Videos of Lewis Summer Institute 2014
Videos of Lewis Summer Institute 2014
Think Again about the History of Science with Oxford Scholar Peter Harrison
Posted by Philosopher James K.A. Smith for the Colossians Forum on December 5, 2011 Reposted here with some edits and additions by gcarkner Oct 16, 2014
A common myth about modern science is what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls “a subtraction story.” According to this widespread myth, scientific enlightenment was a triumph over religious belief. The relationship between the two is construed as dichotomous: either reason or faith; either science or theology. In short: more science, less religion.
This myth has been roundly criticized as a false dichotomy (consider, for example, Alvin Plantinga’s most recent book,Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism). More importantly, historians of science have pointed out that this false dichotomy is simply not true to how science emerged in the West. Far from being a detriment to scientific exploration, a number of scholars have pointed out that it was precisely Christian theological concepts–and especially those that emerged during the Protestant Reformation–that propelled empirical investigation of nature. So science wasn’t a way to lose one’s faith; it was Christian faith that compelled scientific exploration. We shouldn’t simply confuse the history of science with the rise of naturalism.
However, the story is complicated and complex. And no one helps us appreciate that more than Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. A historian of science with training in philosophy and theology, Harrison has an uncanny ability to appreciate the theological nuances at stake in emergence of science in the seventeenth century–and how this was informed by theological shifts in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Harrison is not content to generically speak of “religion;” he zooms in to consider the specifics of different Christian theological traditions and their impact on the emergence of what we now call “science.”
For example, in his masterful book, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge University Press, 1998), Harrison deftly shows how it was a shift in biblical hermeneutics that gave rise to a very different way of “reading” nature that we now associate with the scientific method. In The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (Cambridge University Press, 2007), drawing on careful analysis of theological and scientific texts, Harrison argues that what motivated close empirical investigation of nature was a deep sense of how much how knowledge had been corrupted by the Fall. In both of these studies, Harrison goes beyond simple notions of a Creator to explore the specific theological doctrines that impacted the emergence of science in the West. Indeed, his work has influenced us here at The Colossian Forum and we encourage folks to acquaint themselves with Harrison’s work. And in some ways, we see our emphasis on the specific riches of the Christian theological tradition for engaging science as an extension of his work.
Peter Harrison holds a PhD from the University of Queensland and Master’s degrees from Yale and Oxford. He began his academic career at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast, where for a number of years he was Professor of History and Philosophy. In 2006 he was elected Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. During his time at Oxford he was Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre and a Fellow of Harris Manchester College. In 2011 he assumed directorship of the Centre of the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, he was a recipient of a Centenary Medal in 2003. He was the 2011 Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and is a Senior Research Fellow in the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford. In 2013 he received a DLitt from the University of Oxford.
Harrison is best known for a number of influential writings on religion and the origins of modern science. He has argued that changing approaches to the interpretation of the bible had a significant impact on the development of modern science. He has also suggested that the biblical story of the Fall played a key role in the development of experimental science. His earlier work traces changing conceptions of religion in the West. Harrison contends that the idea of religions as sets of beliefs and practices emerged for the first time in the seventeenth century.
See also Colossian Forum Science, Faith and Culture http://www.colossianforum.org
David Bentley Hart May One of the Most Brilliant Philosophers Alive Today
He is an editor of First Things Journal, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator. Hart earned his BA from the University of Maryland, MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and MA and PhD from the University of Virginia. He has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), Duke Divinity School, and Loyola College in Maryland. He was most recently a visiting professor at Providence College, where he also previously held the Robert J. Randall Chair in Christian Culture. On 27 May 2011, Hart’s book Atheist Delusions was awarded the Michael Ramsey Prize in Theology. As a patristics scholar, Hart is especially concerned with the Greek tradition, with a particular emphasis on Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor. His writings on such figures are distinctive in that they are not cast in the mould of typical patristics scholarship; Hart is quite willing, for instance, to use Maximus as a “corrective” to Heidegger’s “history of Being”. The emphasis is very much on ideas and “deep readings”, which seek to wrest from ancient texts insights that might fruitfully be brought into living contact with contemporary questions. Issues of the Scottish Journal of Theology and New Blackfriars have devoted special space to his work.
As a cultural critic, Hart has a brilliant ability to cut to the heart of current debates on God, meaning, the history of faith, aesthetics, and the postmodern condition.
Dr. Richard Johns, PhD Philosophy of Science UBC
Department of Philosophy, Langara College
Can Physical Systems be Creative?
Tuesday, October 21 at 4:00 p.m.
