Did the Early Church Fathers reject scientific knowledge?

Did the Early Church Fathers reject scientific knowledge?

The Christian intellectual tradition began in second and third centuries A.D. among a small group of highly educated elites who dialogued with the varies pagan philosophies of the time.[1] Many of these thinkers were well educated in pagan philosophy before their conversion and worked to defend the core theology of the Christian message. In disciplines not specific to Christian theology, these intellectuals were methodologically men of their age.

The charge of Christian anti-intellectualism is traced to a few proof-texts from the Apostle Paul (Colossians 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 3:18-19) interpreted through the writings of Tertullian. However, Tertullian did not reflect the entirety of Christian thought on the usefulness of Greek philosophy (science). Christian apologists From Justin Martyr (c. 100– 165) to St. Augustine (354– 430) allied themselves with Greek philosophical traditions, especially Platonism and Neo-Platonism, that they considered congenial to Christian thought to help persuade pagans of the salvation truth found in Jesus Christ.[2]

During the first centuries A.D., Early Church Fathers like Tertullian and Basil did attack the pagan natural philosophy (science) that had once consumed their own thinking, yet employed arguments rooted in a Greco-Roman worldview to persuade those outside the Faith. Tertullian, for example, invoked the Platonic idea of a finite cosmos to reinforce his own cosmology. Christians were not ‘anti-science’ but institutionally represented the largest influence on the study of natural science and employed serious philosophical argumentation demonstrating a deep understanding and, in some cases, respect for it. [3]

St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, continued in the tradition of Tertullian and Basil in his strong criticism of natural philosophy. However, his critique of philosophy was tempered by the utility he found in using it to fashion arguments that favored his Christian theology.[4] For Augustine, worldly knowledge was justified not by itself, but insofar as it was used as a means to achieve the greater ends of Divine knowledge. The early church esteemed a robust defense of the Faith over the handmaiden of natural science; however, low priority did not mean the Early Church Fathers had no value for natural science, during the patristic period the church was the most significant institutional influencer for the study of the natural sciences. Creation cosmology, the earth’s shape, and medicine are but three fields of study that demonstrate how the Early Church Fathers sought to integrate theology and natural science.


[1] David C. Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 47.

[2] Ibid., 48-49.

[3] Lindberg, “Early Christian Attitudes toward Nature,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 50.

[4] Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 51.

Does history prove science and Christianity are incompatible?

Does history prove science and Christianity are incompatible?

How should we view the historic interplay between science and religion in general and, more specifically, between science and the Christian faith? There are four popular models commonly discussed. Of the four, the Dialogue Model is the ideal framework for understanding the historical relationship between science and religion. This model espoused by men like Thomas F. Torrance and John Polkinghorne states that science and religion cover overlapping domains sharing common ground in their presuppositions, methods, and concepts. This common ground, rooted in a philosophical realism, presupposes that empirical methodologies can work together to uncover real truths about the cosmos. The dialogue thesis of science and religion is supported by the following examples.

An openness of Christians to incorporating new scientific ideas can be observed in the story of Polish scientist Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) who published his treatise on a moving earth and fixed sun titled, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, which he believed was the “handiwork of the Almighty Creator.” In part, Copernicus was persuaded to publish his work by the Lutheran astronomer from Wittenberg, Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514– 1574). This historic work was edited by another Lutheran clergyman who believed the interplay between experimental science, philosophy, and Divine revelation from the Scripture could be used to discover truth. Wittenberg, Germany became the leader in publishing and teaching about the Copernican system and helped educate the likes of Johannes Kepler (1571– 1630). Although lacking experimental proof, requisite to the rising Baconian philosophy of science, Kepler accepted the Copernican model believing it reflected the plain teaching of Scripture the trinity; God in the sun, Christ in the shell of fixed stars, and the Holy Spirit in the expanse of space.[1]

The above is one of many stories that demonstrate the validity of the dialogue model over and against the three alternatives methodologies: first, the Conflict or Warfare Model espoused by men such as James White and William Draper argues that science and religion cover the same domain using an irreconcilable methodology such that the truth of one must exclude the truth of the other, second, the Independence Model espoused by men like Immanuel Kant and Stephen J. Gould, which argues that science and religion cover distinct domains using understandably distinctive methodologies or by focusing on distinctive objects such that both can be true, but only if they remain in their distinct domains of knowledge, and third, the Integration Model espoused by men such as Auguste Comte, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Ian Barbour which argues that science and religion cover the same domain such that when united they form one all-inclusive portrait of reality.


