Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The God Delusion #45: Dawkins's Mouth Puts Publisher in Danger

Richard Dawkins has made Turkish Muslims angry. An Associated Press report today says this:

"A Turkish prosecutor has launched a probe into whether a book by best-selling atheist writer Richard Dawkins is an attack on religious values — a move that could lead to the prosecution of the book's Turkish publisher.

Publisher Erol Karaaslan said Wednesday he would be questioned by an Istanbul prosecutor on Thursday as part of the official investigation into Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion."

Karaaslan could face trial and up to one year in prison if the prosecutor concludes that the book "incites religious hatred" and insults religious values, Milliyet newspaper reported. Karaaslan is both the publisher and translator of the book."
Whoops - the ad hominem abusive mouth of Dawkins gets someone else in big trouble. That's not a very nice thing to do. Surely Dawkins's book is hate-filled and insulting, which has scandalized even other atheists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Spirituality of Howard Thurman

For years I have taught seminary courses and led retreats and spoken at conferences that have to do with Christian Spirituality. Topics I both teach and practice include: Personal Transformation; History of Christian Spirituality; Prayer; Keeping a Spiritual Journal; Biblical Meditation; Hearing the Voice of God; Entering Into the Presence of God; and so on.
One of the authors who has influenced me is Howard Thurman. Thurman, to me, is THE African-American scholar on all things spiritual in the sense referred to above. I am now, daily, reading through Thurman's beautiful Meditations of the Heart. Waiting next to be read is Howard Thurman: Essential Writings.
Thurman was mentored by Quaker prayer-scholar Rufus Jones. Thurman's work is dead-on biblical. He reminds me a lot of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Thurman leads us to the necessary foundation for all truly authentic and relevant Jesus-following; viz., a life that consistently dwells in the presence of God.
Here's a Thurman quote to digest, slowly: "What a man is, what his plans are, what his authentic point is, where his life goes - all is available to him in the Presence. How foolish it is, how terrible, if you have not found your Island of Peace within your own soul! It means you are living without the discovery of your true home." (Meditations of the Heart, 18)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tony Blair's Belief in God

Tony Blair has admitted his belief in God played a "hugely important" role during his decade as prime minister.

For the article, which is in The Australian, go here.

Blair notes that it's taboo in British politics to talk about God. One will think you are a "nutter."
See this article by John Humphrys, who wonders about Blair's recent statement that, in politics and government, "we don't do God."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Does Atheism Have a Happy Face?

As an undergraduate studying philosophy in the 1970s I spent much time reading atheistic philosophers. Some of these readings were required for classes, and others I read on my own.

I was introduced to Nietzsche and Sartre and Camus, to Flew and Humean skepticism (whether or not Hume was an atheist is questionable). I read Kafka and watched the films of Ingmar Bergman. I immersed myself in atheistic and theistic existentialist literature, finding it fascinating and challenging and compelling. I also found it, personally, despairing. And I respected the reasoning and thinking as regards the logic of atheism which, for me, still means this: If there is no God, then this life is meaningless and absurd. One can coherently imply nihilism from atheism.

Consider Bertrand Russell's famous quote from "A Free Man's Worship": "That Man is the product of causes which had not prevision of the end they were achieving; are but the outcome of accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the age, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

I felt years ago and still feel today that, if the truth is that there is no God, then Russell is correct about this. One seems left with the oxymoronish truth that our lives stand on a "firm foundation of unyielding despair."

I remember reading Camus' "myth of Sisyphus" and thinking, "but of course if God does not exist then this is my life." I read Kafka's "Metamorphosis," even picking it up in German (Die Verwandtlung), and thinking that here was yet another expression of the logic of atheism as Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he is a beetle.

None of this is an argument against atheism. Rather, it is the logic of atheism as some see it and as I see it.

