Science or Theology: Must We Choose?

 

Have you ever gone one Amazon.com to look at a book, looked at the reviews and saw a lot of one-star reviews, which when you read them you know the reviewer did not read the book? I hate that. If you are going to post a “review,” it should reflect the book and your interaction with it. Having said that, it is with all due respect that I comment here on a book I have never read. Actually, it is not about the book, but about the approach the author took, which I have seen before, and I think it is problematic.

Michael Guillen has published a book called Amazing Truths. As I stated above, I have not read it, but I heard Dr. Guillen discuss the book with Eric Metaxas on the Eric Metaxas Radio Show. Guillen seeks to show how the Bible and science are compatible. I have no quarrel with the idea that there is no conflict between the Bible (rightly understood) and science (rightly understood.) My concern is how authors like Guillen will display really poor theology and even philosophy in their arguments. In Guillen’s case, he argues that the idea that absolute truth exists is a point of compatibility between science and the Bible. Well, it is true that both scientists and theologians affirm absolute truth, neither science nor the Bible tell us this. The Bible and science both presuppose objective truth. You can’t do either without it. Granted, this is a nit picky point. However, of a more serious nature is Guillen’s attempt to explain how God who is “far away” can hear prayers immediately by appealing to quantum entanglements. It is not necessary to understand what quantum entanglements are. The idea is about instant communication over great distances. If you understand some basic theology, you would not even go there. If God is omnipresent, which he is and he has been understood to be for, oh I don’t know, the last 3000 YEARS, then he is never “far away.” Moreover, if he knows the end from the beginning, which he does, he does not need to wait until you pray to know what you will ask for or how he will act in response. In fact, you can find a wonderful story that illustrates this on pages 17-18 of Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power.[3]

I don’t mean to take away from what Guillen is trying to do. He is trying to show Christians and non-Christians alike that choosing Christianity does not entail rejecting science. However, if he is going to write as an expert, he needs to be sure he covers all his bases. What he does here is similar to other scientists who are Christians. Hugh Ross has also made similar errors in trying to use his scientific background to explain God’s capacities. In Ross’ case, he appeals to multiple time dimensions to explain prayer. This is unnecessary for the same reasons stated above.[4]

Scientists who wish to employ their expertise in the service of Christian apologetics would do well to become better informed theologically. At least they should consult with a theologian they trust to get feedback.

/rant

 

 

 

 

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi. A Review

Author

Nabeel Qureshi is a former Muslim, now a Christian, and author of three books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus and the work under review. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, an MA in Religion from Duke University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament Studies at Oxford University. Qureshi is also an itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. His desire in writing this book is encourage people to think carefully about Islam, responding without naiveté or undue fear.

Synopsis

Answering Jihad is organized into three categories, in which Qureshi answers the 18 most common questions he is asked regarding Islam and Christianity. Part 1 gives an introduction and historic overview of the concept of jihad. Part 2 addresses the practice of jihad today, and Part 3 deals with the differences between Islam and Christianity with respect to violence. The end of the book contains some appendices that explain more about Islam in general, as well as the particular sect to which Qureshi’s family belongs.

Analysis

In Part 1, Qureshi offers a compelling argument for the idea that those who practice violent forms of Islam are far more consistent with the teachings of the authoritative, foundational documents and the actions of the founder of Islam. He shows from historical context, as well as the documents themselves, that jihad is properly understood as violent warfare.

In Part 2, Qureshi explores the resurgence of jihad in modern times. His explanation of how moderate Muslims receive their traditions, which is far different from the Protestant tradition of Sola Scriptura. For Muslims, their Imams carry far more authority than an equivalent leader in Christianity. Therefore, if the Imams are teaching Islam as peaceful, then Islam is peaceful. This is especially helpful in light of claims made by some that all peaceful Muslims are merely employing Taqiya, or deception. However, with the advent of the Internet, Muslims have unprecedented access to their foundational documents, the Quran and the Hadiths, which teach a more aggressive Islam. Qureshi notes that exposure to these documents leads to a crisis of faith for these Muslims. They must choose apostasy, violence, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

