A delicious banquet dinner. An evening with J.P. Moreland and Greg Koukl. Exciting reports from the "front lines" of youth work. A challenge to get involved. It's going to be a great night that you won't want to miss.
The office staff went to on a field trip yesterday to see "Expelled" and I thought it one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in a long time. I laughed more than I do at most comedies. We often lament why Christians don't make more good movies to compete in content and quality, and this one does that. It's really well made, and has a bit of an attitude, which I enjoyed. It's clever.
We had a debate afterward whether it's fair to use a documentary as Michael Moore does, to lobby for a point of view. But this movie doesn't purport to give the audience an objective account of an event, as we usually expect of documentaries; but the agenda isn't a secret. It doesn't purport to be what it's not. I'm not sure how the movie makers classify the movie, but maybe it's better to say it's a non-fiction movie if we want to keep "documentary" pure.
Another concern I was aware of going in was the use of Nazi and Communist images and whether they were relied on to make the movie's point rather than argument. But rather than being manipulative, the movie announces the use of the images. It isn't subtle or tricky. The grainy, dull black and white footage has that new reel quality and is contrasted very consciously to the color of the present day color footage. The images aren't used to carry an argument. The argument is made quite specifically and intelligently, though one might still disagree with it.
There is a lot of humor in the first half of the movie in using vintage 50's era footage and black and white cartoons made for the movie. The comparisons are funny, and I think those who would disagree with the points would even find humor in it. The movie has an attitude, an irreverence that is juxtaposed with the serious nature of the topic. It's very entertaining.
A wide variety of people on both sides of the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design are interviewed. It's a good introduction to the people and issues in this debate. It seems to me that what is at the heart of the debate is whether and how professional fields, such as science, should regulate to standards of their members. What is brought out in the movie, but usually never noticed in the heat of the debate, is that this is actually a philosophical issue rather than a scientific one. That's true for any field: What are the qualities and standards of a profession? It is proper to maintain standards of professionalism, but that philosophical discussion should not masquerade, in this case, as objective science. The gatekeepers of science are trying to regulate their field using philosophy, but won't admit it. So professionals with credentials, education, and experience are expelled, not for their lack of professionalism, but for their philosophy.
Another point of disagreement among our staff was whether the portion of the movie that examined the moral consequences of atheistic Darwinism was suitable in this movie called "Expelled" or whether the movie should have focused only on the academic expulsions. I thought this portion flowed quite naturally once we recognize in the movie that it's not science but philosophy presiding over science. What then can that philosophy lead to because, after all, science and philosophy have real life consequences. If an entire field is being driven by philosophy, we should examine what that can mean for us since we are educated and influenced by it. Science informs our public policy debates, purportedly as an objective discipline. It's important to understand that it isn't objective. Dissenters who might provide another point of view are expelled from the field so their voices don't inform us, and the remaining ideology can influence us inappropriately if we don't examine it.
Richard Dawkins is quite candid in his interviews for the film and that is probably the most useful part of the movie. His agenda is quite clear. It's science over religion, which he's quite dismissive of. Darwinism, as becomes clear in Dawkins' interview and others, has consequences for the way we view the world and live our lives. Religion has to decrease so science can increase. Darwinism isn't just an academic field; it's a worldview that cannot tolerate dissent because it orders the way we view humanity and our limited existence. And that's what this movie is effective at exposing.
Here is an excerpt of a letter from Lincoln, rather timeless in its subject matter. He marks the tendency of human beings to forget the needs of those still languishing in injustice. Why? Because we're no longer subjects of injustice ourselves.
How does this apply to the work each of us is unwilling to do to save the unborn?
Don't worry, Lincoln assures us, even if we no longer show by our actions that we care about freedom and equality, there's still a very compelling reason to celebrate July 4. -SW
August 15, 1855
Hon. Geo. Robertson
My dear Sir,
... You are not a friend of slavery in the abstract. In that speech you spoke of "the peaceful extinction of slavery" and used other expressions indicating your belief that the thing was, at some time, to have an end. Since then we have had thirty-six years of experience; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal failure of Henry Clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect anything in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hope utterly. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that "all men are created equal" a self-evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim "a self-evident lie." The Fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day -- for burning fire-crackers!!!
