Plantinga on the Ham-Nye Debate
Thursday, March 13, 2014, 9:41 AM

One of the things that struck me in my work on the ecumenical movement was the extent to which social factors influence the sense of fraternity that Christians feel about one another.

I’ve often been confused that Christians of a more liberal bent, whether theological, political, or otherwise, come across as far friendlier and more aligned with their secular counterparts than fellow believers of a more conservative, traditionalist, or (gasp!) fundamentalist disposition. Try to find a progressive or liberal Christian professing unity (mystical, spiritual, or otherwise) with someone like Jerry Falwell. I’d be glad to see an instance of it. The same is true, by the by, for many more conservative Christians. They are far more amenable to the likes of a professed atheist or agnostic secular conservative than many progressives.

In some sense if Machen is right, that liberalism and Christianity are two different religions, then the reason for this is explicable, at least to a point. But I do think there are social sources of factionalism that are not so theologically motivated or principled.

 Plantinga on the Ham Nye Debate

Alvin Plantinga

In conversing with a friend on this phenomenon the other day, he noted in passing what was a kind of charitable interpretation of young earth creationists relative to that of atheists in Alvin Plantinga’s magisterial Warranted Christian Belief. Consider this, then, a kind of comment from Plantinga relevant to the sort of thing on display in the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.

It comes in footnote 25 on p. 217 of WCB (or footnote 260 in this online version), in which Plantinga is discussing the noetic effects of sin. The model to which Plantinga refers is his “sensus divinitatis” model, according to which “the most important truths about [people] is that we have been created by the Lord and utterly depend upon him for our continued existence.” Here Plantinga notes:

In this connection, consider the despised creationists, who believe that the world is only ten thousand years old: they are ignorant, pitifully ignorant about when God created the world. From the point of view of the model, this ignorance pales into utter insignificance compared with that of many of their cultured detractors, who foolishly believe that there is no God and thus (naturally enough) are ignorant of the vastly more important fact that the world was, indeed, created by God.

Perhaps not a ringing endorsement of someone like Ken Ham, but it is at least an acknowledgment of the relative unity of creationists of any kind as compared to that of creationism’s “cultured detractors.”

Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Again)
Thursday, January 23, 2014, 9:55 AM

The Journal Summer 2013 210x300 Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Again)In light of the ecumenical nature of much of the advocacy at yesterday’s March for Life, I think it’s worth highlighting a recent effort at constructive dialogue between evangelicals and Roman Catholics that has not received much notice: “Evangelicals and Catholics Together on Law: The Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

The statement has been eight years in the making and takes its inspiration (as seen by the title) from the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). The statement appeared in the summer issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought, and you can read a PDF here. As Mike Schutt, who edits the journal, notes, signatories to the statement include Os Guinness, Barb Armacost, and David Skeel, Robert George, Rick Garnett, and Russell Hittinger.

The latest issue of the journal featured a number of responses to the statement, including one from me under the title, “The Ecumenical Challenge of Catholicity.”

Diogenes’ Response to the Human-Hybrid Hypothesis
Thursday, December 5, 2013, 11:01 AM

Diogenes looking for a man   attributed to JHW Tischbein Diogenes Response to the Human Hybrid Hypothesis

Diogenes is still looking for an honest man.

Eugene M. McCarthy, a geneticist, thinks humans are hybrids. Specifically, he concludes that there is strong evidence supporting the hypothesis “that pigs did in fact cross with apes to produce the human race.”

His discussion includes exploration of physical features shared between humans and pigs, including “lightly pigmented eyes, in shades of blue, green, and tan,” which “are never found in chimpanzees or orangutans.” So my blue eyes make me more pig-like than other people, perhaps.

Much of this is far too technical for me to really understand. Anything we don’t share in terms of physical characteristics with apes can presumably be traced to pigs. This is taken to be of such significance as if all that distinguishes human beings from other animals is the particular arrangement of material parts.

But it does remind me a bit of the exposure of the limits of human understanding illustrated in the anecdotal exchange between Plato and Diogenes of Sinope. Plato was working with a definition of a human being as a “featherless biped.” Diogenes plucks all the feathers off of a chicken, and returns to Plato, triumphantly exclaiming: “Behold, a man!” At this, Plato modifies his definition a bit: a human being is a featherless biped, with broad, flat nails.

I get the sense that Diogenes’ response to McCarthy would be to come to us with a pig in one hand and an ape in the other, and proclaim: “Behold, a man!”

This might require us to move beyond merely materialistic definitions of the human being.

Bored to Death
Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 2:01 PM

Johnny Cash said this about the line from Folsom Prison Blues: “And I thought about what was the most evil thing a man, evil reason a man could do for killin’ somebody. And I figured, just to watch him die, you know, might be a pretty evil reason.”


One of three juveniles arrested by police is said to have confessed to a murder with these words: “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.”

Being bored to death, literally, is the terminus ad quem of nihilism.

Francis Schaeffer at International Congress of World Evangelism 1974
Thursday, June 27, 2013, 9:32 AM

Francis Schaeffer at International Congress of World Evangelism, Lausanne, Switzerland, July 1974 from on Vimeo.

“God made the whole man, and the whole man is redeemed in Jesus Christ. And the lordship of Christ covers the whole of life.”

Challenges for Pres. Obama over Syria and Security
Monday, June 17, 2013, 1:31 PM

Rep. Justin Amash (an Orthodox Christian, of Syrian and Palestinian extraction) had a brief but salient posting on his Facebook page over the weekend:

While the al-Qaeda-allied Syrian rebels murder Christians and desecrate churches, Pres. Obama sends them weapons to continue their rampage—all while the President fights to restrict Americans’ gun rights here at home and treats all Americans as terror suspects who must be constantly spied on.

