Saturday, June 28, 2008

Good Reading

Over the years one of my favorite family pastimes has been reading aloud to our children. We’ve read some really good books by some really good authors—some well known (e.g., Tolkien, Lewis), others…not so much. Last night we finished 100 Cupboards by the not so well known (yet) Nathan Wilson, which left us eagerly awaiting the release of book two in the trilogy Dandelion Fire, which I just learned has been delayed until February of 2009.

100 Cupboards is the story of 12 year old Henry York, whose parents were kidnapped while bicycling across South America. But that’s not where the action is. The action is in little Henry, Kansas. (Hey, whatyaknow, another great story takes place in Kansas! Think, Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie, and don’t forget that Marianne on "Gilligan’s Island" was a Kansas farm girl!)

Henry York is actually from Boston, but after his parents turn up missing, he’s shipped off to Kansas to live with his aunt and uncle. He’s given a bedroom in the attic and begins to hear things that go “bump” in the night. He tries to ignore it, but the next night he is awakened by bits of plaster falling on his bed and he sees two knobs broken through the wall…and one of them is slowly turning.

Henry scrapes the remaining plaster off the wall and discovers 99 cupboards with different shapes and sizes. He soon realizes the cupboards are portals to other worlds. That’s when the action begins.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Problem (As I See It)

This is a follow up to my previous post on the controversy surrounding “The Louisiana Science Education Act.”

As a Christian, the problem is not the fact that evolution is being taught to school children. That must be done.

I realize that my saying this may be a bit of a surprise, especially to those of you who know me to be an unapologetic young earth six day creationist.

Still, it’s true. I insist that evolution must be taught to school children. Because I think it’s true? No, but because it’s the reigning theory. We simply cannot ignore what the vast majority of the scientific community believes (not to mention a significant minority of the general population). That’s why during the next school year my students and I will read On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. . . Yeah, that book—the one by Charles Darwin. It’s a vitally important read. It’s without question the most influential book written in the last two hundred years. No book has done more to move Western culture away from its Christian foundations.

But that’s not the only thing we are going to read on the subject. We’re also going to read Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael Behe, the book that launched the intelligent design movement. It seems to me simply a matter of good pedagogy to present both sides of a controversial topic.

Unfortunately, that’s what Barry Lynn and Americans United for Separation of Church and State wish to deny to the children in the public schools of Louisiana, which brings us to the real problem, as I see it: tax-funded schools.

The problem with tax-funded schools is the same problem as with tax-funded churches. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion. The original intent of this provision was to prevent the federal government from preferring one particular Christian denomination from being favored above the rest by being chosen as the official church of the United States and being supported with tax dollars.

The rationale was expressed by Thomas Jefferson when he said, “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Hear! Hear!

To compel, say, a Roman Catholic to pay for the support a Protestant church with his tax dollars is unjust. He ends up paying twice: he is forced to pay for the support of a Protestant church (whose theology he disbelieves and abhors) and then must pay for his own church with voluntary contributions.

The same is true, of course, if matters are moving in the other direction.

The framers of our Constitution wisely prevented this from happening by writing the First Amendment. But the same problem—the same injustice—is inherent in tax-supported schools because education is not a religiously neutral undertaking. Every subject in every school is taught from the perspective of the worldview—the religious presuppositions—of the teacher (and the textbook authors).

Roman Catholics understood this very early. They developed the parochial school system because in the early days America’s public schools were too Protestant—the teachers, the curriculum, everything. There were Bible readings (inappropriate for Catholics, at the time), Bible instruction (from a Protestant perspective), Protestant catechisms, and Protestant prayers. This meant that Roman Catholic parents were forced to pay for the Protestantizing of their children. They decided it was better to pull their kids out of the public schools and start their own. The problem was…they had to pay for both. They paid for the public school system with their tax dollars and their own schools through tuition—the same injustice as a tax-supported church.

Someone will say, “We no longer have Bible readings in the public schools. Nor any catechisms or prayers. So we have overcome the problem, right?”

Not at all. We’ve just exchanged one form of religious instruction for another. School children are no longer being instructed in a kind of watered-down, generic Protestantism, but in an anti-Christian secularism. It’s not that schools openly declare the non-existence of God. They just ignore Him. But the very omission of any consideration of God in the educational process teaches children to think that He is irrelevant to life and learning. And this is a far more subtle—and therefore a far more effective—form of indoctrination. Just begin with the assumption. Never identify it. Never call attention to it. Just leave God out of the discussion and the kids will get the hint.

