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Friday, June 25

FROM THE INBOX:

A few things of possible interest from my inbox:

— From the latest issue of the English Catholic magazine The Tablet, A famine made in Khartoum by Julie Flint. (This site may require registration.) She writes of the work of the Islamic government of Sudan:

The attack on Tullus in February is typical of the attacks that have displaced more than 1 million people of African extraction in Darfur and killed an estimated 30,000. Use of the army-owned Antonovs prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, the complicity of the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed militiamen in creating a humanitarian emergency that may eventually take as many lives as the Rwandan genocide. Relief workers are warning that hundreds of thousands of African civilians will die in the next 12 months unless the international community pulls out all the stops to pump relief into Darfur by all conceivable routes – with or without the consent of Khartoum.
— From the same issue of The Tablet, an interview with George Weigel. He argues, among other things, that

“What 9/11 made patently obvious is that the politics of the past 60 years in the Middle East are too dangerous for the future of the world,” says Weigel, “and therefore, unless you are simply going to throw your hands up in despair, the alternative is to try to accelerate a process of genuine political change in that region of the world. Iraq is part of that.”
The interview reflects the magazine's generally liberal commitments — the writer insists on the tired "seamless garment" argument — but is nevertheless well done.

— A worrisome item from a press release I just got for an article from The International Journal of Gynecological Cancer, 900 members of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists were surveyed and

“8% of physicians would avoid telling a patient that they have a terminal condition” while only “75% would disclose to patients with inoperable cervical cancer before initiating treatment, that their disease is incurable.”
In other words, one out of four of these guys would put you through a treatment you might well not want. They are, in other words, people who do not know their place. Where did this truly bizarre idea that doctors were competent to make such decisions come from?

The press release didn't give the title of the article, which suggests someone needs to talk to the publishers p.r. department, but it was written by Lois Ramondetta, M.D., of the University of Texas.


3:43 PM


PRAGER ON WEIGHTING THE THREATS TO MARRIAGE:

Daniel Crandall writes in response to Patrick Reardon’s "Divorce and Homosexual Marriage", posted this morning:

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager recently spent an hour discussing the topic of divorce and the threat it poses to marriage. He came down on the side that divorce is not nearly the threat to marriage that Single-hood is, i.e., it is a far greater threat to the institution of marriage that everyday more and more people are choosing to stay single or live together without the commitment of marriage, than is the fact that some marriages end in divorce.

Mr. Prager covered this topic in the second hour of his radio show on Monday, June 14th, 2004. The tape can be obtained from Mr. Prager's website & no, I don't benefit from any of Mr. Prager's sales.

I believe part of his argument was that it is better for the institution of marriage that people marry and some later divorce, than those afraid of divorce choose to remain single or choose to live out of wedlock with their paramour. He also argued that it is not good for the institution of marriage that a community, in effect, force married couples, whose relationship has become poisonous and who now want to divorce, to remain together.


2:17 PM


NEITHER GOOD, NOR NEW

When at first I heard of the Good as New translation of the Bible, which includes the Gospel of Thomas and an admonition from St. Paul to avoid lust by having a regular sexual partner—along with strong commendation from the Archbishop of Canterbury--I thought it a hoax.

That such a bible might appear from the lunatic fringe was on the edge of possibility. But really now, that business about the Archbishop saying he hoped it would "spread in epidemic profusion through religious and irreligious alike" was just too much. Rowan Williams is an acutely intelligent man who has taken pains not to offend his more traditionally-minded constituents. That he would say something so abysmally stupid was no more believable than, say, an archepiscopal declaration that people who oppose women’s ordination are involved in heresy. At that point, I thought, the inventors of the hoax had gone too far and exposed themselves.

Well, it’s not a hoax. Somebody has really produced such a bible, and the Archbishop has publicly lost control of his formerly well-regulated bowels.

This set me to thinking that if no less than Lord Cantuar can advance such a venture, who are we at Touchstone to pretend we’re better? Why might we not produce, as a fund raising venture, a biblical counterpart to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary—a Devil’s Bible, let us call it. We have, after all, been dealing for years with diabolical notions, and know the mind that produces them fairly well. I hereby submit the first installment, from Mark 12:

He sat down opposite the temple offering boxes and watched the crowd putting money into them. Many rich put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. He called his disciples and said to them, 'Don’t think she isn’t getting her reward. Truly, she is, for she is gaining not only a reputation for holy poverty, but will receive for it the guilty charities of the rich as well. Go and do likewise. Upon this rock I shall build my church.'

Actually, we have been listening to this stuff all our lives, and know very well where it comes from. This execrable Good as New bible is, I think, pretty small potatoes next to the average Christian’s everyday experience of evil. Just something else to turn from, and not too tempting at that.



12:54 PM


NOT GUILTY, YER LORDSHIP

My Thursday blog—for among Touchstone bloggers I am now the man who is Thursday—contained a bit of irony I wonder if anyone caught. Just in case they did, I must here issue a disclaimer. In that blog I remarked that we need to be alert to probable evil in those who would appear “better than Jesus.” The blog is stamped “5:50 A..M.”

