The abyss of atheism?

From Christianity Today: Staring into the Abyss by Dinesh D’Souza. The subtitle for the article is, “Why Peter Singer makes the New Atheists nervous.”

Atheists like Richard Dawkins argue that we can have morality without God. And I acknowledge that many atheists are very moral people. But is their morality based on their atheism, or is it a relic of the Christian-influenced culture in which they were raised?

Peter Singer is a bioethics professor at Princeton University, an atheist, and a promoter of utilitarian ethics. He has attempted to build an ethical system based completely on his atheist world view, and it includes the following values.

  • Humans have no more value than animals; sometimes they have less value
  • Abortion allowed in all nine months of pregnancy
  • Infanticide
  • Euthanasia of unproductive members of society: the elderly and disabled

These values are frightening.

Here are some exerpts from the CT article:

Singer argues that even pigs, chickens, and fish have more signs of consciousness and rationality—and, consequently, a greater claim to rights—than do fetuses, newborn infants, and people with mental disabilities.

To understand Singer, it’s helpful to contrast him with “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. The New Atheists say we can get rid of God but preserve morality. They insist that no one needs God in order to be good; atheists can act no less virtuously than Christians. (And indeed, some atheists do put Christians to shame.) Even while repudiating the Christian God, Dawkins has publicly called himself a “cultural Christian.”

Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven’t considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.

Here are my questions:

  • Are Singer’s views the only natural outcome of an atheistic world view?
  • Can Hawkins Dawkins and the New Atheists really construct an ethical system apart from a Christian foundation without it looking something like Nazism?

Grace and Peace

Church death

We have books and seminars on church growth. Christianity is growing rapidly in places like China and parts of Africa. Christ has given us a commission to take the gospel to all nations, and we expect the fulfilment of this Great Commission.

But churches also die. Local churches die. In church history, we see entire regions go from predominantly Christian to places where there are virtually no Christians. This happened in the past in North Africa (what is today Tunisia and Algeria) and Turkey.

Persecution can lead to church growth. Tertullian, around the year 2000, wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christianity grew despite the persecution of the Romans. In the twentieth century, the Christian church grew by the tens of millions in China during intense communist persecution.

Tertullian lived in North Africa. In the 700s the Moslems conquered the area, and Christianity was completely gone within a few hundred years.

Christianity has existed in Iraq for 2000 years. This could be coming to an end. Persecution may not always cause church growth. In this case, it is causing church extinction.

Will there be Christianity in North America 200 years from now? There is no guarantee.

Christianity Today has an article about this: The Other Side of Church Growth by Philip Jenkins.

Grace and Peace

Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis

I recently finished The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll, and will be sharing a few insights and quotes from this important book. The first quote is a long one from St. Augustine of Hippo, from his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis, written in about AD 415.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion [quoting 1 Tim 1:7].

(emphasis added; quoted from Noll, pp. 202-203, from the John Hammond Taylor translation of 1982)

Here are a few of my thoughts on what Augustine said:

  • Augustine, even though his work was entitled The Literal Meaning of Genesis, does not read Genesis 1 in the same “literal” way that modern young-Earth creationists do. Augustine believed that the creation was an instantaneous event rather than being spread out over six literal days, and that the six days of Genesis 1 were a literary structure rather than a statement of the order or timing of events. This is a remarkable insight from a deep thinker, who was in no way influenced by modern understandings of the age of the universe. This also should remind us that modern interpretations that understand Genesis as not requiring a 6000-year old Earth are not just forcing a modern interpretation on the text. Instead, the idea that Genesis doesn’t tell us how old the Earth is could be something that flows out of the text.
  • Augustine believed that non-Christians were perfectly capable of understanding the world, and he was convinced that whatever the Bible teaches, it won’t contradict the world as it really is.
  • Augustine came down hard on Christians who said things that the “scientists” of his day knew were foolish. This applies to us today as well: how will the world believe the Bible when it speaks about salvation if we also try to convince them that the Bible requires belief in dinosaurs living with humans, all the sedimentary rocks being deposited in Noah’s Flood six thousand years ago, or that all evidence of human prehistory can be compressed into less than a thousand years. These are all things taught as dogma by some Evangelicals, but none of them are explicitly taught in Scripture. And the world laughs, not only at us, but at the Creator.

Noll follows the long Augustine quote with this observation:

Augustine’s claim is nothing less than that a Christian who attempts to interpret passages of the Bible with cosmological implication s will misinterpret the Bible if that believer does not take account of what can be learned “from reason and experience.” To limit oneself only to the Scriptures in such instances, says Augustine, is to misread the Bible. (p. 203, emphasis in original)

Grace and Peace

Looking for a hydrologist or environmental scientist?

In the midst of economic hard times, there are still some employment bright spots. Being that I am looking for a job in the Earth sciences, it is encouraging to me that there are openings out there in hydrology and environmental science:

HYDROLOGISTS

From the New York Times: Hiring in Hydrology Resists the Slump:

“Demand for hydrologists has been predicted to grow 24 percent from 2006 to 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

“Most hydrologists did not earn degrees in hydrology; in fact, only a handful of undergraduate and graduate hydrology programs exist across the country. It is far more common for hydrologists to come from a hard-science or engineering background.” [I have an M.S. in geology.]

“In fact, computers have revolutionized hydrology in ways beyond sampling. Data collected in the field is now plugged into complex mathematic models that allow hydrologists to make predictions — for example, about the effect of climate change on sea levels. The models also help them develop recommendations for solving problems, like how much water can be diverted from a river to combat a drought.” [I have extensive experience with GIS, and recent training in GIS spatial analysis and 3D analysis, both of which have hydrology applications.]