I have no doubt, indeed I am quite certain, that there are strong atheists who feel happy today, who are happier than I am. As for weak atheists, those who say they disbelieve but can give no compelling reasons for their disbelief, I view their lives as admixtures of proclaimed godlessness and inherited religious ideas; that is, atheism polluted by theism. But that an atheist feels happier and more alive than I ever have means nothing to me since I have never found belief and unbelief to be functions of one's moods. Does atheism lead to a life of inner emotional despair? Not necessarily. But if there is no God does our life rest on a foundation of unyielding despair? Of course.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Christmas in the Light of Theocapitalism

I read, therefore I am.

Well, not quite. But one of my great loves is reading. I read when I drive. I even underline what I read when I drive. I like reading multiples books at once. None of this makes me any better than you. My reading habits disallow me from understanding some basic car and home repair things that would, over time, save me a lot of money.

I'm still reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change. I've underlined and noted for myself a lot of things in his book. I think it is a very good book. I think it is a must-read for any ivory-tower theologian who spends their time wondering if people like McLaren are heretics because they have a postmodern epistemology.

The truth is, McLaren is very, very biblical. More biblical to me than a lot of evangelicals I read. He doesn't always get it right, but who does?

On pp. 190 ff. McLaren uses Tom Beaudoin's analysis of what he calls "theocapitalism." Theocapitalism is "godlike consumer media capitalism." Theocapitalism functions like a religion; indeed, it is a very real and very strong religious kind of thing. Here's why (and I quote directly from pp. 190-191).

1. It gives us identity, helping us find or create our true selves - as the kind of man who wears cologne X, or the kind of woman who wears dress Y, or the kind of teenager who buys music Z, or the kind of senior citizen who bonds her dentures and heals her hemorrhoids with Product Q or Product H.

2. It helps us belong to a community of kindred spirits who share our faith - whether that faith is in the power of a cosmetic to produce youth, or the power of a car to produce sex appeal, or the power of an investment firm to give us security.

3. It develops trust by making and keeping advertising promises, and thus reduces the anxiety of making choices, so when we purchase deodorant A, electric drill B, or computer C, we can do so with joy and anticipation.

4. It helps us experience ecstasy - when we step out of a plane on vacation, when we bite a chocolate bar, when we sip a fine wine, when we click into an XXX website.

5. It communicates transcendence through sacred images and symbols - the mystical Nike swoosh that directs us toward transcendence through footwear, the holy cardinal red of a coke sign that saves us through sugar, the iconic Target bulls-eye that draws our concentration to the Center of All Things in the housewares aisle, or the heavenly Golden Arches that guide us to bliss through beef and cheese.

6. It promises us conversion to a new life if we try their product and jouin their brand "family."

7. Ultimately, theocapitalism promises rest for the restless heart - a rest that replaces Augustine's Confessions with a thirty-minute infomercial featuring the testimonials of satisfied customers and believers in the product, complete with dramatic before-and-after photographs.

Theocapitalism, through marketing and advertising and brainwashed word-of-mouthing, creates, ex nihilo, powerful wants and desires for things and products and experiences one does not actually need. And off we go a-shopping again. "Christmas" becomes the "holiday season" of the Chia Pet, for me the ever-resurrected symbol of the god of theocapitalism.
I now have news for you: you do not have to bow before this God. There is another world out there, another kingdom, and it is light and truth and love and it will only cost you your life. It will set you free. It will turn "Black Friday" into "Good Friday." The result will be that theocapitalist things will grow strangely dim, credit card indebtedness will decrease, and you'll have more free time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Searching for God in the Brain

I'm still reading - slowly - Mario Beauregard's The Spiritual Brain.

Here's a nice essay on neuroscientific studies on the brain and religious experience in Scientific American.

Monday, November 19, 2007

McGrath's Dawkins Delusion Reviewed

Christianity Today just published a review of Alister McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion.

J. P. Moreland Accuses Evangelicals of Bibliolatry

Here's an interesting article on the recfent presentation J.P. Moreland made at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting. Moreland's talk was called "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” The Chrsitianity Today article says: "While the average breakout session seems to be attended by fewer than 50 people, easily more than 200 packed the room to hear Moreland’s talk, with dozens standing and more listening outside the door."

Moreland accuses evangelicals of being "over-committed to the Bible." Moreland said: “In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ. And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.”

