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American Christian Darwinist Karl Giberson is marketing the “Yanks is hicks” schtick to Brits now

karl

Here. His bug-a-boos seem to include Nancy Pearcey’s mentor Francis Schaeffer:

Schaeffer’s 1976 bestseller, How Should We Then Live?, chronicled the decline of the Christian west, which had flourished with God’s blessing for centuries, but was now in decline. With broad brushstrokes, our alpine sage showed us how the west had sold its soul for a mess of secular pottage and sham materialism. Schaeffer’s million-selling manifesto was made into an impressive film series, narrated by Schaeffer. Clad in his iconic Swiss leggings, with a flowing mane of white hair and trademark goatee, Schaffer took viewers to all the great cultural spots in the west to help us understand what had gone wrong. The book and film series were widely used at evangelical colleges and universities across the country.

And so? You’d think Giberson was describing a toxic suicide cult, instead of a bunch of Christian airheads, up to no real harm (or usefulness). Like, what real social problem were they ever responsible for? Which subway did they bomb? Which millions-dead civil war did they start?

Michele Bachmann told the New Yorker recently that Schaeffer had a “profound influence” on her developing worldview as a young person. Millions of evangelicals would murmur “amen” to that. I read Schaeffer and watched his film series at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts in 1979 as part of a capstone general education course required of all students. (From “Growing up in Michele Bachmann’s world: Millions of evangelicals, including GOP candidates, are trapped in an alternative ‘parallel culture’ with its own standards of truth,” The Guardian, 03 October 2011)

Which is how she became a crack ho in rehab, right? Oh wait, wait, no, she’s a U.S. politician aiming at the presidency, not doing that well according to sources. But it’s early days yet, and women there usually end up as Vices or Secretaries of State, no matter what.

So … no ho, no rehab,  no record? So what’s the rap against her mentor Schaeffer then?

It’s a familiar pattern. People try it in Canada too (and we won’t be surprised if Giberson does). But the audience is much less receptive because the inferiority complex is much less. Sure, the US has NASA, but who built the space shuttles’ Canadarm? It was a Canadian company’s fortune that started the Perimeter Institute for advanced theoretical physics. Canadians even built the bus the US prez famously rides around in. Etc. So hollering that the US is “anti-science” because many there doubt Darwin doesn’t go down as well in Canada as it would in Britain.

Schaeffer was a good man who helped many people avoid life’s cliffs, and that was true even for those who didn’t imbibe his theology. Giberson should be ashamed of himself, playing to the Brits’ weak spot in order to trash a compatriot – all in the name of promoting Christian Darwinism.

But perhaps Christian Darwinism has no better ideals or better spokesmen ….

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23 Responses to American Christian Darwinist Karl Giberson is marketing the “Yanks is hicks” schtick to Brits now

  1. 1
    englishmaninistanbul

    British Atheist Sophistry
    (worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby)

    1. Most Americans believe in God
    2. Most Americans are stupid
    3. Therefore, anybody who believes in God is stupid
    QED ;)

  2. I was saddened by Giberson’s article – the tone as well as the content. My comment sent to the Guardian’s site picked up on the influence of Schaeffer, who I regard as a hero of the 20th Century. It reads as follows:
    As someone who has been influenced by Francis Schaeffer’s books and lectures, I want to say that I have never detected any trace of anti-intellectualism in the stance that he took on any of the issues he addressed. He taught me to use my mind as a Christian, and for this I am profoundly thankful. All Christians should be aware that Christianity is a counter-culture. It is counter to atheism and tacit atheism; it is counter to intellectual elitism and any attempts to restrict academic freedom; it is counter to behaviours that disrupt family relationships and that promote self-indulgence. At the same time, it is a culture that challenges those who think they can develop an intellectual life where there is no place for God. On these issues, Schaeffer has much to teach us today.

  3. The thing is, Tyler, he is riffing off the very worst of Yank “snob welfare” culture (a great many of its eager participants are government funded or would like to be).

    Imagine, attempting to tar an unexceptionable preacher like Schaeffer as somehow a public danger! Guess Giberson hopes to market this bilge to Brits, because it’d be a hard case to make to Yanks.

