It is a ritual that has become all too familiar.   A gunman claiming to act on behalf of Islam, or ISIS, or simply shouting “Allahu Akbar” murders numerous people.  President Obama condemns the atrocity as workplace violence, extremist violence, or even terrorism, but studiously avoids using the terms “radical Islamic terrorism” or “jihad.”   It then becomes a deeply partisan issue as conservative politicians and other commentators point this out, and argue that his failure to name radical Islamic terrorism for what it is reflects a fundamental failure of his policy for dealing with it.  If he cannot even name it, he will never defeat it.  Indeed, the whole matter has played out most sharply in the recent exchanges between Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton after the tragic shooting in Orlando.

But does it really matter?  Does this dispute identify a substantive issue, or is it useless wrangling over words or nothing more than a game of political ping-pong?

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Punishing Mothers for Abortion?

Punishing Mothers for Abortion?

In this year, 2016, the Republican nomination process has been the most entertaining reality show on television, but the other night the show took a strange turn. Donald Trump said something that has angered both the right and the left of the political spectrum, which is not surprising or unusual. But what is surprising is that what he said should have been supported by the right. In fact, his position is the only logical one given the rhetoric of the Pro-life movement.

Let’s wade into this controversy and see where the logic takes us.

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There was an exquisitely beautiful house in the woods.   It had obviously been built hundreds of years ago, but its exact origin was controversial.  The identity of the builder was in dispute, and some said no one really knew, and a few even denied the house had a builder.   Two men were discussing the matter, and they happened to agree that a man named Mr Devine was indeed the builder, and they were both admirers of him and his work.   As they continued their conversation, one of them commented that Devine was from Edinburgh, but the other insisted that he had come from Heidelberg.   “No, I assure you, Mr Devine and his family moved here from Edinburgh in 1787, and they built the house that year.”   The other replied: “Family? What family?  Mr Devine was a lifelong bachelor, and he moved here from Heidelberg in 1792, and that is when the house was built.”  “Well,” the first man replied, “while Mr Devine indeed designed the house, his two sons played vital roles alongside him in crafting and constructing it.”

There is an ongoing controversy involving Wheaton College and its decision first to suspend, and then to proceed with plans to terminate Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor, for her statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  For many observers, her statement is obviously true, while for others it is just as obviously false and no Christian teacher should even think it, let alone declare it in public.  Both within the secular media, as well as the Christian community, still others see the debate as a matter of quibbling over words that betrays Wheaton’s true legacy, or that reflects excessive rigidity. Continue reading

The Hard Rock at the Heart of Global Conflict

The Hard Rock at the Heart of Global Conflict

At the heart of global conflict lie some basic, unyielding logical impossibilities, and this is the deepest reason the conflict is destined to continue for decades, probably centuries to come.  These logical impossibilities, moreover, concern issues of ultimate importance, which inevitably generate passionate interest on all sides.   Consider these examples.

Either God exists, or He does not.

Either God has revealed objective moral truth that we are obligated to follow, or He has not.

Only one of each of these two logically incompatible statements can be true, but one of each pair must be true.  But what is even more vital to grasp is the enormity of what hangs on which of these logically incompatible statements is true, and which is not.

Indeed, these logically incompatible claim represent the first great divide in global conflict, and it is a divide between all of us who believe God exists, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, or other theists, and all of those who believe God does not exist.  The existence of God is the most far reaching truth claim of all, as it bears on the origin and purpose of the entire world, not to mention the meaning of our individual lives. It is moreover, directly relevant to the second claim about moral truth, since most theists believe the nature and will of God define what is morally right and wrong and provide morality with a secure objective basis.  Whether or not God exists also determines what levels of happiness it is possible to achieve, whether there is life after death and we may rationally hope for the perfect satisfaction and fulfillment that eludes us in this life.

Pascal clearly saw what was at stake, and he wrote with existential urgency about the difference it makes whether God exists and there is life after death. Continue reading

Planned Parenthood, Josh Duggar, and our Crazy, Crunchy Sense of Moral Proportion

Seldom has a dinner conversation so vividly exposed the moral drift of a culture in decline.  Seldom has the troubled heart of a nation been put on display more clearly than in those now infamous videotapes of Planned Parenthood representatives casually discussing the selling of body parts.  Over wine and salad they chatted about less “crunchy” procedures for killing these unborn human beings that would leave those organs more intact.

While many rushed to the defense of Planned Parenthood and insisted that all of this is done for noble purposes, many others were appalled by what seemed to them a barbaric display of utter disregard for human life and feeling.

