My friend Steve is not happy. There is a problem:
The secrets of science appear unable to address the most personal and complicated questions in life, which is sad news for the rest of us. We, the people, are trapped in a philosophical limbo, victims of our success. This truth is reflected in the reality that even while the world has made significant improvements in the psychological and other sciences, nevertheless, war, crime, classism, and corruption remain embedded phenomena, and we are resigned to ignore the mostly invisible social disruptions of common deception, passive aggression, abusiveness, petty partisanship, hatred, lack of civility, cheating, patent suppression, malicious gossip, loneliness, neuroticism, cliquishness, greed, raw ambition, economic manipulation, abuse of authority, destruction of habitat, and just bad faith generally, among our other problems. The world lacks accountability, which is mostly due to a general lack of awareness and at times integrity. While the innocent are nothing more than prey to such forces, the sophisticated are slow to help, constituting many of the perpetrators, making progress fleeting in the darkest regions of our collectives. Our demons appear to evolve even alongside our angels, and the appearance of civility is not always the reality. It is this new self-awareness that challenges our modern sensibilities.There is always an unfolding reality that surprises us, and although we may evolve, we do not necessarily become purer. Is evolution about becoming better at surviving, or becoming better?
How did we get to this place? How did we come to be so lost in the midst of so much advancement? According to Steve the fault is with our education. The shift which put us on this dismal trajectory happened in our not too distant past. Steve fingers out James L. Hughes The Toronto Superintendent of Public Schools in 1886 as one of the champions of wrong headed education:
You cannot kindle all children by literature . . . A very large proportion of the race were not meant to be deep lovers of book learning. You may kindle more by manual training. Why? Because God meant men and women to be productive.
Education took on a new design, one of utility. The goal was to help people become practical, efficient, and productive. Society became convinced that a liberal arts education was a worthless thing of past, to be replaced with sciences, math, and and a purely functional level of literacy all geared toward a productive end. Practical rather than cerebral was the new mantra.
“How to” and “How things work” should not be the goal of education according to Steve. Rather his vision has us learning about the consistent themes in history, alongside the different schools of thought and their takes on the causes of the big problems of life. It is exactly this that is at the heart of a significant education, as opposed to a utilitarian education that is meant to be accessible by the largest number of people while being effective at disseminating specific knowledge deemed valuable to the economy.
Steve assumes that his readers might label him as one who is “anti-science” He is not. However when teaching science, Steve warns us not to squander an opportunity to teach history. All scientific advancement’s have come to us in a historical context. Without the greater historical understanding of the sciences, The bigger picture, the deeper thought, the greater value is lost to pragmatics.
Among other things Steve laments the damaging effects of media to the problem of education. Neil Postman decades ago suggested that television makes us dependent on quickly changing images and shortens our attention spans, making us less capable learners; That concern finds the same arguments today about smartphones. We are a soundbite and highlight real culture now, which makes it increasingly difficult to even focus enough to learn holistically. We only seem to learn in bits and pieces now. This information is funnelled all towards the narrow end of our own selfish advancement. This path does not lead to human flourishing.
Steve summarizes his better way which will lead to a better world in the following way:
It is important to have a society of literacy and intellectualism above and beyond the technical, clinical, and utilitarian world of academia, reaching into the world of art, works, community, passion, emotional awareness, and spiritualism. A private society must exist that cares for the preservation of past and future, nurturing both hindsight and foresight (Epimetheus and Prometheus). Such a society aims to reduce mental illness, greed, misery, and aggression by promoting philosophical health and passion for the humanities.
Steve is very convincing, but his book does meander a fair bit, and at times I felt myself wondering where he was going. In some ways it felt a bit like a shot gun blast against all that is wrong in our world especially the later chapters. But the thread of hope remains as he takes us on his historical journey through all the schools of thought. He longs for a better world and is convinced that this world is possible if we would just take the time to learn about it, from all the various views and perspectives. I don’t believe that reading more broadly, avoiding the distractions of our media devices, and becoming less utilitarian about or educational systems will turn the world into a wonderful garden of love void of greed, misery, and aggression. However, I certainly believe these are good places to start! Steve is right that a correct belief or mindset is at the heart of lasting change, humans must do the hard work of the mind, and increasing numbers in the western world are simply not. We are to distracted, to amused, to disjointed and to self-focused to care. In a way this book attempts to call us back to caring about how we understand the world and organize our thoughts.