    To market it to Yanks, New Yorker’s writer actually had to make up the crackpot “Dominionist” cult that Pearcey and Bachmann and Schaeffer were all involved with, remember?

    But there’s only so much of that the snob welfares can do before normal people this side of the Pond shake themselves and realize, This. Is. Not. Happening.

  4. So, Giberson isn’t a member of Schaeffer’s fan club–so what? I don’t find anything offensive in what is quoted above, certainly nothing to warrant the conclusion that he “was describing a toxic suicide cult, instead of a bunch of Christian airheads…” I was a huge fan of Schaeffer in college and for a few years afterward. I found a dog-eared copy of “The God Who Is There” inside a desk in the back of math class; when it stayed there for a couple of weeks unclaimed, I claimed it and read it carefully all the way through. A few years later I had the wonderful experience of attending L’Abri lectures in Charlottesville, VA, where I was especially impressed by the late Hans Rookmaaker, whose work almost led me to go into art history–I chose history of science instead after carefully weighing the options. In short, I understand Schaeffer, loved his stuff, used some of it with approval in my lectures (when I taught high school students and church groups about science and religion) and still have appreciation for the attitude of intellectual engagement and emphasis on worldview that he gave me.

    The quotations above from Giberson seem fair to me; he presents Schaeffer as a (somewhat countercultural) guru with a warning for the modern West, and that’s exactly what he seemed to be to me and many others. No one should be crying “foul.”

    I still appreciate the attitudes I got from him, but I’ve also been critical of some of his core ideas–esp the idea that someone like Thomas Aquinas can be blamed for the decline of Christianity in modern times. (If anything, Schaeffer did provide a profoundly Protestant, indeed Calvinist, account of such things.) The more I’ve learned about the history of ideas as embodied in various parts of culture (art, science, music, philosophy, etc), the more I’ve come to see his leitmotiv of the “line of despair” as a gross oversimplification that just doesn’t work. I agree with him that ideas can and do have consequences, but I just don’t think there is some obvious and necessary link between a given idea and a given outcome. There are or have been (for example) countless examples of Christian racists, just as there are numerous examples of atheists or agnostics with strong moral codes. One need look no further than the captain’s table on the HMS Beagle for a bit of evidence.

  5. Nice to hear from you, Ted. Giberson is marketing anti-American snob-ism to Brits, using Schaeffer.

    Many of us valued Schaeffer for keeping Yanks out of rehab and jail, including many who just didn’t follow his theories on culture. But we can follow marketing anti-American snob-ism to Brits, and we don’t like the smell.

    Britworld has got serious problems, not helped by a Yank offering them supposed rubes, supposedly sold on gut-hollering Yankee religion, to feel superior to.

    Did listening to Schaeffer ever harm anyone? Did he ever preach hate? Crime? Riots? Drugs?

    If Giberson is one of your friends, tell him to smarten up.

  6. We all are Homo sapiens sapiens politicus, and Giberson wants us not to be the light of the world neither the salt of the earth? Whose gospel is he reading, believing and living???

  7. Did Karl Giberson suggest or imply that Schaeffer preached hate? Crime? Riot? Drugs? A lot of people need to smarten up about a lot of things–including some of his readers, apparently.

  8. Oh, Ted, please! Everyone knows that Giberson was riffing the New Yorker article casting Bachmann (and Schaeffer) as “Dominionist” villains – which is nonsense, because for all practical purposes, as 1990s religion news vets know, the cult never existed. Here’s the fax. In short, Giberson didn’t need to make those accusations directly, only to touch the chords. The thing is, it’s a dangerous game and he’s not talented enough for it.

  9. Well, Denyse, I can’t see where Giberson did more than “touch the chords,” as you put it. He said nothing in his piece about “‘Dominionist’ villains.” Yes, he linked the New Yorker article, but he linked it next to document a statement by Bachmann–at least that is what it looks like to me. You may be reading more into this than there is.