In Part 3, Qureshi responds to questions and challenges about the seeming similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Here he does a good job of differentiating jihad from Old Testament warfare. I thought, however, he could have done a little more research into Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek.” Qureshi claims this is an injunction against even self-defense. However, as J. Warner Wallace points out, “When Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek,” He was referring to personal retaliation rather than to responses related to criminal offenses or actions related to military force.” Wallace’s comment was in response to the idea that “turn the other cheek” was a command to be pacifist, but I think it can be applied to self-defense, though not retaliation. One other issue I would take would be with Qureshi’s response to the Crusades and the reports of the taking of Jerusalem. As Rodney Stark points out, “the commonly applied ‘rule of war’ concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.” (God’s Battalions, 168.) This is not to argue that Christians are to behave this way, but to expect Christians sent to war in medieval times and expecting them to conduct themselves by modern standards is unrealistic. That simply was how wars were fought. It was not a uniquely “Christian” practice.

Qureshi concludes by reminding us that we need to realistic in our view of Islam, while charitable toward Muslims. If we wait until our Muslim neighbors reach that “three-pronged fork in the road” to reach out to them, it may be too late. This point cannot be overemphasized. As Christians, we need to see Muslims as people for whom Christ died.

Recommendation

Despite my nit picking, I highly recommend this book. It is accessible for anyone from late middle school and meaty enough for a graduate student. It is a must read for anyone hoping to have a meaningful interaction with their Muslim neighbors.

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences By Douglas Groothuis: A Review

The author

Douglas Groothuis is professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. He earned his PhD at the University of Oregon and he specializes in Philosophy of Religion, the History of Philosophy and other areas. Dr. Groothuis is the author or editor of 13 books including

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, and In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment in addition to the title under review here. Groothuis is passionate about careful thinking as an element of worship.

 

Thesis

In Philosophy In Seven Sentences, Groothuis seeks to make philosophy a little less intimidating and esoteric to the uninitiated, while demonstrating the need to think well in order to live a good life. He does this by introducing the work of seven philosophers with quotes that embody their work. Each chapter fleshes out the ideas behind the sentences, as well as some background information on the philosophers to whom they are attributed.

 

Synopsis

In chapter 1, Protagoras’ claim “Man is the measure of all things: of the things which are, that they are, and of things which are not that are not” is examined. Groothuis notes how this idea has some merit, but pressed to its logical conclusion, it leads to the inability to know anything.

In chapter 2, we hear from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Groothuis notes that this is a hyperbolic statement, urging the hearers to seek truth by which to live, which requires comparing one’s life to that truth.

In chapter 3, Aristotle tells us, “All men by nature desire to know.” In service of this belief, Aristotle formulated the laws of logic, especially the Law of Noncontradiction. Groothuis points out that knowledge is impossible if we cannot escape contradiction.

In chapter 4, Augustine’s quote, “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you” is examined. Augustine came to this realization, which he wrote in Confessions, as he reflected on his life and the process through which he became a Christian. He argues that humans feel a real guilt, stemming from an awareness of objective morality, and since the only remedy for this guilt is in God’s provision, rest can only be found in him.

In chapter 5, Groothuis analyzed Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes was searching for something he could know with certainty, and he found one such item in the realization that thinking requires a thinker. Descartes also devised an argument for God from the fact that the idea of God is innate and therefore implanted by God. Groothuis also notes Descartes’ contribution to the mind-body problem.

In chapter 6, Pascal’s quote “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” is unpacked. Like many references to “the heart” in older (and even ancient) literature, this one is often misunderstood. Rather than pitting emotion against intellect, Pascal was pointing to basic beliefs, and first principles on which all other beliefs depend.

In chapter 7, Kierkegaard warns us, “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.” Groothuis points out that for Kierkegaard, an adequate self-awareness leads to despair, and one must come to terms with that despair such that they throw themselves on God’s mercy.

 

Analysis

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences serves as an excellent primer on philosophical thought. In fact, it ought to be required reading before any undergraduate takes and introduction to Philosophy course. Far too many take these courses and hear and read the opinions of philosophers when the students lack the tools of philosophy. This books shows how even the most brilliant philosophers’ opinions require careful consideration. This book is accessible to anyone with at least a high school education. Reading it made me wish I had the time and resources to pursue a degree in Philosophy.

