Saturday, May 30, 2015

Black-shirted gay students disrupt meeting at UCSB

In case you thought the gay rights movement was just wanting a place at the table, you might want to check out another instance of gay rights groups upsetting everyone else's tables.

Check out this video of a meeting of the Anscombe Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara (my alma mater), where black-shirted and pink balloon festooned gay students try to disrupt the meeting.

So let me get this straight: giving gays their rights requires inhibiting the rights of those with which they disagree?

Sure would have been nice to know this before they hijacked the culture.

Just imagine the national condemnation which would have greeted a band of black-shirted socially conservative students disrupting a meeting of gays students.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What Two Scholars Found When They Looked at the Quality of Education Research (And It Isn't Pretty)

How many times have you been told that some trendy new education practice is "research-based"? The implication, of course, is that the mere application of this scientific-sounding label to the practice should cause the hearer to lay aside any further critical inquiry on the matter.

When it comes to education (and many other things for that matter) the expression "research-based" is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The expression is the equivalent of the philosopher's "QED" (Quod Est Demonstrandum: "It is demonstrated"). It is a discussion-ender. The only response considered appropriate is to nod in obedient acceptance.

But what exactly does this expression mean?

What it means is that there has been some study (perhaps more than one), conducted by someone, somewhere, that seems to indicate that the practice may be effective. Or, more likely, that someone has heard someone else say that such a study exists. It almost never indicates that the person making the reference has actually read the study (or studies) to which he refers, or could necessarily cite it.But there is something even more worrisome and it comes in the form of a study—one that you can actually read yourself.

In a study released last year by the Educational Researcher, Matthew C. Makel of Duke University and Jonathan A. Plucker of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, conducted a wide-ranging meta-study of educational research, to determine how many of the education studies published in the 100 most prominent education journals met one of the most basic research criteria. The question they asked was: What were the replication rates of education studies?

Replications, say the authors (quoting another researcher) serve five functions:

  • Controlling for sampling error
  • Controlling for artifacts
  • Controling for fraud
  • Generalizing different /larger populations
  • Assessing the study's general hypothesis

H. M. Collins calls replication "the Supreme Court of science."

Replication is a common procedure in both the hard sciences (biology, medicine, genomics, computer science), as well as the soft ones (economics, political science, and sociology).

And when you consider the low rate of successful replication in the hard sciences, say the authors, the need for replication in the social sciences (such as education) "becomes even more acute." One review found that only 44 percent of studies in health care research are successfully replicated; another that only 11 percent success rate of highly cited cancer trial studies; another that research findings analyzed by the Bayer drug company were able to be successfully replicated.

The rate of successful replication in psychology is peculiarly high—91.5 percent, "making psychologists nearly 5 times better at predicting results than actual rocket scientists. It is an outcome the authors attribute to "collecting the data until the desired result is found, not reporting unsuccessful trials, and eliminating observations and variables post hoc that do not support the targeted hypotheses." And then there is the fact that only 1.07 percent of studies in 100 prominent psychology journals are replications.

So, when the authors looked at all the studies ever published in the top education journals, what did they find?

  • Of the 164,589 studies published in these education journals, only 221 of them were replications—an overall replication rate of .13 percent.
  • Of the studies that were replicated, only 67.4 percent  were successful.
  • Also, 48.2 percent—nearly half—the replications were conducted by the same people who did the original study.

Now let's do a little math here: If you multiply .13 percent by .674, you get .08762 percent. What does it say about education research that only roughly .09 percent of it has been successfully replicated—and almost half of these replications performed by people who had a stake in seeing it successfully replicated?

That's 100 times .0008762. And half of those questionable.  This is a colossal indictment of the legitimacy of education research.

So the next time you hear a professional educator touting some exotic new education idea as "research-based,"  ask him this question: "Has the research been successfully replicated?" Chances are he won't know. When he confesses his ignorance, tell him that there is a higher than 99.9 percent chance that it hasn't.

Do media critics of the Duggars need professional help?

As if it's not enough that the Duggars have to face humiliating public scrutiny over their oldest child's sexual misbehavior as a 14 year-old, they now have to suffer the indignity of having to listen to advice about how they should have handled the problem from people whose sexual values differ little from those found in a common barnyard.

There are houses of ill repute with higher standards of sexual behavior than the people now giving advice to the Duggars.

Take the case of Salon magazine, a tawdry little liberal online publication, whose advice to the Duggars is to seek "treatment." Here is Kathleen Furin, wagging her moralistic finger at the Duggars and waxing eloquent about the "experts":
Keeping children safe from abuse is the purported goal of a number of institutions throughout the country. Yet clearly the Duggars – both the young girls who were victimized and Josh, the perpetrator — fell through the cracks on this one. What’s most concerning is that it is possible that this is not an isolated incident within this religious sect, and that many more children may be at risk. 
The greatest concern here for all of us should be appropriate treatment for the perpetrator and the victims, who seem to have been forgotten by both their parents and their brother. You can probably chalk that up to their uber-patriarchal, women-hurting, woman-hating belief system. But society should have an interest in stopping this type of abuse regardless of who is doing it (looking at you, powerful white men), and stopping this type of abuse requires treatment. It isn’t safe or healthy for any perpetrator to not seek appropriate, evidence-based, clinically effective treatment. Nor should any child, regardless of his or her parents’ religious beliefs, have to be subjected to this type of abuse, so it goes without saying that the girls should also receive the best treatment available.
Any time you hear someone touting something as "evidence-based" or "clinically effective" you should grab your family and head for the basement. Every failed idea ever proposed was hailed as "research-based" or "based on science." These are among the most abused expressions in the English language.

