Conservative Theology

April 11, 2010

Religion and Science / (Almost) Believing in Divine Action


One thing that many people have always told me is that there is a difference between knowing something and believing it.  You only really believe something when that belief has practical consequences for your life.  I might know that God knows what's best for me, but if I continually act against His will, what does that say about my true beliefs about God?

In the same vein, I want to discuss Waltke's leaving Reformed Theological Seminary.  For those who don't know, Waltke is an evangelical who is also a semi-theistic evolutionist.  His recent comments in a Biologos video, indicating that those who "disregard science" are in danger of making Christianity a cult, got him in hot water, and I believe he resigned.

In any case, I wanted to look at some of the things Waltke says, and why, rather than help the cause of Divine Action in the world, they actually play right into the hands of the materialists.

Here is Waltke's summary of his position, and my comments:

1. [God] created all the things that are out of nothing and sustains them

This is fine, but it leads to nothing interesting.  That is, it doesn't have many practical consequences on its own.

2. incredibly, against the laws probability, [God] finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce ADAM, who is capable of reflecting upon their origins

This is still pretty vague. First of all, how does Waltke know how probable the universe is?  This is a pretty safe claim, precisely because it doesn't lead to any definitively positive statement about anything.

3. within his providence [God] allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions – such as the meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs, enabling mammals to dominate the earth – to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially ADAM [by Adam he means the human race].

So did God do this or just allow it to happen.  If it is the former, what are the marks of the catastrophe, and how does it differ from natural acts?  How are we to understand, theologically, God wiping out the dinosaurs?  What was the reason for their creation in the first place, in order to wipe them out?  Why did God need to use a meteor, rather than just create humans?

4. by direct creation [God] made ADAM a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith

What are the properties of a spiritual being?  Are they biological in character?  Or is this just another nebulous claim? 

5. [God] allowed ADAM to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their physical and spiritual Creator.

Where? When? How?  What did life look like before humans did this?  What was the effect of it happening?

6. and in his mercy [God] chose from fallen ADAM the Israel of God, whom he regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in connection with their faith in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, for fellowship with himself.

Well, finally, there we get something concrete.  Of course, this part has nothing to do with Creation.

So, do you see the pattern?  Waltke is painting all sorts of nebulous theological ideas, which are mere superficial dressing over evolutionary biology.  What happens to a lot of people is that they start out believing this, but then shortly realize that 1-5 are entirely superfluous!  The have no practical impact on anything.  If they were removed, you probably wouldn't notice.

God didn't do anything, He just allowed it to happen, or, if He did do something, He did it in such a way as to look just like He did nothing.

Here's the deal - I don't mind theistic evolution so much as I mind this complete capitulation to naturalism.  Might the belief in God have *some* effect on what you believe in science?  Behe, for instance, has tried to show explicit design in the world through Irreducible Complexity.  He might be right or wrong, but he is at least saying, this is something which is (a) different from a naturalistic belief, and (b) has practical consequences to biology.

Some people worry because, *gasp* what if it is proven wrong? Here's the deal - almost everything we think we know will probably be proven wrong at some point.  Deal with it.  We need to work with what we have, and take every thought captive to the knowledge of Christ.  That means that we should not engage science as materialists.  While Waltke claims he is not doing this, in practice he is.  Despite the fact that the scientific world is steeped in materialist thinking, Waltke provides no fundamental critique of their results.  One would think that having such a wrong starting point might cause their results to be off in some practical, identifiable way, not merely in some esoteric way.

So, while he does, at least in words, give a challenge to naturalistic thinking, *in practice* his view plays right into their hands.  Because one day his students will wake up and realize that all of the theologizing was superfluous window dressing, and it was the materialistic paradigm which was doing all of the heavy lifting.  Hopefully when this happens they will say, "how can we fix this?"  But I fear that Waltke's own teaching of deference to science on all questions of natural history will cause them to instead simply cast off the theology as irrelevant to reality.







April 11, 2010

Religion and Politics / Sam Harris Commits the Is/Ought Fallacy in Public


In a situation which must be as embarrassing as being caught with your zipped down (a situation many people have had to discreetly let me know about in my life), Sam Harris commits the is/ought fallacy in a public place, on an Internet-televised Ted talk.

