Friday, March 23, 2007

Teach the Bible in our Public Schools

The cover story of this coming week's Time magazine is "The Case for Teaching the Bible" in our public schools.

The argument for doing this runs as follows.

1. Teaching the Bible in schools--as an object of study, not God's received word--"is eminently constitutional."

2. "The Bible so pervades Western culture... that it's hard to call anyone educated who hasn't at least given thought to its key passages."

3. The current civic climate makes teaching the Bible in public schools a "now more than ever" proposition.

4. Many believe that knowledge of the Bible is essential to being a "full-fledged, well-rounded citizen."

5. "Polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to "all or most of life's basic questions." Yet, "pollster George Gallup has dubbed us "a nation of biblical illiterates." Only half of U.S.dults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can't name the Bible's first book. The trend extends even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount."

6. "SIMPLY PUT, THE BIBLE IS THE MOST influential book ever written. Not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it is the best-selling book of the year every year. In a 1992 survey of English teachers to determine the top-10 required "book-length works" in high school English classes, plays by Shakespeare occupied three spots and the Bible none. And yet, let's compare the two: Beauty of language: Shakespeare, by a nose. Depth of subject matter: toss-up. Breadth of subject matter: the Bible. Numbers published, translated etc: Bible. Number of people martyred for: Bible. Number of wars attributed to: Bible. Solace and hope provided to billions: you guessed it. And Shakespeare would almost surely have agreed."

7. "If literature doesn't interest you, you also need the Bible to make sense of the ideas and rhetoric that have helped drive U.S. history."

I agree with these points. In my Philosophy of Religion classes I find students mostly interested in the Bible and largely uninformed as to its content. For a long time I have said that it seems public schools widely miss the mark in education in not teaching the book that is "bedrock" for American history. And Jesus - like it or not, remains the most influential person who has ever walked this planet. Finally, to ignore the public teaching of religion is carrying church-state separation to aburd extremes since "religion" remains, arguably, the most driving force behind what is going on in the world today (as it always has been.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Incoherence of Sam Harris (again...)

Atheist Sam Harris is an angry man. People who believe in God, Harris says, are "delusional" and "dupes."

In today's Harris says the following.

  • "The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead." But of course this is not true. See, e.g., William Lane Craig's recent debate with Bart Ehrman here. Or, see Craig Evans's critique of Ehrman et. al. in his new book Deconstructing Jesus. Now I have just listed not one, but two persons, who give reasons for believing Jesus rose from the dead. And, these persons are both alive and "on earth." Are they "good" reasons? Craig and Evans think they are. So do I. Now that makes three persons who believe there are good reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead. But I am sure Harris would not think our reasons are "good." This is because he has ruled out the possibility of resurrection in an a priori fashion. Harris cannot believe in a resurrection because his metaphysical position disallows it. And, Harris is ignorant of New Testament scholarship and the historical reasoning involved. And of course he will pay no attention to such scholarship because his worldview disallows supernatural things like the resurrection of Jesus. But that is the point, isn't it?

  • "Of course, no religion is monolithic. Within every faith one can see people arranged along a spectrum of belief. Picture concentric circles of diminishing reasonableness." OK. And atheism is no different, of course. Within atheism there is a broad spectrum of belief, from Nietzsche's nihilism to Russell's "free man's worship" with it's unyielding-despair-rugged idealism to Dawkins's hate-filled revulsion to Harris's bowing at the throne of "reason" (whatever that might be, as if there is some monolithic position about reason) and so on and on to the village atheist who "stopped believing" because they are angry at Christians and so on... What Harris thinks "reasonableness" is has its problems and non-supporters, even among atheists I feel quite sure. So Harris has made a sociological observation which, I think, applies to all "belief systems" to include the belief system of atheism.

  • "People of all faiths — and none — regularly change their lives for the better, for good and bad reasons. And yet such transformations are regularly put forward as evidence in support of a specific religious creed. President Bush has cited his own sobriety as suggestive of the divinity of Jesus. No doubt Christians do get sober from time to time — but Hindus (polytheists) and atheists do as well. How, therefore, can any thinking person imagine that his experience of sobriety lends credence to the idea that a supreme being is watching over our world and that Jesus is his son?" Here's my response. When I was 21 I was doing drugs nearly every day of the week. I prayed, and in my prayer told God that I believed in Jesus as His Son. From that day until now, 36 years later, I've not done drugs once. So, for me, I associate my release from drugs (and a lot of other stuff I will not mention here) with my prayer to God on that day 36 years ago. I had and still have this experiential reality of a God who loves me and has given me new life. It thus seems reasonable for me to infer that my prayer was causally efficacious. And, I am a "thinking person." I have thought a lot about this over the past 36 years, to include reading volumes of philosophic, psychological, and scientific material about "conversions" and personal transformation. I've even read Heidegger's "What Is Called Thinking?" (!!) Let me try this. For me, Alvin Plantinga is a good example of a "thinking person." I find him "rational," logical, analytic, and - this is my opinion - brilliant. On the other hand, I personally find Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, non-analytic, irrational, highly emotive, and dangerous (in the sense that, if he represents what atheism can offer the world, I feel we're in deep trouble). So here we have a theist, Plantinga, who is a far clearer thinker than the Dawkins of GD. So I feel that a "thinking person" can be a theist just as a non-thinking person can not only be an atheist but even be one of atheism's "champions." What an odd world we live in!