Every time someone has a moral failing, we haul out the celebrity shrinks and act like psychology is some kind of hard science that can solve all of our behavior problems. Just take Josh, put him on a couch, and subject him to a battery of questions to see if maybe his questionable behavior can be traced to something that happened in this childhood.

Oh, wait: His questionable behavior is what happened in his childhood. Never mind.

Now just to put Salon's advice into perspective, consider the following recent article titles in the magazine and then ask yourself who is in need of treatment:

  • Your sex number is your business: The intimate secret your partner has no right to know: How many people have you slept with? It's usually a misleading figure, and one we have every right to hold close
  • The “secret” to female e*********n: How all women can experience it: Explosive orgasms are understood to be a uniquely male phenomenon. That doesn't have to be the case
  • “Unwilling v****as make me really uncomfortable”: Sensitive men draw their ideal v****as: Who doesn't want to hear a dude say something like, "I accept the v****a however it appears"?
  • Intimacy after the “call girl” years: How sex work changed the way I have sex: Playing the part of a sexual object had given me a feeling of control. Now I'm learning how hard vulnerability is

Getting advice on how to handle sexual misbehavior from Salon magazine is sort of like getting advice on kindness from Atilla the Hun, or integrity from J.R. Ewing.

People who clearly have some kind of sexual psychosis have no business giving advice to other people on how to cure their sexual problems.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Should CNN News be cancelled for its bad advice to the Duggars?

The media never miss a chance to engage in moral preening and they have found another golden opportunity in the Josh Duggar scandal. Duggar, a member of the Duggar family featured in the reality show "19 Kids and Counting," allegedly fondled several young girls while they were asleep when he was 14 years old.

The Duggars, of course, are a Christian family, and what's potentially even worse (in the media's eyes) is that they're politically conservative, so conservative it seems that they are against "LGBT rights."

Now on the one hand, it doesn't take a great deal of foresight to conclude that if you're featured in a reality show about a Christian family with 19 kids and a father named "Jim Bob," it probably isn't going to end well for you. Not with the media constantly trolling for scandalous fodder to gain ratings.

I confess to having no understanding whatsoever why anyone would consent to let reality TV cameras into his home to expose a family to public scrutiny to the extent the Duggars have. I don't see any circumstance in which that doesn't harm your family. And doing it with a family of 19 kids does little more than risk turning your family life into a freak show.

And I'm sorry, but having 19 (going on 20) kids and thinking something embarrassing isn't going to happen that is going to be broadcast across the country by a media trolling for scandals is simply delusional.

Had the Duggars not been reality TV stars, they could have saved Josh the embarrassment he is now undergoing, and saved their daughters the embarrassment of the speculation now swirling that they were among Josh's victims.

Those who live by Hollywood must die by Hollywood.

But let's remember that the media that is now parading its discovery before viewers is the same media that has helped facilitate the sexual harassment crisis in the military by putting women in positions that do little else other than make them more vulnerable to such harassment and who have yet to do any investigation of colleges that facilitate sexual harassment on their campuses by doing the same thing through their policies on campus living facilities, not mention outright verbal encouragement.

Apparently sexual harassment in these situations is just one of the costs we must bear on the way to progressive egalitarianism. Josh Duggar, on the other hand, gives them a stick by which to beat conservative Christians. How can they pass that up?

And in fact the worst outcome of these revelations is that it gives the media the chance to morally grandstand. They want their viewers to believe that they are concerned about the victims. But the victims apparently want to be left alone. Ten bucks says that if someone finds out the names of the victims, CNN will broadcast them to the nation to the abject embarrassment of the very people they claim to be standing up for.

Dr. Gail Saltz, one of CNN's go-to people when it comes to explaining sin away, claimed yesterday that the failure of victims in these kinds of cases to get counselling leads to anxiety, depression, and relationship difficulties later in life.

Now I'm just wondering: How are these problems helped when national news shows parade the violations against them before millions of viewers? It's keeping these things secret, says Saltz, that causes psychological harm. So, what? Broadcasting their victimization before the whole country is good?

Does CNN offer free psychological services to the people they harm through all the attention they draw to the victims of sexual crimes?

And then there is Josh, who, we are given to understand, could have been cured of his 14 year-old stupidity through "treatment." That, at least, is what Dr. Phil thinks. Dr. Phil, whose psychological hammer renders him incapable of viewing anything as other than a nail, thinks it was just a travesty that Josh wasn't given over to psychiatrists.

Christian counseling just doesn't cut it, he told Anderson Cooper last night. Apparently Dr. Phil and Dr. Saltz have discovered the cure to stupidity and sin, although they have yet to reveal exactly what it consists of. Maybe it's a proprietary thing.

Saltz claimed that Josh knowing that what he did was wrong was not enough and that if he understood why he did what he did, the likelihood of him doing it again would be greater.

But wait.

What is Dr. Saltz's success rate with her patients? If Josh never again did what he did to the five alleged victims when he was 14 years old (and there's no indication that he did), then the success rate of the Christian counseling he got would make the record of Dr. Phil and Dr. Saltz look ridiculous by comparison.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What IS a "Worldview"?—and How to Know a Good One When You See It

The following article will appear in the Late Summer edition of The Classical Teacher:

One of the most overused terms in the Christian education lexicon is the expression "worldview." And although it is frequently used, it is almost never defined. We are told how important "worldview" is. We are supposed to have a "worldview" and make sure we teach "worldview" to our children. We are warned about other "worldviews" different from our own "worldview" and told that we must learn to distinguish our "worldview" from all the other ones.

