, are useful to them as they once were to me in fending it off.

“And yet in the end, while it may have convinced others, my own use of such techniques did not convince me.”

— Peter Hitchens in The Rage Against God, 12, 13.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Pierre Duhem

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“Pierre Duhem (1861–1916) was a French physicist and historian and philosopher of science. As a physicist, he championed “energetics,” holding generalized thermodynamics as foundational for physical theory, that is, thinking that all of chemistry and physics, including mechanics, electricity, and magnetism, should be derivable from thermodynamic first principles.

“In philosophy of science, he is best known for his work on the relation between theory and experiment, arguing that hypotheses are not straightforwardly refuted by experiment and that there are no crucial experiments in science. In history of science, he produced massive groundbreaking work in medieval science and defended a thesis of continuity between medieval and early modern science.” (continue article)

— Roger Ariew in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Atheism as Parasitic on Christianity

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“The secular myth continues with a page drawn from the eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon:  Christianity destroyed classical civilization and brought on a Dark Age.  Civilization escaped the Dark Ages only with the rise of the Renaissance man and science.  Secular thinking helped shake off the shackles of religion and created the modern world.  Today only the vestiges of organized religion prevent humankind from achieving its full potential.  Helping “sell” this story is the promise that secularism finally will allow total personal freedom, especially in the area of sexuality.  This is a point that [Christopher] Hitchens makes explicit at the end of his jeremiad God Is Not Great.

“. . . The good news for Christian theists is that Hitchens’s story is simple to the point of being simplistic, and they have a better story to tell.  The basic story is this: the combination of Greek philosophy and Christianity produced Christendom, which has produced most of the great goods of our world.  Christendom provides a home for both reason and meaning.  It balances law and liberty.  It makes love the central motive for human action and a reasonable God the end of that love.

“While Christians often fail, the basic ideas of Christendom keep pulling humanity back from the brink of utter tyranny or ruinous social chaos.  Christian failures create secularists, who often serve as useful in-house critics of Christian inconsistencies.  Moderate secularists often make useful and important subsidiary contributions to institutions created by Christians, such as hospitals and universities.

“At their worst, evangelistic secularists are destructive cynics parasitically living within Christian-built structures and undermining their philosophical and theological basis for existence.”

— John Mark Reynolds in Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong about the New Atheism, 102-103.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Natural Philosophy

“The study of nature or of the spatiotemporal world.  This was regarded as a task for philosophy before the emergence of modern science, especially physics and astronomy, and the term is now only used with reference to premodern times.  Philosophical questions about nature still remain, e.g., whether materialism is true, but they would usually be placed in metaphysics or in a branch of it that may be called philosophy of nature.

“Natural philosophy is not to be confused with metaphysical naturalism, which is the metaphysical view (no part of science itself) that all there is is the spatiotemporal world and that the only way to study it is that of the empirical sciences.  It is also not to be confused with natural theology, which also may be considered part of metaphysics.”

— Panayot Butchvarov in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 600.

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Book Review – Uncommon Decency

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  • Paperback: 187 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (August 2010)
  • Amazon
  • Richard Mouw’s blog
  • At the heels of the January 2011 shootings in Tucson that left six dead and many wounded has come the suggestion that our manner of discussing the issues of the day has become acrimonious.

    Comments citing the “vitriol that comes out of certain mouths” and “level of angry rhetoric,” and pleas to “bring down the rhetoric [that] . . . has become pervasive in our discussion of political issues” have abounded in the days after the tragic event.

    Is our age more caustic in our treatment of political and cultural disagreements than previous ones? Probably not. But the question of how to address differences has recurred.

    Richard J. Mouw’s newly revised Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (InterVarsity 2010) is a welcome discussion on . . . discussion. How should anyone, specifically Christians, present opinions about the issues of the day? We need to start with our own sinfulness and others’ humanness, and recognize that many issues are not easily resolved. Accept that we can learn from someone we disagree with. Even pray for the welfare of Babylon, Mouw advises, citing Jeremiah’s injunction to the exiled Israelites: “Seek the welfare of the city . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:4–7).

    Mouw tackles some of the familiar topics we tend to be uncivil about, but avoids clichéd responses. For example, he raises the concept of pluralism—a topic conservative Christians sometimes view with dismay, as though such a reality is detrimental to our practice of the faith. He lays out a reasoned and interesting conclusion, though, as to why Christians actually ought to embrace a pluralistic society.

    A strength of the book is his inclusion of issues within and without the church, discussions among believers, and between Christians and those who aren’t. He says Christians often become polarized—and may embrace polarization—even concerning different approaches to sharing the faith. We can obey the call to spread the gospel even while we listen to others, sincerely aim to understand them better, and even to get their perspective on us. Sadly, much incivility occurs within churches, whether in a local church setting or in a public denominational split.

    He recognizes the difficulties of engaging with culture without compromising convictions and offers examples of those whose road can be bumpy while doing so. His chapter on “When There Is No ‘On the Other Hand’ ” expands on this theme. Mouw’s approach to issues is nuanced, and he recognizes that “there will come times when civility alone is not adequate for dealing with our differences.”

    The chapter on whether or not hell is uncivil is fascinating.

    Mouw supports his reasoning with historic persons and contemporary examples, remaining thoughtful and fresh throughout. He concludes that “without grace, civility cannot endure.”

    Uncommon Decency is a welcome addition on how to discuss issues, get involved with others, address matters and persons with civility; a sensible, pleasing, and challenging read, highly recommended.

    —Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

    * Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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    Top Posts of 2010

    Below are some of the Cloud’s top posts of 2010.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read, comment, or critique. May you know and love God more and more in 2011!

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    Philosophy Word of the Day — Noumenon

    Immanuel Kant

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    “(pl. noumena) ‘Thing-in-itself’ contrasted with appearance or phenomenon in the philosophy of Kant.  Noumena are the external source of experience but are not themselves knowable and can only be inferred from experience of phenomena.  Although inaccessible to speculative reason, the noumenal world of God, freedom, and immortality is apprehended through man’s capacity for acting as a moral agent.”

    A Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Antony Flew, 251.

     

    “By Kant’s view, humans can make sense out of phenomena in . . . various ways, but can never directly know the noumena, the “things-in-themselves”, the actual objects and dynamics of the natural world. In other words, by Kant’s Critique, our minds may attempt to correlate in useful ways, perhaps even closely accurate ways, with the structure and order of the various aspects of the universe, but cannot know these “things-in-themselves” (noumena) directly. Rather, we must infer the extent to which thoughts correspond with things-in-themselves by our observations of the manifestations of those things that can be sensed, that is, of phenomena.”

    — “Noumenon,” Wikipedia.

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