I haven’t the foggiest notion where these time stamps come from (Greenwich?), but readers may rest assured that I did not write or post it that early in the morning. In strict Rumpolian fashion, I herewith maintain my good name by categorically denying the appearance of virtue.


12:50 PM


WHAT THE DOCTOR MAY CHARGE:

From the latest message from the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity's Monthly Center Update, an announcement of a book you may want to know about: Cold Hard Cash by Dan Beals. Here is the description on the message:

Daniel A. Beals, M.D., is an associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Kentucky and Fellow of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

"That will be cash please." You may be hearing this more often at your doctor's office. MSNBC recently reported a trend in medical practices to accept only cash payment for healthcare, citing a number of advantages for a cash-only practice.

Dealing on a cash-only basis cuts out all of the red tape associated with insurance payments, as an office may have to deal with more than 100 different companies. Overhead is dramatically decreased — fewer personnel are needed because the multiplicity of forms required for insurance filing would be rendered unnecessary. In many instances, entire personnel positions can be eliminated, thus making up for the loss of revenue from a cash-only practice.

Doctors are freer, so the article claims, to do what they do best: take care of patients. But is this really a good idea? Let's look at some of the issues involved....


12:11 PM


EVOLUTIONISTS, NOT TEACHERS:

Air Force chaplain James Danford replies to something Jim Kushiner posted a few days ago:

In the blog “IS DARWINISM BEYOND ME?”, James Kushiner talks about the questions that are raised when laymen question Darwinism. I believe the reasons go beyond just the “Amount of Study, and alleged proofs”.

The reasons include the elitist mentality of many of the scientists. According to the attitude I have encountered; we, who are not scientists, are not to question their facts and findings — only accept them. Many of them have stopped being “teachers”: stopped allowing questions — hoping that their students understand.

I was in class once with a medical doctor who was espousing all the “proof” of evolution. When I tried to engage in the debate this man stopped me and said since I did not have a medical degree I obviously would not understand and shouldn’t make any conclusions. I told him that evolution touched the realm of theology and since he did not have a theology degree he would not understand as well.

I have made it a rule never to listen to someone who does not allow you to ask questions.
I must admit that I would find being patronized by an M.D., who may well know little more evolutionary science than I do, somewhat annoying. To be patronized by a biologist who knows the field, all right, but not by an M.D.

Anyway, I like Chaplain Danford's arguing in response that the matter involves theology and therefore on his own grounds the M.D. can’t speak either. The evolutionist M.D. might argue that the subject was purely a scientific one and therefore he did not need any knowledge of theology to speak about it with finality and authority, but he can't make this claim — it's science, not theology — with any finality and authority. In the nature of things, the theological nature or implications of an idea may be hidden from those who define the matter so as to exclude theology, and they ought to grant that.


11:47 AM


DIVORCE AND HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE:

Those opposed to the legal recognition of homosexual unions as a form of marriage are finding themselves challenged from a direction they may not have foreseen. The challenge runs like this: “How can you insist that gay marriage will undermine the institution of marriage if you are unwilling to oppose divorce? Doesn’t divorce more immediately and directly attack what we have traditionally meant by marriage?”

This very challenge has been thrown at me, with some vehemence, as recently as a few days ago. Let me concede that in at least two respects it is not without seeming merit.

First, it may appear that divorce, because it pretends to dissolve a marriage, menaces the traditional concept of marriage more than does the prospect of “gay marriage.” After all, the latter may be interpreted merely as the extension of a franchise, as it were, whereas divorce by definition inflicts violence on the franchise itself.

Second, the current number of divorces in our country is already many times larger than the projected number of “gay marriages” will ever be, and every single one of those divorces is a direct affront to the institution of marriage. So why should we worry about the hypothetical bad effects of the one when the actual bad effects of the other are so much greater?

The person who most recently threw this challenge in my direction evidently expected me to crumble under its overwhelming gravity and force. In fact, however, the reasoning involved in this thesis is not weighty. To contend that divorce represents a greater threat to traditional marriage than does “gay marriage” hardly makes a serious case for the latter. It is no great merit in a heart attack that it is generally less painful than terminal cancer.

Although the revelation came as a surprise to my challenger, it is possible to oppose both divorce and homosexual “marriage.” Indeed, every Christian should.

While asserting that divorce and homosexual unions are both radically hostile to marriage, it is not absolutely necessary, I think, to speculate which of them represents the greater social threat. (One of the two, nonetheless, certainly represents a more radical affront to the structure of human existence itself. While divorce violates man’s social nature, the homosexual vice desecrates man's very biology.)

For all that, it is important to say, and to say emphatically, that those who oppose “gay marriages” without opposing divorce run the risk of not being taken seriously. As one columnist remarked last autumn, “People who won’t censure divorce carry no special weight as defenders of marriage” (Froma Harrop, in Providence Journal, 11/26/03).

