Quotable — How Christianity Encourages Scientific Inquiry

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From Douglas Groothuis at the Constructive Curmudgeon:

Kenneth Samples in Without a Doubt (Baker, 2004) has aptly summarized ten ways in which Christian belief creates a hospitable environment for scientific inquiry. (I have modified them somewhat.)

1. The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).

2. The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern, and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4).

3. The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially sustains them.

4. The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know himself, ourselves, and the rest of creation. (Genesis 1-2; Proverbs 8).

5. The world is good, valuable, and worthy of careful study, because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1). Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.

6. Because the world is not divine and therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.

7. Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities.

8. Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to discern the patterns God laid down in creation.

9. God encourages, even propels, science through his imperative to humans to take dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28).

10. The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility, and courage) are part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17).

While Christianity and science have had their scuffles, there is nothing inherent in the Christian worldview that is inimical to science rightly understood.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Forgiveness

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“From the ancient Greeks through the Hebrew and Christian Bibles to the present day, forgiveness has typically been regarded as a personal response to having been injured or wronged, or as a condition one seeks or hopes is bestowed upon one for having wronged someone else. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘forgivable,’ the first entry under the general term ‘forgive,’ as that which ‘may be forgiven, pardonable, excusable,’ referring thereby to the quality of deserving to be forgiven. This sense is illustrated in Jesus’ appeal ‘God forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34), which suggests that ignorance is sometimes a condition that negates or tempers culpability, rendering wrongdoers forgivable. Notwithstanding the association with excusing conditions, forgiving is not, strictly speaking, equivalent to excusing. For wrongdoing that is excused entirely there is nothing to forgive, since wrongs that are fully excused are not blameworthy or culpable. And although excuses that mitigate, rather than negate, culpability, may serve as a rationale for forgiveness, they are not the same as forgiveness. Moreover, the application of the concept of forgiveness to nonmoral behavior, as in the case of a forgivably poor musical performance by a pianist, shows that forgiveness is not always or necessarily a moral term.

“The term ‘forgive’ derives from ‘give’ or to ‘grant’, as in ‘to give up,’ or ‘cease to harbor (resentment, wrath).’ More specifically, ‘forgive’ refers to the act of giving up a feeling, such as resentment, or a claim to requital or compensation. And the term ‘forgiveness’ is defined as the action of forgiving, pardoning of a fault, remission of a debt, and similar responses to injury, wrongdoing, or obligation. In this sense of the term, forgiveness is a dyadic relation involving a wrongdoer and a wronged party, and is thought to be a way in which victims of wrong alter their and a wrongdoer’s status by, for instance, acknowledging yet moving past a transgression. Though a dyadic relation, this general conception is not an account of forgiveness between two persons only, since it allows for forgiveness between individuals and groups, such as the forgiving of an individual’s debt by a financial institution, or the commutation of a prison sentence by an act of official pardon. And forgiveness may occur between groups of people, as evidenced by intra-national restorative justice efforts and government commissions established to effect truth and reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of historical wrongs.” (continue article)

— Paul M. Hughes, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Dialectic

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“In ancient Greece, dialectic was a form of reasoning that proceeded by question and answer, used by Plato.  In later antiquity and the Middle Ages, the term was often used to mean simply logic, but Kant applied it to arguments showing that principles of science have contradictory aspects.  Hegel thought that all logic and world history itself followed a dialectical path, in which internal contradictions were transcended, but gave rise to new contradictions that themselves required resolution.  Marx and Engels gave Hegel’s idea of dialectic a material basis; hence dialectical materialism.”

—  Peter Singer, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 198.

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Review of John Stott’s “The Radical Disciple”

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  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (May 2, 2010)
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  • When I first opened The Radical Disciple, I wasn’t expecting to be captivated. It’s an unassuming little book, brown and white, with a subtitle that sounds suited to an academic publication and a Table of Contents that consists of a terse series of one-word chapter titles. In the text itself, the writing style is simple and direct; this is not stylish or witty prose. Eight chapters, preface, and postscript take up fewer than 140 small pages.

    As I read, though, I was won over. In the book, Stott explores eight aspects of Christian discipleship which are often neglected in today’s church. The eight aspects include nonconformity, Christlikeness, maturity, creation care, simplicity, balance, dependence, and death. Each individual reader will probably be struck by the application of several of these to his or her own walk with Christ; readers will probably also hold a variety of opinions as to which of these aspects is most egregiously neglected in Christian circles. The chapter on creation care seems to me to be the most surprising inclusion in a book on discipleship; placing stewardship of the earth in such a prominent position among our duties as followers of Christ runs counter to many of our political and social currents. The sections on nonconformity, simplicity and balance are strikingly relevant to individual lifestyles and to the life of the church. The final chapters on dependence and death are especially poignant to me as I face the aging and illness of a beloved family member who is, thankfully, a devoted follower and lover of God. In those chapters, Stott discusses not only physical dependence and death, but spiritual life and death and emotional dependence. A passage about dependence gave me food for thought:

    “We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others. And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us.

