Monday, June 30, 2008

Four Noteworthy Articles on Philosophy and Apologetics

Today's mail brought four significant articles on Christian philosophy and apologetics: two from Books and Culture and two (happy surprise) from Christianity Today, a magazine that has lost much of its intellectual muscle in recent years.

1. Douglas Groothuis, "The Great Debate," Books and Culture, July/August, 2008, reviews four recently books related to the intellectual debate between theism and atheism. I spend considerable time critiquing Alister McGrath's approach to the issue and commending Bill Craig and (the newest version of) Anthony Flew.

2. Alvin Plantinga, "Evolution and Naturalism," Books and Culture, July/August, 2008, gives Plantinga's argument that naturalism defeats human rationality.

3. William Lane Craig, "God is Not Dead Yet," Christianity Today, July, 2008. Craig explains the resurgence of natural theology and explains why it matters for apologetics. This is a welcome tonic for postmodern "nobody cares about truth and rationality anymore; just tell your story" nonsense.

4. Troy Anderson, "A New Day for Apologetics," Christianity Today, July, 2008. A brief account of recent interest in apologetics by youth and others. The article speaks of "hotbeds of apologetics education--Biola University and its Talbot School of Theology, Southern Evangelical Seminary, and Liberty University--are crammed with students pursuing graduate degrees in philosophy and apologetics."

Well, yes, but... there is this school called Denver Seminary (founded 1951), which has a fully accredited Masters Degree in Philosophy of Religion (started in 1981, well before any of the other schools had such degrees). We have the rich history of many decades of teaching by Dr. Vernon Grounds and Dr. Gordon Lewis, Christian philosophers who preceded the recent renaissance of such folks. We may not be a "hot bed," but we average 25-35 students in this program per year; several or our graduates are pursuing for have achieved doctorates in philosophy; many others are in various Christian ministries or teaching at the community college level. We are one of the few seminaries that requires an apologetics course for all our M.Div. students. Moreover, we have another full-time philosopher joining us this fall, Dr. Troy Nunley. So there.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Personalized Salvation: Right and Wrong

23 Then he [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? 26 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. --Luke 9:23-26

We Americans use the word "personal" incessantly. By it, we usually mean customized or selected according to our preferences, tastes, whims, consumer values, ad nauseum--YouWorld and all that.

Danger ensues, though, when we think of salvation--a restored standing with God through Jesus Christ--as "personal" in the sense above. A customized salvation by our own personalized definition is God on our terms--a comfortable God, a God in our own image. But this is not the triune, holy, just, loving, Incarnation God of the Bible and space-time history, but a customized counterfeit.

God is not an iPod play list or a fashion statement. He is not a selection of foods on the smorgasbord. God has a fixed and determinate character. Christ has "made him known" (John 1:18) uniquely, finally, and incomparably through his life, death, and resurrection.

God has now commanded all people to repent (Acts 17:30; Matthew 4:17), to believe on his Son (John 3:16), and to receive forgiveness and justification through Jesus Christ (John 1:13-14; Romans 5:1-8). This is not customized, but it fits every receptive soul who heeds the divine call. This salvation is not automatic and you cannot presume upon God to provide it on your terms. However, it is highly personal in that you must give yourself--body and soul--to God. Jesus said, "Come to me..." (Matthew 11:28). What does God want from us? He wants us for himself forever--and nothing will ever be the same again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From National Right to Life: Obama as Pro-Abortion as is Politically Possible

Today's News & Views June 17, 2008

Trying to Wiggle Out of the Obvious Contradictions

If you think you may have read this column before, stay with me anyway. There are certain stubborn realities in this presidential election year that are like stains that have resisted the first half-dozen applications of the strongest stain remover.

Too many people whose opinions I ordinarily respect are so caught up in the "promise" of pro-abortion Sen. Barack Obama that they refuse to face facts. Or, more specifically, they soft soap the grim reality that Obama is the most anti-life presidential candidate to run since Roe v. Wade was laid on the shoulders of unborn babies.

Obama is like an instrument that vibrates in sympathetic harmony with the Abortion Establishment. While you know the litany, unfortunately only a tiny percentage of the American public is aware of his abysmal record.

They don't know Obama's support for taxpayer funding of abortion, which increases the number of dead babies. They don't know that he approves of abortionists not notifying parents even when they are performing an abortion on a minor girl from another state.

Nor do they know that Obama supports cloning human embryos, is a co-sponsor of the "Freedom of Choice Act" (Roe on steroids), or that he bitterly denounced the Supreme Court for upholding a law that banned the hideous partial-birth abortion "procedure." This is no small deal. Even some pro-abortion senators drew the line at partial-birth abortion. For example, according to the Congressional Record (Sept. 26, 1996, at S11373), the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "I think this is just too close to infanticide. A child has been born and it has exited the uterus, and what on Earth is this procedure?"