The spirit which desired the peaceful extinction of slavery, has itself become extinct, with the occasion, and the men of the Revolution. Under the impulse of that occasion, nearly half the States adopted systems of emancipation at once; and it is a significant fact, that not a single State has done the like since. So far as peaceful, voluntary emancipation is concerned, the condition of the Negro slave in America, scarcely less terrible to the contemplation of the free mind, is now as fixed, and hopeless of change for the better, as that of the lost souls of the finally impenitent. The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.
Our political problem now is, "Can we as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave, and half free?" The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.
Your much obliged friend, and humble servant
(The Living Lincoln, Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers, eds, [New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992], p. 187-188)
Oprah has made a number of books bestsellers and among them are religious books that promote, essentially, reworked New Age religion. When another of her books hits the bestsellers list, we get emails from Christians asking for point by point responses to each book because their friends are reading these books. The ideas in these book are not new; they were popularized in the 60s and 70s and roundly responded to by Christian writers and scholars. Old ideas come back wrapped up to look different, but behind the dressing there are no essential differences. The ideas are recycled old ones, a westernized blend of
Hinduism and Buddhism. Doug Groothuis' book is the best single volume to get familiar with the New Age themes that repeat themselves on Oprah's bookshelf.
There are a couple of key themes that always surface in New Age rehash. And it's handy to remember these as a starting point to evaluate any religious claims, especially those of the New Age variety.
First is the claim that this teaching is what Jesus really was here to teach us. Bunk. Jesus Himself said that His death and resurrection was the purpose of His life, that our decision about who He is is central to our relationship with Him, and that salvation was only through Him. The New Agers have been trying to strip Jesus of most of what He Himself said for years now so that they can use Him for credibility, a nice, wise teacher. But you have to ignore most of what He actually taught in order to make that work. Jesus own words make Christianity and any New Age teaching incompatible.
Second, these books/theologies always teach an impersonal Consciousness that we are a part of. That's Hinduism. Christianity is about a personal God who created us, a personal being to have a relationship with. They merge creation and Creator; Christianity keeps the two distinct. Jesus Himself said that He was God so God is not an impersonal force or indistinct consciousness to access or achieve.
This western blend of Buddhism and Hinduism in New Age wrappings has been growing in attraction to Americans for years because it gives people the significance of a religion without the obligations and demands that a personal God and the Bible make on them. It's high on personal meaning and low on personal obligation. Underneath it all, people are God's creatures and are sinners. They're running from that fact. The best thing to do is to use the Law and Jesus' own words, and let the Holy Spirit work on their heart and conscience.
Some abortion-choice advocates argue against the pro-life position by saying that mere membership in a species (e.g. the human species) cannot ground someone's right to life. For most pro-life advocates, however, this is a straw man. Very few pro-life advocates claim that merely being a member of a species is the thing makes one valuable.
For example, many pro-life advocates ultimately appeal to God as the value-Giver.
Isn't the real problem that the abortion-choice advocate has disqualified religious references (explicitly or implicitly) at the outset of the discussion? Then she claims I have no grounding for value except appealing to species membership. This is unfair.
Two thoughts on this:
First, if we all agree that born human beings have instrinsic value and dignity, everyone in the discussion must answer the grounding question. Appeals to functional qualities lead to the same grounding problem as appeals to species membership. Any claim to value has to be grounded in some source of value. I would argue that born human beings (and unborn) have special dignity and intrinsic value based on their human nature, but then I must argue further for why human nature matters.
(I suppose someone can appeal to a brute fact of value, saying that they know by intuition that humans have special dignity. At some stage in philosophical discussion everyone has to appeal to brute facts, after all. This move simply sidesteps the grounding question as irrelevant.)
Second, it's a mistake to disqualify religious references. Everyone makes metaphysical claims in these discussions and bears the burden of defending those metaphysical claims. On what grounds does the "no-religious-references-allowed" advocate disqualify this one kind of metaphysical claim? If we're all making metaphysical claims, we're all on an equal playing field, whether we're appealing to God or not.