“I find it fascinating how relativists who say they love the idea of tolerance ultimately reveal themselves to be among the most bigoted”
I must say, I can confirm the veracity of this assertion many times over in my own personal life.
It’s for this reason that Ravi Zacharias gives a blood earnest response to the intolerant vitriol of popular atheist Sam Harris.
The inconsistency of new atheism.
Atheists, Voltaire, Sartre, Nietsche and even Russel were honest and consistent in their views, they wanted liberation from God and a certain form of morality but they understood the bleak horizon that their world view presented them. Voltaire put it well:
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
They knew what they were getting into, the new atheist doesn’t want to think about this. He wants to make absolute moral claims and create meaning and hope on a grand scale, but that’s incompatible with atheism’s framework. Foucault lived the atheist dream, and as he lay dying, his body ravaged by AIDS he said, “there are no solutions, there are no answers, only that it is forbidden to forbid.” at least he was honest.
If your going to belly-ache about evil remember where it leads
It seems to me that most Christian apologists these days are zeroing in on how morality is not compatible with atheism in any meaningful way. Ravi is on to this like a bull dog on a bone! For example Harris comes unglued on Christianity, blaming Christians for everything from slavery to the holocaust leaving just enough room to toss people like Mother Teresa under the bus for their contributions to evil.
Ravi gives no quarter to this talk. He masterfully deconstructs the historical fantasy Harris is engaged in but more than that he evaluates the inconsistency of Atheisms’ moral rant. “I can see no moral frame-work operating in the world” says Harris, we are all just neutrons and protons, just stuff and then he turns around an says “what I see in Christianity is morally condemnable” Well you can’t have it both ways and remain consistent. Noted atheist Bertrand Russell in his day, was pressed with how to distinguish between good and evil. He said that he distinguished the difference between blue and yellow by seeing, and the difference between good and evil by feeling — for Russell it came down to preference. The interviewer then asked him
“Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbours; in other cultures they eat them. Do you have a personal preference, and if so, what is it?
Russell was unsettled, his inability to proclaim a moral absolute was a troubling reality to him, at least he was honest. Modern atheists like Harris and Epstein will usually retort to this with some sort of comment about morality being a matter of common sense, or self-evident truth. Is it? I’m not convinced history gives any support to that view. For Ravi, to assert evil you must assume actual good. if good and evil truly exist, than you must assume moral law and if moral law is true than there must be a moral law giver. In framework where matter alone exists its impossible for there to be objective morality. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Objective moral values do exist. — a point every atheist concedes when they reject God because of all the evil they see in the world. Therefore God exists.
Problems that don’t go away
The more books I read on apologetics the more I see that there are the same basic arguments that just don’t seem to go away, in addition to the problem of morality, atheist’s struggle to find convincing answers for the following:
- The problem of origins. Science teaches that something doesn’t come from nothing. The Christian concludes that there must be a self existing non-physical state that got everything going. But that’s unreasonable for the atheist so the fruitless hunt for an explanation continues.
- The problem of chance. So what are the odds that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance? With the full use of science we are told that the probability is beyond measuring.
- The the absence of ultimate meaning and hope — they don’t exist in the atheist framework. But yet we are wired for them.
- Evolution is not a deal breaker — Belief in a creator does not hinge on how he created.
A better story
Christianity has a better explanation for origins, meaning, morality and hope. That is not in question. The question is could Christianity actually be true? Yes, there are countless reasons to support that conclusion. The problem however, is that when Christianity is embraced one is no longer able to be the centre of their own universe and that is infinitely undesirable for some and so they reject the better story for reasons that will have to suffice.
A look into the future
Zacharias is utterly convinced that “secularism simply does not have the sustaining or moral power to stop Islam” He believes that in the not to distant future America’s choice will have to be between Islam and Christianity! What can be said about this? Is it true? Who knows, I guess we will find out.
If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God
I John 4:2-3
People were acknowledging the deity of Jesus quite readily in the first century. No one had any doubts about that. The things that Jesus accomplished could only be the work of God. What people just could not believe were his claims of humanity! Platonic thought was so strong in that time. It was common knowledge that God and human don’t mix. The spirit is good the flesh is not. Therefore Jesus could not be a for real flesh and blood human. John does his best to counter any story that minimizes or denies Jesus humanity. Any one who talks like that, John says, is nothing but bad news. How times have changed. Now, in our sophisticated modern world virtually everyone is willing to acknowledge the humanity of Jesus, but for sure not his deity.