Prof. Paul Kengor recently wrote a thoughtful piece about this whole phenomenon. Although he was talking specifically about Roman Catholic apologists for Obama, his analysis applies across the board.

Kengor does a masterful (and emotionally gripping) job of painting a picture of what happened to those few babies who survived an abortion. The neglect of these victims was so revolting that, in spite of the best efforts of the usual congressional suspects, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act passed in 2002. All BAIPA does is require that these babies receive the same medical attention given a baby spontaneously born prematurely.

"Obama was not a member of the US Senate at the time that the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act passed unanimously through both chambers of Congress," Kengor writes. "But he was a member of the Illinois state legislature, where similar legislation was introduced at the state level." Obama voted against the legislation.

All this and more is outlined by Kengor by way of setting the stage. For all of his egregious pro-abortion positions, Obama is vigorously supported by people who ought to know better--or perhaps do, and pretend otherwise.

Part of the explanation is a variation of the argument that while abortion is (or may be) important, it does not match, let alone override, a panoply of other issues taken as a whole. If this is their position, so be it.

But the website of these same Catholics begins, Kengor explains, with a long quote "from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which states, 'The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of the moral vision for society. … In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia.' "

So there must be some heavy-duty rationalizing at work to explain why "they are stumping hard for Obama, who, if elected, has promised to do whatever he can to appoint justices and support legislation guaranteeing decades of protection for Roe v. Wade." (I'm not dealing with those who simply want a Democrat elected President.)

Kengor offers a very illuminating example of one man who at least addresses the abortion issue. This guy concedes that he "may disagree" with Obama "on aspects of these important fundamentals," but nonetheless is "convinced, based upon his [Obama's] public pronouncements and his personal writing, that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of views and, as best as is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them."

In other words, I like his smile, so what if he is a force behind FOCA, which would undo with the stroke of a pen decades of pro-life achievements? Obama doesn't raise his voice, so what if he would allow abortion survivors to die unattended? He gives me goose pimples, so what if pro-abortion justices such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg--the kind that would allow partial-birth abortions--are Obama's ideal?

Kengor is right that there are psychological mechanisms (and rationalizations) aplenty at work, allowing even some who would proudly call themselves "pro-life" to wiggle out of the obvious contradictions.

We need to keep the Truth Squad working 24/7, not for these people, alas, but for those who may be influenced by them. One important component is Today's News & Views.
Be sure to pass this edition on to friends, family, and colleagues. And also, please encourage them to sign up to receive this daily feature.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Time Out

The Constructive Curmudgeon has hereby called an indefinite time out from postings and comments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mini-Technology Manifesto

Given all the consternation over my post on the book, The Dumbest Generation, I hereby issue this abbreviated technology manifesto.

1. No communications technology is a neutral tool; all have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. As McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." For example, TV favors the image over the word. See Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

2. People tend to not intellectually engage mediated technologies as deeply as unmediated means of learning. It takes more concentration to read a book than to scan a screen--and people do tend to scan screens more than carefully attend to them. See Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation.

3. I have never been a Luddite. I have had a web page since the mid 1990s; I was the first professor at my school to have a fully functional web page for a course; I have a blog; and so on. However, I am not a techno-cheerleader, but a critic. But critics are often taken as heretics by those so immersed in technologies that they lose any sense of distance or perspective.

4. The answer to the problem of media oversaturation is not to have no contact with the Internet, cell phones, etc., but to use them wisely, realizing their potentials and limits. It is also wise to abstain from these technologies from time to time in order to better understand how they affect your thinking and feeling.

5. Writing a blog post that recommends that people unplug is not a contradiction, since by unplug I simply mean this: spend less time in technologically mediated environments and more time in unmediated environments. See point #3.

Teaching and Destiny

In The Meaning of Persons, the Swiss Christian psychiatrist, Paul Tournier recounts and experience of one of his clients, a man with a mystical sense of life. This man had the experience that he effected ineluctably the destiny of everyone with whom he had any significant contact throughout his life. He left his unique mark on the souls of others forever. I read that in 1977 and have never forgotten it.

Similarly, Francis Schaeffer taught that humans make ripples that press out into eternity. In a time when so many worldviews were reducing humans to machines (secular humanism) or to waves in the infinite ocean (pantheism, which he astutely called pan-everthing-ism), Christianity teaches that we are made in God's image and likeness. Our thoughts and actions resonate with a unique frequency. The mark of men and women is write large in the world, and cannot be erased.

Now apply this insight to teaching, a particularly influential mode of being in the world. When teaching, I beckon human beings to attend to me, my ideas, my personality, my way of orienting myself to reality. They look to me, listen to me, speak to me, and write for me in relation to class readings and exercises. They dedicate many hours to my program of instruction, whether it be lectures, choices of texts and other readings, quizzes, tests, in-class discussions, or the comments I make on their papers. I then make up part of their destinies, and they make up part of my destiny--before the face of God.