  • Now, before I quote Harris again, please put on your "thinking cap" and see if you can make any sense of what he is about to say. I find it, at times, irrational. "There is no question that many people do good things in the name of their faith — but there are better reasons to help the poor, feed the hungry and defend the weak than the belief that an Imaginary Friend wants you to do it. Compassion is deeper than religion. As is ecstasy. It is time that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know." Oh my, what to make of this! Some brief thoughts: 1) To refer to what I mean by God as an "Imaginary Friend" is to beg the question; 2) "Compassion is deeper than religion." Huh? Which means... what? "Deeper?" Why "deeper?" Oh, and by the way, an atheist such as Nietzsche scorns "compassion." I imagine Nietzsche the atheist would argue that "compassion" is a Judeo-Christian notion and in no way finds a place in real atheism; 3) "As is ecstasy." Huh? "Ecstasy," ek-stasis, is, literally, "standing outside of one's self." What could Harris possibily mean by "ecstasy?" Surely not ek-stasis. And, should he define it, how is it "deeper" than religion? 4) Theists like Plantinga et. al. are definitely not "pretending to know things they do not know." (Even if Plantinga was "pretending," how could Harris know this. Is Harris a mind-reader?) 5) Yes, atheists can be "ethical." But, on atheism, there is no reason to be "ethical." Not really. Again, see Nietzsche.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Willard and Reppert Against Naturalism & Materialism

I finished Victor Reppert's C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument From Reason. Reppert argues that human reason makes no sense on scientific materialism and philosophical naturalism. I found Reppert's arguments persuasive.

Reppert develops Lewis's argument, which can be stated as follows:

(1) No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

(2) If materialism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.

(3) Therefore, if materialism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred.

(4) If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.

(5) Therefore materialism should be rejected and its denial accepted.

Dallas Willard, in his essay "Knowledge and Naturalism," argues in a way similar to Reppert. Willard's essay, in my mind, nicely compliments Reppert's work (though Willard is more technical and not as easy to read).

Willard's argument can be summarized as follows:

1. There is no place for truth or logical relations in a world where the only properties are physical.

2. Noetic unity is also impossible in such a world. ("The noetic aspect of knowing and knowledge encompasses all of the types of mental states and acts and their ways of coming together that are involved in the individual coming to know or to be in a state of knowledge.")

3. But knowledge is possible; many things are known and there are people of great knowledge.

4. Therefore naturalism must be false. "It cannot accommodate the ontological structure of knowing and knowledge."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Praying "Here Kitty, Kitty" and Getting the Lion of Judah

In Mark 4:37, as Jesus was in the boat with his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee, we read that a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. The words “furious squall” are, in the Greek language, “anemou megale.” “Anemou” means “violent wind.” “Megale” means “great,” or “huge” (like when you “mega-size” your meal). The disciples – many of them – were experienced fishermen, and this was their fishing lake. They’d seen a lot of bad weather, but never anything like this. The boat was filled with water, and they cried out “We’re going to drown!”

As the disciples were bailing water and rowing and doing who-knows-what-else experienced fishermen would do, Jesus was sleeping. They wake him up – “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?”

When Jesus awoke, he took care of the situation. He didn’t do it by bailing 10 times harder than the disciples, causing them to be amazed at his furious bailing and crying out “Now I know Jesus is the Son of God!” No. Instead, Jesus “rebuked” the storm. And he told it to “Be still,” which means, literally, “be muzzled.” This storm was a “perfect storm” sent by Satan to stop Jesus and his people from carrying out the mission of bringing in the Kingdom of God. It was “perfect” because it left the experienced fishermen with no skills or tools to get out of it. But because it was demonically inspired, what was needed was for Jesus to do just what he did whenever he encountered a demon; viz., rebuke it and muzzle it.

The result was that the Sea of Galilee became “galene megale”: mega-calm.

Mark 4:21 then reads, They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" Why were they terrified? Shouldn’t they be cheering and yelling “Yeah for Jesus! He calmed the storm! He saved our lives!” Instead they were “ephobethesan phobon megan.” Which means: they were terrified with mega-terror. Why?

