Featured Article for This Friday's Lunch Discussion
The Department of Health and Human Services says it has granted a second 90-day extension to a contract it has with the University of California at San Francisco that requires UCSF to make “humanized mice.”
These creatures are made by implanting mice with human tissues taken from late-term aborted babies.
The HHS's multi-million-dollar contract with UCSF that requires the construction of these “humanized mice” creates a demand--driven by federal tax dollars--for tissue taken from late-term aborted babies. According to an estimate it has published on its website, the National Institutes of Health (which is a division of HHS) will spend $95 million this fiscal year alone on research that--like UCSF's "humanized mouse" contract--uses human fetal tissue.
Philosophers ponder the meaning of life. At least, that is the stereotype. When I risk admitting to a stranger that I teach philosophy for a living and face the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’, I have a ready response: we figured that out in the 1980s, but we have to keep it secret or we’d be out of a job; I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. In fact, professional philosophers rarely ask the question and, when they do, they often dismiss it as nonsense.
It was an idea long consigned to the dustbin of scientific history. ‘Like a virgin consecrated to God,’ Francis Bacon declared nearly 400 years ago, it ‘produces nothing’. It was anti-rational nonsense, the last resort of unfashionable idealists and religious agitators. And then, late last year, one of the world’s most renowned philosophers published a book arguing that we should take it seriously after all. Biologists and philosophers lined up to give the malefactor a kicking. His ideas were ‘outdated’, complained some. Another wrote: ‘I regret the appearance of this book.’ Steven Pinker sneered at ‘the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker’. The Guardian called it ‘the most despised science book of 2012’. So what made everyone so angry?
The thinker was Thomas Nagel, the book was Mind and Cosmos, and the idea was teleology. In ancient science (or, as it used to be called, natural philosophy), teleology held that things — in particular, living things — had a natural end, or telos, at which they aimed. The acorn, Aristotle said, sprouted and grew into a seedling because its purpose was to become a mighty oak. Sometimes, teleology seemed to imply an intention to pursue such an end, if not in the organism then in the mind of a creator. It could also be taken to imply an uncomfortable idea of reverse causation, with the telos — or ‘final cause’ — acting backwards in time to affect earlier events. For such reasons, teleology was ceremonially disowned at the birth of modern experimental science.
The easy question came first, a few months after my son turned four: ‘Are we real?’ It was abrupt, but not quite out of nowhere, and I was able to answer quickly. Yes, we’re real – but Elsa and Anna, two characters from Frozen, are not. Done. Then there was a follow-up a few weeks later that came just as abruptly, while splashing around a pool: ‘Daddy, why are we real?’
I don’t have a ready answer this time, partly because I don’t really understand the question. Four-year-olds ask Why? a lot – the stereotype is true, maybe even an understatement – and they use Why? ambiguously. Like little Aristotles with their legs dangling from their car seats, their Whys are ‘said in many different ways’. Sometimes these Whys even fall under neat, Aristotelian types: they might be asking what the point of something is, or how it’s made, or even asking for a criterion. Usually, you can feel your way by context.
But sometimes, like now, I have no idea what my son is asking me to explain. He’s learning about the world, and learning how to ask questions about it at the same time, so there are at least two moving targets. My only clue so far is that he previously wondered whether he was real, which made it sound like he was trying to sort things into real and not-real. So maybe the follow-up is a request for a definition: What makes something real? What distinguishes the real things from the unreal ones? If so, this could be a bit awkward. ‘Why’-questions at their most straightforward correspond to ‘Because’-answers, where the ‘because’ refers to something other than what we’re trying to explain. You’re cranky because you haven’t eaten; we’re driving because we need to get food; this food is healthy because it has the nutrients you need. But when the question is ‘Why am I real?’, what other thing is there to fill in the blank after ‘because’?
