The End of Me

Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

KYLE IDLEMAN’S BOOK The End of Me introduces us to the concept, “Where real life in the upside-down ways of Jesus begins.” In other words, the ways of Christ are often completely opposite of what we think might work. We think coming to the end of me means we cease to exist as an individual. It is Idleman’s belief that we need to be broken to be whole. I would add that we need to realize our brokenness—the mere presence of brokenness in our lives will mean nothing if it remains an undiscovered reason for our misery. Scripture speaks of many such dichotomies: mourn to be happy; humbled to be exalted; authentic to be accepted; helpless to be empowered; disqualified to be chosen; weak to be strong. No one knew this better than Paul.

Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, ESV). He noted that through our own weakness we are made strong in Christ (see Phil. 4:13). He said, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Idleman quotes Colossians 3:3: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We can only come to the end of ourselves through accepting our brokenness and our weakness. This is how Romans 8:28 operates in the lives of those who follow Christ. Psalm 34:18 reminds us, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Following Jesus means striving to be like Him. He always obeyed His Father, so we must strive to do the same (see John 8:29; 15:10). To truly follow Christ means to make Him our Savior and LORD; our redeemer and Master. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). You cannot be “half a disciple.” When we cherry pick which verses to follow, or in any way serve self or the flesh instead of Jesus, we are not in the way of Jesus. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living(Rom. 14:8-9).

Regarding coming to the end of ourselves in order to find Christ, Idleman recalls a conversation with a church member: “I was returning a call to a man named Brian. I read [in] my notes that his eighteen-month-old son had died a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know the details, but as a father of four, I can’t imagine such a loss. I said a prayer as I dialed his number. Brian answered with a monotone Hello. Having had many conversations like this over the past twenty years, I knew there was not much I could say. So, after expressing my heartbreak for his loss, I allowed silence to settle into our conversation. After a few moments, Brian spoke four words I was not prepared for. I backed over him(1). After describing how their son opened the door and went outside, playing in the driveway, Brian explained how he discovered Jesus in a way he never had before. He said, “I feel like I reached this point in my life when I had absolutely nothing left, and it turns out that for the first time in my life, Jesus has become real.” When he reached the end of himself, Brian discovered Jesus.

We tend to fear any program of recovery or self-improvement that requires annihilation of “self.” Alcoholics often balk at Step 3 in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, fearing a loss of identity—Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him (2). Powell says, “Why don’t more Christians, myself included, look more like Jesus? Ego. You might call it ‘the flesh.’ I believe our definition for ‘ego’ closely parallels Paul’s definition for ‘flesh’. The ego is who you think you are. It’s your false identity, your body image, education, theological knowledge, clothes, friends, social status, job, successes and accomplishments. And, as Paul says, your ego is against your Spirit. Everyone has an ego, and I believe one of the major tasks of spiritual maturity is recognizing and letting go of the ego’s lies in favor of something better” (3).

The First Step

Idleman calls the end of me “where real life in the upside-down ways of Jesus begins.” This is the real paradox: at the end of me I find real life in Him. It is the same paradox as surrendering to win. Idleman writes, “[Jesus] is saying, ‘Down with the kingdom of this world and up with the kingdom of God” (4). Admittedly, I sometimes find myself feeling good when I spend money. Typically, my purchases are on items that will make me feel good or look good. Whenever we overspend to binge on the material things of this world we are establishing “idols.” Perhaps we do not like to look vulnerable. Personally, I don’t like to look “poor.” I cannot think of a better example of putting earth’s treasures and man’s respect before God! This is something I have finally come to examine closely.

Today, man has become masters of illusion, experts at covering pain, abusers of medication, slaves of financial debt, followers of fads, and partakers of loneliness. We don’t realize that we are broken, and that the only solution for being broken is to feel our brokenness. Another paradox: brokenness is the path to wholeness. Idleman believes real life begins at brokenness. He writes, “Broken things are precious. Broken people reveal the beauty and power of God. Flaws are openings(5). I could not agree more. I have found my illusory life has limited my spiritual life and hindered stepping into God’s will for my life. My prayer today is simple: God, take my broken pieces and remold them into what seems best to you. We all must become willing to let the cracks in our facade show, but we find this extremely difficult. Social media posts, for example, allow us to edit our appearance, our lives, our opinions. We post for acceptance, not authenticity.

Nouwen writes, “What is our true vocation in life? Where can we find the peace of mind to listen to the calling voice of God? Who can guide us through the inner labyrinth of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings?” (6). He speaks of people who “know” the story of Christ and possess a deep desire to let this knowledge descend from their minds into their hearts. The trip from our brain to our heart—a mere eighteen inches—can be one of the longest journeys we will take in our lifetime. We all have a sense of “heart knowledge,” and we know it can give us the proper perspective on life, on love, on God, but we fail to make the leap from head to heart. The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19). Paul said, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10).

It’s a Matter of Spirituality

In his chapter “All These Other Things,” Nouwen says, “The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of pains and joys of the here and now. Therefore, we need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year” (7). I learned a term in my undergraduate psychology studies: metacognition, which is an awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. Essentially, it is “thinking about what you are thinking about.” For me, this can be the underlying source of my opinion or behavior at any given moment. In this regard, it is a lot like metadata: a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.

To become aware of what we are thinking, we must honestly and courageously confront our many self-deceptive games. For example, a mood of resignation will prevent us from actively searching for the life of the Spirit. My spiritual frustration came from deciding that I was unworthy of salvation; of God’s love. I decided He could not possibly use me. This led to a sense of being unfulfilled. I had a gnawing sense that I was useless and worthless. This caused a lot of inaction in my life, which led to boredom. Nouwen writes, “To be bored… does not mean that we have nothing to do, but that we question the value of the things we do” (8). This is a brilliant revelation! He further notes that boredom is often closely linked to resentment. Huh? When we wonder if what we do means anything to anyone, we easily feed used, manipulated, and exploited, which can lead to anger and resentment. If we remain in this state, we begin to ask, “Is my life worth living?” and depression is not far behind.