[1] Owen Gingerich, “The Copernican Revolution,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 101.

The Shield Prayer of Saint Patrick

The Shield Prayer of Saint Patrick

I bind to myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
.
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.
.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In deeds of the righteous.
.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea.
.
I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
.
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts that war within,
Against everyone who intends injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against every hostile merciless power
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against every heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Christ, protect me today.
.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
.
I bind to myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Will Changing the Rules of Grammar Eliminate Racism?

Will Changing the Rules of Grammar Eliminate Racism?

The University of Washington made news headlines with their Tacoma Writing Center’s “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center.”  Headlines declared, “College Writing Center Declares American Grammar A ‘Racist,’ ‘Unjust Language Structure’,”  “College teaches American grammar is ‘racist’,” and “College writing center: Proper grammar perpetuates ‘racist,’ ‘unjust language structure.”

In part, the reaction is against quotes from the UW statement like the following;

The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.

and

Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.

Some of the key commitments are outlined in their paper,

  • emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical “correctness” in the production of texts
  • provide students ways to be more aware of grammar as a rhetorical set of choices with various consequences;
  • challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations;

The UWT statement concludes,

We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.

The director of the UWT writing center, Dr. Asao Inoue, and John Burkhardt have defended the writing center statement as important for changing the systemic structures of racism that now define the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus, all of academia, and Western society as a whole.

The Center works to raise awareness that language is part of a larger system than can unintentionally perpetuate racial and social inequities. The term “racism” in this context is not about people behaving badly; it is about helping students understand language as part of a larger cultural system.

These concepts add to what students are learning about English and writing and help them understand they have choices in how they use language. They provide students with tools for how language can be applied effectively in different contexts.

Critics at The Daily Caller have observed, “The Tacoma Writing Center’s prioritization of social justice over grammar resembles previous concerted efforts to legitimize incorrect speech, such as Ebonics, “inventive spelling,” and “whole language.”” This connection to previous movements is important as it reminds us that this statement from UW was not made in a vacuum. Recently, a portrait of William Shakespeare was removed by students from the University of Pennsylvania and replaced by with a portrait of Audre Lorde who describes herself as a “Black feminist, lesbian, poet, mother, [and] warrior.” UPenn English Chair Jed Esty has since written an email to English majors stating, “We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols.”

Will changing the rules of grammar eliminate racism? No, and to be fair, I don’t think that is precisely what is being argued by UWT. That may be an implied point, but not what they are trying to say. What they are arguing is much deeper. These statements above taken together reflect a larger movement in academia that has long embraced linguistic deconstruction through a postmodernist lens. For those unfamiliar, Ravi Zacharias has described postmodernism as a movement against truth, meaning, and certainty that rejects the idea of a meta-narrative (e.g. a Christian worldview) based on an epistemology that holds to the limitless instability of words. Zaharias’ last words are key to understanding what is happening at UW, UPenn and all across Western academia.

First, it is a movement to deconstruct the referential use of language and erode any reasonable foundation for coherence in the traditions of Western civilization (e.g. democracy rule of law, marriage, economics, etc…). The ‘limitless instability of language’ is a primal truth in the postmodern language convention which seeks to redefine language based on cultural context, rhetorical situations, and situational choice. In the case of UW, the goal is quite simple. if one wants to eliminate systemic racism, one must redefine the very meaning of words and the structures of grammar so that any foundation for truth, meaning, and certainly within the American context can be eliminated and replaced with a new egalitarian system.

Second, it is a post-structuralist movement that, lacking any meta-narrative, concludes characteristics like individual identity and moral values have no intrinsic value. Values are not objective and absolute but instead determined by relativistic conditions within a culture. The reason racism exists, so the argument goes, is because the structures, institutions, and language of society have fostered it. This is in some form an adaptation of Descartes’s idea theory of perception applied to how one defines the very nature of being.

