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Contemporary Biases of History

Every culture must have a history to support it, or it is unsustainable.   This is the great American, and even pan-Western problem of the moment. We no longer believe in a history which supports who we are.   Is this because we are bad, or is it because we are starting with the wrong end point and writing out the truth?  This means we are destined to become something else. We are unsustainable. Contemporary American historians are obsessed with our sins. Across the West historians are obsessed with the evils of colonialism, imperialism, and most of all the supposed evil of Christianity. More than anything else, a broad swath of elites would like to write a new post-Christian chapter, but Christianity just won’t go away! The unique feature of Christian civilization is that we feel guilty and say we’re sorry about the past. This makes us particularly vulnerable to other civilizations who have no such difficulties with guilt. Moreover, we believe at some fundamental level in telling the truth, which again is not a problem that has historically encumbered other civilizations. Therefore, when someone wants to tell the evils of our history, we acknowledge rather than obfuscate. On the other hand, when a Westerner wants to tell the dark side of someone else’s history, we can’t make any traction — foremost because too often those in the West writing the story would prefer we were something other than we are.

These biases ultimately make their way in our textbooks, our media and our public consciousness. Gone are the days when children thought and were taught that being American was something special. Here are the days when we agree with those who hate us that we deserve to be subjugated. There are several major themes of bias that you need to be aware of when you read or listen to anything from the Western intellectual establishment. These are the things that you cannot say. And remember, anything that is proscribed in public culture is likely proscribed because it is true. Dare to Discover.

Pro-Communist Bias. The pro-communist bias is very strong throughout all textbooks. It would take multiple posts to even scratch the surface of the mistelling of history on this account. Of course it does not show up by making Stalin out to be a wonderful man — because that would be indefensible. It shows up at every other point. First, keep in mind that the total body count of Communism in the 20th century staggers anything in history: 100 million dead. It was not a Stalin problem. It was a problem with the entire system. Wherever it went it brought poverty and murder. Few textbooks will highlight the famine that occurred in the first years of Lenin’s reign, much less how Herbert Hoover saved millions of them from starvation. Most perpetuate the myth of “good Lenin” and “bad Stalin.” In fact, both have their body counts. Lenin was a revolutionary without any scruple for human life who wanted Communist revolution to dominate the world. The entire story of the 20th century after WWI should be told in light of this Communist desire to take over the world. If you take this orienting view it all makes perfect sense. Instead we are treated to “home-grown” revolutions in places like Cuba and Algeria, which were really fomented by the Soviet Union. We are lacerated about Vietnam and the “domino theory” but not told that after we pulled out, the result was the Cambodian “killing fields.” We are told that McCarthy was a terrible demagogue, but not that he was actually trying to stop real Communists who had infiltrated the very highest levels of government. If any of this is news to you, the whole truth might make you hate your education. The “Black Book of Communism” is the backup for the real scholars story about Communism, the one you’re not allowed to tell. You can also try Richard Pipes History of Communism for a quick introduction.

Pro-Islamic bias. It is hard to believe that is actually possible, but yes, the pro-Islamic bias in our texts is even worse the the pro-Communist bias. This may be because there are actually knowledgeable vested parties who were witness to the 20th century and so you at least have to mitigate the story somewhat. It is not the case with Islamic bias. I recently have reviewed several major world and western civilization textbooks. They were all revised post-911 by Islamic scholars with a clear agenda of making Islam look good, to the point where it would almost be humorous. In one, it is emphasized what a good family man Mohammad was because he stayed with his first wife until her death. Of course they neglect to mention all of those other wives and concubines. In all of them, there is barely even any discussion of the Muslim conquest. It is almost as if Islam just shows up and everyone is thrilled to convert. Then we are told things like the defeat of the Moors at Tours by Charles “The Hammer” was really just a “seasonal raiding party” not intended on conquest. I’m sure even the Muslims are at home laughing at that one. We are told of the foibles of the crusades but never told that they were in large part a defensive enterprise against jihad intended to conquer all of Europe. Does this excuse the mistakes? No, but we are never even told of things like the Muslim practice of taking Christian children from their parents and forcing them to convert and serve in the army. You’ll find a completely unbalanced portrayal complete with stories of advanced Muslim culture, kindness to Jews and Christian, and singing Kum Ba Yah. It’s really more befitting a religious history than a secular history, but try any random Western book on Islam and it’s all there. Paul Fregosi’s “Jihad in the West”, and anything by Ibn Warraq, Bat Ye’or are strong scholarly treatments, while Robert Spencer’s books are a nice treatment for laymen.

Pro-Native bias is another major “anti-Western” theme. Under this bias, you will be treated to the “noble savages” who all around the world were much better off before encountering the West. Instead of a story about about how the Spanish ended the Aztec civilization which ripped the still beating hearts out of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in gruesome orgies of human sacrifice, you will learn about what a bad guy Cortez was. It seems almost unconscionable. You will not be told about the practice of slavery among the Northwest Indian tribes, and if you are, they will go to great lengths to convince you it was a much better practice in some way that slavery in the south. In general you will not be told that slavery is a near universal human institution, which was generally only abolished by the rise of Christianity. In general, as wave after wave of barbarians invade civilization, you will not be given a real portrait of how pagan these guys are, and how much Christianity did to civilize them. The Vikings did, after all, stop their practice of impaling babies on their swords for sport. By not telling us how different they were from us we fail to learn how much Christian though did to civilize the world. Try and find a chapter on Chinese foot binding or Indian funeral pyres, or on the role played by missionaries in establishing most of the world’s written languages. Try and find anything about how un-Civilized even the civilized Romans and Greeks were. You will not be told much about the horrors of the Coliseum and the gladiators, the extensive practice of chattel slavery, or their sexual mores. I highly recommend Discovering God by Rodney Stark to get you started decoding this mess.

What is the unifying theme in all of these stories? Revulsion for the Christian foundation of the West and the desire to prop up anything that makes it look bad. Whatever your religious background, once you see this theme, it jumps out easily because the dots are too easy to connect. Dare to Discover.

January 23, 2009   No Comments

How You Can Be Deceived

The instruments of the Academy have been designed to promote discovery of a factual and authoritative view of the world, and we should recognize that many of its members are working hard to do just that, recognizing the limitations of human knowledge.

