The downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in light of Stephen Hawking’s “natural selection assumes natural rejection.”

 

 

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

 

For most of the world, the downing of MH17 was a very sad day. For many it is an occasion for much reflection on human selfishness and agression, and, hopefully, including our own. But surely not for materialists – logically speaking.

At one of his lectures at the University of Cambridge, where he is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a Chair once held by Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, who suffers from acute motor neuron disease, said the folowing regarding the long-term survival of humanity:

My only fear is this. The terror that stalks my mind is that we have arrived on the scene because of evolution. Because of naturalistic selection, and natural selection assumes natural rejection, which means we have arrived here because of our aggression – chemicals exploding in our reptilian brain. And my hope is that somehow we can keep from eating each other up for another 100 years. At that point science would have devised a scheme to take all of us into different planets of the universe and no one atrocity would destroy all of us at the same time.”

On the “after-life” he said. “The belief that heaven and an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story for people afraid of death.” There is, for Hawking, nothing beyond the last flicker of the brain waves. What counts he said is making good use of our lives by “seeking the greatest value of our action.”

On the one hand, Hawking says “natural selection assumes natural rejection, and natural selection assumes we have arrived here by our aggression,” and on the other hand, he says “we should seek the greatest value of our action.” Now, if we arrived on this planet by aggression – “we” implies every individual human birth – then it would be logical that we not only arrived here by aggression but survive by aggression: the survival of the fittest; in value terms the survival of the shittest.

Hawking also said “Science predicts that many different kinds of universes will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.”

(Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story.’ The Guardian, 15 May 2011).

To summarise Hawking: By chance, nothing created the human species out of nothing, where the distinctive attribute of the genetic blueprint is aggression. All is aggression – “nature red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson). In such a materialistic world, human free will is an illusion. Indeed, terms like “will” and “freedom” refer to nothing in reality. In Hawking’s materialistic view of “natural selection assumes natural rejection,” to seek the greatest value in our action means that each person or group has evolved to reject any values that clash with their own – and to do so aggressively. If Hawking puts his money where his mouth is, which I have no reason to question, then in his world – and so it must be in the world of every practical atheist – not only do the terms “free” and “will” refer to nothing in reality, the same applies to “good” and “evil.” I could go on and on: “love,” “guilt,” “forgiveness,” “judgement.”

Many of those who think or say that the downing of Flight MH17 was an evil act are materialists. In the language of Hawking, evolution has rejected – and no surprise, aggressively so – MH17 by blowing it up and cutting short the lives of all aboard and automatically causing untold suffering to thousands of friends and relatives. Morals, and morale, for that matter, cannot exist in a a world solely of matter.

The moral of my story is: when someone opens their gob about the morality of MH17, or anything else, ask them if they are materialists. If they are, tell them to shut up; unless you’re a confounded one yourself.

 

Apologetics: What’s the use!

In his article on the use of apologetics, “What’s it all for?”, the author holds the view – confusing to many – that “I am definitely an apologist and in the same breath say that there can be no objective proof for the existence of God.” Some hold the view that apologetics is useful, others the view that there is no objective proof of God’s existence, but very few would hold to both views. The author writes:

Apologetics was never really or initially about proving God to someone who did not believe in God to begin with. It simply wasn’t. It has evolved into that kind of thing, and along with it, it has become an cyclical exercise nearing futility. Rather, apologetics is about the process of critical thinking about the way we already make sense of reality and the universe. It is the process of checking ourselves (as theists) to make sure that we are thinking about our understanding of God correctly and accurately. And it works most of the time. It actually does provide a logical framework based on our existing worldview that demonstrates our beliefs about God and religious truth are accurate.”

So, the author maintains, you are not going to convince an atheist that God exists, definitely not that a personal God exists, and certainly not that the being of this personal God is a trinity of persons. Apologetics is of most use in a theist-to-theist discussion. As Greg Koukl puts it, all he is doing in his “Stand to Reason” ministry is putting a stone in someone’s shoe. Make that a burning cinder, and I’ll agree.

However, continues the author, that does not mean “I think apologetic conversations between a theist and an atheist is entirely useless. But the point cannot be to show that the atheist ought to believe the theist is right. That simply will not work. Rather, the point ultimately is to apply a critical analysis of the argument itself. The atheist will point out logical errors in the arguments because they cannot have any kind of confirmation bias to disregard them. However, the theist has to keep in mind that the atheist will also point out perceived errors based on the assumptions the theist does not share. That’s where the theist has to be able to recognize where the atheist are coming from so he/she can discern which objections are valid and which ones are not, because from the atheist’s perspective, they are simply not going to be able to tell the difference.”

What can be very useful for theists in discussion with atheists is to get atheists to think about their thinking, which, in a nutshell, is what philosophy is all about. At the end of the the Backpack Radio episode “Thinking about thinking,” the presenter slips in the most significant remark of the whole episode: Christianity is foolishness to the natural man (1 Corinthians 1 and 2), and that without regeneration (being born again – John 3) – no matter how clear your presentation – no one can come to believe in Christ.