It was then that they stared at Jesus and asked, “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?” There’s something about Jesus that is not only supernatural but preternatural; that is, supernatural in an uncanny sense.

I heard of a pastor who once told his congregation, “People, we prayed for Jesus to show up by saying “Here kitty, kitty,” and what we got instead was the Lion of Judah.”

On a recent Sunday I felt God tell me, as I was preaching, “Invite the Lion of Judah into our midst.” And so, if you were there, you heard me do that. Now we will begin to see that the One Who is in the boat with us is even greater, even more “terrible and awe-inspiring,” even more uncannily powerful, then we have ever seen.

Unbelief Reduces Jesus to a Homeboy

In Matthew 13:54-58 we see that Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth. He is invited to speak in the local synagogue, and there he speaks with great wisdom. He may also have demonstrated “miraculous powers,” since the response of the people is to be amazed and ask "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?"

What did Jesus talk about? I think it’s safe to assume that he talked about the Kingdom of God. I once heard Rick Warren speak on TV – guess what he talked about? If you’re thinking “the purpose-driven life” you are correct. I like Rick Warren, but Jesus was far more purpose-driven than he is. All of what Jesus says and does is about the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaims the good news of the Kingdom. And Jesus demonstrates, in healing, deliverance, and dead-raising, the power and authority he has as the Real King.

Jesus speaks “wisdom,” and Jesus acts in “miraculous power.” Both cause jaws to drop in awe and wonder. When the wisdom-words of Jesus get into the deep soil of a human heart they produce a crop with yields of 30, 60, even a hundred times the original seed. At a time when some of Jesus’ disciples were leaving him Peter looked at Jesus and said, “Lord, where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I’ve been a follower of Jesus for 36 years. At this point in my life I can say that I am getting more out of the Bible and the words of Jesus than I ever have before. And yet I think I am probably still scratching the surfaces of the depths of Jesus’ wisdom. It all makes me feel that when Hebrews describes the word of God as living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating deep into joints and marrow, soul and spirit, I am now experiencing this great truth. (Hebrews 4:12)

Jesus has “miraculous powers.” I know this, personally, and I want to see more. One empirical fact about myself is this: the very moment that I prayed and confessed that Jesus was my Savior and Lord and that I was going to follow him all the days of my life was the very moment that I ceased doing drugs (which was my daily habit). If that were my only experience of the miraculous power of Jesus it would still be enough to cause me to worship him now and forevermore. But I know there’s more to come!

We must now embrace the wisdom of Jesus and his miraculous powers. It is instructive for us that the people who thought they knew him best, his own townsfolk, “took offense” at him and refused to “honor” him. Which means, for me, took offense at his proclamation and demonstration. Jesus was their homeboy. Then, in a turn of events, Jesus now was “amazed,” and Matthew 13:58 reads, “and he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”

The people of Nazareth went from astonishment to skeptical questioning to taking offense at Christ. They ended up with nothing from him. Let’s never let unbelief and non-faith limit what Jesus chooses to do in our lives.

John Edwards, Jesus, and Selfishness

Today democratic candidate John Edwards said, "I think that Jesus would be disappointed in our ignoring the plight of those around us who are suffering and our focus on our own selfish short-term needs. I think he would be appalled, actually."

I think, on this, Edwards is spot-on. Just read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for Jesus' views of money and personal kingdom-building.

This being true, how can Edwards justify living in a 28,200 square foot home that's the largest in the county he lives in, and valued at $6,000,000? "The recreation building contains a basketball court, a squash court, two stages, a bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms, swimming pool, a four-story tower, and a room designated “John’s Lounge.”"

I understand and agree that I am not to judge other people. I also don't view myself as the example of Christlike handling of possessions. Yet Edwards, as a public figure, should be careful about quoting Jesus on "our own selfish short-term needs" while living in a home 80% the size of a football field.

In this regard Thomas Merton was correct when he asked the question as to why we need to live in mansions when the Son of Man didn't even have a roof over his own head.

Monday, March 05, 2007

God Delusion #24: Dawkins vs. David Sloan Wilson

My original intent was to read through Dawkins' God Delusion and make continual posts about the book. So, I've read the thing and wonder why am I not making post after post? The answer is, I think, that I find his book mostly non-compelling and, frankly, poorly written and poorly thought-out, especially in his attempts to write philosophy and theology and, of course, in his innate despising of all who cannot see as he does.

See posts 1-23 below for some of the reasons I have for thinking this.

I think I'll stop posting on GD, except when it seems interesting to me.