    For my part, I’m fully aware that Schaeffer was not a “Dominionist.” At least, I’ve never seen plausible evidence of it. On the other hand, certain individuals known to be sympathetic to “Dominionist” thinking have been closely associated with The Discovery Institute. That’s a separate topic and I’m not suggesting that we go further into it here. I’m saying only that sensitivity about alleged links to “Dominionist” thinking is interesting to find here. Perhaps it’s best simply to let Giberson speak his mind about Schaeffer–without making any explicit comments about “Dominionist” thought–and respond (if you wish) to what he actually does say.

  10. “On the other hand, certain individuals known to be sympathetic to “Dominionist” thinking have been closely associated with The Discovery Institute. That’s a separate topic and I’m not suggesting that we go further into it here.”

    No, not unless someone has evidence that Michele Bachmann is also in some way connected with the Discovery Institute, and even then it’s pretty tenuous. Nice try on Giberson’s part, especially trying it in Brit.

  11. Let me add this further point. The comments here about Giberson “marketing anti-American snob-ism to Brits, using Schaeffer,” etc., are flatly contradicted by the facts. His post was written for FrumForum, and the Guardian picked it up from them. Here is the original post:

    http://www.frumforum.com/growi.....anns-world

    FrumForum.com is edited by David Frum, whom I met several years ago at a AAAS workshop about creationism in which we both gave papers. His paper was IMO the best one of the workshop. He’s Jewish, Republican, and conservative–and Canadian American, not a Brit. He used to write speeches for George W Bush. As his web site says, it is “dedicated to the modernization and renewal of the Republican party and the conservative movement.”

    It’s my turn to say, “Oh, please.” Everyone knows who David Frum is, but apparently not everyone knows that Giberson’s post was originally written for Mr Frum. Let’s cut out the fanciful interpretation about Giberson marketing anything to the Brits, let alone saying anything about Schaeffer and “‘Dominionist’ villains.”

    I appreciate the opportunity to set this matter straight, and I’ll let readers to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

  12. Giberson said what he did about Schaeffer, Ted. So Frum marketed it to the Brits? And does he now call himself a Canadian American? Gosh, it gets worse every day.

  13. Denyse, I don’t know whether Frum calls himself a Canadian American or not. He’s described that way on wikipedia; he was born in Toronto to a prominent Canadian journalist (his mother); he works in New York; he writes for media in both countries. I had originally written just “American,” then added the “Canadian” part simply to be (I thought) more accurate. My point is simply that he’s not a Brit, and Karl’s not a Brit. Karl did *not* write his piece to market himself to the Brits. Period.

    And yes, Karl said what he said about Schaeffer–comments that I find not out of line–but he did not invoke “Dominionist” ideas and connect them with Schaeffer in his piece. Period.

    Others have done that, and erroneously so. Karl did cite a source for the statement from Bachmann. So would you, if you wanted to quote Bachmann to that effect in something you were writing. I have nothing further to say about this.

  14. Here we know about his birth and her death. Thanks for sharing, Ted. Here, we’d all be pleased to know he DOESN’T call himself a Canadian American. We remember “54 40 or fight!” Historians like Ted would understand the reference (to driving Canadians to latitude 54 40. Not. As it happens. But the episode originated the term jingoism. )

  15. Its great that Evangelicals and so creationism is a powerful threat.
    yet the writer of this attack article is being malicious and plain worthless .
    by the way I can’t stand Frum.
    He is not a cAnadian or American . Israeli is closest.

    If a identifiable group is attacked then its the right of that group to defend itself in the same mediums its attacked.
    It shows why so much energy had to be done . The liberal media which is a identity interference with normal North American life and resulting skewed beliefs refused to note the majority of people as conservative.

    by the way who cares about these old countries whose time has past.
    North america is the most intelligent and advanced civilization in human history.
    It matters what we think of the world if we think of them.
    Its very logical that wrong or bad ideas will most be attacked by the smartest civilizations.
    creationism is case in point.
    the error and dumbness of evolution is smelled out quicker here as it would be if it was a error and we were sharper.
    why not?