Having said that, logical argumentation, as the writer of “What’s it all for?” said above, can be very useful in showing atheists the inconsistencies they hold. For example, in Backpack Radio’s subsequent episode, James Anderson discusses “worldview.” He relates an anecdote about someone who used his book What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions, in his apologetics class. The book is written in the form of a flow chart. The first question Anderson asks is “Do you believe in absolute truth?” If you say yes, you are directed to a specific section of the book; if you answer no, you are sent to another section. Anderson tells of someone who went through the book with non theology students In answer to the question “Do you believe in absolute truth?” about 90% said no. This answer led to a related track of the book. At the end of their journey, most wanted to change their minds.

Conclusion: thinking about thinking, that is, philosophy, will definitely not save you, but it can certainly get your unbelieving knickers in a knot. And if you’re riding furiously towards Damascus, that knot might be the (unguaranteed) means that God uses to pluck you off your high horse. As Anderson said, world views seldom change, but this change may occur under a crisis (death-beds generally excluded). Ultimately it is a work of the Holy Spirit – who, of course, never fails in what He wants to do. The fact that God never fails in what he wants to do is something the Calvinists on this page, if not most Christians, believe?

God uses different means for different people. One of these may be apologetics. What it ultimately comes down to is that No one can know God without His voluntary condescension (Westminister Confession of faith), in a word his grace, which by itself is sufficient to save – through faith, both divinely generated that turns a sow into a cat:

“Try and teach a sow to wash itself, and see how little success you would gain. It would be a great sanitary improvement if swine would be clean. Teach them to wash and clean themselves as the cat has been doing! Useless task. You may by force wash that sow, but it hastens to the mire, and is soon as foul as ever. The only way in which you can get a sow to wash itself is to transform it into a cat; then it will wash and be clean, but not till then! Suppose that transformation to be accomplished, and then what was difficult or impossible is easy enough; the swine will henceforth be fit for your parlor and your hearth-rug. So it is with an ungodly man; you cannot force him to do what a renewed man does most willingly; you may teach him, and set him a good example, but he cannot learn the art of holiness, for he has no mind to it; his nature leads him another way. When the Lord makes a new man of him, then all things wear a different aspect. So great is this change, that I once heard a convert say, “Either all the world is changed, or else I am.”(Charles Spurgeon, “All of grace”)

C.S. Lewis, the God who takes risks and Open Theism

C.S. Lewis wrote that God takes risks, therefore he is what is known as an “open theist.” Here is Lewis:

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. … If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings, then we may take it it is worth paying.”(C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity).

(See “The plan of salvation: Is it worth the risk, my Son? What, risk! Ask Jacques Derrida, CS Lewis and Thomas Oord.”).

Lewis says above: “Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk.” What does Lewis mean by “what” in “he knew what would happen? In this passage it seems that Lewis is not referring to God’s micro ignorance of every future event but rather of his macro uncertainty of whether humans will use their free will for evil. If God was certain that humans were going to do evil, we could not describe God as taking risks.

As for God taking a risk (by creating humans), such a statement implies that when Adam and Eve sinned, God went something like this: “Ouch, what I dreaded could happen did. Oh well, it was still worth the risk.”

This “God of the risks” does not exist in any Christian movement except the modern movement – before Lewis – of “Open Theism.” It’s basic idea is that if God foreknows what a person is going to do, it’s no different from God decreeing what a person is going to do, because if a person wants to change his mind, he cannot change what God foreknew. In open theism, genuine human freedom implies that God cannot know future human thoughts or acts because divine foreknowledge implies foreordination, that is, predestination. (See “The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence” by John Sanders ).

Does anyone know how God would react in a risky universe? When it comes to humans doing bad, what Andy Stanley does know is that God is embarrassed and much more; he has knee-jerk reactions. That is why, says Stanley, the Carmen Christi (Philippians 2:6-11) is in Bible.

Philippians 2:6-11
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Say you’re in a church where the pastor/minister teaches vital doctrines, namely, that he stands on revelation alone, and preaches the biblical doctrine of sin and condemnation and hell, and also that the only way of salvation is in the Son by His blood, His death and glorious resurrection, and the power of the Holy Ghost upon it all, and then in one of his sermons reads Philippians 2:6-10 and says – not once but twice – that what is described in that passsage is God’s “knee-jerk reaction.” That is what drives God in Philippians 2:5-12, says Andy Stanley, in the second video of the Louie Giglio’s four-part video series “How great is our God.”

(See “The violation of Philippians 2:6-10: Knee-Jerk theism).

My question is this: If God could not be sure whether humans would choose to be bad, then doesn’t it follow that God cannot tell what the content of this bad – or any human good – will be. This is pure open theism: God knows the past, knows the presence, but not the future. Man’s pristine freedom remains intact. Goodbye you Calvinist robots and hello CS and Andy.

Objectivity of good and evil: Go yang yourself

There’s a follower of Lao Tse who is a poet , who might also be lazy, but there’s no way to tell, for, although one is spellbound by one’s name, one shouldn’t find more in a name than meets the eye; well in modern times, that is. His name is One Laozi Poet. He came across my Yin Yang dualism, CS Lewis and Christianity where he suggested:

 “You might try to consider yin/yang as active/passive. It doesn’t seem appropriate to apply a good or bad label to either part of yin/yang. Good things have yin/yang elements, and bad things have yin/yang elements, as I understand things. Perhaps good/evil are opposite sides of a coin, one man’s good is another man’s evil. I don’t know, I only have one perspective, my own, from which to view things, but I’ve never met a sane person who believed themselves to be evil. I do tend to believe my enemies are evil, and those who kill my enemies are good. (This, despite every teaching that has taught me that killing is wrong).”