The “self” is a bundle of social roles, such as being a wife, a mother, a graduate student, an insurance salesperson, and these roles are created by the linguistic practices associated with them. For the postmodernist, consciousness and the self are social, not individual.

Moreland, James Porter; William Lane Craig (2009-09-20). Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (p. 148). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The problem with the UW statement goes far deeper than a rejection of objective rules of grammar. The ad-hoc post-modern worldview that undergirds this statement is ultimately a rejection of any inherent meaning in words which in turn leads to a wholly transient morality and ties human dignity to the whims of society.

Here is a description of post-modern philosophy in contrast to philosophical realism that should help process the thought behind this movement to reinvent grammar.

Philosophically, metaphysical realism includes a commitment to (1) the existence of a theory-independent or language-independent reality, (2) the notion that there is one way the world really is and (3) the notion that the basic laws of logic (identity, noncontradiction, excluded middle) apply to reality. Postmodernism involves an antirealist rejection of these realist commitments. According to postmodernism, “reality” is a social construction. Language creates reality, and what is real for one linguistic group may be unreal for another.

Moreland, James Porter; William Lane Craig (2009-09-20). Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (p. 145). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Thus, for these deconstructionist reformers, the Christian meta-narrative of the human sin nature, the need for redemption, and the hope of restoration through the salvation of Jesus Christ is seen as one more system to be deconstructed before any real progress can be made.

These are just a few of my initial observations, but certainly incomplete. So let me ask:

  • What problems do you see?
  • What ideas do you have for engaging the minds of those who accept these ideas?

Gender ID is not Subjective

Gender ID is not subjective. It is not defined by culture or by perception, it is defined by the objective reality of God’s creative purpose for your life… and that is a good thing!

The best science affirms what we know from the creation account in Genesis. The American College of Pediatrics updated their scientific conclusion that transgenderism is harmful to children. They conclude:

The American College of Pediatricians urges healthcare professionals, educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts – not ideology – determine reality.

An excerpt of each of their key statements assert the following:

1. Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of male and female, respectively – not genetic markers of a disorder.

2. No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.

3. A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking.

4. Puberty is not a disease and puberty-blocking hormones can be dangerous. Reversible or not, puberty- blocking hormones induce a state of disease – the absence of puberty – and inhibit growth and fertility in a previously biologically healthy child.

5. According to the DSM-V, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.

6. Pre-pubertal children who use puberty blockers to impersonate the opposite sex will require cross-sex hormones in late adolescence. This combination leads to permanent sterility. These children will never be able to conceive any genetically related children even via artificial reproductive technology. In addition, cross-sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) are associated with dangerous health risks including but not limited to cardiac disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

7. Rates of suicide are nearly twenty times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBTQ – affirming countries.

8. Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.

Their final affirmation is quite clear.

The bottom line is this:  Our opponents advocate a new scientifically baseless standard of care for children with a psychological condition (GD) that would otherwise resolve after puberty for the vast majority of patients concerned.  Specifically, they advise:  affirmation of children’s thoughts which are contrary to physical reality; the chemical castration of these children prior to puberty with GnRH agonists (puberty blockers which cause infertility, stunted growth, low bone density, and an unknown impact upon their brain development), and, finally, the permanent sterilization of these children prior to age 18 via cross-sex hormones.

[SERMON] Sex & Creation — Genesis 2

The Sunday Conversation at Reunion Church led by Joe Miller, Elder — Genesis 2. The message is titled, “Sex & Creation.”

Here are the questions we discussed at our tables.

1 Why is there so much confusion today about “gender identity”?
2 Why do you think so many people and cultures struggle with seeing men and women as equal?
3. How can the Creation story help us resolve our confusion?
 

Here is a summary of the main points that jumped out to me.

1. Male & Female TOGETHER reflect the Goodness of God. (e.g. Our “gender” ID is objective, not subjective.)
2. Male & Female TOGETHER reflect the creative power of God. (e.g. A triune God is reflected in the triune nature of conception).
3. Male & Female TOGETHER fulfill God’s Divine purpose (e.g. We must care for all creation).

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