The Missing Links – April 1, 2012

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2).

Dr. Bryant G. Wood recently presented lectures on “Archaeology and the Conquest: New Evidence on an Old Problem.”  Wood is editor of Bible and Spade, and director of the Excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir (suggested as a possible site for Biblical Ai). Four separate talks cover:

  • Background and Chronology of the Exodus and Conquest
  • Digging Up the Truth at Jericho
  • The Discovery of Joshua’s Ai
  • Great Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Old Testament

Alexander Pruss points to a new blog on the philosophy of cosmology.

Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman debate on the topic: “Is the original New Testament lost?”

A new article on “Platonism and Theism” is up at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Alvin Plantinga lectures on “Religion and Science: Why Does the Debate Continue?” at Rainier Beach Presbyterian Church in Seattle Washington

Craig Blomberg writes on “Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters” (PDF). 

Peter S. Williams engages with the question “Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?”

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Bertrand Russell’s Search for God

Español: Bertrand Russell en 1970

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Bertrand Russell’s daughter, Katharine Tait, made the following poignant observations about her father and his lack of belief in God.  Although Russell’s own willful rebellion certainly played a role in his lack of belief, believers can learn an important lesson from his experience, and be reminded that our actions as those who represent Christ have a profound impact on those around us. 

“I could not even talk to him about religion. . . . I would have liked to convince my father that I had found what he had been looking for, the ineffable something he had longed for all his life.  I would have liked to persuade him that the search for God does not have to be in vain.  But it was hopeless.  He had known too many blind Christians, bleak moralists who sucked the joy from life and persecuted their opponents; he would never have been able to see the truth they were hiding. . . . I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God. . . . Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it. . . . Nevertheless, I picked up the yearning from him, together with his ghostlike feeling of not belonging, of having no home in this world.”

— Katharine Tait, My Father, Bertrand Russell (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 189.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Religious Experience

Prayer

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“First, religious experience is to be distinguished from religious feelings, in the same way that experience in general is to be distinguished from feelings in general. A feeling of elation, for example, even if it occurs in a religious context, does not count in itself as a religious experience, even if the subject later comes to think that the feeling was caused by some objective reality of religious significance. An analogy with sense experience is helpful here. If a subject feels a general feeling of happiness, not on account of anything in particular, and later comes to believe the feeling was caused by the presence of a particular person, that fact does not transform the feeling of happiness into a perception of the person. Just as a mental event, to be a perception of an object, must in some sense seem to be an experience of that object, a religiously oriented mental event, to be a religious experience, must in some way seem to be an experience of a religiously significant reality.

“So, although religious feelings may be involved in many, or even most, religious experiences, they are not the same thing. Discussions of religious experience in terms of feelings, like Schleiermacher’s (1998) “feeling of absolute dependence,” or Otto’s (1923) feeling of the numinous, were important early contributions to theorizing about religious experience, but some have since then argued (see Gellman 2001 and Alston 1991, for example) that religious affective states are not all there is to religious experience. To account for the experiences qua experiences, we must go beyond subjective feelings.” (continue article)

— Mark Webb in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Book Review — The Passionate Intellect

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  • Hardcover: 210 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (July 2010)
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    I recently had the opportunity to review Alister McGrath’s The Passionate Intellect. The book, subtitled “Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind,” explores the practice of Christian theology and its relevance to the modern church and to Western culture. It is based on lectures and addresses given over the course of several years by McGrath, a Christian apologist and theologian who has gained public recognition as a speaker and author. Dr. McGrath’s credentials as a former atheist and an accomplished academic theologian with doctoral degrees in molecular biophysics and divinity give him a unique perspective in discussions of science, atheism, and Christianity.

    The first chapters of The Passionate Intellect primarily discuss the functions of theology as an aid to faith and understanding for the individual and the benefits of theology for the Christian community. The combination of the academic writing style and the subject matter made this part of the book a difficult read; analysis of a field of study is, to me, less engaging than the field of study itself. However, McGrath communicates very clearly his passion for a relationship with God that transcends intellectual understanding. Theology for McGrath is not merely a dry study of the history or meaning of God’s actions in this world, but a pursuit that should “leave us on our knees, adoring the mystery that lies at the heart of the Christian faith.” He advocates a theology that is rooted in a personal desire to know God more deeply, is useful to the church, and that informs apologetics and evangelism. For the church as a whole, he argues that theology can hold the church to a dynamic orthodoxy, making religious truth accessible to a changing culture while remaining faithful to original apostolic teaching.

