Taking Off the Roof Pt. 3: HE IS THERE AND HE IS NOT SILENT

As I end my journey through Schaeffer’s “trilogy of books”, I feel as though I’m ready to take on the world. Or at least the rest of Schaeffer’s work.

After finishing God Who is There and Escape from Reason,  the pinnacle of the work is He is There, and He is Silent.  This book is more focused on a key question of how we hear and know God.

Schaeffer argues that there is a metaphysical,  a moral and an epistemological need for a creator who is personally interested in personal beings. He then represents opposing ideas, and how they’re inconsistent.  In the end, man needs a personal Creator who created personal beings to make sense of all the universe.  In the end,  I completely agree with his conclusion, and thought he made a decent case.  However, a few things did bug me as a Iread them

  • I’m not absolutely sure the way he gets there is the most effective.  He makes some weird historical claims (as expected).  For example, he notes how Carl Sagan was a follower of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and how Sagan mixes science and science fiction.  I’m not sure how this is relevant?  I may not agree with Sagan, but I’d never declare his work to be science fiction in the stylings of Burroughs.  Is this a statement regarding Sagan’s thing about stardust?  His ideas about man traveling into space?  What is it?
  • As usual, a lot of Schaeffer’s stuff is really timely, engaging with the thought leaders and counter-culture of the mid 60s-early 70s.  That’s fine, but it makes hard for the book to hold up as a timeless document, IMO.   The first three chapters focused on these timely examples, while the meat of the book was in the final chapter.    I liked the idea of one Amazon reviewer, who thought that the final chapter of the book should have been printed as a booklet, and that Schaeffer summarize the preceding three chapters in a prelude, which would have saved time.

Overall, I think I enjoyed this volume more than the other two, since it seemed more focused on particular ideas and “modern patterns”, and less on history (where Schaeffer seems his weakest).

Why We Creationists need to fact-check ourselves (A Rumination on Joshua Feuerstein

Josh Feuerstein

Its weird how some things go viral; especially when those things are based on oversimplifications and falseties.

A recent case of this came up via God of Evolution, a site run by fellow journalist Tyler Francke.  Tyler focuses on critiquing creationist misrepresentations of Evolution and showing that Evolutionary Creationism is actually a valid belief to hold.

Tyler  linked to a video from the evangelist Joshua Feuerstein, who argues he can refute Evolution in under 3 minutes.  The video went viral, and even attracted the attention of the BBC, who did a segment on the argument.

While Tyler’s response was satirical, pointing out how this simple argument wasn’t enough to convince most Evolutionary scientists. The video still attracted the attention of atheist vloggers and bloggers, and even warranted an article (taken from Patheos blogger JT Eberhard) at the Richard Dawkins Foundation website.

I’ve heard these arguments that Feuerstein promoted before.  However, it wasn’t in a public debate between two experts.  It was in a training situation, where the students are learning it in a form of  bubble.  The argument is great when facing off with each other and with those w/ little experience in physics or biology.  But if used in a conversation with an actual expert, the argument turns out to be quite faulty.

Answering the Thermodynamic case against Evolution

For example, let’s look at an argument promoted by Feuerstein and even by Henry Morris (of the Institute for Creation Research); that the Second Law of Thermodynamics contradicts Evolution:

8.  ”The law of thermodynamics says that chaos can never produce order.”

First, there is not one “law of thermodynamics”.

Second, order can arise out of chaos.  Roll a dice enough times and you’re bound to get a string of 20 consecutive sixes.

Third, you’re probably referring to the second law of thermodynamics (or whatever website you took the argument from was).  The second law states:

The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy.

Essentially it means that in a closed system (a system where additional energy is coming in) things will move toward a state of disorder.  The argument Joshua is using assumes that the second law prohibits order from arising, therefore something (which he asserts is god without any evidence) must be causing the order.

The rebuttal is easy: that’s not what the second law states.  Even in a closed system the second law doesn’t prohibit order from forming, it just says that the ordered energy will be less than the disordered energy.

But in terms of evolution the second law doesn’t even apply because living systems are not isolated.  They are not closed systems.  Look at any plant to see this.  Most plants produce leaves by using 2% of the energy it receives from the sun to photosynthesize atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules into high-energy, highly organized hydrocarbon molecules such as sugars.  This doesn’t violate the second law because the increased order is driven by energy coming into the system from the sun.  In fact, is is thanks to the second law of thermodynamics that living systems are able to increase their organization.