Unfortunately the traditional ideas of academic discourse and freedom have come under some attack of late, while a growing minority who believe that their cause warrants them breaking the rules, will actually intentionally mislead you. Most are simply passing on the story from someone else who misled them using one of the methods discussed below. Therefore, this post is not about assigning bad motives to people — always assume the best, and always engage someone as they present themselves. If they present themselves as an open-minded thinker, then approach them as such, and call them on it when they fail to be. This post is about helping you identify when you are being misled and how.

There are, however always those within any group more committed to an agenda than to the truth. In the Academy, just as in the world, there are those who deny the one real and obvious answer, and look for any alternative. Some answers to questions are ruled out of the discussion a priori or before evidence is even gathered. This can lead to a phenomenon something like “We know the answer to 2+2 can’t be 4, so what could it be”? In other words, the obvious answer is considered false for personal or metaphysical reasons, therefore we have to keep looking for an alternative answer — which we may never find. For example a psychologist might believe that discipline of children is bad, therefore no problem that your child has could be attributed to lack of discipline.

The first major sign of being misled is the use intimidation. A simple example is in rhetoric like “every thinking person believes X.” When you hear this kind of thing, it’s a kind of intimidation isn’t it? Be forewarned. They are actually trying to get you NOT to think, and just accept what they are saying. This is an attempt to appeal to your pride. You wouldn’t want to be a non-thinking person would you? A closely related approach is demonization of alternatives. It’s one thing to critique an argument, even severely, but it’s entirely different to make the alternatives seem immoral, stupid, etc. Usually textbooks at least will avoid these very obvious techniques , but professors and peers may use them. If you see this in a text, or hear it from someone, it’s a red card. The basic thing you need to know is that if someone is trying to intimidate you, they are trying to keep you from the truth. The truth speaks for itself.

Most of the ways you will be misled are subtle because they are designed to be. A blatant error is easy to detect. Therefore, the actual facts you are presented are almost always facts. The issue is in how the facts are assembled. You will find that this works in both news media and in academic information. Here are several areas to watch for.

1. What is presented. By choosing which facts to present, a very different portrait comes out. This can be either by which people are presented, how much space they are given, or what facts about the people presented. Take the “founding fathers” of America. There are a lot them. It is easy to promote a viewpoint by giving more space and emphasis to the ones that most represent your point of view, and ignoring or downplaying others.

2. Assignment of cause and effect. The causes and effects of anything are usually complex. Therefore by assigning a cause or effect, you control the meaning of the event. This can be done implicitly by saying something like “After the American Revolution there was widespread poverty.” If you say this, it makes it sound like the primary result of the American Revolution was poverty. Or as a cause: “As taxes increased, so did civil unrest.” In this way the only cause for the unrest is supposed to be the taxes. By assignment of cause and effect you manage the story, which is the ultimate goal. If you fail to connect the dots, or connect the wrong dots, it is misleading.

3. Use of labeling. Nobody wants to adopt a view that is considered extreme. Labeling is a way to make one group seem like outsiders and others seem mainstream. Scientist Michael Ruse argued against Christian William Dembski. This factual isn’t it? But Michael Ruse is presented as mainstream by being called a scientist, while Dembski is presented as biased by being labeled Christian.

4. Selection of “experts.” A text that sounds neutral can mislead you by using non-neutral “experts” to make its real points. When combined with labeling techniques this is especially effective. “‘Evolution is fact’ said director Michael Ruse. Christians such as Dembski counter this claim. ” Now the article is making the point that Evolution is a fact, while seeming to remain “unbiased”

5. Inventing a controversy. For example, labeling someone “embattled” can actually make them embattled, whether they are currently or not. “Embattled President Obama fought off harsh criticism.” The author or his friends may be the only one criticizing the President, but nevertheless, he’s now under fire. The more we promote the “embattled” state of the president, the more embattled he actually becomes.

6. Ignore opposing views. This is the opposite of inventing the controversy. By ignoring the opposition you create the appearance that something is undisputed.

7. Misrepresenting the scale. Similar to the invented controversy, we can misrepresent the relative scale of a problem. “Homelessness is widespread in the United States” is a true statement, but it conveys something that may be misleading. Perhaps it’s actually trending downwards. Or perhaps by comparison to other countries the situation in the United States is much better.

8. Equivocation. This is one of the most common, and not hard to detect once you understand it. Basically it equates two things that are not at all comparable. “Hitler and Kennedy both had a cult of personality” is a complete misrepresentation because it equates Hitler’s state enforced cult, with people that loved Kennedy, and furthermore makes Kennedy seem similar to Hitler, which is not the case!

9. Unanswered Criticism. The problem with severe criticism is not any individual critique, it is the net effect which communicates that “there is nothing good about X.” Instead of presenting the other positives about whatever it is, or the we are barraged us with negative facts.

All of these methods are used in combination to make good seem evil and evil seem good. By exalting that which is bad and tearing down that which is good, the two become reversed and we find ourselves fighting on the wrong team. There are many more “logical fallacies” and In fact, most of these techniques overlap and can be used in combination. You can study the rules of argumentation and rhetoric to learn even more but I wanted to show you some of the most basic ways that those who are appearing to be completely reasonable and factual can totally mislead you.

December 23, 2008   No Comments

Beware the False Dichotomies

One strategy of the enemy in academic argumentation is the false dichotomy: two choices exist, at either end of the spectrum, and you are forced to choose one. But what if neither one is right? Or what if both are right? Consider these examples:

1. Philosophy- empiricist or rationalist?

2. Economics- capitalist or socialist?

3. Psychology- nature or nurture?

“I’d like Both, Please.”

Most academic disciplines have false dichotomies throughout the discipline. Certain topics have existed for years, and you have to take sides… usually to your own detriment. Some topics, such as free will versus determinism, are truly mutually exclusive: the choice of one logically excludes the other. In this case, it is worth searching for an answer. In other cases, the search is a trick because you find yourself needing elements of both, pressured to choose one, and facing penalties for either choice. To avoid the excesses of one extreme, such as empiricism which easily slides into skepticism, you choose rationalism. But then you are labeled unscientific, since all of modern science is based on empiricism. The same occurs with capitalism versus socialism. If you choose capitalism because you believe in laissez-faire, then you can be attacked for being anti-regulation or pro-greed. To the Academy, one choice is loaded. You don’t want to choose socialism, however, because it is a quick slide into communism from there. What do you do?