Woodward (IRC) Room 5 (UBC Gate One)
Dr. Richard Johns was born in the UK, and did his undergraduate training in mathematics and engineering before switching to logic and philosophy of science in graduate school. He moved to Vancouver, B.C. to finish his PhD in philosophy at UBC. Since then he taught philosophy courses at UBC and SFU before accepting a permanent position at Langara College. His main research interest concerns the objective meaning of “probability”, as used in physical theories, which is the topic of his book, A Theory of Physical Probability (U. of T. Press, 2002). He is also interested in the limits of self-organisation in physics, the question of whether material systems can have understanding, the possibility of free will in a material universe, and the recent emergence of “safety” as an overriding moral imperative.
Possible Reading: Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos; David Chalmers, The Character of Consciousness (2010). Oxford University Press; David Chalmers, Constructing The World (2012) Oxford University Press.
See also blog post Ghost in the Machine; and Can we make peace between reason and faith?
Thanksgiving Thoughts from Ann Voskamp
“Jesus embraced His not enough … He gives thanks … and there is more than enough. More than enough. Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle. And who doesn’t need a miracle like that everyday? Thanksgiving makes time. The real problem of life is never a lack of time. The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks … it’s giving thanks to God for this moment that multiplies the moments, time made enough. I am thank-full. I am time-full.”
“The practice of giving thanks … eucharisteo … this is the way we practice the presence of God, stay present to His presence, and it is always a practice of the eyes. We don’t have to change what we see. Only the way we see.”
“Thanksgiving–giving thanks in everything–prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ …. Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God …. The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible, makes joy possible …. Joy is God’s life.”
“The gift list is thinking upon His goodness – and this, this pleases Him most! And most profits my own soul and I am beginning, only beginning, to know it. If clinging to His goodness is the highest form of prayer, then this seeing His goodness with a pen, with a shutter, with a word of thanks, these really are the most sacred acts conceivable. The ones anyone can conceive, anywhere, in the midst of anything. Eucharisteo takes us into His love.”
“I am blessed; I can bless; I can do this; I can become a current of blessing in a river of grace that redeems the world.”
“Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are a divine choice.”
Other Thanksgiving Quotes
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
You may have heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There’s another day you might want to know about: Giving Tuesday. The idea is pretty straightforward. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, shoppers take a break from their gift-buying and donate what they can to charity.
David Wesley sings creatively One Thing Remains http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPxEYmk_zqg
Leverage Your Language; Empower Your Life
Language and text is a key focus of attention in late modernity. Students in the arts, humanities and social sciences think much in terms of language, sign, signifier, and signified. We envy the great poets and prophets who possess acute skill in word craft, the storyteller who can enthrall. Many university writers long to capture that brilliant articulate grasp of things, to enhance the capacity of their grammar, rhetoric, and story telling skill. Scholarship require that we express ourselves in the language of our discipline, that we are able to drill down into the language of a text. Language is power in university, commerce and society at large. Immigrants quickly realize that they are quite vulnerable without competence in the language of their new country; in Quebec or Belgium many have to master two new languages. We are homo linguisticus; language is essential to our very human and cultural survival.
Academics collect millions of words, analyze them, compare them, translate and decipher them. Libraries brim with millions of books, journals and periodicals, electronic articles. The final dissertation in one’s PhD needs to be very carefully written; editing the final draft can take many hours and weeks, even months. We make a ‘close reading of the text’ in order to have credibility in our analytical work. There is language or semiotics also in DNA within a cell—3.5 billion base pairs code for life. But academics also deconstruct or dethrone the language of those whose perspective they oppose, or a previous regnant philosophical regime they hope to depose. Or we can actually trivialize language by reducing it to mere games that get played at English seminars or colloquiums—this can become a form of clever nihilism. Words, signs and symbols are major currency of universities in all fields. If one transfers fields, a whole new vocabulary has to be mastered. Philosophers and lawyers are very fond of language, logic and grammar; wording is critical in a merger contract or a peace agreement. Read More…
Renowned Climate Scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
Trinity Western University’s Distinguished Lecturer Series
Evening Public Lecture
Climate Change: Facts, Fictions, and our Faith
Northwest Building Auditorium, Trinity Western University in Langley, BC
Wednesday, October 8 @ 7:00 p.m.
Dr. Hayhoe has been identified by TIME as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2014.
