Fifty Shades of…Blah

blah_blahThis is my post on ‪#‎50shadesofgrey‬: Blah. Blah. Blah.

So goes the culture in which we live. Full of the blah, blah, blah drone of a zombie culture looking for the next thing that will make it feel human once more, but gravely missing the mark yet again. Sleepers, awake! You were not created to be the walking dead, reduced to searching endlessly to satiate your immediate desires. You are made in the image of the glorious Creator! Bring sexuality back from the dead. It is a life-giving part of being human, not a zombified float on the surface of the earth. Where is our desire for the depths? Where is our dignity and resolve? Have we forgotten what it means to be human? Yes….and so blah, blah, blah goes even our artistic endeavors: revelry in the mundane, death where there should be life. And yet, there is hope.

A Pointless Article

“When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

So wrote Winston Churchill, explaining the elaborate courtesy with which, on behalf of the British Government, he declared war on Japan in 1941.

Intellectual combat, like actual warfare, benefits from politeness. And in this respect, C.S. Lewis provides us with a notable example.

In his ripe, late work, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), Lewis guns down one of his Cambridge colleagues. But you will not learn the name of Lewis’s target from the pages of his book; he never mentions it. Why make your opponent’s fate worse by brandishing his identity before the public? Play the ball, not the man.

In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis sets out to discover what makes a book good. (We may usefully apply his findings to films and plays as well as books.) He concludes that what makes a book good is whether it “permits, invites, or even compels good reading”.

Very well. And what is good reading? Good reading is reading which does not use the book, but receives it.

Using a book (or a film, or a play) means interpreting it so that it serves some pre-existing agenda of your own, turning it to account, making it do things for you. Receiving a book is something quite different. Receiving means surrendering to it, allowing it to work whatever degree of authority it can attain, and paying respect to it on at least two levels, not just as ‘something said’ – that is, something with a social or political or religious message, – but also as ‘something made’ – that is, a work of art, a work of beauty, with its own internal logic or design or pattern. Continue reading

The Spooky Interior Life of Religious Hypocrites

photo(43)The American holiday of Halloween has become one that, at times, is hotly contested in Christendom; especially among evangelicals. Pastors may preach 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “Stay away from every kind of evil,” or even reference 1 Corinthians 10:21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons,” in reference to not participating in Halloween activities like ‘Trick or Treating.’ Without getting into the exegetical understanding of these passages—though I cannot deny my heart has greatly desired this (Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings)—I want to point out a reminder on this Halloween: evil applies to much more than the explicit imagery associated with Halloween. Continue reading

Paganism Rising

America is known for being a melting pot. We have people from all over the world, from every culture, nation and religious system. We are a haven for the persecuted and a delight for the imaginative, who need only an opportunity in order to do great things. We are a land of opportunity because we believe “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Yet as of late we’ve watched as many of these rights appear to be slipping away. We’ve watched our country go from a respected world influencer to one of extreme debt that is mocked by foreign nations. What has changed? What has caused this cultural shift? While to be sure there are a multitude of influencers, I believe one of the key reason is because we have lost our foundation.

I am an avid lover of archaeology, because it is a snapshot of the past. In the world of archaeology the culture is static and frozen. The people have long since passed. The places and cultural ideas are no longer shifting and changing. They are the perfect subjects of study because they stay put and do not talk back. Yet as I’ve delved deeper into archaeological study I’ve found that it is also of great insight into modern culture. Because the subject of study is static and frozen, one can view the whole picture from beginning to end, as one views a painting or the story line of a book. The plot has already unfolded and one can see how the changes affected the culture at large, and ultimately the end of a particular way of life. In this way archaeology is instrumental in apologetics, because we are able to see the end results of a particular worldview as it has already played out in another culture. Continue reading

MA in Cultural Apologetics Student Blog Shout-Out

In the M.A. in Cultural Apologetics program, we practice what we teach. Our faculty are active in speaking, writing, and ministry in a variety of fields, and we encourage our students likewise to use what they’re learning in class in their daily lives, conversations, teaching, and ministry.