Or so the rhetoric seems to run.

But exactly what is a "worldview"? How do we know a good one when we see it? And how did this expression make it into our vocabulary, anyway?

The expression "worldview" originated in German with the word Weltanshauung. It first appeared in the eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment.

The word has been variously translated "world picture," "philosophy of life," "worldview," or, as one of Kant's translators put it, our "intuition of the world." In his lecture, "A Philosophy of Life," Sigmund Freud notes how difficult it is to translate the German word Weltanshauung into another language. To him it meant, "an intellectual construction which gives a unified solution of all the problems of our existence in virtue of a comprehensive hypothesis—a construction, therefore, in which no question is left open and everything in which we are interested finds a place."

A worldview, or Weltanshauung, is a sort of unified field theory of existence. It is not just the set of beliefs we happen to have about God, the world, and ourselves, but the fundamental assumptions that lie behind most of our beliefs—the small set of basic presuppositions that underlies the rest of our thought.

To ask what a worldview is means asking not what we believe, but why we believe what we believe.

While we may disagree with Kant or Freud's worldviews (Kant's involved a radical bifurcation between our mind and the world, and Freud's worldview was based on his theory of psychoanalysis), we would do well to learn from the care with which they tried to define the term itself.

So what are these underlying beliefs that make up a worldview? If we were to go back to Kant, the originator of the term, we might consider his "Four human questions":
What can I know?
What should I do?
What may I hope?
What is man?
To ask "What can I know?" is to ask a question about epistemology, from the Greek word that means the "study of knowledge." This question has to do with the True and how we can know it.

To ask "What should I do?" is to ask a question about ethics. Our theory of ethics (our axiology) is the "study of right action." It  has to do with the Good. It is to ask "What is the good?" and "How do we know right actions from wrong ones?"

To ask "What may I hope?" is a question about our affections and whether they are rightly directed. What do we long for and what should we long for? It is also a question about aesthetics, the study of the Beautiful, or the Sublime.

These first three questions would seem more fundamental than Kant's fourth question—"What is man?"—since they have to do with the three most fundamental things: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful—what the ancient philosophers called the "Trancendentals"—the universal characteristics of everything that exists.

Still, the question "What is man?" seems a very fundamental one to us, since we are all human beings. To ask it is to ask a question about anthropology, the "study of man."

Is there anything missing here? I think there is, but we will have to go back further than Kant to find it. We will have to search beyond the eighteenth century and go back to the Middle Ages, and ultimately to ancient times, in order to find one more question that is behind them all.

It is the question, "What is reality?" To ask this question is to ask a question about ontology (literally, the "study of being") or metaphysics.

Kant did not give this one in his list, perhaps because he came after René Descartes, who set this question aside in the sixteenth century when he re-centered human thought away from reality to the self. Descartes is considered the first modern philosopher because he changed the way we think. To him, all knowledge of reality must begin with the self. Descartes inverted the ancient order in which ontology came first and psychology last.

Have we left anything else out? Perhaps so.

If we are going to include anthropology, we should probably also include theology, "the study of God," and natural philosophy, or science, which is the "study of nature," since these three things make up the basic elements of all that is.

What is a worldview? It is your view of what, at bottom, reality is, followed by your fundamental beliefs about the True, Good, and Beautiful, and lastly, who and what God, man, and nature are.

Starting with Kant's four questions, we have added a fifth, sixth, and seventh. It would seem that if we put these seven questions together, we might have struck upon the elements of a worldview. We might say that to ask "What is your worldview?" is to ask "What is your ontology, your epistemology, your ethics, aesthetics, theology, anthropology, and natural philosophy?"

Furthermore, if we are wise, which St. Thomas Aquinas defined as the ability to "order things rightly," we should see that these questions form a hierarchy: The nature of reality (ontology) is the most fundamental thing, second are the characteristics of reality (the Transcendentals), and third are the elements of reality (God, man, and the world). It is a progression—from the most fundamental to the relatively less fundamental. Our view of the Transcendentals will be essentially affected by our ontology, and our view of God, man, and nature will be fundamentally affected by our view of what reality exists and how reality exists.

Now that we know this, we can answer the question many Christian educators ask (and ask their students to ask): "What is the Christian worldview and how does it differ from other worldviews?" We now have seven ways to confidently answer this question, and if we use these seven ways, we will discover what the Christian worldview is.

How does Christianity answer the ontological question, "What is reality?"

There have been three main views on the nature of reality over the course of Western thought. The first is Plato's view that the essences of all the things in this world exist in Heaven. Humans exist in the world, but human nature exists in Heaven. Horses exist in the world, but "horseness"—the horse essence or nature universal in all horses—exists in Heaven. Trees exist in the world, but "treeness"—the essence common to all trees—exists in Heaven. The things in this world are imperfect imitations of these Heavenly essences, or forms. In this sense, the things of this earth—men, animals, plants, etc.—are less real than the really real things in Heaven.

The late medieval thinker William of Ockham, on the other hand, questioned the existence of any essences at all. There are no human, animal, or plant essences, he said, and we call the things by these labels (man, horse, tree) only because they happen to have similar outward features.