Climate scientist and evangelical Christian Dr. Katherine Hayhoe presented this year’s Distinguished Lecture Series at Trinity Western University. The combination of respected speaker and controversial topic generated so much interest in the wider Christian community that the evening lecture on Oct 8 required two overflow rooms. Hayhoe, a Canadian, is associate professor at Texas Tech and director of its Climate Science Center. Combining her roles as scientist and committed Christian who is also the wife of a pastor, she sought to unwind the tangled relationship between politics, science and faith. After presenting evidence for the human role in global warming and the resulting influence on weather patterns and sea levels, she delved into the disruption of populations and agriculture faced by low-lying countries, along with the spread of disease in a warmer world. The greatest impact will be had precisely on the countries with the least economic resources, and as people of faith we are called to respond to this increased poverty and suffering. At the same time, investing now in alternative forms of energy will ultimately serve our own best economic interests as well. Hayhoe traced the increasingly strong relationship between conservative politics and conservative religion. The growing distrust of science among American evangelicals is a reaction to the acceptance of evolution by scientists and the common belief that science and faith are incompatible. This distrust, encouraged by political and economic forces that resist change, has led to denial among many evangelicals of the evidence for climate change. Faith provides evidence of things not seen, Hayhoe claims, whereas science provides evidence of the observable. In her view these are two sides of the same coin and must together lead us to seek appropriate compassionate solutions for the future.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1eGJLqxxKQ Katharine Hayhoe, Climate Evangelist short statement
Katharine Anne Scott Hayhoe (born 1973) is an atmospheric scientist and associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. She has authored more than 60 peer-reviewed publications, with an h-index of 28, and wrote the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisionstogether with her husband, Andrew Farley, a pastor. She also co-authored some reports for the US Global Change Research Program, as well as some National Academy of Sciences reports, including the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released on May 6, 2014. Shortly after the report was released, Hayhoe said, “Climate change is here and now, and not in some distant time or place,” adding that “The choices we’re making today will have a significant impact on our future.”
Professor John Abraham has called her “perhaps the best communicator on climate change.” Time Magazine listed her among the 100 most influential people in 2014. The first episode of the documentary TV series Years of Living Dangerously features her work and her communication with religious audiences in Texas.
See also GCU Blog Post: Recovering Stewardship…5 http://ubcgcu.org/2013/09/23/recovering-stewardship-5/
Mythology that Currently Haunts the Relationship between Fides et Ratio
The Discourse on Faith and Reason Revisited
We suggest that our current state of skepticism in Western late modernity stems from a significant confusion about the relationship between various types of faith and various types of reason. There is more than one type of reasoning or knowledge and more than one type of faith. Alasdair McIntyre notes three massively different paradigms of reason in Three Version of Moral Inquiry: pre-modern, modern and postmodern. This helps us understand the breadth of discourse at university. Faith also is a multivalent concept and applies equally to hard science as well as relationships or the study of Holy Scripture or a personal spiritual journey. There are several assumptions that have to be made which cannot be proven by science; they are meta-scientific. God, in the classic sense, asks humans to the table of reason. He asks them to test his wisdom and revelation against the reality of their lives. Brilliant biochemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi revealed that faith was operative in all stages of scientific research and discovery, both theoretical and experimental.
Below are listed ten of the common myths about the relationship between reason and faith. They need to be examined as to their cogency. We suggest that there is a critical need to get beyond the hard, abstract categories of fideism and rationalism. Both are a form of dogmatism/fundamentalism. There are good ways to reason and bad ways to reason (talk to a professor of logic), and this matters immensely. The following myths (misconceptions) are commonly believed even by PhDs and some of the top intellectuals of our day. We appeal to some of the sharpest minds to confront these harmful misconceptions. The unexamined assumption can lead one astray. It is not an accident of history that many of the top modern universities, (e.g. Harvard, Queen’s, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, the Sorbonne) have their roots in Christian faith and many of their campus mottos reveal this.
Ten Myths about Faith and Reason Examined
Myth #1. Faith and reason are inherently incompatible, or in opposition.
Philosophy should be the love of wisdom that prompts persons to use reason in the quest for truth, goodness and beauty…. Philosophy and theology have distinct tasks, but those tasks cannot be delineated solely in terms of nature and supernature or reason and faith. ~D. Stephen Long (statement about non-overlapping magisteria)
“The question of God… is one that can and must be pursued in terms of the absolute and the contingent, the necessary and the fortuitous, potency and act, possibility and impossibility, being and nonbeing, transcendence and immanence…. Evidence for or against God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us.” ~David Bentley Hart
“As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is orderly], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science” Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize for Biochemistry (Chemical Evolution, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969, p.258).
See Prayson Daniel’s Blog post on Max Planck:
Science and Religion http://withalliamgod.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/max-planck-on-god/
Myth #2. Reason does not involve faith at any level of its operation.
