Night At The (Creation) Museum

This was one of those events that was over before it began. I do not think that anyone was surprised by what either Bill Nye or Ken Ham had to say about whether or not creationism (of a young-Earth variety) is a viable model for understanding the universe. Check the video out if you don’t believe me:

Now that you may or may not have just blown over two hours hearing arguments that you have likely already heard I will further disappoint you by saying that almost everyone’s reaction to this was predictable. Those who subscribe to some form of evolution (be it atheistic, theistic, or agnostic) thought that Bill Nye carried the day (if they weren’t annoyed that he was debating a creationist at all in the first place). Those that believe in young-Earth creationism no doubt felt that Ham had carried the day. A number of groups that held what I might call some kind of alternate position that did not align with either of the two poles of this debate (anything from Intelligent Design, to Roman Catholic teachings that harmonize Christianity with evolutionary biology) remarked on how the debate was a missed opportunity to bring up their own particular views. Again, this is not at all surprising.

As for my own take, like I said, this is all old hat to me. The one thing that did strike me was how Ham continued to claim that nothing could really be known about the age of the earth since we weren’t there to observe the events that formed the Grand Canyon or layers of polar ice, but then elsewhere in the debate stated that reliable laws governing nature and logic were evidence for God. And yet it is wrong for scientists to extrapolate from those same laws back into prehistory, because who knows what went on there. So the laws are also unreliable when Ken Ham needs God to bend the rules?

A Metaphysical Drink

Jameson Distillery, Midleton, Ireland

I’m reading Whiskey & Philosophy: A Small Batch of Spirited Ideas edited by Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams. I’m only into the first chapter and am thus far really enjoying it. In the introduction the two editors share a great quote by Aeneas MacDonald, who wrote an important book simply titled Whisky. I thought some of you philosophically-minded folk might enjoy it:

Some might say that whisky is a Protestant drink, but it is rather a rationalistic, metaphysical and dialectical drink. It stimulates speculation and nourishes lucidity. One may sing on it but one is as likely to argue. Split hairs and schisms flourish in its depths; hierarchies and authority go down before the sovereignty of a heightened and irresistible intuition. It is the mother’s milk of destructive criticism and the begetter of great abstractions; it is disposed to find a meaning— or at least a debate— in arts and letters, rather than to enjoy or appreciate; it is the champion of the deductive method and the sworn foe of pragmatism; it is Socratic, drives to logical conclusions, has a horror of established and useful falsehoods, is discourteous to irrelevances, possesses an acuteness of vision which marshals the complexities and hesitations of life into two opposing hosts, divides the greys of the world rigidly into black and white.

My favourite line is the bit about whisky being the sworn foe of pragmatism. I wonder what Pierce, James, or Dewey drank?

Recent Books

I have just come through quite a busy season with conference speaking, dissertation chapter submission, and a full course taught overseas, so my silence on the blog hopefully has some justification! Why not break the silence with some shameless self-promotion?

This past November I had the privilege of presenting to Michael Haykin a Festschrift in his honour. My co-editor, Steve Weaver, and I worked on this book for over two years. It was incredibly rewarding to see it completed, and for Dr. Haykin to receive it with utter shock and amazement. The book, The Pure Flame of Devotion, is a history of Christian spirituality and covers the span of church history. We have over twenty contributors, including Carl Trueman, Dennis Ngien, Crawford Gribben, David Hogg, Mark Jones and others, who write on subjects dealing with the patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern periods. We are hoping that the book will function as a textbook for bible college and seminary courses. You can read about the night here.

Also, I just learned that a book that I contributed to is now available. As 2014 commemorates the centenary of the First World War, Gord Heath of McMaster Divinity College has edited a book studying Canadian religious responses to it. It is called Canadian Churches and the First World War and is published by Pickwick. Michael Haykin and I co-wrote a chapter on the Canadian Baptist response. It was quite an eye-opening study, seeing as Baptists were typically political liberals and eschewed war, but after it was declared they supported it with gusto. I was, I must say, honoured to have a part in the book.

Is The Stable Two-Parent Family Now A Luxury Good?