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 4:The Loving, Triune God

 

 

I know your thinking, “So you think you can suck me into reading a treatise on the Trinity by mentioning “love?”

The ideas are related. Stick with me now.

 

You may remember, if you’re keeping score at home, that in part 1 of this series, I explained that God is self-existent. That means, among other things, that he is completely independent of anything else for his existence. If that is the case, it also means that every essential attribute God has is independent of anything else. What I mean by an “essential attribute” is any property or quality that a thing has such that if it did not have that property, it would be something else.

“Wait, what?”

Bear with me. An example would be water ice. Ice has the property of being solid at temperatures below 320F at sea level, and being made of water. If it were made of lead instead of water, it would not be water/ice. If it was 500F, it would be liquid, not ice. You get the idea.

“Still waiting for the ‘love’ part.”

I’m getting there. For God, we said that self-existence, immutability (he does not change) omnipotence,(all powerful) and omnipresence (everywhere present at the same time) are all essential attributes of God. Love is also one of his essential properties. If love exists, if it is a real thing, then it must have a source. If God is the ultimate source of all things, he must also be the ultimate source of love. If he is not, he is dependent on a source outside of himself.

“Great! Now lets move on. We don’t need to confuse this issue with this ‘Trinity’ stuff.”

Not so fast. For love to exist, you need two things: a lover, and a beloved. Love is a subject-object relationship. If God is love, as John tells us (1 John 4:8) then he must have an object of his love. If the only objects of his love are his creations, then he is dependent on his creation for an essential attribute. Do you see the problem? If God is not at least two persons, whom does he love when there is no creation?

“But, the word ‘Trinity’ isn’t in the Bible.”

True, but neither is the word “Bible,” so that doesn’t tell us anything. This is where the work of theologians comes in handy. (No, really!) Some doctrines come from straightforward readings of Bible passages, like the doctrine of creation from nothing (Genesis 1:1,) or the resurrection. Some, however, come from taking all of what the Bible says and putting it together like a big puzzle. This is called “systematic theology.” The Trinity is such a doctrine.

The doctrine of the Trinity says that there is only one God, one divine being, which exists as three Persons. We call these Persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that there is only one God,[1] and that the Father is God,[2] the Son is God,[3] and the Holy Spirit is God.[4]

“Okay, but maybe sometimes God is the Father, sometimes he’s the Son and sometimes he’s the Holy Spirit.”

That’s Modalism, Patrick! (Don’t worry about what Modalism means, or who Patrick is. Just watch the video linked below.)

We know they are not all the same person switching “hats” because Jesus referred to the Father and the Holy Spirit as distinct from himself. Jesus was constantly talking about the Father, and he taught his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit. If we can’t take his word on that, what can we trust him on?

“But if the Father is God, and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, why do you say there is only one God? Are you really saying there are three Gods and one God?”

No. Next question? Okay, I’ll unpack that a little more.

Despite certain individual’s use of this distinction to try to dodge getting caught in a lie, there really are different meanings to the word “is.” If I say, “Dan Wynne is the husband of Carole Wynne,” I am saying Dan Wynne and the husband of Carole Wynne are one and the same. They are identical. That is why this is called the “is of identity.” A is B if A is identical to B. There are a few other ways “is” is used, but for our purposes, I will just explain one more. If I say “Dan Wynne is human,” you see that I am not saying that Dan Wynne is identical to “human.” If that were the case, it would also mean that “human” was identical to Dan Wynne, and you can see that is not the case because if you are reading this and you are not Dan Wynne, you are still human. Clear as mud? This use of “is” is called essential predication, or simply, predication. It answers the question, “What kind of thing is that?” When we say the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit is God, we are answering the question, “What kind of thing is the Father?” He is God. If it helps, think of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as divine. The simplest way, though imperfect, could be to think of God as one “what,” and three “who’s.”

Some have tried to come up with analogies to explain the Trinity. They are all flawed; no one explains that better than my friends at the Lutheran Satire YouTube channel. For an informative and funny video on the subject, click here.

“Okay, but they tell me Jesus is God. Does that make four persons?”