I have a professional interest in this query. The notion of reality is one of the most basic and most abstract ones we have. Raising questions about the very idea of what’s real has led to some of the most important, classic work in philosophy – from Parmenides to Aristotle to Avicenna to Aquinas to Immanuel Kant. It also, however, has a tendency to produce the kind of frustrating, easily caricatured work that leads people – including many philosophers – to wonder whether certain questions are simply pointless or even illegitimate, and to adopt a kind of skeptical stance towards abstract questions in general. That attitude can be helpfully critical, but it can also be facile and self-stultifying, and it likes to masquerade as pragmatic good sense.
So how does that kind of question get started? It’s easy enough to notice when a child starts confronting questions about good and bad, right and wrong. That’s one reason for thinking that these questions have good credentials. But when, if ever, does reality itself become an object of curiosity, or puzzlement, or wonder – and why?
Modern feminism has spent the last century fighting to give women the freedom to have jurisdiction over their voting rights, their ambitions, and their bodies. Some of the movement has done great good. But some of it has done great harm by reinforcing a common and problematic idea: that women’s rights ought to be understood in terms of property rights. “Owning your own body” seems like a natural enough freedom—who wouldn’t want it?—but in fact, it delivers a reductionistic conception of human flourishing that fails both women and the unborn.
The protesters are already positioned when she pulls up in her rental car. One lurches at women approaching the clinic, rosary beads dangling from her outstretched palm. Another hands patients tiny fetus dolls that match their skin color.
The doctor tries to ignore them. There are demonstrators at every abortion clinic and they’re all the same, she thinks: a nuisance. In Northern California, where she lives, a man yells, “Don’t take the blood money,” as she arrives at work.
At least here, in Dallas, the protesters mostly stay on the sidewalk. The doctor slips inside the mirrored glass doors of the clinic — one of the busiest abortion facilities in the United States.
ive years ago, I praised John S. Dickerson’s first book, The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker, 2013), and quoted his good pastoral advice: “When someone is addicted to alcohol, pornography, marijuana, or illicit heterosexual sex, we tell them (if we are scripturally sound) they need Christ’s power to overcome that lifestyle. When someone from those same tribes comes to Christ, we expect them to be drawn to their former way of life. We expect that learning to walk with Christ will include some stumbles, falls, and retreats into those old entrenched patterns.”
He applied that to the LGBT debate: “A person must come to Christ, and then Christ can free them from their slavery. … Many evangelicals swap the cart and the horse—expecting homosexual unbelievers to overcome their behavior without the power of the cross or the Holy Spirit. … No matter what tribe an unbeliever belongs to, we should lovingly expect them to act like pagans until they come to Christ. … As with any tribe, don’t focus on changing behavior. Focus on changing relationship to God through Christ. … Don’t be surprised when you are hated and misunderstood about this issue. You will be.”
Now Dickerson argues that six trends are reshaping American culture. “My goal in stressing them is not to frighten anyone,” he says. “Rather, I believe God has called and appointed us into this precise moment in history, so that we can do great things for His Church and His Kingdom.” Here’s his summary of what we face. —Marvin Olasky
Toxic to Spiritual Growth and Ruinous to Political Health
When I was barely seventeen, I left everyone I knew in the world for the first time in my life and packed it off to summer school at William and Mary, 1,500 miles away. I hadn’t been in my strange new surroundings a week when something happened that lifted me high in my young eyes (very young, since I had graduated from high school a year early). In working my way through the cafeteria’s dinner line, I had forked four slices of ham onto my plate, thinking I had only three—and paying for only three at the register. In the middle of my lonely meal, I discovered my error and promptly returned to the checkout woman to correct it. She was so visibly amazed and delighted at my punctilious honesty that I basked in the glow of her smile for days. What a fine young man I was, after all!
Psychology professors from Claremont McKenna, Yale and Berkeley have just published a study that should be “disconcerting to those interested in promoting an accurate understanding of evolution.” Specifically, they’ve identified an insidious factor that has crept into science films and videos, undermining the ability of viewers to be good Darwinists.
Awe is the culprit, they say. All those jaw-dropping nature documentaries have been messing with our minds.