Which occurred today in reading the nytimes "Darwin's God." Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argues that, adaptively, "religion enhances group fitness." Wilson is an atheist. His idea enrages Dawkins the atheist, who calls Wilson's work “sheer, wanton, head-in-bag perversity.”

On Religious Beliefs as Either Adaptations or Non-Adaptive Byproducts

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine has an interesting article on how evolutionary theorists are trying to explain the origin of religious beliefs, to include belief in God. To inquire as to the evolutionary origins of God-belief is not to engage in Dawkins-type theorizing against the existence of God. The discussion happens on a micro-evolutionary level. It goes like this.

Religious beliefs are either "adaptations" or "byproducts." If the belief on God is an adaptation, this means it once had survival value. If it’s a byproduct of an adaptation that had survival value, then belief in God is a “nonadaptive consequence.” Whatever approach evolutionists might take, “God” seems to be hard-wired into persons. Belief in God is our “default setting.”

I think it is important to note that all beliefs/opinions/theories/behaviors can be analyzed this way. There are no human ideas/behaviors/beliefs that cannot be so analyzed because they fall outside the explanatory grasp of evolutionary theory. Thus, evolutionary theory can itself be analyzed this way. Is the belief in evolutionary theory an adaptation or a non-adaptive consequence? (For more on this see Alvin Plantinga's "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.")

In itself any evolutionary explanation cannot answer the question “Does God exist?” Should one claim that to show that the evolution of a belief affects the cognitive value of that belief then one would commit, logically, the genetic fallacy. The nytimes essay understands this clearly. Which means that one could accept such evolutionary reasoning and be a Christian theist at the same time.

In this regard Justin Barrett, Senior Director University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, is cited. Barrett “is an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being.”” Barrett says, “Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people.” He then asks, “Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?”

I agree with Barrett when he reasons that having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them. Barrett writes, “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?”

If “God” is the human default setting, what shall we make of atheists? Scott Atran is an anthropologist, and atheist, at the University of Michigan. “Atran says he faces an emotional and intellectual struggle to live without God in a nonatheist world, and he suspects that is where his little superstitions come from, his passing thought about crossing his fingers during turbulence or knocking on wood just in case. It is like an atavistic theism erupting when his guard is down. The comforts and consolations of belief are alluring even to him, he says, and probably will become more so as he gets closer to the end of his life. He fights it because he is a scientist and holds the values of rationalism [R] higher than the values of spiritualism [S]. “

But why does Atran hold the values of R higher than the values of S? Evolutionary theory must have an answer to this. But that answer cannot be “because the values of R are true.” “Why” R is “higher” than “S” is an entirely different question that cannot be answered by showing that, e.g., Atran does hold R higher than S.

Barrett’s suggestion that God exists and has hard-wired belief in Him into persons makes as much logical sense as does any other alternative. For the Christian theist it makes sense of the belief that, as persons, God created us “in his image.”

I think that Plantinga’s work on warranted belief, and Victor Reppert’s argument that human reason is only explicable on theism, can be helpful in a discussion like this. Belief in God, as our "default setting," is a Plantingian "properly basic belief." And the valuing of R, following Reppert, is a reason to believe that the proposition "God exists" is true because philosophical naturalism is self-refuting because it is inconsistent with the valuing of R.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Cameron's "Jesus Tomb" (again...)

Here are some more good links re. this coming Sunday's Discovery Channel special on the Tilpiat tomb.

For mark Goodacre of Duke University, go here. Especially funny, I think, is Goodacre's analysis of Cameron's Beatles analogy. Goodacre writes:

"At the risk of labouring the point, let me attempt to explain my concerns by using the analogy of which the film-makers are so fond, the Beatles analogy. This analogy works by saying that if in 2,000 years a tomb was discovered in Liverpool that featured the names John, Paul and George, we would not immediately conclude that we had found the tomb of the Beatles. But if we also found so distinctive a name as Ringo, then we would be interested. Jacobovici claims that the "Ringo" in this tomb is Mariamene, whom he interprets as Mary Magdalene and as Jesus's wife, which is problematic (see Mariamne and the "Jesus Family Tomb" and below). What we actually have is the equivalent of a tomb with the names John, Paul, George, Martin, Alan and Ziggy. We might well say, "Perhaps the 'Martin' is George Martin, and so this is a match!" or "Perhaps John Lennon had a son called Ziggy we have not previously heard about" but this would be special pleading and we would rightly reject such claims. A cluster of names is only impressive when it is a cluster that is uncontaminated by non-matches and contradictory evidence.In short, including Mariamne and leaving out Matia and Judas son of Jesus is problematic for any claim to be made about the remaining cluster. All data must be included. You cannot cherry pick or manipulate your data before doing your statistical analysis."

For Christianity Today's opinion go here.