This is good, important stuff. My own take is that evangelical inerrantists hold an anachronistic view of the biblical text that distorts the actual meaning of the text. I'm more interested in the work of Keener/Witherington/N.T. Wright/et. al. who strive to hear, e.g., the authentic voice of Jesus by studying the socio-cultural environment in which Jesus spoke.

A lot of what Moreland said is found in his excellent new book Kingdom Triangle.

The Coming Environmental Apocalypse

I have at times looked around me at the cars and businesses and homes and hospitals exgurgitating their fumes into the air and asked myself two questions: 1) how much oil can be left after such daily mega-consumption; and 2) what can be the net effect of such mega-pollution. Then, last week, I downloaded the new report put together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I read as much as I could understand. And I thought, and now think, that I have been and am an abuser of God's creation who has basically cared less about the environment even though, as a Jesus-follower, the God of Judeo-Christianity asks me not to be gluttonous and to be a good steward of God's creation.

Summary articles are now coming out, like this one. Which say things such as:

"Humanity is rapidly turning the seas acid through the same pollution that causes global warming, the world's governments and top scientists agreed yesterday. The process – thought to be the most profound change in the chemistry of the oceans for 20 million years – is expected both to disrupt the entire web of life of the oceans and to make climate change worse."

"The world's oceans are probably now more acidic that they have ever been in "hundreds of millennia", and that even if emissions stopped now, the waters would take "tens of thousands of years to return to normal"."

"Climate change is well under way, and is accelerating. It concludes that the warming is now "unequivocal" and "evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level"."

Coming soon...

Arctic - Greenland ice sheet will virtually completely disappear, raising sea levels by over 30 feet, submerging coastal cities, entire island nations and vast areas of low-lying countries like Bangladesh

Latin America - The Amazon rainforest will become dry savannah as rising temperatures and falling water levels kill the trees, stoke forest fires and kill off wildlife

North America - California and the grain-producing Midwest will dry out as snows in the Rockies decrease, depriving these areas of summer water

Australia - The Great Barrier Reef will die. Species loss will occur by 2020 as corals fail to adapt to warmer waters. On land, drought will reduce harvests

Europe - Winter sports suffer as less snow falls in the Alps and other mountains; up to three-fifths of wildlife dies out. Drought in Mediterranean area hits tourism

Africa - Harvests could be cut by up to half in some countries by 2020, greatly increasing the threat of famine. Between 75 million and 250 million people are expected to be short of water within the next 30 years

"The report also concludes that, while some climate change is now inevitable, its worst effects could be avoided with straightforward measures at little cost if only governments would take action. It says that the job can be done by using "technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialised in coming decades". It could be done at a cost of slowing global growth by only a tenth of a percentage point a year, and might even increase it.

The missing element, virtually everyone agrees, is political will from governments. Next month they meet in Bali to start negotiations on a new treaty to replace the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which run out in 2012."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Visit to Payne Theological Seminary

On Thursday Linda and I got up at 5 AM and traveled 200 miles south to Wilberforce, Ohio, and Payne Theological Seminary. PTS is connected to Wilberforce University. WU's website says this: "Wilberforce University is a unique institution located in a state rich in America's private college tradition. Founded prior to the end of slavery in 1856, it is the nation's oldest, private African-American university. For 147 years WU has, through sheer force of will, provided young African-American students with a solid educational experience."

PTS's dynamic president, Dr. Leah Fitchue, is a friend of mine. She invited me to speak and teach part of a week-long seminary class called "Transformational Leadership." The other class teachers were Dr. James Cone of Union Theological Seminary and Dr. Deotis Roberts of Howard University. My role was to wrap up the class by teaching on Personal Transformation: How God Changes Lives. I did this Thursday from 9 AM to 12:30 PM. My class was held on the campus of Wilberforce U.

Thirty-five African-American seminary students were in my class. Most were pastors and leaders in the A.M.E. church (African Episcopal Methodist). One student was from Sierra Leone, and another was from Ghana.