 Yin-Yang philosophy has a different perspective from the Bible, which teaches that both good and evil are active inclinations in the descendants of fallen Adam.

 As for “I’ve never met a sane person who believed themselves to be evil. I do tend to believe my enemies are evil, and those who kill my enemies are good,” the Bible says that all of the human faculties – mind, will, emotions – are radically corrupt, that is, shot through with evil.

 Our Laozi poet says that perhaps good/evil are opposite sides of a coin, one man’s good is another man’s evil. In other words one man’s meat is another man’s poisson (fish). Here are some thoughts from Greg Koukl on the relativity of good and evil (Greg Koukl, ““Tactics: A game plan for defending your Christian faith”).

Is Gandhi in Heaven?

When I was in India, Christian apologist Prakesh Yesudian

told me of a conversation he had with a Hindu about Gandhi,

who is much revered there….

Is Gandhi in Heaven?” the Hindu asked. “Heaven would

be a very poor place without Gandhi in it.”

Well, sir,” Prakesh answered, “you must at least believe

in Heaven then. And apparently you have done some

thinking about what would qualify someone for Heaven. Tell

me, what kind of people go to Heaven?”

Good people go to Heaven,” he responded.

But this idea of what is a good person is very unclear to

me.

What is good?”

In typical Hindu fashion he replied, “Good and bad are

relative.

There is no clear definition.”

If that is true, sir, that goodness is relative and can’t be

defined, how is it you assume Gandhi is good and should be

in Heaven?”

Either Gandhi fulfills some external standard of goodness,

thus qualifying for Heaven, or goodness is relative and

therefore a meaningless term when applied to anyone,

including Gandhi. Both cannot be true at the same time.

Kavita

 During that same trip, I had a discussion with a Hindu

college student named Kavita. As I talked about Christianity,

she raised the standard objection. “If God is as you say, how

could he allow such suffering, especially for the children?”

She gestured with a sweep of her hand as if to take in the

collective anguish of Madras, which was great.

The first thing I pointed out was that God hadn’t done this

to India. Hinduism had. Ideas have consequences, and the

suffering in Madras was a direct result of things Hindus

believe.

I then explained that it wouldn’t always be this way. A day

would come when all evil would be destroyed, and Jesus

himself would wipe away every bitter tear.

How could that be?” she objected. “Evil and good exist as

dual poles. If you have no evil, it is impossible to have good.

Each must balance the other out.”

I noticed immediately that Kavita’s response was at odds

with her first question. “Let me repeat this reasoning back to

you,” I said, “and you tell me what you think of it.” She

nodded.

You ask ‘Why are innocent children starving in the

streets?’ I answer, ‘Good and evil exist as dual poles.

Children starve in Madras so kids in other parts of the World

may be happy and Well. The one balances the other out.’

What do you think?”

When the point sunk in, she was forced to smile.

Touchél” she replied.

Before Koukl’s next example, as a prelim let me quote what a “Messianic Jew” said: “[Much] damage [was] done to the interpretation of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and New Covenant writings by non-Jewish Christian theologians from the late first century, on. The road to Auschwitz was paved from such anti-Jewish polemics and their corresponding supersessionistic theological principles.” Here is another view by a Jew of the cause of the Jewish Holocaust, which Koukl relates:

After an airing of The Quarrel, a film that explored the problem of

God and the Holocaust. Director David Brandes had asked

me to help moderate a discussion with an audience about the

moral issues raised by the film.

 From one side of the auditorium a Jewish woman offered

that maybe God allowed the Holocaust as a punishment for

Israel’s wayward drift into secularism. Some Jewish thinkers

have raised this possibility in light of the promised curses of

Deuteronomy 28. The reflection prompted a sarcastic, “Well,

that’s a real loving God,” from the other side of the theater.

I called attention to the conflict suggested by the second

comment. Those who are quick to object that God isn’t doing

enough about evil in the world (“A good God wouldn’t let

that happen”) are often equally quick to complain when God

puts his foot down (“A loving God would never send anyone

to Hell”).

If God appears indifferent to wickedness, his goodness is

challenged. Yet if he acts to punish sin, his love is in

question. These objections compete with each other in most

cases. They are siblings in rivalry. One or the other needs to

be surrendered. Both can’t be held simultaneously!

 One man’s hot is another man’s cold, true; one mans clever is another man’s stupid, true. But when it comes to morality, objective standards do exist. If you contradict me, I respectfully suggest: Go yang yourself.

Common self-refuting statements of truth-cheaters

From Greg Koukl’s “Tactics: A game plan for defending your Christian faith,” p. 118.

. “There is no truth.” (Is this statement true?)
. “There are no absolutes.” (Is this an absolute?)
. “No one can know any truth about religion.” (And how,
precisely, did you come to know that truth about
religion?)
. “You can’t know anything for sure.” (Are you sure about
that?)
. “Talking about God is meaningless.” (What does this
statement about God mean?)
. “You can only know truth through experience.” (What
experience taught you that truth?)
. “Never take anyone’s advice on that issue.” (Should I take
your advice on that?)

I like this one (p. 118), which reminds me of Richard Dawkins:

“I don’t believe in religion.”
“Why not?”
“There is no scientific evidence for it.”
“Then you shouldn’t believe in science either.”
“Why not?”
“Because there is no scientific evidence for it.”