The easy answer is, you say, “I’d like both, please.” But you can’t really do this. For some reason, academicians love to polarize themselves, and you will have professors separating themselves into little cliques based on which end of the spectrum they choose. There will be very few middle-of-the-roader’s simply because they will be rejected by both endcaps, and because colleagues will argue that they aren’t being logically consistent: if they were, they’d choose a side. The one good thing about having the dichotomy is that it keeps the argument going. And to some extent, it may do it better than if there were multiple, competing factions (i.e. think Democrat versus Republican… very few vote for a third party). But whether or not it is easier does not represent whether it is CORRECT. More accurately, people do fall in the middle of philosophical spectrums. And it is healthier and more interesting to have more parties, more competing hypotheses.

Scratch asking for both… pick the side which has the most truth to it, or the least conformity within, and go there. You can try to distance yourself from the extreme once you’re in.

“I’d like a Third Option, Please.”

Other debates are deceptive because you feel the real “truth” is not represented in either position. The false dichotomy is false because a third option is not represented. Consider these examples:

1. Psychology- dualist or monist?

2. Biology- gradualist or punctuated equilibrium?

3. Anthropology- psychoanalytic or social construction?

As in the previous false dichotomies, you face the chance that one choice is more loaded than the other, or that there are penalties for choosing either side. For example, if you are a psychologist and choose “dualism” over “monism,” then you are ignoring biological psychology’s research concerning the brain’s causal control over behavior. However, if you choose vice-versa, then you are ignoring social psychology’s research concerning behavior causing certain brain states to come about. And it is not a false dichotomy in the sense of logical exclusivity—the two choices are mutually exclusive. But why do only two choices exist? Why isn’t there a third option? Is there anything which dictates that the mind-body connection must be explained by choosing between one entity (the body) or two entities (mind, body)? What if man is a tri-partite being? Or what if something else controls his entities, that is not part of them? What if there is no entity at all? Some philosophers, like Berkeley, thought it was possible for only one entity to exist—but the mind, not the body. So you see that this false dichotomy is very tricky.

A similarly difficult, but very prevalent, dichotomy is Darwinian theory: gradualist or punctuated equilibrium? Currently the two field of evolution (the former headed by Richard Dawkins and the latter headed by the late Stephen Jay Gould) are rivals. Some scientists believe it is possible to reconcile them, but no-one has yet. But the choice obscures that other theories are possible. Some cutting-edge scientists are neo-Lamarckian. And they face almost as much persecution as the creation scientists! There is creation science, which posits no evolution at all. And there is Intelligent Design which precludes macroevolution (stellar, chemical, etc.) And what if there is still other explanations to come? You would think that modern scientists would be open to the idea of a competing (better) theory since that’s what the scientific method exists for. But again, the false dichotomy precludes third options.

In these types of situations, because neither option is redemptive, you will ultimately have to argue for another option.   Taking a side is not as beneficial as in the “Both, please” scenario because the choices are mutually exclusive (or almost). So it is hard to stake a “middle of the road” position between the two, nor would you really want to if you believe they are both false.   Take some time to resurrect third parties within the academic debate (such as Lamarck, who was tossed out years ago), and find out why. Find out why they were excluded from the table of options, and locate any disciples or skeptics who admit that third options are possible. If you look hard enough, in almost any field, you can find Outsiders. Usually those outsiders are not compatible with themselves, but they were all expelled and thus are fighting the same battle.   As you pursue the third option, you may eventually find yourself outside of the academic debate, however, you should start from within it.  One way to do this is to examine the arguments of those who have previously been “expelled”   They may have data that you need to open the door.

Always, always use the data from the two camps you are disassociating from. Make the point of departure your interpretation of the data, not the data themselves. Try and think of why the reigning paradigm doesn’t address the facts best, or why some facts seem not to fit in at all, and offer something better. As Christians, this is a good chance to pray and see what revelation God will give you. Sometimes it can really be an eye-opener, and a professor who is bold enough to see it will reward you.

December 23, 2008   No Comments

Debunking Modern Philosophy

The canon of Western Philosophy is interesting because it forms a pretty clear story.  The early Western philosophers, the ancient Greeks, were rationalistic and deductive.  The medieval/renaissance philosophers were basically Catholic theologians.  The modern philosophers were empirical, skeptical, and secular.  The late modern philosophers were atheist and starting to toy with relativism.  The most recent philosophers are postmodern, which means they are hard to categorize but are generally relativist, deconstructionist, and anti-modern.  Some continue in the atheist tradition but some are spiritual; many are anti-West.

So the general trend of Western philosophy has been from metaphysical and rationalistic to anti-metaphysics and empirical.  Or, essentially “religious” to non-religious.  The good news is, for the Christian philosopher, that the new postmodern landscape provides a good context for religious discussion to re-enter.  Because philosophers are pluralistic, they may tolerate new systems.  If the theologian can form his arguments in a non-religious way, his ideas may be welcome.

This brings us to the idea of Reconstructing the Ivory Tower.  Centuries of Western philosophy have torn down the Ivory Tower—the majesty of academia—by reducing man to nothing but an ape, irrational, selfish, infinitesimal, and purposeless.  Whereas the ancient humanists gloried in the idea of man, today the idea of humanism is practically extinct (at least, within academic philosophy).  However, the Christian philosopher can rebuild the Ivory Tower by simply playing history in reverse and using old arguments that still have legitimacy.  The key to doing this effectively is to choose secular philosophers who are esteemed by the Academy, locate their defining ideas, and work your way back to orthodoxy.

Here is an example:

1.  Let’s say your professor is a modernist who idolizes classic skepticism, in Hume, for example.  And let’s say he is teaching Humean apologetics for why miracles do not exist—largely based on his prior proofs that natural laws do not exist.  You don’t want to argue against Hume (or your professor) yourself.  You want to use the authority of the Academy. There are several ways to do this, but all of them require finding out who, within the philosophical canon, disagreed with Hume.  There will be some philosophers before him, and some after, who did.  Most likely, the person just before him—who the professor might say logically led to Hume—is the best person to examine because he will have some arguments that imply Humeanism but also some arguments that kept him from believing as Hume himself did.   Start the Reconstruction process by researching backwards.