Had Joshua gone to a biologist (or chemist) or to a textbook on evolution, he could’ve learned this.  But he didn’t.  He went to a website where anybody, credentialed or not, can espouse any position, whether or not it’s the scientific consensus.  This is not the behavior of somebody who cares about science.  It is the behavior of somebody who is looking to confirm the position they already hold and to make it sound scientific.

See?  An argument that seems, in light of a layman’s knowledge of thermodynamics, to make sense.  But when compared to somebody who actually understands thermodynamics and physics, it falls to pieces.  Feuerstein’s video is full of these problematic arguments.  I really wish Joshua Feuerstein had taken time to see if his argument held up before vlogging it to millions of viewers.

Frankly (Francke-ly?), this is what bugs me.  I see straw man arguments like this all the time in both the Christian and Atheist camps.     Too often,  I found myself thinking that  I have the answers, but when these answers are tested against someone with better knowledge,  they all fall flat.

One of the most memorable instances of this was when my professor brought in a man named Max.  Max was a philosopher, a theologian, and a brilliant man.  He knew his theories of epistemology, teleology and theism better than I knew the Doctor Who universe (which is saying something).  He came into class, put on his “atheist hat”, and presented an argument that, after three hours of discussion, no one in my class could find a hole in.    Sometimes, this was because we are missing a series of facts.  Other times, it is because you and your opponents are working from two different definitions.  We were stunned. If Max had left us there, we might all considered abandoning our faith

Thankfully, Max took the next two days to lay out the logical foundations required to answer the problem he offered. And when we reached the answer, our minds were blown.  He did his best to offer proper definitions and descriptions of the problems, and give us the strongest philosophical foundation for struggling with this problem.

IThere are some legitimate problems that each side (whether it be atheist vs theist, or Evolution vs Intelligent Design) presents.   But if you  or I  want to engage in a way that deals with these intellectual problems, then let us learn to communicate effectively and accurately.

If we want to argue anything, let us use accurate  terminology and fact-check  everything.  If we’re talking about proofs or theories in science, then let us use the proper in-context definitions.  If we are trying to argue that faith is destructive, then let’s use the proper definition, not one that we’ve determined via our own experience.

The goal of every conversation should be clarity and accuracy.  If I don’t have that, then I’m wasting my breath arguing.  After all, the most loving thing you could do for your neighbor could be striving to understand them.

Taking Off the Roof Pt. 2: ESCAPE FROM REASON

When The God Who Is There was published, it was quickly accompanied by another volume; Escape from Reason.  In it, Francis Schaeffer  argues that early Medieval thinkers like Thomas Aquinas established arguments which divided the holy from the secular, thus creating a problematic intellectual practice that damaged modern notions of truth, empowering experiences and weakening reason.  Schaeffer starts from a dichotomy that Aquinas established which led to this intellectual divide.  He then traces the development of secular and existential humanist thought through history, to our modern (AKA 1960s) setting.

As a book, Escape From Reason is a lot shorter than God Who is There.  It is quite clear that the book is a companion to the it as well.  After all, both books attempt to track history to  find its key issues and its relevance .  However, that means that it suffers from some of the same problems as The God Who Is There. 

The history Schaeffer provides has few, if any footnotes, and isn’t based on academic scholarship, but on Schaeffer’s experience in the topic; an experience which is hard to validate.  This causes Schaeffer to fall into a particular area of analysis; namely that of misunderstanding Aquinas and using this misunderstanding to engage with every other scholar.   Schaeffer also tends to simplify the complex arguments of men into concepts which seem easy to refute or engage with, but are half-truths.

I will say that I agree with Schaeffer’s conclusions; that as Christians, we must hold to some absolutes, and that these absolutes (Which include the supernatural nature of God) are really important and provide us reasons to hope.

I especially appreciated this line from the book:

 “We cannot deal with people like human beings, we cannot deal with them on the high level of true humanity, unless we really know their origin-who they are. God tells man who he is. God tells us that He created man in His image. So man is something wonderful.” 

This volume is helpful for sparking some ideas.  However, I sincerely wish Schaeffer did better academic proofing and fact-checking in his conversations about the history of theology and philosophy.


Is the Duck Dynasty Bible Valid?

Phil Robertson, AKA The Duck Commander is getting busy again.  This time; he’s working with his “Beardless brother”, Alan, to write the “Duck Commander Bible”:

Duck Dynasty bible is on the way thanks to television’s Robertson family.

The founders of the company Duck Commander and stars of the A&E reality show are planning to release their Duck Commander Faith And Family Bible later this year, publisher Thomas Nelson noted.

The Duck Dynasty bible will be published in the King James Version and include 52 Bible-reading plans. Publishers said it will highlight the family’s core values of “faith, family, fellowship, forgiveness and freedom.”