“Modern rationalism makes us choose truth against beauty and goodness. Only a permanent, living unity of the theoretical, ethical and aesthetic attitudes can convey a true knowledge of being.” ~D. Stephen Long
“Philosophy has its limits, but it must be redeemed, and a place must be made for it within the gift we receive in sacred doctrine. Philosophy has its own integrity when it does not exceed its proper limits and seek to police the questions asked. The limits Wittgenstein placed on philosophy for the sake of a life worth living is similar to the limits Acquinas put on philosophy for the sake of the Christian life as a way of following Jesus into the truth of God.” ~D. Stephen Long
Albert Einstein once “observed that science can help human beings attain their goals; science cannot, however, supply the goals”.
See Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality.
Myth #3. Modern reason has made Christian faith redundant; faith is a primitive disposition of our medieval ancestors.
“The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “comom struggle” to attain truth. The human search for truth, which is philosophy’s vocation, is not set in opposition to theology’s reception of truth as gift. What we struggle to understand by reason we also receive by faith. No dichotomy exists between the certainties of faith and the common struggle by human reason to attain truth. … the truths humanity seeks by common reason (philosophy) and the certainties of faith can be placed over against each other such that each illuminates the other and renders it intelligible until the two ultimately become one, which is of course what the incarnation does in reverse. The concretion of the one Person illumines the natures of both divinity and humanity. Faith seeks reason and reason assists faith. They mutually enrich each other.” ~D. Stephen Long
“The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.” ~Colin Russell, UK Historian of Science.
“Science is simply incapable of supplying answers in the realm of ethics, theology, and the purpose of life. In dealing solely with observable and measurable phenomena, modern science actually has nothing to say about love, compassion, beauty, self- centredness, altruism, or cruelty. It concentrates on secondary causes and questions. Unfortunately, some scientists conclude that since the scientific method cannot handle non-material matters, they have little legitimacy in a university curriculum. They argue that because non-material issues cannot be scientifically proven, there is no point in investigating primary causes and questions. From within their closed system of reasoning this may make sense but they thus gloss over or ignore the most important questions of human existence…. Even the most brilliant scientist, after all, has no inherent competence in ethics or other non-scientific matters.” ~John Redekop, Political Scientist
What if, as Oxford mathematician John Lennox says, faith in a transcendent God helps make better sense of human experience, human reason and science itself?
Myth #4. Faith is credulous assent to unfounded premises, a belief in something that is untrue or at least suspect.
“Faith not only seeks and presumes reason, it converts it. Every account of reason assumes something beyond it, some enabling condition that makes it possible but cannot be accounted for it within its own systematic aspirations… Likewise faith can never be pure; it will always assume and use reason even as it transfigures it.” D. Stephen Long
“Newton argued that the regulation of the solar system presupposed the ‘counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being’ and indeed hoped that his Principia would convince the thinking person of the existence of a Deity.” ~John Lennox, Mathematician/Philosopher
Clearly there exists both good faith and bad faith. Believing a lie or promoting a falsity, as in a ponzi scheme, for the sake of an advantage or con is bad faith. Evidence is vitally important to good faith; clarity, consistency, coherence and unity is important to good faith; exposing fantasy or superstition is essential to good faith. One needs good faith in signing a major contract. Faith is a form of knowing that can go beyond the evidence but should not contradict it, or be hopelessly uncritical or unexamined. Does the Christian narrative have resonance, or make good sense of our experience? That’s a key question. ~Gordon Carkner
Because God is the God of the universe there is, at the deepest level, no secular learning for Christians. There is no secular subject matter. Indeed, in this perspective the only secular learning is the effort of those scholars and students who deny the existence of God. Second, there is no area of human existence or history which lies outside the realm of Christian inquiry. Third, the church has much to offer the university because it challenges the university to acknowledge the historic and continuing contributions of Christianity and to establish inclusive curricula. Fourth, the university has much to offer Christians because it helps them to develop critical thinking, to enlarge their understanding of options, to improve their learning skills, and to approach intellectual pursuits more systematically and efficiently. ~John Redekop, Political Scientist
Myth #5. Reason is a pure, disinterested obedience to empirical fact; methodological naturalism implies/requires belief in philosophical naturalism.