  16. This is picking up something Ted Davis wrote @ 3 (about Schaeffer):
    “I still appreciate the attitudes I got from him, but I’ve also been critical of some of his core ideas–esp the idea that someone like Thomas Aquinas can be blamed for the decline of Christianity in modern times.”
    Ideas have legs – they do travel. Some years ago, at the joint ASA/CiS meeting in Edinburgh, Ted was chairing a session at which I presented. My theme was the secularisation trend in science. I am aware that theistic evolutionists consider it came about in Victorian times (some identify Huxley as the leader), but I wanted to trace the trend to much earlier times – certainly earlier than the Enlightenment scholars. My presentation started with Aquinas and the way he found to absorb aristotelianism into the church’s understanding of knowledge. I used Schaeffer’s analysis – Aquinas compartmentalised knowledge – with grace in the upper story and nature in the lower story. Aristotelianism was located in the lower story. This situation was dominant until the 16th Century when, for various reasons, there was serious questioning. Francis Bacon led the way to rejecting Aristotelian scholarship – because it was founded on dogma but now everything needs to be tested empirically and verified properly. Bacon’s thinking was influential in the period known as the scientific revolution. However, Bacon never challenged Aquinas’ compartmentalisation of nature and grace. So any prospect of unifying knowledge was lost at that time. As the years passed, the bottom story of “Nature” became autonomous and independent of “Grace” and this proved to be fertile soil for secularism to grow. And here we are today, with “Nature” threatening to eat up “Grace” altogether. Some are still trying to maintain the Nature/Grace approach: we have the complementarity doctrine of the theistic evolutionists and we have the NOMA approach of Gould and others. But it is a fundamentally weak position, and it ends up robbing Christianity of all its claims about objective truth – turning it into a privatised religion that has no place in the public arena. On these issues, Schaeffer got it right. Giberson, however, is promoting a perspective that will lead people into confusion.

  17. As promised, I have nothing further to say about the issues raised in the original post–those about Karl Giberson’s column. David Tyler goes into other issues, and I will now respond to those.

    The idea that religious truth is complementary to scientific truth, which I take to be the general form of Schaeffer’s “nature/grace” dichotomy, has been endorsed by countless Christian thinkers over the centuries. You refer to it above as Gould’s NOMA view and you associate it with TEs. That’s all well and good, but you pick examples that are likely to be received poorly here and ignore many others that might make the dichotomy sound a lot better to this audience. In fact, there are many forms of such a view, and the devil is in the details. (Just as there are widely varying versions of TE, and the devil is in the details. There is a huge gulf, for example, between someone like the late Arthur Peacocke and someone like Robert Russell or John Polkinghorne. For many readers, however, I fear that the “E” in “TE” will be all they need to hear, before very erroneously conflating the many different forms of “T” that are found in conjunction with the “E.” Think of “TE” as “big tent,” if I may apply that familiar term to this situation.)

    One reason why the “nature/grace” dichotomy has been so widely used by Christians, in one form or another, is that it’s basically right about a central point: namely, that what someone like Asa Gray called “physical science,” by which he meant what we call “natural science” (i.e., he wasn’t referring narrowly to “the physical sciences,” but to all efforts to understand any aspect of nature or PHYSIS), is simply not capable of ruling in or ruling out something like the Incarnation, which he regarded as the supreme miracle of Christianity (some of the patristics would have agreed), and its “attendant miracles,” which I think we can take as a reference to the Resurrection and many other acts of God mentioned in the gospels. This is not exactly Gould’s NOMA, I’m sure you will agree, but it does represent a kind of nature/grace dichotomy. Does it not?

    Here is a very interesting story by atheist science writer Alan Lightman, in which he talks about some prominent modern examples of a similar view: http://life.salon.com/2011/10/.....singleton/

    Whether this type of approach to science and Christianity is helpful or not, is obviously not something we will all agree on. However, I hope we can agree that, when it comes to seeing science and faith as complementary, there simply is no such thing as “the model”; rather, there are models.

    Schaeffer treats it all of a piece. I doubt that David really wants to do that, but he can speak for himself.

  18. Perhaps the most prominent example of someone endorsing the “nature/grace” dichotomy is Galileo’s quip in his famous “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina,” to the effect that the Holy Ghost [i.e., the author of the Bible] tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. He borrowed this from the late (at that time) Cesare, Cardinal Baronio, who had been the librarian at the Vatican. And, of course, he used it as part of his long argument about why the church should mind its own business concerning astronomy (a view that people such as Augustine and Calvin had already fully endorsed), which is not (as Galileo stressed) a matter of faith. As he went on to argue, the Bible does tell us about some matters of faith about which science has no competence; we’d never learn them on our own, and it’s important for us to know about them, hence we have the Bible.