The classical Christian view on ontology settled on by the early Middle Ages was Aristotle's view, closer to Plato than to Ockham, in which (unlike Ockham) the essences of things were considered to exist, but (unlike Plato) resided not in Heaven but in the things themselves. Human nature is in every man, horse nature is in every horse, tree nature in every tree. The essences are, indeed, the really real things, put there by the Creator. The essences are intrinsic to the things; they are what makes things what they are.

How does Christianity answer the epistemological question, "What can I know and how can I know it?"

The Greeks and Romans believed there were three ways to know truth: through reason, through the senses, and through divine revelation, but the true God had not revealed Himself to them. Christianity too acknowledges these three ways of attaining truth, but because it is in possession of the true revelation of God, its knowledge is superior to the knowledge of the ancients. Still, Christianity does not reject reason in favor of revelation, since reason is part of the reflection of the image of God in man—in addition to the fact that the Bible does not provide answers to every question man asks. It is accurate, but does not even purport to be complete. Christianity considers that both reason and revelation strive for the same truth.

What about ethics?

Modern ethics is divided between rule-based ethics (deontology) and consequentialism. We either believe with Kant that ethics consists in following rules, or with John Stuart Mill that the rightness of our actions lies in their good consequences. Neither is a full view of morality. The reigning view of ethics before the Enlightenment was what we now call "Virtue Ethics," which says that an action is right if it is in accordance with our natures—natures that were effaced by the Fall but not erased, damaged but not destroyed. This is the classical Christian view. According to this view, we are created with an intrinsic nature and purpose which is the image of God in us. To act according to our nature and to accomplish the purpose we were made to serve is to do right, and to violate our nature or interfere with the purpose in us is to do wrong.

Aesthetics, like truth and morality, are, in the Christian view, objective and universal. The modern view that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is only a very recent one historically speaking. It is attractive to us because the standards we need to determine the difference between those things which naturally appeal to our imagination and those that repulse it are not cut and dry. But just because standards of judgment are hard to determine does not prove that they don't exist. Beauty and the sublime exist, despite the difficulty in saying exactly what they are.

Christianity agrees with Plato, who thought that the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are all objective and find their ultimate origin in God.

It is no accident that the catechisms of both St. Thomas and Martin Luther are divided into three sections—sections that mirror the order of Transcendentals and the question that accompanies each. To the question "What can I know?" Christianity answers with the contents of the Apostle's Creed; to the question "What should I do?" Christianity answers with the litany of the Ten Commandments; to the question "What may I hope?" Christianity answers with the Lord's Prayer.

Theology, the study of God, becomes possible only through of the availability of divine revelation in the form of the Bible, since it reveals to us specific truths from which to work. It also makes anthropology a much easier science, since it tells us about the nature of man, a creature created in God's own image. Likewise our natural philosophy will be informed by the idea that the order of the world is the result of an Orderer, and that the mysteries we see in nature are ultimately resolved in the Being who made it.

God is at once the most fundamental aspect of the Christian worldview, since he is the ultimate ontological reality, and the object of our theology. He is at the core of our study of human nature, because it is a nature made in His image and likeness. He is also the operating principle informing our study of nature, since the essences of things in the world were of His own design.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ignore that Black Lady: Why is the media ignoring Bevin's running mate?

Am I the only one who noticed the fact that in the election coverage of the Republican gubernatorial primary on Tuesday night that no one wanted to talk about the fact that Republican nominee Matt Bevin's running mate was a Black woman?

As far as I could tell, the only one who even mentioned Jenean Hampton was Al Cross.

Just imagine the fanfare we would be subject to if it was a Black woman running on a Democratic ticket.

When Bevin convened to give his victory speech, he gave the podium first to Hampton, where she revealed herself to be far more than a token member of the ticket. She was smart and articulate.

Bevin gave a high-energy speech that made it very clear that he is not going to apologize for his conservative positions on social issues. Now that's a change.

I was a Heiner supporter, but Bevin's nomination may turn out to have been the best strategic outcome for Republicans, since (because of the bad blood created during the primary) had Heiner won, Comer would probably not have given his full support (what Heiner would have done if Comer won I don't know).

But Bevin is going to get the full support of both in the general election. My prediction is that (assuming there are no major gaffes), if Bevin sticks to his conservative guns--and that includes social issues--he's going to attract the large number of Kentucky conservatives to the polls and win.

And let's hope he highlights Jack Conway's sorry performance when he bailed on Kentucky voters, contradicting his campaign platform and shirking his Constitutional responsibilities to boot, and decided not to defend Kentucky Marriage Amendment.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A response to the Pew Center survey on religious belief, from 84 years ago

I have been trying to figure out what to say about the recent Pew Center study that purports to have found a decline in Christian belief in the United States. And then, reading in my commonplace today, I came across a quote that says it all:
The world is trying to experiment with attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail, but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming th time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.
--T. S. Eliot, Thoughts After Lambeth, 1931.

Why even the children of evangelicals don't understand traditional marriage.