Life has a way of pouring us out. It takes away a loved one, our job, our home. It can also take away our health and our hope. We come to the point where we’re holding onto nothing. We feel empty and hopeless. But we need to be empty to be filled, and God loves to fill empty things. There are many examples of this in Scripture. Jesus filled 5,000 empty bellies (see Matt. 14:13-21); He filled the empty soul of the woman at the well (see John 4:7-26). When we surrender to Christ, we set the stage for restoration. He heals our brokenness and makes us whole in Him. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

When We Help Others

Our ability to remember even the smallest of details from a past experience is truly remarkable. The older we get, the more we have to remember. Our memory plays a significant role in our emotional well-being. Trauma, failure, grief, pains, joys, satisfaction—all are stored for our recall, whether by choice or as baggage. Most of our emotions are tied inextricably to our memory. Nouwen notes that we “…perceive our world with our memories… our memories help us to see and understand new impressions” (9). Accordingly, when we engage in helping others—whether as a professional or a lay minister—the first questions are always directed to memory. The emotional pain most commonly encountered when counseling others is a suffering of memories. It is not unusual for us to bury painful or traumatic events deep inside our being. Individuals who repress such events often come from a family who does likewise. “We’re not going to talk about this ever again!” This is prevalent in a family who lacks intimate communication.

What is buried cannot be healed. By cutting off the past, we paralyze our future actions. I read a passage from a book on Buddhism years ago that provided the following warning: If we fail to deal with emotional hurts of the past, they will impact our future, wherein our actions will not so much be undertaken by us than driven by our memories. Scheler says, “Remembering is the beginning of freedom from the covert power of the remembered thing or occurrence” (10). Nouwen believes when our memories remain covered with fear, anxiety, or suspicion, the Word of God cannot bear fruit in our lives. He further makes a remarkable comparison: “The strategy of the principalities and powers is to disconnect us, to cut us off from the memory of God” (11). Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) (italics added).

Ferguson says, “We have seen through union with Christ… all that is his by incarnation becomes ours through faith… when we are joined to him there is also a sense in which his life and power become available to us to transform our lives” (12). Jesus has paid for our past, and He has sanctified our present, so that our past may not dominate our present Christian life. This is a key factor in making sure the power of our past experiences do not destroy us in the present. Indeed, we are more than conquerors through Christ (see Rom. 8:37). As we grope for direction, meaning, and purpose, our quest must not be hampered by the hurts and sins of our past. Unresolved trauma and anger color what we see in others. It is not ideal to see our lives as a long list of randomly chained incidents and accidents. This has no place in the ministry of reconciliation.

A man walks down the street, he says, ‘Why am I soft in the middle, now? The rest of my life is so hard I need a photo-opportunity, I want a shot at redemption. Don’t want to end up in a cartoon graveyard… there were incidents and accidents, there were hints and allegations—Paul Simon.

Nouwen compares revolution (on a societal level) to transformation (on a personal level), and he turns to Christ for further comparison. He writes, “The liberals and progressives are fooling themselves by trying to make an intolerable [world] a little more tolerable” (13). Revolutionaries do not want a better human being, but a new human being. Revolutionaries must face self-reflection; in their quest to improve society they are also fighting their own reactions, fears, and ambitions. Radical activism must begin with radical self-examination. If, as we’ve discussed above, life means breaking down the barriers to our painful past, conversion and social change both derive power from a source above and beyond the corporeal. Nouwen says Jesus has taught us that changing the human heart and society are not separate endeavors, but are “…as interconnected as the two beams of the cross” (14).

Concluding Remarks

Kyle Idleman tells us that when we come to the end of our ropes, “real life” begins in the upside-down ways of Jesus Christ. People believe there is “something out there” that might give meaning and purpose to their lives, but they can’t seem to discovery what it is. The Bible tells us life’s real prize is hidden, and we have to know where to look. Scripture is our treasure map. Paul writes, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Idleman says “the end of me” is where real life begins. Jesus told the disciples, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many [but] the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14). In other words, we can expect a tough path when we choose the road less traveled. It crosses through death, but it leads to life.

When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die. He told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Of course, Jesus is not telling us physical death leads to life; He is talking about dying to ourselves. Today’s post-Christian culture wants nothing to do with this “nonsense,” because for them life is all about celebrating ourselves, finding more for ourselves. But you cannot get there from here. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). He sums up this heavenly principle by adding, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (16:26).

References

*True Christianity requires a commitment to follow Christ; to be “in the way of” Christ; to live according to the Christian worldview in all circumstances. It involves a denial of self.

(1) Kyle Idleman, The End of Me (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishing, 2015), 11.
(2) Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services), 2002.
(3) Frank Powell, “9 Ways Your Ego Prevents You From Experiencing God,” Frank Powell: Restoring Culture Through Christ. (n.d.). URL:
https://frankpowell.me/ways-ego-christians-god
(4) Idleman, Ibid., 26.
(5) Ibid., 37.
(6) Henri Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2016), 5.
(7) Ibid., 7.
(8) Ibid., 10.
(9) Ibid., 224.

(10) Max Scheler, On the Eternal in Man, trans. Bernard Noble (New York, NY: Harper and Bros., 1960), 41.
(11) Nouwen, Ibid., 230.
(12) Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009, 1981), 103.
(13) Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (New York, NY: Random House, 2010, 1972), 22.
(14) Ibid., 25.

Only the Elect: An Exegetical Study

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

HOW CAN YOU KNOW if you are one of the “elect?” By simply trusting in Christ alone through faith alone for salvation. Regardless of whether faith leads to election, or election causes us to believe, what is sure is that our belief is evidence of our election. Clearly, the Gospel of John suggests anyone who believes in the atoning death of Jesus Christ is saved: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).

Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (see 1 Tim. 2:3-4).

Praise God, the breadth of His divine love is the whole world. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the ultimate atonement, we have been redeemed from the wages of our sinful lives.

Did God Limit Salvation to “A Chosen Few?”

Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29) (italics added). Paul also wrote, “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:4-5) (italics added). Ephesians 1:3-14 provides a list of all spiritual blessings we have through Christ. We are chosen by the Father; redeemed by the Son; sealed by the Holy Spirit. Of critical importance in this study is “as he chose us in Him.”

But what does it mean to be firstborn among many brothers? Romans 8:29 says those who love the LORD and are called according to His purpose were “foreknown” by Him, and consequently were “predestined” to be conformed to the image of Christ. As is often the case when studying Scripture, it will help us understand election by looking at Rom. 8:18-29, which is presented as one big paragraph in my ESV Study Bible. There is a global theme here: creation itself will be set free from the curse; the children of God will go from bondage to freedom; those who are “called” are those whom God knew would choose Him, consequently those who chose Him are predestined to be “in Christ” through faith. God’s “sons and daughters” are believers who have the rights of inheritance to all that God has in store for them. It is also a logical conclusion that if all mankind has been subjected to the consequences of the sin of our first parents (Adam and Eve), then all mankind is also eligible to receive the blessings of salvation through Jesus Christ (the Second Adam).

Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren (see Rom. 8:30). The firstborn of a mother is referred to in the Bible as one who “opens the womb” of his mother (see Exodus 13:2). Jesus was born from His virgin mother, and is referred in Scripture to the Firstborn, the Second Adam. He is the foundation for the lineage of believers who believe in Him and are “in the way of” Christ. Jesus is the “firstborn” because He is the One appointed by the Father to be in authority over all things (see Col. 1:13-23). Moreover, He is the One who is the cornerstone for God’s plan of redemption. He is also firstborn due to His relation to man and the universe as both He and His followers are related to God. We are told in Scripture that we are “adopted” by God as His own children (see Gal. 4:5; Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:5).

Paul expounds on several key elements of our salvation through Christ in Romans 8. We are delivered from sin and death through the activity of Christ’s atoning death. Part of being in Christ necessarily includes dying with Him so we can be freed from condemnation and spiritual death as a just punishment for sinful living. Jesus said He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (see Matt. 5:17). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, “Sin as a rebellious force against God was condemned in the flesh of Christ. God pronounced judgment on sin in the flesh of Christ in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who are not walking (living) in accordance with the flesh but in accordance with the Spirit” (1) (additional italics added).

We are still left with the question of “election,” which often leads to a conversation about free will versus predestination. Christians refer to “being saved,” which features a new relationship with God and others, renewing of the heart and mind, growing in faith and obedience, and more. Galan and others published a great reference guide on this issue. The authors wrote, “Before seeing two ways to answer [this] question, let’s focus on the points with which all Christians agree. Regarding God’s merciful work of salvation, Christians agree that: 1. Because of sin, all humans need God’s grace; 2. Salvation from sin and condemnation is an act of God; 3. Salvation is accomplished only by grace through faith in Christ; 4. Works, good works or works of the Law, cannot lead one to salvation” (2).

Depravity: Human sin affects every area of humanity in every person. It means that people continue to make choices, but every choice is tainted by the effects of sin.

Issue 1 discussed by Galan is free will and total inability. Calvinists and Arminians (not to be confused with Armenians) agree on the total inability or depravity of man—without the prior intervention of God’s grace, humans cannot come to Him on their own. The entirety of the human race is tainted by sin. Paul said, “As it is written: none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). We are dead in our transgressions and sin (see Eph. 2:1). The effects of sin are devastating. But God extended his grace to us all, enabling us to come to Him. Arminianism calls this measure of grace “prevenient grace.” In Latin, prevenient means “to come before.” The phrase a Dei per dominum Christum Iesum praeveniente gratia is rendered “a predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ.” It signifies an “irresistible” grace that enables us to respond to God as unbelievers. Yet, we have the will to reject this call. We are granted the ability to believe, but we must choose to exercise faith in the act of believing.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect, exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Issue 2 discussed by Galan is election. The Bible clearly tells us that God elects. God chose Israel from all the nations of the earth from which to bring forth a Savior (see Deut. 7:6-8). But God’s choice to save people is not based or conditioned on who they are. God, as King, chooses freely to save people in Christ. Paul wrote, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). Galan further explains: “God’s election respects human free will because it is based on [God’s] foreknowledge. Because God knows how all choices will turn out, God foresees who will choose to follow his calling and who will reject it” (3). In other words, everyone who believes is elect. Some biblical scholars use the term corporate election, meaning God is electing a group of people made up of individuals who have chosen to follow Christ. He did predestine the church to be an elected people, leaving individuals to choose whether they become part of this group.

Klooster examines the views of John Calvin and Karl Barth in deciphering the concept of election. He writes, “…first… election is said to be conditional (based on divine foreknowledge of who will respond to the gospel in faith) and/or corporate (based on God’s choice of a people who will serve him), in which particular persons participate by faith… second, election is in Christ in such a way that it does not specify particular persons’ ultimate destiny. Jesus Christ is both the electing God and the elected human” (4). Klooster outlines six principles of election:

  • Election is a sovereign, eternal decree (see Eph. 1:11).
  • Election involves God’s gracious plan to rescue humanity (see Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:7)
  • Election is “in Christ” (see Eph. 1:4-5, 11; Rom. 8:29)
  • Election involves both salvation and the means to that end (see 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 10:14-17)
  • Election is personal and specific, referring to “those whom God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified” (see Rom. 8:29-30, Rom. 9)
  • Election’s ultimate goal is God’s glory and praise, “…in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory” (see Eph. 1:12) and “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (see Eph. 1:10; Matt. 13:27-30, 24:31; 1 Pet. 1:1, 2:9)

Concluding Remarks

I once remarked that God sees all time at the same time. This is quite beyond human understanding. He also hears everyone at the same time. I am reminded of the scene in Bruce Almighty where Bruce has decided to see what it is like to be God. He hears literally hundreds of millions of voices all at once. God tells him this represents the prayers of mankind! To say God knew, before the foundation of the world, that man will fall from grace, and that He knew who would repent, is simply amazing. In accordance with His divine love, He predetermined a plan of salvation. He would send His Son, Jesus, to be the ultimate propitiation for the sins of all mankind; sins that had not even yet occurred! But He left the decision up to us whether to become one of the elect. What truly matters is that God created humanity, humanity sinned, and God has provided salvation through Jesus Christ.

References

(1) Charles F. Pfeiffer & Everett F. Harrison, editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1990, 1962), 1206.
(2) Benjamin Galan, et al., Free Will vs Predestination: Calvinism and Arminianism Explained (Peabody, MA: Rose Publishing), 2011.
(3) Ibid.
(4) F. H. Klooster, “Elect, Election,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 268.

History of the Church Part Five: Colonialism and Evangelism

Steven Barto, B.S., Psy., M.A. Theology

SO FAR WE HAVE explored how the Christian church began, the “marks” and underlying doctrine of the Christian church, Islamism and the Crusades, and the impact of dissension and the Protestant Reformation. In Part Five, I will expound on colonialism and evangelism. Of concern to many individuals over the life of the Christian church is whether colonization deliberately included forcing Christianity on indigenous peoples. Whether missionaries were agents of imperialism or a separate activity meant only to share the gospel. And whether these “lesser evils” are of no concern given the spreading of the gospel.