Let me mention two other similarities between divorce and homosexual “marriage.”

First, support for both things is politically driven, each of them foisted on us as a “freedom” inherent in our American citizenship. The current push for the legalizing of “gay marriage” comes from the same sorts of Liberal (and feminizing) impulses that forced “No-fault” divorce laws through our legislatures thirty years ago. The chief result will also be the same—social chaos.

Second, like “No-fault” divorce for the past three decades, “gay marriage” will prove to be a financial bonanza for the legal profession. According to Helen Alvare (cited by Stephen Baskerville in The Family in America, May 2004), divorce currently accounts for 35% of all civil litigation in our highly litigious society. The sad history of “No-fault” divorce has already brought about the dissolution of roughly half of all first marriages, and some current projections for the near future run the percentage up to about two-thirds. This is a lot of litigation and great deal of money. No wonder we commonly hear remarks about the “divorce industry.”

Now, homosexual liaisons are notoriously more fragile than marriage. If society shows so little remorse at putting asunder what God joins together, even less will it regret putting asunder what God did not want joined in the first place. If society does come around to validating “gay marriage,” then, we should expect a great deal of “gay divorce” to follow immediately in its wake. Is there any doubt who will make the big killing when it does?


6:33 AM


Thursday, June 24

LATEST WORD ON THE TOLKIEN RESIDENCE:

Answering an inquiry made to him by Touchstone last week, Stratford Caldecott writes:

I have just been informed by the agent for Tolkien's house in Oxford's Northmoor Road, which was recently offered for sale at £1.5m, that the restrictions on the use of the property would prevent us from using it as a study centre or meeting place. It will have to be sold as a residential property. Let us hope someone buys it who has some knowledge of Tolkien and respect for everything he represents.

Several people were interested in helping the Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture to acquire the house. I want to thank you for your support and enthusiasm. Obviously we will not now be pursuing this, although we are still on the lookout for a suitable home for our work in the longer term.


9:20 AM


BETTER THAN JESUS:

I recently read a review of a book about a monk who had provided its author with great spiritual comfort during the times of his life when his highly developed Catholic conscience was burdened with sin. The monk’s method of dealing with sin was unusual, and while I will not render judgment on it here — the possibility of his being misrepresented or misunderstood in the book or its review being very great — the somewhat hagiographical narrative reminded me of a phenomenon I have seen numerous times and wish to comment upon.

It first struck me with force when the Evangelical ministers of my fellowship quietly admitted—when better education made it no longer possible to maintain the fiction to the contrary--that Jesus really made alcoholic wine at Cana, and on occasion appeared to drink it. One would think the best course in that case would be to admit they were wrong and charge their people to exercise the virtues of temperance and sobriety. Instead, many developed practical arguments for continuing teetotalism: alcohol is dangerously addictive, it causes a great many highway deaths, and so forth. The greatest problem with this is not simply its disingenuousness and the strong suspicion that it involves guilt-manipulation, but that the conscientious teetotaler now finds himself, at least incrementally, a better man than his Master.

Similarly, what stood out about the monk of the narrative was a kindness that the author had never found among the seriously religious, who in his experience were much less dismissive and sanguine about what his conscience identified as contemptibly sinful. He always left this brother feeling much better, and came to him for comfort and counsel whenever he felt bad about making wrecks of his and of other people’s lives. At the end of the day, the monk, when compared not only to other Christians, but the Jesus of the gospels, looked like a substantially better, in the sense of “more loving,” man.

The most horrible example of this I have seen in the Episcopal Church, in the form of the ever-smiling bishop of beneficent visage, the open-minded, open-armed, blessing-filled aristocrat of smooth lips and perfect control — a master of prevarication and double meaning, who could preach to an audience of naive traditionalists and knowing liberals and please them all, the traditionalists because they took him at his word, the liberals because they took his meaning.

We must be very alert for this phenomenon, and suspicious of ostentatious goodness—as the Lord taught us using the Pharisees, and Dostoyevsky reminds us through the genuinely holy Fr. Zosima, who made a point of admitting his sins and faults, and whose humility was seconded and blessed by God in allowing his dead body not to remain incorrupt, but to decay in the normal way.

Wherever there is this appearance, and especially where those in whom it resides do not credibly and unequivocally declare themselves to be sinful men, the sin and fault is normally not difficult to find. Look for the heresy, look for the immorality — they will be close at hand — and flee.


8:50 AM


THE MODERNIZED ST. PAUL:

Malcolm Muggeridge said that in the fifties he gave up editing the English humor (or humour, I suppose) magazine Punch because reality kept proving wilder than the magazine's satires. Here is a story I would bet money was a satire, except that it appears on the BBC's website: Canterbury backs updated Bible.

A Baptist minister has written — "translated" being very much the wrong word here — a Good As New Bible, which the Archbishop of Canterbury says has "extraordinary power." The BBC site gives a sample of the writer's work:

A passage from the standard version of his [St. Paul's] Letters to the Corinthians reads: "It is well for a man not to touch a woman.