When someone speaks of the lifestyles of the wealthy a number of images may come to mind involving luxury cars or big houses, but what about a traditional, stable two-parent family? Wait, what? Consider this article (by a self-described feminist) about how feminism has been co-opted as a wage-suppression tool – the labour pool is larger if both parents work and at the same time, if the expectation is that both parents in a family are in the workplace, then why should one person’s wage be large enough to support a family anyway? Then there’s Japan where young people are giving up on having families in part because the expectation of the husband to be a breadwinner is intense and, for many, unfeasible in an economy that has been stagnant for a couple decades now. It has been observed that those in the upper classes are more likely to marry and stay married, have children later and, by doing all of this, pass their opportunities on to their children.

Why are the working classes not following the same patterns? Charles Murray thought that this could solved by a stern lecture and the example of their betters, but David Frum thoroughly debunked Murray’s finding that not much else is needed. The reality is that our economic system privileges flexibility in production of goods and services, and family life makes flexibility difficult. Try making a parent-teacher interview working two jobs, or even shift-work. What if the better jobs are elsewhere? If one spouse is unemployed but the other is not, should they move? Should one spouse go where the work is and the other stay and effectively become a single parent? I do not know if anyone in our readership has considered that no-fault divorce has this sort of benefit of improving labour market liquidity, but it surely does.

It is natural for a Christian  to point out that they know a family from their own church perhaps who have stuck together in spite of economic challenges. The reality is it is possible to make such a thing happen, just like it is possible for someone of modest means to make other luxury purchases by scrounging and cutting back in other areas. By such means one can find working class car collectors, watch collectors, world travellers and so on. What we need to ask is whether it is wise or beneficial to be living in a society where people come to view these types of life choices as luxuries.

Should We Make Curriculum More Relevant?

From Roger Ebert’s glowing review of the timeless Mr. Holland’s Opus:

Watching this film, falling into its rhythm, appreciating its sweep, I could not help but remember my own high school teachers. Sitting here at the keyboard, I began a list of their names, only to realize that you have your own list. Amazing, how clearly I remember their excellence, and their patience. One anecdote will do. Stanley Hynes, who taught us Shakespeare, always addressed us as “Mr.” and “Miss,” as a college teacher would do, and somehow that brought a greater seriousness to “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” which were uncharted new worlds for us. Modifying the curriculum to make it more “contemporary” and “relevant” is doing an injustice to students, whose lives will become relevant to the exact degree that high school encourages them to outgrow themselves, and escape from the contemporary into the timeless. Mr. Hynes knew that. So does “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Why Doug Groothuis Is Not A Continental Philosopher

From Dr. Groothuis’ blog:

First, unlike CP’s, I’ll define terms. An analytic philosopher (AP) emphasize the following philosophical principles:

1. Define terms carefully.
2. Obscurity is not profundity
3. Logical operations are primary for philosophy, such as the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions, types and tokens, necessary and contingent, and, of course, the basic arguments forms–deductive, inductive, and abductive. One should not have to guess about these points; they should be clearly stated.

Second, the orgins of analytical philosophy probably trace to Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. It is a neutral method and is not committed, a priori, to any one worldview. Russell was an atheist; Alvin Plantinga is a Christian. Both are analytic philosophers.

Third, many claims to the contrary, the method of AP does not rule out large-scale philosophical questions about God, meaning, philosophy of culture (I do that!) or even aesthetics. CPs often make this erroneous claim.

Fourth, while some APs de-emphasize the important of the history of philosophy, there is nothing in the approach of AP that necessitates this; that is, it is not part of the definition of AP. The history of a philosophical concept, such as substance, is very significant in making any sense of it rationally.

Fifth, philosophers who are pre-analytic, such as Pascal, are subject to analytical criticism and reconstruction. I did so in my book, On Pascal. It has even been done with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (see the work of C. Stephen Evans)!

CPs typically do not define terms or types of arguments carefully and revel in obscurity and false dichotomies, such as “those analytic apologists like J.P. Moreland, Bill Craig, and Doug Groothuis emphasize logic, but not love and community” (Myron Penner). Bull$^&#.