One of the ways that our MAA students practice cultural apologetics is through blogging. Many of our students are already active bloggers; furthermore, several professors assign blog posts as writing assignments, so that our students are exposed to this way of engaging in apologetics ministry in a social-media world.

Here I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to some of our students who write blogs – it’s exciting to see the range of topics, from directly apologetics-related to cultural engagement and lots in between:

Leigh McLeroy is an accomplished writer and speaker, whose blog Wednesday Words is “an unapologetic attempt to use the events of daily life to show the beauty and truth of the gospel. In 500 words or so (short enough to be read over a cup of morning coffee!) Wednesday words prods, inspires, teaches and encourages.”

Jon Crutchfield’s blog includes a piece that came from an essay he wrote for Film, the Visual Arts, and Apologetics: “It’s a Meaningless Life: Sentimental Nihilism at the Movies.”

Elizabeth Kendrex is the writer of Leaf’s Reviews: Young Adult Book Reviews: “As a person who wants to be a YA author, I decided that reading and writing about YA books would be good practice for me, which is why I started this blog. I also want this blog to serve as a reference for those looking for books themselves, so I make sure that I include things such as Genre, Warnings, Recommended Age, and my own Rating of the books in my reviews.”

Brooke Boriack says on her blog that “The ability to think well will result in a better ability to live well. Little confidence should be placed in my own abilities, but I trust in Jesus Christ to guide my intellectual development and feed my passion for seeking out the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.” Check out this post on “Punks and Monks: Thoughts on Youth Pastors and 9th Century Monasticism”, which came from a paper she wrote for Medieval Culture and Philosophy!

Karise Gililland writes about the community of practice writing in the classroom at Book of Common Grace.

Nick Watts writes at Soul Food: Serious – and Not So Serious – Nutrition for Your Soul, where he engages with personal, spiritual, and cultural issues.

Zak Schmoll writes A Chapter Per Day, journeying through the Bible, one chapter per day. He also has a section of book reviews, including a review of Apologetics for the 21st Century, one of the required texts for his Apologetics Research and Writing class.

And there are more! We are very proud of our students!

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Interested in joining our merry band of cultural apologists and apologists-in-training? The MAA accepts students in both the Fall and Spring semester (deadlines August 1st and December 1st, respectively).

We have a fully online degree as well as a Houston residential degree, both with the same small classes (15 students), great faculty, and challenging curriculum. Check it out!

 

The Divine Mathematician and His Image-Bearers

In his celebrated book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Dr. Steven Weinberg said that mankind is a “farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes” after the Big Bang. According to Weinberg and many other atheist thinkers past and present, the cosmos is not purposeful and we, its observers, amount to nothing more than self-aware cosmic dust bunnies.

Dr. Weinberg is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, a brilliant scholar who has spent decades investigating the intricacies of the material universe. I find it astonishing that individuals with such extensive, intimate knowledge of the mathematics of nature could so confidently dismiss the implications of the fact that we are conscious, intelligent beings capable of ascertaining these complex truths in the first place.

Consider this. Humans developed some fundamentals of mathematics before they were ever applied to nature. We first had to have the rudimentary tools for composing mathematical descriptions. As science has become fully integrated with number, knowledge of the world has exploded. Why isn’t every physicist asking the question: Why is there such a deep connection between mathematics, an abstract product of human rationality, and the material cosmos if we, and it, are accidental?

I am by no means a math whiz, but since the ninth grade, I’ve had an acute fascination with geometry (punny, haha).  I find the applicability of number to theoretical space amazing all on its own. When the ancients were drawing lines and shapes in the sand, they discovered elegant laws that continue to inspire wonder. But geometry didn’t end with sticks and sand. The natural philosophers of antiquity realized that it could be applied to the natural word quite effectively.

Number and geometry virtually permeate nature in both the inorganic and organic realms. In his 1623 work entitled, The Assayer, Galileo Galilei said:

Philosophy is written in this grand book—I mean the universe—which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.