But the question begs to be answered why anyone should be so shocked.  After all, we twice elected, by a sizable majority, a President who supported partial birth abortion.  If most Americans do not have a problem with their President supporting this “procedure,” why should we suddenly be shocked that mere doctors, nurses and medical administrators are practicing what has become an acceptable position at the highest levels of our government?

And really, is there anything more objectionable about the less crunchy procedure than the crunchy one that crushes those helpless unborn human beings and disposes of them as masses of tissue inconveniently growing in the wrong place?   The fact that it is legal to crush human beings as they emerge from the womb, and dispose of them, should be more disturbing than selling their body parts.

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Trinity, Advent and Longing for a Baby

sleeping babySeveral weeks ago, I got the joyous news from my son Jonny and his wife Emily that they were expecting a baby.  They had been trying for a while, so they were very excited, and I was excited with them.  Not long after, Jonny called, and the tone in his voice intimated the bad news: Emily had a miscarriage.

Recently, Emily “opened up” about the whole experience in an article that she wrote.  As I read, with tears in my eyes, her transparently honest account of her feelings during and after her brief pregnancy, and thought of other friends who long for a child, I reflected on how the whole experience captures many of the desires and longings that are at the heart of Advent.  (Since many persons can relate to this, I’ve attached Emily’s article below if you’d like to read it).

Indeed, barren wombs and miscarriages are vivid reminders that we live in a broken world, a world that still needs healing, a world where the last enemy has not yet been fully conquered.  It is a world that longs for the coming of a baby.  One of the verses of my favorite Advent hymn expresses the longing this way:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Socrates Meets Descartes: A Fun Little Primer on Cartesian Philosophy

Socrates Meets Descartes is part of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets… book collection. If you are not already familiar with these popular-level philosophy books, I encourage you to consider them. Here’s the concept: Kreeft uses Socrates—the father of philosophy—as a mouthpiece to individually examine major philosophers of history through classic Socratic dialogue. This turns out to be a rather ingenious literary technique that is employed with both wit and wisdom.

descartes meditaçõesIn Socrates Meets Descartes: The Father of Philosophy Analyzes the Father of Modern Philosophy’s Discourse on Method, Socrates’ interlocutor is Rene Descartes. Kreeft arranges their imaginary meeting in Purgatory, where Descartes’ penance is defending his famous Discourse on Method in response to Socrates’ demanding critique. Descartes, the reader learns, set out to revolutionize philosophy by inventing a scientific method that could discern truths with certainty, even eliminate human warfare by providing the tools for intellectual conflict resolution. If everyone had a common set of data and tools (his method), they would be enabled to reach the same conclusions, he claimed. In fact, everything that can be known could, theoretically, be realized in this way. Descartes’ purpose in writing Discourse on Method was to introduce the world to his new science of philosophy. It was this work that contained the most famous statement in the history of philosophy: “I think, therefore I am.”

Socrates proceeds to examine each step in Descartes’ system, which first moves from universal doubt to certainty only of one’s self-existence, then to proof of God’s existence, and then the existence of the material world.  Socrates doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of Descartes’ ideas. He extensively questions the hidden presuppositions of Descartes’ project and points out logical difficulties.  But Descartes has his moments, too. One fine example is when he roundly criticizes the ancient pagan philosophers “who discuss morals in very proud and magnificent palaces that are built on nothing but sand and mud” (83). Often, a difficulty isn’t fully resolved, and the two philosophers leave the reader with what they call a philosophical “loose end.” Sometimes it was a mild relief to abandon an increasingly tedious rabbit trail, but sometimes it was frustrating, such as when it happened at the end of Socrates’ evaluation of Descartes’ version of the ontological argument.

Kreeft packs a lot of value into this little volume, but manages to do so with clear language and a minimal amount of convoluted argumentation. In addition to learning the basic strengths and weaknesses of the Cartesian philosophy being scrutinized, the reader is exposed to a few rules of logical argumentation, some basics of ancient Greek thought (Plato’s Cave is explained, for example), relevant cultural context, and names of a few of Descartes’ key challengers and sympathizers. The dialogue is interspersed with comic relief, clever and corny—both appropriate to the spirit of the book.

I highly recommend Socrates Meets Descartes and believe it to be suitable for college undergraduates or adults just beginning a foray into philosophical study. It’s a wonderful stand-alone introduction to Descartes that would serve as a nice preliminary to research.

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.

On HHS vs Hobby Lobby

WEB-HHSAfter reading through the opinions from this recent (and controversial) Supreme Court decision, I want to write down some of my thoughts about the reasoning used to ultimately find for Hobby Lobby. From what I can tell, the decision hinges on just two crucial steps. First – are corporations persons such that they can have their free exercise of religion protected, and second – did the contraception mandate violate the corporation’s right to free exercise.

Read on for my analysis…

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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

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