    David and I have each written elsewhere about whether Galileo’s overall approach to science & the Bible (which went well beyond simply using Baronio’s maxim) was helpful or not, in terms of current issues pertaining to origins. He has his view, I have mine. He has the advantage on me here, insofar as his views are readily available in legal online versions and mine are not–and there really isn’t anything I can do about my side of that situation. My side is given in an article I wrote with my former student, Elizabeth Chmielewski, “Galileo and the Garden of Eden: Historical Reflections on Creationist Hermeneutics.” In Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: 1700 Present, ed. Jitse M. van der Meer and Scott H. Mandelbrote, 2 vols. (Leiden and Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008), vol. 2, pp. 437 64.

    I don’t have the legal right to post that online, though I’d like to be able to do that. However, interested persons can ask me about it off line. My contact is tdavisATmessiahDOTedu. The abstract is as follows: Creationists regard the Bible as the only fully reliable source of truth about origins. All information from the sciences must conform to, or be made to conform to, their particular interpretation of early Genesis and other texts. This paper uncovers and examines creationist hermeneutical principles against the historical background of the Galileo affair, using a comparative method in three parts. First, we study what Galileo himself said about the Bible and natural science, comparing this with what Roberto Cardinal Bellarmine said on the same topic. Next, we see how members of a creationist subgroup, the modern geocentrists, approach the same issue, comparing their hermeneutical principles with those of Galileo and Bellarmine. Finally, we study what other creationists say about their geocentrist colleagues and about Galileo’s hermeneutical strategy.

  19. Now I want to comment on David’s claim that “Bacon never challenged Aquinas’ compartmentalisation of nature and grace.” I’m not actually sure that David and I have identical understandings of what he means here, in which case I hope he’ll help me out. For my part, I would say that Bacon absolutely *did* challenge the compartmentalization. In a famous passage in “The Advancement of Learning,” (the same passage Darwin quoted opposite the title page to “On the Origin of Species”) he wrote:

    “To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together.”

    He added this elsewhere in the book:

    “… our saviour saith, “You err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God”; laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first the scriptures, revealing the will of God, and then the creatures expressing his power; whereof the latter is a key unto the former: not only opening our understanding to conceive the true sense of the scriptures, by the general notions of reason and rules of speech; but chiefly opening our belief, in drawing us into a due meditation of the omnipotency of God, which is chiefly signed and engraven upon his works.”

    The former passage is typically used to deny that Bacon gave any role to natural theology, and that he endorsed the nature/grace dichotomy. But, as the latter passage shows, he thought that nature could assist grace. (It is not true that Bacon denies any role to natural theology, though it is often said.) Galileo went even further: in his view, nature actually tells grace what to do, in terms of interpreting the Bible. The book of nature, written in the clear and unambiguous language of mathematics–the language that God uses–can tell us which of the possible meanings of a biblical text, written in ambiguous human language, is the best option.

    The deeper issue here involves the “handmaiden” view of theology and science: is science simply the “handmaiden” of theology, such that she cannot challenge the authority of the queen and must always play a subordinate role? Ironically, some forms of the nature/grace dichotomy are consistent with that, while others are not. Galileo actually believed that theology is ultimately more important–grace over nature–and in that sense she is genuinely “queen.” On the other hand, he also believed that she must not overstep her competence by telling scientists what they must or must not do and think. Not nature over grace, but nature independent of grace. Nature AND grace, we might say.

  20. David:

    I think that a Francis Schaeffer-based argument regarding Aquinas is invalid, at least, in the form that you have given it here.

    Aquinas’s position regarding nature and grace is roughly as follows. There are things which human beings can know by means of “unaided reason,” i.e., reason unsupplemented by revelation. We do not need revelation to know that two plus two equals four. We do not need revelation to discover that porpoises bear live young. We do not need revelation to learn how to build roads or aqueducts. This knowledge belongs to man as man, not man as Christian or Jew or Muslim. Even some knowledge about God is available to man as man: knowledge of his existence as the first cause of motion etc. But there is also knowledge which is unavailable to unaided reason. For example, we would not know that the first cause of motion was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without revelation. We would not know that Jesus Christ was the Word, the Messiah, and the salvation of mankind without revelation.