No. In my next post, I will explain how the Son is Jesus.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45, 1 Timothy 2:5

[2] Matthew 5 and following (basically the Sermon on the Mount)

[3] John 8:58, Titus 2:13

[4] Acts 5:3-4

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 1: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

“I believe in God…”

At the most essential, basic level, a Christian is a theist. That is, we believe in the reality that God exists. Who or what is God? As Christians, we hold that God has revealed himself through special and general revelation. That is, we can know some things about him through nature and our conscience, and he has given us a written revelation, the Bible. We speak of God as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, etc.

“Omni-what? Omeprezol? Omnomnom… what are you talking about?” Ok, there’s that jargon again. Omnipotent means all-powerful. Omniscient means all-knowing, and omnipresent means God is everywhere at the same time.

It is hard to know where to start. I will start at the beginning and work from there.

Science and philosophy tell us that the universe had a beginning. Our universal experience tells us that everything that begins has a cause, so if the universe, that is all of matter and energy (material), space and time began to exist, it had a cause. This means the cause had to be immaterial, nonspatial, and timeless. Additionally, since whatever caused the universe to exist chose to do so, and choice is something only agents do, the cause must have been personal. (By personal, I simply mean having a will.)

“’Agents?’ Who, the feds? What are you talking about?” In this sense, an agent is a being that is able to choose.

Obviously creating the entire material world requires a powerful cause, and the design shows the cause to be intelligent. To summarize, philosophy and science can point to the existence of a powerful, intelligent, immaterial, nonspatial, timeless personal being. We call him God.

As Christians, we hold the Bible to be divine revelation. That is, God revealed himself though the words of the Bible. What we see from philosophy and science is consistent with what he reveals through his word, which is what we should expect since he is the author of all knowledge. However, in the Bible we are given more information.

“…creator of heaven and earth.”

Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We see here that God is called creator in his word. Historically, this is understood as he created out of nothing. Theologians (those who study theology at an academic level) call this creatio ex nihilo. (The Latin is a freebie. It makes everything sound fancier.) In other words, he did not create the universe out of pre-existing material, but he created the very material.

The point of beginning with creation is that God is distinct from his creation, not a part of it or “one with” it. Some would ask, “Who made God?” If, however, they mean the God of the Bible, the question is nonsensical since we understand God to be uncreated. Another way of saying this is that he is self-existent. It means that there was a timeless state of affairs such that all that existed was God. It would also mean God is changeless. This state had no beginning and while it was the case, there was no time. Wait, what? Okay, rabbit trail time. Let me say something about time to make sense of this.

If we understand an event to be a change in the state of affairs, we can understand time to be the relation of before and after between events, as well as the duration of and interval between them. So when the state of affairs is such that all that exists is an unchanging God, such a state is timeless since there are no events. As such, the creation of the universe would be the first event, so that time is created along with matter and space. All this is to say that before he created the universe[1] God existed eternally, which means without beginning. In this state he is timeless.

We see above that the creation entails an immaterial, nonspatial being. We are told as much in Scripture. One example is Jesus’ words to the woman at the well in John 4, “ God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:24) Spirit is understood to be immaterial and nonspatial. Moreover, Genesis 1:1, as well as John 1, which attribute the creation of all things to God, imply that God himself is not created. The only way something can exist without beginning is if it is self-existent. As Isaiah has said, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.”

In this post, we have discussed God’s self-existent, unchanging, non-material, and nonspatial attributes. In my next installment, I will talk about God as almighty, or “omnipotent.”

 

[1] I know that is technically problematic, but for the sake of accessibility I will leave it be

The Crusades: Just War or Just War? Part 2

Happy New Year!

In my last post, I began to lay out the historical background for and description of the Crusades. This is a continuation of the same.

Although there has been a popular misconception of how tolerant Muslims are of people of other faiths living within conquered territories. As Stark describes it:

In principle, as “People of the Book,” Jews and Christians were supposed to be tolerated and permitted to follow their faiths. But only under quite repressive conditions: death was (and remains) the fate of anyone who converted to either faith. Nor could any new churches or synagogues be built. Jews and Christians also were prohibited from praying or reading their scriptures aloud—not even in their homes or in churches or synagogues—lest Muslims accidentally hear them.[1]

 

This is in addition to they way Jews and Christians were treated as second-class citizens. Nevertheless, these conditions were tolerable compared to what came with Seljuk Turk conquest.

