Conflict for the Conflict Thesis

When you think of the relationship of faith and science, what images come to mind? Images of bloody battles, war and violence are conjured by the press and the sensationalism of the media. Many view faith and science as strident adversaries. Science and Christian belief are incompatible, so it is thought, and neither can live while the other survives. But is this an accurate way to view that relationship?

I want to examine an event that lies at the origin of this understanding and briefly consider how this image of conflict has developed in the history of faith and science.

The event at the heart of this understanding is the Oxford Union debate in 1860 between Samuel Wilberforce, the Lord Bishop of Oxford, and the botanist T. H. Huxley (also known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”). This debate took place one year after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. It was an exchange between congenial opponents, with polite society in attendance. Michael Ruse comments, ‘Reports from the time suggest that everybody enjoyed himself immensely, and all went cheerfully off to dinner together afterwards.’ There are mixed views on who was the winner on the day, but most seem to favor Huxley.

The event, which should have passed into obscurity, gained notoriety years later when legendary accounts were circulated. The classical example was published in 1898 (nearly thirty years later) in the form of an autobiograpghical memory from Mrs Isabella Sidgewick, published in Macmillian’s magazine;

“I was happy to pre present on the memorable occasion at Oxford when Mr Huxley bearded Bishop Wilberforece . . . The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent, he assured us that there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock pigeons were what rock pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed decent from a monkey?”

So the image of the event that arose later is of a magnanimous Huxley condescending to Wilberforce who was shown to be an ignorant, simple, and somewhat arrogant cleric. But this is at odds with the facts. The Sidgewick statement contradicts accounts published closer to the meeting. Wilberforce’s criticisms of evolutionary theory were extensive and chiefly scientific in nature, partly developed from the criticisms of Alfred Russell Wallace (1823–1913), who was the co-discoverer of evolution through natural selection. Wilberforce was no simpleton, being a fellow of the Royal Society. Darwin, who did not attend due to illness, valued his critique and responded seriously to it.[1] Wilberforce thought he had done well in the debate, though his slur on Huxley, it must be admitted was ill considered and Huxley took the advantage that was handed to him.

What was it then that precipitated such legendary accounts thirty years later? It is important to consider a few factors offered by the sociological perspective. In nineteenth century England, the relationship between science and religion represented the struggle of two opposing classes: the church parsonage with its traditional religious conservativism and the bourgeoning parsonage of the scientists struggling for acceptance and their own place in society.[2] For centuries, clergy had been some of the most intelligent people there were. Because higher education was a requirement for most denominations, it was the clergy and ministers who were the intelligentia in all manner of fields – including the sciences. But the span of hundred years saw a complete about-face in the public perception of the clergy. By the end of the ninetieth century, with the rise of modernism and occurence of the industrial revolution, it was now the scientists who were considered the wisest.

However, it was the publication of two books that introduced the perception of conflict into public consciousness; the first by John William Draper called History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s book History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). These books were the birth of the Draper/White thesis, better known as the Conflict Thesis. Lindberg and Numbers note;

“White’s Warfare apparently did not sell as briskly as Draper’s Conflict, but in the end it proved more influential, partly, it seems, because Draper’s strident anti-Catholicism soon dated his work and because White’s impressive documentation gave the appearance of sound scholarship.” [3]

The influence of the conflict thesis that these books championed was profound. However, the scholarship of these books was soon to come under heavy criticism. In 1908 Walsh wrote a damning appraisal that stops just short of calling Draper and White outright liars. He writes;

“…the story of the supposed opposition of the Church and the Popes and the ecclesiastical authorities to science in any of its branches, is founded entirely on mistaken notions. Most of it is quite imaginary. Much of it is due to the exaggeration of the significance of the Galileo incident. Only those who know nothing about the history of medicine and of science continue to harbor it. That Dr. White’s book, contradicted as it is so directly by all serious histories of medicine and of science, should have been read by so many thousands in this country, and should have been taken seriously by educated men, physicians, teachers, and even professors of science who want to know the history of their own sciences, only shows how easily even supposedly educated men may be led to follow their prejudices rather than their mental faculties…”[4]

The conflict thesis in the earlier half of the twentieth century remained popular though not undisputed. When scientific historiography matured in the 50’s[5] new scholarship produced a barrage of research on the topic. White and Draper were utterly refuted and the conflict thesis was dead in academia by the 70’s. Its final downfall is attributed to Frank Turner’s book Between Science and Religion (1974) and James Moore’s penetrating essay “Historians and Historiography” in the book Post-Darwinian Controversies (1979).