The upshot of it all is that instead of the public school system being unjust only toward Roman Catholics, it’s unjust toward all Christians equally.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

There’s Trouble a-brewin’ in Louisiana

Earlier this week, the Louisiana State Senate voted 36-0 to approve a bill that passed the House by a vote of 94-3. The bill would allow science teachers to use supplemental materials, in addition to state-issued textbooks, on issues like evolution, global warming, and human cloning. The purpose of the supplemental materials, the bill explains, is to encourage “critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied.” The bill is particularly aimed at giving teachers the assurance of academic freedom to actually teach that there is such a thing as a controversy over these subjects (especially evolution), instead of simply being intimidated into silence.

Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign the bill.

As you can imagine the secular fundamentalists are in a tizzy. The bill—titled “The Louisiana Science Education Act”—allows the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to act upon complaints and toss out any supplemental material it deems to be inappropriate. But that’s not good enough for adherents to the reigning evolutionary orthodoxy. The Darwinian dogmatists have declared their unwillingness to allow any contrary views whatsoever. To do so, they say, amounts to smuggling religion into the classroom, which of course we can never, no never have.

Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is ready to run to the children’s defense. “If this bill passes, and religious materials are brought into Louisiana public school as a result, we will go to court to seek justice for the state’s children.”

Never fear! Barry Lynn will protect the students from exposure to religious materials; but alas, who will protect the children from Barry Lynn? He’s seeking to impose his religious views on the children of Louisiana. The people of Louisiana have acted through their elected officials by an overwhelming margin. But Barry Lynn says, “No, sorry, your religious viewpoint is invalid. Mine is the only one that counts.”

I know he would protest my putting it in this way, but this really is what it amounts to. It’s never a question of whether or not a religious viewpoint is going to predominate in the classroom, only a matter of which religious viewpoint is going to predominate. Make no mistake. Secularism is as much a religious point of view as Christianity is. And as matters stand now, only secularism’s religious point of view is allowed. Only the secularist’s view of God may be presented in the classroom, namely, that (if he exists) he’s irrelevant to the discussion (that’s why we don’t talk about him). Only secularism’s view of origins may be taught (big bang, Darwinian evolution). Only secularism’s view of morality may be taught (everything’s relative).

The legislation in Louisiana is about to upset the apple cart, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the ACLU and are both looking to make some applesauce. Already they are threatening lawsuits.

Monday, June 16, 2008

War of the Water Balloons

It came out of nowhere. I never saw it. But believe me…I felt it.

Smack! Splash!

I’d been hit, and hit good with a water balloon right upside the head, launched by my son from at least 40 feet away. The reason I never saw it coming was because I had my back turned and was running away. I had just made my sortie into hostile territory, unloaded my supply of water balloons, taking out both James and Suzanna, and was making good my escape. I was just about ready to break out into a victory dance as I proudly carried the enemy flag back to our home base.

And then it happened.

James didn’t even know he got me. He said it was a desperation throw. He didn’t even aim. He just let it fly. But it found its mark—my left temple. The force of it snapped by head sideways. I was drenched. It was by far the best throw of the night.

Nevertheless, Melinda, Elizabeth, and I, won the best of three capture the flag water balloon wars over James, Suzanna, and Hannah.

What a way to celebrate Father’s Day!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In Praise of Daughters

This has been an especially good eating week. One of the blessings of having so many daughters is that they are being trained to be wives and mothers, which makes yours truly the beneficiary of their still developing—but already amazingly honed—culinary skills. This week Melinda had three of our girls each take a turn at preparing supper. On Tuesday Suzanna (15) made homemade pizza. On Wednesday Elizabeth (13) made spaghetti and garlic bread. And Thursday Hannah (11) made Mexican food…just the way I like it—with fried flour tortillas shells. All this was after Melinda made smothered steak and mashed potatoes on Monday night.

As I said, it’s been an especially good eating week.

The Chronicler says that Obed-edom’s eight sons were a blessing from God (1 Chron. 26:4-5). No doubt they were. But if Obed-edom could have eaten what I’ve eaten this week, he might envy me for my five daughters!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

While we’re on the subject of atheism, I should mention the “conversion” of Anthony Flew. He is a renowned philosopher who for the second half of the 20th century was perhaps the world’s leading atheist. He first came to prominence as a philosopher when he presented a paper at the Oxford University Socratic Club in 1950, chaired at the time by C. S. Lewis, himself a former atheist. The Socratic Club was formed for the purpose of providing “an open forum for the discussion of the intellectual difficulties connected with religion and with Christianity in particular.” Flew’s paper was entitled “Theology and Falsification,” and became the one of the most widely reprinted philosophical publications of the 20th century. He went on to write more than thirty books, including God and Philosophy, The Presumption of Atheism, and How to Think Straight.

Several years ago I showed a televised debate between Flew and Dr. Gary Habermas on the subject of Christ’s resurrection to a small Bible study group. One of the really interesting things about the debate was how clearly it showed the power of presuppositions. Flew admitted that in a world where miracles were possible the evidence for the resurrection of Christ was very persuasive. The problem was (from his perspective): we don’t live in a world where miracles are possible. Ergo, there must be some other explanation for the evidence. Flew came across as a very likable guy, a grandfatherly type, someone you were moved to pity rather than be angry with for his arguing against the faith. Unlike the trio mentioned in the previous post, he was respectful and courteous.

