Posted by: gcarkner | October 28, 2014

Rethinking the Self

Loss of Center: the Shifty Identity of Nihilism

In a recent viewing of the PBS film Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen, one is reminded of the struggle of the young highly educated woman struggling for her identity. First she is imprisoned in the Tower of London by her Catholic half-sister who has married Philip of Spain and wants to turn England back to the Catholic faith. This is a bloody time of burning Protestant leaders such as Ridley, Cranmer and Latimer at the stake. You can stand on the spot where it happened in the Broad Street in the heart of Oxford. Elizabeth is accused of conspiracy. This experience in prison helps shape her; she endures humiliation with strength and dignity even though she is King Henry VIII’s daughter (from Anne Boleyn). Then her half-sister dies suddenly and she is thrust into the royal court to become sovereign of the country. The power struggles begin with her counsellors and advisors and several plots to assassinate her and take over the country. The counsellors want a strategic marriage as quickly as possible in order to consolidate their power  as much as hers. Her other sister, Mary Queen of Scots, is also a threat so she is imprisoned in Dublin Castle. She both loves and fears Mary. Her big decision is to remain single, the virgin queen, and “have no man rule over me”. She manages to consolidate her power and fight off the Spanish Armada and rule for a full lengthy forty years. In all this she must find her true centre; she can ill afford to waffle; she needs trusted advisors who will speak truth to power. She has to know who she is and what virtues she stands for, if she is to lead her country, serve it well and defend herself from several plots and conspiracies. It is a time of both chivalry and treachery, honour and manipulation. She leaves a legacy, lives large, and wins the hearts of her subjects, establishing Elizabethan England for posterity. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | October 23, 2014

Lectures/Videos from C.S. Lewis Oxford Summer Institute

Videos of Lewis Summer Institute 2014

October 23, 2014

In This Issue
Oxbridge Videos Online
Oxbridge on the Web
Conference Audio Available

Make a gift to support the C.S. Lewis Foundation

In his nonfiction Christian works, his imaginative fiction, and his scholarly writing and lectures, C.S. Lewis imbued his work with intellect, creativity, and faith.

At the Foundation, with C.S. Lewis as a key source of inspiration, we strive to infuse everything we do with these elements – faith, intellect, and imagination – so that others can learn to do so in their own lives and callings.

Our programs are fundamentally about creating environments for people to engage “the great ideas” of our world in ways that are simultaneously creative, intellectual, and grounded in the Holy Spirit.

In this way, we help equip the faithful. In turn, they go back to their respective worlds as change agents, impacting those worlds to the glory of God.

This is where you come in. Like so many of the most important things in life, this does not come easy, and we cannot do it without your help.

Please join us by making a gift to the Foundation today. 

Your gift will make a real difference in equipping people to actively participate in renewing Christian thought and creative expression throughout the world of learning and the culture at large.

Oxbridge Summer Institute Videos Available to View Online

For the first time ever, we’ve just posted 13 videos from our C.S. Lewis Summer Institute to our website. Visit our home page and scroll down to find our video player and watch the morning presentations from this inspiring conference!
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are making these videos free to the public.We only ask that you consider making a donation yourself to help support making videos available for others in the future.
We also encourage you to share the videos with your friends and family.

In this way, we can impact the lives of many people who aren’t able to make it to our events in person.

Please note: audio from the conference is also available for purchase through our online store, including afternoon sessions and other sessions that were not filmed.

Oxbridge on the Web

The Oxbridge 2014 C.S. Lewis Summer Institute may have come and gone; however, the Foundation staff and those who attended are continually inspired by what was an intellectually, artistically, and spiritually-engaging conference!


Conference volunteer Emmeline Dobson used the program Storify to create a collection of attendees’ social media posts – stories, pictures, and videos – to give our readers a taste of what it was like to be a part of Oxbridge 2014. You can view Emmeline’s collection by following this link:


Special thanks also go to Lynn Maudlin, Andrew Lazo, Eric Metaxas, Jennifer Rothschild, and others for regularly posting to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram during the event.