Koukl comments “Since there is no scientific evidence proving that science is the only Way to know truth, the view self-destructs.”

The idol of Humanism, the betrayal of the ages

Humanism is the betrayal of the ages (Paris Reidhead, “Ten Shekels and a shirt”)

Christians are dumb (Dr. George Yancey lectures on anti-Christian bias in academia, and beyond)

Introduction

On 2 April, Adrian Leftwich of the Department of Politics at the University of York died at the age of 73 of lung cancer. He was a South African student leader at the University of Cape Town, and very committed to the anti-Apartheid struggle. I was at the University of Cape Town at the same time doing my degree in philosophy (1960-1963). Although, I did not know him personally, he was very visible. Here is an excerpt from his obituary, which describes him having the finest qualities of “humanism.”

“[He had an] extraordinary and genuine interest in and support for others. Adrian was above all a humanist (my italics), wanting to know and understand the people he met and worked with – important leaders and charismatic taxi-drivers alike. Adrian wanted to understand the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ weft and weave of the person, and in doing so invariably left an enduring impression on people. As a mentor Adrian was deeply valued and respected by DLP [Development Leadership Program] researchers and the whole team. He educated and enthused us, had the unique ability to shine a search-light and illuminate complex issues, but also the skill to encourage and bring out the ideas and thoughts of others. There were so many times where I witnessed Adrian’s endless generosity in intellect and time, but what stands out is that, on the day he was diagnosed with cancer, he somehow took time to provide detailed feedback on the draft manuscript of an AusAID [Australian Agency for International Development] colleague. In a word, selfless. To a person DLP friends and former colleagues have said that it was an honour and privilege to have worked with Adrian and that they truly valued his shared wisdom.”

What is Humanism

There exist various definitions of humanism, Here is one:

“…a commitment to the perspective, interests and centrality of human persons; a belief in reason and autonomy as foundational aspects of human existence; a belief that reason, scepticism and the scientific method are the only appropriate instruments for discovering truth and structuring the human community; a belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found in autonomy and moral equality (Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”

Paganism and humanism

In ancient Judaism other religions are described as goyim (the nations). In modern Judaism a non-Jew is a goy. Early and Middle-Ages Christianity referred to religions other than itself and Judaism as paganism (from “rural,” “peasant”). In early Christianity, “paganism” comprised the Greco-Roman religions, neoplatonism and gnosticism, and the mystery cults, while in the Middle-Ages there was Germanic and Slavic paganism.

Seventy-five years ago, writes J Gresham Machen, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan. In speaking of ‘paganism,’ we are not using a term of reproach. Ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious, and the modern world has not even begun to equal its achievements. What, then, is paganism? The answer is not really difficult. Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties” (my italics). And that exactly describes humanism.

The nobler qualities of humanism also have the above qualities as the highest human goal. “Very different , continues Machen, is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart [by which is not meant] continual beating on the breast or a continual crying of ‘Woe is me.’ Christianity begins with the broken heart and the consciousness of sin and ends with its final reality, God in Christ.”

The measure of all things, the pleasure of all things

In humanism “man is the measure of all things.” Plato attributes this saying to Protagoras. Briefly, it means that truth – moral and intellectual – is not something out there, but is the product of individual human minds. Human minds differ, therefore, my truth may not be your truth. A problem: when it comes to water boiling at sea-level, surely all beach-lovers would have to agree that the 100 degrees centigrade they see on their individual pocket thermometers is not a product of their minds. In the philosophy of humanism, many other areas of human life such as the “humanities” – politics, economics, art and ethics – the rigid belief “your truth, my truth” is regarded as the natural order of things.

In humanism, says Francis Schaeffer, “the material or energy shaped by pure chance is the final reality.” In 1982, the United States of America legislated that the only view of reality that can be taught is that matter and energy are the product of chance. This philosophy says Schaeffer, “gives no meaning to life. It gives no value system. It gives no basis for law, and therefore, in this case, man must be the measure of all things. So, Humanism properly defined, in contrast, let us say, to the humanities or humanitarianism, (which is something entirely different and which Christians should be in favor of) being the measure of all things, comes naturally, mathematically, inevitably, certainly. If indeed the final reality is silent about these values, then man must generate them from himself.” So, those in power get together and decide what is good for society in a given place and at a given time, and that becomes law. “TYRANNY! Exclaims Schaeffer (his emphasis); that’s what we face! We face a world view which never would have given us our freedoms. It has been forced upon us by the courts and the government — the men holding this other world view, whether we want it or not, even though it’s destroying the very freedoms which give the freedoms for the excesses and for the things which are wrong.”

Man is not only the measure of all things, but all things are measured for his pleasure, his enjoyment. For the natural man, joy means enjoyment, lots of it – enjoyment of freedom, enjoyment of job, of family, of friends, of sex, of sport, of holidays, of gadgets – and enjoyment of church! “Enjoyment” here does not merely mean amusements, thrills and diversions (French divertissement “entertainment”) but has to do with such things as the relationship between lifestyles and happiness. (See “Enjoyment of life lengthens life: Findings and consequences'” by R. Veenhoven).