"But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband."

In the Good As New version the same passage reads: "Some of you think the best way to cope with sex is for men and women to keep right away from each other.

"That is more likely to lead to sexual offences. My advice is for everyone to have a regular partner."
A story appeared in the London Times as well: St Paul urges more copulation for couples in sexed-up Bible (requires registration). It includes this:

In other passages the translator John Henson, a retired Baptist minister, renders "demon possession" as "mental illness" and "Son of Man", the phrase used frequently to refer to Jesus, as "the Complete Person".

Parables become "riddles" and to baptise is now to "dip" in water. Salvation becomes "healing" or "completeness" and Heaven becomes "the world beyond time and space."


My thanks to Bill Mouser for the first link and Robert Hart for the second.


8:40 AM


Wednesday, June 23

DEALING WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION III:

Here is a fourth response (and the third entry) to the public education stream, this one responding to Craig Galer's, whose response I posted last night. The writer asked me not to use his name, to protect his children's privacy.

Reader Craig Galer, who points out some potential benefits that Christian
kids may get at public schools — even some benefits arising from "the mildly hostile environment" — would surely agree that one size does not fit all Christian kids, and some are harmed by the public school experience. I think Mr. Galer is right that "Kids from intact two-parent families disproportionately populate the honors classes", but Christian kids who are simply not honors-class material will miss out on this school-within-a-school, and will have to make their way in the general population.

Two of my kids seem to have benefited from the public school in the ways that Mr. Galer describes (though some of the most important and helpful friendships that one of my children formed were not with Christians but with devout Muslims, whose families understood and agreed with the limits our children were placed under). However, two of my children seemed to be more harmed by the experience — not so much by the hostility of the environment as by the corrosiveness of it.

A young girl who is a sincere Christian may nonetheless be immature and susceptible to peer pressure (and may have her own problems), so that when a non-Christian girlfriend and classmate gives her caustic and graphic pornography at school, the Christian girl may be too receptive and may be hurt and confused by it. A boy who is a Christian, but is reluctant (from bashfulness? from lack of character? from lack of faith?) to project a Christian image, may find himself not in a Christian clique but in groups with other influences.

Teenagers who are Christian leaders, stars, and heroes will thrive even in adverse circumstances. But many parents are having to make schooling decisions for their teenage Christians who are struggling, or mediocre, or immature. I feel sure Mr. Galer would recommend a different decision tree for them.


11:58 AM


CALDECOTT AND MATHEWES-GREEN:

Having mentioned Stratford Caldecott and Frederica Mathewes-Green in the previous item, let me remind you of some of their articles available on the Touchstone site. From Stratford:

Supermen & Virtues;

The Lord & Lady of the Rings, subtitled "The Hidden Presence of Tolkien’s Catholicism in The Lord of the Rings"

And from his wife Leonie:

Paradise Denied, subtitled "Philip Pullman & the Uses & Abuses of Enchantment" (it includes a little on the Harry Potter books).

From Frederica:

What Women Need, subtitled "Three Bad Ideas for Women & What to Do About Them"

Why Did This Happen?

Why They Hated Pinocchio


9:01 AM


THE NON-CHRISTIAN MR. GRANGER:

Yesterday I picked up on a sale table at a seminary library a book called Frodo & Harry by Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder (Crossway Books). It has an four-page appendix attacking John Granger The Hidden Key to Harry Potter. John wrote The Alchemist's Tale for the November issue last year.

The appendix offers four pages of abuse — e.g., "Mr. Granger's other arguments tend toward the sophomoric, though some ascend to sophistry." — but I was especially struck by the closing lines:

I (Ted) find it a wonderful relief to discover the free gift available in Jesus Christ. We hope that Mr. Granger will find that gift, especially since he is an ordained reader in the Orthodox church.

Disagree with the author on what is clearly one of his pet causes, and he will declare you a non-Christian. Even though nothing he has said in his four pages indicate anything more than that Mr. Granger is seriously mistaken (if you agree with Mr. Baehr). He offers no evidence that poor Mr. Granger has somehow failed to discover the free [sic] gift available in Jesus Christ, other than Mr. Granger's thinking differently than he of the Harry Potter books.

As it happens, John has reworked his first book and Tyndale — like Crossway a noted Evangelical publisher — has published it as Looking for God in Harry Potter. Among the people recommending it are such notorious Jesus' free gift non-discoverers as Frederica Mathewes-Green, the G. K. Chesterton Institute's Stratford Caldecott, and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Given what Mr. Baehr has said about John, he will have to say the same thing about them and about all the people at Tyndale who approved and edited the book.

Good, I must say, grief.


8:39 AM


Tuesday, June 22

MORE ON SUDAN, AND THE TRAGEDY THERE:

Something of interest: Sudan: a tragedy foretold from the English Catholic weekly The Tablet. I doubt it is accurate to call the persecuted Christians of the south of Sudan "rebels," but I commend the article.