Colin Russel notes;

“Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship”[6]

Though images of warfare still linger – at least at the popular (non-academic) level, many people recognize today that the history of Christianity and science reveals a rich and complex interaction that has been more beneficial than detrimental.

There is, for instance, no doubt that modern science was born in a Christian milieu. Christianity furnished thinkers of the Renaissance with a worldview that permitted them to believe the universe could be understood. A rational God had created a rational universe, and given men rational minds to comprehend it. There were other factors that contributed to the birth of the scientific revolution,[7] but Christianity was a very important one.[8]


[1] There was not a polarization of “science” and “religion” as the idea of opposed armies implies but a large number of leaned men, some scientists, some theologians, some indistinguishable, and almost all of them very religious, who experienced various differences among themselves. There was not organization apparent on either “side” as the idea of rank and command implies but deep divisions among men of science, the majority of whom were at first hostile to Darwin’s theory, and a corresponding and derivative division among Christians who were scientifically untrained, with a large proportion of leading theologians quite prepared to come to terms peacefully with Darwin. Nor, finally, was there the kind of antagonism pictured in the discharge of weaponry but rather a much more subdued overall reaction to the Origin of Species than is generally supposed and a genuine amiability in the relations of those who are customarily believed to have been at battle.

God and Nature: p7-8, quote from Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies

[2] Alister E. McGrath. The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998) p. 21-2.

[3] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 3.

[4] James Joseph Walsh, The Popes and Science; the History of the Papal Relations to Science During the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time, Fordam University Press, New York 1908, p.19

[5] David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, University of California Press (April 29, 1986) p. 6.

[6] Colin A. Russell: The Conflict of Science and Religion in Encyclopedia of the History of Science and Religion, New York 2000, p. 15

[7] Such as the influence of Neo-Platonism, and a climate of skepticism created in part by the Protestant reformation and the erosion of political authorities.

[8] “The full historical picture is complex: science, philosophy, and theology are inextricably intertwined. To single out one factor as the sole cause is to misrepresent the actual situation. Voluntarist theology neither “caused” modern science nor acted as the simple cause of a particular kind of science. It was a rather one factor, albeit a very important one, in giving modern science its strong empirical bent.”

Mark A. Noll. Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 89

Apologetics on Twitter

The new social networks like Twitter and Facebook offer unprecedented opportunities for communication and contact. For Christians who value both relationships and truth, our participation must always be safeguarded by an awareness of our hearts and our deeper responsibility to Christ. But that being said, one of the benefits of the new media and networking is that it allows for greater accessibility to apologists and apologetics. For those who are on Twitter, here is a list of some apologetic organizations and people that are worth following (I’ve almost made a list you can follow on Twitter here). Obviously, it isn’t exhaustive, but these are some of the good ones. Feel free to add others in the comments, if you wish.

