Thursday, February 22, 2018

On Science: Against the Slanders of the Secularists

[In rebuttal to a recent comment at AC repeating the common tropes against Christianity re science, we present James Hannam, a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (published in the UK as God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science).]

From a blog run by Nature magazine. Galileo is not the whole story, in fact not the story at all: Galileo was the exception, not the rule.




Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages

Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

As always, read the whole thing.

[NB: No actual scholars or scientists were harmed in the writing of this post.]

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pinker: "The Enlightenment Is Working"

Steven  Pinker, writing about his new book in The Wall Street Journal, here. A taste:
The headway made around the turn of the millennium is not a fluke. It’s a continuation of a process set in motion by the Enlightenment in the late 18th century that has brought improvements in every measure of human flourishing.
Comment: Reflect on the word "progress" and "progressive." "Progressive" has come to be associated with a left political movement. But let's reflect on its literal sense. Human Progress. It's not the Left-Progressives who are behind this excellent site that validates Pinker's thesis and data.

I think someone like Peter Thiel, who isn't as optimistic as Pinker, as almost like a visionary prophet for human progress, especially as viewed through a technological lens. His thesis is that we have been stagnating since the 1970s. Yet, much of Pinker's data has shown how much better the rest of the world has become since 70s. Yes, the least well off parts of the world. And they've become better off while taking advantage of the breakthroughs of the 1st world which Thiel sees as stagnating since 1970.

Information Technology of course, is excepted. (And what a big exception it is.)

Regarding the "Enlightenment" part of the thesis, it helps to look at periods on a timeline. The way I see it, Enlightenment ended around 1800, the very year in which all of this progress started to take off. It could be what triggered the growth is that's when aliens or spirits started diffusing knowledge down to humanity. But that, alas, is not a falsifiable hypothesis, with the current level of empirical understanding we have.

So I'm assuming and concluding it was the seeds planted by the Enlightenment figures like America's Founders and their influences. Men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, all of whom were either actual or armchair scientists and wanted to put man's focus on figuring out how material things work and how we can improve things.

As Franklin put it:
I have been long impressed with the same sentiments you so well express, of the growing felicity of mankind, from the improvements in philosophy, morals, politics, and even the conveniences of common living, and the invention and acquisition of new and useful utensils and instruments; so that I have sometimes almost wished it had been my destiny to be born two or three centuries hence. For invention and improvement are prolific, and beget more of their kind. The present progress is rapid. Many of great importance, now unthought of, will, before that period, be produced; and then I might not only enjoy their advantages, but have my curiosity gratified in knowing what they are to be. I see a little absurdity in what I have just written, but it is to a friend, who will wink and let it pass, while I mention one reason more for such a wish, which is, that, if the art of physic shall be improved in proportion to other arts, we may then be able to avoid diseases, and live as long as the patriarchs in Genesis; to which, I suppose, we should have little objection.
It's interesting to see how Franklin mentions wanting to live 200-300 years in the future to see how all of this unfolds. He wrote the letter in 1788. Meaning Franklin wants to see 1988-2088. In other words, right now. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Alex Knepper on Strauss & Christianity

Alex Knepper gained notoriety as a very young, bright writer a number of years back. He has since gone on to get his Master's Degree degree from St. John's College, one of the places that specializes in studying the thought of Leo Strauss, along with Strauss' followers and critics.

This is what he posted on Facebook today:
There is a criticism that the Straussian account of the history of ideas willfully denies Christianity a place at its table. Of course Strauss believes that an artful writer knows how to communicate with silence. And the relative silence of the Straussian account of the history on Christianity, of which it is hardly ignorant, surely testifies to its antagonism toward it. Insofar as there is an elusive or storytelling element to any historical account*, the storyteller can consciously arrange his presentation to suit his preferences and goals, without deceiving himself about what he is doing. Strauss, in choosing to write out certain elements of thought in history, is always silently opining on how he thinks Christianity ought to be viewed: as a great and horrible tragedy inflicted on Europe which all true philosophy has always fought to overturn. Christianity's foreground presence in the works of many philosophers -- say, Locke -- speaks merely to their historical situation and is not indicative of their true opinions. Such philosophers invoked Christian doctrine in a way that weaponizes it against itself, in a conscious attempt to undermine it for the long-term. Strauss, and Straussians perhaps, seem to believe that the time has passed in which the threat of Christian persecution is so great that it requires that kind of appeasement any longer, and we are now freed to speak of philosophers' true intentions without genuflecting to the conventions of the common people of the time. (Whether liberals in 2018 demand genuflection from true philosophers is another question.) 
h/t Jon Rowe

