The Loss of Wonder and the Descent of Humanity

The Loss of Wonder and the Descent of Humanity

What are we to make of the recent attack in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and hundreds injured? What would motivate a man to undertake such an evil?

The investigation into the specifics of his motive are ongoing, and I cannot pretend to have a complete answer. There are; however, some basic facts that can tell us some important things.

The shooter was wealthy. By all accounts, he had enough wealth so that he no longer needed to work, but spent his time in leisure gambling. From the outside, he was a financial success living a life that many people look upon with envy. so why would a man of success, living “the dream” do such a terrible thing?

In part, the answer comes when we realize that setting goals and fulfilling dreams is far different than having meaning and fulfilling purpose. Ravi Zacharias in his book, Recapture the Wonder: frames the question well:

Skeptics would use a tragedy like this to point to the absence of God in the human experience. “Where is God in such disfigurement?” ment?” they will argue. “How can one blame this man for seeing no purpose and fulfillment in being alive?” I think it is here that we make our first very subtle mistake, both in our logic and in our experience. It is shallow reasoning to deduce that because pain or unfulfilled dreams have brought disappointment appointment to experience, life itself must be hollow and purposeless. less. In fact, this conclusion may miss the deeper problem within our common struggle to find something in life of ultimate purpose.

Ravi Zacharias. Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy (p. 3). Kindle Edition.

It was observed by family that the shooter had:

“No affiliation, no religion, no politics. He never cared about any of that stuff. He was a guy who had money. He went on cruises and gambled.”

This, to me, is a picture of depression, isolation, sadness, and sorrow… not success. Ravi goes on to observe something important here we can all take to heart.

You see, fulfilled dreams are not necessarily fulfilled hopes. Attainment and fulfillment are not the same. Many dream and wish for the attainments that would make them the envy of our world. Careers, positions, possessions, romance … these are real goals, pursued sued by the vast majority who are deluded into believing that succeeding in these areas brings fulfillment. But deep within there is some stronger longing, sometimes even hard to pinpoint. We know there is a vacuum, a space of huge proportions that seeks a state of mind that attainments cannot fill. That dream of ultimate fulfillment is intangible but recognizable, indefinable but felt, verbalized but imprecise, visualized but blurred, inestimable but traded in for something less, something daily. I suggest it is the greatest pursuit of every life, consciously or unconsciously, and it is not mitigated by one’s worldly success. That

Ravi Zacharias. Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy (pp. 4-5). Kindle Edition.

Too many people are consumed with living a dream that empties us of our souls. We see poverty as the anti-hope and wealth as the ultimate fulfillment. But if we can learn anything from the shooter in Las Vegas, it is that the size of ones bank account does not correspond to fulfillment. Ravi says:

I believe it is possible that those who have attained every dream may be at least as impoverished as the man at the dump-perhaps even more-as they bask in the accolades, knowing that the charade is shattered by the aloneness within them.

Ravi Zacharias. Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy (p. 5). Kindle Edition.

We can talk about gun control. We can talk about mental health. We can talk about Islamic radicalization or Antifa. These are all important and necessary conversations. But right now, today, we also need to talk about meaning and the value for human life that only comes from God. Without God, there is a loss of wonder that only leads to the descent of humanity. If you are someone struggling to understand why, then the first step is to turn towards Jesus Christ—the one person who has all the answers.

Today, amidst the terror of inhumanity, I am reminded of the old hymn I used to sing when I was a kid.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu’rors we are!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well;
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The Roman Catholic, Fundamentalist, and Evangelical Response to Science

The Roman Catholic, Fundamentalist, and Evangelical Response to Science

The Roman Catholic response to the scientific revolution was mixed as it encompassed both positive and negative elements. By the beginning of the 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church had fully adopted Aquinas’ 13th century Aristotelian philosophy. This set the framework for the oft overstated conflict between Papal authority and the Copernican minority. When Galileo began espousing Copernican astronomy, the Roman Catholic Church chose to accept the more well-attested scientific paradigm; backed by esteemed astronomers like Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and bolstered by Aristotelian scholasticism, and reject a minority scientific opinion with questionable veracity.

Ultimately, the conflict between The Roman Catholic Church and the Copernican theory was more about the neo-Platonic natural philosophy advancing against Aristotelianism than it was science vs. religion. The new heliocentric scientists reinterpreted key passages the Roman Catholic Church interpreted to support geocentric cosmology: Genesis 1, Ecclesiastes 1: 4– 6, Joshua 10: 12, and Psalm 19: 4– 6. Galileo’s cosmology required a different biblical hermeneutic that the Pope, relying on the decision made by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and the early church fathers, was not willing to make. The conflict between Galileo’s views and the Roman Catholic church’s acceptance of the dominant scientific view of the day occurred at a time when the Roman Catholic church was losing power to the Protestant Reformers. This made the Pope more sensitive to any dissent and fostered a reaction to try and preserve their power. Despite their reasoned rejection of heliocentrism, the Roman Catholic Church in the 19th and 20th centuries continued to support scientific research and supported men such as Georges Lemaître who postulated big bang cosmology.[1] A view which was originally rejected by secular scientists as overtly religious in nature and which today has become the accepted standard of most cosmologists.