Interested in reading about the conference? Conference volunteer Sarah Clarkson has written two lovely articles about her time at Oxbridge 2014 titled “Oxford Again” and “Evensong and Sunlight.”

After arriving back in the States, our friend and 2014 afternoon session leader  Melanie Jeschke did a radio interview featuring her experience at the conference and her book series.

Oxbridge Audio Available for Purchase


Conference audio from the 2014 C.S. Lewis Summer Institute is now available in our audio store.

There are a variety of recordings to choose from, including plenary sessions, meditations, and for the first time for Oxbridge – afternoon seminars. Visit our Foundation webstore to purchase downloadable conference audio or mp3 USB drives.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 16, 2014

Peter Harrison’s Brilliant Insight on History of Science

Think Again about the History of Science with Oxford Scholar Peter Harrison

Posted by Philosopher   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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 4.37.21 AMHowever, 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.

Major Publications

See also Colossian Forum Science, Faith and Culture


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Posted by: gcarkner | October 11, 2014

The Genius of David Bentley Hart

David Bentley Hart May One of the Most Brilliant Philosophers Alive Today

David Bentley Hart

He is an editor of First Things Journal, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator. Hart earned his BA from the University of MarylandMPhil 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.



  • The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. New Haven: Yale University Press: 2013. (a brilliant volume which critiques naturalism and promotes a fresh understanding of God).
  • The Devil and Pierre Gernet: Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2012.
  • Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009. (award winner challenge to historical revisions of Christian influence on Western culture)
  • In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2008.
  • The Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith. London: Quercus: 2007.
  • The Doors of the Sea. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2005.
  • The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2003.

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“Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the only truly substantial value at the center of the social universe: the price tag.”
“Empiricism in the sciences is a method; naturalism in philosophy is a metaphysics; and the latter neither follows from nor underlies the former.”
“It is only because a dreamer has temporarily lost the desire to turn his eyes toward more distant horizons that he believes he inhabits a reality perfectly complete in itself, in need of no further explanation. He does not see that this secondary world rests upon no foundations, has no larger story, and persists as an apparent unity only so long as he has forgotten how to question its curious omissions and contradictions.”


  • Response to critiques of The Beauty of the Infinite by Francesca Murphy and John A. McGuckin, Scottish Journal of Theology 60 (February 2007): 95-101.
  • “Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark”First Things 169 (January 2007).
  • Contribution to Theology as Knowledge: A SymposiumFirst Things 163 (May 2006): 21-27.
  • “The Lively God of Robert Jenson”First Things 156 (October 2005): 28-34.
  • “The Anti-Theology of the Body”The New Atlantis 9 (Summer 2005): 65-73.
  • “The Soul of a Controversy”The Wall Street Journal (April 1, 2005).
  • “Tsunami and Theodicy”First Things 151 (March 2005): 6-9.
  • “The Laughter of the Philosophers”First Things 149 (January 2005): 31-38. A review loosely structured around The Humor of Kierkegaard by Thomas C. Oden, containing a long excursus on Johann Georg Hamann.
  • “God or Nothingness” in I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments Carl E. Braaten and Christopher Seitz, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005: 55-76.
  • “The Offering of Names: Metaphysics, Nihilism, and Analogy” in Reason and the Reasons of Faith. Reinhard Hütter and Paul J. Griffiths, eds. London: T. & T. Clark, 2005: 55-76.
  • “Tremors of Doubt”The Wall Street Journal (December 31, 2004). This article was the seed for the book The Doors of the Sea.
  • “Ecumenical Councils of War”Touchstone (November 2004).
  • “The Pornography Culture”The New Atlantis 6 (Summer 2004): 82-89.
  • “Freedom and Decency”First Things 144 (June/July 2004): 35-41.
  • “An Orthodox Easter”The Wall Street Journal (April 9, 2004) (in “Houses of Worship”).
  • “Religion in America: Ancient & Modern”, The New Criterion (March 2004).
  • “A Most Partial Historian”First Things 138 (December 2003): 34-41. A review of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England Volume III: Accommodations by Maurice Cowling.
  • “Christ and Nothing”First Things 136 (October 2003): 47-57.
  • “The Bright Morning of the Soul: John of the Cross on Theosis”, Pro Ecclesia (Summer 2003): 324-45.
  • “Thine Own of Thine Own: the Orthodox Understanding of Eucharistic Sacrifice” in Rediscovering the Eucharist: Ecumenical Considerations Roch A. Kereszty, ed. (Paulist Press, 2003): 142-169.
  • “A Gift Exceeding Every Debt: An Eastern Orthodox Appreciation of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo“, Pro Ecclesia 7.3: 333-348.
  • “The Mirror of the Infinite: Gregory of Nyssa on the Vestigia Trinitatis“, Modern Theology 18.4 (October 2002): 542-56
  • “No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impassibility”, Pro Ecclesia (Spring 2002): 184-206.
  • Contribution to The Future of the Papacy: A SymposiumFirst Things 111 (March 2001): 28-36.
  • “The ‘Whole Humanity': Gregory of Nyssa’s Critique of Slavery in Light of His Eschatology”, Scottish Journal of Theology 54.1 (2001): 51-69.
  • “Analogy” in Elsevier Concise Encyclopaedia of Religion and Language (Elsevier Press, 2001).
  • “The Writing of the Kingdom: Thirty-Seven Aphorisms towards an Eschatology of the Text”, Modern Theology (Spring 2000): 181-202.
  • “Matter, Monism, and Narrative: An Essay on the Metaphysics of Paradise Lost” Milton Quarterly (Winter 1996): 16-27.