So often, scientists (and others) will claim their view is based on science rather than religion, but then they'll go on to make all sorts of non-scientific, metaphysical claims. I'm not saying they don't have an equal place at the metaphysical table. I'm saying precisely that they are arguing at the metaphysical table, whether they recognize it or not.
At a recent youth ministry conference at Willow Creek Community Church, while discussing his latest book, Brian McLaren talked about the need to change our understanding of Jesus' second coming because
Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly. . . . [And from the book:] This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we've said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.
First, this suggestion reflects a great misunderstanding of justice. Justice is not mere violence, coercion, and domination. The final judgment of all that we've done to hurt others is a desirable and good thing in a universe with a good, sovereign God. What kind of a God would He be if He simply ignored the evil that we do?
Second, it reflects a view of doctrine as something we create, not as an eternal reality we discover. McLaren is asking us to shape our doctrine according to pragmatic concerns so that we can create the type of world that seems best to us. However, if God is real, and He is good, and the Bible is His word, and that text has an intended meaning, the best possible result will come when we follow that word closely--shaping our ideas to it rather than it to our ideas. You're moving into dangerous territory when you start to tinker with it according to what you think might work out better. God is far more likely to be right than we are!
Third, even if it were up to us to create the doctrine we think will work best in our world, McLaren is making a huge mistake here, as Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary explains in this article:
"The apostle Paul tells us not to avenge ourselves. Why? Because, he writes, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord' (Romans 12:18-20).
"As for domination, the Bible tells us not to dominate one another, precisely because 'we will all stand before the judgment seat of God' (Romans 12:10)."
Even though McLaren claims to want world peace, his own view is actually the one that leads to violence, Moore said.
"When a Christian understands that he does not fight for his own honor, but that justice will be done by God, either through union with Christ and His cross or at the judgment itself, the Christian is freed then to trust God, not his sword or his gun or his fists or his tongue," he said. "It is McLaren's vision of a life that consists only of the justice achieved in this era that leads to violence and Darwinian struggle to see that a pound of flesh is exacted."
(Since I haven't been able to find a place where I can listen to McLaren's presentation, I'm basing this on the reporting in the article. It's possible it's inaccurate, but it does seem to match what I've heard from McLaren in the past.)
The video podcast of Greg's radio show commentaries is now available, so take a look at our podcast page for links to subscribe on iTunes or get the RSS feed.If you'd rather not download the files, you can still view them on YouTube or Godtube.Enjoy!
The saga I described on Friday included a new episode over the weekend. Yale University, frustrated that Aliza Shvarts won't recant on the truthfulness of her abortion-as-art senior project, has decided that either she must say the whole thing is a performance art fiction or she can't display the project.
This is a curious demand. If abortion doesn't kill a human being, what could possibly be wrong with Shvart's project? It's a bit crude, I suppose, but with all of the other things that pass as art these days, it seems odd to exclude abortion from the mix. If someone were displaying the tissue that was removed during their liposuction surgery, people would recoil, but I doubt the university would censor it.
And if Yale is censoring this project because abortion kills a human being, and Shvart's art may have included that sort of killing (she claims one point of her project was to be ambiguous about this), then is Yale willing to follow that logic and discourage all Yale students from getting abortions? Why is Yale so concerned about such a small-scale abortion operation as Shvarts's when the Yale Medical Center Family Planning Department teaches doctors to perform abortions and appears to offer abortions as a service?
So, the question remains: Why is Yale censoring the Shvarts art?
Regardless of the answer, I contend that the situation continues to create a good opportunity to begin a dialogue on abortion with common ground. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, don't most people agree that Shvarts's art project is not a good reason for abortion? Once we have agreed that we think abortion shouldn't be used as art, we're ready to discuss why.
After announcing in February that he would not vote for Sen. John McCain, Dr. James Dobson suggested he would sit out the November presidential election. On March 30, however, the Focus on the Family founder announced that he "will certainly vote," saying it is "a God-given responsibility." He did not give any indication, though, of whom he will support.
I'm very glad to know this. I think that we have a responsibility with our vote to choose the best option available because there are seldom ideal choices in politics. (Believe me, I live in California.) But there are clear differences between the candidates and I think Christian citizens should live out their values by voting for the best choice available.