Lawrence Principe on a species of scientific fundamentalism

The point is that [John W.] Draper [d. 1882] and [Andrew D.] White [d. 1918] were illegitimately transporting the emerging social stratification of their own era backward into earlier times. By constructing the notion that two rival camps – scientists and religionists – had existed throughout history, they set up an inherent and essential rivalry between science and religion that did not exist as such. Interestingly, despite their explicit use of a military metaphor, they implicitly – whether consciously or unconsciously – borrowed the imagery and structure that characterized the history of religion itself. They created a litany of martyrs – most notably Bruno and Galileo, but also Roger Bacon, Michael Servetus, and others – and a hagiography of sinless and oppressed reformers and visionaries that populated the scientists’ camp. They implicitly recast scientists as prophets and priests, the recipients of special favor and enlightenment, who brought forth truth and struggled to spread a gospel of science and progress against the darkness and ignorance of the pagans (i.e., the old priesthood of religion). In this way, they co-opted for themselves all the drama and emotional power of the story of the early Christians persecuted by – but finally victorious over – oppressive Roman paganism. This origin myth of science laid the foundation for setting up science as a religion of its own.

This origin myth of science remains extraordinarily powerful today, and it stands at the core of scientism. It is constantly repeated uncritically by a host of popular books and television programs, and as a virtual shibboleth by the prophets of scientism. Indeed, it has been my personal experience that it is dangerous (or at least foolhardy) to question its orthodoxy around those of a scientistic persuasion. I remember receiving an email from an undergraduate student in the sciences who had recently read some of my publications on early modern science. He was literally distraught because I had demonstrated that the heroes he had been taught to revere – Kepler, Boyle, Newton, and the like – were actually…religious believers. How could this be, he asked. For him, it was a crisis of faith, with all the characteristics of a crisis of religious belief. And indeed it was, his faith in the origin myth and the religion of science had been shaken. I fairly regularly get mail from members of the public who have read my more popular books and lectures, and while I routinely critique the claims of both religionists and scientists, I rarely hear anything negative from the religious side. But when I present well-established historical evidence that undercuts the simplistic warfare version of the Galileo and the church narrative, or enumerate scientific and logical features of medieval theology, or, perhaps worst of all, point out false historical claims or sloppy reasonings made by scientistic prophets like Carl Sagan, then the criticism, the expressions of disbelief, and the declamations of ulterior motives fly freely. Two features emerge: first, any positive statement about historical figures traditionally placed in the religion camp is unacceptable. Second, most such critics rely entirely on the origin myth mentioned earlier, and simply will not accept any evidence to the contrary, responding to such evidence with a simple no or by repeating now-discredited accounts. This is why I must conclude—as others have done—that the strong scientism of the modern day is not merely a religion, but is in fact a kind of fundamentalism.

from “Scientism and the Religion of Science,” in Scientism: The New Orthodoxy, Eds. Daniel Robinson and Richard Williams (Bloomsbury, 2015), 50-51.

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Telford Work on science, religion, and facing reality

Literalistic creation science must disregard or distort the massive and accumulating credible evidence of humanity’s evolutionary origins and character as well as the signs that the Bible’s creation accounts are not literal chronologies. Intelligent Design theory, already unattractive to scientists as a “science stopper,” cannot match its rival’s elegance and explanatory power. Likewise, naturalistic accounts of “religion” misrepresent traditions such as historic Christianity that do not fit their scientific paradigms. [Daniel] Dennett’s and [Michael] Shermer’s learned speculations on the rise of religious ideas and experiences uncannily ignore two thousand years of insistent Christian testimony that the bedrock of our tradition is not some mystical experience, archetypical figure, or compelling idea, but simply the apostles’ testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection and the powerful outpouring of his Holy Spirit. In other words, neither side can really afford to take the other side’s evidence seriously. Both of these camps of imperialists are fighting for what all empires treasure: its vision of reality, whose most stubborn enemy is not disbelievers but reality itself.

from “What Have the Galapagos to Do with Jerusalem? Scientific Knowledge in Theological Context,” in Eds. James K.A. Smith and Amos Yong, Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences (Indiana Univ. Pr., 2010).

Mark Seifrid on preaching law and gospel

We must avoid the danger of producing by our preaching mere cathartic experiences, which ever only end in the implicit word, “You have been forgiven, go home and feel better.” This preaching finally becomes cheap grace. At the same time we must avoid dispensing mere moral instruction that implicitly ends with the thought, “This is what God wants you to do. Go home and by the help of the spirit, try harder.” This preaching finally becomes cheap ethics. To rightly preach the demands of God and the grace of God in Christ, to rightly preach law and gospel, will mean that we must first preach not merely abstractly and generally, but really and concretely to real sinners concerning real sins. We desperately need pastors and not mere preachers. In preaching the gospel we must announce that the gospel of the forgiveness of sins brings forgiveness and release from real sins to a new life, reminding our hearers that new life has been given to each one of US, according to our needs, in Christ, the gospel brings the fulfillment of the law, the life of the new creation into the present world—into our lives in the present world.

from “Beyond Law and Gospel? Reflections on Speaking the Word in a (Post)modern World,” Concordia Journal (2017), 39-40.

[I do wish Seifrid had more to say about how to navigate the Scylla of cheap grace and the Charybdis of cheap ethics, but either way he’s put his finger on two live threats to be wary of.]