While the cries of “God wills it!” may have been a response to the reports of what was happening in Palestine, the call for the First Crusade were not. Pope Gregory VII planned to call for the crusade in order to assist the Byzantine Emperor with the defense of Constantinople and the recovery of Byzantine territory from the Seljuk Turks. Byzantines had good reason to fear conquest by the Turks. In 1064 the Turks laid siege to the Armenian capital, Ani. Hoping to spare the inhabitants, the city surrendered. Stark relates the account of “an Arab historian Sibt ibn al-Gawzi (d. 1256), who claimed to be quoting an eyewitness: ‘The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it…The dead bodies were so many that they blocked all the streets.’”[2] Likely aware of these events, those who heard of the Turks treatment of holy sites and pilgrims in Palestine would have been credible. Rather than a “mandate to destroy the infidel in the Holy Land,” the First Crusade was a call to repel a vicious invader from the Byzantine Empire, and to liberate Jerusalem from an oppressive conqueror.

Haught’s article continues,

Gathering crusaders in Germany first fell upon “the infidel among us,” Jews in the Rhine valley, thousands of whom were dragged from their homes or hiding places and hacked to death or burned alive. Then the religious legions plundered their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem, where they killed virtually every inhabitant, “purifying” the symbolic city. Cleric Raymond of Aguilers wrote: “In the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses’ bridles, by the just and marvelous judgment of God.[3]

 

Madden relates the Rhine Valley incidents:

The most infamous of the anti-Jewish crusade leaders was Count Emicho of Leiningen. On a rather pronounced detour, he and his followers marched down the Rhine plundering and massacring Jews in the cities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. Some local bishops did their best to protect the Jews, but many were killed all the same. In Mainz, Emicho’s men stormed the palace of the bishop, where the Jews had taken refuge.[4]

 

On these accounts, it would seem that the crusader armies went on an anti-Semitic rampage on the way to Palestine, which met with token resistance from local bishops. What really happened, however, is that three small groups of Germanic knights began to attack Jews. Principal among these was Emicho of Leiningen. In each of the cities mentioned in Madden’s account, the local bishop tried to shelter the Jews with mixed results. Volkmar and Gottshalk committed similar attacks. All three groups were destroyed when they tried to repeat this pattern in Hungary.[5]

As for the “religious legions plunder(ing) their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem,” they must have been incredibly inept at plundering. As Stark tells us, “Large numbers of the poor noncombatants with the crusaders actually starved to death.”[6] (This incident was in the context of the siege of Antioch.)

Haught’s complaint that the crusaders “killed virtually every inhabitant, ‘purifying’ the symbolic city” needs to be examined in its historic context. As Stark explains

…the commonly applied “rule of war” concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing the attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.[7]

Stark also argues that “no sensible person will believe Raymond of Aguilers’s report that “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” In fairness, however, it does seem odd for a churchman to exult in bloodshed like this. In a similar, Haught claims, “As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux declared in launching the Second Crusade: ‘The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified.’”[8] This case is a mixture of fact and fiction. Bernard did not say this in relation to the Second Crusade, but he did say it. Such a statement is incompatible with Christianity. Ezekiel 33:11 says “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

In spite of the documented rationale for the Crusades, which was one of defense of territory and the protection of pilgrims, there is still a popular notion that it was a war of one religion against another. I have argued above that this was the case for the Muslim, but it is not clear this was the case for Christianity. This is not to say there were no Christians who joined the crusades in order to fight Islam. There may have been an anti-Muslim attitude among a majority of crusaders. The goal of the crusades, however, was not the defeat of Islam, but the liberation of Christian territories. Nevertheless, Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells argue:

The crusade was, at least at its inception, the war of Christendom against the Muslims. With the Crusades, the Christian attitude toward the Muslims began to differ from Christian attitudes toward other known peoples. What distinguished the Christian attitude toward the Muslims was its fundamentally antagonistic nature.[9]

It is ironic to note that no mention is made here of the jihad that had been waged by various Muslim groups since Mohammed, particularly the invasions which the crusades were called to repel. That being said, it is popular in today’s culture to read any critique of a system, such as Islam, as an “attack” on the adherents. (Unless of course the system is Christianity, in which case it is fair game.) In his treatise On War Against the Turk, Luther is quite clear in his comments that it is Islam that the Christian ought to oppose in his disposition, and the invading Turk that must be opposed militarily.