“People interested in hydrology often don’t understand you need to be very strong in math.” [GRE Quantitative: 94th percentile; A’s in calculus-based physics and graduate-level nuclear chemistry.]

“They also need to communicate well, because their research is often written in reports and presented to others — to policy makers, if they work in the public sector, or to clients in the private sector.” [Strong written and verbal communication skills gained through graduate school, employment as a cartographer, and teaching at various levels.]

HT: Geology News

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTISTS

From Monster.com: The Top 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill includes environmental scientists in its list.

I am well qualified for work as an environmental scientist:

  • M.S. and B.S. in geology
  • Minor in biology
  • 37 semester hours in chemistry and geochemistry
  • Strong communication skills
  • ArcGIS experience
  • Love for the creation

HT: The Evangelical Ecologist

You can contact me by commenting below, or by emailing me at geochristianblog (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Thanks,

Kevin

Interactive denomination maps

The Association of Religion Data Archives has an interactive map showing the distribution of a large number of Christian denominations and other religious groups over time. Here are three maps showing the growth of my denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America from 1980 to 2000:

EFCA 1980
EFCA 1980
EFCA 1990
EFCA 1990
EFCA 2000
EFCA 2000

Maps are available for many denominations and groups, ranging in size from the Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics, down to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Old Order River Brethren.

HT: Internet Monk. Michael Spencer has had a series of posts on what he sees as the upcoming collapse of Evangelicalism, which he believes has already begun. The Evangelical Free Church of America is still growing, but is not immune from the weaknesses of Evangelicalism as a whole: focus on the culture war rather than the gospel, failure to pass on the faith to the next generation, consumer-driven worship, the rising tide of secularism, emphases on relevance and success, placing subjective feelings above objective doctrine. Michael Spencer summarizes his reasoning in last week’s Christian Science Monitor: The coming evangelical collapse.

Grace and Peace

A man who reads

My friend Glenn is one of the smartest people I know. With ACT, SAT, GRE percentiles in the upper 90s (some portions in the 99th percentile), I am an intelligent person. When I am with Glenn, I am reminded that I am only down at the bottom of the 99th percentile, because he outsmarts me by a bunch. Glenn says that he knows plenty of people who are smarter than him, and I suppose they all know smarter people too, until you get up to the Albert Einsteins and Henry Kissingers up at the top.

Glenn, a PhD biochemist, plans on reading the Bible cover to cover four times this year. I suspect that he is able to do this with a high level of focus and understanding. In addition, Glenn read 131 other books last year, with a goal of reading 110 this year. Because of this, Glenn can talk intelligently about a wide range of topics: the Bible, teaching the Bible, politics, the family, or feeding the world.

Glenn doesn’t read just to boost his ego. He reads for the glory of God, the building up of the body of Christ, and to excel in the workplace.

He wrote about his reading habits today on his excellent blog, Be Bold, Be Gentle: Learning Faster — The Great Need. Here are a few quotes:

In addition to regular, deep time in the Word of God, teachers, pastors, and leaders need to be students of life.

Now I strongly believe that Christians should be the best learners and thinkers on the planet — we have the Mind of Christ!  But it is often not so.

Are these extraordinary, superhuman accomplishments?  Absolutely not!  They are well within the range of most adults.
What sets great teachers, pastors, and leaders apart on the learning scale is
* they know what they need to learn, and why
* they understand what learning really is, and have mastered the practices of learning
* they apply what they learn (because the point of learning is not knowing, it’s doing)

Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Not all of us will read the Bible four times in one year, but I suspect that most Christians don’t even read the New Testament once in a year.
  • We don’t all have to read 131 books per year, but I suspect that most of us could read more than we do.
  • Glenn has reading goals: “they know what they need to learn, and why.” I have some reading goals, but I think I could strengthen them.
  • Glenn knows what works for him. What works for you or I might be different than what works for Glenn. Do you know the best ways for you to learn?
  • Glenn is a doer. He takes what he reads and applies it.
  • Selectivity is important. I have 86 books in my Amazon shopping cart “to buy later” section. I have unread books here at home (I can’t say on the bookshelves; we’re still living out of boxes after our move from Romania last year). What are the most important books for me to be reading, in terms of ministry, family, work, and knowing God better?
  • Not everyone is called to an intellectual vocation (though again, I suspect most of us need to be readers with clear objectives). Romans 12:3-10 applies to all in the church:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV)

And let him who studies, do it diligently for the glory of God and the good of people.

Thanks, Glenn. I’m inspired.

Grace and Peace

Third anniversary of The GeoChristian

The first post of The GeoChristian was on March 16, 2006. At first I called the blog The Earth is not Flat, but later changed the name to The GeoChristian. The name GeoChristian indicates two important things about me. The first is my Christian faith, which is a core part of who I am. The second is my interest in the subject of geology, which isn’t at the core of who I am, but close.

Here are a few statistics from my first three years of blogging:

  • 178,213 hits (not counting my own page views)
  • 659 posts
  • 414 comments (thank you!)
  • 3,516 spam comments deleted

I believe that The GeoChristian is close to unique in the blogosphere. There are plenty of excellent Christian blogs, and there are a number of excellent geology blogs. There are not many that combine the two.

The most commonly viewed post on The GeoChristian is one about Despair.com, which people find through search engines. This post doesn’t really fit into my overall theme. Here are my favorite posts from the past three years:

Thanks again for reading The GeoChristian.

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone be the Glory

Grace and Peace