People

Doug Douglas Geivett, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology – http://www.douggeivett.com/
Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary - http://www.douggroothuis.com/ Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary – http://www.douggroothuis.com/
 James White, Reformed apologist and director of Alpha and Omega Ministries - http://www.aomin.org James White, Reformed apologist and director of Alpha and Omega Ministries – http://www.aomin.org
 John Mark N Reynolds, Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University- http://www.johnmarkreynolds.com/ John Mark N Reynolds, Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University- http://www.johnmarkreynolds.com/
Rav Ravi Zacharias, popular author and founder of RZIM – http://www.rzim.org
Win Winfried Corduan, former Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University – http://wincorduan.bravejournal.com/
johnpiper John Piper, author and Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota – http://www.desiringgod.org/
scot Scot McKnight, Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University – http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/
albert R. Albert Mohler, Jr., author and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – http://www.albertmohler.com/
douglaswilson Douglas Wilson, pastor at Christ Church in Idaho, faculty member at New Saint Andrews College, and apologist – http://www.dougwils.com/
pastormark Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church – http://www.marshillchurch.org/
josh Joshua Harris, popular author and Senior pastor at Covenant Life Church in Maryland – http://www.joshharris.com/

Organizations and other ministries

apcom Apologetics.Com – http://www.apologetics.com/
cri Christian Research Institute – http://www.equip.org
lig Ligonier Ministries – http://ligonier.org/
rtb Reasons to Believe – http://www.reasons.org/
str Stand to Reason – http://www.str.org
scrip Scriptorium Daily – http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/
redeemer Redeemer Presbyterian Church (pastored by Tim Keller) – http://www.redeemer.com/
epsoc Evangelical Philosophical Society (follow via request) – http://www.epsociety.org/
desiringgod Desiring God Ministries – http://www.desiringgod.org/
tgc The Gospel Coalition – http://thegospelcoalition.org/

Thinking Matters and New Zealand Apologists

think

Thinking Matters New Zealand
mattandmad Matthew and Madeline Flannagan – http://www.mandm.org.nz/
beretta Glenn Peoples – http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/
Rob

Rob (also of http://manawatu.christian-apologetics.org/)

The Christian eschatological hope

Christian hope is not about wishing things will get better. It is not about hoping that emptiness will go away, meaning return, and life will be stripped of its uncertainties, aches, and anxieties. Nor does it have anything to do with techniques for improving fallen human life, be those therapeutic, spiritual, or even religious. Hope has to do with the knowledge of “the age to come.” This redemption is already penetrating “this age.” The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the one age are being transformed by the righteousness, life, and meaning of the other. What has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it. More than that, hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, that endures. It knows that evil is doomed, that it will be banished.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).

A response to Glenn Peoples's 'No, I am not an inerrantist'

A while back, one of New Zealand’s more prominent Christian bloggers, Glenn Peoples, wrote an article titled ‘No, I am not an inerrantist’. In it, he outlines his understanding of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, and why he disagrees with it. I’ve been meaning to respond for some time, but have only now gotten the opportunity.

As Glenn notes, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is the widely accepted benchmark for what this doctrine entails. Very briefly stated, it affirms that the Bible is without error. That is what “inerrant” means. Glenn singles out the following parts of the Statement for disagreement:

WE AFFIRM that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

WE AFFIRM that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

WE AFFIRM that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history.

One of the obvious problems with this disagreement is that it severely undermines one’s apologetic with regard to the witness of Scripture. By disagreeing with these statements, Glenn commits himself to admitting that the Bible is not guaranteed true, trustworthy, and reliable; and may be misleading and contain falsehood, fraud, or deceit. That is a difficult situation for a Christian apologist like him to be in.

For my own part, I am an inerrantist, and I find Glenn’s critique of inerrancy shallow and unsophisticated to the point of attacking a strawman. Here’s why.

The Objection Evaluated

Glenn provides the following evidence for discarding inerrancy:

If the texts of the Bible contain not a single error, then two biblical accounts of the same event will agree. They need not cover all the same aspects of the event, but they will agree in the sense that there will not be any conflict between them. Otherwise there is an error present, since two accounts of an event that conflict cannot both be fully correct. However, we know that this is not the case when it comes to the four Gospels. There are some cases where this is fairly obvious. For example, all four Gospels contain sentences attributed to Jesus, but they differ from one Gospel to the next.