Colonialism is defined as “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” A good example of this concept is how three major powers occupied Afghanistan over the centuries: the British, the Soviets, and the United States. Colonization is sometimes done for the sake of increased security in a region, as in the case with Afghanistan. Rashid writes, “Afghanistan’s geo-strategic location on the crossroads between Iran, the Arabian Sea and India, and between Central Asia and South Asia, has given its territory and mountain passes a significance since the earliest Aryan invasions 6,000 years ago” (1). Regarding Medieval expansion Mumford notes, “When these limits were overpassed, the medieval town, as a functioning organism, ceased almost by definition to exist; for the whole community structure was a system of limitations and boundaries; and their breakdown in the city revealed an even wider dismantling through the whole culture” (2).

Gonzalez writes, “In the Western world, the attitudes of Christians toward colonialism were widely divergent,” adding, “Many Christians of profound convictions protested against the treatment of people in some colonized areas [yet many] were convinced that their enterprise was justified by the benefits the colonized would receive” (3). Some have objected over the years to the concept that God placed the benefits of Western civilization and Christian faith in the hands of white people. I certainly understand this objection; in fact, I wrote in the margin of my copy of Gonzalez, Why say “white people?” Without malice or prejudice, some Christians believe God placed the gospel in the hands of Europeans and North American settlers as “…the so-called white man’s burden: to take to the rest of the world the benefits of industrialization, capitalism, democracy, and Christianity” (4). To the extent that this is likely true, I pray that “white” men and women always share the great news of the gospel with respect and without any air of superiority.

Liew and Segovia write about, “…the process of theological (political-liberationist) as well as critical (imperial-postcolonial) engagement with the relation between the colonialist project and the biblical tradition,” adding, “Worthy of note in this regard is the formation of a network of theologians devoted to the formulation of a Christian theology with poverty and oppression at its core” (5). To me, this approach aligns with the life and ministry of Jesus, who came to minister to the poor, the captive, the homeless and hungry, and to set people free from hopeless oppression (see Luke 6:20-21, 16:19-25; Mark 12:41-44). Yet, the main focus of the story of Christianity is not about “social justice,” but salvation. (See my article Identity Politics in Social and Biblical Justice, June 27, 2021.)

There was an anti-colonial reaction to the work of colonizers whether or not they came bearing the good news of the gospel. Modernity, an intended benefit of colonization, often brought about the dislocation of vast masses who became landless, the destruction of many of the endemic cultural patterns that had sustained societies for centuries, and growing disparities in living conditions between rich and poor. But this is more a result of racial and cultural arrogance than the efforts of missionaries. Gonzalez notes, “The church was deeply influenced by all these circumstances and ideas, but the relationship between colonialism and missions was very complex” (6). Unfortunately, it has often been alleged that missionaries were agents of colonialism, but this was not always true. Further, there were many cases where missionaries reached regions that had never been visited by white traders or colonizers.

The “Mission” of Missionaries

It is true that the colonial expansion of the West—particularly the Protestant West—coincided with its missionary expansion, with the two sometimes impeding each other. Gonzalez said one of the most remarkable characteristics of the missionary movement during the nineteenth century was “…the formation of missionary societies.” Forerunners for the movement were the Society of Promoting Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.), founded in 1698, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (S.P.G.), founded in 1701 (7). Many such “societies” were formed from this modest beginning. It is important to note that during this time most Western settlements had little or no official relationship with missionary enterprises. This was the “official” position in the new colonies of North America.

Spencer addresses the positive and negative aspects of Christian missions. He asks, “What if we had empirical, long-term, statistically significant evidence that Christianity increased the general well-being of surrounding populations? It turns out we do.” The basic assumption of many in our culture is exactly the opposite. They claim the Christian ethic is repressive, and that it detracts from human flourishing. Nineteenth-century history is considered by some scholars to bring the legacy of colonialism, which is far from positive in most cases, and is blended with the history of Protestant missionaries. Christian missions are sometimes described as a form of cultural imperialism, viewed as negatively as economic and social colonial oppression. Spencer writes, “This confusion of missions and colonialism, though, appears to be in error” (8).

Samson writes, “Perhaps the most obvious problem, one which has attracted revisionists in recent years, is the dilemma raised by traditional critiques of Christianisation [sic]. If missionaries were always racist colonialists, how did they make converts?” Samson adds, “Instead of being the dupes of colonialism, whose actions must be limited to the subjectivities of victimisation [sic] or resistance, they can be regarded as active agents in their own histories” (9). Etherington said, “…writing[s] about the relationship between colonialism and Christianity [are] still permeated by disputes about the role of organised [sic] religion in sustaining white supremacy, despite an emerging consensus among historians that Christianity was a two‐edged sword that could undercut as well as sustain domination” (10).

Gonzalez leads us on a necessary quest to understand missions to the original thirteen colonies. For example, colonists were not “…free…cultivating their own land, but indentured labor working the land [now] owned by a colonial company” (11). As to religious freedom, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania led the new world in that direction. Yet, Gonzalez notes the evils of colonization in the New World included mistreatment of Indians. The British wanted their land, and to reach that goal the British followed a policy of extermination and confinement. Thankfully, others (including true missionaries) thought religious tolerance was best because it was God’s will. Conversion to Christianity must be accomplished through an apologetic and evangelism that serves only to provide a defense (a reason) for the hope that is in a believer in Christ to anyone who asks, but to do so with gentleness and respect” (see 1 Pet. 3:15).

Concluding Remarks

It is unfortunately true that abuses and ulterior motives lurk in nearly every corner of human endeavor. I think it is interesting to track and analyze historical, social, and theological developments. The “birth” of Christianity did not happen in a vacuum. Rather, its roots are in Judaism. During the first century of the Christian church, most people considered it a heretical sect of Judaism and not necessarily a “new” religion. The progressive thread of salvation and redemption can be seen throughout the entirety of Scripture. Judaism and Christianity have “rolled with the punches” so-to-speak, developing alongside cultural diversity, colonialization, and purposeful evangelism. Obviously, there are pros and cons to missions achieved alongside global expansion.

Numerous Christians in academia and the church see globalization as a two-edged sword. Some of the more egregious actions taken in the name of conquest or expansion included domination of indigenous peoples, the taking of land in the name of expansion, and forceful servitude (slavery). It would be nice if this had not occurred specific to the world in which missions were conducted, but it was likely unavoidable. Consequently, it can be difficult to see the “good” impact Christianity has on new populations under such circumstances. From a positive perspective, the missionary movement necessitated a spirit of cooperation that seemed to bring churches and denominations together in pursuit of the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20). Gonzalez stated that missionary societies often pulled members from more than one denomination. This helped curb “competing” messages and rivalries among witnessing missionaries.

