Friday, October 07, 2011

My Outline for a Talk Tonight at The Word Conference

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy

Denver Seminary,

Roots of Biblical skepticism on Campus

I. The Importance of the University

A. Charles Malik, A Christian Critique of the University

This great Western institution, the university, dominates the world today more than any other institution: more than the church, more than the government, more than all other institutions. All the leaders of government are graduates of universities, or at least of secondary schools or colleges whose

administrators and teachers are themselves graduates of universities. The same applies to all church leaders. How can you create economically without some technical training? But the technical schools which provide this training are some sort of mini-universities, and their administrators and instructors are

themselves graduates of colleges, universities or technical institutes. The professionals–doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc.–have all passed through the mill of the secondary school, the college and the university. And the men of the media are university trained, and some have undergone specialized, advanced instruction in communication and journalism.[1]

B. J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the

nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is

to destroy the obstacle at its root. [2]

II. Academic Culture Today

A. Secularization of the academy. See George Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (Oxford, 1996).

B. Academics are more secular than the general population

C. Worldview (philosophy of life)

1. Naturalism (philosophical materialism)

2. Postmodernism (Nonrealism)

D. Academic view of religion

1. Harmful or harmless delusion: naturalism

2. Relative, contingent social construction: postmodernism

3. The divided field of knowing

Faith, spirituality, subjective values (opinion)

Fact, rationality, science, objectivity (knowledge)[3]

III. Roots of Unbelief: Philosophical

A. Decline in natural theology

1. David Hume (1711-1776) skepticism about God (Dialogues on Natural Religion); unbelief in miracles (Enquiry on Human Understanding)

2. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): God is unknowable, but a postulate of practical reason: “I have denied knowledge to make room for faith,” Critique of Pure Reason

B. Religion as a romantic ideal or feeling apart from reason (F. Schleiermacher, Soren Kierkegaard)

IV. Roots of Unbelief: Scientific Trends

A. Scientific revolution wrought by theists, many Christians: Newton, Galileo, Faraday, etc. See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton Univ. Press, 2004), chapter two

B. The Christian philosophical orientation to nature[4]

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.[5]

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. 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).[6]

C. Charles Darwin (1809 -1882), Origin of Species, 1859

1. Attempt to explain speciation apart from design

2. Natural selection (mutation and adaptation)

3. Theological agenda: the problem of evil in animals and humans

4. Result: methodological naturalism (metaphysical naturalism)

5. Richard Lewontin, prominent biologist

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.[7]

V. Responding to the Challenge

A. Know the opposition (Acts 17:16-34; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

B. Out argue the opposition (1 Peter 3:15: Matthew 22:37-40). Next lecture.

1. Postmodernism: show that it self-destructs

2. Philosophy: defeat naturalism;: defend natural theology

3. Science: defend intelligent design, defeat Darwinism


  1. James Collins, God in Modern Philosophy. Greenwood Press Reprint; New edition, 1978.
  2. Stephen T. Davis, God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
  3. Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
  4. Doug Groothuis Blog: The Constructive Curmudgeon:
  5. Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Books, 2002.
  6. Charles Malik, A Christian Critique of the University. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983.
  7. George Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief . New York: Oxford, 1996.
  8. Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988.
  9. Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live?The Rise and Fall of Western Culture Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1976. See Doug Groothuis view at:
  10. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, 30th anniv. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  11. John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  12. Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God. Princeton Univ. Press, 2004.
  13. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004. See Doug Groothuis review at:

[2] "The Scientific Preparation of the Minister" was delivered September 20, 1912, at the opening of the one hundred and first session of Princeton Theological Seminary. It is found in the Princeton Theological Review, Vol. XI, No. 1, 1913, p. 1.

[3] For more on this dichotomy, see Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, 30th anniv. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998); Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004).

[4] See Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 102-103.

[5] On the significance and depth of the creation mandate, see Francis Nigel Lee, “The Roots of Culture,” chap. 1, in Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1976).

[6] On the presuppositions of science, see also J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), pp. 198-201.

[7] Richard Lewontin, ‘Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31.

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