What is obvious to anyone with even a little exegetical training is that Glenn is implicitly evaluating the Bible against a modern, scientific or journalistic standard of reporting. It should go without saying, however, that the Bible is an ancient, prescientific compilation. While, in the Modern West, it is considered “inaccurate” or even “dishonest” to quote someone without doing so verbatim, in the ancient Near East no such view existed. On the contrary, it was customary to quote the essence of what a person said, without concerning oneself over the minutiae of the words and sentence structure used. This fact was not lost on the framers of the Chicago Statement, as indicated by Article XIII:

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Variant Selections & Topical Arrangement

I highlight the latter items—topical arrangement and variant selections—because of additional evidence Glenn moves on to allege against biblical inerrancy. He presents for consideration the differences in who is reported to have visited the tomb on Sunday morning in Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10, and John 20:1–2; concluding, reading all four accounts, could you tell who was there and who was not?

The answer, however is obviously yes. As the ESV Study Bible notes on Luke 24:10, It was Mary … and the other women indicates that at least five women went to the tomb. And of John 20:2, contra Glenn’s claim that according to John 20:1–2, the only woman involved was Mary Magdalene, it observes: The plural we suggests the presence of other women besides Mary. Since Luke 24:10 lists Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, and Mark 16:1 lists at least one of those women as Salome, it’s trivial to deduce that these were all present—with at least one other, unnamed woman.

The only way in which one can find a difficulty in this passage is to suppose that each of the authors intended to exhaustively list everyone present. Yet even reading modern writing, that’s far from a reasonable or normal assumption. Imagine I were emailing someone to tell him about our going to an apologetics conference. I might say that “Thinking Matters went to the conference”; or, if the person I was telling knew particular people in Thinking Matters, but not others, I might say that “Jason and Stuart and I went to the conference”; or I might just mention Jason if the other people were less important in the telling. None of these even suggest that the rest of Thinking Matters wasn’t present; let alone entail it.

A final evidence alleged against inerrancy is as follows:

Another type of difference between different Gospels is the way that different events are placed in a different order. A well known example is the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem. In the Synoptic Gospels this event occurs after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, fairly late in the narrative. In John’s Gospel however, this event occurs in chapter 2, before much else has happened.

But it’s a well-documented fact that adhering to a strict chronological order when reporting is a relatively modern invention. In the ancient Near East, arranging anecdotes by topic or by idea was an extremely common, not to mention effective, story-telling technique. It’s called block logic. It’s not wrong, unless you’re specifically intending to present a chronological description of events. It’s just a different way of recounting things. Someone claiming enough exegetical competence to reject the doctrine of inerrancy should know this.

Standards of Truth

Now, Glenn even acknowledges that standards of truth in the ancient Near East may differ to those in the modern West. Yet in doing so, rather than seriously considering the issue and recognizing the relevant cultural distinctions, he appears to mock the notion:

Maybe you want to rescue it by saying that inerrancy is not only compatible with individual writers using their own style, but it is also compatible with the fact that writers are doing no more than adhering to standards of accuracy that were acceptable in their day, and that is why there are no problems with the existence of conflicting accounts, because the fact is, standards of the day just weren’t very high. But this is inerrancy in name only, and it creates a hilarious spectacle for the sceptics to pour scorn upon. […] If we qualify inerrancy this much to save it, it becomes a useless idea altogether.

There is simply no way to overstate how theologically inept—not to mention culturally prejudiced—this statement is. It amounts to saying that using the grammatico-historical method of exegesis to determine our doctrine is a hilarious spectacle. It’s akin to saying that all we need are English Bible translations, because qualifying our understanding of Scripture against its sociolinguistic context is to qualify it so much that it becomes useless. It’s to say that putting ourselves into the shoes of the authors and audience of the scriptural autographs is not merely irrelevant, but an exercise in comedy.