There is an excellent article in the new issue of First Things magazine by a Christian college professor, Abigail Rine, who relates her experience in her "gender theory" class. Exactly why anyone at an Christian college would think it necessary to have a "gender theory" class at all is not mentioned. Maybe alchemy is also taught there too. Or astrology. In any case, her account is interesting:
A few weeks ago, I assigned the article “What is Marriage?” to the students in my gender theory class, which I teach at an evangelical university. This article presents an in-depth defense of the conjugal view of marriage, and I included it on the reading list as part of my efforts to expose students to a range of viewpoints—religious and secular, progressive and conservative. The goal is to create robust civil dialogue, and, ideally, to pave the way for thoughtful Christian contributions to cultural understandings of sex and gender. The one promise I make to my students at the beginning of the course is that they are guaranteed to read something they will find disagreeable, probably even offensive.
I'm not sure whether to feel good or not about the fact that Christians have made "contributions" to this alleged academic discipline, but she goes on:

When I first began teaching this course, my students were certainly curious about questions of gender, sexuality, feminism—the various “hot button” issues of our cultural moment—but they were nonetheless devout, and demonstrated, more or less, a Christian orientation to these topics. It wasn’t hard to find readings that challenged students’ shared values and assumptions, considering the secular bent of contemporary gender studies. 
In just five years, however, this has changed. Students now arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant. Like, for example, “What is Marriage?” 
My students hated it, as I suspected they would. They also seemed unable to fully understand the argument. As I tried to explain the reasoning behind the conjugal view of marriage and its attitude toward sex, I received dubious stares in response. I realized, as I listened to the discussion, that the idea of “redefining” marriage was nonsensical to them, because they had never encountered the philosophy behind the conjugal view of marriage. To them, the Christian argument against same-sex marriage is an appeal to the authority of a few disparate Bible verses, and therefore compelling only to those with a literalist hermeneutic. What the article names as a “revisionist” idea of marriage—marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people—does not seem “new” to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.
This is what happens when the teaching in our Sunday Schools and our Christian education institutions at the elementary and secondary level goes little beyond informing us that sex outside marriage is bad and chastity is bliss (rather than a sacrifice or a hard discipline, which is what it really is for anyone who not delusional).

The problem, in other words, is us:
As I consider my own upbringing and the various “sex talks” I encountered in evangelical church settings over the past twenty years, I realize that the view of marital sex presented there was primarily revisionist. While the ideal of raising a family is ever-present in evangelical culture, discussions about sex itself focused almost exclusively on purity, as well as the intense spiritual bond that sexual intimacy brings to a married couple. Pregnancy was mentioned only in passing and often in negative terms, paraded alongside sexually transmitted diseases as a possible punishment for those who succumb to temptation. But for those who wait, ah! Pleasures abound! 
There was little attempt to cultivate an attitude toward sexuality that celebrates its full telos: the bonding of the couple and the incarnation of new life. And there was certainly no discussion of a married couple learning to be responsive to their fertility, even as a guiding principle. To the contrary, the narrative implied that once the “waiting” was over, self-discipline would no longer be necessary. Marriage would be a lifelong pleasure romp. Sex was routinely praised as God’s gift to married couples—a “gift” largely due to its orgasmic, unitive properties, rather than its intrinsic capacity to create life.
Same-sex marriage is the result not only of bad teaching in our Christian schools and churches, but of the de-coupling of sex from procreation which happened with the acquiescence of Protestants (and many lay Catholics, although not the Church itself) since the 1930s.

The consequences of not knowing why we believe what we believe is to find ourselves eventually not believing it anymore.

Of course, the other problem is that many Christians continue to send their children to public schools where the silly teachings of "gender theory" are now taught as dogma. When we let our children be trained by the enemy, we shouldn't be surprised when we find that their loyalties have shifted away from us.

Read the rest of Rine's article here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Should Catholics leave the Church when the going gets rough?

My friend Rod Dreher at the American Conservative has a post today which discusses the San Jose, California diocese’s new "traveling LGBT Mass". The exact nature of it is not fully described, but there is enough to tell that it is probably another work of those who see there mission as the world's missionaries to the Church rather than the Church's missionaries to the world.

Rod asks this question for his readers: 
I would like to ask the orthodox Catholics (not liberal Catholics, not Catholic dissenters, not ex-Catholics) in the room what you would do if you lived in that diocese. What advice would you give that reader on how to hold on now that she has been disillusioned? If you were to evangelize non-Catholics in that diocese, how would you go about it?
Here was my answer to at least the first question:

Why would I renounce my Church for its shortcomings any more than I would renounce my country for its shortcomings–or my family for its sins?

The Church is one of those things that Chesterton called “primary loyalties,” which include our civil community and our family. They are things we not only should defend, but have no choice but to defend–even, and perhaps especially, from their internal enemies.

Yes, the Church is in trouble. It is always in trouble. But that doesn’t mean it needs us less, but that it needs us more. Our country is in trouble. So do we pack up and leave it for a less troubled country? Do we renounce our family because its imperfections and join another, less imperfect one?

Why would we do anything else with the Church?

Would it be easier to go to some other church where you don’t have to fight for what’s right? Sure it would. But that’s the thing about standing up for what’s right: It’s hard. It takes effort. It takes time. It is not pleasurable.

I marvel at the shallowness of commitment among modern people. As soon as the going gets rough, instead of staying and fighting, we start looking for a means of escape. Because, after all, it’s all about me and my needs, isn’t it?

If we believe the Catholic Church is THE Church, then there is no option but to stay and try to reform it. There is simply other place to go. And if we don’t believe that the Catholic Church is THE Church, then we’re part of the very problem in the Church that you bemoan, since the Catholic position is that it is the one, true Church.

