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Showing posts from June, 2007

Christian Humanism: A Self-Defeating Approach

1. The Pope's Call to Return to Christian Humanism

Catholic WorldNews, in an article entitled European universities play key role in reviving Christian humanism, reports that Pope Benedict XVI is calling on the universities to help revive Christian humanism in Europe -- a continent steeped in secular humanism.

Pope Benedict XVI met on Saturday, June 23, with a group of professors and administrators of European universities, and told them that they would play a critical role in helping European society through a "massive cultural shift."

Europe today, the Holy Father said, suffers from "a certain social instability and diffidence in the face of traditional values." He said that Europe, where Christian humanism developed, needs to recover from the effects of a newer trend in humanism that aspires to build a new culture separate from the old Christian foundation.

The great universities, the Pope said, were built on "the conviction that faith and reason are meant …

Free Will, Predestination, and Douglas Adam's Dish of the Day

Over at the Dangerous Idea, Victor Reppert has posted on the issue of predestination and free will. More specifically, he has addressed the supposed “solution” some Calvinists offer to the sensitive charge that they deny the concept of free will. The proposed solution is known as compatibilism. He makes an interesting point and has, as usual, spawned a vigorous discussion in his comments.

Compatibilism basically “solves” the free-will/determinism conflict by redefining free will. Free will is commonly understood to mean the ability to choose between alternatives. But if all decisions are predestined, humans obviously do not have free will. Compatiblism says that free will is compatible with predestination so long as it is defined to mean the absence of external coercion. It matters not, in this view, that the internal forces (the nature of the person at issue) compels a certain outcome. So long as no one holds a gun to the head of the chooser the act is free.

As an initial m…

The Newton Papers and the Drive Behind Scientific Investigation

Sir Issac Newton was one of the greatest scientists and quite possibly the smartest man to ever walk the planet. (I am not the only one to think such. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson said so in his lecture at the Beyond Belief Conference.) He was also seriously and devoutly Christian. This can be seen in the General Scolium of Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy where Newton commented:
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distance…

Ethics and the Third Person--a summary of the first two problems

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine, originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The current topic is ethical grounding, and an analysis of problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation. The previous entry, which introduced the topic of discovered non-rational ethics, can be found here.

This material is taken from the beginning of chapter 31, "the problem with the third explanation of ethics". (In this book I tend to decap my chapter titles. {g}) As usual, I begin my chapter by summarizing where the argument has gotten to; so, since it has been a few weeks since my previous entries, this will serve as a handy catch-up summary-restatement of the gist of the previous entries.

....... [excerpted material begins here]

In my previous chapter, I explained why my argument has now led me to consider questions of interpersonal relationshi…

Is Christianity Rebounding in Europe?

I have heard many times about the secularization of Europe. In our own blog, we have previously commented on the empty great cathedrals of Europe ("Europe's largest churches are often unused these days, reduced to monuments for tourists to admire"). Certainly, Europe has become greatly more secular and atheist than America. But, to at least one scholar, all is not lost for Christianity in Europe.

According to Philip Jenkins, a distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, the secularization of Europe is actually a blessing to the now smaller, leaner churches of Europe. In a story in Foreign Policy magazine entitled Europe’s Christian Comeback, Dr. Jenkins expresses the benefits being derived by the churches which, until recently, had been slowly sinking into a type of despair over loss of influence due to secularization:

Europe has long been a malarial s…

Literary invention or lived experience?

More than a few apologists have noted that there is a tension between debunking explanations which appeal to sheer invention to account for stories of religious experience (perhaps in the service of some societal or political ambition) and those which accept that certain people have had what they thought were 'real' religious experiences but which try to nevertheless account for them pathologically, most often today using neuroscience. It seems that in skeptical circles the balance between the two is tipping more towards the invention end of the spectrum, and it is not hard to fathom why: human experience is notoriously tricky to judge as 'genuine' or 'false'. Even if there is confidence in naturalistic explanations of religious experiences, having to accept even the possibility that they are nonetheless genuine would probably put more of a burden of proof on the skeptic than she would like to bear. It seems much easier to explain away the Resurrection encounte…

Exciting Interfaith Possibilities in the Episcopal Church

An Episcopalian priest claims to be a devout Muslim and Christian. She conducts services on Sunday and attends Muslim services on Friday, complete with headscarf. Any problem from her bishop about adopting a religion that denies the deity of Christ? Nope. Her bishop "finds the interfaith possibilities exciting."