“We are honored and excited to be working with Phil and Al Robertson on this new Bible,” said Robert Sanford, Vice President and Associate Publisher for Thomas Nelson’s Bible Group, said in a statement. “The Robertson family’s passion for the Word is infectious and the impact of their ministry is amazing. We see this Bible as being something people can grow with in their own personal walk with God.”

The Duck Dynasty bible seems to indicate that the controversy surrounding comments made by Phil Robertson are not having a lasting effect on the Robertson family brand. Despite a dip in ratings the show remains one of the most watched on cable, and its stars remain both marketable and popular, especially in conservative circles.

First, I need to start off by admitting I was never a fan of Duck Dynasty.  I would much rather watch Rick Grimes kill zombies than watch Phil and his family do their thing.   But they seem like nice people and dedicated believers. 

However, Phil and his family are no longer just a family. They are a brand.  The amount of Duck-Commander branded merch is unbelievable, even before the Phil Robertson-GQ blowout.  There are bobble heads, dolls, fake beards, shirts, food, drinks, and more.  And let’s not ignore the books.  I think I’ve seen 10+ books about the Robertson family in the last 2 years.  They’ve been as divers from Uncle Si’s “advice” to the “Wives of Duck Dynasty” to a children’s book about why beards make everything better.  They’ve also  written their own devotionals, and produced the upcoming Faith Commander Church Curriculum (w/ VBS and Teen studies built in).

In other words, the Robertsons are a product machine; driven by a market that wants them and to be like them.  And frankly, I think that’s problematic.

It’s quite likely that I agree with the Robertsons on a lot of things.  But I’m not sure that they deserve to be the center of such large projects as a “Church-Wide Curriculum Kit” or a Bible. They aren’t some great clan of prophets, providing new insights in a culture that is deaf;  it’s fueling a market-based culture of hero worship.

SD Kelly over at Christ and Pop Culture notes:

The real problem with all of this isn’t that the Robertsons aren’t the people they claim to be. The problem is that fans of the show seem to view the Robertsons as heroes, following and defending their exploits both on and off the screen with a fervor usually reserved for superstars or politicians. The tendency toward hero worship is a human quality, what could be considered a human failing, but Christians — of all humans — are supposed to be inoculated against this failing, because we are the ones who understand this truth at the most fundamental: nobody is perfect. There is only One who is perfect, only One who is worthy of worship, and it is not any of us.

On a similar note, Rod Dreher (who is a fan) notes how Phil’s involvement with leading the GOP might not be the best thing for developing the party into a healthy whole:

Is putting a reality TV celebrity, one known for being extremely polarizing in the culture war, in that slot really the sign of a party that’s looking outside of its own navel?

I know of plenty of people who would argue that projects like this might help the Gospel.  But they’re also projects that will end up  fueling the Christian Industry Complex/Hero Complex that American Evangelicals already suffer from.  We don’t need more products from celebrities, and we especially don’t need specialized Bibles which present extrabiblical content that has little-to-no basis in scholarship.  Instead, we need to look to those with truly helpful insights and legitimate experience to help the American Evangelical Church find the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

What do you think?  Is Phil and Alan’s new project more legit than I think?  Or is it just adding to the noise? Leave your comments below!

Redesigning Liter8 (and “evolving” into Liter8 Thoughts)

Recently, my site all broke down.  So, I had to repost everything, reboot the visual site, and more.  In light of that, I’d been considering remodeling the site’s concept.

As you’ve probably noted, this site has posted stuff on  the Christian media industry,  on Christian worldview, as well as politics.  And those are important topics to talk about.    But I think what is the overlapping theme between them all?

I believe it is an idea I’ve been developing in the back of my mind for a while.  I call it “Christian Skepticism”.

Last year, I wrote a feature on Christian Skepticism for Christ and Pop Culture.  In it, I made a simple argument; that the modern philosophical practice of “Skepticism”, as described by the Freethinker movement, has valuable insights for Christians.    It was well-received, receiving coverage from both Andrew Sullivan and Greg Boyd.

However, what does that entail?  What are the implications of such behavior? The blog is now going to focus on that.

Christian Skepticism isn’t a set of ideas, it’s a group of methods and tools for looking at the ideologies we hold to.

One of the things many of us Christians don’t realize is how our cultural circumstances and internal biases misconstrue our interpretation and understanding of Truth.  For example, we often read the Bible through modern eyes instead of pre-modern eyes.  This means we’ll miss the original meaning of complicated texts and of how certain ethical and factual inconsistencies  are explained.   Other examples is applying American ideology to Middle-Eastern thought, or accepting all spiritual occurrences as valid, or dismissing them all as invalid, or accepting scientific empiricism as valid.