What Glenn wants us to believe is that how the original authors and audience of Scripture understood errors merely indicates that their standards were too low. And, if we qualify inerrancy to mean that the Bible is free from error as its original authors and audience understood errors to be, then it’s a “hilarious spectacle” and a “useless idea altogether”. This objection is dead on arrival for two reasons:

Inerrancy is supposed to be defined by Scripture

Firstly, even if standards of truth in biblical times were sub par—tsk, tsk—it remains that the biblical authors wrote in those times. Now, maybe Glenn thinks those scamps should have used modern Western standards of reporting, even though these were totally alien to their culture, where the retelling of stories was a largely verbal affair and the manner of conceptualization was quite different. But the fact remains that they didn’t use our standards. They used their own. Probably because the ignorant peons they were writing to, wretched, barely hominid gimps that they were, expected it.

Thus, taking into account what the Bible itself considers an error when we’re defining inerrancy is not a “qualification”. It is a central tenet of the doctrine. When Scripture attests to its own inerrancy, it does so assuming an ancient Near Eastern concept of truth and error.

Modern journalistic standards are not an objective ideal

Secondly, what justification does Glenn have for taking his view that the “standards of the day just weren’t very high”? High compared to what? It isn’t as if our modern Western conventions for journalism constitute an objective standard against which any kind of story-telling should be judged. They’re not some pinnacle of reporting—a gilt-edged ideal that any writer in any culture should be looking up to and trying to imitate, even if that were possible without the use of technologies unavailable to them. In fact, these standards aren’t even commonly used in Western society.

Does Glenn really believe that the genre of the gospels is functionally identical with modern journalism? Does he seriously believe that using any other story-telling conventions actually amounts to error? If I tell him that “Thinking Matters went to an apologetics conference last month”, and he tells his wife that Bnonn said, “Last month, Thinking Matters went to an apologetics conference,” should we say that his standards of testimony are so low that, in fact, he has reported what I said erroneously? Even in the modern day there is no presumption that we retell the exact words someone used unless we’re doing so in very specific circumstances—such as writing for a newspaper, or using a blockquote tag. Certainly, the advent of copy and paste has made this much easier, and thus raised our expectations. But that hardly implies that reporting the gist, if not the precise words, is a lowlier method, and in fact constitutes error. The only time that would be true is if there is a presumption of a verbatim quote. Unless Glenn has remarkable evidence to the contrary, in the case of Scripture, there is not.

Moreover, even in modern journalistic writing it is never expected that the author report everything, or that he not be selective about the facts he conveys. In fact, basic common sense tells us that every reporter must do these things, because it is inherent to the nature of reporting as a subjective exercise. And this may become more pronounced depending on the kind of story-telling techniques an author is using, and the specific reasons he has for writing. In short, Glenn appears to ignore even the most obvious facts of literary criticism in his efforts to make his case.

Conclusion

Overall, Glenn’s understanding of inerrancy is too inadequate for his critique to gain any actual traction against the doctrine. The fundamental exegetical principles of genre, language, cultural context, and intent are all ignored, meaning that inerrancy itself is essentially ignored, while a strawman is burned in its place. Indeed, it’s as if he’s unaware that inerrancy is an exegetical issue at all. Instead of looking at the scriptural foundation for the doctrine, and the linguistic nuances of the term “error”, he imposes upon Scripture his own arbitrary conventions of reporting, finds it lacking, and then declares that inerrancy must be false. Sadly, the comments on his blog suggest that many other Christians don’t see anything immediately problematic with this approach. Hopefully this article can serve as a corrective.

The Two Cities

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,”–that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride,–“they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”

Augustine, Of The Nature Of The Two Cities, The Earthly And The Heavenly, Book XIV Chap. 28.

Darwinism, Morality and Violence

Is mass murder the corollary of belief in materialistic evolution? Dennis Sewell thinks it is. In a controversial article at the Times Online, the former broadcaster at the BBC and contributing editor of The Spectator argues that there is a demonstrable link between Darwin’s theory and the recent spate of high-school killings by teenagers in the US and Europe. While many celebrate the life and impact of Charles Darwin this year, Sewell contends that a darker edge to the man and his theory must be reconsidered:

In America, where Darwin’s writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin’s theories and a rash of school shootings.