I structured my 3 1/2-hour block like this:

9 - 9:45 - Introduction; meet the students; share basics of how God changes lives

9:45 - 10:45 - I sent the students out to pray for 45 minutes. I explained to them how I wanted them to do this. My basic instructions are: go alone to a quiet place to meet, just you and God; use Psalm 23 to meditate on; when your mind wanders, write down where it wanders to (the mind always wanders to something like a burden); when God speaks to you, write it down; After 45 minutes, return to class.

10:45 - 11:45 - Meet in small groups, Share what God said to you. Someone take notes on the group sharing. Then, group recorders share with all of us. I comment on what I hear God saying to the people.

11:45 - 12:30 - I taught the elements of Personal Transformation. They are:

1. Recognize how needy you are
2. Realize the magnitude of the needed transformation (into Christlikeness)
3. Understand that only God can effect the needed transformation
4. Get into the presence of God
5. Understand what it means to dwell in God's presence
6. The level of personal transformation is: "the deep waters of the heart" (Proverbs 20:5)
7. God deconstructs the false self
8. The essential attitude is: humility ("Unless you humble yourself like a little child you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 18)

I am so glad Linda came with me. We had a wonderful time, made many new friends and connections. I believe we will be working together in some way in the days ahead.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Redeemer Ministry School - Coming September 2008

In September 2008 our church's ministry school will take in its first class of students.

We’re looking for students from the Monroe area and beyond to consider spending 10 months with us. Redeemer Minstry School will be an in-depth program with academic excellence combined with experiential knowing, a combination of theory and practice, of proclamation and demonstration regarding the realities of the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about.

We are looking for people, and especially young people, who are passionate followers of Jesus to be with us for a 10 month period and be mentored by us. If that’s you, check out the information at our website and contact me personally if you like at 734-242-5277.
For details and updates see Redeemer Ministry School's website.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How to Study Atheism

In my Philosophy of Religion classes at MCCC we study classic and contemporary arguments both for the existence of God and against the existence of God. If one wanted to dig deeper into atheistic reasoning, how would one go about it? Here are some suggestions.

1. Pick up a good philosophy of religion anthology. Try this. Here's the text I use for my Philosophy of Religion classes. (Get an older edition used for less $$$.)

2. Read The Evidentialist Argument from Evil, by Daniel Howard-Snyder.

3. Read the debates between prominent atheists and William Lane Craig.

4. Read atheist William Rowe's Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction.

5. Read the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.

6. Forget the neo-atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Battle for Antony Flew's Mind

I greatly enjoyed Antony Flew's There Is a God, especially as Flew traces his own journey, revisiting his famous arguments against God's existence, showing how he came to doubt those arguments, and "followed the evidence to where it leads"; in Flew's case, to the existence of God.

In the Nov. 4, 2007 New York Times Magazine Mark Oppenheimer writes about Flew's odyssey in "The Turning of an Atheist."

Right away Oppenheimer's essay gives one the feeling that he's not thrilled that Flew now believes in God as he writes that, over his lifetime, Flew was a professor at "a series of decent regional universities." "Decent?" This reminds me of a time when I was teaching in India. One night I strolled the streets of the city of Kurnool and saw a furniture store called "Decent Furniture." I assume the owners misunderstood the meaning of this word, at least in English. "Decent" furniture is, well, "decent," you know, "OK furniture." But not exceptional by any any means.

Oppenheimer says that Flew's book is "written in simple language for a mass audience." Not really. Perhaps a lot of people will buy Flew's book but the masses will fail to understand its most crucial elements. Flew's arguments will be "user-friendly" only to those who already have a philosophical background sufficient to frame them. I think Flew's book is well-written, but will remain obscure to the masses.

Oppenheimer asks: "But is Flew’s conversion what it seems to be? Depending on whom you ask, Antony Flew is either a true convert whose lifelong intellectual searchings finally brought him to God or a senescent scholar possibly being exploited by his associates." Oppenheimer visited with Flew, and writes: "With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand." So, either Flew is a vibrant scholar or he is a senescent scholar. But perhaps this is a false dichotomy? And it "depends on whom you ask?" How about asking Flew himself. But if Flew is "senescent" then of course he will not know it.