    Now Aquinas and his later disciples may have formalized this distinction — in terms of the language of nature and grace — to a greater degree than anyone else, but the distinction itself hardly originated with Aquinas. Augustine, 800 years earlier, surely granted that the human mind had the power to learn truths of mathematics and truths about nature without the help of revelation. He surely granted that pagan thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, not to mention the corps of Roman engineers who had built the urban world that he lived in, had achieved genuine knowledge of nature without the aid of divine revelation. So by your Schaefferesque logic, Augustine would be the dangerous theologian who paved the way for the modern world, by making the invidious distinction between knowledge coming from “nature” and knowledge coming from “grace”. And mutatis mutandis, the same argument could be applied to still earlier theologians.

    It is hard to imagine what the alternative to the reason/revelation distinction would be. Is there a Christian as opposed to a secular method of doing Euclidean geometry? Is there a Biblical as opposed to a humanist way of calculating the stresses that need to be dealt with in constructing a dam?

    Christians are not stuck with Aquinas’s Aristotelian framework or Aquinas’s technical vocabulary. But they are stuck with something like Aquinas’s distinction. The alternative would be to affirm that we can derive all of secular learning from revelation (clearly false), or that we can derive all that revelation teaches (about Christ, angels, creation, final judgment, etc.) by our unaided faculty of reason (also false). We thus cannot avoid “compartmentalizing” knowledge to some extent.

    Schaeffer is correct to say that eventually the claim arose that “natural knowledge” was all that there was, and that “revealed knowledge” was bogus or unnecessary. But that cannot blamed upon Aquinas. His distinction was entirely valid, even if later thinkers abused it. He would have vehemently denied that human beings can achieve their highest end, i.e., their supernatural end, without the knowledge that comes from revelation.

    Your contemporary concern seems to be the NOMA distinction that is implicitly adopted by many TEs, especially those at Biologos. That NOMA distinction compartmentalizes knowledge of the world into “scientific” and “religious” knowledge. But this distinction is not the same as the distinction made by Aquinas. Whereas for Aquinas, the knowledge derived from reason and the knowledge derived from revelation could sometimes terminate upon the same object, e.g., God, of whom we have both natural and revealed knowledge, for NOMA there can be no overlap. Beliefs about God are arbitrarily classified by most TEs as belonging to realm of “purpose” or “meaning” or “values,” and are kept entirely separate from questions about nature. (Of course, we have to distinguish between TEs who have a nuanced position, like Polkinghorne, and therefore allow that the membrane between the compartments is semi-permeable, and those who have a crude position, like Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson and Ard Louis, who insist that the membrane is impermeable.)

    The reason for the TE embrace of NOMA is not far to seek. It lies in Protestant fideism. For the fideist, we must be utterly dependent upon revelation; proud reason must be made to grovel before revelation at all times, displaying its abject humility. Many TEs are admirers of people like Barth, and deny that reason can tell us anything at all about God, even of his bare existence. Such TEs are very hostile to design inferences, because they bring the two worlds of knowledge — the worlds of reason and revelation — into contact with each other. But of course design inferences are not only allowed by Calvin; they are made in Romans 1 and Psalm 19, and implied in many other places in the Bible. But as we know, neither authentic Calvinism nor the plain sense of Biblical passages carries much weight at Biologos.

    The NOMA distinction tacitly adopted by the theistic evolutionists goes back not to Aquinas but to Kant. Kant, a Protestant raised under Pietism, “denied reason in order to make room for faith.” Can you hear Barth in there? Can you hear Biologos?

    Schaefferesque analysis is too inclined to blame Greek thought (Aristotle via Aquinas, and Plato) for the problems of modernity. In fact, few or none of the characteristic problems of modernity come from Greek thought, whereas many of them spring from certain forms of Protestantism. And on the question with which we are here concerned — intelligent design — it’s not the Greeks who are the problem. They agree with Calvin and Aquinas and Romans 1. The problem lies in the particular pietistic and fideistic form of Protestantism that reigns supreme over at Biologos. That form of Protestantism is the seedbed of the intellectual schizophrenia embodied in NOMA. If one wants to affirm public truths about nature that go beyond efficient-cause accounts and allow for design inferences, it is not Aquinas that one should be attacking.