In this case, the person normally taught before Hume is Locke.  Sometimes professors teach Malebranche or Leibniz just before Hume, but the logical precursor in most textbooks is Locke.  This is a score for you because Locke was a Puritan as well as a philosopher.  Many of his ideas were sound and came directly from his Christian worldview.  While your professor will paint a completely secular portrait of Locke, and even use his idea of tabula rasa (no innate ideas) against metaphysics, you will find out that that is misinterpretation.  Reading Locke’s original works for yourself, such as The Reasonableness of Christianity or Politics and Education, will show you that Locke believed in original sin, total depravity, redemption, and other a priori concepts that oriented man’s personality as well as his place in history.  His tabula rasa theory was confined to the development of human experience—a person’s ability to change over time (i.e. backslide, sanctify) and a person’s need for education (i.e. because he comes out in need of knowledge and moral training).  He also applied it to human sociology—which is why a king was born no “better” than a slave, and why individual citizens deserved the privilege of liberty or self-rule.  The point here is not to wax poetic about Locke, but to reeducate yourself about Hume’s precursor (who was presented inaccurately), and look for anti-Humeanism in his work.  Find out why Locke was an empiricist but still believed in Natural Law.

Also look earlier in history, for people like Ockham who reasoned very similarly to Hume but came out with a very different conclusion.  Search for Aristotle’s concept of causality, and why he chose to reason deductively about politics and laws of nature, instead of empirically (as he did on many other occasions).  But don’t forget to search for succeeding philosophers who also might help you.  In this case, Kant, who is usually taught after Hume, has very helpful arguments against Humeanism (and also was a Christian, who believed in mystical experiences).  Less benignly, logical positivists such as Comte demanded that lawfulness exist.  And many German-influenced philosophers like Nietzsche, Freud, Darwin, and Marx were determinists of other sorts: not only believing in natural law but historical, cultural, individual, or economic “laws.”   These types of thinkers, whom you don’t want to endorse, can be used like “icing on the cake” examples after you have already dismantled Humean skepticism with your other thinkers like Locke, Okham, and Kant (who were all Christians and more reasonable).  The force of your argument will come from cogently unraveling the positions closest in scope to Hume, and then adding some further detractors as if the first weren’t enough.  You could even add in some practical apologetics if you can do it briefly and without religious reference.  In this case, you could talk about Einstein and the Manhattan Project post-Hume basically confirming both the theoretical and practical reliability of natural law.  This will “cover your bases” depending on who or what your professor esteems as authoritative.

What if you don’t know about these other thinkers?  How do you get this kind of information?  Christian apologetics books can be good sources of information, especially if you know the particular thinker and school of thought you are trying to debunk… such as Hume and skepticism.  Definitely check out websites like LeaderU.com and First Things.  First you have to be confident, though, that the answers exist—that the position is bad and needs debunking.  You should see that the Bible says miracles happen, so any philosophy which rules them out, is wrong.  Also get a list of the Western Canon, and briefly research the people before and after to see if they hold clues, as mentioned.  Research other names that come up in the process as possible clues… play detective!  In the history of Western philosophy, it is almost certain that either the ancients or the medieval philosophers will have the answers to the modern questions.  The ancients will have secular apologetics and the medieval philosophers will have theological ones.  But acquaint yourself with a brief history of both so you have an arsenal… the hardest work has probably already been done for you!

You also don’t want to use theological arguments, or catchy things you find in the Christian bookstore because these are largely rationalistic, metaphysical, and deductive.  You want to fight fire with fire, using empirical or skeptical arguments—using Hume against himself if possible.

December 23, 2008   1 Comment

The Nature of Academic Discourse

College students are often frustrated by professors and textbooks that seem to be speaking in a foreign language.   This “foreign language” has both positive and negative aspects.   First, it is important to recognize that it is necessary.   Each academic discipline has its own vocabulary because it is trying to discuss a different part of the intellectual world.   Terms are developed as ways of encapsulating ideas.  In this way such terms are useful because once understood, they simplify the debate because a the concept need not be repeated.   As one becomes more advanced in a discipline an increasing number of advanced terms may be necessary to adequately effectively describe one’s ideas — much like a medical discussion might use very precise terms.

Understanding what the terms denote or literally mean is actually an easier part of entering an academic discipline.   It is  harder is to understand what the terms may connote or imply.  The connotation is built up over time as various publications use them.   For example, the word “Weberian” denotes the thinking of Weber, however his thinking may have a special place within an academic discipline, as compared to say Marx.  Therefore, to say Weberian is could be a way of saying “not Marxist”  or shorthand to refer to the defining idea of Weber.     This is the kind of conversation that one must be initiated into through study and mentoring from others who are in the conversation.

An excellent instructor has the ability to bridge the gap between the non-specialist and the specialist.  They are able to explain the complex ideas which the specialized vocabulary refers to and help you into the conversation.   Some professors do not have this orientation.  They will speak to you in the language they read and write in their technical journals.   This is where the negative side begins to come in.   The Bible says that “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”   Some who enter academia become puffed up by the knowledge and they become more interested in their own thought than in teaching others.     They become proud of their knowledge of  The Christian heart is the opposite — our longing to help others causes us to work hard to communicate clearly and effectively to others who may understand less.    Another related effect is that those who may actually not know that much will bury us in a blizzard of vocabulary in their effort to appear smart.  We read and are confused not because we are dumb, but because what they wrote was confused and confusing.  They use terms imprecisely and in long sentences with long words.    The goal of speaking and writing is to communicate, not to impress, unfortunately, some people become intoxicated by the pride of knowledge and forget this.

In some cases this phenomenon can invade the entire discourse.  A regime of terminology can be built up not for the purpose of helping the discussion, but for the purpose of obfuscating the truth.   One can use very advanced theories and terms which are really just ways of hiding a subversive idea, or the denial of the truth.    In this way they can advance the idea without others detecting it, and also get to look down on others  as less intelligent.    The most brilliant people are able to make the complex simple.    Unfortunately, there seem to be many more who are adroit at making the simple complex so no one can understand it.    It is much easier to make a mess than to clean it up.   And likewise, it is much easier to produce something hard to understand, than it is to understand it.   So do not let yourself become intimidated by  “complex” writing or ideas.   Sometimes it represents your need to study the ideas, sometimes it represents your need to get inside the discourse, and sometimes it represents someone who is trying harder to impress or obfuscate than to communicate.