Flew, believes Oppenheimer, has been exploited by evangelical theists. Oppenheimer implies that, indeed, Flew is a "senescent scholar," which means a "less than decent scholar." Thus, if such is true, then it takes much if not all away from his "conversion." ["Senescence refers to the biological processes of a living organism approaching an advanced age (i.e., the combination of processes of deterioration which follow the period of development of an organism). The word senescence is derived from the Latin word senex, meaning "old man" or "old age" or "advanced in age"."]

Oppenheimer writes of Flew's senescent state as one of "blissful unawareness": "When Flew met Christians who claimed to have new, scientific proof of the existence of God, he quickly became again the young graduate student who embarked on a study of the paranormal when all his colleagues were committed to strict rationalism. He may, too, have connected with the child who was raised in his parents’ warm, faithful Methodism. Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least. At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake."

So does one have to "hate religious people" to be a real atheist? That is, does one have to take on the spirit of Richard Dawkins to be truly atheistic? I think not, as many anti-Dawkins atheists are saying. And to bring up Flew's Methodist upbringing commits the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. If only Flew had hated religious people and had not been brought up as a Methodist he never would have signed such a document! But then, of course, had Oppenheimer never been raised/trained/etc. as he has, he'd never write an essay like this. Perhaps to be in one's "right mind" one must: 1) be an atheist; and 2) hate religious people. In that case Flew has truly lost his mind.

NOTE: Stanley Fish wrote this response in the nytimes to Oppenheimer: "In an article published Sunday — November 4 — in the New York Times Magazine, Mark Oppenheimer more than suggests that Flew, now in his 80’s, did not write the book that bears his name, but allowed Roy Varghese (listed as co-author) to compile it from the philosopher’s previous writings and some extended conversations. Whatever the truth is about the authorship of the book, the relation of its argument and trajectory to the argument... stands."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Would the Real Jesus Wash Osama Bin Laden's Feet?

Greg Boyd has posted an article with this picture on it (thanks Bill for letting me know about this!).

Boyd writes:

“Brad Cole is a friend of mine who runs a ministry called Heavenly Sanctuary. This ministry puts on Conferences around the country on the Character of God — and they get it right. This year they hired an artist named Lars Justinen from the Justinen Creative Group to paint the above picture to use on posters advertising their conference. Under this picture they had captions like “Follow the Leader,” “God IS Great,” and most accurately, “Jesus - Still Too Radical?”

Heavenly Sanctuary had contracts with several malls in the Seattle area to hang these posters advertising their conference, but no sooner had the posters gone up than angry calls began flooding the malls. Many people — but, it seems, mostly Christians — were offended at the image of Jesus washing Osama Bin Laden’s feet. There was such an outcry that each of the malls decided to go back on their contract and take the posters down. The Christian College that Heavenly Sanctuary was renting space from to host the Conference also canceled their contract. Brad had to scramble to find a secular venue (which, ironically, had no problems with the poster).

What does this say about how many American Christians envision Jesus? Obviously, the protesters believe that Jesus would not wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet. But Jesus died “not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2:2) — and this obviously includes Osama. So if Jesus died for Osama, how are we to imagine him being unwilling to wash his feet?”

To read Boyd’s entire post go here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Antony Flew: Einstein Was Neither a Pantheist Nor an Atheist

I very much enjoyed Antony Flew's book There Is a God, especially as I became acqainted with Flew's atheism as expressed, e.g., in his philosophically famous "Theology and Falsification" essay back in the 1970s.

The speculation re. Flew's change of mind can now be put to rest. Flew is a self-confessed God-believer. On p. 1 Flew writes: "Ever since the announcement of my "conversion" to deism, I have been asked on numerous occasions to provide an account of the factors that led me to change my mind... I have now been persuaded to present here what might be called my last will and testament. In brief, as the title says, I now believe there is a God!"