I think it is necessary to separate the sociocultural impact of colonization from the religious impact of missions. Certainly, most Christian missionaries who bring the gospel to remote parts of the globe have a singleness of purpose: to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I would conclude that colonization was not specific to evangelism. Of course, globalization was not always undertaken with pure motives. It seems the lion’s share of colonizers intended to benefit from expansion, industrialization, increased labor forces, additional sources of raw materials and minerals, agriculture, hunting and trapping, and eventual resale of real estate for profit. Of those colonizers, some intended to bring indigenous peoples out of their primitive state of existence. A smaller percentage, although their prime objective was economical, were practicing Christians who brought the gospel with them. I see no reason to pitch the baby out with the bathwater.

References

(1) Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2000), 7.
(2) Lewis Mumford, The City in History (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1961), 313.
(3) Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christiantiy, Vol.II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 417.
(4) Ibid., 417.
(5) Tat-Siong Benny Liew and Fernando F. Segovia, Colonialism and the Bible (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2.018), xiii.
(6) Gonzalez, Ibid., 418.
(7) Ibid., 418.
(8) Andrew Spencer, “How Christian Missionaries Changed the World for the Better,” Institute for Faith, Works & Economics (Feb. 10, 2014). URL: https://tifwe.org/the-truth-about-missionaries/
(9) Jane Samson, The Problem of Colonialism in the Western Historiography of Christian Missions, Vol. 2 (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishing, 2021), 511.
(10) Norman Etherington, “Recent trends in the historiography of Christianity in Southern Africa,” Journal of South African Studies, 22:2, 201-219, DOI: 10.1080/03057079608708487.
(11) Gonzalez, Ibid., 276.

Our Miraculous Sun

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

“[The sun’s] rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Psa. 19:6, ESV).

WHAT IS OUR SUN made of and what keeps it burning? How hot is it and will it ever burn out? What is the distance from Earth to the Sun? Gazing at the stars at night, it is exhilarating to see a shooting star or recognize a constellation. Seldom, however, do we glance at the Sun during the day and marvel at its properties and its place in our existence. Yet, we know from the pain of sunburn and the many occurrences of skin cancer that the Sun contains damaging rays in addition to beneficial ones. What are these rays made of and how do they travel millions of miles to earth?

Set me where as the sun doth parch the green,
Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice;
In temperate heat where he is felt and seen;
With proud people, in presence sad and wise;
Set me in base, or yet in high degree,
In the long night, or in the shortest day,
In clear weather, or where mists thickest be,
In lost youth, or when my hairs be grey;
Set me in earth, in heaven, or yet in hell,
In hill, in dale, or in the foaming flood;
Thrall, or at large, alive where so I dwell,
Sick, or in health, in ill fame or good:
Yours will I be, and with that only thought
Comfort myself when that my hope is nought.

—Henry Howard

The Sun is a hot ball of glowing gases whose gravity holds the entire solar system together, keeping everything—from the biggest planets to the smallest particles of debris—in proper orbit. The connection and interactions between the Sun and Earth drive the seasons, ocean currents, weather, climate, radiation belts, and auroras. It is fascinating that our Sun, with a radius of 432,168.6 miles (695,508 kilometers), is not an especially large star—many are much bigger. But it is still far more massive than Earth. It would take 332,946 Earths to match the mass of the Sun. The Sun is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth and yet its energy travels this distance in approximately eight minutes.

Orbit and Rotation

The Sun and everything in its orbit is located in the Milky Way galaxy. Amazingly, the Milky Way is so expansive we can see it even though we are part of it. Our Sun is located in a spiral arm called the Orion Spur that extends outward from the arm of Sagittarius (see illustration below). From there, it orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy, bringing the planets, asteroids, comets, and other objects along with it. Our solar system moves at an average velocity of 450,000 mph (720,000 kph). Even at this speed, it takes about 230 million years to make one complete orbit around the Milky Way. Its nearest stellar neighbor is Alpha Centauri.

A large spiral with several major and smaller ones, and bar in the middle.

The Sun rotates at an axial tilt of 7.25 degree as it orbits the center of the Milky Way. Because it is not a solid body, different parts of the Sun rotate at different rates. At its equator, it spins around once about every 25 Earth days, while at its poles it makes one full rotation every 36 Earth days. Astrophysicists and cosmologists believe the Sun formed from a giant rotating cloud of gas and dust called a solar nebula. As the nebula collapsed—due to its overwhelming gravitational pull—it began to spin faster and flattened into a disk. Genesis 1:2 states, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” As the cloud collapsed, most of its material was pulled toward the center to form our Sun, accounting for 99.8% of the mass of the entire solar system. “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1:3-5).

“The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Joel 2:31).

Like all stars, the Sun will someday run out of energy. When it starts to die, it will swell so big that it will engulf Mercury and Venus and most likely Earth. Scientists predict the Sun is a little less than halfway through its lifetime. Although most scientists believe the Sun will last another 6.5 billion years before it shrinks down to a white dwarf, exactly how far the dying Sun will expand, and how conditions will change, aren’t yet clear. Its enormous mass is held together by gravitational attraction, which generates immense pressure and temperature at its core. The Sun is already growing brighter. In any event, Sun’s radiation will become too much for life on Earth to handle. As we will explore in the Section “Biblical Concepts of the Sun,” God will destroy the Earth with fire.

“Waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn” (2 Pet. 3:12).

Red Giant Earth - Wikimedia

The core of our Sun is approximately 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius), creating conditions that sustain thermonuclear fusion. Atoms combine to form larger atoms, which ultimately causes the release of a staggering amount of energy. The surface of the Sun, called the photosphere, is 300 miles thick (500 kilometers), and is not a solid surface like the surface of planets. The temperature of the photosphere is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius). Above the Sun’s photosphere are the chromosphere and the corona, which comprise a rather thin solar atmosphere. Solar flares and sun spots occur in this area above the surface. Visible light from these top regions of the Sun is usually too weak to be seen against the brighter photosphere, but it is observable during total solar eclipses as a red rim around the Sun. Strangely, the temperature in the Sun’s atmosphere increases the farther it rises above the surface, reaching as much as 3.5 million degrees Fahrenheit (2 million degrees Celsius).

Biblical Concepts of the Sun

“Sun” (Heb. shemesh) is first mentioned along with the moon as the two great luminaries of heaven (see Gen. 1:14-18). Shemesh is translated as “sun” 119 times and “sun rising” 9 times. The Sun and the Moon are referenced in the Old Testament as “deciding the seasons,” for agriculture and for religious festivals. The lunar and solar year was used to determine the length and subdivisions of the years subsequent to the Mosaic period. Sunrise and sunset were the only non-artificial means for telling the hour of the day. The Jews recognized three periods of time throughout the day: when the Sun became hot, about 9:00 AM (see 1 Sam. 11:9; Neh. 7:3); the “double light” or noon (see Gen. 43:16; 2 Sam. 4:5); and “the cool of the day” shortly before sunset (See Gen. 3:9).