Think on these things, teachers of the world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meditation on a Garbage Can

Tonight while walking the neighborhood with my wife, I spied what looked like an entire drum set piled into and around the garbage cans that were put out for pick up tomorrow morning. I saw a bass drum, two mounted tom-toms, a floor tom-tom, and a high hat. I didn't see any cymbals. It wasn't top-of-the line, but it probably was complete (or nearly complete) and functional.

That old set could have been donated to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army. It could have been sold to a pawn shop for a few dollars. It could have been given to a young person who wanted to play drums--or to an old person (me) who used to play drums and would enjoy having even a beat up set to beat up on again. (I have a drum solo coming up at my church talent show on Saturday, so I need the practice.)

It was too late to knock on the people's door to ask if I could take the set. When I got home, I called the non-emergency police number to find out if taking things out of garbage cans was illegal, but they were too busy to give me an answer. So, I decided against "operation drum rescue."

So, the old drum set sits in the garbage and will soon be crushed and wrecked by the lumbering, roaring, filthy trucks that come at dawn. What a shame. We dispose of so many good things. Then we acquire more things, only to dispose of them thoughtlessly all too often. We think that if X has little or no value to me, then X has no value period. That is wrong and selfish.

Our garbage tells quite a story. I can only imagine what the garbage men have seen. What a waste when waste is not waste.

Exposing False Religion

Several years ago, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis read a paper called, "Spirituality, Sexuality, and Feminist Religion." The recording is available through Christians for Biblical Equality. In it she exposes the unbiblical nature of feminist religions and shows that biblical egalitarianism has nothing in common with it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Peer immersion, social networking, and stupefaction

Here is an insight inspired by The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein.

Consider this a recipe for ignorance. Given the increase in "social networking technologies," such as FaceBook, MySpace, cell phones, text messaging, and the like, those under thirty spend more time with peers than with older (or younger) people. Call it peer immersion. Then, realize that communication in this chronological freeze frame also tends to be about (amazingly enough) adolescent obsessions: clothing, pop music, television, video games, and more.

The result is an attenuated vocabulary (with "awesome" and "sucks" doing most of the emotive work), little knowledge of history, philosophy, and science, but plenty of data exchange about what usually amounts to trivia. These "media savvy" (how I loathe that locution) millennials are slick with their gizmos, but sadly too often ignorant of much intellectual content, such as naming the Ten Commandments, the five freedoms of the First Amendment (no, "freedom of expression" is not one of them), or the Five Solas of the Reformation.

The remedy: Unplug, un-peer, read books, and listen and talk to your elders.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Two: A Metaphysical Poem

Two fundamental and consequential metaphysical options, two cosmic narratives:

1. In the beginning (for no reason)
were the Particles,
which banged into existence without a banger,
which popped without a cause,
which exist without forethought of the ends they were to mindlessly and pointlessly achieve.

My parent was a particle.
My lord is chance/necessity, a match made by happenstance, forged by fortuity.
My life is void of meaning;
I smelt it out of nothing and hope to win the day (before all dies)...

I use big words for a small world.

A narration sans Narrator, I (i) find.

2. In the beginning was the Word (the primordial, primeval Reason)
Who brought the space-time world into existence by design,
which exists due to a Cause that had forethought to the ends it would achieve mindfully, purposely, assuredly.

My Father is God Almighty.
My Lord is Telos and significance.
I find meaning by searching for clues, cues, signs.
Life is a text with an Author, a Narrator--interpretation is hard, but real.

I hear the Narrator, even when silence reigns.
The Word speaks, though so many cover their ears.
In my beginning--the beginning--is my End.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Christian Worldview in Classical Philosophical Categories

[I just cut this from my book, so I wanted to get some use out of it.]

To increase detail while adding abstraction, the basic categories of philosophy will be employed to explain Christianity in terms of its worldview.

1. Metaphysics or ontology:

A. God and the world. God is a morally and metaphysically perfect and personal being who exists eternally in a triune reality. God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo). God is distinct from the universe (transcendence), but involved with it (immanence). God Incarnated once and only once in the person of Jesus Christ for the redemption of humanity.

B. History: The universe is providentially governed by God and open to God’s intervention through miracle, revelation, Incarnation, and Final Judgment. History began at creation and will reach its providential goal in a linear fashion as the Kingdom of God is progressively manifested and culminated.

C. Anthropology: Humans are made in God’s image and likeness and possess both body and soul. Their telos is to glorify God in all things by pursuing and broadcasting truth and by developing God’s good creation. Through the fall, humans rebelled against God and are thus estranged from themselves, others, and God himself. Redemption cannot be found in themselves but only through God’s gracious provision in the Cross of Jesus Christ, the only perfect human (as well as divine).

