Jesus, the Poor Man

In Proverbs and Matt 25, God identifies with the poor symbolically. But in the incarnation and death of Jesus… God identifies with the poor and marginal literally. Jesus was born in a feeding trough. At his circumcision Jesus’ family offered what was required of the poor (Luke 2:24). He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). At the end of his life, he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died, he was laid in a borrowed tomb. They cast lots for his only possession, his robe, for there on the cross he was stripped of everything.

All this gives new meaning to the question: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison?” The answer is—on the cross, where he died amidst the thieves, among the marginalized. No wonder Paul could say that once you see Jesus becoming poor for us, you will never look at the poor the same way again.

Tim Keller in The Gospel and the Poor, Themelios Vol 33, Issue 3, Dec 2008.

Christian Pioneers of Modern Science

W. R. Miller has complied a fine list of quotes and resources in an Appendix over at Tektonics to emphasize the point that many of the greatest scientists in history were Christians or had Biblical presuppositions. Miller also points out that;

  • For most of these, their faith was the driving force behind their discoveries.
  • True self-sustaining modern science (not just engineering, logic or mathematics) was born within a Christian society.

Here’s the relevant section (read the whole thing here) :

Daniel Graves, author of Scientists of Faith and Doctors Who Followed Christ, writes: “Many of the sciences derive directly from the work of a Christian or were greatly influenced at their inception by a Christian. … It may seem an outrageous claim that Christians were seminal to much of what dominates modern scientific thinking, but it is true. There is hardly a science or scientific idea which cannot trace its inception as a viable theory to some Christian.”  A careful study of history reveals that technology and modern science was, in fact, pioneered by Christians.  The case is made by Dr. Ian Hutchison and Dr. Loren Eiseley (below) and at the essays found at the subsequent links.

Ian H.Hutchinson, Head of Department of Nuclear Energy.  Plasma Science and Fusion Center and Department of Nuclear Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA. ASA Conference, 4 August 2002.  “Science: Christian and Natural,” http://hutchinson.belmont.ma.us/asa2002/.

“Going further, though, I believe there is a constructive case to be made for the phrase Christian Science.

First, as represented by the theme of this conference “Christian Pioneers”, we should recognize that modern science is built upon the foundational work of people who more than anything else were Christians. Christians were the pioneers of the revolution of thought that brought about our modern understanding of the world. MIT, my home institution, the high-temple of science and technology in the United States, has a pseudo-Greek temple architecture about its main buildings. The fluted columns are topped not with baccanalian freizes, but with the names of the historical heroes of science (not to mention William Barton Rogers, the founder). A rough assessment was carried out by a few of us some years ago of the fraction of the people listed there who were Christians. The estimate we arrived at was about 60%.

Any list of the giants of physical science would include Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, all of whom, despite denominational and doctrinal differences among them, and opposition that some experienced from church authorities, were deeply committed to Jesus Christ.

Second, I observed over the years in my interactions with Christians in academia, that far from scientists being weakly represented in the ranks of the faithful, as one would expect if science and faith are incompatible, they are strongly overrepresented. The sociological evidence has been studied systematically for example by Robert Wuthnow [Robert Wuthnow, The Struggle for America’s Soul, Eerdmanns, Grand Rapids, (1989), p146.], who established that while academics undoubtedly tend to be believers in lower proportion than the US population as a whole, among academics, scientists were proportionally more likely to be Christians that those in the non-science disciplines. The common misconception that scientists were or are inevitably sundered from the Christian faith by their science is simply false.

Third, the question arises, why did modern science grow up almost entirely in the West, where Christian thinking held sway? There were civilizations of comparable stability, prosperity, and in many cases technology, in China, Japan, and India. Why did they not develop science? It is acknowledged that arabic countries around the end of the first millenium were more advanced in mathematics, and their libraries kept safe eventually for Christendom much of the Greek wisdom of the ancients. Why did not their learning blossom into the science we now know? More particularly, if Andrew White’s portrait of history, that the church dogmatically opposed all the “dangerous innovations” of science, and thereby stunted scientific development for hundreds of years, why didn’t science rapidly evolve in these other cultures?

A case that has been made cogently by Stanley Jaki [Stanley L. Jaki, The road of science and the ways to God, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, (1978).], amongst others, is that far from being an atmosphere stifling to science, the Christian world view of the West was the fertile cultural and philosophical soil in which science grew and flourished. He argues that it was precisely the theology of Christianity which created that fertile intellectual environment. The teaching that the world is the free but contingent creation of a rational Creator, worthy of study on its own merits because it is “good”, and the belief that because our rationality is in the image of the creator, we are capable of understanding the creation: these are theological encouragements to the work of empirical science. Intermingled with the desire to benefit humankind for Christian charity’s sake, and enabled by the printing press to record and communicate results for posterity, the work of science became a force that gathered momentum despite any of the strictures of a threatened religious hierarchy.