This is the original comment I left that led to Knepper's thought and hat tip:
Some of my interlocutors who think the Straussian history of ideas inadequate like to play this game where they demonstrate more authentically Christian sources for "good" ideas that Locke gave the Anglo-Enlightenment. They usually trace the ideas to obscure medieval Catholic thought (i.e., "the schoolmen").   
I think we can do something similar with Rousseau's egalitarianism. A lot of Whig opposition "republicans" like Harrington. Those who used biblical language for redistribution under the auspices of agrarian laws. Even the term Utopia -- an island where both wealth and poverty were abolished -- comes from Catholic Thomas Moore.
This was Alex's original comment to which I responded:
The difference between European liberalism and American liberalism can, with only a bit of exaggeration, be explained by reference to the fact that the American Founders just barely missed the emergence of Rousseau on the scene. They built a regime fundamentally grounded and fixed in the thought of John Locke and various contemporaries (eg, Montesquieu), which has since then absorbed only a refracted view of everything which has dialectically proceeded from Rousseau. Hence, for instance, the otherwise near-inexplicable fact that the thought of Herbert Spencer resonated with Americans more than that of his contemporary Marx. Certainly much so-called 'continental' philosophy and political theory remains totally elusive to Americans. 
This is not to say that Rousseau would necessarily be more pleased with Europe in 2018 than with America: Rousseau was not above playing with the fire of populism, the popular denigration of the arts and sciences, or the glorification of militarism; there is no necessary support for a larger welfare state in Rousseau, no necessary support for liberal internationalism, no necessary support for multiculturalism -- the list goes on (though we can be sure that he considered himself part of a spiritual 'elite' exempt from ordinary laws and customs) -- but merely that, as a regime built on fixed ideas, America receives the insights of Rousseau and everything proceeding from his thought, or at any rate what it represents, through a refracted lens and hence will never see eye-to-eye with 'the continent.' 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Vox: Latest Hit on David Barton

It's entitled, Understanding the fake historian behind America’s religious right. A taste:
Of course, it’s worth saying that all accounts of history — left-wing or right-wing, secular or Christian — can also be, in a sense, a form of propaganda. Any narrative of America’s foundation will, of course, be mediated by the specific biases and concerns of the teller. (Historian Fea does a great job pointing out that the secular counterpart to the Barton narrative, that all founding fathers were non-Christian, deist secularists, is also wrong).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Swedenborg Was Not a Modalist (Sabellian)

I recently received a note from a Swedenborgian minister about this post. He posted these two comments (onetwo) clarifying the proper understanding. 