If the Church can’t count on those of us who continue to hold to its teachings and tradition, then who can it count on? If the Gates of Hell ever were to prevail against it, those of us who left her in her time of need would need to ask ourselves who was to blame–and it wouldn’t be those who are corrupting it, but those who chose an easier course than to fight the corruption.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A response to David Quine on why the Greeks and Romans got God wrong (and it's not what he thinks)

I have been in a debate in the comments section of another post with Christian curriculum developer David Quine about whether the Christian worldview is in fundamental conflict with the classical (or "Graeco-Roman") worldview. This is part of a larger disagreement over whether classical education is appropriate for Christian educators. 

David argues that the "Graeco-Roman worldview" is in opposition to the Christian worldview and because classical education reads and studies Greek and Roman authors as a part of its program, classical education is not a legitimate part of Christian education. 

As I do occasionally here at Vital Remnants, I am bringing this debate on a previous post back out to the main blog.

He also claims that this is the Reformation position, which it most definitely is not, since the Reformers were unanimous in their use of Greek and Roman authors in their works and in the systems of education they themselves took and often taught to their students (and in Luther's case, recommended) . But I am dealing with this in another set of posts.

In his most recent comments in an earlier post, the reason Quine gives for believing that the classical and Christian worldviews are in conflict is that the Greeks and Romans held to certain erroneous beliefs about 1) God, 2) origins, and 3) truth.

It seems to me there are several problems with this argument. We can see these by just considering the Greek's erroneous view of God, although it is the same problem with the issue of their beliefs about origins (I will talk about truth in another post).

Were the flawed classical beliefs about God due to a bad worldview?
First, his assumption is that the worldview of a culture is flawed if the beliefs of that culture about God are flawed (David may not think this is sufficient, but he seems to think it is necessary). But how do we know this? How could you ever know that it was specifically the Greek's worldview that was the origin of their flawed theology? The only way you could say this is if you believed that it was possible for people to whom God did not reveal themselves to have a correct view of God.

I would be surprised (in fact, shocked) if David believed this, since what it would require is the belief that you could come to a knowledge of God through reason. And I know David does not believe that.

If, in order to have a correct view of God, you have to have it revealed to you, then how could the Greeks have had a correct view of God, since it was not revealed to them? In other words, the obvious reason they had a flawed view of God was that they had no divine revelation. And if that's the case, how can Quine attribute their incorrect theology to their worldview?

We can no more blame the classical world's flawed theology on a bad worldview than we can praise the Hebrew's correct theology on a good one. If you believe that the only factor in the correctness of a culture's view of God is its worldview, then we would have to conclude not only that the Greek worldview was bad, but that the Sumerian worldview was good (since Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees).

The Greeks could have had a perfect worldview and never attained a correct view of God because the only way you can have a correct view of God is for God to tell it to you. But, in accordance with His inscrutable will, God didn't do that.

David says that the Christian view of truth is based on divine revelation, and the Greek's view of truth was based on human reason. To say that reason is somehow in conflict with the Christian worldview is, needless to say, completely inaccurate, but I'll get to that in a later post. But the relevant question here is, without divine revelation, what else did the Greeks and Romans have but reason?

In his post on truth he says that sometimes the Greeks sought knowledge from a god through oracles such as that at Delphi, but more often through their own reason.

That means that either the Greeks sought their truth through divine revelation from the only gods they knew, which on Quine's view would constitute a good worldview practice (even though the gods they were seeking it from happened to be the wrong ones), or they sought it through human reason, which, having no real divine revelation, was the only thing they could do (In the absence of divine revelation, what were they supposed to use?).

Therefore, either the Greeks used a good worldview practice or they did the only thing they could do. I'm trying to determine why I should think badly of the Greeks for this. And, since I am only using Quine's assumptions here, I'm wondering how he can either.

Why the Greeks believed what they believed about God
The Greeks were all over the map on their beliefs about God, a phenomenon that would be hard to account for if there were some underlying worldview dictating their religious beliefs. The Greeks were searching and using the only tools they had at their disposal: reason and imagination. That is why there seem to have been two general categories of such beliefs among them, one based on imagination, and the other on reason.

Chesterton talks about the first of these in his book The Everlasting Man. He points out that classical pagan polytheism was the result of the practice of trying to make sense of the world solely on the basis of the human imagination:
Certainly the pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes like a Christian. He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods. And the real break in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had worshipped. The substance of all such paganism may be summarized thus. It is an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone.
... Mythology, then, sought god through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty.
The second kind of classical religious thought was that of the philosophers. Here, rather than imagination being used as the sole avenue to knowledge of God, it was reason. As Chesterton points out, one of the problems with the Greeks was that the thought traditions based on imagination were disconnected with the thought traditions based on reason. There was a conflict between their priests and their philosophers and it was only the larger, deeper thought system of Christianity that could bridge the divide.
It is vital to view of all history that reason is something separate from religion even in the most rational of these civilisations. It is only as an afterthought, when such cults are decadent or on the defensive, that a few Neo-Platonists or a few Brahmins are found trying to rationalise them, and even then only by trying to allegorise them. But in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers.
For now I'll just point out that the religious mistakes made by the Greeks and the Romans were not the result of something bad they possessed (a mistaken worldview), but of something good they didn't possess (divine revelation).

I'll address some other issues that I think Quine gets wrong, including the issue of the relation of revelation and reason.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Changing Nature to Suit Our Preferences (in which I self-identify as a human being)

Man's chief problem is pride. And one of the ways this manifests itself is in the human desire to gain control over nature itself. This has been the chief impulse in both science and art for a century or more.