All is permitted unless it interferes with someone else’s enjoyment. If there is no God, all is permissible (Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov – free ebook). Here are two excerpts (the pagination is of the ebook) :

Only five days ago, in a gathering here, principally of ladies, he solemnly declared in argument that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbours. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality. Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism.” (p. 134). Immortality implies belief in God. Also from “The Brothers Karamazov:

But God will save Russia, for though the peasants are corrupted and cannot renounce their filthy sin, yet they know it is cursed by God and that they do wrong in sinning. So that our people still believe in righteousness, have faith in God and weep tears of devotion. It is different with the upper classes. They, following science, want to base justice on reason alone, but not with Christ, as before, and they have already proclaimed that there is no crime, that there is no sin. And that’s consistent, for if you have no God what is the meaning of crime? (pp. 649-50).

The idols of the tribe

In his “The principles of psychology, Chapter 21, “The perception of reality” William James, distinguishes seven “sub-universes” of reality:

1. The world of sense, of physical things, as we apprehend them.

2. The world of science, of physical things, as the learned conceive them.

3. The world of ideal relations and abstract truths believable by all – logical mathematical, ethical, metaphysical propositions.

4. The world of “idols of the tribe”, illusions or prejudices common to all.

5. The various supernatural worlds.

6. The various worlds of individual opinion.

7. The various (and numerous) worlds of “sheer madness”.

James distinguishes between the “idols” of illusions and prejudices and the ” various supernatural worlds.” The three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – also distinguish between idols and the supernatural world. Idols in these religions, in contrast to William James, do not refer to illusions and prejudices but to anything that one loves above God. John Calvin, in his preface to the Olivat translation of the New Testament writes:

It is true enough that the Gentiles, astonished and convinced by so many goods and benefits which they saw with their own eyes, have been forced to recognize the hidden Benefactor from whom came so much goodness. But instead of giving the true God the glory which they owed him, they forged a god to their own liking, one dreamt up by their foolish fantasy in its vanity and deceit; and not one god only, but as many as their temerity and conceit enabled them to forge and cast (feindre et fondre); so that there was not a people or place which did not make new gods as seemed good to them. Thus it is that idolatry, that perfidious panderer, was able to exercise dominion, to turn men away from God, and to amuse them with a whole crowd of phantoms to which they themselves had given shape, name, and being itself.

Idols are not only images and statues as described in Romans 1:

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Anything you love more than Jesus the Christ is idolatry. In one culture, the family is an idol; in another culture – Western culture – the individual is an idol. In Western culture it is not polite to hurt someone’s feelings, for example, telling them that they are wrong. When it comes to religion, no one, says the humanist, is wrong.

Your idol may be money or art or your moral rectitude, even your good works, if not done mainly for God. Idols, then, are anything that takes precedence over your Creator; in Christianity, anything that you covet more than Christ is idolatry. John Piper defines covetousness as “desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God” (“Future Grace,” 221). Thus the opposite of covetousness is resting satisfied with God. Covetousness is idolatry “because the contentment that the heart should be getting from God, it starts to get from something else” (221). Covetousness, simply put, “is a heart divided between two gods” (221).”

There is also the idolatry of human reason. The “Enlightenment” made reason an ultimate thing. When it came to the Bible, it threw out anything it could not explain. Our brains, it says, can’t operate without patterns and order. We have to make some order out of what we see and hear. It says, patterns create music, language and thought. We need stories, it says, because they are part of our make-up. Some people, it says, are content with fiction, while others have a need for their stories to be true. It says, some people believe that absolute truth will always elude us, others believe that they know the Truth.

For example, here is a comment someone wrote to me about the Suffering Servant” passage in Isaiah 53; the book of Isaiah was written 700 years before Christ was born. “The Old Testament tells of the coming of the Messiah. The Book of Isaiah is not a prophecy. Of course a Messiah, whether Jesus or not, would be spurned, persecuted and martyred. To predict this, all you need is to witness human behaviour. It is the humanist opinion that the bible stems from our longing for order and understanding. We need a beginning, a middle and an end. In the humanist view, the bible story of Adam and Eve is a dramatic, fictional explanation for human nature, suffering and death.”

“Critics of biblical Christianity, writes Michael Kruger have roundly argued that Christians have no rational basis for holding such a belief about the canon. Christians can believe such a thing if they want to, it is argued, but it is irrational and intellectually unjustifiable. It must be taken on blind faith,”(Michael Kruger, Introduction to Canon revisited Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books). This, of course, is silly. This is not the place to say why.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing ( 1729- 1781) is famous for his metaphor of the “ugly broad ditch” (der garstige breite Graben) between the “accidental truths of history” and “the proof for necessary truths of reason.” For Lessing, religion belongs to the “accidental truths of history.” Christians, Jews and Muslims should not consider one another’s “accidental” beliefs as wrong. Why is this silly? Because, (most) Jews believe that Jesus is not the Messiah and was crucified, Christians also believe jesus was crucified but is indeed the Messiah, while Muslims also believe that Jesus is the Messiah but that he did not die on the cross, indeed, he did not die at all but was taken up into heaven while still alive. Lessing wished that they could look past the “accidents” of religion to the “necessary truths of reason.”

Our modern cultural elite think that science and education, not the Bible, will improve the world. This view has had devastating results. In 1920, H.G. Wells, in his “Outline of history,” praised human progress, which he maintained was due to advances in science and education. Human reason was going from strength to strength, to the end of all war. In his “Shape of things to come” (1933), Wells described how appalled he was by the selfishness of nations. In his last book, at the end of World War II, “Mind at the end of its tether (1945), he wrote ‘Homo sapiens is spent, this is the end.” Homo Sapiens lost all its sap; result you end up a sap.