9:37 PM


PONTIFICATIONS:

Another blogsite you may find of interest, especially those of you who are Episcopalians: Pontifications. The title may be a little off-putting, but it is offered tongue-in-cheek, by a Catholic-minded Episcopal priest who takes seriously deep questions, not least about the sacraments. The comments are often quite entertainingly heated and also interesting.


9:31 PM


DEALING WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION II:

The third entry in response to the question posted last Friday. The first two appeared yesterday. This comes from regular reader Craig Galer:

We have had an interesting experience in the course of educating our children. Years ago, when our oldest daughter was just starting school, we put her in our parish Catholic school. We held a pretty low opinion of public schools, for many of the familiar reasons — lack of discipline, low standards, aggressive secularism, etc. — and since then, we have sent all of our children to the same small Catholic school, and overall, we have been very happy with our experience there.

Our parish school, however, only goes through eighth grade, and we were presented with a dilemma when our daughter finished eighth grade, and we had to choose a high school. The “default” expectation would have been the local Catholic high school, but that was a very costly option. Our parish subsidizes the parish school, and tuition rates include large discounts for multiple children from the same family, but the Catholic high school, being a free-standing institution not associated with a parish, does not comprehend my expense of having other children in another Catholic school, and there is no subsidy, so it would cost me more to have one child in the Catholic high school than to have four in our parish school. And in the years when we would have two of our children in high school, the cost became prohibitive — no family discount. Because of that, the student population is skewed toward more affluent families, and functional materialism is very much in the air.

For various reasons, home schooling wasn’t a live option for us, so we swallowed hard and sent our daughter to the public high school. We were pleasantly surprised by what we found there, and there were actually some benefits that we hadn’t anticipated. On the most basic level, we found that, even at our urban public high school, a motivated student can get a solid education. Kids from intact two-parent families disproportionately populate the honors classes, and the Christian kids find each other within the first week or so. Because the overall environment is unsupportive of Christian faith, the experience tends to foster a certain practical ecumenism, as well — the fact that you’re a Christian, and can help support me in being a Christian, is more important than that I’m a Catholic and you’re a Lutheran, or whatever.

The most interesting hidden benefit we’ve encountered, though, would be that the mildly hostile environment actually serves to strengthen our kids’ Christian faith in some important ways. They find that their faith is challenged, and they learn how to think it through, to give reasons for their faith, and they learn to live as Christians in the face of some disapproval, which serves them well when they find themselves dealing with the world at large, or a secular university. Conversely, at the Catholic high school, there is a general assumption that “we’re all Catholics here”, and I have often wondered whether it doesn’t serve to “innoculate” students against serious faith.

Our experience has been that the eight years of Catholic schooling provides our kids with a pretty good foundation, and we have appreciated the opportunity to help them deal with the secular world while they’re still under our roof, rather than have their faith questioned for the first time when they leave home to go to college.

Now, I recognize that, if our public high school were more than mildly hostile, the situation could look quite different, and I am not blind to the considerable dangers. On the whole, though, our experience has been considerably more positive than I would have anticipated. There is a lot more that I could say on the topic, but I’ve already gone on too long.
To add your comments, please use the link at the top of the column to the left.


9:28 PM


ECUMENICAL SITE, & WESLEY ON POLEMICS:

A useful website I just stumbled across: OrthoVox, subtitled "An online journal of classic ecumenical Christianity." It offers links to a wide range of articles from a wide range of journals, including Touchstone, on subjects from abortion to worship.

One article, Why We Need a Methodist Polemic, includes a useful pair of quotes from John Wesley. The article began with the tension between irenic and polemical theology and the problem of releasing the tension by ignoring one or the other. Wesley, the writer argues,

understood the need to preserve theological tension. He rejected the momentum to turn the Methodist movement into just another exclusive sect. Yet he also refused to destroy the defining boundaries of the Faith: i.e. the ancient Creeds and Confessions of the Church. In his tract, "The Character of a Methodist", Wesley overtly rejects sectarianism. Here Wesley states:

"And so I beg you, let all true Christians remain united: let us not be divided among ourselves. Is your heart right as my heart is with yours? I ask no further question; give me your hand. For the sake of mere opinions or terms, let us not destroy the work of God."

Yet in his sermon "The Catholic Spirit" Wesley resisted the temptation to remove the membrane of classical Christian doctrine that protects the integrity of the Faith. According to the founder of Methodism the "catholic spirit", or in our terms, the inclusive spirit, is not:

". . . an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being 'driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,' it is a great curse, not a blessing; an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism [inclusivity]. A man of truly catholic spirit...is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. . . . He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavor to blend them into one."

How does this speak to us today? I believe the United Methodist Church has lost the tension between the drive to embrace and relate to the world, and the impetus to define what is unique and necessary to Christian faith and practice. We have wholly gone over to embrace the irenic branch of Christian thought.
Which is a bad thing to do. I've written something on this subject, which some of you may find of interest: The art of Christian polemics.