This street runs both ways, however.  Because academic discourse is designed to contain, manipulate, and sometimes hide complex ideas, we can use it to our advantage.   I remember one literature professor who gave a talk to the English department on “eucharistic sacramentality.”  This was his way of discussing faith in Christ.   More directly though, the ideas that are being discussed are either Godly and edifying or they are not.    “Dialectical materialism” is a way of talking about the atheistic ideal of  Marxism/Communism.   Perhaps you could use “postmodernist idealism” as a way of chipping away at the atheistic assumptions and terrible fruit of “dialectical materialism.”    There is no necessity to use God, Christ or anything else, any more than they are using “Communist” as a way of describing their ideas.     In the academy the discourse remains civil by moving to the ideas behind the popular terms.

You will also find that in order to advance a countervailing idea, it is best to be very limited and specific in your claims.   Find a weak spot and raise a very limited question using strong support.   Then you will be inside of the debate.   When you make broad sweeping claims, you will find yourself outside of the debate and the academy.  You have to engage it where it is and help to push it in the right direction.   Therefore in any discipline, one of your first jobs is to identify what are the primary views.  At least one of them will reflect a very ungodly perspective, and at least one of them will reflect a mildly Godly perspective.  Find where the debate is among them,  renovate the Godly perspective, and enter the field at just the point of discourse.

Unfortunately we live in an era where the historic nature of this discourse and the Academy itself as a place where debate is welcomed are under attack.   Increasingly students and especially professors find themselves handcuffed in what they are able to say.    Darwinism, for example  is an orthodoxy that even to challenge it is considered reason enough to rule you out of court, no evidence needed.    It’s the new faith.   This mindset is  growing in other disciplines as well, which is why groups like the National Association of Scholars and the Historical Society have cropped up to preserve true academic freedom of discourse and thought.

December 21, 2008   No Comments

Humanism

In psychological circles, “humanism” refers to man’s innate goodness.  In contrast to Christian theology, which posits man as a naturally depraved, sinful creature, secular psychology prefers to assume that man is essentially good.  Data interpretation, then, is carefully gerrymandered to protect this claim.

Why secular psychology has taken this route is interesting, since historically psychologists did not generally believe this way.  From the foundation of Freud, psychologists believed man was inherently evil, just as the Bible says.  Darwin actually supplied the teeth to this supposition, since the individual was seen to be the product of selfish genes, looking after only themselves and their survival in a hostile world.  Neither Darwin nor Freud believed in a benevolent Creator, or absolute morality, so the early psychological picture of man was of a beast locked in a cage where he was told to be good but could not be.  His constant falling short caused trouble in his mind, or neurosis, and he tried all his days to live up to something that he couldn’t.  The answer, said Freud, was liberation from this paradigm, or freedom.  Freedom from rules, freedom from societal restraints.  Not advocating will to power as Nietzsche did, Freud still believed in the essence of that reasoning, and aimed in his therapy to set people free from the condemnation they felt, especially about sexuality.  So early psychology, or at least counseling, was in stark opposition to humanism.

Freud’s disciples, however, did not take to this so well.  Adler,  and the Neo-Freudians proposed that Freud was right about a lot of things, but not innate depravity.  The new humanistic psychologists proposed, instead, that man was essentially good but was being corrupted by an evil society, evil influences.  If left alone, he would self-actualize to the highest potential, but plebian influences were foolishly getting in the way and had to be cast down.  Thus the Superman of Nietzsche’s desire was sublimated into a new benevolent form: the Superman of Maslow, who had risen to the top of the hierarchy of needs.  By this time, psychology was becoming more scientific and empirical.  They had no need for the theology and metaphysics of Freud (who was essentially religious and theological, not scientific).  They were seeing the importance of environment and circumstances, and were doubting anything innate such as genes, personality, or “nature,” as having deterministic influence on an individual.  Man could master his environment, become anything he wanted to be.  So went the humanistic psychologists in a new age of progressivism.

Generally, this sentiment caught on.  Distancing itself from Judeo-Christian belief was a goal worthy in itself, thought the secularists, and scientific psychology felt no need to justify the existence of God, sin, evil, choice, accountability, afterlife, or anything of the like.  They could do away with it all simply by announcing that man was built good.  Interestingly, they started using evolution to support this thesis.  Whereas evolution once perfectly justified deviance and immorality, because of the selfish gene and survival of the fittest, now humanistic psychologists found evolutionary support for empathy, altruism, and sacrificial love.  They studied “good” behavior in animals and decided that “bad” behavior was just a glitch in a calculus of what was best for the tribe.  They studied “good” instances of child behavior and decided that distrust and socialization from parents was really what corrupted children.  “Crime” became something abnormal, something to probe, as though foreign to normal human nature.  Everything was turned on its head, and just-so stories were invented to explain trickier situations of how evolution could dictate both altruistic and selfish behavior.

It should be clear to the Christian at this point how humanism, as just one assumption of secular psychology, is able to twist a field around so much.  Everything about authority, morality, and self-direction is polluted if one believes man is essentially good.  Counseling, teaching, and parenting change.  Politics, social programming, and media change.  Everything changes because man is now wise, powerful, and good enough to direct himself.  He still needs freedom, as Freud insisted, and he still needs freedom from rules and constraints.  But he is now able to self-actualize, to become anything he wants to be, to be powerful and healthy and good, just by looking within himself and being unguided.  This is why authority is so evil, and why religion and rules set a society back.  This is why everything traditional needs to change and why scientific elites hold the key to progress.

A Christian in this field is going to have to hold strong against these sentiments and others.  He or she is going to need to have a strong faith that the Fall really did occur, and that sin exists.  Nothing could be more prideful than to say that man is self-sufficient and godlike within.  Nothing could be more devastating to tell to clients bound up in addiction and dysfunction.  A Christian in psychology who can hold fast to the truth of human depravity, and the deceitfulness of our own hearts, is going to have a key to unlocking the interpretation that real psychological experiments reveal all the time.  Just one look at social psychology, with its bystander effect, Milgram experiments, and groupthink—among others—will be enough to convince an undergraduate that human nature is essentially selfish and deceived.  The quest will be to not bury our heads in the sand and let the evidence which so clearly suggests the Truth be overlooked.