If you're interested, I posted my critique on UncommonDescentAlan McNeil's post was also interesting.



March 20, 2010

Religion and Politics / Fixing Healthcare


First of all, let me say that, while I agree that there are some terrible problems with American healthcare, it is nowhere near as broken as the demagogues claim.  However, I agree with the idea that we, as Americans, should work to increase access to health care.

However, I totally disagree that the way to do this is through insurance, whether single-payer or otherwise.  Insurance may be part of the problem, but it isn't the whole problem.  In fact, I would argue that a large part of the problem is that we are insuring things that simply shouldn't be insured.

For instance, my homeowner insurance doesn't cover the cost of lights that need replacing.  It covers catastrophic damage.  You know that an insurance policy is broken when you expect to use it.  Insurance only works right when you expect not to use it.  So, I would say that any vision of health care which continues the tradition in which routine doctor visits go through insurance (whether government or private), is about as insane as any vision of home ownership in which you present your State Farm policy to a Home Depot salesperson at the store entrance.

The issue that most people miss is right in front of them -- doctors.  I don't begrudge any doctor the amount of money they make.  What I do begrudge them is the monopoly they have on dispensing medical care.

What needs to happen is to legally separate basic medical care from advanced medical care.  There is no reason in the world why someone should see an M.D. for a runny nose.  None whatsoever.  In fact, I would guess that probably 80% of the medical work could be diagnosed and performed by nurses without any supervision.

The problem is that all medical care is lumped into one bucket.  It is true that a misdiagnossis can be problematic.  But what makes it problematic more than anything is that it comes from a doctor - someone who is supposed to know everything about medicine.  If, instead, we split medical care into two tiers - basic and advanced - it would do several things.

First of all, it would remove the expectation that the person giving basic medical care must be right.  This benefits the patient, since, if things aren't going well, they feel better about seeing someone else.  It also benefits the practitioner, since they are no longer legally assumed to be omniscient.

We need to be comfortable with the idea that there is a difference between giving medical care and practicing medicine.  There should be standard training so that nearly anyone can get the qualifications to give medical care to others.

Let's imagine that we allow all nurses with 5+ years of experience are free to give basic medical care without supervision.  In addition, we cap liability at $40,000 for people who are only giving basic medical care, and also don't require them to carry liability insurance.  This immediately provides a source of care that anyone should be able to afford, and expands the options available to everyone.

Shoot - if given the option, I would choose the nurse over the doctor anyway.  Doctor's forget that they are there to serve the patient, and instead feel the need to impose their own priorities on you.  Nurses are true servants, and are usually a pleasure to work with.  There are certainly many things that need an M.D. which a doctor just can't handle.  But imagine a system in which it was only those situations which got referred to the doctor, and everything else was handled by someone appropriately qualified.

We would have a similar problem in any industry where overqualification was required.  What if we required a degree in geology to be a miner?  What if we required a Ph.D. in computer science to be a network administrator?  What if we required a Ph. D. in biochemistry to mix drinks?  It is easy to see that having overqualified people raises the cost of an industry prohibitively, and prevents access to many.  Why is it that so few people see how that applies to medicine?

In Oklahoma, a nurse makes about $35 per hour.  This is the cost of many co-pays, and that pays for an entire hour of their time.  The average office visit costs about $150 and uses only 15 minutes of time.  Imagine the quality of health care that you would be able to receive for less than you are paying now if nurses get to run their own shows, and weren't liable in the same way that doctors are.

Medicine is not a black art.  It doesn't take an M.D. to give basic care.  It doesn't take an M.D. to know when you need to pass someone onto one (as a point of fact, it is always a nurse that runs triage).  If your goal is to provide a greater amount of access to a greater amount of people, and not just be a control freak, then the best way to accomplish that is to relax government regulations regarding who can deliver health care, and completely remove any mindset that says that using insurance to pay for basic care is normal.











March 11, 2010

Religion and Politics / Social Justice: the Theological Concept vs. the Political Concept


Jim Wallis has a new editorial where he *surprise* misses the point of a conversation entirely.  Wallis critiques Beck for telling his audience that they should leave their churches if they are teaching "social justice".  Now, while I think that's rather extreme, and that Beck should have phrased this differently, I don't really disagree.