D. Angelology: There is an angelic world of disembodied beings, both good and evil, whom have concourse with the human world.

2. Ethics:

The good is based on God’s eternally holy character. God’s directives issue from his character and fit the nature of the creatures he has made. The Bible—rightly interpreted and applied—is the locus of biblical ethics. Jesus is the perfect model of ethical virtue and the source of such virtue in his followers.

3. Epistemology:

Humans are created to know God, themselves, and creation in a finite manner. Knowledge is available through rational first principles, intuition, empirical data, and divine revelation and illumination. All knowing is adversely affected by the fall, yet people can—under the right conditions—attain reasonable beliefs on the things that matter most.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Revolt Against Heaven and Earth

The Democratic Party has issued a statement in favor of homosexual marriage and opposed to The Marriage Protection Act. This is the party of Senator Obama.

The big picture on all this is this: humans, qua rebels against God, are wanting to be autonomous of God's standards for creation and gender. They want to redefine marriage in a way it has never been defined previously. This goes against common sense, natural law, common law, the teachings of all the world's religions, and, of course, then, against the Bible.

Now that the Dems have (for the hundredth time) securely set themselves against God, creation, and the common good, how many Christians will be voting for them in November?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Groothuis Lecture on Apologetics now on Line

My talk from June 6, 2008, "Do You Have to Check Your Mind at the Door to Become a Christian?" is now on line at Wellspring Anglican Church. It is 83 minutes long. I can send you the outline if you would like it. The lecture covers:

The need for apologetics.
The biblical basis for apologetics
The nature and scope of apologetics.
The problem of evil (with an emphasis on lament)
What can be done to insinuate a Christian mind into the church and the culture.

This message in many ways sums up my life in the last thirty two years. I had fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9).

Transvestite Invasion: Truth Evasion

Charles Colson has written a sharp and perceptive essay on the new Colorado law that allows anyone to enter a public bathroom. This was signed into law by our Democratic Governor. (Why does this not surprise me?) "Transgendered" people are in mind. So, if a transvestite (the proper term) wants to use a women's rest room, he is legally allowed to do so.

This is insane. Genitals matter in this form of discrimination. If you are genitally male, stay away from the ladies room--and vice versa. What is now stopping a sexual predator from going into the women's room to stalk (or worse) a young girl? How would a defecating male in the women's make women--real women--feel in there? Can you hold it until you get home?

Tom Minnery wrote this in The Denver Post (May 23, 2008) before this legal monstrosity was signed into law:

Restrooms are not the only problem. The bill adds a prohibition against discrimination in "sexual orientation" to more than 23 separate provisions of Colorado law that already prohibit discrimination in various areas of public life. As a result, SB 200 threatens religious liberty. That's because Colorado's broadly defined "public accommodations" law includes not just hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and all the usual places you'd think of, but also every small business, even a home-based business, that offers "goods or services" to the public.

A refusal to do business with someone based on a sincerely held religious belief that homosexuality is wrong would violate the law. That threatens the religious liberties of every Christian, Jewish or Muslim business owner who operates a business on faith-based principles.
This is not a hypothetical threat. In Albuquerque, which has a similar law, a Christian husband and wife who own and operate their own photography studio were recently hauled before that state's human rights commission and fined more than $6,600 for politely refusing, on religious grounds, to photograph a lesbian "commitment ceremony." We've seen similar charges brought by homosexuals against a video reproduction business in Virginia, a medical clinic in California, an adoption service in Arizona and a church in New Jersey.

Colorado tops them all on the potential outrage meter, however, because in addition to civil fines and penalties, small-business owners can be prosecuted under the criminal laws of Colorado and spend up to one year in jail for trying to live according to their faith.

To add insult to injury, your tax dollars will be used to prosecute these people of faith, and the legislature is expecting 30 complaints and three legal cases per year. We believe the people of Colorado would disapprove of small-business owners being hauled away to jail for refusing to promote messages contrary to their religious and moral beliefs, simply because they operate a small photography or other business.

None of us wants to see people humiliated or embarrassed because of how they appear in public and no one should be turned away from hotels, restaurants and other truly "public accommodations." But this law intrudes on the freedoms of conscience of untold numbers of people of faith, and the consequences for Colorado will be severe.

This law could be fixed if Democrats in the legislature wanted to work with conservatives to protect women and children, as well as the religious and moral beliefs of small- business owners.

Gov. Ritter should veto this version of the bill and ask the legislature to come back next year with something that we can all be proud of.

Citizen of Colorado: revolt (within the bounds of the law). This needs to be protested and overturned, perhaps through a ballot initiative. At age 51, I can hardly believe the level of debauchery embraced by our society in the past few years. We are seeing Romans 1:18-32 played out before our eyes--and in our public bathrooms.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Propositions to Ponder on "How Should We Then Live?"