    T.

  21. Timaeus, Thanks you for your extended comments. I hope this feedback from me provides the right kind of discussion of these issues. (Apologies for the delay in replying)

    “Aquinas’s position regarding nature and grace is roughly as follows. There are things which human beings can know by means of “unaided reason,” i.e., reason unsupplemented by revelation. [. . .]

    I regard this as sowing the seeds of the idea that science is an autonomous source of knowledge – which will, in the hands of the Sons of Adam – be used to contest all aspects of revealed truth. I think I am following Schaeffer in saying that all true knowledge finds its roots in some aspect of revelation. So, the concept of “unaided reason” is one that needs unpacking. The rationale for giving any credence to reason is that we are made in the image of God – we reason because God reasons. It is not unaided – it is something we have because God has made us this way. So also are characteristics like creativity, speech and aesthetic appreciation – we do not need direct revelation but we have such abilities only by virtue of creation itself.

    “Now Aquinas and his later disciples may have formalized this distinction — in terms of the language of nature and grace — to a greater degree than anyone else, but the distinction itself hardly originated with Aquinas.”

    Yes, I agree. I am not arguing against this terminology, but I am arguing against compartmentalisation and against the idea that the book of nature is autonomous.

    “Whereas for Aquinas, the knowledge derived from reason and the knowledge derived from revelation could sometimes terminate upon the same object, e.g., God, of whom we have both natural and revealed knowledge, for NOMA there can be no overlap.”

    Again, I agree. Aquinas was a creationist in his thinking – he had an understanding of origins that involved the miraculous activity of God. Nevertheless, he found a way to absorb Aristotle into his thinking. It is at this point that comments become essays if we are not careful. So I’d like to point to a book that I have found useful: “God and Nature” edited by Lindberg and Numbers. Chapter 2 is by Edward Grant – on Science and Theology in the Middle Ages. On page 51 he writes:
    “[The threat] came from Greek natural philosophy and science, initially in its benign Platonic and Neoplatonic forms in the twelfth century and then in its powerful and truly menacing Aristolelian form in the thirteenth century. The beginnings of this momentous process are already apparent in the enthusiastic study of Plato’s Timaeus in the twelfth century.”
    And on page 53:
    “Yet Aristotle not only embraced philosophy with enthusiasm but regarded Aristotle as the greatest of philosophers, one who had achieved the highest level of human thought without the aid of revelation.”

    Schaeffer’s analysis of how Aristotle brought Aristotelianism into Roman Catholic thinking is, I think, convincing. And the same rationale influenced Francis Bacon and Protestant intellectuals. The same rationale influences the way so many Christians today are speaking approvingly of Darwinism. I do not deny that Kant and other philosophers have been influential. I hear what you say about “the particular pietistic and fideistic form of Protestantism that reigns supreme over at Biologos”. I don’t know these people well enough to comment on that, but I am not convinced that fideistic tendencies are dominant in the TE community I have experience of. Far more significant, I think, is the Nature/Grace compartmentalisation.

  22. Thanks, David. I won’t drag this out too long, as this thread is now no longer current, but I have a few comments. (If you respond again, I will read what you say, but I may not add anything more beyond this.)

    I agree that God gave us reason, creativity, etc. But by the same token, God gave us arms, lungs, etc. We don’t say that we need special, revealed knowledge from God to use our arms and lungs, and I don’t see why we should need special, revealed knowledge from God to understand and make use of nature. And that’s all that I meant by “unaided reason.” I did not mean to deny that our reason was divine in its origin. I merely meant that, once given to us, it becomes one of our powers, like running, lifting, talking, etc. In Aquinas’s view, we can exercise these natural powers without having heard any revelation. The Turk (as he would say) and the Hindu, and the Chinaman who has no personal conception of God, have those same natural powers. They, too, can track the motions of the planets, predict eclipses, build roads and aqueducts, etc. There is a common core of human nature which all human beings possess, whether or not they realize that this nature was given to them by God. I meant nothing more than this by “unaided reason.” I was not speaking of a proud reason that defies God by refusing revelation. I was speaking only of reason as a natural power of human beings. If you want to conceive of this natural power as, like salvation, a gift of divine “grace,” that is fine with me; but it remains a natural power which does not need revelation for its exercise.