From the second comment:
Swedenborg was not, in fact, a modalist, despite that doctrine being sometimes attributed to him by traditional Christians. He explicitly rejected Sabellianism as a heresy, among many other heresies, in True Christianity #378. 
Though Swedenborg rejected the Nicene/Athanasian Trinity of Persons, considering it unbiblical and false, his version of the Trinity did not, as the modalist Trinity does, consider Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be various "modes" of a single God, or different ways that a single God appears to humans. Rather, Swedenborg saw Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as "essential components" (Latin: essentialia) of a single Person of God, equivalent to the soul, body, and actions of human beings--whom, according to Genesis 1:26-27, God created "in the image and likeness of God." 
For more on the difference between Swedenborg's Trinity and the modalistic (Sabellian) view, please see my article, "What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?"
From the linked article at his site:
However, Swedenborg’s theology rejects the defining characteristic of modalist doctrine, which is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different modes of God, or three different ways that God manifests himself to humans. 
Instead, Swedenborg’s theology states that:  
1. The Father is the transcendent, unknowable soul of God, of which we can have no direct knowledge or experience at all. 
2. The Son is the human body or visible appearance of God—and, since the Incarnation, is the sole avenue by which the Father is known to human beings. 
3. The Holy Spirit is the divine truth and power flowing out from God, and in effect is the manifestation of God to human beings.
Swedenborg calls this a Trinity of “essential components” (Latin essentialia) of one God. 
These three are not different modes or manifestations to us of some underlying divine Spirit. 
In Swedenborg’s system, the Father is the underlying divine being, and is not perceivable by us at all. We finite humans are incapable of grasping or comprehending the infinite divine being of God. Only through the Son can we have any knowledge of God. And the Holy Spirit is the knowledge and power of God as it flows out from the Son, enlightening us and giving us spiritual life.
When I first read this, I wondered whether instead of understanding God as the modalists do -- three different forms or modes of one God -- Swedenborg's position was the Trinity is three different functions of one God. Three different functions not forms.

I'm not sure if that's right. Three different components is more like a Voltron like dynamic. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not, individually, fully God, but rather together are fully God. By the way, Swedenborg viewed God as one Person and Jesus Christ is that Person (that is JC IS the Father, Son AND Holy Spirit).

Friday, January 12, 2018

George Washington on Immigration

From George Washington to Joshua Holmes, 2 December 1783
To the Members of the volunteer Associations & other Inhabitants of the Kingdom of Ireland who have lately arrived in the City of New York. 
Gentlemen 
The testimony of your satisfaction at the glorious termination of the late contest, and your indulgent opinion of my Agency in it, afford me singular pleasure & merit my warmest acknowledgments. 
If the Example of the Americans successfully contending in the Cause of Freedom, can be of any use to other Nations; we shall have an additional Motive for rejoycing at so prosperous an Event. 
It was not an uninteresting consideration, to learn, that the Kingdom of Ireland, by bold & manly conduct had obtained redress of many of its greivances—and it is much to be wished, that the blessings of equal Liberty & unrestrained Commerce may yet prevail more extensively in the Mean time, you may be assured, Gentlemen, that the Hospitality & Benificence of your Countrymen, to our Brethren who have been Prisoners of War, are neither unknown, or unregarded. 
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights & previleges, if by decency & propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment. 
Go: Washington

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The New Year's Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Happy New Year, everyone!  It has been quite some time since I last posted here at American Creation.  By way of introduction (to anyone I don't know) my name is Brad Hart.  I am one of the original "founders" of American Creation.  For several reasons (laziness being one of them) I have been M.I.A. here for quite some time -- too long if I am being completely honest.

I am hoping to change that in 2018.  As one of my personal resolutions I intend to be more involved with American Creation.  I have missed the discussion, the posts and the debate for a while now so hopefully I will be able to quench that thirst and also be able to contribute some meaningful material.

And since I am speaking of New Year's resolutions, what better way to get back into the saddle than to list some of the Great Jonathan Edwards' personal resolutions from the year 1723.  I hope you enjoy.





Overall Life Mission

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.
3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

Good Works

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

Time Management

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.
19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.
40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.
41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.
50.Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
51.Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.
55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.
61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

Relationships

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.
16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.
33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.
34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.
46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.
58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.
59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 2, and July 13.
66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Suffering

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

Character

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.
32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.
47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5, 1723.
54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.
63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 3, 1723.
27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.
39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.
20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

Spiritual Life

Assurance
25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.
48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.
49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.
The Scriptures
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
Prayer
29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.
64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20,that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.
The Lord’s Day
38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.
Vivification of Righteousness
30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.
43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12, 1723.
44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.
45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12-13, 1723.
Mortification of Sin and Self Examination
23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.
24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.
60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.
68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23and August 10, 1723.
56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
Communion with God
53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.
65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26 and Aug. 10, 1723.