Looking at the Columbine High School Massacre, where two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and 1 teacher in 1999, Sewell suggests that little attention has been paid to their motivation behind the act. Enamoured by Charles Darwin’s ideas, both Harris and Klebold saw their actions as the implementation of natural selection, the British journalist argues. He quotes one of the attorney’s for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, Barry Arrington:

“I read through every single page of Eric Harris’s journals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes… It became evident to me that Harris consciously saw his actions as logically arising from what he had learnt about evolution. Darwinism served as his personal intellectual rationale for what he did. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshipper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.”

Neither Harris and Klebold were alone in seeing their violence as the outcome and implementation of Darwinism. Sewell discusses other school killings or planned killings and suggests an emerging pattern that cannot be easily dismissed. In describing the social culture that sustains and accumulates around these groups, Sewell refers to one visitor of a Natural Selection Army website who also went on a rampage:

On November 7, 2007, in Tuusula, Finland, Auvinen forced his head teacher to kneel down in front of him before he shot her with his pistol. He slaughtered a further seven victims before turning the gun on himself. Some of the Jokela high school students afterwards described the way Auvinen prowled through the building pointing his gun at people’s heads. Sometimes he would squeeze the trigger and kill them; sometimes, after looking long and hard through the sights, he would suddenly turn away and let his terrified target go free. One witness said he seemed to be choosing his victims at random, but in fact he was making a very deliberate selection. He was trying to weed out the “unfit”.

. . .Auvinen left a special plea for his motivation to be taken seriously and for the world not merely to write him off as a psychopath, or to blame cult movies, computer games, television or heavy metal music, before concluding: “No mercy for the scum of the Earth! Humanity is overrated. It’s time to put natural selection and survival of the fittest back on track.

Even if psychotic teenagers saw their murderous acts of violence as the direct and necessary consequence of materialistic evolution, is it fair to saddle the theory itself with these horrible consequences? Sewell acknowledges that many homicidial groups have identified with philosophers and their writings but yet argues that there are two distinct reasons why Darwinism appeals to the disturbed adolescent mind and justifies these acts:

1.The loss of objective meaning: Sewell suggests that within materialistic evolution is embedded the notion “that human existence has no ultimate purpose or special significance.”

2. The eradication of an objective moral order: “Darwin also taught that morality has no essential authority, but is something that itself evolved — a set of sentiments or intuitions that developed from adaptive responses to environmental pressures tens of thousands of years ago. This does not merely explain the origin of morals, it totally explains them away. Whether an individual opts to obey a particular ethical precept, or to regard it as a redundant evolutionary carry-over, thus becomes a matter of personal choice. Cheerleaders celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday in colleges across America last February sang “Randomness is good enough for me, If there’s no design it means I’m free” — lines from a song by the band Scientific Gospel. Clearly they see evolution as something that emancipates them from the strict sexual morality insisted upon by their parents. But wackos such as Harris and Auvinen can just as readily interpret it as a licence to kill.”

Sewell says that evolutionary scientists today “describe ethics as merely an illusion produced by genes. From a Darwinian perspective, there is nothing objectively wrong with shooting your classmates; it’s just that most of us have an inherited tendency to kid ourselves that it’s wrong — and that’s something that helps our species in the longer run by keeping playground massacres to an acceptable minimum.”

But materialistic evolution not only justifies these acts of violence by destroying any objective purpose or norm in which to live our life by – Darwinism also encourages both the “toxic doctrine of racial superiority” and eugenics (the practice of improving the quality of the human race by deliberate selection of parents and their offspring). Both with Darwin himself (who wrote in the Descent of Man, if we “do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has too often occurred in the history of the world.”) and in history, Sewell catalogues this embarrassing relationship. He concludes finally:

“The debate between Darwin’s bulldogs and religious fundamentalists over the truth of evolution and the existence of God has become a sterile one. There are, however, many interesting questions about how Darwin’s views chime with our values of liberal democracy and human rights, or the simple lessons of right and wrong that most of us teach our children. But our society cannot begin to address these issues while we are fed only a bowdlerised account of Darwin’s work. The more sinister implications of the world-view that has come to be called “Darwinism” — and the interpretation the teenage nihilists put on it — are as much part of the Darwin story as the theory of evolutions.”