“Naturalism, alone among all considered philosophical attempts to describe the shape of reality, is radically insufficient in its explanatory range. The one thing of which it can give no account, and which its most fundamental principles make it entirely impossible to explain at all, is nature’s very existence. For existence is most definitely not a natural phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever…. In fact, it is impossible to say how, in terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.” ~ David Bentley Hart, Philosopher
“Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained. I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains. The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order”. The issue here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not a God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.” Richard Swinburne, top Oxford Philosopher
“An admirably severe discipline of interpretive and theoretical restraint [modern empirical science] has been transformed into its perfect and irrepressibly wanton opposite: what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has now been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for the sure possession of ultimate conclusions. This makes a mockery of real science.” ~David Bentley Hart
Alvin Plantinga raises major questions about the compatibility of materialistic naturalism with science (Where the Conflict Really Lies, 2012)
Myth #6. Reason is morally and ideologically neutral, the same for all thinking human beings, therefore universal—unifying society.
“The good characterizes a public, successful performance of truth; it refuses fideism….Truth is an activity, a judgment inextricably linked to the good, and therefore to moral transformation. When I am pursuing truth I am pursuing goodness…. This truth both an undying fidelity and love, and at the same time a generosity towards others. By refusing to subordinate itself to ‘power’, understood as willful self-assertion, it best serves the tradition of democracy.” ~D. Stephen Long
Charles Taylor’s contention is that the power of materialism today comes not from scientific “facts”, but has rather to be explained in terms of the power of a certain package uniting materialism with a moral outlook, the package we call “atheistic humanism” or exclusive humanism. (C. Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 569) It works off an ontological thesis of materialism: everything which is, is based on “matter”, without explaining why this is taken as true.
Read Alasdair McIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
All science is theory and value-laden as Michael Polanyi notes. It is personal knowledge held passionately by persons.
Myth #7. Faith & reason exist is separate incompatible arenas; reason deals in physical causes only, while faith deals with supernatural/spiritual/magical causes.
“Polanyi probably criticised Popper, as most philosophers of science reject falsificationism. Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions. So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself. Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data. Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable. Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true. Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science. Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion. Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational. Bayesians say that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
-Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science
“The church reminds the university that the two share a joint task – the preservation and accumulation of knowledge and the transmission of a common heritage. Both institutions need to rethink the past, question the present, and anticipate future revision of human understanding. Both need also to acknowledge that if they are faithful to their purpose, both will frequently find themselves in tension with society, in part for the same reasons: dissatisfaction with the status quo, challenging injustices, and raising controversial questions. Such commonality is to be expected given that both institutions emphasize the mind and both search for new insights. When the university acknowledges the limitations of the scientific method and the church concedes that it cannot provide final scientific answers, then their two endeavors will increasingly overlap.” ~John Redekop, Political Scientist
Myth #8. Faith is the irrational belief in the opposite direction of where scientific evidence leads us.
“Faith adds less a material content to geology, physics, mathematics, evolutionary science, economics, etc., than the form within which they can be properly understood so that they are never closed off from the mystery that makes all creaturely being possible.” ~ D. Stephen Long
“There is no such thing, at least among finite minds, as intelligence at large: no mind not constrained by its own special proficiencies and formation, no privilege vantage that allows any of us a comprehensive insight into the essence of all things, no expertise or wealth of experience that endows any of us with the wisdom or power to judge what we do not have the training or perhaps the temperament to understand. To imagine otherwise is a delusion…. This means that the sciences are, by their very nature, commendably fragmentary and, in regard to many real and important questions about existence, utterly inconsequential. Not only can they not provide knowledge of everything; they cannot provide complete knowledge of anything. They can yield only knowledge of certain aspects of things as seen from one very powerful but inflexibly constricted perspective. If they attempt to go beyond their methodological commissions, they cease to be sciences and immediately become fatuous occultisms.” ~David Bentley Hart
“The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God–especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side–is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact….. Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all.” ~David Bentley Hart
Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable. This is true of many purpose, identity and meaning questions (why?). It offers a richer landscape to human rationality and includes the poetic, the story.
Myth #9. Faith is seated in the emotions or sentimentality; reason is a non-emotional, cool operation of the disinterested mind.
“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.” ~Thomas Nagel Philosopher
“God alone has necessity in and of himself. That is, if the word “God” has any meaning at all, it must refer to a reality that is not just metaphysically indestructible but necessary in the fullest and most proper sense; it must refer to a reality that is logically necessary and that therefore provides the ultimate explanation of all other realities, without need of being explained in turn…. God is absolute being as such, apart from whom nothing else could exist, as either a possibility or an actuality…. It is God’s necessity, as the unconditional source of all things, that makes any world possible in the first place.” ~David Bentley Hart
“In another important respect, still related to the scope of inquiry and learning, Christianity and the university share an agenda. To a large degree both address societal problems, express moral outrage when warranted, believe that many problems can be solved, and insist that society can and should be improved. Both frequently express a sense of responsibility and undertake social activism. Over the years the areas of intentional involvement have included literacy, health care, social housing, immigration reform, assistance to refugees, care for the blind and the aged, the preservation of historic records and documents, promotion of the arts, and much more. In many of these activities, I suggest, it has been the church and at times even government, rather than the university, that has taken the lead. There is no ultimate incompatibility between the two, the basic assumptions of Christianity and the basic assumptions of the university, including its emphasis on scientific methodology, are fundamentally complementary, not contradictory.
