Tag Archives: Materialism

ENCORE! ENCORE!

I’m working on a new blog series and have a few posts in the queue, but I’m a little worried I’ll start something I can’t finish so I’m going to wait a bit before I let the cat out of the bag. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy a few more excellent remarks from quotable Chesterton:

First, the rather standard way of viewing the world:

“All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon once assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing hoes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.”

Now, Chesterton’s surprising, refreshing, even childlike perspective:

“[I]t might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seem for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they especially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.”

Anyone who has a young child, or has spent any time with them, knows where he’s going with this.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because that are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grow-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.

“The repetition in Nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.”

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Incomplete Picture: Bad Science

What happens when we have an incomplete, incorrect, or inadequate understanding of the doctrine of Creation?

For my final post in this series I make the observation that if we have an incomplete view of Creation, we will devalue scientific pursuits. I suppose that it is appropriate that this post follows on the heels of my book review of Alvin Plantinga’s philosophy/science book Where the Real Conflict Lies. Perhaps between the two some reader will decide science isn’t so bad after all.

Let’s start by taking a look at why science has been devalued by so many in Christianity.

Science and Religion Appear to Contradict:

The apparent contradictions reside around epistemology (how we know stuff) and supernaturalism. That is, the “scientific worldview” claims that we only know things through reason and observation and that there are no supernatural processes. Christianity claims several sources of knowledge which include reason and observation and add to those history and Revelation. Additionally, Christianity sees both a supernatural cause behind everything (God creating the Universe) and supernatural intervention at various points in history within the created realm. These first two contradictions can be resolved when we understand that the “scientific worldview” is really a philosophical add-on to science, that is, the scientific method of hypothesis-building and observation. There is no default reason why one would have to accept one with the other and, in fact, I believe Christianity, supernaturalism and all, provides just the right environment to spur scientific discovery.

There is another kind of apparent contradiction, however, and that is between what appears to be revealed through the scientific method and what appears to be revealed in Scripture. The most obvious of these resides around the question of origins. On many interpretations of science, an old earth view best interprets the scientific data but, on many interpretations of Scripture, a young earth view best interprets the Scriptural data. What are we to make of such observations? Do science and religion stand in contradiction to each other? In some sense, it would appear so. This particular interpretation of scientific data stands in contradiction to that particular interpretation of Scriptural data. These apparent contradictions shouldn’t be taken lightly and we shouldn’t try to resolve them too soon. There are important questions at stake. However, ultimately I would say that there is no real contradiction between what God has revealed in nature and what he has revealed in Scripture. The problem must reside in our understanding of one or the other.

Note: A final observation needs to be made here on authority. Christians take Scripture to be authoritative. Because Scripture is “special revelation” it can be used to better understand “general revelation.” It’s our glasses for seeing the world correctly.

Science doesn’t provide the deep answers to our most pressing concerns:

The modern scientific community attempts to answer many questions – Where did we come from? Where are we going? What is the nature of our humanity? Christians, however, already have answers for many of these questions. We were created by God. We are awaiting the New Creation. We are image bearers of the living God, fallen, but able to be redeemed.

So, then, what can science add if we already have answers to these most pressing questions? The best science can do, it seems, is provide limited answers to problems which will be obliterated at the End of the Age.

True, but what happens now still matters and, if science can make advances in medicine, or help solve issues of global hunger, that’s a quantifiably good thing. Our lives are measurably better than they were a hundred years ago thanks, in large part, to the efforts of the scientific community. No, it can’t answer our deepest questions or resolve or most profound problems, but we can still thank God for its contribution in our world.

Science “replaces” Theism as a worldview:

Given the above two concerns there is a fear, not unfounded, that science replaces a Christian (or, generally Theistic) worldview. In fact, Naturalism/Materialism does. It provides a competing perspective on who God is (there is none), who we are (conglomerations of matter), and where we are going (annihilation). But, once again, it is a mistake to equate science with its philosophical add-on: Naturalism.