For a fuller discussion of the impact of Darwin on politics and culture, Sewell’s book comes out this month:

Darwin

The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics (Picador, 2009) by Dennis Sewell

Proclaiming what God has done in space and time

This is why those churches that have banished pulpits or are “getting beyond” the truth question are going beyond Christianity itself. The proclamation of the New Testament is about truth, about the truth that Christ who was with the Father from all eternity entered our own time. As such he lived within it, his life, like ours, marked by days and weeks and years. He lived in virtue of his unity with the Father, living for him, living as the representation of his own people before the Father, his very words becoming the means of divine judgment and of divine grace. But in the cross and resurrection the entire spiritual order was upended, his victory reached into and across the universe, and saving grace is now personalized in him. The world with all its pleasures, power, and comforts is fading away. The pall of divine judgment hangs over it. A new order has arisen in Christ. Only in this new order can be found meaning, hope and acceptance with God.It was truth, not private spirituality, that apostolic Christianity was about. It was Christ, not the self, who offered access into the sacred. It was Christ, with all his painful demands of obedience, not comfortable country clubs, that early Christianity was about. What God had done in space and time when the world was stood on its head was Christianity’s preoccupation, not the multiplication of programs, strobe lights, and slick drama. Images we may way, entertainment we may desire, but it is the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen that is the church’s truth to tell.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).

Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430

Today was Friday the 13th. While the paraskevidekatriaphobic among us may shiver at the date, the rest of us can rejoice that, 1655 years ago, Augustine was born. The Bishop of Hippo was one of the greatest church fathers and theologians in the early history of Christianity. Daniel D. Williams has said that if Alfred North Whitehead is right – that Western philosophy has been a series of footnotes to Plato – then Western theology can be said to be a series of footnotes to Augustine. But the African bishop’s brilliance was not just in theology; his writings (the most significant of which are Confessions and City of God) also exhibited enormous philosophical reach. In comparing Confessions with Plato’s Republic or Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, it is difficult not to be struck by the differences. Augustine does not offer us any less of a comprehensive philosophical vision than those works, but while Plato’s Republic is written as a dialogue and Kant’s Critique is written as a treatise, the Confessions is written stunningly as a prayer.

And it is Augustine’s legacy of piety and theological acuity that has strongly influenced the church. It is difficult to find a highpoint that has been unaffected by him. In the medieval period, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas depended upon him, while in the sixteenth century Luther and Calvin’s reaffirmation of  the importance of God’s grace in salvation was rooted in Augustinian thought.  In fact, B. B. Warfield once confidently claimed: “It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation.” It is difficult to overstate his importance and for anyone who wishes to grapple with the foundational ideas of the Christian tradition and Western philosophy, even after sixteen centuries, Augustine remains one of the most penetrating and significant guides.augustine

What art Thou then, my God?

Most highest, most good,
most potent, most omnipotent;
most merciful and most just;
most hidden and most present;
most beautiful and most strong,
standing firm and elusive,
unchangeable and all-changing;
never new, never old;

ever working, ever at rest;
gathering in and [yet] lacking nothing;
supporting, filling, and sheltering;
creating, nourishing, and maturing;
seeking and [yet] having all things.

And what have I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy?
or what says any man when he speaks of Thee?
And woe to him who keeps silent about Thou,
since many babble on and say nothing.
Augustine, Confessions 1.4.4

Rethinking Christianity and the Crusades

One of the main reasons people reject Christianity often has little to do with its theological or philosophical claims, but with what they see as the effects of those claims in the world. Whether these effects are encountered firsthand or cited from church history, the harmful actions of Christians are perceived as a serious indictment of Christianity. Of course, it is wrong to dismiss an idea on the basis of a discussion of its social consequences (an idea should first be assessed on whether it conforms to reality – was Jesus who He claimed to be? Does Christianity accurately portray the human condition? Are the NT manuscripts historically accurate?) but even when that is granted, a discussion of Christianity’s actions in history is not irrelevant or unimportant.