[1] Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: the Case for the Crusades, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 39.

 

[2] Ibid., 104

[3] Haught.

 

[4] Madden, 18.

 

[5] Stark, 138

[6] Stark, 159-160.

 

[7] Ibid., 168

 

[8] Haught.

[9] Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells, The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 206.

The Crusades: Just War or Just War? Part 1

Since Islam has been in the news lately and comparisons made between ISIS and the Crusades, I thought it might be helpful to offer some historical background here. In this post and the next one, I will present a paper I wrote in graduate school.

Background

The crusades were a series of campaigns launched against enemies of Christendom between 1095 and 1291.[1] They have been used as rationale for everything from skepticism and rejection of the gospel to the September 11 attacks. Accounts of the crusades from the period and since tend to either vilify or glorify them, with little in between. Critics often cite the crusades as evidence of the evil of Christianity. Crusades are seen as wars of colonialism against a peaceful Islamic civilization minding its own business until those mean, nasty Christians came to steal, kill and destroy. But is this an accurate picture? How did Muslims come to occupy Palestine, North Africa, Spain, and Anatolia? Did they come on bicycles wearing white shirts and ties, two at a time, bringing their message and winning converts? Did they win over the people through a series of camp meetings that led the masses to repent and accept Allah as their God and Mohammed as His prophet?

Like every war fought in history, the crusades had heroes, villains, beneficiaries and victims. In this paper, I will seek to set the record straight where the crusades are used to discredit Christianity. This is not, however, a defense of Christendom.

The structure of this paper will be to take criticisms offered and respond to them, whether by refutation, or concession where the criticisms are valid.

The Crusades

James Haught, in an article first published in Penthouse magazine, wrote, “The First Crusade was launched in 1095 with the battle cry “Deus Vult” (God wills it), a mandate to destroy infidels in the Holy Land.” [2] One would think from this statement that whoever called for the crusades just arbitrarily decided to tell Christians that they should go and “destroy infidels in the Holy Land,” who are simply minding their own business, because “God wills it.” Reality, as is often the case, is more complicated.

For Muslims, war was part and parcel with Islam, claims by George W. Bush that Islam is a “religion of peace” notwithstanding. Madden explains:

Traditional Islamic thought divided the world into two spheres, the Dar al-Islam (“Abode of Islam”) and the Dar al-Harb (“Abode of War”). The Dar al-Islam consisted of all of those lands directly ruled by Muslims and subject to Islamic law. Dar al-Harb, which included the Christian world, was the place in which Muslims were enjoined to wage jihad against unbelievers, capturing their lands and subjecting their peoples.[3]

Consequently, Muslims did not come to control the Holy Land, or Egypt, or Syria, or Persia through immigration, or friendship evangelism. They had conquered these lands by military force. This does not necessarily justify the first crusade, but the historic context needs to be considered as we evaluate it. Even at this point no call went out to expel the Muslim. Muslim treatment of Christians in the conquered territories did not seem to warrant such a response. It should also be noted that the cries of “God wills it!” came from those who answered the call, not those who issued it. It was a response to the reports of what was happening to the churches and pilgrims in the Holy Land.

In my next post, I will explain what changed and how it led to the first Crusade.

[1] Thomas F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades, Updated ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), xvii.

[2] James Haught, “Holy Horrors,” The Secular Web, entry posted 1997, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/james_haught/holy.html (accessed December 6, 2012).

 

[3] Madden, 3.

Bait and Switch

In my last post, I discussed a skeptics forum in which there was a dialogue between two scholars from Reasons to Believe, and one from the New England Skeptical Society. The skeptic, Dr. Steven Novella, made an interesting remark. He opened his comments with a joke about someone breaking into his house in the middle of the night and stealing all the furniture, and replacing it with exact replicas. He then claimed that those who hold to some sort of creationism do the same thing by taking the world that just happens to look like it developed by purely natural means and posit a God to explain the gaps in our knowledge.