In art, what philosopher Karsten Harries calls the "aesthetics of subjectivity" makes the artist himself the chief and sometimes only factor in the creation of art, a tendency that leads him away from representing the world as it is (the traditional role of art) toward portraying it as he would like it to be. The artist, impatient with having to settle for being a subcreator (Tolkien's term), tries to take on the role of the Creator Himself. But since he cannot actually create a new world, he is stuck with distorting the one we actually have. He can't make a human being so, he reconstructs real ones, resulting in faces with a mouth on the top, the eyes at the bottom, and the nose to the side--in word, deformity and ugliness.

Science approaches the world very differently, but the same nihilistic impulse is on display: The humble objective of gaining knowledge of a world that has a permanent and unchangeable order takes a back seat to various attempts at trying to subdue it to his own preferences. The Aristotelian objective of determining the causes of things is replaced with the instrumental aim of bending it to our will. Since the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of nature is that we can defy nature, we end up trying to change what we set out to understand. We start by distorting the environment and end up distorting human nature.

Part of the problem is that we take our ability to defy nature as license to redefine it. So now we no longer take our cues of what natural things are for from nature. A heart is for pumping blood; lungs are for putting oxygen in it; kidneys are for filtering it. But reproductive organs are ... not for reproduction. That an increasing number of people have come to think that the functions of reproductive organs can be seamlessly interchanged with those of digestive organs is a measure of just how alienated from nature we have become.

The most fundamental theme of modern thought is the denial of nature. Nature is irrelevant to the natural function of sex. We can now "self-identify" as male or female regardless of whether or not we are.

I just happened to be thinking about all this when I ran across this comment in a somewhat related and excellent post at the Federalist on ways in which nature matters even though we try to pretend it doesn't:
Even more so than the misogynistic Christian church or the anti-gay GOP, the chief enemy of egalitarianism is nature. Historic Christianity only makes it hard for women to be pastors, but nature makes it hard for women to be soldiers, firefighters, lumberjacks, and anything else that requires masculine levels of upper body strength. Republicans may pass laws letting bakers deny service for gay weddings, but nature imposes laws denying two pairs of ovaries the power to procreate. But the greatest way that nature breeds inequality is by filling us with the desire to love the children that have resulted from our breeding.
Read more here.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Does science explain anything?

What we now call 'science' was once called 'natural philosophy.' But although in one sense these two terms mean the same thing, there is a sense in which they are still very different. Modern science came out of natural philosophy, but has changed into something else.

In the old natural philosophy, the purpose of inquiry into nature was to better know what creation is. It taught nomenclature (the names of things), taxonomy (how the thing fits in with other things), morphology (how things are internally structured), and scientific method (how to investigate natural things). It was focused on the wonder and mystery of creation itself. It was focused on apprehending the natures of natural things and thereby appreciating them. It was a philosophy of wonder.

Much of modern science, however, has a different agenda. Francis Bacon (and, in a different way, RenĂ© Descartes) began to change the very purpose of investigation into nature. For the first time, the belief arose that nature was not there primarily to be known, but to be used or controlled. Bacon said he wanted to put nature on the rack to give up its secrets—not primarily so that we could understand or behold it, but so that we could use it for our own betterment or advantage.

"Knowledge," Bacon said, "is power."

Bacon and Descartes seem to have meant well: They wanted to use science to improve the human condition. But once science came to be seen as an instrument to control nature for an extrinsic purpose—which it has done rather convincingly—the other purposes, such as that of understanding and wonder, tend to get shunted to the side.

Its success in accomplishing its new purpose has also caused science to develop a rather big head. Many modern scientists have become so enamored of the power of science that they now think that scientific inquiry can answer all of our questions. This belief—that science is the chief or even the only way to determine truth—is called "scientism": the religion of science.

Whereas in the old natural science there was no competition between belief in God and the study of nature, the scientism that began to gather strength in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries eventually resulted in the view that science and theology were competing modes of belief and that as science gained explanatory power, it would eventually push out religion.

It is said that Pierre-Simon Laplace, the famous French scientist, once gained an interview with Napoleon in order to present him with a copy of one of his books. "They tell me," said the Emperor, "that you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator."

"Sire," Laplace famously responded, "I have no need of that hypothesis."

The "God of the gaps"
In fact, one of the arguments offered by non-believing scientists against religious belief is called the "God of the gaps" argument. If you look at the history of science, they say, what you see is that, at first, there were many questions which science could not answer. These questions were simply dismissed as unanswerable and attributed to God.

In other words, if there was some question science couldn't answer, we would simply say, "God did it," and that was considered the final word.

But, say these scientists, as science has grown in power and subtlety, there are fewer and fewer questions science is unable to answer. There are fewer and fewer mysteries about which we have to resort to the "God did it" solution. Furthermore, if we follow this trajectory into the future, we can see that, as science continues to grow in its explanatory effectiveness, it will one day be able to answer all the questions about nature that we have formerly had to invoke God in order to explain.
In short, soon science will have explained everything and God will be made irrelevant.

We will have "no need for that hypothesis."

But is this true? Are these scientists right to say that the fund of unanswered questions about nature is being slowly diminished by science, and that it will one day have answered all of these questions?

The answer is "No."

