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December 22, 2011

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Our culture defines reason as naturalism, and so it allows reasonable people to be religious only as long as they either confine their religious claims to the realm of private opinion (i.e., based on personal revelations or ideas that apply only to them), or focus on general revelation to which everyone can reason (e.g., advice for living well). Neither of these options threatens the sovereignty of naturalism.

Well that certainly is news to me. Horton must admit, however, that there are a few oddities about this culture of ours, steeped in naturalism as it is. In 2009, for instance, a gallup poll indicated that only 4 out of 10 people believe in evolution (see http://bit.ly/Fre0N), which is a bit low for a culture willing to do anything to protect the sovereignty of naturalism. On the high end of percentages, in 2011 a gallup poll indicated that more than 9 out of 10 Americans believe in God (see http://bit.ly/itvmyG), which is also a bit surprising for a culture so thoroughly consumed by naturalism.

Given the numbers in those polls, one would have to question why evolution is touted as "truth" by virtually all of academia! As for 9 out of 10 Americans who "believe in God", one has to wonder what "god" they believe in. Polling numbers can effectively be used to purport all sorts of things; a cursory look at our culture reveals wrath against the God of Scripture and a mindless adherence to naturalism and all it claims.

a cursory look at our culture reveals wrath against the God of Scripture and a mindless adherence to naturalism and all it claims.

Should readers put the emphasis on "cursory"? I wonder what would be revealed by a more judicious glance.

Malebranche

"Should readers put the emphasis on "cursory"? I wonder what would be revealed by a more judicious glance."

What it is likely to reveal is that with the folks who claim a belief in god there is a kind of disconnect in understanding of god and how their religion provides a particular worldview that is in opposition to naturalism. This disconnect results in their adoption of a view that is inconsistent with their stated belief in god. If they took time to examine the particulars of the picture their religion paints of reality, they would see the inconsistency with naturalism. That many of them do not and simply bow to naturalism, shows a need for proper education.

I used the word "cursory" because it doesn't seem terribly necessary to look at our culture under a microscope to see the mountains of evidence that exist exposing our wrath against the God of Scripture.

It could be that our culture is actually full of a bunch of folks who believe both in God and in naturalism and are just unreflective enough to not notice that according to naturalism there is no God. I certainly don’t believe the culture is overflowing with intellectually discerning folks, but even a pessimist such as myself might be a bit surprised that so many would fail to notice that from There are no supernatural entities it swiftly follows that There is no God on any standard understanding of the term “God”; the entailment is, after all, about as obvious and immediate as they come. It might be suggested that the entailment is obvious only if the term “God” is used in such a way that it refers to a supernatural entity. Well, if I were a betting man, I’d bet my bottom-dollar that this is precisely the way most folks in our culture use the term. It is not as though the culture is composed mostly of folks using the term “God” in the fashion of Spinoza or Tillich.

What I find more likely is that the culture actually is not on the whole in the grip of naturalism any more than it is in the grip of postmodernism. That sure would explain why folks overwhelmingly say they believe in God and usually don’t say they believe in evolution. The folks in our culture have typically been and continue to be deeply suspicious of atheists and evolution. In that respect many Christian apologists are standing firmly with the culture, not against it. That our culture is deeply committed to naturalism is just something non-naturalists of various kinds are saying (sometimes, as in the post above, without a shred of evidence), perhaps because they genuinely believe it, or perhaps because it is exhilarating and somewhat enjoyable to regard oneself as part of a disliked minority with the truth on one’s side and with a divine mandate to fight for that truth in a largely hostile culture. The romance and glory just aren’t the same if it turns out that were one’s team to win the culture war, such a victory would more closely resemble Goliath slaying David than David slaying Goliath.

Louis,

Are most of the folks in the American South "bowing to naturalism," or is this mostly a coastal and Yankee state phenomenon?

Hi Malebranche, my experience with people in general is that they trust the scientific community enough that even if their own intuitions might not be in agreement, they stay annomous about it for fear of looking foolish. Or,they may just defer and move on without doing the inspection so that the sting goes away. The result is a unreasonable faith, 1)in the Christian a neutered believer who is fearful of making an embarrasing stand in contrast to the prevailing views, then 2) an unreasonable faith in the unbeliever that only stands because it hasn't been tested.

I dont think Horton is incorrect stating that the culture is in the grip of naturalism, specifically because it is unpopular to make others uncomfortable by going against the prevailing wisdom, no matter how empty is or how naked the king really is.