When you read on in the article you find she denies the Trinity and Jesus' divinity. So she is not a Christian afterall, just a priest in the Episcopal Church.

I also like how the author of the article and the priest try and leave the impression that the Christian faith is a white person's faith by noting how white is the Episcopal Church. The Christian faith is actually much more diverse than the Muslim faith, in the United States and abroad.

Schaeffer's Misunderstood Statement

I am presently reading through Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?, subtitled "The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture". In this book, Schaeffer examines the way in which cultural worldviews have led to the rise and decline of various civilizations. The second chapter tackles the Middle Ages and the lessons about world views to be learned from that history. In addition to the book, Schaeffer has also produced a video series by the same name.

While I find the book very interesting, he has made a statement which I think may lead to some confusion about the views of St. Thomas Aquinas. Specifically, Schaeffer says:

Aquinas's contributions to Western thought is, of course, much richer than we can discuss here, but his view of man demands our attention. Aquinas held that man had revolted against God and thus had fallen, but Aquinas had an incomplete view of the Fall. He thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view …

Supreme Court Moves to the Right?

One of the law blogs I follow is SOTUSBlog. It is the blog for following the procedural developments and decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). So, whatever their ideological bent, the team at SCOTUSBlog certainly knows what is going on.

Which is why I found their latest post so interesting. According to them, the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the SCOTUS have resulted in a significant shift to the right: "In almost all of the meaningful cases decided thus far – measured by their effect going forward – the conservatives prevailed."

The pivotal vote in many cases, as expected, was cast by Justice Kennedy. Although in terms of raw numbers Kennedy has split pretty equally between the Right and Left, SCOTUSBlog believes that on the significant, precedent setting cases, he has gone Right. Moreover, the reading of dissenting opinions from the bench by some liberal Justices is taken as evidence of a high degree of frustration. SCOTUSB…

Poll: Atheists and Agnostics are Less Charitable and At Peace

Barna Research Group in Ventura, CA, has just published the results of a poll that showed several differences between atheists and agnostics, on the one hand, and Christians, on the other. A report on the poll can be found in an article published in Church Executive entitled Study sizes up gaps between Christians, atheists and agnostics. Here are some of the more interesting results.

Most atheists and agnostics (56 percent) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. Two-thirds of active-faith Americans (63 percent) perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Atheists and agnostics were found to be largely more disengaged in many areas of life than believers. They are less likely to be registered to vote (78 percent) than active-faith Americans (89 percent); to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20 percent vs. 30 percent); to describe themselves as "active in the commun…

A Flaw in Martin's Transcendental Argument Against the Existence of God

Recently, I visited 21st Century Christian Philosopher who has written an interesting piece rebutting part of Michael Martin's Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God entitled Contingent Necessity.

The portion of Martin's argument that 21st Century Christian Philosopher rebuts is Martin's argument against the existence of God based on Logic. Here is Martin's argument:

Some Christian philosophers have made the incredible argument that logic, science and morality presuppose the truth of the Christian world view because logic, science and morality depend on the truth of this world view [1]. Advocates call this argument the Transcendental Argument for Existence of God and I will call it TAG for short. In what follows I will not attempt to refute TAG directly. Rather I will show how one can argue exactly the opposite conclusion, namely, that logic, science and morality presuppose the falsehood of the Christian world view or at least the falsehood of the interpretatio…

The Religious Justification for the Code of Hammurabi

I recently heard a caller on a talk show challenge the hosts' contention that religion is an indispensable part of morality and law. In response to the hosts' reference to the Ten Commandments, she argued that the Code of Hammurabi preceded the Ten Commandments. Implicit in her point was--apparently--the notion that the Code of Hammurabi was an example of secular morality.