Worship of the Sun is one of the oldest forms of false religion (see Job 31:26, 31:27), common among the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and other pagan nations. Israel was warned against this form of idolatry (see Duet. 4:19, 17:3; 2 Kings 23:11; Jeremiah 19:13). Native religions find their inspiration in the natural world. From early times the Sun has been recognized as an important source of life. Many myths describe the chaos that would ensue if the Sun were to disappear. Followers of Shintoism believe Amaterasu is the sun goddess. Worshiping the Sun as the most prominent and powerful agent in the kingdom of nature was widely diffused throughout the countries adjacent to Palestine. The Arabs paid direct worship to the Sun, but did not erect any statue or symbol (see Job 31:26; 31:27).

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).

The Sun is often mentioned in Scripture in connection with the common cycle, routines, and activities of life (see Eccl. 1:3-5, 6:5, 12:2). “Under the Sun” or “under the heavens” refers to the universality of human experiences everywhere in the world. The Sun is critical for sustaining life on Earth. It is also a source of blessing. God causes the Sun to rise on the righteous and on the unrighteous (see Matt. 5:45). Jeremiah 31:35 says the Sun provides light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night. The Sun is also said to carry a negative force. In most cases it is the absence of sunshine that is noted in connection with God’s judgment: “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Joel 2:31). Thus Joel prophesies that in connection with the coming Day of the Lord, “I will display wonders in the heavens and on earth; blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and inspiring Day of the LORD comes” (Joel 2:31).

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21).

The ultimate result of God’s plan for redemption will restore man’s relationship with God for those who believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Restoration applies also to all of creation. Peter tells us the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved (2 Pet. 3:10). Isaiah writes, “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree” (Isa. 34:4). Johnathan Merritt writes, “[W]e note that the picture of fire in the Scripture is most often something that purifies rather than destroys. The presence of God and the Holy Spirit are associated with fire, for example, but this doesn’t mean that coming into contact with God will destroy you. Rather, It transforms you. It burns away the old creation to reveal the new creation in Christ.”

Henry writes, “That day will come, when men are secure, and have no expectation of the day of the Lord [that] the stately palaces, and all the desirable things wherein worldly-minded men seek and place their happiness, shall be burned up; all sorts of creatures God has made, and all the works of men, must pass through the fire, which shall be a consuming fire to all that sin has brought into the world, though a refining fire to the works of God’s hand.” This fits hand in hand with what will become of us if we set our affections on Earth and all it has to offer, seeing all these things shall be burned up. God’s righteous fire both purifies and destroys. God’s plan for redemption provides for our salvation and for purifying the Earth for the coming of a new heaven and a new Earth.

References

Learn to be Fervent

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

What Does it Mean to be Fervent?
On Fire for Jesus!

THE BIBLE TELLS US what is meant by fervent. “Fervor” is necessary for advancing God’s kingdom, and is put forth by spirit-filled Christians who boldly share the gospel with others. Fervent is sometimes referred to today as “passionate.” Being fervent is a critical component of apologetics (see 1 Pet. 3:15). Scripture features many stories about having passion for sharing God’s message. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1, ESV).

Merriam-Webster says fervent means: (a) very hot : glowing (like the sun); (b) exhibiting or marked by great intensity of feeling (e.g., zealous).

Under the header “Marks of the True Christian” in the ESV Study Bible (1) regarding Romans 12 it states, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (12:9-11) (italics mine). Paul essentially tells us to maintain our passion in serving God. To be “fervent for God” means to have an intentional, passion-filled heart for Him. We must align ourselves with God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Because of His saving grace, we are to give ourselves entirely to God. This is our reasonable service. Spiritual service and worship ultimately mean offering our whole lives to God. We are to determine what is expected of us and learn how to apply our new-found resources to all situations confronting us. Fervor suggests an imperative.

Fervent (zeontes or ζέοντες in the Greek) is an extension of zeo (ζέω)—a verb that primarily means “to boil with heat, be hot.” Figuratively, it means “earnest.” Regarding our Christian walk, the phrase can be translated to “boiling in our spirit for God.” It is a clear call from Paul that we are to avoid becoming lukewarm, tepid, or bored as we pursue God. “Lukewarm” is an extremely important concern for believers. God said, to the church in La-odice’a, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).

Jesus reminded His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:13-14). Part of our being fervent for the gospel is to acknowledge our roles as salt and light onto the world.

Fervent Prayer

Prayer must always be a large part of the Christian lifestyle. The New King James Bible translates James 5:16 as, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Fervent prayer is that which is “impassioned, forceful, passionate, heartfelt, powerful, or wholehearted.” Henry writes, “In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer. The spirit is then most humble, and the heart is broken and tender.” He adds, “…when a righteous person, a true believer, justified in Christ, and by his grace walking before God in holy obedience, presents an effectual fervent prayer, wrought in his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit…it avails much” (2).

The English Standard Version of the Bible translates James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James offers a challenge in 5:12-20 to reverse negative patterns of action (especially wrong speech) in the community of believers by choosing the way of righteous wisdom. It is critical that we note that effective prayer includes confessing our sins to one another and praying for members of the community of believers. Consider how this concept played an important role in the ministry of Jesus. James is speaking of prayer put into action, or made operative. The point of James 5:13-18 is that prayer is important and God answers prayer, so we must make it a priority.

It is very exciting and rewarding when we experience a spiritual awakening regarding the goodness of the gospel. Each of us is a building block for the entire church to experience this kind of awakening. What does it take to achieve the marks of a true Christian? It takes a gospel-centered church. It also involves being saved unto good works. Healthy local churches feature prayer, sharing, discipleship, teaching the Word of God, and corporate worship. Further, we must have a living theology. We need to get God out of our heads and into our hearts. Augustine of Hippo said, “Moral character is assessed not by what a man knows but by what he loves” (3).