[I posted this on the blog dedicated to my class on the Schaeffer films, "How Should We Then Live?" Those who have seen the films and/or read the book may be interested in this.]

Propositions to Ponder in Light of
“How Should We Then Live?” Book and Film Series
by Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-84)

The following thoughts are offered to review some of the most salient ideas of this series and to stimulate further thought for your discipleship under Christ and before “the watching world” (as Schaeffer put it). I make no claim that this list is exhaustive or that I have necessarily covered all the most important points.

1. A person’s thinking effects everything about that person. The thought forms of a culture largely determine the fate of that culture. A culture is only as strong as its sense of and obedience to divine reality. See Matthew 7:24-29.

2. Western Christians should know something of the history of Western civilization, in spite of (and because of) the loss of historical knowledge today. This shortfall is especially egregious among those under thirty. See Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation (Tarcher, 2008). Some historical knowledge is required if we are to understand the present, our place within it, and what we should to for the Lord (see 1 Chronicles 12:32). Can we “read the signs of the times”?

3. The secular humanist project of making sense of life and giving meaning to it apart from biblical revelation has failed, philosophically, culturally, and personally. See Proverbs 8:35-36.

4. Christianity alone gives the proper meaning, dignity, and significance to human beings (as created in God's image, fallen into sin, but redeemable through Jesus Christ), but does not make them the center of reality. Because Christianity is theocentric and Christocentric; it is not anthropocentric, but neither is it misogynistic. For a biblical (and Pascalian) view of the human condition and plight, see Doug Groothuis, On Pascal (Wadsworth, 2003), chapter eight.

5. Art often tellingly expresses the worldview of an age. Artists are often like antennae that pick up on culture trends and moods before others do so. Moreover, the art of a culture probably affects culture more than its overt philosophy. See Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (InterVarsity, 1973).

6. Eastern religions cannot give true significance to humans or to nature, since all is dissolved into an impersonal and infinite reality that is beyond reason. For an assessment of how eastern thought has effected the West, see Doug Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (InterVarsity, 1986) and Confronting the New Age (InterVarsity, 1988).

7. Contemporary people tend to put meaning, value, and significance into an “upper story” that is immune from philosophical investigation or empirical verification:

8. Meaning, value, significance, spirituality. Realm of non-reason; requires a leap
Facts, science, verification. Realm of reason; no leap required
Christians should reject these fact/value distinctions since (a) Christ is Lord over all of life (Matthew 28:18-20) and (b) Christianity can be supported through reason; it does not require a blind leap of faith into the dark (to reach the upper story). For more on Schaeffer’s apologetic arguments, see He is There, He is Not Silent (Crossway reprint, 2001). The God Who is There, 30th anniversary ed. (InterVarsity, 1998), and Escape from Reason (InterVarsity Press). For a tremendous exposition of the fact/value dichotomy by a student of Schaeffer, see Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004).

9. The scientific revolution was based on a theistic worldview, not a naturalistic one. This was in keeping with a Christian concept of nature as rational and knowable. See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton, 2003), chapter two.

10. We owe the benefits of individual freedom, human rights, and constitutional form in civil government to the ideas that flowed from The Reformation in Europe. Schaeffer also developed these ideas in A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1981).

11. Contemporary science—especially after Darwin—has junked any theistic basis for nature and exiled design as “unscientific.” But Darwinism cannot explain either (a) the origin of life or (b) the diversity of the biosphere, since it can only appeal to time, space, chance, and natural law for its explanations. The critique of Darwinism and the arguments for design in nature have come a long way since Schaeffer’s day, but he was on to the basic ideas. See William Dembski, The Design Revolution (InterVarsity, 2004) and Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science and Intelligent Design (Regnery, 2006) and Icons of Evolution (Regnery, 2000). See also the DVDs: “The Case for Creator” and “Unlocking the Mystery of Life.” Both are by Illustra Media and available at

12. Contemporary media often manipulate the populace through selective reporting and its implicit worldview of naturalism. Christians should critique the worldview of the mainstream media and consult alternative sources. On scientific matters, see The Discovery Institute: On philosophy and culture, see Doug and Rebecca Groothuis web page: Doug Groothuis blog: Rebecca Merrill Groothuis blog:

13. Much of supposedly Christian theology is held hostage to alien worldviews, perspective antithetical to historic Christian orthodoxy. Schaeffer was especially concerned with traditional liberalism (Harry Emerson Fosdick) and neo-orthodoxy (Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich), both of which grant far too much ground to naturalism. Today many Christian thinkers are compromised by postmodernism. See Doug Groothuis, Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000), especially chapter seven. Thinkers such as Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis) are afflicted with postmodern glibness, flippancy, and an unhealthy infatuation with mystery and paradox that robs Christianity of its rational, explanatory, and apologetic power (see 1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 3). These writers reassert the fact/value dichotomy warned of by Schaeffer forty years ago.

