February 2009


Albert Mohler examines an article in U.S. News & World Report that is quite troubling.  It appears the Obama administration requires those who offer prayers before an Obama speech, to vet it with the White House first for their approval.  This is quite clearly a government entanglement with religion.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is a need to even have someone offer a prayer prior to an Obama speech, but if you are going to have prayer be offered, it should not have to be reviewed and possibly edited by the White House.  This goes beyond political correctness into theological arbitration.  As Mohler wrote, “When a White House approves or edits prayers, it has entered theological territory and takes on a theological function.  The President of the United States is our Commander in Chief, not our Theologian in Chief.”

One of my favorite book titles is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek.  But I think Ray Comfort’s new book title comes in for a close second: You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think.  That is classic!

bridge-the-gap-failedScience-types tend to dismiss theism on grounds that it’s rooted in an ignorance of material explanations for natural phenomena.  Science has discovered material explanations for most things once thought to be acts of God (lightning, gravity, etc.).  Seeing that the gaps in our understanding (gaps once occupied by God) have increasingly been filled by materialist explanations, so, they say, is the need for theism.  Furthermore, given the track record of scientific progress in the last few centuries, even those gaps that remain are likely to be filled with materialistic explanations, leaving no room for theism.  Are these conclusions reasonable?

I’ll begin by addressing the question of whether scientific progress eliminates the need for God.  To speak of the need for God, in this context, is to speak of His explanatory power.  Scientists who think finding materialistic explanations for natural phenomena eliminates the need for God presuppose that God is just a hypothesis, and that this God-hypothesis is only needed to explain the natural world.  Both presuppositions are false.

Most people who believe in God do not do so because God explains some X that is otherwise inexplicable.  For them, God is not an explanatory entity, but a living reality they encounter.  They believe in God because they have experienced Him.  There are, however, some theists who believe in God only because of the explanatory power such a being holds.  What these science-types miss, however, is that for these individuals, God explains much more than just the natural world.  There are non-physical realities that need to be explained such as the existence of objective moral values/duties, the existence of mind/consciousness, and freedom of the will.  Materialistic explanation of these phenomena are not plausible.  An immaterial being, however, provides a sufficient cause.  So even if God was no longer needed to explain all features the universe, His explanatory power would not be obsolete.  There would still be a need for the God-hypothesis.

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That’s right.  The British government is advising parents that they should only discuss their sexual values with their children, but not try to convince them of what’s right and wrong because it “may discourage them from being open.”  I’m irked by the fact that the government thinks it can tell parents how they should teach their kids values.  I’m amazed that England thinks this will help their society.  What good comes out of teens doing whatever they want sexually?  Nothing.

The sorts of things that are happening in England are not limited to England.  We’re already seeing them here.  I find it ironic that the very worldview that promoted religious tolerance in the first place, is the very worldview that is now being suppressed.  I would love to see how things would have been different if Muslims, rather than Christians, were in view.

In 1941, philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote a short, but impactful article for the Journal of Educational Sociology titled an “Invitation to the Pain of Learning.”  Adler argued that thinking/education is one of the highest and most rewarding pursuits of man; unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult and painful.  As a result, genuine education is being abandoned for what some have called “infotainment.”  Education has become a passive enterprise, in which teachers provide students with information dumbed down so that it is entertaining, fun, and pragmatic.  But education should be an active enterprise in which we engage ideas and subjects that challenge our mind and shape our character.  Adler calls both people and educational institutions to focus on the short-term pain of educational learning for the ultimate satisfaction of a transformed life.  Here are some great excerpts that are worth your time to read:

One of the reasons why the education given by our schools is so frothy and vapid is that the American people generally – the parent even more than the teacher – wish childhood to be unspoiled by pain. Childhood must be a period of delight, of gay indulgence in impulses. It must be given every avenue for unimpeded expression, …and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful. Childhood must be filled with as much play and as little work as possible. … Heaven forbid that learning should ever take on the character of a serious occupation – just as serious as earning money, and perhaps, much more laborious and painful. … It must all be fun. It must all be entertaining. Adult learning must be made as effortless as possible – painless, devoid of oppressive burdens and of irksome tasks.

[T]he fundamental activity that is involved in every kind of genuine learning is intellectual activity, the activity generally known as thinking. Any learning which takes place without thinking is necessarily of the sort I have called external and additive – learning passively acquired, for which the common name is “information.” Without thinking, the kind of learning which transforms a mind, gives it new insights, enlightens it, deepens understanding, elevates the spirit simply cannot occur.  Anyone who has done any thinking, even a little bit, knows that it is painful. It is hard work – in fact the very hardest that human beings are ever called upon to do. It is fatiguing, not refreshing. … Far from trying to make the whole process painless from beginning to end, we must promise them the pleasure of achievement as a reward to be reached only through travail.

I do not know…whether it [radio and television] can ever do what the best teachers have always done and must now be doing; namely, to present programs which are genuinely educative, as opposed to merely stimulating, in the sense that following them requires the listener to be active not passive, to think rather than remember, and to suffer all the pains of lifting himself up by his own bootstraps.

Unless we acknowledge that every invitation to learning can promise pleasure only as the result of pain, can offer achievement only at the expense of work, all of our invitations to learning, in school and out, whether by books, lectures, or radio and television programs will be as much buncombe as the worst patent medicine advertising, or the campaign pledge to put two chickens in every pot. 

I particularly like what he says about teaching over people’s head.  While this practice is usually condemned, Adler argues it is absolutely essential to good education:

[W]e must have no fears about what is “over the public’s head.” Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles. The school system which caters to the median child, or worse, to the lower half of the class; the lecturer before adults…who talks down to his audience; the radio or television program which tries to hit the lowest common denominator of popular receptivity – all these defeat the prime purpose of education by taking people as they are and leaving them just there.

I couldn’t agree more.  People need to be intellectually challenged if they are ever to grow intellectually.  That’s not to say we should speak in words they do not understand (at least without defining those words for them), or that we do not appeal to their existing knowledge base, but it is to say that we shouldn’t always be covering the ABCs.  It’s appropriate to move on to higher letters in the alphabet.  Christians need to be weaned from theological milk, and learn to eat some theological steak.  Otherwise, they’ll be condemned to being Peter Pan Christians for the rest of their lives.

Have you ever seen those motivational posters that have a nice, serene or inspiring picture, and a word-message beneath it?  For example, it might show a rock climber pulling himself over the summit of a mountain.  And the word will be “achievement,” followed by some inspirational line about achievement.  I hate those posters!  I much prefer the ones created by Despair, Inc. One of my favorites is “Incompetence: When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there’s no end to what you can’t do.

I would like to make a polemical “demotivational” poster of my own on the topic of “Atheism,” and I would like your help in determining the caption and picture.  Here are the captions I have come up with:

  • Atheism: The best way to become your own boss is to pretend your boss doesn’t exist
  • Atheism: Because God didn’t qualify for the job
  • Atheism: There is no God, and I hate him.
  • Atheism: An elite club for those with enough faith to believe everything came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing, Amen.
  • Atheism: Because nobody tells me what to do.

Which is your favorite?  Can you think of some alternatives?  Paint for me a picture to go along with the caption you selected.  For example, for the first caption I envision a big corporate conference room with a man sitting in the CEO’s chair on his lap, acting as if the CEO is not there.

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