History and Theology: 5 Variations

The following is an attempt at a typology of the various ways in which history and theology may cross pollinate and inter implicate one another’s domains of study.

  • History of Theology. This is a branch of history. Its object of study happens to be theological discourse, but it deploys broadly critical-historical tools of analysis in order to generate a narrative of the past. For an example consider Jaroslav Pelikan’s magisterial 5 vol. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Univ. of Chicago Pr. (1975-1991).
  • Theological History. This is not a branch of history but an approach to historical narration in general. Its object of study is not limited to the output of theologians, but can survey any domain of life amenable to historical modes of representation. What’s distinctive here is its willingness to deploy theological categories of description, such as admitting of God as an agent in its causal plot lines . Think the New Testament’s Luke-Acts, Eusebius’ Church History, or Augustine’s City of God.
  • Historical Theology. This is an approach to theological inquiry. It attempts to offer constructive theological proposals on the basis in part of its accounts of the past. Can be contrasted with an approach to theology such as Analytic Theology which tries instead to establish constructive theological proposals primarily on the basis of the acuity and rigor of its conceptual analyses and demonstrations of logical cogency. Think Ephraim Radner’s A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church, Baylor Univ. Pr. (2012).
  • Theology of History. This is not an approach but a branch of theology, a limited subset of its sphere of inquiry. It endeavors to offer a theological description of specific matters like the nature of time, the legibility of the past, the place of history within God’s scheme of revelation and the outworking of his purposes. May partially overlap with another branch of theology, i.e., Eschatology. Think Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation as a soteriology of history. Or think Hans Urs von Balthasar’s A Theology of History or Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Revelation as History.
  • Theological Historiography. This is the interface of theology and the philosophy of history. Theological categories will be deployed to evaluate historiographical categories, procedural axioms, and criteria of legitimation. Think Joel B. Green’s “Rethinking ‘History’ for Theological Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 5.2 (2011), 159-174.

Ephraim Radner on Leviticus

…the details of Leviticus, taken within the sacrificial movement of Christ, demand that we draw into a direct relationship of responsibility with God the range of elements upon which our love, ordered to God, is to be exercised. These necessarily include prayer, disease, sexual relations, moral usage of money, animals, crops and plantings, the poor, civic life, and accountability. Thus, Leviticus provides the theological underpinnings…for understanding the material world of creation in which and through which and for which our Christian lives are to be led: the environment, labor, the use of the human body, property, and so on. It does so by naming these things, but also by placing them particularistically in a relationship to the incorporating love of God—in the character of giving/offering rather than of taking; in the character of cherishing for the sake of God alone rather than for our own sake or for the end of their own denial. That all these things are bound up with the sacrificial acts of the people of God before God means simply that they cannot be rendered subordinate to other ethical matters. They are unavoidable matters of faith. [295]

[…] As its Hebrew title suggests, the book is a calling. The book leads us back into the world—which may seem a strange thing to emphasize as a peculiarly Christian calling. But since that world has, for so long at the hands of Christians, been forgotten, manipulated, or abused simply for lack of love of God, that is, for the negligence of sacrifice, the call is absolutely essential. [299]

[…] So Jesus’s response to the sacrificial calling of the law is to present his own body: “Lo, I have come do to they will,” something accomplished “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” [288]

from Leviticus, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (2008)

Alan Jacobs in defense of testimony sharing

We should never presume that our exercise of memoria is perfect, nor that the patterns it reveals predict our future with perfect accuracy.

[…] In one of his sermons D. L. Moody proclaimed,

You ask me to explain regeneration. I cannot do it. But one thing I know—that I have been regenerated. All the infidels and skeptics could not make me feel differently. I feel a different man than I did twenty-one years ago last March, when God gave me a new heart. I have not sworn since that night, and I have no desire to swear. I delight to labor for God, and all the influences of the world cannot convince me that I am not a different man.

I have no doubt that God did indeed make Moody “a different man” than he had been before—indeed, gave him new life. But it is almost impossible for the even moderately critical reader not to be dubious about this account. Perhaps you no longer swear, Mr. Moody, but are you humble? Are you perfectly compassionate and loving? And anyway, if I were to drop this brick on your toe, might you not suddenly rediscover the “desire to swear”? I find myself suspecting, not Moody’s regeneration itself, but his belief in its completeness and his assumption that its moral effect is permanent and irreversible. […]

It’s this kind of Christian “testimony”—the airbrushed past and the sugarcoated future—that causes Christian “testimonies” to set people’s teeth on edge. …

[…But] the remedy to the problem of presumptuous or otherwise deficient testimony is not to stop bearing personal witness, but rather to refine and develop our understanding of what such witness should be.

In this light it can be seen that the formulaic “testimonies” of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity … [however] An impoverished form of it, to be sure—primarily because it is inflexible in shape and confined chiefly to testimonies of conversion rather than testimonies of imitation and vocation—[remains] a valuable form nonetheless, because it preserves in some fashion the idea of storytelling as the passing along of wise counsel.

from “What Narrative Theology Forgot,” First Things (Aug, 2003)

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Live Stream Opportunity

Friday, January 26th —TOMORROW @ 7:30 PM EST— at the University of Toronto

William Lane Craig, Jordan B Peterson, and Rebecca Goldstein will discuss the question of the meaning of life.

More details available HERE