    From these first chapters, McGrath moves into a discussion of engaging with our culture. For me, McGrath’s strength lies in these subjects; he tackles the supposed conflict of science and religion, the implications of Charles Darwin’s ideas, and the “new atheism” with thoughtfulness and an impressive command of both history and the natural sciences. He criticizes the dogmatic assumptions inherent in the arguments of scientific atheists, particularly Richard Dawkins, who argue that good science is incompatible with religion. In this section, McGrath devotes a well-balanced chapter to the implications of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species for the Christian faith. In my opinion, the most fascinating chapter in the book follows the chapter focusing on Darwin. In chapter nine, “Augustine of Hippo on Creation and Evolution,” McGrath describes the conclusions that Augustine (354-430 A.D.) drew after much reflection and study of Scripture regarding God’s creation of the universe. Of course, Augustine was not responding to Charles Darwin or his work (Augustine predated Darwin by fifteen hundred years or so), but his conclusions are remarkably applicable to the current creation debate.

    The last several chapters focus on the new atheists’ metaphysical and sociological arguments, and their intellectual heritage. McGrath thoroughly addresses the new atheists’ assertion that “religion poisons everything,” a sound bite coined by Christopher Hitchens (2007) asserting that religion is responsible for most of the social ills in the world. This popular argument most commonly blames violence (particularly wars, terrorism, and abuse) on religion. The author dismantles the argument piece by piece, drawing from history, philosophy and sociological research to support his case.

    Alister McGrath is reasonable and meticulous when discussing the history and sociology of Christianity, enthusiastic about science, and passionate regarding the prospect of a life spent getting to know God. The Passionate Intellect is the product of a believer who expresses his faith with intellectual integrity and a remarkable command of the historical and scientific evidence. This book is a valuable resource for Christians seeking to clarify their thinking on the issues at the intersections of science, modern atheism, and Christianity. The Passionate Intellect is confirmation that a vibrant intellectual life is fully consistent with a deep faith in God.

    — 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.  Desmognathus now blogs at Fish Nor Fowl.

    * Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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    Science and the Early Church

    Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...

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    “In Augustine’s influential view, then, knowledge of the things of this world is not a legitimate end in itself, but as a means to other ends it is indispensable.  The classical sciences must accept a subordinate position as the handmaiden of theology and religion—the temporal serving the eternal.  The knowledge contained in classical sciences is not to be loved, but it may legitimately be used.  . . .

    “Does endowing scientific knowledge with handmaiden status constitute a serious blow against scientific progress?  Are the critics of the early church right in viewing it as the opponent of genuine science?  I would like to make three points in reply.

    (1) It is certainly true that the fathers of the early Christian church did not view support of the classical sciences as a major obligation.  These sciences had low priority for the church fathers, for whom the major concerns were (quite properly) the establishment of Christian doctrine, defense of the faith, and the edification of believers.

    But (2), low or medium priority was far from zero priority.  Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the modern period the handmaiden formula was employed countless times to justify the investigation of nature.  Indeed, some of the most celebrated achievements of the Western scientific tradition were made by religious scholars who justified their labors (at least in part) by appeal to the handmaiden formula.

    (3) No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.  Contemporary pagan culture was no more favorable to disinterested speculation about the cosmos than was Christian culture.  It follows that the presence of the Christian church enhanced, rather than damaged, the development of the natural sciences.”

    — David C. Lindberg in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers, 16, 17.

    Book Review – Healing for a Broken World

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  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway Books
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  • Much is being written these days on the relationship between Christianity and politics, especially in the light of the decline of the religious right. The more enlightened of these articles and books avoid simply defending either the Republican or Democrat party line, but instead seek to apply biblical principles to public policy and civil society. One recent book that does this well is Steve Monsma’s Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy. Monsma is a former state senator, emeritus professor of political science at Pepperdine, and currently senior research fellow at the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.

    The book is divided into two parts. Part one sets out four principles from Scripture that Monsma believes are the most relevant for thinking about public policy. These principles are creation, sin, and redemption; justice; solidarity; and civil society. The first principle is drawn from the early chapters of Genesis and portrays the nature of our world and the human condition: God instructed human beings to multiply and subdue the earth (the cultural mandate). But man fell, and God is now in the process of redeeming humanity, as well as every aspect of His creation. (I appreciate this reformed approach to redemption, which includes all of creation, and doesn’t focus solely on human souls—important as that is.)

    The second principle (justice) indicates that “God has instituted governing authorities and their public policies to work against evil and to promote justice in society” (p. 49). The third principle is solidarity, which is the obligation God has given every person to love their neighbor as themselves (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8). The final principle draws on Abraham Kuyper’s idea of “sphere sovereignty,” which holds that God has established several domains of human society, each of which is authoritative in its own realm. Chief among these domains are the government, the family, and the church. Since each sphere possesses its own authority, it is wrong for any one sphere to usurp the authority of another—for example, for the government to usurp the authority of the family, or the church to usurp the authority of the government. These four principles, Monsma contends, are those that should guide a Christian approach to public policy.