1:20 PM


IS DARWINISM BEYOND ME? RICHARD WEAVER REPLIES:

The question does arise: are laymen (such as me), in any position to critique Darwinism? It arose in response to a press release we sent out announcing our upcoming issue, “Darwin’s Last Stand?” Why publish the writings of philosophers and lawyers on a scientific topic? In response, I offer these comments, expanded from a short section quoting Richard Weaver that was deleted (for space) from my review of books on intelligent design in the upcoming issue. Robert C. Koons, In Uncommon Dissent, quotes Richard Weaver:

I recognize that any layman’s criticism of the theory of evolution will appear to most people today as reckless. The amount of study given the theory has been so extensive, the alleged proofs are from so many sources and are so massive in appearance, and the evolutionists have so much “liberal” opinion on their side that the average person who is still too reluctant to accept its implications feels that he may as well shrug in hopelessness and say, “I surrender.”
This, of course, describes the situation as it must have appeared to Weaver before his untimely death in 1963—just 4 years after the 1959 grand centennial celebration of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was held on the campus of the University of Chicago, where Weaver taught English. Darwinism was apparently triumphant and unconquerable. Many people had "surrendered." So bear in mind the context in which he wrote these cautious words:
Indeed the layman must not presume to question the facts assembled by qualified scientists (although what constitutes a fact is itself sometimes debatable). Nevertheless, we need to look at the matter from greater perspective and remember that no science exists purely in the form of a collection of facts. The sciences are these facts plus structures of reasoning that are built upon them. The facts we are bound to receive if they come from sources that have given satisfactory evidence of their objectivity. But the reasoning that is done upon the basis of them is open to the inquiry of every man who has a rational faculty.
Indeed. Even then, there were disagreements between scientists about how to interpret all the facts, disagreements that only were to grow in the decades after Weaver’s death. The intelligent design (ID) movement is based on scientific facts and mathematics, as were the growing critiques of Darwinism after Weaver’s death predating the ID movement. What Weaver wrote, quoted by Koons, should be read and remembered by anyone who thinks that only those doing science can critique science:
[I]f men are to be convinced that they are simply the products of evolution, the convincing needs to be done in accordance with the necessary laws of thought. This is merely saying that the layman has the right to ask about the connection between the factual evidence and the conclusion when that connection is not apparent to them. He has the right to ask philosophical questions about the way the facts have been handled and even about whether all of the relevant facts have been taken into consideration.” (All three Weaver citations are taken from his Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Times,1964.)
Of course, presenting scientific facts and the writings of scientists are indispensable in challenging Darwinism. Our Signs of Intelligence presents a good amount of the basic science, authored by scientists such as Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Walter Bradley, William Dembski, et al.

Also, Touchstone will present some of the latest scientific research bearing on Darwin’s theory in November 2005 at our conference on Darwin and Intelligent Design. As a layman, I think I am able to make some sense of this debate and think it reasonable to look at the claims using my “rational faculty,” something that is not the private possession of scientists.

I wonder if it's hard for some who have "surrendered" to Darwinism, as Weaver put it, to admit that Darwinism really hasn't won after all, and that as the facts come in, it might turn out that one has surrendered to a ultimate loser. There is also, for some, the fear of being labeled a fundamentalist.


11:21 AM


Monday, June 21

VOODOO IN THE IVY LEAGUE:

A reader studying at Cornell sends this:

this story makes one proud to be a student in the Ivy League: Voodoo Groundbreaking:

"Dorothy Désir is an art historian and independent scholar who has co-curated an exhibit ("Gendered Visions") at Cornell's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. But June 12, during Cornell's Reunion 2004 weekend, Désir appeared at the Africana Studies and Research Center's groundbreaking ceremony in an entirely different role — that of priestess in the Haitian Vodou tradition. Attired in the elegant starched white dress of her office and accompanied by master drummers Maurice Haltom and Eddie Biko Smith, Désir conducted a "libation ceremony" to bless the site of the Africana Center's renovation and expansion.

"Today we ask divine presence permission to break ground, so that the foundation of knowledge of the past and knowledge yet uncovered can come together in an unbroken circle," Désir told an audience of almost 200 people that included Africana faculty and staff, members of the Cornell Black Alumni Association (CBAA) and Cornell administrators past and present.

Désir completed the ritual, which was held under a tent pitched on the planned building site in front of the current center, anointing a symbolic pile of earth with a spray of rum and water."


I'm wondering if the University will spring for a priest to come to exorcise the grounds . . .


2:33 PM


WITNESSING TO THE WITNESSES, PART VI:

Chuck Shores sends a second contribution to our string on witnessing to Jehovan’s Witnesses and Mormons. See Part III (which should be Part IV) for the links to the first three and here for Part V.

One contribution is usually enough input concerning a particular issue. However, I’ve been contemplating an approach to both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses that seems to me to have merit but which may have hidden difficulties I’m not astute enough to perceive. I would like, therefore, to present it to you. If you are able to comment, I’d be most appreciative. I’ve not used this to date:

(Responding to any approach by a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness) “The difficulty is that I’ve got a real problem with your god.”