Some helpful links to roll over a new year:

For John MacArthur fans: How to wear a suit.

Ta-Nehisi Coates praises Newt Gingrich for being one of those conservatives who didn’t wait until Mandela’s death to support him.

Carl Trueman praises high-Anglican liturgy.

What’s going on with Francis Chan?

The Magic of a Kind Word

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

-Proverbs 15:1

Much has been said about Pope Francis’ statements on atheism or homosexuality, the sorts of things that have earned him the nod from Time as Person of the Year for 2013. What’s remarkable is that nothing that he’s said really contradicts what either of his two most recent predecessors have said. What he has really changed is more a matter of tone. There is nothing in the substance of Francis’ statement about how he can’t judge a gay man who seeks God that contradicts Benedict’s assertion that all gays are “objectively disordered.” There is a world of difference however in the tone of such remarks. Benedict was successful at capturing very conservative church people from Evangelical denominations, Francis is capturing the attention (and the imagination) of pretty much everyone else. And yet for all those who either laud or damn him as a crypto-Marxist, nothing he has said seems to fall outside of conventional Catholic teaching.

Revisiting Euthyphro


Socrates famously posed the dilemma: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Later, this dilemma forced itself upon monotheistic religion, in the form of “Are things moral because God commands them, or does God command them because they are good?”

Taking the first horn of the dilemma commits one to a divine command theory of ethics, the latter to something more like a natural law position. Problems appear on both horns for the Christian, because the first approach seems to imply moral absurdities (like saying that child-rape would be good if God commanded it) and the second metaphysical ones (leaving morality as a kind of unexplained surd, existing independently of the putative First Cause).

For this reason Christian thinkers have tried to resolve the dilemma. One common approach is to say that the moral standard is God’s own nature, which he then commands that creatures reflect. I think this answer is partly right, but incomplete. By virtue of divine simplicity, it is true that Goodness is identical with God, since God is the source of good, and must be good, and being identical with his nature, must be goodness itself. Yet this answer is incomplete, for it’s not clear how divine goodness relates to what is good for human beings, which is what the dilemma was originally talking about.

Christians want to affirm that human goodness somehow finds its source in God (again, he is supposed to be the ultimate explanation for all things), but nevertheless want to avoid the problems that seem to come with a crude divine command theory of ethics. How can this be done? It seems to me that a kind of Thomistic metaphysics is the only good answer. One could try to avoid this route by taking a more voluntaristic and nominalistic metaphysics, but such an approach seems to entail the same moral problems that the crude divine command theory does. But then how can one avoid the other problem, of making morality an ontologically ungrounded surd?

The way around this problem comes in recognizing that what is good for human beings is determined by their nature, but that that nature is created by God. So while it is true that morality as such is not essentially a divine positive law backed up by threats of force, nevertheless it is derived ultimately from God as Creator. And further, since God’s nature is the law for his own actions, his creative activity partakes of the goodness of his own nature.

Thus one can avoid both horns of the dilemma and provide an intelligible connection between the goodness of God and morality if one takes the path of Thomistic natural law.

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Craft-Brew Blog


Who are we, City of God, in 2014? One helpful clue comes from Carl Trueman who, in the wake of the Driscoll plagiarism scandal praised the essential role of what he called “craft” blogs (at about 8:10 in the podcast). By this he meant those sites that are not the online arms of Christian publishing, or denominations, parachurch ministries, those that “owe nothing” in Carl’s words. He likens them to craft-breweries (hence the title of this post). We are at a weird sort of juncture, where blogging isn’t what it was in, say 2004 when I first started experimenting with the medium, many of the biggest names in blogging have been scooped up by a handful of websites and are now all but indistinguishable from columnists or journalists, many of the rest of us are using Twitter or Facebook the way we once blogged. That said, it’s easier sometimes to put together one’s thoughts on this kind of medium where there are not inflicted on your family or coworkers and they can be longer than 140 characters. What’s more, it’s nice to have a greater degree of ownership over the platform where, say, some Facebook admin can’t decide that one’s content is somehow beyond the pale. So here we are, please enjoy our craft-brew selections.