December 19, 2008   No Comments

Methodological Naturalism

Psychology, as a science, is built upon methodological naturalism.  Challenge the naturalism, and you can’t be a psychologist.  At least, not in the Academy.  Methodological naturalism means that only empirical data is admissible to support a scientific hypothesis, and that only naturalistic (sensory, visible, testable) conclusions are viable science.  No supernatural allowed.  And no untestable hypotheses, unfalsifiable ideas.

In practice, this sounds good.  Nobody wants the study of human beings, individuals, our behavior, to be fraught with superstition and pseudoscience.  Nobody wants Gary Zukav to qualify as a scientific professional.  However, methodological naturalism does more than just keep phonies out.  It is a cage which locks scientists in.

Scientific psychologists, by embracing naturalism, get into hot water quickly because their conclusions will only be true IF naturalism is truly the case.  If naturalism is not truly the case—human beings have a soul, for instance—then methodological naturalism is unable to lead them to the right conclusions.   Instead, it will nullify true hypotheses and explain away (badly) any suspicious evidence.  This is precisely what we see in various areas of psychological study.  While not ALL psychology is flawed—there is some really great stuff to be learned out there—the methodology is not able to lead us to the answers to big-picture questions.  And psychology naturally gravitates to the big questions: Do we have free will?  Do we have a soul?  Does consciousness exist?  Do innate ideas?  Why do people commit evil acts?  These types of questions are gemstones for psychologists but clearly overlap with religion, or metaphysics.  But metaphysical questions cannot be answered correctly by the scientific establishment.  Not because scientific answers would necessarily be wrong—they would be, if naturalism were correct—but because naturalism is not actually the case.

Most secular psychologists understand this today.  I mean, they understand that their questions are religious and are essentially trying to answer them without appeal to religion, the supernatural, or metaphysics.  Some psychologists even dismiss the possibility of metaphysics altogether—no consciousness, no mental realm, no world of ideas, no morality, no principles which tie existence together.  While these psychologists would probably be the minority, if specifically interviewed, in reality they are only being consistent methodological naturalists. They think they are getting rid of God, sin, evil, souls, afterlives, destiny, tarot cards… and they are.  But they are also, by definition, getting rid of the mind, the will, the emotions, conscience, morality, history, consciousness, and shared existence.  They have to eliminate all these things because they all point to a metanarrative or metaphysical realm–an “upper story” existence where there is no rational way to explain, test, or verify.

Of course most secular psychologists will tell you they believe in at least some of these things, such as the mind and emotions.  But when they get down to it, their philosophy will not allow them to.  “Clearly people have thoughts and emotions,” they will say, but the real value in these thoughts and emotions is whether they will lead to some observable, predictable behavior.  If they don’t, they can be discarded.  Or maybe they don’t even exist!  So went the behaviorist philosophy of Watson and Skinner.  Cognitive psychologists today defend thoughts and emotions, but when it gets down to philosophical questions about whether computers could have consciousness or emotions, the line between human and machine gets blurry.  If thoughts, emotions, and values are reducible to digits in a line of computer code, then they are not innate or “real” in any objective sense.  They are just vestigial or practical, at best.  Biological psychologists get in trouble, similarly, when you probe the mind-body connection.  In their view, thoughts and emotions are just afterthoughts of neurological processing… basically controlled by biology.  If that is the case, then they are determined and not free, so we cannot be accountable for our actions or wise in building our lives upon what we think.  When it gets down to it, every field within psychology ends up philosophizing away the humanity of humanity.  Usually it is only a radical fringe who are seen as extreme within each specialty—the Dennet’s, Chomsky’s, and Skinner’s—but even an undergraduate can see that the extremes are the logical outcomes of the position.  If what they are saying is true, there is no human being, group dynamics, or personality.  Nor is there morality, free will, or soul.  We think there is, or we feel there must be, but we are told that those things are deceptions.  Everyday experience or emotion is not telling us the truth.  This is a very dangerous position for a scientist, who is supposed to be operating on evidence, to take.

Christians who therefore want to be psychologists need to recognize this battle.  They know that science should be the pursuit of truth, and if experiments point to metaphysics or something beyond what can be tested through the senses, then it should be worthwhile to consider it.  But methodological naturalism ensures that we are not free to explore where the evidence leads.  We are only free to explore it as the means and ends bend to “the rules.”   If the rules keep us in the cage, we must stay in the cage.  They assure us that outside the cage is only lies anyway.  This leads to a schizophrenic Truman-show condition where we are told to be happy playing in our room but are always wondering what is outside that room.  If there is nothing really outside, why are we always wondering, feeling that there must be so?

That is the dilemma of being a psychologist, which is why many Christians become counselors instead—where there is more freedom to explore those questions, give metaphysical answers, and affect people’s lives for real (who are normally suffering because of metaphysical questions anyway).  This of course leaves the scientific psychologist establishment and the APA to grow darker and darker, but it is very difficult to live in a world where experiments are designed and data are manipulated, again and again, to work against core beliefs and moral convictions that are so dear to people of faith.

December 19, 2008   No Comments

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology is getting more popular these days, especially as globalism prompts the Western world to open up more to the Non-west. We are getting to be smarter world citizens, and seeing that very important histories parallel our own. And not only are there good stories, but there are tragic ones too… stories of people who have been exploited, enslaved, or just forgotten by the industrialized world. Cultural anthropology aims to insert some justice into this situation, and bring world cultures to light in a more fair way.

This is a noble goal for many reasons. If we are to know the truth about history–even who we are–we need to know what has happened in the whole earth. As Christians, we want to have God’s perspective on the world, which includes the Third World and forgotten peoples. For no people group is beyond His knowledge or His touch. As we have learned about them, we have cared about them. And the world missionary movement has exploded like never before because we feel a burden to reach out to others far from us. No longer afraid of foreign looks or ways, Christians can partner with cultural anthropology to learn more about the people they are trying to help. We can be better “salt and light” if we know who it is we are reaching, and what their needs and beliefs are.

That said, cultural anthropology from an academic standpoint is a tricky endeavor. It is tricky because most of cultural anthropology is anti-Western and anti-Christian. Many of the founders of the field and activists today are looking to propagate Western guilt and overturn Western ways—whether in parenting, gender, polity, or other codes of conduct. It can be difficult to separate the facts from the interpretations.