The problem is that there are two meanings of social justice - there is a theological concept and a political concept.  The social justice theological concept, as Wallis correctly notes, is relatively uncontroversial within Christianity.  Based on what I know of what Beck says on the radio, Beck would agree with the theological concept of social justice.  Beck actually wants to return to the days when people helped each other, and politicians looked out for the people rather than tried to screw them.  Both of these things are part of the theological concept of social justice.

The social justice political concept, however, is quite pernicious.  It is, indeed, a way to bring radical leftist politics into public conversation using religion as a masquerade.  I've read books by authors that openly admit to doing this.  Shoot - I know people who openly admit to doing this.  They use religion as a tool for their political agenda.  That is, their interest in theology is only to use it as a means of pursuing their political agendas.  They wouldn't care about theology at all if it weren't such an effective tool.

The social justice political concept is basically Marxist philosophy decorated with the sayings of Jesus.  Most of it has the following basis for reasoning:

  1. Total resources are static
  2. Anyone who has more than someone else got that way by stealing it
  3. Only by putting "really smart" people in control of all of the resources can they be appropriately handled

Now, the way in which they are able to smuggle this through as being "Christian" is that the Bible has very little to say on #1 and #3, and because there have been people in the Bible for whom #2 applied, it can be safely generalized to everyone else.

However, the social justice political movement often forgets the things that are in the favor of conservative economics, like (1) reality, and (2) the rest of the Bible.

Most people don't know this, but a large portion of the Bible is about getting money (read Proverbs).  In fact, much of this points out that social injustice is not the only cause of poverty!  Sometimes it is the cause of poverty, but poverty can also be caused by poor choices.  And wealth can be caused by many small, good choices over a long period of time.

As far as reality goes, social justice politics simply ignores the fact that the largest causes of social injustice in the past have been bad economic systems.  If your economic system isn't producing enough to feed everyone, then any distribution of it is going to be socially unjust.  If your economic system is very abundant, then even your social injustice will be more socially just than the injustice of a bad economic system.

I think it was in a meeting between Gorbachev and Thatcher, where Gorbachev asked Thatcher how she fed her people.  This is the thinking of social justice - it was the job of Gorbachev (or other really smart people in the Politburo) to feed everyone.  This is insanity.  In reality, no matter how smart you are, you pale in comparison to the combined, specialized knowledge that is contained throughout the economy.  By centralizing decisions, you put your own wishes ahead of everyone else. I could go on, but instead I'll just refer you to Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy.

The big problem, though, is that the political social justice people have been allowed to set the terms, definitions, expectations, and vision for what "social justice" is supposed to mean.  So, even when someone is not part of the "social justice" political group, often times their vision for what social justice is and looks like comes from the social justice politics.  We often forget that the pre-reflective perspectives we have on issues usually have a specific source.  Our common ideas of heaven and hell usually come not from the Bible, but from Paradise Lost and The Inferno.  That is true even if you have never read Paradise Lost or The Inferno.  Likewise, the picture that is often in our heads about social justice come not from the Biblical picture of social justice (though there are certainly connections, just as there are in Paradise Lost), or even from what we know about economics, but from the Marxist viewpoint that has been politically active promoting their perspective.

Therefore, while I disagree with Beck about saying that if someone says 'social justice' in the Church you should leave, I also think that Wallis is being horribly naive in his response.  All in all, I think that Beck is much closer to the truth than Wallis, because of the pervasiveness of the political social justice movement that inadvertantly (and sometimes intentionally) affects our view of theological social justice.










March 03, 2010

General / Interesting things Around the Web

Sometimes I get lots of stuff to write about, but no time.  So here's some theology stuff I wish I had time to comment on:

February 28, 2010

Religion and Politics / Why Food is NOT a Basic Human Right


One thing that is problematic in modern public policy debates has been the expansion of what are considered "basic human rights".  There are several reasons why unwarranted expansions in this area are problematic:

  1. It muddies the water as to what is a basic human right and why they should be basic rights.
  2. Most expansions of rights have put the government in the position of granting or removing rights, thus leading to a public perception that the government is the source of these rights.
  3. If rights come into conflict with each other too often, then the whole notion of rights itself breaks down, leading to the loss of all of them.