    “I sometimes hear old people, including Christian people who should know better, say, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else. I’m happy to carry on living so long as I can look after myself, but as soon as I become a burden I would rather die.’ But this is wrong. We are all designed to be a burden to others. You are designed to be a burden to me and I am designed to be a burden to you. And the life of the family, including the life of the local church family, should be one of ‘mutual burdensomeness.’ ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2).”

    John Stott wrote The Radical Disciple as his final published book at the age of eighty-eight. This is the kind of book that one would expect from an evangelist and author who is nearing the end of an earthly life spent following Christ. With simplicity and a quiet boldness, he passes this reminder to the church: that we are called according to God’s purpose, and that purpose requires us to be imitators of Christ who are set apart and yet engaged in our world.

    — Reviewed by Desmognathus.  A follower of Jesus Christ, a wife, and a mother. She has an M.S. in biology and a Ph.D. in ecology, and enjoys philosophy and theology. She likes rock climbing and dislikes celery.

    * Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for this review copy.

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    Quotable — God and Objective Morality

    “If evil truly exists, what we could call ‘objective evil’ — then there also exist objective moral values, moral values which are binding on all people, whether they acknowledge them as such or not.  If rape, racism, torture, murder, government-sanctioned genocide and so forth are objectively evil, what makes them so?  What makes them truly evil, rather than simply activities we dislike?  What made the atrocities of the Nazis evil, even though Hitler and his thugs maintained otherwise?  One cannot consistently affirm both that there are no objective moral values, on the one hand, and that rape, torture and the like are objectively morally evil on the other.  If there are objective moral values, there must be some basis — some metaphysical foundation — for their being so. . . .

    But [you] can’t have [your] cake and eat it too.  If good and evil are objectively real, they need an objective foundation.  No atheist has provided one, and it’s doubtful that one will be forthcoming.  We can put the problem concisely:

    (1) If moral notions such as good and evil exist objectively, then there must be an objective foundation for their existence.

    (2) Atheism offers no objective basis for the existence of moral notions such as good and evil.

    (3) Therefore, for the atheist, moral notions such as good and evil must not objectively exist.”

    — Chad Meister, “God, Evil, and Morality,” God is Great, God is Good, 109, 115.

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    Philosophy Word of the Day — Cardinal Virtues

    (Latin, cardo, a hinge) The four classical cardinal virtues, as listed in Plato’s Republic, are [justice, wisdom (or prudence), courage, self-control (or moderation, being sensible)].  St. Ambrose (339-97), using Cicero as the immediate source, assimilated them to Christian doctrine, and seems to have been the first to use the word (Latin: cardinalis) for these four pivotal virtues (in his commentary to Luke chapter 6).  In medieval philosophy, the three theological virtues faith, hope, and charity were added to this list.

    The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, 95.

    St Ambrose

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    Philosophy Word of the Day — Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000)

    An image of Quine as seen on his passport.
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    Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) worked in theoretical philosophy and in logic. (In practical philosophy, ethics and political philosophy, his contributions are negligible.) He is perhaps best known for his arguments against Logical Empiricism (in particular, its use of the analytic-synthetic distinction). This argument, however, should be seen as part of a comprehensive world-view which makes no sharp distinction between philosophy and empirical science and thus requires a wholesale reorientation of the subject. . . .

    Quine’s philosophical thought is remarkably consistent over the course of his long working life. There are, of course, developments, as he comes to appreciate difficulties in his view, or its implications, or distinctions that need to be made. Outright changes of mind, however, are relatively rare and mostly on relatively minor points. We can, for the most part, treat him as holding a single philosophical view; what he calls naturalism is fundamental to that view. This is not to say that his naturalism was self-conscious and explicit from the start. It was, rather, something that he became clearer about over the years. . . .

    At one point, Quine describes naturalism as “the recognition that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described” (1981, 21). . . .

    Many philosophers would no doubt accept that the methods and techniques of science are the best way to find out about the world. . . .  The distinctiveness of Quine’s naturalism begins to emerge if we ask what justifies this naturalistic claim: what reason do we have to believe that the methods and techniques of science are the best way to find out about the world? Quine would insist that this claim too must be based on natural science. (If this is circular, he simply accepts the circularity.) This is the revolutionary step, naturalism self-applied. There is no foundation for Quine’s naturalism: it not based on anything else. (Continue article)

    - Peter Hylton in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Update:  The following information on an upcoming conference on W. V.  Quine was helpfully provided by Douglas Quine:

    The young researchers’ group APhEx (Analytical and Philosophical Explanation) has organized an international conference on W. V. Quine at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”: “Word and Object” 50 years later: Colloquium in Celebration of W.V.O. Quine May 28-29, 2010. Department of Philosophical and Epistemological Studies
    Faculty of Philosophy, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Via Carlo Fea, 2 – Villa Mirafiori, Rome, Italy. Details are available at the W. V. Quine website:  http://www.wvquine.org.