What is Your Truth Footprint?

We hear much--too much, I wager--today about "carbon footprints," how much we contribute to global warming through energy use. Now, I am a skeptic on global warming on four levels:

(1) Is it occurring?
(2) If it is occurring, is it bad overall?
(3) If it is occurring and is bad overall, is it caused primarily by human factors?
(4) If (1) , (2), and (3) are true, can humans do anything significant about it that is not overbalanced by detrimental factors?
(On global warming, see the chapter on global warming in Tom Bethell's delightful book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science.)

But, let's leave that aside (although I'm sure I've warmed the temperature and raised the blood pressure of a few of my readings by so doing). Let us take the carbon footprint concept and apply it to truth: ideas that represent reality correctly (see chapter three of my book, Truth Decay on this). What is your truth footprint? To put it another way, how much truth do you emanate, radiate and display across the whole spectrum of your short life? How much effort do you invest in gaining truth in the first place. Does truth have first place in your life, your doings, your thinking? How much truth--and what kind of truth, trivial or consequential?--are you leaving in the intellectual atmospheres?

Pascal Speaks from the Grave

[This article was published in 2004 in Think. It responds to a rather hackneyed critique of Pascal's wager. I used a novel format to respond to the charges: a speech from Pascal given from heaven.]

Pascal Speaks from the Grave

The joys of heaven almost fail to compensate for the ire I experience when reading the reports of what earthbound mortals are doing with some of my philosophical arguments, particularly the long fragment from my uncompleted treatise on defending the Christian faith, which my relatives posthumously dubbed Pensées. (I could think of far better titles, but they did the best they could.) I continue to receive commendations on my scientific writings and not a few histories of science credit me as a key figure in discrediting the medieval superstition that “nature abhors a vacuum.” For this, I am thankful. But when it comes to assessing the wager, many philosophers, otherwise quite accomplished, fail to discharge their critical faculties adequately. It seems to me that many of them must feel a kind professional obligation to pillory the wager, or at least pale imitations of it. Many supposed invocations of Pascal’s wager (even by proponents) are not Pascal’s wager at all. Another bother is that when anthologies include anything by me, they include the wager by itself without explaining how it fits into my larger philosophy. I did write a few other things besides the wager, one might remember. These are no small sins of omission to my mind.

Since Think has published a short deathbed dialogue criticizing my wager (Nigel Warburton, “The Gambler’s Argument,” Think, Issue 7 (Summer 2004), let me address what I wanted it to accomplish by it. Heaven only allows me a short space to respond, so let’s get to the meat of the matter. (Most of us up here get no such opportunity; Thomas Aquinas is quite envious of my brief terrestrial treatise.) First, I never finished my proposed apologetic for the Christian faith. From my present vantage point, I see why, but that is beside the point. The wager fragment is one of the longer fragments from Pensées, but it was never meant to stand alone as a complete argument in itself. The diligent student of Pensées will find clues as to what I was after and how to interpret the wager. A bit of charity might even the playing field. Where I am, everyone is charitable, and perhaps a little more heaven on earth might clear the air a bit. A close reading of the wager itself will dissipate many of the objections raised against it.