Why go through all this?  It’s because I’m convinced that Christianity can and does make sense.  But I also realize this is an internal bias, and I’m just as likely to “read into” evidence to make it work.  So, I’m trying to apply a critical lens to see beyond  this bias and get at what is really there.

Will I succeed?  Maybe, maybe not.  Only time will tell.

This blog is just my attempts at the exploration of applying a critical perspective to the ideas I believe in  regard to my faith, ethics, culture, and more.




Why Christian Cinema Matters

I could go on about why I find the idea of Christian cinema a problematic market.   After all, I argued that as a market economy, it shouldn’t exist.  So, why should I invest time understanding Christian film as an industry?

1. Because it’s not going anywhere.

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that people want faith-based films.  The market wants more of this, because the American sense of Christianity wants to fuel the Christian Industrial Complex and create media that “glorifies God”.  And for some people, that means making movies with poorly written atheist characters and simple arguments that won’t convince most unbelievers and will encourage those who already agree.  But for others, it can mean deep realistic stories that really access the testimonies of history and show why faith matters.

This complex isn’t going anywhere as long as America is a strong capitalist society, driven by the desires of its community. So, I can either swear it off and be ignorant of the market, or try to think about and engage with the market effectively in order to reform its problems.

2. Because Christian Cinema will affect how we, the Church, are perceived

Compared to most religions, American Christianity is the only one who has truly succeeded in creating its own book publishers, film companies, and music production companies as well as compacting them into an interwoven market that sells to its own.

On an economic, sociological, and religious level, that’s really interesting to study.  But that’s also part of how the church is perceived in America.  It impresses this idea that the church fights against materialism, while promoting its own “Holier” version of materialism, which is justified because it talks about God.  Christian film is one of the best case studies for how that works.

3. Because it is how many  young men and women see a way to glorify God

The reason Christian film exists is to share the Gospel, make art that reflects the morality of the Biblical God, and shares truth.  As a Christian, I can’t argue with those goals.  However, since I’m not a pragmatist, I believe these things MUST be done well.  Hence, I want to see these actions performed well.  Is it the only way?  Of course not.  But the industry must be understood and reformed in order to be effective in this market of stories and ideas.

What are other reasons we should support Christian film?  What are reasons we should not support it? 

Taking Off the Roof Pt. 1: The God Who is There

This is pt. 1 of my look at Francis Schaeffer’s collection of work.  Today, we start with The God Who is There, The work that started it all.

So, how did Schaeffer’s career of  writing books start?  According to the foreword, an editor from Intervarsity Press found Schaeffer’s ideas, and turned his transcripts into his first book, The God Who is There.

And as a book, it’s one of the key documents.  In order to understand where Schaeffer is coming from in regard to human understanding and how men work, this book is key to read.

The premise is very simple; in the late 20th century, Schaeffer saw blatant proof of a chasm that developed between true Biblical thought and today’s Christians.  In Schaeffer’s mind, three pervading patterns of thought were prevalent in the culture at the time of the book; that of Secular thought, that of Mysticism, and that of Liberal Christianity, which is kept people from seeing Christianity and reality as it really was.  The book focuses on noting where these ideologies came from,  refuting them, and moving forward from there to show how Christianity is based in rational thought and can be proven.  He wants us to recognize that God is there, and we can and should accept him based on evidence.

As a book, it’s an intriguing exploration of the history of ideas and how it affects art and life. However, as I read through the book, a few observations hit me:

Historical Disconnect: I’ve always seen The God Who Is There as a timeless exploration of the problematic nature of man’s thoughts.  However, as I read through, Schaeffer’s focus on 1960s art was notable.  He mentions artists like Picasso, Neville Shute and Walt Whitman as though they’re authors we obviously know. However, as a man living in 2014, their examples are less relevant to me, which makes it hard for me to access his ideas in light of the historical context.

It’s the same problem I found with books like Gene Veith’s State of the Arts.  In it, Veith is trying to make a case for a Christian view of the arts as a response to the photographer Mapplethorpe and his graphic photography.  A good friend of mine noted that this caused his book to feel rushed, since it wasn’t a really thorough view of Christians and art.  Veith’s examples became less relevant to me as I read it in 2013 for school.  In the same way, the book’s reliance on historical examples of ideas made me feel disconnected from the material.