Flew seems as sharp as ever. He writes clearly and compellingly. Here is a great intellectual who, as much as anyone, understands the reasons for atheism. He repeatedly says that the evidence has led him to belief in God. [Note: Oppenheimer's nytimes essay questions Flew's mental sharpness, and argues that Flew is being used by theists. In other words, Flew is not really so sharp anymore, Roy Varghese wrote nearly if not all the entire book for Flew, and that's a very bad thing to do. So now the study of Flew's mind will begin, generating who-knows-how-many articles.]

One of the things Flew discusses is what Einstein thought about God. Flew writes: "In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins propounds my old position that Einstein was an atheist. In doing so, Dawkins ignores Einstein's categorical statement... that he was neither an atheist nor a pantheist." Quoting Einstein himself: "I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist." (100) Another Eisntein quote: "What really makes me angry is that they [people who say there is no God] quote me in support for their views." (100)

Monday, November 05, 2007

When Brian McLaren & J.P. Moreland Come Together...

J.P. Moreland, in his excellent book Kingdom Triangle, critiques the “Emerging church” which, he says, “appears to have hitched its wagon to postmodernism in a way that is fraught with difficulties seldom appreciated.” (67)

Moreland writes: “I do not wish to be harsh or inappropriately critical of my brothers and sisters who are part of the Emerging church. There is much good in the problems they are bringing to the surface and in some of the solutions they are offering. For now, I simply register my concern about what I believe is their unnecessary association with postmodern language.”

What, for Moreland, are his main objections to postmodernism (which he admits “is a variegated movement with many stripes”)? Postmodernism:
Rejects objective truth construed as a correspondence with reality
Rejects the rational objectivity of reason
Rejects the reality of simply seeing, and the human ability to be aware of and know reality directly, unmediated by “conceptual schemes,” language, or their surrogates. (67)

Moreland holds to a correspondence theory of truth. Which means: “In its simplest form, the correspondence theory of truth says that a proposition is true just in case it corresponds to reality, when what it asserts to be the case is the case. More generally, truth obtains when a truth bearer stands in an appropriate correspondence relation to a truth maker.” “Truth bearers” are what, in logic, are called “propositions” or “statements.” A “truth maker” is what makes a proposition or statement true. Moreland, in his philosophical work, writes much to explain the correspondence theory and argue for its plausibility. In Kingdom Triangle, see especially pp. 80-85.

Moreland especially looks at, among others, Emerging church leader Brian McLaren. For McLaren, absolute truth-claims cannot be made. Moreland quotes McLaren: “I think that most Christians grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like ‘absolute’ or ‘objective’ (linked to foundationalism and the myth of neutrality)… Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people.” (78)

McLaren-ist postmodern epistemology seems to say that “no one approaches life in a totally objective way without bias. Thus, objectivity is impossible, and observations, beliefs, and entire narratives are theory-laden. There is no neutral standpoint from which to approach the world… Knowledge is a construction of one’s social, linguistic structures, not a justified, truthful representation of reality by one’s mental states.”

In this regard Moreland’s manifesto pleads that Jesus-followers reclaim the Christian mind.

I like the way Moreland develops this in Kingdom Triangle. I find him loving and gracious, and concerned. McLaren’s postmodern rejection of objective or absolute truth is confused in two ways. (see p. 83 ff.) This section of Moreland deservers to be studied. Moreland himself is working through these things. One can see, on reading him, that he is growing in his understanding of the real issues that underlie the discussion.

Brian McLaren, in his (to me) wonderful and challenging book Everything Must Change, responds to the Moreland-type criticisms. McLaren, like Moreland, focuses on Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

McLaren is concerned in learning what the message of Jesus is and applying it here on earth. He seems especially disdainful of Christians who overspend time debating “religious esoterica.” (20) Yet he does spend some time responding to the issue of “postmodernism.”

McLaren argues that philosophers and theologians whose epistemologies concluded that one could have absolute, certain knowledge, contributed to a cultural confidence that was arrogant and “excessive.” While this may be true, surely it does not follow that one cannot have certain, objective truth about things. What follows, at most, is that one in possession of such truth should be careful so one’s confidence does not become “a dangerous, malignant confidence.” And this cuts both ways. Surely one could become excessively arrogant as regards any theory of knowledge that one believes is true.