My wager argument was never meant to be an intellectual veto on any knowledge of God whatsoever. The careful reader of Pensées (and a few of my other writings) will find a number of arguments for the rationality of Christian belief, even though I dispensed with “metaphysical arguments” for God’s existence (what you now call natural theology). That enterprise was pretty stilted in my day anyway, and I found more compelling arguments for Christianity proper (the entire worldview), not merely for the existence of a First Cause or a Designer. So, I argued that the Christian account of the human condition provides the best explanation of a race east of Eden, but under heaven. I compared the Christian understanding of humans as both created in God’s image and fallen from grace with the view of humanity given by several other worldviews, particularly skepticism and stoicism, and found the biblical assessment to be superior. In fact, the argument form I employed is what you now refer to as an “inference to the best explanation” or “abduction.” A few earthbound philosophers have recently picked up on this, and have expanded upon this argument, but they are still dwarfed by the throng of those attacking the wager. I give several other arguments for the rationality of faith as well. In fact, my famous quotation, “The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of,” is often taken to imply a blind leap of faith in matters of religion. This is not so! By “heart” I meant an organ of knowledge different from linear ratiocination. Nevertheless, I knew the place of logical arguments, and I offered my share of them.
So, when I called people to believe in the Christian God, I realized that there were other God-candidates. I did not address that matter in the wager fragment simply because the interlocutor was struggling with a disjunct between the Christian God and no God (as were some of my friends and many of my countrymen at the time). However, I was well aware of Islam and other religions besides Christianity and Judaism. I even argued that Mohammed was inferior to Christ as a religious leader, because, unlike Christ, Mohammed was neither foretold through prophecy nor did he himself prophesy. I also claimed that the Qur’an was less historically and logically credible than the Bible. For example, I wrote that the Qur’an contains teachings that are clear, yet unbelievable and implausible, such as its doctrine of a sensual paradise. These implausible clear ideas render its obscurities incredible as well. They should not be viewed as profound mysteries. On the other hand,
It is not the same with Scripture. I admit that there are obscurities as odd as those of Mahomet, but some things are admirably clear, with prophecies manifestly fulfilled. So it is not an even contest. We must not confuse and treat as equal things which are only alike in their obscurities, and not in the clarity which earns respect for the obscurities (Pensées, p. 97).
Despite these evidential arguments (and remember, please, they are presented in outline form; I died before I could finish them), I realized that some hardened skeptics—among them some of my own friends—will not be moved by the arguments alone. They needed some strong incentive. As gamblers (and I admit I did a bit of gambling myself during my worldly period), they understand stakes and odds and outcomes. They also understand, to steal a phrase from William James’s essay “The Will to Believe” (despite his rather nasty comment about the wager), that some choices are “momentous” and “forced.” To not believe in God may have momentous negative consequences; while believing in God (and not merely theism, but Christian theism—that was the whole burden of Pensées) may have momentous positive consequences for this life and in the life to come. Moreover, the situation is forced in that time is running out. One must ultimately take a stand for or against the Christian claim on reality. We cannot avoid the issue by remaining skeptical because, as James (helpful this time) put it, "although we do avoid in that way error if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve." So, the gambler can see that the stakes are high and that he must wager, “He is embarked,” as I put it. But how will one choose?
Although I am often misinterpreted on this, I never held to what your philosophers of religion now call “doxastic voluntarism”—the claim that beliefs can be achieved through the will as easily as one wills to raise one’s hand. The dying man in your journal’s dialogue complains that he cannot make himself believe in God because he believes theism to be lacking in evidence. I understand his point. You may remember that the interlocutor in the wager exclaims that on the basis of the prudential outcomes (heaven and hell) that while it makes sense for him to believe, he still cannot believe. I advise him to attempt to still or ally his belief-retarding passions through religious activities. Too many critics to the contrary (somehow your article didn’t mention this old canard), I did not recommend liturgical brainwashing. Rather, I observed that our belief-forming processes are as affected by our passions as well as by reasons. In some cases our passions can be abated a bit through certain courses of action taken over time. As I put it in a dialogue with an unbeliever:
'I should have given up a life of pleasure,' they say, 'if I had faith.' But I tell you: 'You would soon have faith if you gave up a life of pleasure. Now it is up to you to begin. If I could give you faith, I would. But I cannot, nor can I test the truth of what you say, but you can easily give up your pleasure and test whether I am telling the truth’ (Pensées, p. 273).
I wouldn’t expect a life-long agnostic to convert on his deathbed through the kind of approach given by the hapless Christian in your journal’s dialogue. But if one’s passions that are hostile to Christianity are corralled, the light of truth may break forth. As I put it to the unbeliever in the wager, "You will realize that you have wagered on something certain and infinite for which you have paid nothing"(Pensées, p. 153). "Certain" here involves an intellectual richness that exceeds what is possible through mere habituation. And elsewhere in the Pensées I write of habituation or “custom” as helping to ground certain beliefs in a rational manner (Pensées, p. 274).
Lastly, I realized that the wager, standing alone, would not produce true Christian faith. I was not arguing for faith as mere fire insurance. The wager was rather a starting place for the hardened skeptic, a way to get his attention and challenge him to begin a quest or what might be called “a devotional experiment.” This is what I ultimately wanted to find in a believing soul, as I indicated in Pensées:
True conversion consists in self-annihilation before the universal being whom we have so often vexed and who is perfectly entitled to destroy us at any moment. . . . It consists in knowing that there is an irreconcilable opposition between God and us, and that without a mediator there can be no [salvation] (Pensées, 137-138).
There is much more to say, but you do have the Pensées and my other philosophical writings if you want to avoid straw man arguments. Aquinas, despite his sainted status, is quite envious of my posthumous essay and is voicing his desire to respond to something said about him down there in a recent article. (Moreover, he is still a bit miffed at me because I abandoned natural theology. We continue to discuss the matter in a most gratifying way.) Perhaps one day he will get his wish as well. I hope so. But the more carefully we sainted philosophers are read on earth, the less agitation there will be in heaven—and the less need for posthumous philosophical missives.

Blaise Pascal. Pensées. Trans. A. J. Krailsheimer. New York: Penguin Books, 1966.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Joe Carter on Obama's Endorsement of Infanticide

Please read Joe Carter's on target essay on Obama's stance on infanticide: "The Evangelical Shibboleth."