Most wildlife shows are packaged with the usual Darwinian narrative, spoken in an authoritative tone that isn’t supposed to be questioned. But it seems that wildlife itself, in stunning visual display, is conveying a different message — more powerfully, in fact.
Everyone is awed by life, and experiences that accentuate this awe seem to affect us, whether or not we believe in God. The new study suggests that these experiences affirm a sense of faith in theists and a sense of purpose-like natural order in atheists and agnostics, both of which cause problems for instructors wanting to churn out good Darwinists.
I want to make plain to all the graduates today that, if you are a Christian, you will spend the rest of your life on this earth with a spiritual condition that may be called sacred schizophrenia.
The second definition of schizophrenia in my dictionary, after the medical one, is “a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.” That’s what I mean by schizophrenia. In calling it sacred I mean that it is a condition brought about by the Holy Spirit. It is not a perfect condition, but it is a holy condition. A sacred schizophrenia. https://world.wng.org/2017/05/a_sacred_schizophrenia
What should the role of Christians in politics be? More people than ever are asking that question. The historical Christian positions on social issues don’t match up with contemporary political alignments.
Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel.” Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. American churches in the early 19th century that did not speak out against slavery because that was what we would now call “getting political” were actually supporting slavery by doing so. To not be political is to be political.
America’s founders certainly believed in individual liberty, but they believed that liberty happens within a shared community. They began the Constitution with the phrase, “We the People.” We are all one thing — a people, a nation, a collective.
That people shares a moral order — rules that are true for all people in all times and that govern us in our freedom. Among them, for example, is the idea that all people are created equal.
How fitness classes provide the meaning that religion once did.
Institutions like CrossFit and SoulCycle are offering their students more than just a chance to lose weight or tone up. They function, ter Kuile argues, like religions.
“People come because they want to lose weight or gain muscle strength, but they stay for the community,” he said. “It’s really the relationships that keep them coming back.”
Of course, these spaces are themselves defined not just by their spiritual role but by their economic one. At up to $40 a class, places like SoulCycle and CrossFit often cater to a particular demographic: urban millennials with high-paying jobs and disposable incomes, the same group that tends to identify as religiously unaffiliated.
What is said today about ‘fear’ of the Lord in Biblical language is true,” Father Ernest Fortin told his graduate students at Boston College. “It does bear the meanings ‘awe’ and ‘reverence.’ We shouldn’t forget, though, that the word also means fear.” This was the mid-nineties, when John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor had recently re-presented the Church’s teaching on moral law. There are “intrinsically evil acts” that “radically contradict the good of the person made in his image,” wrote the pope. “They are [evil] always and per se.”
Despite the number of Christian fellowships that daily set up their tables on Sproul and the churches that dot the outskirts of campus, our university is a secular one. Charles Taylor’s tome, A Secular Age asserts that our entire age is secular, not because we have rejected religion outright (the active, growing fellowships and churches would demonstrate otherwise), but rather our age is secular because belief in the divine is only one option out of many options that we can choose from.
The greatest threat to Christianity is found not in the arguments of the atheist but in the assumptions of the apathetic. The “new apathy” is a more dangerous threat than the new atheism.
The “new atheism” fad of Richard Dawkins, Samuel Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and dozens of other ornery antitheists created a lot of noise over the God Question, reaching its peak in the late 2000s. The loud, kaleidoscopic festival of fallacies served up by these commentators attracted a lot of media attention. Westerners had never had such a public and prominent debate on God’s existence, and millions were seduced by superficially intriguing yet ultimately facile questions like “who created God?” and “is a prime mover not equally as plausible as a giant plate of pasta floating in space?”
There is a dimension of truth which most of us have tragically lost and need to recover, a dimension that cannot be put into words and sentences, though words and sentences can be used to suggest it.
All premodern societies had this other dimension, even the ones who were very far from having the propositional truth, the Christian content of revelation. This other dimension is a vision, a perspective, a habit of seeing rather than a specific thing seen. If we do not have this habit—this vision—then our theology will not sink much deeper than on a conscious, rational level.