Notable Quotations – Explanatory Power

In an inversion of the ancient dictum, we might say: “As below, so above.” What we experience of space “out there” will reflect our inner spiritual state. Perhaps this is why, as glorious as the modern discoveries of the heavens are, they often leave us cold. This is not only because they’re mediated to us through images, or because we sense ourselves to be “of the earth.” It’s also because we children of modernity live in the shadow of the world’s disenchantment. The world is no longer “deep.” There is no inherent mystery in things. God’s absence from the world is echoed in the cosmos’s deafening silence. However wondrous the things we discover in space (which can awaken a reverent awe in even the most coldly scientific mind), they can never, in themselves, overcome this spiritual lack. For though we now have even more reasons for marveling at the cosmos than our ancestors, Peter Kreeft’s insightful observation remains true: People formerly looked upward and saw “the heavens”; today they simply call it “space.” Even the greatest exploratory adventures can never make up for this primary lack of spiritual vision.

—Brandon Tucker, “Creatures in the Cosmos”

I don’t normally comment on quotations, but this one is just too perfect, as is the entire article from which it comes. It is an especially good example of the concept of explanatory power. According to Google, explanatory power is “the ability of a hypothesis or theory to effectively explain the subject matter it pertains to.” In apologetics, it shows us how much more powerful and plausible the Christian worldview is compared to any of its competitors, and in this case the explanatory poverty of atheistic materialism. One of the keys to keeping our kids Christian is to consistently show them, to persuade and sell them on, the veracity and plausibility of the Christian Faith and worldview. As this article indicates, it’s rather easy to do.

Notable Quotations

In each of these novels—by Huxley, Orwell, and Bradbury—books become an enemy because they represent a written record of the past to a dystopian future where the past is something to forget. Books threaten the status quo, undermine the dominant culture, overturn the ascendant social order—and so the powers that be attempt to wean or coerce their subjects away from the written word, with media they control.

—K.E. Columgini, “Books Versus Screens”

The Killing of History: Postmodernism Run Amuck

The Killing of History needs to be read by every Christian who cares about defending our faith in a hostile secular culture. This from the Amazon introduction tells us why:

For 2,500 years, since the time of Herodotus and Thucydides, historians have sought to record the truth about the past. Today, however, the discipline is suffering a potentially lethal attack from the rise to prominence of an array of French-inspired literary and social theories, each of which denies that truth and knowledge about the past are possible. These theories claim the central point on which history was founded no longer holds: there is no fundamental distinction between history and myth or between history and fiction.

If truth and knowledge about the past are not possible, then Christianity is not possible. Christianity is rooted in historical claims, but just as important as these claims are is the assumption that underlies them, that we can have real, objective historical knowledge. As Christians we claim we can know what happened in the past, even thousands of years in the past, with a reasonable degree of certainty. While our knowledge of the past is never exhaustive, it is real, and on it we can depend. Not so, claim these theorists.

Peter Berger, RIP

Peter Berger, a hugely influential Austrian-born American sociologist, died last week at the age of 88:

On June 27, Berger passed away at his home in suburban Boston, concluding a lifetime of scholarly influence and a career that made him one of the most notable scholars of his generation.

The influence of Berger certainly extended to me. In one of the chapters of Keeping Your Kids Christian, on the concept of plausibility in the life of faith, I quote extensively from two early books by Berger, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (with Thomas Luckmann), and The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. I first learned the concept of Plausibility Structure from reading The Sacred Canopy back in the mid-1980s, a term most Christians have never heard, let alone are familiar with. They should be, as I argue extensively in the book.

“We Must Be True to Ourselves”

The title of this post is almost an axiom among modern Americans. We may hear it put in other ways as well, like “as long it makes you happy,” or “you must do what’s in your heart.” I’ve heard it said that we live in the age of “the sovereign self.” In our age, the subjective rules; the only perspective that counts is my perspective, and my perspective is declared valid simply because it is mine. Whether what I think corresponds to reality in any objective sense is beside the point.

We tend to think of it as a relatively recent phenomena, but this idea of being “true to ourselves” is a form of relativism, and it’s been around a lot longer than most of us would think. The phrase actually goes back to a Johann Gottfried Herder, who wrote to his fiancee, Caroline Flachsland in 1772:

All our actions should be self-determined, in accordance with our innermost character—we must be true to ourselves.

Peter and the Deity of Christ

Who Jesus is, is the central question of human existence. If he was who he said he was, and if he is who the Council of Nicea in 325 said he was and declared by orthodox Christians ever since:

God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.

Then all of existence is determined by this fact. Jesus commands our allegiance, and our worship, because he is God, not just a great moral teacher or religious leader.

The Growth of the “Nones” Is No Threat to Our Kids Faith

The title of a recent piece at Scientific American tells us the “Nones” juggernaut continues:

College Freshmen Are Less Religious Than Ever: Data from a nationwide survey shows students who list their affiliation as “none” has skyrocketed

“Nones” are people who when surveyed about their religious affiliation pick “None of the above.” What this means is that our culture will continue to get more secular as religion gets less important to more people over time. Those who applaud the increasing secularization of America hope we eventually turn out like Europe where churches are empty, and those who take their Christianity seriously are a curiosity.

The Logic of Atheism Drove This Scholar to Jesus

Logic is an amazing feature of the universe God created, but one that is unfortunately often ignored. It is no longer taught in public schools, which is obvious from the tenor of public debates over politics and religion. And those of us who attend weekly worship services at our local church also get very little, if any, teaching about logic. But if we are to think well and critically through life, logic is indispensable, especially in a hostile, post-Christian Western culture. (The one encouraging bright spot in this logical wasteland is the growth of Christian (and public charter) classical education, but it’s only a drop in a very large bucket at this point.)

Most people tend to think that logic drives people away from Christian faith, but logic is in fact one of our faith’s most powerful allies. I recently learned about an atheist turned Christian who found this out much to her surprise. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker was once a committed atheist, and she tells her story of coming to embrace the Christian message in a piece at The Veritas Forum. Growing up in a “loving, secular home,” as she puts it, she just knew that “Christians were anti-intellectual and self-righteous.” She doesn’t seem to have known any Christians at the time, but that is the perception in the Western cultural air we breathe.

Bob Dylan And His Classical Education

Although I’ve never been a big fan of Bob Dylan, I’ve always appreciated his genius, and especially his ability to capture the cultural Zeitgeist. A piece by Rod Dreher titled “Bob Dylan On The Road To Damascus” explains why he was so good at this. We learn from Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech that several books he read in grammar school,  Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey, among others, influenced the way he saw the world, and thus wrote lyrics. Dreher comments that

He goes on to discuss those three novels, and how they affected his understanding of the world, and in turn, his music. One of the greatest popular musicians of the 20th century, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, got his start in what we now call classical education — one that gives the student “a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by.”

The Epidemic of Unexamined Assumptions

Given I’m a fan of popular culture, and a student of it’s influence on, and reflection of, the worldview of the people in that culture, I was very eager to read a piece titled Questioning the Gods: How TV’s Tackling Belief and Religion. The article perfectly captures a certain epistemology that is at the heart of how people understand the world in our secular, post-modern relativist culture.

When Keeping Your Kids Christian gets published, you will see that I’m a big fan of identifying assumptions within the culture, in discussions with others, and in our own thinking. Unexamined assumptions are an epidemic today. While everyone knows what assumptions are, most people don’t think they have any! Many Christians think this way too. But once we learn to question assumptions, many things become clear that once seemed opaque. As we uncover hidden assumptions we clarify thoughts and arguments to see if the logic holds up under scrutiny.