Over at Patheos, Thomas L. McDonald shares his own incredulity:

In the midst of revelations exposing the worst violations of our 1st and 4th Amendment rights in the nation’s history, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is, for the third time in his presidency, authorizing military aid and action in a country in which we have no direct interest and without consulting either Congress or the UN. This military action is coming in the form of weapons and air support for a group allied with terrorist forces we are fighting all around the globe, and which were responsible for 9/11 and countless other atrocities. This particular plucky Rebel Alliance have massacred villagers, targeted and killed Christians, and publicly executed a teenager in front of his family for making a joke about Islam.

Easter Foolishness
Monday, April 1, 2013, 9:46 AM

 Easter FoolishnessThe juxtaposition yesterday and today between Easter in the West and April Fools’ Day is worth pausing to reflect on for a moment.

As the apostle Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The resurrection has always been the sticking point, so to speak, between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world: “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered…”

Many sermons yesterday included a call to live out our Easter faith in joyful hope. Remember this day after Easter, a fool’s day, that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”

Anderson v. Morgan and Orman on Marriage
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 11:08 AM

Last night I caught the video of Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation and his discussion (debate?) with Piers Morgan and Suze Orman on Morgan’s CNN show. The whole clip is pretty amazing to watch for a variety of reasons.

As Denny Burk put it, this is a great example of how not to have a debate about gay marriage.

Considering the circumstances, Anderson comported himself admirably. The condescension of Morgan and Orman just permeates the discussion, as Orman begins her piece by calling Anderson “uneducated,” but later admits that he has all his “facts” together. All Morgan and Orman have, apparently, are bully tactics, appeals to the mob, and special pleading.

Orman also refers to Anderson as “sweetheart.” Some have commented on the fact that Anderson is placed in the audience during this exchange, while Morgan and Orman are up at the “big kids” table. The playing field is uneven in this and other ways, but at least since he wasn’t seated at the table Orman wasn’t simply able to cluck her tongue and pat Anderson on the head.

This conversation is what you get when natural-law arguments run into suppression of the truth in unrighteousness. I would expect the identity politics and ad hominems to simply escalate as the case that Anderson, Sherif Gergis, and Robbie George make (in this article and in their book) continues to get a hearing in the public square.

Rob Bell on Re-Defining Evangelicalism
Monday, March 18, 2013, 12:54 PM

rob bell author of what we talk about when we talk about god Rob Bell on Re Defining EvangelicalismThere’s perhaps not much new here other than making explicit what has heretofore merely been implicit.

But in a recent discussion at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Rob Bell responded to a question about same-sex marriage and evangelical political engagement:

I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. And I think the ship has sailed. This is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.

That last sentiment in particular is of special note, as Bell’s comments come within the context of his rebuke of what evangelicalism has come to mean in the American context. Before answering the question about same-sex marriage, Bell said, “The beautiful thing would be if ‘Evangelical’ came to mean buoyant, joyful, honest announcement about all of us receiving the grace of God and then together giving back to the make the world the kind of place God always dreamed it could be. Let’s reclaim it, all of us.”

The Blind Leading the Seeing
Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 2:19 PM

The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind The Blind Leading the SeeingJohn C. Pinheiro, a professor of history at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., reflects on the nature of teaching religious history. He points to the still-often dominant paradigm in academia, which ignores religion as a category, preferring instead to consider “economic,” “ethnic,” or “social” history, categories that “subsume religion for the Marxian and secular humanist.”

There is a kind of myth of objectivity in such pursuits, but as Pinheiro points out “secular humanism is decidedly un-neutral. It is a substitute for religion, not the absence of a worldview. The militant variety wants to scrub the public square free of all vestiges of religion, not understanding the connection between religion and culture; or, perhaps understanding it all too well. Yet this is contrary to all of human experience, though it is the result of historical forces even predating the Enlightenment that historians and their students can study.”

He goes on to point out that “even today, only 2.5% of the world are atheists. In other words, 97.5% of humanity see meaning in life, believe in a god or Gods, and understand intuitively or through learning that there exists a metaphysical aspect to existence that is transcendent. This number would be even higher for much of the past.”

These observations reminded me of a point made by Abraham Kuyper in his reflections on the nature of scientific investigation and academic culture. Speaking of the myth of complete rational and secular objectivity, Kuyper says that when such a methodology dominates,

this means that the thinker with the most impoverished sense has framed the case, since he has denied all the richer content of the human consciousness while validating as truth only what he has agreed with. This is like an army moving under orders that the cavalry not advance any faster than the infantry, nor the infantry any faster than its slowest soldier. Even though within this position faith is indispensable for progress (no matter that it was no more than believing in one single axiom), nevertheless the outcome was that everyone who possessed richer faith ultimately had to go along with and adapt to the researcher with the least faith. From this it follows that all Christian researchers who allowed themselves to be pulled in this direction were required to place the far richer content of their own conscious faith outside the scientific domain, or even to surrender their faith or drift toward apostasy.

Thankfully to some extent as Pinheiro points out, there has been a “turn to religion” in various academic fields, including history. As Pinheiro writes, “To take religion seriously in our study of the past means first of all beginning with the assumption that people really believe what they say they believe. An intimate knowledge of our own human condition — sadly lacking among many in our unreflective, noisy society — is a necessity in this endeavor.”

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