Science and Theology, friends:

There is another way to view all this and, I think, is quite Biblical. It goes back to Creation. God spoke and the world came into being. If God created the world, and declared it good, we should expect that the study of that world (science) and our study of God (theology) ought to be friends. And indeed they are.

Material creation points to the glory of God. Science helps us better understand material creation. Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Creation points us to the glory and grandeur of the Creator. It doesn’t tell us all we need to know, but it does help us know that God exists and that he is Divine (Romans 1:20).

Christianity provides fertile ground for scientific discovery. This is a point Plantinga makes over and over in Where the Real Conflict Lies. If God created us with purpose, it makes sense that we would seek out to understand His creation and have minds capable of understanding the world.

Materialism/Naturalism is not so kind. It is not uncommon for those holding to a materialist perspective to deny the ability of our reason and observations, ironically, by pointing to their own observations. The best they can answer is that we have arrived here by dumb luck. Christianity, on the other hand, provides an explanation for why we are here and can comprehend and a reason to pursue science – in order to see more clearly the glory of God!

Shout-Outs:

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Real Conflict Lies (see my review here)

Charles Anderton, Screwtape’s Master Plan (see my review here)

Abraham Kuyper, On Calvinism (See his observations on Normalists vs. Abnormalists)

Blog Fide Dubitandum: The blog is apologetic in nature and does a great job at showing the follies of philosophical materialism. It’s good reading.

Incomplete Picture: Not so very good

What happens when we have an incomplete, incorrect, or inadequate understanding of the doctrine of Creation?

When God created the world he joined together material and spiritual reality. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) God was very pleased with the physical world he had created. These material and spiritual realities were always meant to exist as an integrated reality.

There have always been those who have sought to drive a wedge between those realities. Pure materialists simply attempt to deny that the spiritual reality exists.

Others recognize that we are spiritual/physical beings. They also recognize that our physical bodies are subject to sickness, decay, temptation, and weakness. This is quite a good observation and in line with Scripture. We are from dust and to dust we will return.

A problem begins to arise when we start assigning moral qualities to our spirits and our bodies. Inevitably, the spirit wins out. The body is bad (look what that lust made me do!) but the spirit is good (after all, it continues on in existence after the body is destroyed).

Long ago, Gnostics actually believed that the “creator god” of the Old Testament was actually just an inept or evil deity who created an inferior physical reality. The spiritual god of the New Testament came to save us from the “creator god” by freeing us from our physical bodies. Our way to heaven (completely spiritual reality) was through special knowledge.

Gnostics, at least in that traditional sense, are long gone. But there are still many who see our salvation primarily in terms of escape from our physical condition, as though there was a problem with God’s original design. This is where we get the idea that heaven involves strumming harps on clouds.

While we do have the hope that, at death, we will be “absent with the body but present with the Lord,” our ultimate hope is not to live as eternal disembodied spirits. Our ultimate hope is that at the resurrection we will receive spiritual bodies, not subject to decay, weakness, or temptation. And we won’t be floating in the clouds but enjoying the very material reality of the New Earth.

Incomplete Picture: Nothing but mammals?

What happens when we have an incomplete, incorrect, or inadequate understanding of the doctrine of Creation?

Once we believe (in creed or practice) that humans are only biological, self-gratifying, need driven creatures, the next step is to apply this logic sexuality. Sex becomes only and essentially a means to gratify our desire (or need, as Maslow might say). The same worldview that drives our mass-consumer world ends up driving our sexual ethics as well. After all, “sex sells.”

We’ve become accustomed to throwing off “old-fashioned,” especially religious, moral principles. The only moral principles now are do what makes you happy and don’t cause suffering in others. Thankfully humanism has maintained the latter[1], but even with it, this moral system is incomplete and contradictory at best.