Lack of Citations: Another interesting phenomena within The God Who is There is how Schaeffer presents ideas.  The book is about authors and art and ideas. Schaeffer seems well-read and can quote names and ideas for us, making it seem as though he’s the expert we all want him to be.   However, how does he make sure his facts are accurate?   For most authors, this means a lot of citations.  But Schaeffer seems to ignore this, turning to his own ability to summarize the ideas. I checked the entire book, and could find no sources or anything for what he was saying.   This makes it really hard to fact-check whether Schaeffer’s summary of, say, Heidegger’s book Being and Time is accurate or how it compares to other scholar’s understandings of the philosophers.

As I talked to my academic friends, this seems to be a consistent observation.  Schaeffer was not good at presenting a nuanced view of  the history of ideas.  He misrepresents them.  In this one book, Schaeffer makes a big mistake by misdefining Soren Kierkegaard’s view of irrationality.  In doing that, he goes on to accuse Kierkegaard of causing the sudden shift in modern thought towards postmodern thought and against the rationality of modern thought  and (in his mind) the Christian mind.

This lack of understanding isn’t shocking.  Schaeffer’s BA was in Biblical Studies as well as a series of honorary degrees over the years.  Schaeffer isn’t a detailed scholar; he was guy who took a lot of ideas and tried to  make them accessible.   But he missed key details and nuances that are key to the ideas represented.

Promotion of Presuppositionalism: If there’s one key practice that Schaeffer is known for, it is his dedication to the concept of Presuppositionalism.  All of Schaeffer’s arguments for Christianity work from one assumption; that Christianity is the only faith that is self-contained and logical within itself.  In section four of the book, Schaeffer turns his eyes to promoting this via a simple idea; that Non-Christian ideas, if taken to their extreme,  give us extreme results which are logically inconsistent with how we live. He states that non-Christians who live in reality have what he calls “roofs” which are designed to protect him from the logical inconsistencies of his beliefs.  If you remove these barriers, then, in theory, man will see what Schaeffer describes as the “Tension” between reality and the man’s belief.  Recognizing this tension would then make more open to the Gospel.

Understanding this is key to the rest of his books.  Personally, I’m skeptical about it, because it requires an assumption of being totally correct in itself in order to work, and can promote a viewpoint that makes it hard to argue on an evidential level about whether Christianity is logically and evidentially viable.  In fact, I find that it too often ends up in what Richard Howe describes as perspectivalism.

Conclusions: The God Who is There is an interesting addition to the collection. While its attempt at  history is questionable, his ideas about why Christianity is rational are helpful. His ideas are helpful practices for engaging others on a presuppositional level.  It’s worth a read, if just to get a simple foundation for presuppositional apologetics and how Schaeffer will approach his work in the future.

Next up, we’ll look at Escape from Reasonwhich’ll build on Schaeffer’s ideas here. 

Introducing: Taking off the Roof: A look at the influence of Francis Schaeffer

In my study of apologetics and worldview studies, there are a lot of men and women who have influenced its current direction. But there are two names that apologetics have epitomized; CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. Lewis is one of my childhood heroes.  I admired his ability to spin words and ideas. I considered him to be brilliant, especially when it came to expressing the value of  fiction, non-fiction, logic, faith, and tradition.   But everyone thinks Lewis was brilliant.  The man who’s slightly less known, but even more influential was the Schaeffer is known as an evangelist, a philosopher, an activist, and a friend.  He founded L’Abri, an organization designed to help people struggle through their faith.  He also wrote over 20 books on topics as vast as politics to art to Biblical interpretation. I’d read Schaeffer’s history of philosophy   in high school, and found his ideas to be quite intriguing.  I admired Schaeffer’s desire for intellectual engagement his desire to prove that the Christian faith was rational.  But as I entered college and did my own studies, I began to wonder how Schaeffer’s ideas actually held up.  Are his ideas as focused on American Evangelicalism as some people have reported?  What about his ideas about dominion?  Presuppositionalism?  I needed to go straight to the source and see if Schaeffer was as brilliant as some say, or if his ideas were less than helpful. Thanks to Professor of English and Film Critic Ken Morefield, I get to do so.  The other week, he mailed me The Complete Collection of Francis Schaeffer. So, over the next few months, I will work through Schaeffer’s collection and review and analyze each and every one of his books.  I’ll start with The God Who is There, then move to  Evangelical Manifesto, sweep through his layman’s history of philosophy, How Then Shall We Live, and make sure to understand his views of the Bible, Spirituality, Culture, Art.  It’ll be a long process, but in doing so, I’ll be able to really grasp who Francis Schaeffer was; the man who tried to fight against secularism, Anti-Intellectualism and “Modern Theology”. What do you think of Schaeffer?  Was he one of the great theologians of the 20th century?  A troublesome ideologically-driven personality?  Let me know via twitter: @chris_journo.