Here is the problem, which Wells, the great humanist, either ignored or was ignorant of: He had put his great hope in humanity to solve all its problems. Alas, he was forced to face the reality of the inherent depravity of man. He knew nothing of the grace and power of God to change lives.

The inevitable outcome of humanism

What does this individualist autonomy of humanism lead to? Often not to the fine humanistic qualities described in Adrian Leftwich’s obituary but, says Francis Schaeffer, to “things such as over-permissiveness, pornography, the problem of the public schools, the breakdown of the family, abortion, infanticide (the killing of newborn babies), increased emphasis upon the euthanasia of the old and many, many other things…whatever compassion there has ever been, it is rooted in the fact that our culture knows that man is unique, is made in the image of God. Take it away, and I just say gently, the stopper is out of the bathtub for all human life.” (See the recent case of the killing of botched aborted babies). (F. Schaeffer, “A Christian Manifesto”).

It indeed possible for the generosity and empathy of a humanist to exist side by side with some or all of the evils mentioned by Schaeffer. The above evils (that is what they are) mentioned by Schaeffer are symptoms of the deeper problem of a change in the Western world from a Judeo-Christian standard to a humanistic one. Not only a departure from the Judeo-Christian world view but, says Bavinck, from the “religious supra-naturalistic worldview [which] has universally prevailed among all peoples and in all ages down to our own day, and only in the last hundred and fifty years has given way in some circles to the empirico-scientific” (Herman Bavinck, “The philosophy of Revelation,” 1908). So, for most of human history, East and West, there existed a close connection between religion and civilization, between the world and the other-wordly. Indeed religion was the very foundation of the family and social life.

The Christian should destroy his idols. How to do it? The Bible is ambivalent about the power of idols. In one sense they are nothing, they are not real, because there is, the Bible says, only one God. In another sense, through these idols, the powers and principalities insinuate your soul. How does a Christian disarm these evil powers – the devil and his demons? The only sure way is to be prepared to lose one’s life. The Apostle Paul was prepared to do it, and Jesus actually did it. This is what happened at the cross:

When you [ believers] were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15). When Jesus bowed his head and died, he totally triumphed over the idols. Your career, your wife, your children, your CV cannot die for your sins, only Christ can.

How can God punish those who hate him – a just punishment – and yet bring them back to him. How does Jesus’ objective triumph over idols (at the cross) help one to leave one’s idols? If the reality of who Jesus is and what he has done breaks through to you, it will free you. The only way to understand why Jesus is more important is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer and meditation (not of the “transcendental” kind”). When you look into the coffin of a loved one, the real question, says Tim Keller, is: “Is Jesus there in that coffin with you?” (Tim Keller, “The Gospel and Idolatry”).

The Church, of course, has also been infected with the idolatry of humanism. Here is Paris Reidhead:

“Now religion [in the 19th century] then had to exist because there were so many people that made their living at it, so they had to find some way to justify their existence. So back about the time, in 1850, the church divided into two groups. The one group was the liberals, who accepted the philosophy of the humanism and tried to find some relevance by saying something like this to their generation, “Ha, ha, we don’t know there’s a heaven. We don’t know there’s a hell. But we do know this, that you’ve got to live for 70 years! We know there’s a great deal of benefit from poetry, from high thoughts and noble aspirations. Therefore it’s important for you to come to church on Sunday, so that we can read some poetry, that we can give you some little adages and axioms and rules to live by. We can’t say anything about what’s going to happen when you die, but we’ll tell you this, if you’ll come every week and pay and help and stay with us, we’ll put springs on your wagon and your trip will be more comfortable. We can’t guarantee anything about what’s going to happen when you die, but we say that if you come along with us, we’ll make you happier while you’re alive.” And so this became the essence of liberalism. It has simply nothing more than to try and put a little sugar in the bitter coffee of their journey and sweeten it up for a time. This is all that it could say.”

“Well now the philosophy of the atmosphere is humanism; the chief end of being is the happiness of man. There’s another group of people that have taken umbrage with the liberals, this group are my people, the fundamentalists. They say, “We believe in the inspiration of the Bible! We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ! We believe in hell! We believe in heaven! We believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ!” But remember the atmosphere is that of humanism. And humanism says the chief end of being is the happiness of man. Humanism is like a miasma out of a pit, it just permeates everyplace. Humanism is like an infection, an epidemic, it just goes everywhere.” (Paris Reidhead, “Ten shekels and a shirt.”

Be careful; it all depends what one means by “happiness.” Here is John Brown: “‘Life,’ in the language of our Lord, implies happiness. When he calls himself, then, the “life-giving bread,” he intimates that he is the author of true happiness; that he, that he alone, can make men truly and permanently happy” (John Brown, “True happiness and the way to secure it: Conversational discourse to the Jews – John 6:26-65″).