Dr. Richard Johns, PhD Philosophy of Science UBC 

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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)



There are many arguments against materialism that take the general form: “Materialism is false because it cannot account for X”, where X might be consciousness, rational understanding, human free will, or the evolution of life.  Such arguments are advanced today by philosophers such as Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers and Alvin Plantinga.  Dr. Johns sees the last two arguments as linked, since free will and evolution both require creativity, in a sense that seems to be incompatible with both determinism and randomness (or a combination of them).  In this talk our speaker will define what it means for a process to be creative, and show that free will and biological evolution (as well as engineering) require creativity in this sense.  He will then look at arguments that material systems cannot be creative, and consider objections to them.


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?


Posted by: gcarkner | October 6, 2014

GCU Thanksgiving Dinner October 9

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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.”
– Epictetus


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.

How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child’s personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people. – Sir John Templeton
It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful ‘in general.’ It’s very strange. It’s a little like being married in general.” – Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

David Wesley sings creatively One Thing Remains


Posted by: gcarkner | October 2, 2014

The Leverage of Language in Late Modernity

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…

Posted by: gcarkner | September 30, 2014

Katharine Hayhoe Climate Change Specialist at TWU Oct. 8

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.

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Early Reflections on the Talk @ TWU
Katharine Hayhoe had an important message (mixed in with good humour) last evening at TWU. We have found the problem in global warming and the problem is us, especially high consumers using lots of carbon-based energy since the industrial revolution. 97% of climate scientists believe that there is a significant human factor/human causes to global warming. For her, the science speaks loud and clear. Climate instability is rapidly becoming one of our biggest global problems. She gave several examples from Canada, USA and elsewhere: unusual killer heat waves, flash floods in Toronto and Calgary, the pine beetle menace to our forests, island communities being swallowed by the sea, extremely fast melting of sea ice and glaciers, the immense threat to the livelihood of millions in Bangladesh, etc.She ended with the moral/values/faith Question: What are we going to do about it? Do we really love our neighbour who is suffering the worst impact of climate change? Do we care about the future of our children? She left us with a sense of urgency–the need to act now, especially in the next few years. We all need to take responsibility for our part in the problem and all need to work towards solutions. The same message came through Jeremy Rifkin in a Google talk He notes that climate change, water and food shortage could highjack the whole future of the planet. This is a serious concern for future leaders and educators the 10,000 graduate students at UBC. Also graduate students around the globe.
Report on the TWU Lecture by Dr. Judith Toronchuk, Biopsychology TWU 

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.