McLaren argues that the opposite of “postmodern” is not best understood as “modern,” but as “postcolonial.” “Postmodern” is one side of the coin, “postcolonial” the other. (44)

McLaren cites non-Eurocentric Christian leaders who don’t “focus on philosophical questions of truth and epistemology, but rather on social questions of justice, which are ultimately questions about the moral uses of power.”

Here, to me, is the heart of McLaren’s thinking: “This integration of postmodern and postcolonial concerns – for both justice and truth, for both a proper confidence and a proper use of power – made it possible for me to turn from a set on intramural arguments (which had preoccupied me for several years) to the more global exploration articulated in my two preoccupying questions: ‘What are the biggest problems in the world today?’ and ‘What do the life and teaching of Jesus have to say about these global problems.’” (45)

I very much like what both Moreland and McLaren are writing about, and how their thinking is developing. Moreland’s new emphasis on the urgent need to reclaim the demonstrative power-acts of Jesus and the Kingdom is welcome (McLaren gives a few sentences in acknowledgement to this in his The Secret Message of Jesus. A such, his work is excellent but imbalanced). And Moreland’s Dallas Willard-like call to reclaim the human soul is important. McLaren’s emphasis on the kingdom of God, here, now (both future and present), is important, and Moreland would agree. McLaren’s great fear that a correspondence theory of truth has and yet could create an epistemological hyperconfidence can be balanced by a serious call to a devout and holy life.

I like what McLaren writes in a footnote. “Conservative critics of postmodernism – including many critics of my work – rightly realize that one can so successfully undermine a culture’s excessive confidence that it eventually lacks sufficient confidence… [On the other hand] we have many modernist defenders backing away from the dangers of relativism and nihilism, only to fall backward into an immoral defense of cultural chauvinism, colonialism, and empire. One hopes we can all work together in more balanced, both-and ways in the future.” (303, fn. 3)

I am now thinking of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

I’d like to see J.P. Moreland and Brian McLaren come together and advance God’s Kingdom on earth together. I think it will happen soon...

Friday, November 02, 2007

The God Delusion #44: Another Atheist Notes the "Thinness" of Neo-Atheism

Atheist Theodore Dalrymple has a delightful and penetrating critique of DawkinsHarrisHitchensDennett in "What the New Atheists Don't See."

Dalrymple shows how the Dennett thesis is inherently self-contradictory and, as such, logically incoherent. He writes: "Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.

For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true."

Ahhh.... wonderfully said... thank you!

Here's a fun quote: "The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14." This especially applies to Dawkins who, were he 14, would get a grade of 'C' in my philosophy of religion course and be reprimanded in two ways: 1) plagiarizing from the internet; and 2) poor choices to plagiarize from.

Re. neo-atheist Michael Onfray's book Dalrymple writes: "Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto [is] so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them."

Now enjoy this delighful quote: "In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?" I am Scandinavian, but even I am laughing at that one.

But this train of thought gets even better (Dalrymple is one very good writer!): "Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool." For me, it now doesn't get much better than to read something like that...

On the silliness of Sam Harris: "This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate."

Dalrymple is very troubled by Harris, and indicatesw this as he writes that Harris writes "quite possibly the most disgraceful [words]that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”

Hitchens is guilty of "the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules."

Dalrymple uses gives a logical counterexample to bolster this point: "In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find."

Dalrymple goes on to examine, in admiration and even "awe," the writing of a theologian named Joseph Hall, saying that he far prefers Hall's "charity" to the "intolerance" of Sam Harris.

And I, for one, have been far more moved and provoked by certain atheists such as Antony Flew when he was an atheist than the intolerant neo-atheists.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jerry Fodor Questions Natural Selection

There's a really interesting essay by Jerry Fodor in the October 18, 2007 London Review of Books. Fodor is no believer in God, and he is definitely not impressed by intelligent design theory. He also believes in the traditional Darwinian historical account of our phylogeny. But he thinks the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection is in trouble.