Betrayal, forgiveness and redemption

Sin and forgiveness are central motifs in all religions. One of the worst sins is betrayal, especially by those who say they love you. Judas’ betrayal of and Peter’s denial of Jesus are well known. “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me” (Psalm 41:9). I return to Adrian Leftwich. The “Daily Maverick” (11 May, 2013) carries an article entitled, “Adrian Leftwich, the Unforgiven” with the following rubric:

Adrian Leftwich, who died earlier this month, ended his life as a respected politics professor at the University of York, in England. But as a young man in his native South Africa, Leftwich was an anti-Apartheid activist who sold out some of his closest friends and comrades in exchange for his own freedom. Even after almost 50 years, some would never forgive him. Rebecca Davis looks back on a haunting South African story.” The article quotes an excerpt from Leftwich “I gave the names”: “In July 1964, when I was 24, my life in South Africa came to a sudden end. The events which brought this about were of my own making. No one else was to blame.” Davis continues:

“In this slightly abrupt fashion, Adrian Leftwich begins his 2002 essay “I Gave the Names”. It was the first time in 40 years that Leftwich, by that time a successful UK academic, would break his silence in public on the events that had condemned him to a life lived in exile from his home country. It was said later that he had been writing the essay for 15 years. Leftwich, looking back at events which occurred more than 40 years earlier, still revealed traces of bemusement: ‘For reasons which I still do not fully understand, I tried to do things which were far beyond me, and I failed. I tried to help change the world around me but in the process I destroyed my own, I betrayed my friends and colleagues and I damaged the cause which I believed in and had worked for,’ he wrote.”

From the “humanistic” standpoint (as defined in this article), Leftwich, in his student days, did a heinous crime, which resulted in torture and long prison sentences for his associates and close friends. Some eventually forgave him, some half-forgave him, and others could never forgive him. I mentioned earlier, how his later life took an “extraordinary and genuine interest in and support for others. Adrian was above all a humanist (my italics), wanting to know and understand the people he met and worked with – important leaders and charismatic taxi-drivers alike. Adrian wanted to understand the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ weft and weave of the person, and in doing so invariably left an enduring impression on people.” (His obituary at the beginning of this article).

Oh the contrast! The traitor seeking redemption (for surely there must be truth in this inference) in humanistic virtue. Christ, in contrast, teaches that redemption can never be found in turning over a new leaf, or even in turning your body over to be burned for any reason, even for Christ’s sake, if not done without faith in Him, without faith in His sacrifice on the cross. It was on the cross that he was made sin for those who were to believe in Him. Humanists can’t understand how faith can save you. They, like Pontius Pilate, ask, “What is truth? They are asking, if there is no Truth – which they believe is true!- in what truth can they believe? (All knowledge and action is based on belief).

Both the humanist and the Christian agree with the Apostle James:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2).

Adrian Leftwich, in human eyes, did far more good than evil; yet, the Bible says without faith in (trust in) Christ there is no redemption – in this world and the world to come. I say this with great sadness.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21)

Related posts: Pantheism, the Enlightenment and Materialism

Finding God in a world full of so many gods

Pantheism, the Enlightenment and Materialism

 

Introduction: What is Pantheism

 Pantheism is the belief that what religions call “God” is the universe itself, in all its splendour and horror. In Pantheism the universe and God are synonymous. Pantheism is as old as the marrow of Indian philosophy; the Upanishads (etymology – “sitting close to” a guru) , and as new as “New Age.” The Jewish Kabbalah, Pantheist to the core, states: 

The essence of divinity is found in every single thing — nothing but it exists. Since it causes every thing to be, no thing can live by anything else. It enlivens them; its existence exists in each existent. Do not attribute duality to God. Let God be solely God. If you suppose that Ein Sof (the Eternal, literally “without end”) emanates until a certain point, and that from that point on is outside of it, you have dualized. God forbid! Realize, rather, that Ein Sof exists in each existent. Do not say, “This is a stone and not God.” God forbid! Rather, all existence is God, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity” (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Shiur Qomah to Zohar 3:14b; Idra Rabba). 

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero's grave in Safed, Israel

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero’s grave in Safed, Israel

Adorning the pantheist pantheon in the late 18th to early 19th centuries were the greats Goethe and Hegel in Germany, Shelley and Keats in England, and Emerson and Thoreau in America. Later in the 19th century pantheism was close to becoming the dominant philosophy.

If pantheism is as old as the Upanishads (the bulk of it probably written circa 600 BCE), how old is materialism? At least as old as the pre-Socratic Greek philosophy of 600-500 BCE, reaching its peak in the 4th Century BCE with the atomists Democritus and Epicurus. “Atomism” was the philosophy that ultimate reality consists of invisible, indivisible bits of randomly colliding matter. Not very different from the materialism of modern times, spearheaded by the Enlightenment. It believed that human beings and nature could be controlled by reason and empirical methods. The reasoning was the laws of society emerge from the laws of nature. Once these social laws were understood, it would be possible to create a better world. 

The Enlightenment 

In his What is Enlightenment? Emmanuel Kant describes the Enlightenment as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage”, where “tutelage” is (Kant continues) “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another”. The “Enlightenment” has profound relevance not only for understanding modern man. God saw that the light was good, but man saw that enlightenment was better – much better. “Enlightenment” puts man at the centre. Whereas theology, previous to the “Enlightenment,” was the handmaiden of science, after the “Enlightenment,” the movement of “positivism” (August Comte) reduced it to the “charwoman” of science (Frederick Copleston in one of his volumes on the history of philosophy. (Deconstruction and the Inworming of Postmodern theology). 

Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Force and Chemical Stuff 

Scientists such as Lavoisier (1743-94) in France and John Dalton (1766-1844) in England promoted a materialistic philosophy where all entities including human beings were entirely the product of physical and chemical forces. One of the most popular books of the 19th century was Ludwig Büchner’s, “Kraft und Stoff (Force and Matter, 1855). The argument of the book is that there is no need for a transcendent (immaterial) force to explain the universe: the laws of physics and chemistry are sufficient to do the job. Here is Büchner strutting his Stoff in his concluding observations (English translation (1870) by J. Frederick Collingwood, p, 251-52): 

Exact science inculcates modesty ; and it is perhaps for this reason, that our modern naturalists have hitherto neglected to apply the standard of exact science to philosophy, and from the treasury of facts to forge arms for the overthrow of transcendental speculations. Now and then there issued from the workshops of these industrious labourers a ray of light which, reaching the noisy philosophers, did not fail to heighten the existing confusion. These single rays were, however, sufficient to cause in the camp of speculative philosophy a feverish excitement, and gave rise to sallies in anticipation of a threatened attack. There was something ludicrous in it to see these philosophers so desperately defend themselves before they were seriously attacked. It certainly will not be long before the battle becomes general. Is the victory doubtful ? The struggle is unequal ; the opponents cannot stand against the trenchant arm of physical and physiological materialism, which fights with facts that every one can comprehend, while the opponents fight with suppositions and presumptions.” 

Büchner’s  Force and Matter was followed four years later by the sensational materialisation of Charles Darwin’s “On the origin of Species,” 1859). Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection dumped the notion that there was design or purpose in the universe. All phenomena could be explained by chemistry and physics, even history; to wit, the “historical materialism” of Marx and Engels and the evolutionary psychology of Herbert Spencer. 

Historical materialism 

Here is Marx and Engels’ broad overview of historical materialism: 

“The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature….Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.”

Pantheism takes a sandwich break 

I contrast the views of Francis Schaeffer and Herman Bavinck on the relationship between materialism and the “infinite creator God (Schaeffer) in 20th century humanism. Here is Schaeffer in 1982: 

[I]nstead of the final reality that exists being the infinite creator God; instead of that which is the basis of all reality being such a creator God, now largely, all else is seen as only material or energy which has existed forever in some form, shaped into its present complex form only by pure chance.(F. Schaeffer, “A Christian Manifesto”). 

The above position describes the Darwinian position as it exists today in 2013.Now, here is Herman Bavinck in 1908. Note how the second paragraph contrasts with Schaeffer:

(My italics) 

The term evolution embodies in itself a harmless conception, and the principle expressed by it is certainly operative within well-defined limits throughout the imiverse. But the trend of thought by which it has been monopolized, and the system built on it, in many cases at least, avail themselves of the word in order to explain the entire world, including man and religion and morality, without the aid of any supranatural factor, purely from immanent forces, and according to unvarying laws of nature.” 

Nevertheless, the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century has witnessed an important change in this respect. The foremost investigators in the field of science have abandoned the. attempt to explain all phenomena and events by.mechanico-chemical causes. Everywhere there is manifesting itself an effort to take up and incorporate Darwin’s scheme of a nature subject to law into an idealistic world-view. In fact Darwin himself, through his agnosticism, left room for different conceptions of the Absolute, nay repeatedly and em- phatically gave voice to a conviction that the world is not the product of accident, brute force, or blind necessity, but in its entirety has been intended for progressive improvement. By way of Darwin, and enriched by a mass of valuable scientific material, the doctrine of evolution has returned to the fundamental idea of Hegel’s philosophy. The mechanical conception of nature has been once more replaced by the dynamical ; materialism has reverted to pantheism; evolution has become again the unfolding, the revealing of absolute spirit. And the concept of revelation has held anew its triumphant entry into the realm of philosophy and even of natural science.” 

Bavinck’s “The mechanical conception of nature has been once more replaced by the dynamical ; materialism has reverted to pantheism.” 

This implies that in the 19th century (recall Bavinck wrote this in 1908) the purely mechanical conception of nature was in vogue, just as it is in vogue again in the late 20th and 21st century. This is not to say that “creationism” is insignficant in the 21st centrury. The interesting observation in Bavinck is that between the mechanical conceptions of the late 19th century and our time, there existed a pantheistic hiatus.

Herman Bavinck (1854 - 1921)

Herman Bavinck (1854 – 1921)

Here is Carl Sagan: 

We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.” And: Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” One thing Sagan, while alive, was sure of; it wasn’t God.

 Conclusion: I am Gaaaaad, I am Gaaaad 

The world with all its stuff is more pantheistic than ever. No one sums it up more than the delightful Shirley Maclaine. Here is an excerpt of an ABC-TV interview featuring Shirley Mclaine:

During an oceanside conversation, David presses her to stand up and assert the presence of the ‘God-truth’ within.  After suggesting several affirmations, he selects a powerful one for Shirley:  ‘I am God.’ Timidly, she stands at the Pacific.  Stretching out her arms, she mouths the words half-heartedly. ‘Say it louder.’ Shirley blusters about this statement being a little too pompous. For him to make her chant those words is – well, it sounds so insufferably arrogant. David’s answer cuts to the quick: ‘See how little you think of yourself?’ This deep insight embarrasses MacLaine into holy boldness. Intuitively, she comes to feel he’s right.  Lifting both arms to the sky, she pumps it out — ‘I am God!  I am God!’ — as the ocean laps at her feet.”

Shirley Maclaine (1934 - )

Shirley Maclaine (1934 – )