    I think the apparent disagreement between us over Aquinas’s use of Aristotle may come from words which are omitted, but I believe implied, in Grant’s quotation from page 53. Note that Grant does not have a comma after “human thought.” I believe that his meaning is NOT: “Aristotle … achieved the highest level of human thought, AND HE DID IT WITHOUT THE AID OF REVELATION.” His meaning is: “Aristotle … achieved the highest level of human thought THAT IS ATTAINABLE WITHOUT THE AID OF REVELATION.” Aquinas would never have affirmed the former statement, as his entire project presumed that the highest level of human thought was directed to the contemplation of the Christian God, a God whom Aristotle did not know; however, he certainly affirmed the latter statement.

    It is certainly true that uncontrolled Aristotelianism was spotted as a danger to orthodox Christian theism by Bishop Tempier, and condemned. I have no disagreement with Grant over that. But Aquinas subordinated Aristotelianism within a Christian perspective.

    One can argue (as I would) that Aristotle was not the best choice as the basis for a Christian philosophy (Plato is better, as you might expect I would say). I am not defending Thomism as a system; I’m not a Thomist. I’m merely saying that Aquinas was aware that Aristotle alone was inadequate theologically, and I’m saying that Aquinas believed that man had a supernatural end, an end for which Aristotle does not provide the necessary knowledge. So it is inconceivable that Aquinas would have allowed anyone to use reason to challenge revelation. His life’s work was to harmonize the two, not to sunder them so that the one could be used to undermine the other.

    That Aquinas brought Aristotle into Roman Catholic thinking is generally well-known, and was well-known long before Schaeffer set pen to paper, so I’m not sure what Schaeffer’s contribution is in saying that. If I understand you correctly, Schaeffer is arguing that by adopting Aristotle, Aquinas brought secular thinking into the heart of Western theology, but I don’t see that this is the case. Theology cannot avoid “secular” thinking in any case. The sun rises and sets, the laws of chemistry are what they are; the way of the lion of the lamb is what it is. No religion can avoid dealing with these “secular” realities. Aquinas made use of Aristotle because, at the time, Aristotle gave the most coherent account of secular realities. We aren’t bound by Aristotle any more, because we have in some matters better accounts of secular realities than Aristotle had. But there is nothing wrong, in principle, with Christians acknowledging that there is a matter-of-fact worldly knowledge that has nothing to do with faith, a knowledge that an atheist or pagan or Buddhist can possess just as well as a Christian.

    In any case, as historians of science know well, Aristotelianism did not speed up the acceptance of modern science and scientism; Aristotelianism blocked the acceptance of modern science wherever Aristotelianism held sway, because Aristotle had a teleological view of natural things, and that is anathema to modern science. Here Schaeffer’s parallel with Bacon completely breaks down, since Bacon was one of those who wanted to get teleology out of science. Aristotle had to be slain before modern science could get going.

    I don’t think we should get into a side-argument about fideism. It may be that there aren’t that many pure fideists in the TE community. But the TE community is definitely influenced by fideistic strands of thought. The number of times that TEs have criticized ID people by citing Pascal, Kierkegaard, Barth, etc. against Paley and natural theology is striking. And their downplaying of Calvin, who allowed a limited natural theology, is also striking, as are their desperate attempts to “neutralize” Psalm 19 and Romans 1.

    T.

  23. There is a common core of human nature which all human beings possess, whether or not they realize that this nature was given to them by God. I meant nothing more than this by “unaided reason.”

    Aquinas contrasts science (which includes philosophy) with revelation in the very first Book and Question of the Summa Theologica. Following this, I think what is meant by “unaided reason” is “reason unaided by revelation”. It’s not a statement about the power of the mind itself, or limitations of the mind unaided by grace.

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