“What problem?”

“He seems to me to be somewhat ineffectual and untrustworthy.”

“What!”

“Well, isn’t the story this: that after Jesus and the Apostles the organized church perverted the truth of the Gospel, that this truth was essentially lost until the revelation to Joseph Smith (or, the establishing of the WatchTower Society), when the true Gospel was again revealed?

“Yes, that’s what happened.”

“So your god couldn’t keep his truth revealed for more than a generation or so. When the organized church “went south” he left mankind to sink into error and despair for almost two thousand years. Finally, he decided to try again, this time with your guys.

“Well, if he couldn’t keep it going with the likes of Jesus, Peter, Paul and the others, how can I expect that he’s doing any better with the likes of your founders? Are they better than the Lord? Are they more effective than the Apostles? How do I know that your present organization isn’t a carbon copy of the corrupt second-generation church of old? How can I trust that they haven’t distorted the revelation given this second time? In fact, how can you yourself trust that you haven’t distorted it?

“You’ll have to excuse me, but it seems to me that your god is a bit too inept and incompetent to be trusted with preserving the truth. Personally, I want a better god than that!”

Depending on the reaction, one might have opportunity to point out that God did preserve the truth of the Gospel in the Church, Holy Tradition and Scripture. The God of the historic Church has demonstrated that He is indeed capable of accomplishing His will and is worthy of a person’s faith and devotion.)
Your comments on this or on the subject in general are still welcome.


2:30 PM


DEALING WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION I:

The first two responses to Friday’s question about whether Christians should send their children to public schools, posted in What to do about public schools, and other secular institutions last Friday. Tim Udd writes:

I remember that a few decades ago the author Joe Bayly commented that sending our children into the public school system would be comparable to the Israelites sending their children to Philistine schools for an education. The comparison still seems apt to me, more so since, in the intevening years, both my boys attended public schools.

Even bearing in mind the differences between children and situations, I would now be much more cautious than I was in sending my children to a local school. In a word, I was naive. Unfortunately, naive is not the moral equivalent of innocent.
And Steve Thomas, a graduate student at BIOLA, writes:

Putting aside the obvious problems in public schools regarding secular views of sexuality and human origins, I think the biggest problem may be one of omission. Probably the largest obstacle to the Christian faith in our day is the positivistic idea that ethical and religious beliefs do not fall in the domain of knowledge.

The public schools reinforce this doctrine through several hours per week, month after month, through twelve years of teaching that leaves God out of the picture. Ask the typical public school student how God is related to the subject he or she is studying (e.g. mathematics or history), and you will get one of three answers: “I don’t know,” “There is no relation,” or “What do you mean?”

This is not neutrality with respect to religion, as many believe, but is an education which — as Francis Canavan argued in his The Pluralist Game — makes God irrelevant to the life of the mind, to the most important subjects that one must be schooled in to be “educated”. It is no wonder, after years of such training, that society is so close-minded with regard to the Gospel, or that children are so likely to fall away from the faith in moving from high school to college.

I appreciate that some families cannot put their children in private schools, for financial or logistical reasons. Some cannot home-school, either, due to the limitations of their situation (thinking here of single mothers).

But for all those who can, I would urge them to seek out an institution or a home-school program that educates the whole soul of the individual, and does not shrink from integrating faith and learning in every possible dimension. And the church should be involved in enabling people to do this, financially and otherwise.

On a positive note, I think the tide is beginning to turn, particularly in the Classical Christian Education movement (e.g. www.accsedu.org), and in home-schooling programs like those driven by Biola University’s community education programs (see the “STAR Torrey Academy” pages in particular).


2:26 PM


MISSING THE JIHAD

David Mill’s blog earlier today about Sudan reminds me about the ABC WorldNews Tonite’s report on Sudan last night. I watched and listened carefully to the coverage, and not once did I hear the words Islam or Islamic in reference to the crisis. It would be like hearing a report on Northern Ireland without the words Catholic or Protestant being used (not that these situations resemble each other; I am only speaking of using accurate identifying information).

In fact, there was barely a hint of any government involvement in the killing of black Sudanese. There was a reference to “Arab militia,” which is as close as they got to the word Islam. And it seemed to be implied that these militia were somehow operating on their own and not connected with the government. When asked about the crisis, the Sudanese president expressed his expectation that the refugees (those who survived the attacks) would simply “return to their villages.” The report did show that the villages have been burned and destroyed, presumably by unauthorized militias. But government planes have been used and the militias are simply advancing the government’s agenda of “Islamicization” of the country, even if that means killing many non-Muslims.

There is a jihad occurring in Sudan. But it must not be politically correct to admit it. The ABC story last night placed the blame for thousands of the most recent casualties in that province simply on “ethnic violence”, which is a clever way of avoiding the Islamicization issue, making it sound like same-old “tribal warfare.” It’s not tribal warfare. It’s government-sponsored genocide.