” ~John Redekop, Political Scientist
Faith as based on warrant (Alvin Plantinga): In this view some degree of evidence provides warrant for faith. To explain great things by small. To find coherence within a worldview that holds to the supernatural or transcendent. Empirical and historical evidence can also be involved.
Myth #10. Good reason requires a materialistic universe; materialism is a fact of deductive logic.
” There simply cannot be a natural explanation of existence as such; it is an absolute logical impossibility. The most a materialist account of existence can do is pretend that there is no real problem to be solved (though only a tragically inert mind could really dismiss the question of existence as uninteresting, unanswerable, or intelligible).” ~David Bentley Hart
“It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure” ~Albert Einstein
Christian spokespersons, thus, actually perform a praiseworthy role when they insist that there must be openness to supernatural sources of knowledge and that a particular methodology ought not to delineate the limits of reality. Christians argue with credibility, I suggest, that a healthy, heuristically productive skepticism, which lies at the heart of scientism, must also be applied to the scientific method itself. Consistency requires nothing less. ~John Redekop, Political Scientist
Leading Philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism (which includes materialism) is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. The argument centers on the status of our cognitive faculties: those faculties, or powers, or processes that produce beliefs or knowledge in us (e.g. perception, memory, a priori intuition, introspection, testimony, induction). His argument concerns the question of the reliability of cognitive faculties (reliability of cognitive content) if we espouse naturalism and unguided evolution together. The probability is very low. Can we get to true belief, reliable knowledge by this path? Again it is an argument from coherence (or rather, in this case, incoherence). See Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies, Chapter 10.
“My aim is not so much to argue against reductionism as to investigate the consequences of rejecting it— to present the problem rather than to propose a solution. Materialist naturalism leads to reductionist ambitions because it seems unacceptable to deny the reality of all those familiar things that are not at first glance physical. But if no plausible reduction is available, and if denying reality to the mental continues to be unacceptable, that suggests that the original premise, materialist naturalism, is false, and not just around the edges.” ~Thomas Nagel, Philosopher
Therefore we need a critical assessment of current metaphysical, epistemological and anthropological assumptions in our day to find the liberation from the Nihilistic/Materialistic/Reductionistic world picture has taken us captive, the one that drives a wedge between faith and reason, or religion and science. We propose that it is possible to think critically and wisely within a different framework or horizon, to offer new plausibility structure for robust and critical thought. We want to know all that is available for humans to know. We suggest that one can discover a richer understanding of reason when we open the discussion to the transcendent. We are adjured to be good stewards of both faith and reason by some of the greatest minds in the history of academia–Copernicus, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Blaise Pascal, Peter Medawar, Michael Polanyi, Denis Alexander, Sir John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and a host of others around the world.
Scholars work with grammar, figure of speech, assumptions, dispositions, theories and a whole variety of linguistic practice. We ought to explore enjoy this language to the full, for the common good of society, to build up moral capital, to promote shalom. We give thanks to God for offering us mere mortals access to this high level of calling and community, this high level of international, inter-collegiate interlocution. We need to find our voice and our full identity within the incarnational word made flesh, the word that underwrites all human language and speech. This will provide us with an edge in our work, new interlocutors that can free us from the grip of too narrow a perspective on research, life, self and relational reality. To close ourselves off, to implode into a minimalist or reductionist language game, or to try to articulate all aspects of life with scientific language alone, to refuse theological, poetic, artistic, theological and philosophical speech is a tragedy and a travesty of academic openness. It is to be in denial of this richer, common human heritage, this larger brilliant linguistic and moral horizon, these thicker perceptions of human identity, to refuse our full humanity. It is to deprive us of the full academic and personal adventure.