Take Margaret Mead’s foundational work on the Samoans, for example. Mead was dedicated to her profession and had a real love for the Samoans. But she was decidedly anti-West and interpreted all her data (mostly qualitatively gathered) to say that Samoan ways were better than American ways. She based her conclusion on a Freudian worldview which condemned Western parenting for creating neurotic children. Today, Jean Liedloff is the baton-carrier for Mead’s work, basically propagating the same ideas. The respect for Bali and the native cultures she studies is tarnished by the political import she brings in to interpret. While personally appealing, her work has turned the parenting literature in Western society upside-down. And it has misleadingly led people away from helpful Western values.

The Freudian paradigm is one of two deceptive worldviews within academic cultural anthropology. If you do not want to be Freudian (or neo-Freudian, more accurately), your other choice is social constructionism. Social constructionism asserts that people are the way they are because of culturally constructed values, such as education or peer pressure. Cultures are not innately anything, or the result of psychologically innate needs (as Freud said); instead they are relative, indeterminate, changeable. This “nurture” side of the spectrum gets off into the weeds too, however, because it provokes you to think that everything about culture is just smoke and mirrors—it looks like the customs, taboos, and roles are meaningful, but they really aren’t. Change a couple variables in the equation, and the outcome is different. The scary conclusion to this paradigm is that cultures can be changed, even engineered—so perhaps we should take advantage of that. Whereas Freudians see value (sometimes too much) in a culture’s original state, Social Constructionists are progressive and want to see everyone come to a common, global, advanced image. Individual anthropologists may nuance their perspectives along this line, but the spectrum is accurate, generally speaking, and the two camps are the only real options the Academy recognizes at this time.

As a Christian then, cultural anthropology is a fun but tricky field. As a social science, there is not as much pressure to quantitatively prove your theories. (Although statistics and data analysis are required). Much research is based on qualitative methods such as surveys, anecdotes, and existing icons/artifacts. But there is still pressure to interpret data in one of two ways, both of which can be pretty extreme, and neither of which is particularly appealing. Biblically, God portrays cultures as being originally fragmented by the Dispersion at Babel, and polluted or corrupted by sin. Romans 1 is a brief overview of the fallen process, and why cultural degradation including sexual perversion and idol worship is so common in unevangelized nations. This “big picture” explanation throws much light on why we see what we see when we study ancient or native cultures, but it is entirely left out of the academic picture because it is politically incorrect. Also, God paints cultures as unegalitarian—different cultures contribute different things to the world scene, and not all are equally favorable or helpful. In fact, both Old Testament and New Testament use strong language concerning the believer’s distance from irreligious practices/beliefs. This is not an excuse for personal prejudice or stereotype (since God’s Word also condemns partiality and discrimination, even against aliens or unevangelized people). But it does mean we should weigh carefully the beliefs and practices of others, not equating them as all equally believable, good, or beautiful. Discernment should be tactful but firm.

With these things in mind, a Christian can find much worth in cultural anthropology. Your professors will may be more conforming in their anti-conformity than they think: the non-western dress and shoes, native jewelry, masks and totems in their office, etc. But not disclaiming what they have found, the Christian can gain a knowledge and respect for other cultures that the general populace is not privy to. And this knowledge can be constructively used for the Kingdom as long as one is so inclined. It is certainly of God that we open our eyes to one another, globally, and see what He has always seen.

We recommend reading “Discovering God:  The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief” for a serious academic treatment of comparative religion.   Stark is one of the world’s leading sociologists of religion, and has written a heavily researched book which will give you a strong background in different kinds of religion, areas where the atheistic presuppositions have biased the science, and the forgotten history of the subject of anthropology.   A much lighter treatment of the subject which would still give you ideas to work with would be “Eternity in their Hearts” by missionary Don Richardson.  Richardson touches briefly on theory, but spends most of his time looking at a number of tribes and how their view of religion may have been more than just “mythology.”

December 19, 2008   8 Comments

Physics

The universe is an astounding thing. The more insight we get into it, the more we all marvel. Physics is responsible for our glimpse into the universe, and for our knowledge about natural laws and forces. It is considered the ground of “hard sciences” because the laws and forces uncovered influence systems involved in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, and ecology. The intrigue of physics, then, is its connectedness to data and mathematics… highly provable and certain discoveries. The sad part, for the Christian, is that despite the groundedness of physics, theorists still find ways to import religious ideas into their research. Especially in origin science and cosmology.

If you go to a popular bookstore today and look at the physics section, you will discover this for yourself. Among the dozen physics textbooks or “Cliffs Notes” type manuals, you will also see about a hundred religious-type titles… Reinventing the Sacred, The Demon-Haunted World, At Home in the Universe, etc. Usually the two perspectives represented among these titles will be 1) ardent atheist, or 2) New Age. While it seems funny that atheists and New Agers could be compatible in such a hard science, in reality they tolerate each other rather well. As long as no-one spouts a monotheistic (organized) religion, everyone gets along. Academic physicists seem to choose either atheist or New Age because they are safe metaphysically, and because their deep study of the natural world prompts them to place responsibility for such magnificence somewhere.  If their marveling deems blind chance as the cause, they become an atheist. If their marveling leads to mystical self-organization, they become New Age. Both can deeply revere nature, even worship it. Both accept evolution; both reject a transcendent and personal God. But the atheist camp stops short of any mysticism, telos, or cosmological narrative whereas the New Age camp is free to speculate.

If you survey your university professors, you will probably see this for yourself. One clique within the physics department will be brainy, sort of stodgy, “old school” guys who are the classic atheists, materialists. The other clique will be wild-haired, trendy, perhaps motorcycle-driving “beatnik” types who sense some kind of cosmic harmony when they visit Los Alamos. They are usually the superstring and chaos theorists, and the ones whose books at the bookstore give off a spiritual-type reverence for the earth. Materialists glory  too, but they are usually more personally back-biting in the fashion of Carl Sagan. And atheist physicists may have more chemist/engineering colleagues, whereas New Age physicists like the biologists/ecologists better. It’s an oversimplification of course, but not one without merit!