This seems to be the kind of charge that works for whoever makes it first. It is similar to a corrupt politician accusing others of corruption before he gets caught so it looks like his critics are just saying, “Not me, you!” Do not misunderstand. I am not calling Dr. Novella corrupt. In fact, I think Novella really believes what he says. My point is that theists hold to God’s existence and role in the creation and sustaining of the universe for a variety of reasons. While it may be that there are some who hold to a “god-of-the-gaps,” the arguments presented at the forum were not arguments from ignorance. In fact, from a theistic worldview, and this is relevant because  the scientific revolution was started by theists, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Part of our worldview is that the universe exists and operates as it does because of God’s creation and providence. Two important ideas stem from this. Theism is not a “science stopper,” and it is just as likely that the materialist is the one “stealing the furniture and replacing it with exact replicas.”

Science stopper?

Materialists claim that appealing to a creator puts an end to inquiry, and therefore is a “science stopper.” This claim is patently false. It was theists, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, etc who launched the scientific revolution because they believed that God had created the world, and since God was a rational being, his creation should be rationally ordered and could be studied; therefore such study was an act of devotion. It was not enough for them that God had created the world. They wanted to know how he did it, and how it works. They believed, as materialists do, that the world is governed by regular and predictable laws. The difference is that for the materialists, these laws are mere brute fact. Both the theist and the materialist are interested in seeing how much creative power is in these laws. The important distinction is that for the materialist, supernatural intervention is not possible even in principle. The theist allows for such a possibility. This does not mean, however, that the theist is willing to punt to miracles to fill gaps in knowledge. Arguments for design are made from what is known about designers and their activity. Arguments for the origin of information are based on all of our knowledge about information.

Where’s the furniture?

Scientists, regardless of worldview, operate on a principle of “methodological naturalism.” (MN) On this method, investigations of causes assume a natural cause. This is really not controversial. Where the furniture is switched is when scientists conflate MN with philosophical, or metaphysical, naturalism. MN assumes a natural cause but is blind to supernatural events. philosophical naturalism holds that the material universe is all that exists. It is rare that this bait-and-switch is intentional because very few scientists seem to be well educated when it comes to philosophy. (Not to mention some politicians, but that is another story.) Consequently, many of them are ignorant of philosophical arguments for God from the origin of the universe, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. (KCA) Basing our assumptions on the KCA and other arguments, it is not hard to think that a God that created the universe could engage in other acts of intervention. However, materialists will just assume the universe to be a brute reality, and when pressed on its origin, they will appeal to some future discovery that will explain it. In other words, they engage in materialism-of-the-gaps.

It seems to me, materialism tends to be a metaphysics-stopper. Whose furniture is it anyway?

Reflections on the Skeptics Forum

Tonight, I attended a panel discussion between neurologist Steven Novella and RTB‘s Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana. Ross gave a presentation defending Biblical theism from the origin and design of the universe, galaxy and solar system, and Rana did so from the origin of life. Novella then offered a rebuttal. After some dialogue among the panelists the floor was opened for a brief Q&A.

The Good

Ross is second to none when it comes to explaining all of the parameters that must be fine tuned in order for life to be possible anywhere in the universe, and how these parameters point to a creator who seemed to want organisms a lot like humans to live on earth. Likewise, Rana presented a strong case for a sudden origin of life which is inconsistent with typical naturalistic models. Novella’s critique of Ross and Rana’s Biblical concordism was also informative. (More on that below.) Concordism in this context means the idea that there is a strong (in the case of strong concordism) correlation between scientific discoveries and Bible passages.

The Bad

There is a well respected principle of Bible hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) that says “A passage can never mean what it never meant.” Isaiah 45:12 says, “It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. “Ross claims that this and other verses that say similar things, is a reference to the expansion of the universe. There is no good reason to think the Israelites to whom Isaiah was writing 2700 years ago would have understood him to be speaking of the expansion of the universe. This strongly suggests Ross is mistaken. Moreover, Rana, who in my opinion destroys naturalistic origin of life hypotheses in his written work, tried to tie Genesis 1:2 to the origin of life. Now THAT was stretching on a cosmic scale. (Sorry, guys. I couldn’t resist.) For his part, Novella trotted out the “god-of-the-gaps” charge against Ross and Rana, while appealing to naturalism-of-the-gaps to explain the lack of scientific answers to the question of the origin of the universe and of life. He claimed that all scientific adjustments to models accommodated new evidence while anything tied to a theistic model adjust to avoid evidence.