In this moral system, where there are relatively few constraints, there is nothing obviously wrong with promiscuity, pornography, polygamy[2], incest (so long as no children are produced), homosexual behavior, prostitution, etc. If sex is only a biological act then our only course is to simply follow our biology. Or, to quote the lines of a song popular when I was in school, “you and me baby ‘aint nothing but mammals…”  (I’ll refrain from finishing out the lyrics.)

Is there another way to view human sexuality? I think a proper understanding of Creation gives us a more complete view. We see, first, that people are both physical and spiritual beings. All our physical acts are also spiritual acts. This is especially true in the area of sexuality. God created us male and female. Marriage, and the act of consummation, is a means by which husband and wife are united as “one flesh.” God Himself has bound husband and wife together (Matthew 19:4-6). The apostle Paul later explains how this marriage union is a picture of Christ’s union with the Church (Ephesians 4:25-32). Again, Christians are warned against becoming “united” with a prostitute. After all, Christians are already “united” with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:12-17). Notice how spiritual and physical realities are intertwined?

God created the institution of marriage as a covenant relationship and sex as a means of bearing children and expressing covenant love within that context. That covenant is not just physical (though it is physical) but spiritual as well. That covenant, and the expression of it is sacred. It is holy. Any violation or misuse of it is a violation against or misuse of something which God has set apart as holy. But, if we recognize God’s beautiful design, then marriage and sexuality are far more meaningful and gratifying than anything the world has to offer in its cheap substitutes.

I could end here but I want to caution against one more error. There are some who have gone the other direction and have divorced sexuality from biology all together. In this view, what happens physically doesn’t matter at all – it’s only about expressing love. In this view no physical acts are inherently wrong because what happens in the physical world doesn’t really matter. This is an old, old view called Gnosticism but it has been trumpeted once again to promote a permissive attitude toward any kind of sexual behavior. This is essentially the view of John McNeill. Again, by God’s design we are both physical and spiritual beings. To deny either of these truths is to fall into error.

[1] Even this shows signs of going away. If you really want to feel depressed, check out Peter Singer’s views on infanticide. Humanism ‘aint so great, but it sure beats his brand of Utilitarianism.

[2] I have heard it argued (I believe it was Lesslie Newbigin) that our society already functions with a sort “serial polygamy.” Multiple wives (or husbands) isn’t really abnormal in our society, we just don’t have them all at the same time.

Incomplete Picture: Material Beings

What happens when we have an incomplete, incorrect, or inadequate understanding of the doctrine of Creation?

The first fairly obvious deviation from the doctrine of creation is to simply remove God and spiritual reality entirely from the picture.

The logical result of this supposition is that people are only material (non-spiritual) beings. This is a deviation that Anderton explores in Screwtape’s Master Plan. The narrator, Screwtape, a demon, announces his plan in this way “One of our favorite tactics is to convince hybrids [humans] that they should live for themselves and grasp for all the material pleasures that the world can offer because they will soon die.”[1] Since, in reality, we are both spiritual and physical beings attempting this tactic leads to ever increasing dissatisfaction. Screwtape continues, “The ideal outcome is full-fledged materialism in which frustrated hybrids [humans] grasp for ever larger amounts of possessions only to experience ever diminishing satisfaction.”[2] (emphasis added)

We are bombarded with this worldview on a daily basis just by living in a mass-consumer capitalist system. I do not mean to say that capitalism is inherently evil but, as an all encompassing moral system, it promotes a competing vision of who we are as people. As Smith and Denton point out, “Capitalism is not merely a system for the efficient production and distribution of goods and services; it also promotes a particular moral order, an institutionalized normative worldview.” This worldview “constitutes the human self in a very particular way: as an individual, autonomous, rational, self-seeking, cost-benefiting consumer.”[3] It is this last bit, that we are essentially self-seeking, cost-benefiting consumers fits very well with the enemy’s lie that we are only physical beings who can only find satisfaction in physical pleasures and comforts. Luckily, we have an system waiting to fulfill these desires… at the right price.