So I suggest that there is a deeper reason why scientists are puzzled about how one might pursue a Christian Science distinguished from what has been the approach developed over the past half millenium. It is that modern science is already in a very serious sense Christian. It germinated in and was nurtured by the Christian philosophy of creation, it was developed and established through the work of largely Christian pioneers, and it continues to draw Christians to its endeavours today.”

Dr. Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), a Professor of anthropology, a science history writer and evolutionist, concluded that the birth of modern science was mainly due to the creationist convictions of its founders.

“It is the CHRISTIAN world which finally gave birth in a clear articulated fashion to the experimental method of science itself … It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor inference with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond man’s wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.” [Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Centenary: Evolution and the Men who Discovered it, Doubleday: New York, 1961 p:62]

Kenneth Scott Latourette, Sterling Professor at Yale University, wrote,

“Across the centuries Christianity has been the means of reducing more languages to writing than have all other factors combined. It has created more schools, more theories of education, and more systems than has any other one force. More than any other power in history it has impelled men to fight suffering, whether that suffering has come from disease, war or natural disasters. It has built thousands of hospitals, inspired the emergence of the nursing and medical professions, and furthered movement for public health and the relief and prevention of famine. Although explorations and conquests which were in part its outgrowth led to the enslavement of Africans for the plantations of the Americas, men and women whose consciences were awakened by Christianity and whose wills it nerved brought about the abolition of slavery (in England and America). Men and women similarly moved and sustained wrote into the laws of Spain and Portugal provisions to alleviate the ruthless exploitation of the Indians of the New World.

… By its name and symbol, the most extensive organization ever created for the relief of the suffering caused by war, the Red Cross, bears witness to its Christian origin. The list might go on indefinitely. It includes many another humanitarian projects and movements, ideals in government, the reform of prisons and the emergence of criminology, great art and architecture, and outstanding literature.”

[A History of Christianity, Vol. II, originally published by HarperCollins Publishers 1953, revised 1975, pp.1470,1471].

Other links (provided by Miller) for further reading:

Eric V. Snow. Christianity, A Cause of Modern Science? Explains the historical research of Duhem, Jaki, and Merton. http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-298.htm or http://www.rae.org/jaki.html

David F. Coppedge.   The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists from Y1K to Y2K, http://creationsafaris.com/wgcs.htm

Christianity and the Birth of Science: Why modern science arose in Christian Europe and not in other cultures.  Dr. Michael Bumbulis proposes four evidences and anticipates objections. http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/

Luther and Science: An essay on relation of Protestant thought to the advancement of science, and an important refutation of the claim that Luther and his followers ridiculed and repressed Copernicanism: http://www.leaderu.com/science/kobe.html

T. V. Varughese, Ph.D. Christianity and Technological Advance: The Astonishing Connection, http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-245.htm

Ben Clausen on the origin of science, and examples of believers, with bibliography: Christianity Aiding the Development of Science, http://www.grisda.org/bclausen/papers/aid.htm

Colin Russell, Professor of History of Science and Technology, The Open University, England; Chairman – Vice President, Christians in Science.  “Without a Memory,” http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1993/PSCF12-93Russell.html. From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 45 (March 1993): 219-221.

Christianity is for Weak, Stupid People? – The Role of Reason for Christians http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/reason.html

Apologetics and effective dialogue

This last semester, a group of Auckland university friends and myself attended a rally on campus to help launch a student pro-life group. Whenever students seek to form a club under the umbrella of the University’s Student Association, advocates must do so at an annual forum where votes are petitioned from those who are present. It is an interesting and cumbersome way to establish clubs, but it does guarantee a colourful event. And with an issue as controversial as abortion, you can imagine the intensity of debate.

In the end, however, opponents were able to gather more support against the club through successfully derailing the discussion. Instead of a debate about whether students should be able to establish a pro-life club, the merits of abortion were instead trumpeted. While it was heartening that pro-life advocates did not resort to the kind of personal attacks or irrelevant arguments that the other side did (the common complaints: “The morality of abortion should only be discussed among woman”, “Denying women the right to abortion is a form of religious oppression”, etc) I was reminded of how important it is that Christians are effective communicators.

Recently, I came across the excellent Life Training Institute Blog, and a post by Josh Brahm about effective dialogue and different tactics in conversation. To illustrate, Brahm recounts a conversation he overheard between a pro-choicer and a pro-lifer (‘Charlie’):

The pro-choicer made a comment along the lines of, “I don’t like abortion, but if it’s made illegal, women will be hurt in back-alley abortions.”

Charlie’s response? “So you think we should legalize murder?” (Add a hint of combative attitude to the tone, and you’ve got the picture.)

Now, I know where Charlie was going with this – he wanted to explain that we shouldn’t make or keep immoral things legal to make the crime safer for the felon. For example, we wouldn’t make murder legal to make things easier and safer for murderers, because murder is wrong. Unfortunately, our pro-choice friend who had probably never explored that logic, misunderstood where Charlie was going with this.