The third one is the one I want to concentrate on.  While it would have been more appropriate to our current concerns to say "why healthcare is not a basic human right", I thought that it would show how basic the case is if in stead I made the case why food is not a basic human right - some humans can live without health care, but no human can live without food.

So why is food not a basic human right?  Because a human right cannot be something that can be produced.  It must be something that is innately possible within an individual person.  More to the point, for something to be a right it cannot rely on someone else for its invocation.

For example, lets look at the freedom of religion and the rights of conscience.  Neither of these require anything from anybody in order for someone to express them.  Now, there may be some things that must be done to ensure that other people don't abridge them, but their normal operation does not entail any other party.

Take a look at the bill of rights.  These are all things that fall into one of two categories:

  • Tell what CANNOT be done
  • Tell WHAT ELSE must be done to do something

Neither of these require anything from the people for their normal function.  Congress "not making any law" means that congress should get out of the business, not into the business.  The right to a speedy trial, in fact, only applies if there is a trial at all. If the citizens do not wish to give a speedy trial, they can simply let them go free.  Thus, in no case does congress require that any item or service be rendered to any other person.  It merely restricts what restrictions can be placed, or identifies what must be done in the event that a government decides to pursue an end.  But never is the government requred to pursue that end.  In fact, if there were no government at all, the Bill of Rights would be followed exactly.

Nowhere in the Bill of Rights, for instance, is there a guarantee that criminals will be prosecuted.  Nowhere is there a guarantee that someone will be given food.  Nowhere is there a guarantee that a militia will be active.

Why not?

It's a basic feature of reality - that of limited resources.

Let's say, for instance, that we decide that having Widget X is a basic human right.  Therefore, in a new amendment to the bill of rights, each human being receives at least one Widget X is a basic human right.  However, let's say that, in this hypothetical example, that we have a population of 4 billion people.  Then,  after manufacturing 3 billion Widget X's, we run out of some resource essential for producing Widget X's.  Therefore, in this scenario, 1 billion people are not being given their "basic human rights". 

How, then, can it be a basic human right if there is a potential that it can't be delivered?  Does that mean that we must tear heaven and earth apart looking for the missing component to ensure basic human rights?  We might start that way, but soon, the economic burden of doing so will cause us to rethink this policy, and, instead one of two things will happen. 

First, we might decide that it isn't a basic human right.  The problem, here, is not just that there is a disagreement on what the basic human rights are, but that a right is bound up with the practical problem of delivering it.  That is, rights become rights when we can deliver them, and cease being rights when we can't.  Thus, no right is "basic", but rather they are all derived from our economic circumstances.  Therefore, someone may argue, for any right, that our economic circumstances are different, and we should have a different set of rights.  As you can see, our "rights" in this case are quickly shifting from being "basic" to being "arbitrary".  And thus, even if we retain the terminology, we lose the whole concept.

Second, we might conclude that it is a basic right, but that, since there is not enough to go around, we must decide who gets the right and who doesn't. Thus, the source of the right moves from God to the government.  These are no longer basic human rights, they are government-granted rights.  We then have a classed system - those with rights and those without.

Thus, the rights granted in the Bill of Rights, and, I would contend, anything properly called a "right", does not depend on an economic product to deliver.  That is, the right must, at least in theory, be deliverable without cost.  And, as such, you can read the Bill of Rights and see that it is consistent with a situation in which no government at all exists.

Thus, food cannot be a basic human right, because there is no way for the government to guarantee that there will be enough to go around.  Many countries survive on imports.  If their trade relations went south, then there simply would not be enough food to go around.  And declaring food a "basic right" wouldn't change that economic fact - it would simply de-value the idea of rights as a whole.

That doesn't mean that needs such as food and shelter and healthcare should never be touched by the government, it just means that the "rights" language needs to go.  This is an economic decision, not a rights decision.  It is a decision about allocating resources.  There is always an economic end to the amount of resources which can be put to something, and, if something should count as a "basic right", it should be impervious to that resource wall.