It is true that the Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest known sets of written laws. It does predate Moses. Dating from 1760 BC, the Code of Hammurabi was set forth by King Hammurabi, of Babylon. It lists 282 laws, including specified punishments for each, on 12 tablets. The code was carved into an eight-foot tall stone monument and kept on public display.

But is it an example of secular morality? Not hardly.

On the stone monument itself, near the top, was a carved portrayal of Hammurabi receiving authority to administer the law from Shamash. The prologue to the code makes this explicit in wri…

Christian religious experience in a pagan world

I've been reading Robin Lane Fox's "Pagans and Christians". It's reputation as a classic in the history of religion in late antiquity is well deserved, a brilliant, impeccably researched monograph. And he definitely blows out of the water some of the common skeptical cliches about Christian 'borrowing' from pagan religion. For example:


"The cult of saints and worship at the graves of the dead have been seen as a pagan legacy, as have the Christian shrines of healing and smaller details of Christian practice, dancing, feasting and the use of spells and divination...However, almost all of this continuity is spurious. Many of its details were set in Christian contexts which changed their meaning entirely. Other details merely belonged in contexts which nobody wished to make Christian. They were part of a 'neutral technology of life'..." (p.22)

Specific comments are more interesting. Just to give two examples, Lane Fox refers to Epicrates, who…

Christopher Hitchens’ Challenge (renamed)

In a recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Mark D. Roberts on the Hugh Hewitt show (which can be heard here for a limited time), Hitchens makes what he apparently thinks to be an unanswerable challenge to Mark D. Roberts. Here’s what he said:

Here’s my challenge * * * : You have to name a moral action taken or a moral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer. I have yet to find anyone who can answer me that.
Really? How about this one: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind". (Luke 10:27a) I have yet to meet a non-believer who has, in fact, loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, nor have I met an atheist that would take or utter that as an action that he would consider moral.

Next challenge?

Note: the name of this post has been changed (6/11) due to an error in identifying Christopher Hitchens' brother, P…

Ethics and the Third Person--an introduction to discovered non-rational ethics

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine, originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The current topic is ethical grounding, and an analysis of problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation. The previous entry, which introduced the topic of rationally invented ethics, can be found here.

I am still in chapter 30, “an introduction of the question of ethics”.

This entry features several footnote comments, which I will include as bracketed notes in the text below.


....... [excerpted text follows]

In the second class of explanation, ethical behaviors are proposed to be irrational responses on our part to non-rational stimuli from our environment.

We may assign mistaken explanations to these behaviors later; or we may properly explain them later as irrational behaviors (assuming this proposal is correct) and discover as many links of cause and effect …

Richard Baukham Interview in Christianity Today

Today's Christianity Today has an interview with Richard Baukham, author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, entitled They Really Saw Him. Set up in a Q&A format, the article has some interesting insights into his book.

What it the importance of "testimony" for interpreting the New Testament?

I think it helps us to understand what sort of history we have in the Gospels. Most history rests mostly on testimony. In other words, it entails believing what witnesses say. We can assess whether we think witnesses are trustworthy, and we may be able to check parts of what they say by other evidence. But in the end we have to trust them. We can't independently verify everything they say. If we could, we wouldn't need witnesses.

It's the same with witnesses in court. Testimony asks to be trusted, and it's not irrational to do so. We do so all the time. Now in the case of the Gospels, I think we have exactly the kind of testimony that historians in the ancient world val…

Another Possible Stem Cell Alternative

New research has revealed results that may be great news in the on-going struggle to protect the unborn from being destroyed in the name of science for the benefits of others. In an article published in Channel NewsAsia entitled Progress in cloned stem cells could defuse ethics storm: studies, scientists report using mouse skin cells to create cells that serve the same function for mice as embryonic stem cells would serve. According to the article:

Doctors on Thursday will report lab techniques that, they hope, will ease an ethical row clouding the eagerly-sought goal of cloned embryonic stem cells.

In one study, US scientists say they reprogrammed normal tissue cells in mice to mimic the properties of embryonic stem cells, an advance that could lead to breakthrough treatments for chronic and terminal diseases in humans.

"Our reprogrammed cells were virtually indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells," said Kathrin Plath, researcher at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology a…