Instead, he responded, “Now, that’s called a strawman argument. That has nothing to do with what I just said.”

So to be clear, Charlie hadn’t made a strawman argument; he just wasn’t very clear in his argumentation.

I wasn’t able to hear all of Charlie’s response, but it was basically a second try at responding to the original pro-choice objection, and it still had that same combative tone. Then the pro-choicer starts talking about red herrings. He obviously wasn’t getting it, and he stormed off before I could catch him to continue the discussion.

Several hours later I was eating lunch with Charlie and another young volunteer, when the subject of effective dialogue came up.

I started by explaining how sometimes we hear an argument that we’ve heard over and over, like the back-alley thing, and we want to zero in for that “gotcha” moment. I added, “But in one-on-one conversations, we need to remember to take people slowly through our argument, making sure we make a clear case, and avoid asking pointed questions that will make the person feel defensive.”

Brahm then goes on to suggest a helpful distinction that Steve Wagner, another experienced pro-life communicator, has defined between “I get you” responses and “gotcha” replies. “Gotcha” answers are concise one-liners that are designed to stump the opposition. In formal debates, media interviews and hit and run conversations, quick answers and sound bite-shaped responses are the best weapons. If you’re unable to summarize why your point is true and your opponent’s is false, you lose.

However, in different contexts “gotcha” answers can be counter-productive. People will not want to dialogue if they feel humiliated or that they’re being led into a trap. Wagner explains:

I take time with each person. I try to let them have multiple opportunities to explain themselves. I don’t “move in for the kill.” While I ask tough questions, I’m also content to let some false statements or arguments go unanswered. I don’t always have to have the last word. Why? Because I think communicating to each person the phrase, “I get you,” is more important than making sure everyone else knows “I gotcha.” It’s one of the essential skills we teach every pro-life advocate: Listen to understand rather than to refute.

It’s good advice. And not just relevant for conversations about abortion. In apologetic practice, we can find ourselves  over-emphasizing the importance of finding initial entry points and common ground but it is often just as crucial to think about where we are going in the conversation.

The chief obstacle to the Gospel

“What is the cause of this tremendous defection? For my part, I have little hesitation in saying that it lies chiefly in the intellectual sphere. Men do not accept Christianity because they can no longer be convinced that Christianity is true. It may be useful, but is it true?…The thought of the day, as it makes itself most strongly felt in the universities, is profoundly opposed to Christianity, or at least it is out of connection with Christianity. The chief obstacle to the Christian religion today lies in the sphere of the intellect.

That assertion must be guarded against two misconceptions.

In the first place, I do not mean that most men reject Christianity consciously on account of intellectual difficulties. On the contrary, rejection of Christianity is due in the vast majority of cases simply to indifference. Only a few men have given the subject real attention. The vast majority of those who reject the gospel do so simply because they know nothing about it. But whence comes this indifference? It is due to the intellectual atmosphere in which men are living. The modern world is dominated by ideas which ignore the gospel. Modern culture is not altogether opposed to the gospel. But it is out of all connection with it. It not only prevents the acceptance of Christianity. It prevents Christianity even from getting a hearing.

In the second place, I do not mean that the removal of intellectual objections will make a man a Christian. No conversion was ever wrought simply by argument. A change of heart is also necessary. And that can be wrought only by the immediate exercise of the power of God. But because intellectual labor is insufficient it does not follow, as is so often assumed, that it is unnecessary. God may, it is true, overcome all intellectual obstacles by an immediate exercise of His regenerative power. Sometimes He does. But He does so very seldom. Usually He exerts His power in connection with certain conditions of the human mind. Usually He does not bring into the Kingdom, entirely without preparation, those whose mind and fancy are completely dominated by ideas which make the acceptance of the gospel logically impossible.

… The situation is desperate. It might discourage us. But not if we are truly Christians. Not if we are living in vital communion with the risen Lord. If we are really convinced of the truth of our message, then we can proclaim it before a world of enemies, then the very difficulty of our task, the very scarcity of our allies becomes an inspiration, then we can even rejoice that God did not place us in an easy age, but in a time of doubt and perplexity and battle.”

Christianity & Culture by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) published in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 11, 1913.

Contra Mundum: The Flat-Earth Myth

This month’s issue of the Investigate Magazine features a great article by Matthew Flannagan on the Flat-Earth Myth. It is common assumption in popular discourse and even within public education that, prior to Columbus, the Church taught that the world was flat. However, in his column, Matthew argues that this idea was fabricated by opponents of Christianity in the 19th century and is actually a historical revision. He maintains that the Flat-Earth myth has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary historians.

I recommend either getting a hold of the issue or reading it online here. If you’ve been following my recent “Conflict for the conflict thesis” posts, Matt’s article dove-tails nicely with that series and my central claim: Christianity encourages and does not oppose science or its success. Even apart from that, go read it – Matt’s writing is never dull, and his well-reasoned arguments are easy to comprehend.