Paul said we are to “pray without ceasing.” We need not pray endlessly, 24/7, to meet this suggestion. Instead, we are to pray to the LORD regardless of circumstances. Begin with gratitude; get real with God (forego stiff, “religious” proclamations); find time throughout the day to talk with God; tell Him what He already knows; pray while waiting (for the bus, for a friend, for a return phone call, etc.); sing songs of praise during the day; quickly confess to God if you mess up; pray no matter the circumstances. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul commands us to stop being anxious and instead, “…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). He told us to be watchful and thankful (Col. 4:2). He told the Ephesians to see prayer as a weapon for fighting spiritual battles (Eph. 6:18).

As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, every anxious thought, and every undesired task that God commands. We should also show gratitude for blessings and successes through prayer. A lack of prayer will cause us to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, continual dependence upon and communion with the Father. I believe there is a tenet to be learned here: being fervent or passionate about God must accompany fervent prayer, without which we will likely be tossed to and fro by our circumstances. When we take our eyes off Jesus amid the storm, we begin to sink and to drown. There is much to be fervent about as a believer in Christ, and it begins with the forgiveness of sins and the power to life a victorious life through Jesus.

References

(1) ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2179.
(2) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 1229.
(3) Cited in Henry Chadwick, Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 54

Podcast Just One Week Away!

I am excited about launching the podcast. Due to some orthopedic issues, I had to delay the launch. Now, I am waiting for delivery of an adapter I need to plug my Blue Yeti USB microphone into the XLR port on the mixer panel.

Podcast episodes will be posted on this WordPress blog. I will let you know where to click as soon as I figure it out on this end. Thankfully, WordPress chat tech support is remarkably spot on, so I expect no issues.

Yay! Podcast!

Science and Religion: The Two Must Meet

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

The relationship between science and religion has always been complicated. The scientific revolution featured tension and collaboration between religious viewpoints and innovative scientific theories.

ALISTER McGRATH SAID, “HISTORICALLY, the most significant understanding of the relation between science and religion is that of ‘conflict,’ or perhaps even ‘warfare'” (1). As human beings, we strive constantly to determine origin, purpose, morality, and destination. Gottfried Leibniz and other Christian theologians have identified the fundamental philosophical question: Why is there something rather than nothing? Those who claim to be nihilists (rejecting all religious and moral principles, and believing life is meaningless) are rare. But believers in the purposeless, random, chaotic origin of the universe and its inhabitants abound. Cosmological arguments come in several forms, but all believe the mere fact that the universe exists suggests a cause. Theists argue everything that exists must have a cause; the universe exists, so it must have a cause; therefore, the universe is caused by a first cause (i.e., God) (2).

Lang Craig, J.P. Moreland, and others believe the adage, “out of nothing, nothing comes” (ex nihilo nihil fit). David Hume said, “But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that anything might arise without a Cause” (3). “Nothing” lacks all causal power, because it has no properties at all! Nothing is no thing. Groothuis tells us the “nothing” before the Big Bang is not a subject that can have properties, but is rather an absence of all properties. Zero, divided or multiplied by zero, is zero. I believe the mere vastness and mathematical precision of the cosmos belies a causeless beginning. An actual infinite (which itself sounds like an oxymoron) can never be transversed through successive addition—that is, through incremental steps. We can neither count from one to eternity nor count down from eternity to one (4). Hawking said “…almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang” (5).

The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. —Stephen Hawking

Jeremiah wrote, “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jer. 10:12). The universe is a manifestation of the power, wisdom, and love of the Father. In this regard, it is teleological: relating to or involving the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arose. The universe is contingent (inexplicable by natural processes); is complex (the greater the complexity, the less the likelihood an event came about by chance; and, it is made according to specification (featuring a pattern of design which is independent of mere probability). I believe the existence of natural laws is evidence of intelligent design. A complex system cannot assemble itself. Lennox writes, “The design inference is not based on ignorance of the natural world but on knowledge about it, especially given recent discoveries in physics (fine-tuning) and biology (the cell and DNA)” (6).

C.S. Lewis says, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator” (7). Lennox notes that the laws of nature describe the universe, but they actually explain nothing. We were designed to be curious, inquisitive, imaginative, determined. It is natural for us to ask questions. But it is extremely important to realize not all questions (especially regarding origin, meaning, morality, and destiny) can be answered by science alone. Feynman writes, “The fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse-square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction—that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done” (8).

Myth: Science Depends on Reason but Christianity Does Not

While there are religions that feature an anti-intellectualism, Christianity is not one of them. Science is a progressive human undertaking. It is built squarely upon the cumulative observation of a cause/effect paradigm, and verified through the scientific method. The basic steps of the scientific method are: (1) make an observation that describes a problem; (2) create a hypothesis; (3) test the hypothesis; and (4) draw conclusions and refine the hypothesis. Critical thinking is a key component of the scientific method. But this way of thinking is not limited to science. We use common sense (rational) thinking in nearly every situation. Remarkably, this model of inquiry is featured in Scripture. Jesus referred to mental faculties in Mark 12:30: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (italics mine). Notice the reference to mind: God is not anti-reason. Merriam-Webster defines reason as “a statement offered in explanation or justification;” “a rational ground or motive;” “the thing that makes some fact intelligible (cause);” “a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense.” It is because of these features that the universe is teleological.

As Christians, we are charged with the responsibility of “…being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). We are to be ready with an “apologetic” for anyone who asks us for a reason for our Christian beliefs. Paul also mentions “…the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7). He adds, “…I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (1:16). Significantly, the apologetic of which Peter speaks is a defense of Christian hope. Indeed, as Christians our lifestyle and confession are “on trial” everyday. The key element here is that our defense is one that is reasonably sustained, accessible, and well articulated—as any courtroom defense would be. The Greek word for reason is logos, referring to a universal, divine reason—or the mind of God. The transliteration of 1 Peter 3:15 is, “But as the Lord Christ, sanctify in the hearts of you, ready always for defense to everyone asking you a word concerning the in you hope [sic]” (9). Paul writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).

Speaking from the position of science, Lewontin says, “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science… because we have a prior commitment to materialism… we are forced by our a priori* adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive… moreover, that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door” (10). You may remember from my article Dark Matter and Other Phenomena (Sept. 15, 2021) that God has written two books: the general revelation of creation and the special revelation of Scripture. This provides an excellent means of comparing the rational scientific activity of interpreting nature and the rational theological activity of interpreting the Word of God. In essence, we have two sets of “data.” The first comes from our observations of nature and the cosmos, and the second comes from systematic study of the Bible. As with Scripture, nature also requires interpretation. Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).

Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words, “You must have faith.” It is a quality which the scientists cannot dispense with. —Max Planck.