He also claimed Ross and Rana, and those who think like them, are guilty of what he called “retroactive continuity.” This is similar to the “humans are pattern recognizing organisms” claim. He accuses creationists (in the broad sense) of taking what we know now and applying Bible texts to it retroactively to harmonize them, as if Darwinism does nothing similar. In conversation afterward, Novella denied Darwinism is vulnerable to the same charge because it made successful predictions. He claimed Darwinism predicted DNA because it posited heredity. This is another cosmic stretch, since even the simplest organism has an incredibly complex genome, not to mention Darwinism’s inability to account for the origin of information. (For the purposes of this article, I am using Darwinism and neo-Darwinism interchangeably since the difference is not relevant to the point.)

The Christian worldview holds that God created the universe out of nothing. Genesis 1:1 is consistent with this, even if some would argue it is not stated there, and Hebrews 11:3. However, the Christian worldview does not stand or fall on a particular interpretation of Genesis or other passages with respect to science, since it is not a science text. For example, C. John Collins notes the style and structure of Genesis 1 is distinct from straightforward historical narrative. He calls the style, “exalted prose.”[1] This is part of an argument he makes for an interpretation of Genesis 1 that shows it was not intended to teach how or when God created the universe. This is just one of several interpretations of Genesis, and related texts, that make better sense of the texts.

Ross and Rana do great work on scientific evidence that is consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent in the design and creation of the universe and life. I wish they would apply more care to hermeneutics.

For his part, I am sure Dr. Novella is a fine neurologist. However, this is only possible because he is made in the image of God. His own worldview cannot account for how he could have a reliable understanding of his discipline.

[1] C. John Collins. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, And Theological Commentary (Kindle Location 530). Kindle Edition

Is There a Pattern Here?

Is there intelligence out there?

Today I was listening to Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast and during the conversation between Jonathan McLatchie and Corey Markum, Markum raised the claim that humans were “pattern-recognizing creatures,” and offered an evolutionary account of this idea. While the claim makes for a nice just-so story that fits into the evolutionary paradigm, as several others, such as Tim Stratton, have pointed out, such a scenario does not show how rationality could develop. Moreover, there is no reason to argue an equally plausible just-so story that humans are “religious-truth-denying” creatures. After all, just as the fact that humans have the rational capacity to recognize patterns, and to infer explanations from them does not tell us whether those patterns are really what we think they are, likewise, the impulse to reject religious claims does not tell us they are false.

Sorry, you have reached your bag limit for Red Herring

Frankly, in the context of a debate on the design inference, raising the “pattern-recognizing creature” line is meaningless at best, and question-begging at worst. When ID proponents point to evidence in nature of design, and the Darwinist plays the “pattern recognition” card to explain it away, why does this not also apply to the neo-Darwinian hypothesis? For whatever reason, humans have the capacity to recognize patterns and draw inferences from them. The only difference between ID and the Darwinist is the philosophical presuppositions.

Method to their madness

Scientists operate on a principle known as methodological naturalism (MN). On MN, the scientist operates on the assumption that some feature of the natural world under investigation will have a natural cause. This is all well and good, until it becomes a science-stopper. After all, several scientific disciplines diverge from this approach by necessity. Fornesics, archaeology, and SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)  are three such disciplines. Markum’s claim to the contrary, these disciplines do not presuppose intelligent agency as a cause, but intelligent agency is a live option. They investigate sets of evidence to see if they have a natural or intelligent cause. However, since MN is often conflated with metaphysical naturalism, intelligent causes are not considered a possibility. On Metaphysical Naturalism, the natural world is all that exists. This a philosophical approach to science, not a scientific approach to the data.

Designer Genes?

The bottom line is that those who support Intelligent Design theory simply note that the natural world contains evidence of the activity of an intelligent agent. While the evidence they present can be used to support the Design Argument for the existence of God, ID and the Design Argument are not the same thing. Those who are skeptical of ID should deal with it on its merits instead of trying to confuse the issue by accusing ID proponents of trying to sneak religion into science.