The story of the genocidal jihad of the Islamic government against its own non-Muslim citizens is the subject of a special report by Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in our upcoming July/August issue.


11:44 AM


ADDICTS GOING THROUGH WITHDRAWAL:

I found this, from today's New York Times, amusing: Such Sorrow to Part With Cellphones, about the people who had to give up their cell phones to get into the U.S. Open golf tournament. One has little sympathy for these people, especially the "Many fans [who] said they had skipped work to head to the East End and had planned to monitor business from the golf course.

Something that a few years ago would have been thought a great luxury is now a necessity, so necessary that the poor workers who have to enforce the perfectly reasonable ban on cell phones take a lot of abuse. This blurring of line between leisure and work is a very bad thing for the people who blur it. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" is a reasonable warning. And there's something piggy about it.

The story also included an interesting example of what one might call inevitable lies. One of the guards said, "Cellphone excuses? I've heard them all this week. The most popular ones are, 'I'm a doctor on call,' or, 'My wife is eight months pregnant.' Funny, it's always eight months, never seven or nine."

It's not funny, in the sense of unexplainable: eight is the month a man would have to choose, because seven sounds too early to be a good excuse and nine makes the man sound like a cad for being away at a golf tournaent at all. "Eight months" is the lie most likely to work.


10:41 AM


SUDANESE GENOCIDE:

From Saturday's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof's latest column on Sudan: Sudan's Final Solution. he is reporting on the Sudanese government's attack on a village in Darfu in western Sudan, part of a murderous campaign that has made 1.2 million homeless. It includes the chilling lines:

There were 45 corpses, all killed because of the color of their skin, part of an officially sanctioned drive by Sudan's Arab government to purge the western Sudanese countryside of black-skinned non-Arabs.

The Sudanese authorities, much like the Turks in 1915 and the Nazis in the 1930's, apparently calculated that genocide offered considerable domestic benefits — like the long-term stability to be achieved by a "final solution" of conflicts between Arabs and non-Arabs — and that the world would not really care very much. It looks as if the Sudanese bet correctly.


10:33 AM


Sunday, June 20

EVOLUTION OF HOMO CANADIANUS

When not scribbling for Touchstone, I am the editor-in-chief of a scientific journal (among other things). As such, it never ceases to amaze me how often scientists see their own theories demonstrated in observations that could just as easily have given support to a host of other contradictory hypotheses. Then they claim victory over whatever straw man they set up and go on to conclude the importance of their own ideas.

An article in the March 11 issue of Nature illustrates this point well. In that study,

The researchers analyzed birth and death records in two farming communities, one in Finland and the other in Canada, from the 18th and 19th centuries. Of particular interest were 537 Finnish women and 3,290 Canadian women who lived past age 50 after bearing at least one child in a marriage. All were grandmothers (see article in Science News, since Nature is not readily available online).
The investigators found that “grandchildren more often survived to adulthood if their grandmother was alive at their birth, especially if she was under age 60.”

This is an interesting observation. It shows how the presence of grandmothers, who presumably help take care of the children, results in healthier families. The authors, however, conclude something altogether different:

The new findings support the theory that, during human evolution, the benefits that came with family assistance provided by grandmothers had the general effect of increasing human longevity.
Now let me get this straight: we are to conclude that these observations demonstrate an evolutionary theory that explains how mankind has gained longevity? How could this possibly demonstrate anything “evolutionary”? Perhaps the authors have observed a new species of Finns or Canadians that have shown signs of evolving in the past couple of centuries, but my hunch is that there are better conclusions that can be drawn from this phenomenon. But then again, I am not an Editor of Nature.


11:37 PM


PIARIST SUPPRESSION:

The Dallas Morning News has begun its series on sexual abuse in religious orders.

I just finished Karen Liebreich’s Fallen Order, about child abuse in the Piarists when their founder St Joseph Calasanctius was still alive. Stefano Cherubini, the third head of the Piarists, just before they were suppressed, was a child abuser. From the conclusion:

“But if Father Calsanz had dealt with the initial accusation of child abuse when it was first made in Naples in 1629, by disciplining or expelling Father Stefano, instead of promoting him, it is possible that the course of events that led to the closure of the order would not have taken place. But under pressure from the Cherubini family, he had instead elevated Father Stefano, and tried to keep him away from young boys, when encouraging him to leave a teaching order and remove himself from all temptation would doubtless have been a sounder policy. Other potential child abuse scandals were also covered up and in each instance Calasanz’s first priority was always the reputation of the order and the father concerned.”

“But as Cherubini moved to take over the whole order, the absolute lack of interest from Albizzi and the papacy in the accusations against him seem incomprehensible. Molesting children was a grave misdemeanor then, yet the authorities, despite innumerable protests, did nothing. It can only be that they did not consider the abuse of a child by a priest to be a matter of enough gravity to prevent that priest becoming universal superior of a teaching order.”
Why the centuries-old blindness to the damage done to the victims? The fault does not lie in celibacy: the Australian Anglican Church has displayed a similar callousness.


9:45 AM




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