Monthly Archives: March 2012

At the HBU Philosophy Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed the first day at the conference, listening to some good papers, hearing good questions, meeting some interesting scholars and students, and just overall having a philosophical theological par-tay!

The first paper presentation I attended was from an undergraduate, who presented on Hegel. She explained Hegel’s phenomenology in his historical context, by discussing the thinkers who influenced him–Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Kant. She further explained that Hegel’s contributions are more in the field of epistemology than metaphysics. When she finished her paper, she got some good questions on the relationship of epistemology with metaphysics and she responded to those questions very well.

I had lunch at Quizno’s. Very tasty, but no Co-Cola.

After lunch, I went to two more presentations, one on how neuro-biology does not disprove free will. This was essentially an argument against physicalism, and the presenter’s purpose was mainly to show the limits of scientific inquiry into the human constitution. I would like to have seen him go further and explicitly defend substance dualism, but I had to make peace with disappointment on that score.

The next paper following the neuro-biology one was a defense of theosis against charges of blurring the distinction between Creator and creature and the absorption of the creature into the divine. Very good treatment of the topic as far as I could tell. It was a concept that did not seem to be familiar to the audience (myself included), and a few had a hard time applying some of the terms, but the presenter did a nice job of explaining and illustrating those terms.

I spent the next hour or so getting ready for my own presentation. Right before I spoke, I heard a well articulated paper on the importance of dialogue with other religious traditions in order to advance social justice issues. I’ve been interested in civility lately, so this presentation caught my interest immediately.

I presented my paper, and it went great. Got some good questions and had great discussion. I also got some valuable feedback.

Overall, it has been a very beneficial conference. The discussions have been challenging, respectful, and insightful, and the papers have been valuable and erudite. Looking forward to hearing my colleague John Laing discuss middle knowledge in the morning.


Must Read Book on Intelligent Design, for Believers and for Skeptics

Dembski clearly presents the thesis of this work at the outset. Intelligent design, defined as the search for effects of intelligent causation, an intellectual challenge to Darwinism, and a way to understand divine action, is the solution for not only bringing theology and science together, but for enriching the study of both. Given this thesis, the goal of this particular work is to show naturalism to be bankrupt, both as a methodology and a worldview. The book is divided into three parts: first, the author explains the meaning of intelligent design and the history of the demise of design in the study of science. Second, the bases for intelligent design are given. Third, Dembski gives his position on how theology and science coherently relate to one another, as opposed to either being in direct conflict with one another (at worst), or unrelated to one another (at best).
In the first chapter, Dembski states that a premodern worldview offers the most accurate view of the operation of natural and divine causes, as opposed to the modern and the postmodern worldview. In the premodern view, both natural and divine causes work together, complementing one another, and irreducible from one another. This is to be understood in contrast to the modern view, in which the world is a closed system with no room for divine action, and the postmodern view, in which there is “a plurality of separate discourses of which none is privileged. . . .” (46) The second chapter goes deeper in explaining the sources of the modern view, pointing especially to Spinoza and Schleiermacher. These two thinkers presented a model of the universe defined by the inviolability of natural causes by divine action. In the third chapter, Dembski shows how the modern view overtook all of scientific study, even the project of the British natural theologians who pointed to design in the workings of creation.
Dembski presents us with two options in chapter four when deciding on the question of origins: “either the world derives its order from a source outside itself . . . or it possesses whatever order it has intrinsically. . . .” (99) The point here is the naturalistic evolution is not adequately supported by empirical data, so the answer is to abandon it and replace it with intelligent design. The fear is that if we abandon naturalistic evolution in favor of intelligent design, we will be proven wrong by future discoveries and this will, in turn, stifle science. There is also a fear that intelligent design is driven primarily by metaphysical rather than scientific motivations. In chapter five, Dembski lays these concerns to rest by pointing to the fact that “there exists a reliable criterion for detecting design” (149) and that science is enhanced because “design also adds new tools to the scientist’s explanatory tool chest.” (151) Chapter six shows intelligent design to be more consistent as a theory of information than naturalistic evolution.
In chapter seven, Dembski shows that theology and science are in mutual support of one another, and not in conflict. The book of nature and the book of Scripture must not be severed. Chapter eight completes this thought by casting the world in terms of having been created by God—a great gift by the Designer, something given in order to reveal truth about Himself. This is something that naturalistic evolution not only misses, but expels from its system. Intelligent design shows us a world in which the study thereof is done with purpose, and not to be done in vain. He writes, “Theism not only gives you nature but also God and anything outside of nature that God might have created.” (213) Finally, Dembski addresses some of the objections to intelligent design in his appendix.
Dembski, William A. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999.