A complete view of creation gives us the perspective we need. When we can recognize that the physical reality is only part of the story we can appropriate those material needs and desires. We can see that God has created the material world for our good, but that it is futile to attempt to find ultimate satisfaction in the created thing instead of in the Creator. Once we learn to worship our Creator, and not the created thing, and we learn to view ourselves not simply as material things, we can then learn to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and rejoice when he takes care of our material needs.

[1] Anderton, Charles H., Screwtape’s Master Plan. 12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Book Review: Screwtape’s Master Plan by Charles Anderton

In Screwtape’s Master Plan: A Satirical Take on Christianity and Culture Charles Anderton borrows the method and voice of C.S. Lewis’ famed character “Screwtape” (from The Screwtape Letters). For those unfamiliar with Lewis’ work, Screwtape is a demon whose primary goal is to lead humans away, or keep them away from knowing God. From the perspective of Screwtape, Anderton identifies key areas of the culture and mistaken ideas in the church that keep people away from the “gospel of costly grace.”

Anderton engages with a lot of important topics and, I think, some of the key issues facing the church today. Screwtape is indeed, an effective strategist in opposition to the gospel. Key attacks include convincing people that (1) faith and science stand in opposition to one another, (2) sex is only a biological act, (3) the “other” is the “enemy,” (4) we are free to make a god to our own liking, (5) “secular” jobs have no relation to Christian vocation, and (6) Jesus is insufficient or unnecessary. At the end, Screwtape presents a final plan to further segment the church from the broader culture so that it fades into irrelevance.

Anderton had some excellent insights on the Church and the culture and our enemy’s strategy to keep people away from the simple message of costly grace. His chapters on “Unspiritual Matter,” “Destroying Sexuality,” and “Discounting the Cost” were especially excellent.

There were a few areas where I think Anderton was a little simplistic in his characterization of the views of most young earth creationists and complementarians. I don’t fully in agree with him on these points but we do agree on his main points that (1) there is no real conflict between God’s revelation in the Bible and His revelation in Creation and (2) Christians shouldn’t add anything to the sufficiency of Jesus.

In the end we have a lot more points of agreement than disagreement and many of the chapters in his book are chapters that many people in our world (especially the West) really need to read. Our enemy is a deceiver and we, as a culture, have been deceived. In so many areas we have become blind to the lies that surround us every day. This book is a great contribution to bringing that deception into the light.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

On a personal note: After reading the book from Professor Anderton (who I will now simply refer to as Chuck, per his request) I emailed him a more detailed description of several of my concerns and disagreements with the book. I attempted to be gracious but I wanted to clarify a few points and my interpretation of his book. I was a little nervous because email is not always the easiest way to offer criticism, or to receive it. Chuck replied with an incredibly gracious and well thought out response and I am grateful in return for his attitude. I wanted to share this because it demonstrates an important point I think he was trying to make in his book: It’s possible to disagree on a few points but still work towards the common goal of pointing people to God. Thank you, Chuck, for practicing what you wrote.

Three Views of Human Nature

This is part of my continuing series on the intersection of the humanist and the Biblical worldviews. My previous two posts have been critiques of humanism and I hope to offer an alternative soon, but first I need to make a quick clarification.

When I speak of humanism, I am referring to the broad worldview (and associated systems of psychology and belief) that places the individual human as the focus of all spiritual thought. That said, there are two quite distinct branches of humanism and they have very different understandings on human nature and spirituality. I’m sure there are technical terms for these worldviews but I’m just going assign my own labels: spiritual humanism and materialist humanism.