The latest book by Rodney Stark, God’s Battalion’s: The Case for the Crusades, is a important entry into that conversation. A sociologist of religion and professor at Baylor University, Stark tackles the topic of the Crusades and offers a counternarrative to the version of history that is often wielded by popular books such as God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and The End of Faith. Stark’s book is a continuation of his ongoing examination of the relationship between Christianity and Western civilization. His previous titles (including For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome) have offered a stinging critique of the notion that religion inhibited human learning and progress until an enlightened reason at last rescued the West from the superstitious clutches of the church. In fact, Stark has argued that the success of the West and the development of science, economics, and political freedom were encouraged, not stifled, by Christian ideas. In his 2005 book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Stark forcefully writes:

Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls. Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. A world where most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth — a world truly living in “dark ages.” (p. 233)

The thing is – Stark not only makes radical statements, but is able to support them with hard evidence and impressive scholarship. Before joining Baylor University in 2004, he taught at the University of Washington for 32 years and is the Founding Editor of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. Neither is Stark the only voice charting the positive impact of Christianity. He is joined by other historians and sociologists including A. C. Crombie, Edward Grant, Alvin J. Schmidt, Jonathan Hill, David Lindberg, Edward Grant, Thomas Goldstein and Stanley Jaki.Battalions

In God’s Battalions, Stark takes on the view that the Crusades were the opening round of European colonialism, conducted for land and converts by Christians who victimized the more civilised Muslims. He instead contends that the campaigns were neither colonialist, nor unprovoked, but a military response to Muslim aggression. If his past success at skewing old academic biases that have became foundational myths in contemporary thought and education are an indication, this new book should be worth reading. As Christians, we can often end up having to spend more time apologizing for other Christians than engaging in apologetics for Christ. And while there certainly are evils in Christendom’s past that Christians should be the first to acknowledge and the last to excuse, Stark’s book is a powerful call for Christians to first reflect on what it is that they are called to apologise for, and not be so eager to judge those in circumstances of unique and difficult crises.

Here is what the Publishers Weekly has to say:

It always seems counterintuitive to moderns that warfare and religion can be consistent. Ideally, followers of the prince of peace are to avoid the sword and shield. Clearly, this has not always been the case. Frequently in the crosshairs of critics are the Christian wars against Muslims known as the Crusades, commonly viewed as the birth of European imperialism and the forced spread of Christianity. But what if we’ve had it all wrong? What if the Crusades were a justifiable response to a strong and determined foe? Stark, a prominent sociologist and author of 27 books on history and religion, has penned a compelling argument that these bloody encounters had less to do with spreading Christianity than with responding to an ever more dangerous enemy – the emerging Islamic empire. There is much to be learned here. Filled with fascinating historical glimpses of monks and Templars, priests and pilgrims, kings and contemplatives, Stark pulls it all together and challenges us to reconsider our view of the Crusades.

Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, HarperOne (2009), 288 pages. Available now.

Faith and Knowledge

There is no faith relation with Christ free of doctrinal content. The knower must have some knowledge of the known, or no relation exists. That seemingly redundant and self-evident statement should underlie the issue. Jesus Christ and our knowledge of Him are not in any sense coextensive. But one cannot have a relation with Him without knowledge, and that knowledge represents incipient doctrine…

If one does not believe the truths concerning the Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture, one cannot have any authentic relationship with Him. Doctrine, we eagerly concede, does not in itself save . . . But, on the other hand, one cannot truly worship Christ and seek to live as an authentic disciple and deny, denigrate, or neglect in any sense the biblical teachings concerning Him.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Response,” in Beyond the Impass? Scripture, Intrepretation, and Theology in Baptist Life, ed. Robison B. James and David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), page 249.