Christian scholars embrace the emphasis on quantification and laboratory testing but without reducing the universe, with all of its complexities of genesis, extent, and operation, solely to test tube measurement. Further, “The Christian habit of mind combines openness to truth with skepticism…. Skepticism is important but without some commitment to the objective existence of truth” it “devours the whole world and then must consume itself.” (Gene Edward Veith, 138)
Christian skepticism, observes Gene Veith, “sees knowledge in terms of ever larger circles of meaning, related finally to the revealed truths of Scripture.” (Ibid., 138) Such skepticism, while rejecting the notion of relativism as a key value for its own sake, does, nevertheless, still affirm the place of skepticism. In this regard the great Christian novelist, Flannery O’Connor, makes a noteworthy point. “What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.” (O’Connor, The Habit of Being, p. 477) In a letter to a student who was questioning his faith, O’Connor wrote that faith is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian skepticism. It will keep you free – not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you. (O’Connor, Ibid., p. 478). Veith write further, “Christians will thus often find themselves to be gadflies in their fields. They will not accept the conventional wisdom of their field, nor hold to all of its values. Their attitudes and practices will be similar to those of Blaise Pascal, the mathematical genius and Christian thinker whose explorations of the paradoxes of the human soul show the Christian mind at its best.” (Veith, 138-139) Ostensibly both scholarly Christians and secular academics are committed to the notion that research and investigation should always press beyond what is at the moment believed to be true. Christians are, of course, fully prepared to join with any other academics in investigating questions and weighing evidence and to follow wherever the evidence leads.
On the other hand, the university has a right to expect Christianity, and the institutions defending and promoting it, to be open to new questions, new answers, and new methods in developing both. It has a right, even a duty, to challenge Christians when they indulge in unreasoned credulity. The church, for its part, has a right to expect the university to stop privatizing and marginalizing Christianity, arguably the most consequential social movement in history. This socio-religious movement, after all, kept learning alive in the Dark Ages, has produced many of the world’s greatest artists, philosophers and scientists and, in fact, gave rise to the modern university itself. See Charles Malik, A Christian Critique of the University (p. 31-2). See also Makdisi, G., Roots of the Modern University. (New York: Van Antwerp, Bragg and Co., 1989).
See also post on science and naturalism: http://ubcgcu.org/2012/11/29/science-naturalism-in-conflict/
Read: Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (eds. Alvin Plantinga & Nicholas Wolterstorff). Notre Dame Press.
James K.A. Smith, How(Not) to be Secular: reading Charles Taylor. (Eerdmans, 2014)
See the Apologetics Resource Section of the GCU Blog for scholarship on good reasons for faith.
Scholar D. Stephen Long, Marquette University
The God Delusion Debate
Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins
Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox
This is a film of a recent debate followed by a panel discussion with
Dr. Dennis Danielson English Department UBC, and Dr. David Helfand, President of Quest University
If you want to watch the entire film of the Dawkins-Lennox Debate go to YouTube:
Post-Event Commentary on Helfand-Danielson Dialogue
A. Dr. Bert Cameron, former Head of Nephrology UBC
I thought Dennis Danielson’s contribution was helpful
- rejection of the “non-overlapping magisterium” approach
- accepting God as an agent but more interest in what kind of God
- faith supported by scripture, history and experience
- pointing out that roots of science inspired by theological insight (I would add health care to that)
Professor Helfand’s presentation took me by surprise so I have had to think about it. He claims to be a complete sceptic. He begins with the premise that “there is absolutely no meaning to life whatsoever” therefore he claims not to be looking for meaning but only for understanding of mechanism. From this starting point he is convinced that the methods of science provide the best basis for understanding. Even here however, all findings are tentative, he claims to have “no faith” in any theory. “Subjective evidence is not a category” for him. Even the fact that the universe is explicable is just a “contingent hypothesis”. He would give little credence to any theory, including the “multiverse”, until there was some empirical evidence for it.
Thus, though Dawkins and Prof. Helfand both claim to be atheists, he isn’t particularly a Dawkins fan. In this, he is in company with a number of other non religious intellectuals such as Terry Eagleton, John Gray and Thomas Nagel. We really didn’t question Prof. Helfand on this, but he does not seem to be driven by the same moral imperative of Dawkins and some others such as Hitchins and Harris, that religion is so harmful it needs to be driven from the world.
He seemed rather to be expressing a personal perspective that might be summarized like this: “At this point in my life I have come to the conclusion that there is no overarching or ultimate meaning. I look at this fascinating and strangely intelligible universe that I love to explore but I am not inclined to consider the possibility of a designer. I find sufficient personal meaning in exploring and understanding the mechanisms of the cosmos which the physical and evolutionary sciences seem to be in the process of elucidating while recognizing that this understanding is based on a ‘contingent hypothesis’.”
It seems to me, that unless Prof. Helfand takes some moral conclusion from this, such as “others ought to think as I do” or “people who find meaning in the universe are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.