Climate change is one of the most hotly debated scientific issues of today. But, is the evidence solid? Are proposed solutions viable? And why would anyone care? Join Katharine Hayhoe as she untangles the complex science behind global warming and highlights the key role our faith and values play in shaping our attitudes and actions on this crucial topic.
Biography for Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D
Recently named to TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list for 2014, Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change and what it means for people and the natural environment. But Hayhoe may be best-known to many people because of how she’s bridging the broad, deep, gap between scientists and Christians— work she does in part because she’s a Christian herself. Together with her husband Andrew Farley, a pastor, professor of applied linguistics, and best-selling author, Hayhoe wrote “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions,” a book that untangles the complex science and tackles many long-held misconceptions about global warming.  Her work as a climate change evangelist is featured on the documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously” and “The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers.” In 2012 she was honored to be named one of Christianity Today’s 50 Women to Watch.       Katharine Hayhoe, Climate Evangelist short statement 

See also GCU Blog series on Stewardship.
Rodin's Thinker

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

Posted by: gcarkner | September 26, 2014

Can We Make Peace between Faith and Reason?

Mythology that Currently Haunts the Relationship between Fides et Ratio

The Discourse on Faith and Reason Revisited

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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; it is intellectual hospitality. He asks them to test his wisdom and revelation against the reality of their lives, against their deepest aspirations. Brilliant biochemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi revealed that faith is operative at all stages of scientific research and discovery, both theoretical and experimental.

Below are listed ten of the most 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 (often not useful) 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 (aka 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. Religion is not the friend of ignorance nor the enemy of knowledge. Christian faith involves the mind as well as the heart, reason as well as intuition.

~Gordon E. Carkner PhD

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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, philosopher

 “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

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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 on the relationship of the culture spheres

“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 rationalityIn 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 (Alvin Plantinga).

Chapel at Versailles

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 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 R. 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?

This subtraction view of secularity is contested very strongly by top Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in his award-winning book, A Secular Age.

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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 on the interdependency of faith and reason

“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. Sophism is bad faith and bad reason. Evidence is vitally important to good faith; clarity, consistency, coherence and unity are important to good faith; exposing fantasy or superstition is an essential goal of good faith. One needs good faith in signing a major contract for a merger of two businesses. 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 these 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 Christian because it helps them to develop critical thinking, to enlarge their understanding of options, to improve their learning skills, and to approach intellectual pursuits systematically and efficiently. ~John R. 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, especially Chapter 10)

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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?; also 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).

All science is both theory and value-laden as Michael Polanyi notes in his book Personal Knowledge. It is personal knowledge held passionately by persons. Without a code of virtues and ethics, science could not be considered reliable knowledge.

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, Philosopher 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, the their two endeavours will increasingly overlap.” ~John R. Redekop, Political Scientist

Faith and reason as essential together: This is the Christian view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.

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, the human narrative. See Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology (2009) for a strong statement on complementarity of scientific rationality and theological reason.

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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 societal 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 aged, the preservation of historical 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 R. 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. Warrant is a very important concept of credibility.

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 spokesperson, 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.

Reductive materialism is a major philosophical problem in contemporary academia. One can study constitutive components (physics and chemistry) of a larger reality such as biological life, but this is never a fulsome explanation. The real danger is that methodological reduction  morphs into ontological reductionism in the mind. This is a logical non-sequitor.

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“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 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, figures 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 and philosophical speech is a tragedy. 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)

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 writes 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, Ibid., pp. 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 (John Redekop).

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,a dn 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. It is arguably the most consequential social movement in history. This socio-religious movement kept learning alive in the dark Ages, and has produced many of the world’s greatest artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists. In fact, it gave rise to the university itself. See Charles Malik, A Christian Critique of the University; G. Makdisi, Roots of the Modern University.

See also post on science and naturalism:

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 Christian beliefs and convictions.

Scholar D. Stephen Long, Marquette University

Posted by: gcarkner | September 19, 2014

Dawkins-Lennox Debate at UBC Sept. 22

The God Delusion Debate

Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins


Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox

at UBC

  • Monday, September 22 @ 4:00 p.m.
  • Woodward IRC Room 6

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.

B. Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science and Logic at Langara College writes: “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 says that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
See also 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).
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