Since that is the case in the case of food, it is even more the case in the case of healthcare.  In any situation, there can always be more money applied at a problem.   At some point, the money runs out.  I have been the recipient of generous amounts of money, both from friends and from insurance, for the healthcare of my children.  But, even with the amount spent, more could have been spent.  The question is, where does it end?  If it does have an end, then the decision is an economic one, not a rights one.  If it did not have an end, then we would need to open up a new research department for every unknown illness encountered the moment it was encountered, and not wait for pesky things such as foundations and research grants.

Therefore, it is important for the preservation of the idea of rights, that rights not be bound up in any way with economic goods.  As soon as they do, the whole notion of rights will be swept away with a giant whooshing sound.

The problem with left-wing politics is that it falls apart as soon as you assume that the world's resources are finite.  The advantages of conservative politics is that the finite-ness of the world's resources are at its basic core.  This is why conservatives are often considered "heartless" - what we can do in reality is more important than we might want to do if we had infinite resources.  Conservatives focus on the "can" and "likely" to be done, while the liberals focus on the "wish" could be done.  Conservatives aren't any less likely to help others, they are just less likely to believe that there is an endless pool of resources from which the generosity comes.  And, I think, in the end, that makes us all the more thankful for the help we do receive, because we realize all of the other economic goods that the money could have alternatively been spent on.  I think about this almost every day.















February 19, 2010

Religion and Science / Steve Fuller on Theological Anthropology and Science


A very interesting video by Steve Fuller on human nature.  I think the Q&A session is better than the main talk, but you have to listen to the talk to understand the Q&A session.


The liberal and conservative views of human nature have swapped over the last century.  Marx viewed humans as being beyond nature, and being able to refashion the world according to our image.  The conservatives in Marx's time emphasized the constancy of human nature and the inability for improvement for humanity.  The modern left wants to downgrade the human's nature, making us more of a part of nature, while the conservatives endorse a view of humanity that is beyond nature.  He then shows how this interplays with science, and that science is based on humanity's being beyond nature, and that downgrading humanity also downgrades the role and scope of science.

My View:

Conservatives view humans as being both physical and spiritual.  The left is waffling between extremes because they are reductionistic, and, failing one reduction, they move to another.  Christians, on the other hand, only find a reduction in God, and therefore resist either extreme.


The video is much more interesting than my summary would suggest.  Especially the Q&A.  The Q&A pushes on the discrepancy between western intellectual traditions and the evolutionary view of the human, and how many people hold to both even if they aren't compatible.

February 18, 2010

Religion and Politics / Christians and Environmentalism


The thing that annoys me most about the environmental debate, is that the "effect" of being pro-environment is not open for debate.  That is, if someone is to think of themselves as being pro-environment, then they must automatically be, for example, for lower energy consumption.  Or protecting the wild african spelling bee.  Or whatever the current cause is.

Now, let me make something clear - I am for lower energy consumption, but it has nothing to do with the environment.  If we want to lower energy consumption, I think we should first start by talking to God about all of the stars He put in the sky, especially the innumerable ones which are nowhere near life-inhabited planets, and tell Him that He needs to be conserving energy.  There is an uncountable amount of energy being consumed in the sky, for what?  Making the sky pretty?

The fact is, no matter how fast we consume energy, we can't outpace God.  I think having a giant fusion furnace 9 million miles away pumping energy through space is excessive.  I'm not complaining - I think the excess is wonderful.  God is extravagant!  And if you don't believe that God is extravagant, you should cut open a bell pepper and count the seeds.  Most of those seeds will go to waste.

My point is that honoring the environment as a work of God doesn't necessarily mean lowering energy consumption or being less extravagant.  Both of those things might be good, but not because of the environment! 

Therefore, I hereby protest the idea that the environment comes with one, prepackaged way for us to respond to it, and especially that environmentalists have any idea what that way is.

February 11, 2010

Religion and Science / Science Without its Magisterium


Steve Fuller has a new book coming out called Science in Acum Publishing's "The Art of Living" series.  Here a snippet from the book's description (bold mine):

...Fuller argues that science is undergoing its own version of secularisation. It is not that people are coming to lose their faith in science per se but rather they are losing the compulsion to conform to a specific orthodoxy that is upheld by a specially anointed class of “science priests”. We are, in a sense, all scientists now, says Fuller. Taking science into our own hands, we have become emboldened to affirm ideas and claims that conform to our own or our community’s experiences even if they go against the authorised experience of the laboratory.