The terms evangelical and fundamentalist are very broad terms defined differently depending upon who is using these terms. Still, broadly speaking, both traditions developed in the English-speaking West as descended of the Protestant Reformation and both were highly engaged in social issues including science. However, Evangelicalism tended to focus on experiential faith and did not have a strong bent toward the integration of science and faith.[2] This idea is reflected in a letter written to the Methodist theologian Adam Carke whose commentary on Genesis offered a unique integration of science and religion. Mr. Butterworth wrote to Clarke,

I conceive that the generality of our commentators are divines only, and have but little knowledge of natural philosophy and science in general, which greatly serves in the illustration of the sacred text.[3]

So while some evangelicals have promoted an anti-intellectual faith, others, as illustrated in the preceding quote, had a great concern to integrate science into biblical understanding.

Fundamentalism is another term often used disparagingly of conservative Christian groups who rejected the influences of intellectual and moral liberalism. Like evangelicalism, this broad spectrum included both those who were opposed to scientific pursuits perceived to undermine the authority of the Bible and others who saw science as an ally of Christian faith. Dispensationalists are often characterized by historians as a dominant force in fundamentalism that was strongly literal in their biblical interpretation, overly focused on eschatology and unwilling to accept naturalistic science.[4] However, fundamentalists such as the Scottish theologian James Orr were in favor of integrating science and faith. Orr wrote in The Fundamentals:

It is an unhappy illustration of how the best of men can at times err in matters which they imperfectly understand, or where their prejudices and traditional ideas are affected. But it proves nothing against the value of the discoveries themselves, or the deeper insight into the ways of God of the men who made them, or of real contradiction between the new truth and the essential teaching of the Scriptures.[5]

In the works of men like Clarke and Orr one finds an Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism that are both interested in developing a holistic approach to reality that integrates faith and science. This history is matched well in the many evangelical apologists and academics who today integrate natural theology and science into their arguments in favor of a reasoned faith.

[1] Steven J. Harris, “Roman Catholicism since Trent,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 252.

[2] Mark A. Noll, “Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 262.

[3] Adam Clarke, An Account of the Religious and Literary Life of Rev. Adam Clarke, vol. 1-3 (New-York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), 396.

[4] Noll,  in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 263.

[5] James Orr, Science and Christian Faith, vol. 1, 4 vols., The Fundamentals: a testimony of truth (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 335.

The Reformation Influence on the Scientific Revolution

The Reformation Influence on the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution is a term that describes the period of upheaval in Europe beginning around the 16th century in which Aristotelian natural-science was supplanted by the Baconian method of science undergirded by a Neo-Platonist philosophy. Many pinpoint the publication of Polish scientist Nicholas Copernicus’ treatise on a moving earth and fixed sun, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, as the seminal event leading to Newton’s work a century and a half later which was the capstone of this philosophic shift in Western thought.

The accompanying Protestant reformation was one of the key influencers in the scientific revolution. The Reformation solas emphasizing God’s sovereignty, the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit on individual believers, and biblical authority over Roman Catholic tradition, shaped scientific interpretation.[1] Reform theology helped moved science away from the Medieval view of an Aristotelian organic cosmos to a mechanistic philosophy of motion that could be understood through mathematical formulations.[2] The mechanical philosophy of the 17th century is represented by Pierre Gassendi, René Descartes, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton. Buoyed by the new astronomy and physics of the day, scientists rejected Aristotelian epistemology and metaphysics which endowed matter with innate qualities, dominant since the 13th century, and replaced it with an atomistic, historically epicurean, philosophy.[3]

Three Lutheran astronomers, Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514– 74), Michael Mästlin (1550– 1631), and his pupil Johannes Kepler (1571– 1630) were crucial to the spread of Copernican heliocentrism by giving theological validity to Augustine’s principle of accommodation.[4] Whereas the Roman Catholic Church rejected Kepler, Protestant scientists generally accepted his ideas. Reformed theology had two key impacts on 17th century science. First, the emphasis on God’s sovereignty over man’s salvation was mirrored in nature’s mechanistic or ontological passivity orchestrated by God’s direct working. Second, understanding God’s work for the rationalists was found in the human capacity to reason as a reflection of the imago Dei.

As empiricism grew the scientific revolution led to the overthrow of God who was slowly replaced by science. Scientists such as Boyle and Newton built upon these early ideas while taking seriously the theological implications of their work.[5] “For Boyle— and many other natural philosophers of his day— the practice of natural philosophy was an act of worship since it led to greater knowledge of the Creator by directly acquainting the careful observer with God’s wisdom and benevolence in designing the world.”[6] Eventually, the mechanistic philosophy opened the door for men like Locke accept the reasonableness of Christianity, yet deny the central doctrine of original sin. The rise of deism and atheism followed in the 18th century and led to Laplace’s exposition of a purely deterministic cosmology.

[1] Edward B. Davis and Michael P. Winship, “Early Modern Protestantism,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 118.

[2] Ibid., 119.

[3] Margaret J. Osler, “Mechanical Philosophy,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 142.

[4] Davis and Winship,  in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 121.

[5] Osler,  in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, 148.

[6] Ibid., 149.

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