Most of our understandings and decisions in life are based on data that would be considered “subjective” since it is not empirically tested or testable. However, that does not mean that it is unreasonable to accept it. As far as Christian faith is concerned, as Dennis quoted, Christians are called to “give a reason for the hope that is within them.”
David Helfand, a prestigious Columbia astronomer, placed his whole position behind Karl Popper and the falsification doctrine. He took the position of mechanism and claimed that meaning is in the realm of religion which he rejects. From is perspective life is meaningless. He held to a non-overlapping magisterium between science and religion. He didn’t totally agree with Dawkins on all points. Danielson does not see this sharp distinction between the realm of science and the realm of religion. He believes in both God and good science; religion and science are two ways of understanding one world as physicist Jon Polkinghorne might say.
Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our place in late modernity.
This book is now ready for ‘field testing’ with students and faculty. Along with the biblical book of II Corinthians, it forms the backbone of our discussion this fall. This discussion will be mainly on Thursday evenings in our home, but we can talk about your issues over coffee or in your lab, even on the walkways of campus as we bump into each other. We hope you will find the material forms a good basis for dialogue with colleagues and give you perspective.
Is this study for you? Do you want to develop a richer sense of identity and calling? Are you searching for a deeper and broader horizon of meaning? Are you hopeful that a community of friends can accelerate and give perspective to your academic work? Are you wanting to understand culture better and find some interpretive keys (insights) to how the world and society works? Are you keen to explore the fruitful possibilities of faith? Do you have some hope that a relationship with God might help you find yourself and help you deal with your hangups and frustrations, your relationships with others? Are you in search of joy and are you wanting to do more than just survive the work load of grad school? Do you want to learn how to set up creative dialogue with others?
The philosophical foundation of the book is in the work of Charles Taylor, our premier Canadian philosopher and an intellectual hero of ours. He won the Templeton Prize for his 2007 tome A Secular Age. a monumental analysis of how Western belief in God has shifted over the last 500 years. Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith has written a summary of A Secular Age in his 2014 book How (Not) to be Secular: reading Charles Taylor. This is a great introduction to Taylor’s genius in cultural and social analysis–helping us late moderns understand how we see ourselves and our world, learn why we struggle with our calling and identity. This will also help those of you who thought you were coming to a Christian country to study and found yourself studying neo-Marxism in Education Theory.
Escape from Nihilism is written to help graduate students like yourself to reckon with the Western intellectual environment into which you have either entered or grown up. Each of you should see the connections with the ethos in your department. Our discussion will be vital because of the questions you bring to the table. The trajectory of the book is to seek out hope and a more robust understanding of identity and what we mean by human flourishing; it involves a journey from Nihilism to Faith in a Trinitarian Goodness, a quest for transcendence, and a wager on agape love. Don’t worry about the language; we will explain terms and show their life importance; it has the non-philosophy student in mind. The book is written with a sense of urgency, but also with a strong sense of optimism about our potential for a richer experience of life, language and studies. It is all about exploring that something more in life at university. We hope some may even be inspired with some research ideas, find resources or direction for a topic. Who knows?
II Corinthians is a rich text expressing the Apostle Paul’s deep insight into the plan and purposes of God. It is a counter-cultural statement which gives us critical perspective on ancient culture and today’s late modern culture. Instead of will to power which was common among the ancient Greco-Roman world, the message is about agape love, mutual comfort and exploring personal transformation to become better humans.
We launch this project and the year with a call to adventure and discovery starting next Thursday, September 25 at 7:00 pm at a home 277 West 16th ave. (east of Cambie). See the map below. The study time is one hour. Tea and dessert at 7:00 pm and some casual debriefing afterward.
Always feel free to email Ute or myself for coffee or prayer. Ask me and I can send you a pdf version of the book (80 pages)
Gord Carkner PhD
GCU Staff Support Person
Join GCU and its Networks for Adventures in Learning and Life
Our Purpose is to help You Flourish in Grad School
“Welcome to grad school at UBC. This is an important transition for you as you move from youth to adulthood. Remember that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He will accompany you through each of life’s seasons. Do not let the super-intellectual environment at UBC divert you from this abiding truth. I found a grad fellowship group essential to my spiritual life when I was doing my graduate degrees in the USA. I do recommend that you share the joys and challenges of grad school with Christian friends at UBC.”
~Dr. David Ley, Dept. of Geography UBC
In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. What does this mean? Below are some reflections from our Study Group. Much more could be added.
Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012a, pp. 264-5)
In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness … [and] reveal to us what it means to be human. (D.S. Long, 2001, pp. 106-7)
Old Road in Old Corinth