Speaking of living inconsistently, there was a time in my life when I thought life was completely meaningless and without purpose, but at the same time, I fully subscribed to the idea that God created us for a reason and imposed moral obligations on us. I just didn't think about these things at the same time, so I never noticed the inconsistency.

This is partly why the gospel is scandalous: not because it's irrational and subjective, but precisely because here, faith refuses to remain on the Alcatraz of private opinion. The gospel is also a scandal because of what it announces: a radical rescue operation amid a radical problem (God's wrath).

Horton’s suggestion seems to be that Christianity is scandalous because of the requirements it makes on all of our behavior, not because of the rational content of its dogmas. That reminded me of a quote from Kierkegaard, who thought that Christianity is also scandalous to reason itself, and that apologetics is actually in the project of removing that scandal as much as it possibly can. Although I would hardly regard Kierkegaard as philosophically reliable or his fideism as finally tenable, I’ve always been struck by the following passage:

What is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has entered time, that God has entered existence, has been born, has grown, and so on, has become precisely like any other human being, quite indistinguishable from other humans. The absurd is precisely by its objective repulsion the measure of the inwardness of faith. Suppose there is a man who desires to have faith. Let the comedy begin. He desires to obtain faith with the help of objective investigation and what the approximation process of evidential inquiry yields. What happens? With the help of the increment of evidence the absurd is transformed into something else; it becomes probable, it becomes more probable still, it becomes perhaps highly and overwhelmingly probable. Now that there is respectable evidence for the content of his faith, he is ready to believe it, and he prides himself that his faith is not like that of the shoemaker, the tailor, and the simple folk, but comes after a long investigation. Now he prepares himself to believe it. Any proposition that is almost probable, reasonably probable, highly and overwhelmingly probable, is something that is almost known and as good as known, highly and overwhelmingly known—but it is not believed, not through faith: for the absurd is precisely faith’s object and the only positive attitude possible in relation to it is faith and not knowledge…[T]he speculative philosopher…believes but only to a certain degree. He puts his hand to the plow but quickly looks about for something to know. From a Christian perspective it is hard to see how he could reach the highest good in this manner.

I suppose Horton might find something in here to agree with, at least insofar as Horton seems to think that Christian faith is not reached by reasoning one’s way into it.

Horton’s suggestion seems to be that Christianity is scandalous because of the requirements it makes on all of our behavior, not because of the rational content of its dogmas.

I think he's saying the opposite. In this quote he says Christianity is scandalous because 1) it doesn't stay in the realm of opinion because it's based on historical fact, and 2) it's not about behavior requirements, but about a "radical rescue operation" that happened in history.

Yeah, actually once I posted I looked again at the quote from Horton and it occurred to me, "Well, he's not really talking about moral requirements," so I stand corrected there. But in any event, it was his attempt to downplay the offense to reason itself that reminded me of the quote from Kierkegaard.

Malebranche,

You find this interesting:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2010/08/why-inerrancy-doesnt-matter/

Does Dr. Olsons's view match yours?

Cog,

Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading the article.

As for my own views about Scripture, they are remarkably fluid and far from settled. The author of James once said that those that doubt and who are blown about like the sea are double-minded and should expect nothing from God. Well I certainly am blown about by the sea, as it were. As for the remark that such folks should expect nothing from God, either I don’t understand what is being said or else I do understand it and regard it as idiotic.

Those interested in a view I have more sympathy with than inerrancy should read Richard Swinburne’s book “Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy” (here’s a link http://amzn.to/vXVUR6). Those not interested in my views should also read his book, since it is superb and those who have not read it cannot honestly claim to have even understood, much less evaluated, the alternatives to inerrancy. Nicholas Wolterstorff has also written a good book on this topic called “Divine Discourse” (see http://amzn.to/tNz21f). Now when I say I have more sympathy for Swinburne’s view than inerrancy, that is not to say that I actually believe Swinburne is right. It is only to say I think his view is far more plausible than inerrancy.

To use Brad B.'s turn of phrase, belief in in-errancy requires us to get all "gymnastical".

I was going to "stay annomous" on this but chose otherwise.

Malebranche

"Are most of the folks in the American South "bowing to naturalism," or is this mostly a coastal and Yankee state phenomenon?"

I don't think that it is so much a matter of regions as it is a level of secular education. The more influenced folks are by the culture that has adopted the view, the more they are likely to express it culturally. I know that it is natural to think of painting people's stance on this on the basis of south vs. north, but I think this is an oversimplification and does not accurately reflect reality.

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