Nautilus Shell Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nautilus Shell
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Take for example the logarithmic spirals present in plant leaves, pinecones, nautilus shells, pineapples, and sunflowers. Such spirals are also seen in galaxies, hurricanes, and the flight patterns of some insects and birds.

Or what about the myriad mathematical formulations of the laws of physics, such as Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2 , which describes the relationship between mass, kinetic energy, and the speed of light.

In their fantastic book, A Meaningful World, Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt remark:

We could imagine, with random ordering, that by some mercy of fickle chance, a purely accidental relationship of some mathematical system would “map onto” a particular aspect of nature, but we would never expect it to effectively illuminate the natural order beyond that merely accidental relationship .Yet if we keep finding that multiple mathematical systems “map onto” nature—calling us from one steppingstone of discovery to the next—then it is certainly reasonable to suspect a conspiracy of reasoned order.

They go on to quote famous physicist Eugene Wigner:

The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious…There is no rational explanation for it…The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. (Wigner, Symmetries and Reflections, pp. 222, 237.)

Mathematics illuminates the orderliness of nature, yet it was first conceived by the human intellect. Isn’t this extraordinary? The natural world is intelligible and the mathematical tools to comprehend and describe it pre-existed our attempts to do so. Why should there be such a relationship between our abstract reasoning and the realities of the cosmos?  Where did our capacity for higher mathematics even come from? Materialists say that it is the product of blind evolutionary processes, but what survival or reproductive advantage is gained from being able to formulate the sophisticated equations of physics—equations that have led to further scientific discovery?

Yet, if we are made by, and in the image of, a Rational Intelligence who is also the artificer of the universe itself, this coincidence is something we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find.

Wonder and Awe from London

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to London. We really loved the city and its atmosphere, even though it rained for a little less than half our time there. As I’m sure many Houstonians can relate, we were a bit saddened when upon return to our city the heat and humidity were already raging!

Westminster Abbey and me!

Westminster Abbey and me!

While in London, we saw a lot of the places that our friends told us were “must-see” places: Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the British Museum, the British Library, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to name a few. We had a tour guide, Robert, who was a local Londoner. I could tell that our guide loved the city; especially its architecture and history. He didn’t just tell us facts and scoot us along to the next big thing on the list. Instead, he gave us pointers for how to engage in experiencing each site in a meaningful way. I remember him saying, “As you walk along, have a look at the ceiling, a marvel of architecture and stonework. Pause for a moment and think about what it must have taken to create this great structure.”

A few times, we got to talk with Robert when we were en route to a location. I asked him a question about the people and the culture in the city. I was astounded by the vast history of London and I wondered about the people who currently lived there. Did they appreciate and wonder about all that had happened in their past? Were they fascinated by these same places that tourists visited from all over the world? Continue reading

C.S. Lewis on Power

In Norman Maclean’s fly fishing novella, A River Runs Through It, Maclean suggests (echoing some Native American traditions) that fishing isn’t merely an exercise in raw power, but a graceful recognition that you and the fish you seek to catch are part of one wondrous whole. Not only must you have the right combination of skill and luck to catch a fish, but the fish itself must freely rise to the bait. In effect, the fish makes you into a fisherman.

Such a symbiotic relationship is a delicate balance, and therefore a difficult one for us to strike. Maclean writes, ‘It is natural for man to try to attain power without recovering grace.’ But, he suggests, in fishing as in life, the two can—and perhaps should—go together.

This is a daring thought in a modern context because it does not assume (as we all too often assume) that power is inherently evil—in fact, it implies that power rightly understood can be a good thing; and, even more challengingly, that power rightly practised can be a good thing. Read more . . .

Wreaking Havoc on Scientific Materialism: C.S. Lewis on Natural Law and Divine Action in Nature

There are two rather typical responses from materialist scientists and philosophers to the suggestion that a creator God guides the development and sustains the order of nature:

1) Our current scientific theories on the evolution of all things are sufficient to explain all natural phenomena. The idea of a creator has been rendered superfluous.