As a Christian physicist, then, your dilemma will be whether to mask your organized, monotheistic belief so you can fit in with the more spiritual guys and continue your work. Or whether you should “spill the beans,” so to speak, and consider yourself marginalized as bait for something like the Discovery Institute to pick up. I suppose it depends on how you envision your life… peacefully working within the Academy while being a sort of undercover, or working from outside the academic mainstream as you defend that you are actually “a real scientist” still. Both are a fight, but one allows you to fit in as long as you keep your private convictions secret, while the other allows your secrets to permeate your work for the cost of job security. Christian scientists sometimes start out in the Academy but find themselves drifting over (or worse, being expelled) into the other, rejected camp because their research or conscience takes them there. It is worth getting to know some travelers who have gone before you, and reading different kinds of books by Christian scientists to decide which path you want to take. Intelligent Design is probably the best camp for the Christian physicist to get into (i.e.  in the stream of The Privileged Planet), but is definitely being expelled for political reasons. It’s a risk.

Physics, often considered the “hardest” science, is probably not as difficult to be in as biology, as a Christian, because of the distance from proving inter-species evolution . But it will still entail picking up the cross to follow Him. Physics has yielded data which has been fabulous for apologetics, and has contributed to the tipping of the scales in the Christian’s favor, rather than the secularist’s. This is partly why we see so many physicists turning back to spirituality (even if not Christianity). The important thing to remember, as a scientist, is that science is basically an apologetics field—because God created the world, research will always reveal Him, and always turn up data which ultimately confirms His word (even if not in the short term). So it is not the data which has caused so much trouble for the faith, it is the interpretations. Seeking the truth comes at a cost because there will be pressure to interpret the facts according to an accepted mythology or politics. If you can resist this pressure, then God will be glorified through your study. Trust Him as you study the Creation. And worship Him as you marvel just like the others.

December 19, 2008   No Comments

Reasonable Christian Belief

When you go to college, you are separated not only from your parents, but also from your community and your church.  You essentially enter a free form existence defined by peers in your same situation and professors.   During this time you will make the decisions which ultimately set the course for the rest of your life.  What part of society will you align yourself with?   In the midst of making these decisions, you will be confronted with a great deal of information and ideas that you have never heard before.

Industrialization and secularization in the 19th century led to the creation of a class people who held no allegiance to the world as it was, but who could spend their full time employment looking for a world that they wanted to be.   Outside of the of the guide of revealed morality and principle,  and wanted to be free from what they thought was its negative influence, they launched a series of attacks against religion.   Although such attacks had been present throughout history, and had been forseen by the 18th century French thinkers, and ultimately the French Revolution, it was not until the 19th century that these developments really reached their critical mass.

The 19th century was a transitional era – a transition from life as it had basically existed since the dawn of time with minor improvements, to a life of machinery and innovation.    Scientific and intellectual  inquiry was advancing rapidly and just beginning to take on its modern form.  In this transitional phase several major attacks were leveled at the foundation of Christian Civilization, which have held sway ever since.   These seemed like novel and irrefutable ideas at the time, but the advancement of science, and the opportunity for ideas to be put into practice,  has for the first time in over 150 years turned the tide of evidence strongly in favor of the Christian.   This is well evidenced by one of the 20th century’s famous atheists, Anthony Flew, turning away from his atheism by following the facts.

This does not mean that the academy is ready to recognize this turn of events.  In fact, history shows that such fundamental shifts are rarely well received by the academy.   They take time for adoption, often as a new generation of scholars encounters the evidence freshly.   You should not be intimidated by your professors then.  There was a time in the 20th century when Christians had to take their faith in spite of the known  “facts” of science, but no longer.    Now it is the secular academy which must try to keep you from the facts, and intimidate you into their version of the story.  If you have courage enough to follow the facts, however, you will find that far from a backwater belief for the uneducated,  Christianity is an extremely reasonable religion with a plausible view of every academic subject.    Nothing could be clearer evidence of this than that those who wish to slow your discovery of the truth will rarely resort to reason, and more quickly resort to denunciation and name calling.    If their view is superior, why would there be need for this?   These shrill attacks are designed to intimidate you.  Dare to think for yourself.

The 19th century leveled three major charges against Christianity which you will still hear parroted in the modern university, but which are largely obsolete.

1.   The Attack Against the Bible. The Bible was claimed to be a book of mythology, and to have been written long after its time by a variety of authors, instead of a divine author.    First, Moses could not have written the law because it was thought there was no writing at the time, then it was claimed that multiple authors must have written it.   A century of digging in the desert has shown time and again that the Bible is an impressively accurate representation of the ancient world.   The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that far from being a fluid text the Bible had changed almost not at all.   Literary criticism has revealed elaborate metaphorical structures which undermine the JEPD theory.   In short,  the Bible as we have it is basically what it claims to be from a documentary perspective.

2.   Darwinism. Darwin did his work in an era when comparatively  little was known about the functioning of the human body (remember a gunshot to the leg usually meant amputation), and very little was really known about the complexity of life.   Doing groundbreaking work on the Galapagos islands, he postulated that the apparent similarities in the variety of life could be traced back to a common ancestry, and that the complexity of life could be a combination of mutation, chance and time.  150 years later, we are able to observe that not only is life FAR more complex that anyone in the 19th century had ever dreamed of, it exhibits properties that no scientist can explain through evolution.    Furthermore, after 150 years, the “missing link” is still missing!  No one has ever found a convincing set of transitional fossils which should be plentiful under the evolutionary system.   And no major beneficial  “macroevolutionary” change has ever been observed, even under lab generated conditions.     Darwinism was a fascinating idea,  the only problem is that the primary evidence for it is the zealous faith of biology professors.

3.   Marxism. Marx successfully critiqued not just the capitalist economic system, but everything about the capitalist society, and his thought found its way into every major discipline.   In 1918, V.I. Lenin was able to put Marx’s ideas into practice, the first revolutionary state, on that would be built explicitly on atheism and on the desire for the eradication of religion throughout the world.   It’s utopian vision was to liberate the working classes.   For 70 years the Soviet Union fomented revolution around the world, but when it fell in 1991, and the records were examined, far from bringing mankind the promised  utopia, the Communist vision of a world without God had murdered at least 100 million people.    It was a prison state where those who dissented were executed or imprisoned, and no one was allowed to leave.   Though rich in natural resources, its cities were dull and grey and its people poor.   It’s fall so convincing, that even the remaining Communist states abandoned its economic and social policy.  Life without God has already been tried and found wanting.

The basis for rejecting Christianity then is not the facts.    It is a choice to accept some facts and ignore others, often based on intellectual intimidation.

December 19, 2008   No Comments