How to Recover and Defend Religious Freedom

Tomorrow, I am attending a philosophy conference at Houston Baptist University. The funny thing is, the theme is Agency and Action in Philosophy and Theology, but I am presenting a paper on religious freedom. Hopefully, someone will want to come to my paper presentation, even though I’m not dealing with middle knowledge, quantum physics, or the neuro-biological challenge to free will.

In this paper entitled “Trends in the Justification of Religious Freedom, 1600-Present,” I will try to do four things: 1) present a brief historical overview to show that the principle of religious freedom has been argued on a theological basis since the first century, 2) show that in the twentieth century, the theological underpinnings for religious freedom have been taken away, leaving ambiguity and incoherence in its wake, 3) look at the Manhattan Declaration as an attempt to recover a theological justification for religious freedom, and 4) show that the Manhattan Declaration is not an inconsistent statement, but is a good start toward recovering the lost theological foundation for religious freedom.

In short, my argument is that theology has served as the basis for religious freedom for centuries until recently, and if those theological underpinnings are not restored, religious freedom will be a thing of the past.

Here is the paper if you’d like to read it.

Kirk Cameron’s Movie, "Monumental"

The movie comes out in theatres tomorrow for one day only, March 30. I will be interested to see it for myself after reading some things about it.

I watched the trailer here, and I think that caution is appropriate when approaching Cameron’s movie. It is predictably overhyped and somewhat cheesey, what with the (annoying) melodramatic electric guitar and drumbeat accompanied by three second scenes that have lots of emotional content but little in the way of meaning. Someone in the trailer makes a reference to the fall of Rome and connects Rome’s fall with contemporary America. We’re on shaky ground when we try to draw connections between Rome and America. One reason Christians in particular should be careful in doing this seems pretty obvious: Rome was an explicitly “Christian nation” when it fell in 476. America is not now, nor has it ever been, a Christian nation.

What also makes me abundantly cautious is that David Barton is called upon in the movie as an expert on America’s Christian heritage. Barton is a self styled “master teacher” of American history, but his writings do not demonstrate a broad understanding of the ideas of the American founding. Here is a well written critique of Barton’s part in the movie. Barton is either ignorant of many historical facts, or something worse. I prefer the explanation that he just doesn’t know better.

Watch the movie if you can, because I”m certain it has some value to it (at least, I hope so). After you watch it, get this book and see what contrasts you might find.

C. S. Lewis helps us to define our terms more precisely

Lewis sets out in this work to address the philosophical question, are miracles possible? He does not answer the question of the possibility of miracles with the use of historical evidences, but begins his answer by looking to the fundamental worldview of the person. Is the person considering the question a naturalist or a supernaturalist? Does the person considering the question believe that the materials found in the natural order are all that exist—is Nature the whole picture? Or is there some other Reality that supersedes Nature, that is above Nature, that created Nature? Lewis analyzes the differences between naturalism and supernaturalism, and shows that naturalism suffers from internal inconsistency and only supernaturalism can account for the rationality of man’s mind and the intelligibility of the universe. Naturalism also suffers from an inability to account for the morality of humans, for the idea of ought and ought not. In this way, Lewis shows that, since naturalism is irrational and invalid, supernaturalism is the only other reasonable option. Since this is the case, miracles are possible.
After dispensing with naturalism as a coherent philosophical system, Lewis examines the idea of miracle, giving definitions for the term and defining the term’s boundaries. He clearly does not accept the view that miracles are a violation of the laws of nature. Orthodox Christianity certainly does not deny the laws of nature, nor does it deny that order which is found in nature. A miracle, by definition, does not break those laws which are easily observable and which make the universe intelligible. A miracle, Lewis describes, is an interruption into those laws, but the laws of nature take over where the miracle had interrupted. If law A causes effect B, then when miracle A(1) occurs, effect B(2) will take over. In other words, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary to conceive in her womb the baby Jesus, she was, in fact, pregnant, and the laws of nature took over from there.
Lewis proceeds to differentiate between Christianity and Religion by stating that the modern concept of religion is pantheistic. A pantheistic God, Lewis writes, is impersonal, predictable, and easily understood and thereby kept under control. The reality is, the God of the universe, the God that Christ has made known, is King and is alive and is not so easily understood. The pantheistic God of modern religion is not capable of bringing about miracles. In contrast, the God of Christianity, the true God is not only capable of causing miracles—miracles are inevitable.
Lewis takes the time to critique Hume on his objection that miracles are not possible because they are improbable. One can observe a million human deaths and never witness a miracle of resurrection, therefore, miracles of resurrection do not occur. Lewis shows that this proposition is based on the uniformity of nature. But if this principle is questioned, then Hume’s hypothesis no longer is valid. Thus, Lewis states that the criterion for the probability of miracles must not be the uniformity of nature, but instead, the fitness of that miracle to occur in a universe in which God is the ultimate reality. Lewis proceeds to present the miracles of the Christian faith, namely, the Incarnation, the miracles of the Old Testament, and the miracles of Christ culminating in the Resurrection, in order to show their fitness in this universe.
Lewis closes his work by emphasizing that miracles are, by definition, very rare. He writes, “You are probably quite right in thinking you will never see a miracle done” (201). Miracles occur at moments of the most profound spiritual turning points in history.