Why the "God of the gaps" argument does not work
There is an assumption underlying the "God of the gaps" argument that is ridiculous on the face of it. In fact, it is a great example of the static analysis fallacy—the fallacy of assuming that what you are examining is somehow fixed and not in the process of changing.

The assumption of the "God of the gaps" argument against religious belief is that there is a fixed number of questions about the natural world, some of which have been answered and some of which have not, so that every question that is answered reduces the number of unanswered questions by one.
Now this is obviously absurd, since science does not operate in a world in which there is a fixed and unchangeable number of questions. In fact, as science proceeds in its path of discovery, it not only discovers answers to unanswered questions, it discovers new questions which it never would have thought to ask. New discoveries not only answer old questions, they produce new questions.

This problem becomes even more pronounced after a scientific paradigm shift. When Einstein's theory of relativity displaced Newtonian mechanics, it offered an improved system of explanation. But it also redefined mass, energy, time, and space, creating a whole new set of problems needing a solution. Quantum mechanics too introduced a whole new set of questions which no one would ever have thought to ask until Neils Bohr, Wolfgang Pauley, and Werner Heisenberg thought to ask them.
Some would argue that the number of unanswered scientific questions is not diminishing at all—that, in fact, because of the rate of the appearance of new questions compared to the number of questions having already obtained answers, the number of unanswered questions is actually increasing all the time. Natural mysteries for which science has no answer, far from being eliminated, are actually multiplying.

Think of it this way: If you take a flashlight and point it straight down, close to the ground, you will see a small circle of light. And if you raise the flashlight higher from the ground you will see a much larger circle of light. Our scientific flashlight today illuminates much more than the small circle of knowledge we had in the past. But notice this: The small circle of light borders only a small portion of darkness, but the larger circle of light reveals a much larger circumference of darkness. So, too, does the circumference of our ignorance increase as the area of our scientific knowledge becomes greater.

The more we know, the more we realize how much we do not know. Science is a light in the darkness of physical reality, but as its light increases, so does its estimate of the amount of darkness that is in need of light.

Many scientists postulate that they are in the process of closing in on some ultimate terminus in which our understanding of nature—and our ability to control it—are perfect: a sort of scientific utopia. But the idea of arriving at some position of full knowledge of nature becomes increasingly implausible as we see such a terminus move further away from us the closer we think we're getting.

This problem—of never being able to make headway toward a comprehensive explanation of nature—has been underscored by the investigations of quantum physics. According to many of its chief architects and many of its most devoted adherents, quantum mechanics has not only failed to make the nature of reality clearer, but has fundamentally undermined confidence in science as a mode of explanation at all.

Can science explain anything?
One of the themes of modern science has been that a knowledge of the parts of things reveals more clearly the nature of the things themselves. This is why much of modern scientific investigation involves analyzing the most elemental parts of something. This is just what quantum mechanics has done. The problem is that when they finally found the tools to investigate the behavior of the subatomic world, scientists did not find what they thought they would find. What they found, far from making nature more understandable, has made it even more paradoxical.

Light, which logically cannot be both a wave and a particle, is both (a photon). Certain particles disappear and then reappear somewhere else instantaneously (a quantum leap). Subatomic particles do not exist anywhere until we observe them (said Neils Bohr). Measurement defines what is being measured (said Heisenburg). "The more successes the quantum theory enjoys," said Einstein, "the more stupid it looks." But even Einstein could not stop it. Though he rejected it until the day he died, he could not refute it.

As with relativity, quantum physics redefined basic scientific concepts—'particle,' 'wave,' 'position,' 'momentum,' 'trajectory'—all had to be given new meanings. As it turned out, many of the old questions that had been "answered" were not the right questions to ask in the first place.
Not only did quantum physics show that many of the assumptions of classical Newtonian physics were incomplete (and in some cases simply wrong), but it brought the whole purpose of science as an explanatory construct into question. Events at the quantum level, it found, are governed by the rules of probability. At the level of the smallest and most elemental things—where we finally get to the bottom of things—it turns out that nature does not follow the scientific script.

So confounding have been the findings of quantum physics that its original and chief exponent, Niels Bohr, finally gave up on science as an explanatory discipline altogether. He talked of a new "epistemological situation" brought about by particle physics in which we can no longer apply the concepts of causality at all. And with causality goes logic itself. "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory," said Bohr, "has not understood it."

Traditional Christian theism does not believe in a "God of the gaps" whose relevance can be eliminated by the progress of science. God is not there to answer our "how" questions in the first place. Many of these can be explained by studying the world He created, complete with the inherent mechanisms implanted in it that make it go. God is there to answer our "why" questions—the questions science can't even begin to answer.

Science, in Bohr's view, is no longer in the explanation business. "It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out [what] nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature." All it can do is describe and predict. It can only say "how," it can never say "why."

Modern science began with mysteries it could not explain; it has brought itself full circle. When science launched off on its own and shed the label 'natural philosophy,' it set off on a journey to explain everything. But here we are at the beginning of the twenty-first century and we are still being told by Bohr's scientific descendants that not only can science not explain the why of everything, it can't explain anything, a position that radically undermines the rationalistic pretensions of many modern scientists.

Maybe the goal of science should not be to resolve mysteries. The classical view of nature—as something to wonder at instead of to take apart—has virtues that we would do well to remember.
Under the classical view, the role of science is not to solve every question presented by nature, but rather to bring us face to face with things themselves—things which are essentially mysterious. Science tells us how the mystery operates; philosophy, why it is here at all; and theology, Who it is Who is behind it all.