Lecture Outline Available to Curmudgeonites and Curmudgeonettes

I gave my lecture, "Do You Have to Check Your Mind at the Door to Become a Christian?" tonight at Wellspring Anglican Church to a small, but attentive audience. I hope to have a link to the audio file soon (which runs about 90 minutes, before the question/answer time), but I can send out the detailed outline (including a 21 item bibliography) to anyone who wants it. Please email through this blog.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hillary is Out: God Save us from Obama

The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton will withdraw from the race and give her support to Obama. I was hoping she could fight to the end and engineer a "brokered convention" that would leave the Democrats divided and angry at each other. That way, McCain would have a better chance to win. But it was not to be.

There is a leadership dearth in America today, especially in politics. Neither party ran a strong, wise, trustworthy candidate for President. This indicates national decay, more so than economic woes. "Without a vision, the people perish." We see no one with the vision of a Ronald Reagan. (Those seeking a solid understanding of Reagan should read Peggy Noonan's, When Character Was King.)

So where do we stand? I encourage Christians to support John McCain any way they can. This is because the alternative is unthinkable: an inexperienced, pro-abortion, tax and spend, internationalist, racially confused (think of his church affiliation) extreme liberal who does not understand Islamic fascism or how to deal with it. His race has absolutely nothing to do with it. I was hoping that Condoleeza Rice would run for President--and I hope she ends up as the vice presidential candidate along side of McClain.

As I wrote earlier, this is no time for Christian conservatives to pout and refuse to vote. Politics is the art of the possible. It is not the church. You should not call a pastor who defects from orthodox theology. But in politics, you may need to support someone who does not share many of your views. To be a perfectionist and a purist (if you will) is suicidal in this case.

Obama would lose the war in Iraq, thus likely causing it to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists (after a horrific civil war, costing hundreds of thousands of lives). We do not want to repeat Viet Nam, a war that the US won (at great cost) and then lost because it would not support the Vietnamese government adequately. The result: the killing fields. This time, instead of Asian blood, it would be Persian blood. (To understand why political liberals cannot understand the evils of Islamic terrorism, read David Horovitz, Unholy Alliance.)

Obama would appoint liberal non-originalist Supreme Court justices would not vote against the legal and moral nightmare of Roe vs. Wade, and who would like support same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right. For a non-orginalist, the Constitution is a wax nose they can twist any way they want. They create law, instead of interpreting it. One could go on.

Whatever the result of this election, the Kingdom of God is not tied to any political program or party. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Jesus was not elected Lord and he will not be voted out of office. Nevertheless, politics and law and culture matter. Christians should wake up, get in gear, and make a difference. In this election, to my mind, this means: pray for, vote for, and contribute to John McCain for President.

Call Any Vegetable: Philosophy and Language

There are two uses of the word vegetable that are philosophically inapt, and which, as such, should cease to be used as they are typically used today.

1. Vegging out: This means to relax without any intellectual stimulation or demands. People usually use it to describe much of their television consumption. Since humans are not vegetables, such descriptions are not apt, however intellectually and spiritually impoverished one might be in such a state. Moreover, why would a human want to engage in activities that reduce him or her to the level of a vegetable? Recreation is one thing; vegetating is something else.

2. Vegetative state. This is used to refer to certain conditions in which a human being is severely compromised with respect to mental abilities. The term is never appropriately applied to humans, though, since human beings never cease to be humans to become vegetables. The human essence or substance remains, however damaged that poor human may be. Therefore, human beings should never be considered vegetative and should always be treated with dignity. This is because they are made in God's image and likeness--something not reducible to a level of functioning.

Super Hero: ObamaOverman

Meet a new superhero; where fantasy and politics meet--ObamaOverman

He creates hope out of nothing!
He mesmerizes the masses!
He leaps over issues with a single bound!
He befriends an American terrorist (William Ayers, member of the Weather Underground) and poses as patriotic!
He is troubled by abortion, but favors no law that would restrict it in any way and receives a perfect score from NARAL!
He attends a black separatist church for twenty years and only notices it when the press gets wind of the bile!


Over--and out.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I'm Back: Will Lecture in Englewood This Friday

[My new, improved computer locked me out of my very own Curmudgeon Dungeon for several days, but I outfoxed it, techno-wizard that I am (not). ]

Wellspring Anglican Church is starting an eight part lecture series called "Is Christianity Relevant or even True?" The church is located at 4300 S. Lincoln St., Englewood, CO 80113. I am giving the first lecture this Friday at 7:00 PM on "Do You Have to Check Your Brain at the Door to Become a Christian?" (I did not select the title.) The lecture will address the biblical account of the life of the mind, critique fideism, and tackle one major intellectual problem for Christianity (come to see to find out what it is). These lectures are free of charge, but will cost you your attention. Free child care is provided.

I will deliver another lecture in the series on July 18, to be called, "Are Christianity and Science Incompatible?" It will discuss a Christian philosophy of science and explore the contribution that intelligent design can make to a Christian worldview.

For more on this series, see the web page.