    Part two seeks to apply these four principles to several pressing issues in our world today, including church and state, life, poverty, the environment, human rights, the needs of Africa, and war and terrorism. On the issue of abortion, for example, Monsma points out that justice requires that human life, which is made in God’s image, should be protected by law. At the same time, Christians and others in our society should stand in solidarity with pregnant women facing difficult circumstances and seek to help and support them. In terms of civil society/sphere sovereignty, private organizations are typically better equipped to offer emotional and spiritual support, while government agencies are often better placed to provide monetary assistance, housing, and job training (though there may be exceptions where organizations can also contribute to these).

    Yet challenges and gray areas remain. To what extent should a society attempt to restrict abortion? Should exceptions be made for the health of the mother, in cases of rape and incest, or when the fetus is severely deformed? Are conservatives willing to support assistance programs for low-income families that will discourage women from having abortions? Are liberals willing to extend their concern for children to the womb?

    Monsma frequently raises difficult issues such as these in each of the chapters in part two, which I appreciate about the book. I believe his four biblical principles are compelling and important, though others, no doubt, could be added. He does a good job of consistently applying these criteria to the problems he addresses, while also highlighting some of the ambiguities that arise in trying to construct a consistent Christian public policy.  At some points I felt that references to relevant political philosophy would have made for a richer discussion (for example, in defining terms like “justice”), but Monsma was keen to keep the discussion concrete and practical (p. 50).

    The relationship between Christianity and government is a difficult and complex topic, and there are no easy answers. But the principles Monsma suggests are indispensable to the discussion, and deeply rooted in Scripture and Christian tradition.   Anyone interested in the intersection of Christianity and politics will find this book helpful, especially since the author has wrestled with many of these issues firsthand.

    — Reviewed by Chris Reese

    * Thanks to Crossway for providing a review copy.

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – William James

    William James

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    “Harvard philosopher William James (1842-1910) is considered the founder of pragmatism, the distinctive American philosophy. In Pragmatism (1907), James contends that human inquiry unavoidably reflects our temperament, needs, concerns, fears, hopes and passions.  The centrality of temperament and inclination in intellectual disputes is rooted in ‘the underdetermination of theory by data.’

    “Underdetermination holds that for any given set of data, there are many hypotheses which adequately account for the data but which are incompatible with one another.  When such theories are in competition, no appeal to the evidence could determine the winner.  In order to decide which to accept, we must bring all that we are as human beings to bear on these matters; this means that rational choice must involve passions, intellect, reason and even ‘dumb conviction.’  In addition, James rejects the traditional conception of truth that claims that a belief is true if it corresponds to reality.  James contends that the idea of beliefs (statements) corresponding to reality (facts) has no real meaning.  For the pragmatist, beliefs are true if they prove useful to us in the practice of our lives.

    “Although many later pragmatists would be atheists, James used the pragmatic approach to philosophy to defend, at nearly every turn, the rationality of religious belief.  His two most influential books in defense of religious belief are The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).  In The Will to Believe James defends religious belief against the increasingly strident criticism of Enlightenment evidentialism.  By the time of James, belief in God had been denigrated due to an alleged lack of evidence.  James courageously criticized Enlightenment evidentialism and defended the right to believe in God.

    “James argued that while it is perfectly rational for the scientist to hold up his or her scientific beliefs to the demand for evidence, the universal demand for evidence is simply not tenable.  In certain cases one is forced to make a decision in the absence of adequate evidence.  To believe in God or not is one of those forced choices and the stakes are so high that, even in the absence of evidence, each person has a right to  believe in God based on an assessment of the benefits and costs of belief or unbelief.  Each person may legitimately bring passion to bear on the question of belief in God.  In so doing, a person helps create the kind of reality that the person seeks and desires involving a personal relationship with God.”

    — Kelly James Clark, New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, 366.

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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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    The Missing Links – Dec. 26, 2010

    C. S. Lewis

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    • Victor Reppert shares some good insights on faith and evidence, in response to John Loftus.

     

     

     

    • C. S. Lewis “once described the giving of praise and thanks as ‘inner health made audible.’ He felt that it was the most ‘balanced and capacious minds’ who found it easiest to praise others, while it was misfits and malcontents who found it hardest to offer praise and thanks–to others or to God (Reflections on the Psalms, 94-95).” An interesting look at Lewis’s numerous thank-you notes to fans and readers at the C. S. Lewis blog.
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    Further Critiques of the “God Delusion”

    The God Delusion

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    I’ve made reference to several fine critiques of the new atheists and their books (for example, here, here, and here), but I am always happy to add more—especially from those who are outside the evangelical fold, which hopefully serves to show that our own (similar) critiques aren’t simply payback in kind.  The one below comes from H. Allen Orr, a biology professor at the University of Rochester, in the New York Review of Books.

    “Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur. I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.

    The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins’s cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.

    The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).”

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