Thomas Helwys, First Defender of Religious Freedom in the English Language

Thomas Helwys’ birth year is unknown, but he was born at the Helwys family estate at Broxtowe Hall in Nottingham, England. He was born to a family of means and after his father died in 1590, Thomas prepared himself to administer the estate. He studied common law at Gray’s Inn from 1592 to 1594, and then returned to Broxtowe Hall. He hosted several Puritan services at his estate, where he met John Smyth in about the year 1600. Helwys would find a friend in Smyth, and became a member of a congregation Smyth pastored in Gainesborough. In order to flee persecution from the Anglican church, Smyth, Helwys, and the congregation at Gainesborough left England and went to Holland in 1607. It was here that Smyth and Helwys formed a congregation which would adopt believer’s baptism in 1609, thus becoming the first known Baptist church.

Helwys would later split with Smyth over the issue of their sojourn in Amsterdam; Helwys believed their time in Amsterdam was temporary, while Smyth planned on staying. In the year 1611, once their split was final, Helwys authored a statement of faith and three books: Declaration of Faith of the English Church Remaining in Amsterdam, An Advertisement or Admonition unto the Congregations, Which Men Call the New Fryelers, in the Lowe Countries, A Short and Plaine Proof by the Word and Works of God that God’s Decree is not the Cause of Any Man’s Sins or Condemnation, and A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity.
In 1612, Helwys returned to England under the conviction that one is wrong to flee persecution. He established the first English speaking Baptist church in Spitalfields in the same year. Helwys was imprisoned at Newgate Prison once Mystery of Iniquity was read by James I, and died there in 1616.
Mystery of Iniquity, Book I sets the stage for Helwys’ appeal to the king to grant religious freedom to his subjects. He states that Scripture demonstrates that the first and second beasts of the Great Tribulation ought to be identified with the Roman Catholic Pope and Anglican Church hierarchy respectively. Due to their demands upon the people to believe and obey their own word or face punishment, these two dishonor Christ by assuming honor due only to Him. Book I challenges the reader who is truly spiritual to carefully consider how the Roman and Anglican authorities fit the biblical descriptions of the apocalyptic beasts, and to thus allow the Holy Spirit to guide them into the pure truth of Scripture.
Having established the sins of the Church hierarchies, and identified them as blasphemous, Helwys writes a direct appeal to James I in the name of religious liberty. In detail, he outlines the nature of kingly authority, how it is to be understood and applied as well as how it is not be understood. The king is owed total allegiance in temporal affairs, but in spiritual affairs, the king is a subject of Christ as all are. He enjoys no privilege to rule in the spiritual kingdom over which Christ rules supreme. Helwys also petitions the king to free his subjects from the oppression of the Anglican Church, which actively persecuted all who sought to relate to God according to the dictates of their consciences.
Helwys’ appeal to religious liberty is the first of its kind in the English language. It is also distinguished by the fact that Helwys calls for complete religious freedom, not only for members of dissenting Christian sects, but for every person no matter the object of their religious faith. In this, Helwys is truly revolutionary, because his particular call for religious liberty in 1616 is without precedent in the English language.
See Joe Early, Jr., The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, Early English Baptist Texts, ed. Rady Roldan-Figueroa and C. Douglas Weaver (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2009).

A Face for Radio

My posts on seminary education got some attention. I appeared today on the Janet Mefferd Show to discuss the necessity of seminary education. Listen to it here.