2) Science doesn’t have it all figured out, and truth be told, it may never give us comprehensive knowledge of natural history or a full explanation for the stability and regularities of the cosmos, but plugging God into these knowledge gaps is no better than the ancient Greek practice of attributing thunderstorms to Zeus.

Standard practice for an apologist faced with such statements is to describe the evidence for cosmic and biological design or the shortcomings of naturalistic theories when it comes to explaining the indications of rationality in nature. The apologist uses science to argue for a God-designed, God-guided natural world. This is a solid technique and one that I often use. However, it isn’t the only angle from which to approach such a discussion, which is great news for faith-defenders lacking scientific expertise.

god in the dockIn the C.S. Lewis collection God in the Dock, there are two essays that are incredibly insightful and instructive. Lewis was not a scientist, though he knew a great deal about the reigning theories of his era and commented upon them in many of his writings. But he was wise to the fact that, more often than not, the core issue is philosophical, though the materialist scientist rarely recognizes this. Lewis’s tactic for dealing with materialist claims such as those above was quite powerful, as we see in “Religion and Science” and “The Laws of Nature.”

In the first essay, Lewis addresses the question of divine intervention in nature. He sets up a Socratic dialogue between himself and a materialist who insists that “modern science” has proven that there’s no transcendent cause for the workings of nature.

 “But, don’t you see,” said I, “that science never could show anything of the sort?”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists—anything ‘outside.’ How could you find that out by studying simply Nature?”

This is a key point that is all too often missed by those claiming that science has ruled out the existence of God. But Lewis’s interlocutor persists in his objections:

“But don’t we find out that Nature must work in an absolutely fixed way? I mean, the laws of Nature tell us not merely how things do happen, but how they must happen. No power could possibly alter them.”

In other words, because there are “laws of nature,” it is impossible for anything to disrupt the regular course of nature. Such a thing would, he says, result in absurdity, just as breaking the laws of mathematics would.

But Lewis demonstrates, in his typically charming yet utterly logical fashion, that natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur.

Science studies the material universe and can say quite a lot about how it operates under normal conditions. What it cannot rule out is the existence of something independent of the universe with the power to intervene in natural affairs. This supernatural activity would entail a cosmos that is an open system rather than a system closed to “outside” immaterial causation. Again, the limitations of science preclude it from ruling out such a state. Says Lewis, “…it isn’t the scientist who can tell you how likely Nature is to be interfered with from outside. You must go to the metaphysician.” It is, it turns out, a philosophical question.

In the second essay, “Laws of Nature,” Lewis examines the question of God’s guidance of the natural world and whether or not the prayers of mankind have any bearing on the course of events.

Lewis walks us through his own thought process in dealing with the assertion that nature is deterministic, functioning according to a set of laws, like balls on a billiards table.  But look, declares Lewis, no matter how far back you go in the causal chain of natural events, you’ll never reach a law that set the whole chain in motion. He says, “..in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen. But how do you get it to do that? How do you get a move on?”

Natural laws are completely impotent when it comes to event causation; they only tell what happens after ignition, so long as free-willed agents (God included) do not interfere. About the laws Lewis says, “They explain everything except what we should ordinarily call ‘everything.’” Indeed.

“Science, when it becomes perfect,” he explains, “will have explained the connection between each link in the chain and the link before it. But the actual existence of the chain will remain wholly unaccountable.”

There is, then, no contradiction between natural law and the acts of God, for he supplies every event for natural law to govern. Everything in nature is providential! In other words, we don’t need gaps in scientific explanation to have a place for postulating divine activity. But, nota bene, this is not to say that there aren’t real gaps in the explanatory framework that materialist science, by nature, cannot fill.

What does all this mean about the effectuality of human prayers? If a causal chain is already in motion, what difference could prayer possibly make? To answer this, we must be mindful of God’s timelessness and omniscience:

“He, from His vantage point above Time, can, if He pleases, take all prayers into account in ordaining that vast complex event which is the history of the universe. For what we call ‘future’ prayers have always been present to Him.”

And, it’s out of the park, ladies and gentlemen.

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