It was with a great deal of interest, therefore, that I read some years later of his “conversion.” The word is in quotes because it was not a conversion to the Christian faith, but to a form of Deism. As he explains in his newest book (2007), There is a God: How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind,

I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source.

Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science... (p. 88)

The leaders of science over the last hundred years, along with some of today’s most influential scientists, have built a philosophically compelling vision of a rational universe that sprang from a divine Mind. As it happens, this is the particular view of the world that I now find to be the soundest philosophical explanation of a multitude of phenomena encountered by scientists and laypeople alike.

Three domains of scientific inquiry have been especially important for me… The first is the question that puzzled and continues to puzzle most reflective scientists: How
did the laws of nature come to be? The second is evident to all: How did life as a phenomenon originate from nonlife? And the third is the problem that philosophers handed over to cosmologists: How did the universe, by which we mean all that is physical, come into existence?” (p. 91)
In the book he explains how he--though growing up the son of a Methodist minister--became an atheist, and what, in turn, caused him to reconsider the whole question. He is not yet a Christian, but he clearly expresses profound respect for the Christian faith.

In both my antitheological books and various debates, I have taken issue with many of the claims of divine revelation or intervention. My current position, however, is more open to at least certain of these claims. In point of fact, I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected… If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat. (pp. 185-186).

He includes two appendices written by Christian thinkers. The first is a critical appraisal of the New Atheism, written by Roy Abraham Varghese, a devout Syrian Rite Catholic. The second is entitled, “The Self-Revelation of God in Human History,” by the well-known Anglican leader, N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham.

Anthony flew over the cuckoo’s nest of atheism and seems to be on his return flight. C.S. Lewis took a similar path. He grew up in the church, became an atheist as a young man, found atheism to be intellectually untenable, became a Deist, and eventually a Christian. We may hope and pray for the same happy ending for Anthony Flew.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's New About the New Atheism?

I’ve been reading a number of books by and about the New Atheists: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. What makes the New Atheism new is not its arguments so much as its hysterics. For the new atheists, everything that’s wrong with the world is traceable to the presence of so many people who believe in God. The new atheists are not content to simply give reasoned arguments for their position, they feel compelled to mock and vilify their opponents. It’s not simply a matter of, “I don’t believe God exists,” but rather, “The God portrayed in the Bible is wicked and those who believe in him are fools.”

Richard Dawkins, for instance, in The God Delusion, says, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” He has also said that teaching religion to children is a form of child abuse.

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, likens religion to a form of mental illness which, he says, “allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.”

Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, says religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”

The game’s afoot! The battle is joined! A number of Christian leaders have seen to it that the New Atheists’ belief-less babblings don’t go unchallenged. Doug Wilson has answered Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation point by point with his Letter from a Christian Citizen. I recommend that you read Harris’ book one section at a time, followed by Wilson’s rebuttal of the points raised in the section. When you’re done with both books, read Joel McDurmon’s, The Return of the Village Atheist. It will be very clear that Harris isn’t at all the paragon of reason he fancies himself.

Alister McGrath, professor of history at Oxford University (and a former atheist himself), along with his wife Joanna, have answered Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion with The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine. Philosopher Michael Ruse says of Dawkins, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGrath’s show why.”

Perhaps the most powerful blow to the atheist triumvirate is The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day, an instructive and very entertaining no-holds barred approach to dealing with their folly.
This trio of New Atheists, this Unholy Trinity, are a collection of faux-intellectual frauds utilizing pseudo-scientific sleight of hand in order to falsely claim that religious faith is inherently dangerous and has no place in the modern world… I’m saying that they are wrong, they are reliably, verifiably, and factually incorrect. Richard Dawkins is wrong. Daniel C. Dennett is wrong. Christopher Hitchens is drunk, and he’s wrong. Michel Onfray is French, and he’s wrong. Sam Harris is so superlatively wrong that it will require the development of esoteric mathematics operating simultaneously in multiple dimensions to fully comprehend the orders of magnitude of his wrongness.
Day musters an impressive collection of historical and statistical facts to put the lie to the New Atheists’ claims. His incisive thinking and razor sharp wit make the book a delight to read. He doesn’t just answer their arguments, he demolishes them. I’m glad he’s on our side!

Here Goes

I'm taking the plunge. I'm finally entering the blog world, and I am probably getting in way over my head. But hopefully I'll be able to tread water and keep afloat. I hope to make two or three posts a week on a variety of topics including: the Bible, current events, church and family life, art, history, philosophy, economics, politics, education, food, friendship, laughter, literature...in a word: LIFE.