Spiritual Humanism

Spiritual Humanism: I interacted with spiritual humanist thought in a previous post on spiritual practices. Spiritual humanist hold a high view of spirituality, of faith, and of connecting with your inner Self. In this view we are two part beings: physical/material and spiritual. Our spiritual, true Self is good. Our physical/material Self is prone to error, confused, fleeting, and can be corrupted by society. Because, at our core, we are good people, Spiritual Formation means connecting with our true selves. Living by faith means trusting our intuition and acting in freedom. This view seems to have a lot in common with Eastern mystical thought. To be honest, I haven’t personally encountered many people that hold to this view, at least not on any practical level. However, the belief that at our core we are inherently good does seem to be widely held.

Materialist Humanism

Materialist Humanism: Materialist humanism has a low view of spirituality and faith but it still places a premium on acting in accordance with your nature. Here I am using the term “materialism” to refer to the philosophy that holds that only the physical world is real. Humans are only material beings and not spiritual beings. So, to be a materialist you either have to be an atheist or at least an agnostic, though I think many Christians (myself included) tend to act out of a materialist perspective. You can be a materialist without being a humanist. What makes a materialist also a humanist is the belief that people are basically good.

From a philosophical perspective it seems contradictory to say that only the material world is real and that people are basically good, since “good” is a moral category and morals, being non-physical, are not “real.” Despite this apparent contradiction, materialist humanists can still tell that, at least subjectively, people have value. We can all relate to feelings of joy and sorrow, gain and loss, peace and strife and so, at least subjectively, we can assign value to those things, both for ourselves and for each other. I think that at least one reason, then, why many materialists believe people are good is because of an optimistic view of evolution and the gradual improvements we see in the areas of society, technology, medicine, etc.

If people are basically good then why do we experience human evil? There are probably numerous ways this can be explained but one of the primary ways it’s explained from a humanist perspective (like Malsow, for instance) is by sickness. Sickness here refers to either (1) any disordering of desire or (2) any lack of one of the basic needs (physiological, safety, social, or esteem, self-actualization). Removing evil, on both a private and public level, means ensuring that everyone is able and free to gratify their needs and, in some cases, to “heal” anyone who is pathological, that is, has disordered desires.

Like spiritual humanism, material humanism pursues personal growth by looking in on the Self. In this case, this can be done by gratifying ones needs and then pursuing self-understanding and self-actualization.

Biblical Perspective

Biblical perspective: I’ll expand on this later but allow me to briefly sketch a Biblical perspective of human nature. First, it is incorrect to say that the Bible has a negative view of humanity. In fact, I think if properly understood, Christianity places a much higher view humanity that the other two worldviews listed above.

First, we are created in God’s image. We are created as both spiritual and physical beings but these parts are not in conflict, but integrated. Our worth does not come from ourselves, but from God our Creator.

Second, we are fallen. Though we are created in God’s image, we are hopeless idolaters. That is, we have not only disordered desires, but disordered worship. Instead of worshipping the Creator, we worship the created thing, either in self-worship or in worship of a false “god.” Because of this, our very natures are fallen. We know we are supposed to do right but on our own we are unable to do right. This is not physical sickness nor is it alienation from Self but spiritual sickness and alienation of our whole selves (body and spirit) from God.

Third, we can be re-created. The task of spiritual formation, then, begins not by looking inward, but by looking toward God. The task must be one of (1) reconciliation with our Creator and (2) re-creation of the self. This regeneration doesn’t move us back to our created self, but forward, toward the self that we are re-created to be. The task of reconciliation and re-creation are both possible through Christ. We are reconciled to God through Jesus’ work on the cross and are re-created (continually) in the His image.

Finally, we can live forever with God on a New Earth. This task of spiritual formation is never completed in this lifetime. Ultimately, we place our hope the resurrection, when we will be reformed both physically and spiritually.

“We are loved by our Creator and the value that He places on us is far more than we could ever place on ourselves.” – Click to Tweet

The Biblical worldview presents both a low and high view of humanity. On the one hand, our problem is far more dire than just sickness or self-alienation. It is sin, for which we hold personal responsibility. On the other hand, we are loved by our Creator and the value that He places on us is far more than we could ever place on ourselves.