February 07, 2010

Religion and Science / Religious Knowledge and the So-Called "War" Between Science and Faith


I have had it with people talking about the war between science and faith.  It is simply the most absurd concept I've ever heard of in my life.  If there is such a war, it certainly isn't being engaged on the theological side of the aisle.  The only reason for the claim of a war is to remove any real integration of theology into academic conversations.

Let me explain my problems with the idea of a "conflict" between science and religion.  Has anyone met anyone in the entire U.S. who disagrees with the entirety of the scientific enterprise?  The only way that this could be true is if someone viewed science as a series of facts to be memorized.  If that is their view of science, it is a decidedly anti-scientific view of science.  Science is a process, not a result.  Anyone who calls the results science instead of the process, is not promoting science, but something else.

Now, science is just one part of human knowledge.  I think that even the most ardent reductionist materialist would agree that, at least in our present state, in the absence of complete scientific knowledge, there are other non-scientific avenues of inquiry which yield real knowledge.  The materialist would hopefully at least allow for such avenues to yield "stand-in" knowledge, while we wait for knowledge.  In addition, in absence of complete knowledge, these other avenues might actually deliver better knowledge on some avenues than current science does, even if one believes that in the end science will produce the better knowledge.  In any case, I think we can safely say that there are a multitude of ways of obtaining knowledge other than science, even if someone believes that in the long run science is the ultimate form of knowledge.

Therefore, the question is, what happens when religion and science come to different conclusions?  Should science give in?  Should religion?  Should they each continue independently?  Should they find common ground?  My contention is simply this - no matter what they do, it would be improper to consider it a "war".  If a mathematician criticizes an engineer, we wouldn't talk about a "war between math and engineering".  Nor should we consider many of the criticisms of evolutionary psychology by evolutionists as a "war between science and science".

The fact is, if a discipline can yield real knowledge, then, in our finite and imperfect state of knowledge of all fields, it is likely that some of that knowledge will in fact be contrary to a few or many parts of other fields.  There is nothing wrong with this.  The part that is problematic is interpeting these conversations as a war.  The only reason why some people see this as a war is not because there is a conflict between disciplines, but rather that some people don't see theology as a proper discipline that yields any real knowledge.  That is the only way in which a "conflict" status between science and religion could emerge.  Everyone believes that science can at least yield some real knowledge.  But many materialists think that it is plainly improper for theology to yield real knowledge.

Therefore, the "war" between religion and science, if it is being waged at all, cannot be thought of as being waged by the religionists!  If there is merely disagreements, then the only person who would see that as a war, as opposed to merely the common result of multiple disciplines with incomplete knowledge, is someone who saw religion as having no proper role to play within the development of knowledge.

That is why the proposed "solutions" to the "war between science and religion" are so infuriating... they all involve simply ceding all knowledge claims to science!  Either that, or, even worse in my opinion, is to gloss over "science" with a meaningless ex post facto theological brush.  The only thing that does is tell everyone that yes, theology is adding nothing of consequence to the conversation.

The true solution to the "war" between science and religion is for theologians to understand science better - not so as to merely capitulate to someone else's claims, but rather to be able to more effectively engage in constructive dialogue.  I believe absolutely in the claim that "all truth is God's truth".  I disagree, however, that this necessitates us to think that everything a scientist says represents truth. 

If religion contains true knowledge, then, if all truth is God's truth, that truth should be instructive in fields beyond our just theology. 

I think the biggest fear that is preventing this is the fear of, "what if theology makes a claim that turns out to be wrong?"  Well, so what?  Isn't it amazing that science can overturn itself every few decades without a loss of confidence, but we are scared to death that even a single statement we make might turn out to be wrong.  I think, perhaps, that we are holding ourselves to too high of a standard.  Instead, we need to engage, and engage with the knowledge that we might be wrong.  But if we use the possibility of being wrong as a reason to not engage, then we might as well just quit altogether, and tell everyone to just listen to the materialists since they are the only ones with real knowledge.