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    David Bentley Hart on the New Atheism

    In this article from the April issue of First Things, Hart provides a reliably incisive commentary on the many flaws of the New Atheists’ writings, and especially their failure to understand the gravity of their own proposals to abolish religion compared with their atheist forbears like Nietzsche.

    * On the recent book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists:

    Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor.

    * On the lack of conceptual seriousness and scholarship among the New Atheists:

    The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that todays most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants. . . .

    But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists–with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for? . . .

    A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

    * On Christopher Hitchens who frequently illustrates these serious shortcomings:

    On matters of simple historical and textual fact, moreover, Hitchens’ book is so extraordinarily crowded with errors that one soon gives up counting them. Just to skim a few off the surface: He speaks of the ethos of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “an admirable but nebulous humanism,” which is roughly on a par with saying that Gandhi was an apostle of the ruthless conquest and spoliation of weaker peoples. He conflates the histories of the first and fourth crusades. He repeats as fact the long discredited myth that Christians destroyed the works of Aristotle and Lucretius, or systematically burned the books of pagan antiquity, which is the very opposite of what did happen. He speaks of the traditional hostility of “religion” (whatever that may be) to medicine, despite the monastic origins of the modem hospital and the involvement of Christian missions in medical research and medical care from the fourth century to the present. He tells us that countless lives were lost in the early centuries of the Church over disputes regarding which gospels were legitimate (the actual number of lives lost is zero). He asserts that Myles Coverdale and John Wycliffe were burned alive at the stake, although both men died of natural causes. He knows that the last twelve verses of Mark 16 are a late addition to the text, but he imagines this means that the entire account of the Resurrection is as well. He informs us that it is well known that Augustine was fond of the myth of the Wandering Jew, though Augustine died eight centuries before the legend was invented. And so on and so on (and so on).

    The whole essay and the material on Nietzsche’s atheism in contrast with the contemporary version is worth pondering.

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    Philosophy Word of the Day — Time

    The Passage of Time

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    Time has been studied by philosophers and scientists for 2,500 years, and thanks to this attention it is much better understood today. Nevertheless, many issues remain to be resolved. Here is a short list of the most important ones: What time actually is; whether time exists when nothing is changing; what kinds of time travel are possible; why time has an arrow; whether the future and past are real; how to analyze the metaphor of time’s flow; whether future time will be infinite; whether there was time before the Big Bang; whether tensed or tenseless concepts are semantically basic; what is the proper formalism or logic for capturing the special role that time plays in reasoning; what are the neural mechanisms that account for our experience of time; whether there is a timeless nature “beyond” spacetime; and whether time should be understood only in terms of its role in the laws governing matter and force. Some of these issues will be resolved by scientific advances alone, but others require philosophical analysis.

    Consider this one issue upon which philosophers of time are deeply divided: What sort of ontological differences are there among the present, past and future? There are three competing theories. Presentists argue that necessarily only present objects and present experiences are real, and we conscious beings recognize this in the special “vividness” of our present experience. The dinosaurs have slipped out of reality. However, according to the growing-universe or growing-block theory, the past and present are both real, but the future is not real because the future is indeterminate or merely potential. Dinosaurs are real, but our death is not. The third and more popular theory is that there are no significant ontological differences among present, past, and future because the differences are merely subjective. This view is called “the block universe theory” or “eternalism.” (Continue article)

    - From The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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    Book Review – Why You Think the Way You Do

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  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (August 1, 2009)
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  • In this book, Sunshine attempts to explain “the development of Western civilization from the perspective of the changes in worldview from the Roman Empire to the early years of the twenty-first century” (16). While referencing major thinkers on occasion, the interest is more specifically on the non-elite, wider culture. He further contends that one cannot understand Western culture without an understanding of Christianity (17). While this is likely true, Sunshine turns this survey of Western worldviews into an apologetic for Christianity, specifically Evangelicalism.

    Central to his argument is the premise that Christianity has had a positive cultural influence on the West, starting with its transformation and redemption of the Roman world in which it was introduced (54). While Sunshine would likely admit that sometimes Christians have done bad things in history, the overall effect of Christianity has been positive. Clearly, this is directly antithetical to the claims of the New Atheists. Consequently, Sunshine argues that the further Western culture moves away from Christianity, the more it returns to the barbarism of Pagan Rome (211).

    In the interest of accessibility, very few citations are included. This omission makes many of the more controversial historical claims hard to support in dialogue with others who may not share Sunshine’s interpretation. For example, while the flat earth myth has been thoroughly debunked, it would be helpful to cite that since it is a common myth (109). A citation for Pascal, Gassendi and probabilism would have been helpful since at first glance Pascal opposed probabilism in his Provincial Letters and Gassendi was interpreting Pascal’s barometric experiments rather than the other way around.

    While an interpretation of history is often an aspect of communal identity, this work could have benefited from a more balanced handling of the shortcomings of Christians within history. As it stands, the author’s evident bias for Christianity and conservative American political values (such as capitalism and democracy) comes off more like partisanship than a survey of Western worldviews.

    - Reviewed by Adam Reece

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