Huxley said, “The one act of faith in the convert to science is the confession of the universality of order and of the absolute validity in all times and under all circumstances, of the law of causation. This confession is an act of faith, because, by the nature of the case, the truth of such propositions is not susceptible proof” (11). Scientific theory admittedly offers “the best account” of currently observed phenomena. But unless we have a crystal ball that projects observation into the future, it is impossible to take an absolute position on whether a scientific theory is right. Instead, ours is a provisional view of science, which necessarily undermines the outdated positivism of the “warfare” model of science versus religion. It is much wiser to state, “There is a broad consensus within the scientific community that this is correct, but this will probably shift as and when more evidence accumulates” (italics mine). Not to worry, because this is precisely how scientific method works.

Dinesh D’Souza reminds us that faith is not a highly acclaimed word in the scientific community. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “The claims of religions rely on faith [but] the claims of science rely on experimental verification” (12). Science is based on what Trefil calls the principle of universality: “It says that the laws of nature we discover here and now in our laboratories are true everywhere in the universe and have been in force for all time” (13). Admittedly, there is order in the universe. Its complexity cannot subsist without it. Scientists have discovered laws, physical principles, and structures that aid in deciphering the universe.

Science was not founded in the seventeenth century as a revolt against religious dogma. Rather, it was founded earlier, between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, through a dispute between two kinds of religious schools of thought. The first belief held that deductive reasoning was the best way to discover God’s hand in creation; the second promoted inductive experience (including the use of experiments) to properly evaluate and define nature. As a result, the scientific method emerged in the thirteenth century, and the professional position of “scientist” was established in the late Middle Ages, with a great number of scientists being Christians who viewed their work as a fulfillment of Christian objectives. As a result of the rejection of papal hierarchy, the so-called “priesthood of the individual believer” became immensely popular. The “protestant” Christians did not realize they were introducing new theological concepts that would have a huge impact on the emerging scientific culture in Europe.

Quantum Physics and New Interpretations

There have been a number of paradigm shifts in science over the decades, but none as remarkable as discovery of the sub-subatomic world of quarks and leptons. Quantum mechanics, deemed the hardest part of physics, is helping to redefine how the universe operates. The seeming regularity of the universe is based on anomaly, pathology, and holes in the spacetime continuum. At the foundation of quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which states: there is a fundamental limit to what one can know about a quantum system. At a basic level, quantum physics predicts very strange things about matter that are completely at odds with how things seem to work in the real world (14). For example, the more precisely one knows a particle’s position, the less one can know about its momentum, and vice versa. Systems with quantum behavior don’t follow the rules that we are used to, they are hard to see and hard to “feel,” can have controversial features, can exist in several different states at the same time, and even change depending on whether they are observed or not.

Hawking addressed the plausibility of predicting the position and speed of all of the particles in the universe. He writes “Our ability to predict the future is severely limited by the complexity of the equations, and the fact that they often have a property called chaos” (15). Thus, a complete prediction of the future cannot be realized. Although scientists stand a good chance of being right about events anticipated over the next few decades, the rest of the millenium will be wild speculation. Quantum mechanics shows that energy comes in discrete packets called “quanta.” This new theory suggests that things do not have a single unique history, but have every possible history each with its own probability (16). Even what we understand as empty space is full of particles moving in closed loops in space and time. Kuhn writes, “Because it demands large-scale paradigm destruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergency of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity” (17).

There must be a meeting of the minds between science and religion if we are ever to grasp how a created universe behaves: by what rules, and to what degree of predictability. One such focus relates to paradigms, and how they gain status because they are more successful than competition from existing theories. Paradigm shifts can be rather untidy. Few people who are not involved in the daily practice of scientific method realize how much mop-up work results in this sort of critical change. The dance of science and religion tends to be choreographed by the religious belief itself. For example, there are philosophical, biological, and scientific aspects of Christianity. Moral philosophy asks whether the natural sciences can establish moral values. What role does human cognition play in religious beliefs and actions? Some philosophers argue that religious beliefs are impositions upon mankind. But surely God has implanted is us a hunger for filling our “hole in the soul.”

Religion has always played a role in science. It is no accident that we tend to “look to the stars” for answers. New research has shown us that science and religion need to work together in order to explain origin, purpose, and destiny. Many Americans believe religion and science are compatible on a variety of issues, and the two should not battle each other all for the sake of trying to help people with their lives. The relationship between science and religion must address a number of issues: so-called “conflict,” independent thought, dialog, integration. Although the lion’s share of secular scientists believe science and religion inevitably conflict—as they essentially discuss the same domain—a vast number of authors who cover the subjects of science and religion are critical of the “conflict” model, stating that it is based on a shallow and partisan reading of the historical record. God has written two books: the general revelation of creation and the special revelation of Scripture. I believe we cannot achieve a complete understanding of the universe by focusing on only one of these books. Our knowledge of the world must be grounded in matter and in precepts.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).

References

(1) Alister E. McGrath, Science & Religion: A New Introduction, 3rd. ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2020), 8.
(2) Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 208-09.
(3) Ibid., 215.
(4) Ibid., 219.
(5) Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20.
(6) John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford, UK: Lion, 2007), 168-71.
(7) C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 140.
(8) Richard Feynman, The Meaning of it All (New York, NY: Penguin Publishing, 2007), 23.
(9) Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 916-17.
(10) Richard Lewontin, “Adaptation,” In Evolution:A Scientific American Book (San Francisco, CA: Freeman, 1997), 114-25.
(11) Thomas H. Huxley, in McGrath, Science & Religion, Ibid., 97.
(12) Neil deGrasse Tyson, “An Astrophysicist Ponders the God Question,” in Paul Kurtz, ed., Science & Religion (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003), 74.
(13) James Trefil, Reading the Mind of God (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1989). 1.
(14) Richard Webb, “Quantum Physics: Our Best Basic Picture of How Particles Interact to Make the World,” NewScientist (n.d.). URL:
https://www.newscientist.com/definition/quantum-physics/
(15) Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2018), 91.
(16) Ibid., 154.
(17) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2012), 68.

*a priori knowledge is knowledge that is absolutely independent of all experience.

“To Autumn” by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Dark Matter and Other Phenomena

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

Religion and science are two of the most significant and contentious cultural and intellectual forces known to man. Leading Christian thinkers at the time of the Renaissance used the metaphor “God’s 2 Books” as a way to illustrate allowing both science and religion to tell us about reality. Theologians delineate God’s revelation as General (the physical universe and all its inhabitants) and Special (the Bible as God’s written revelation). It was believed that we must “read” both books to understand Creation. I often use the phrase “all truth is God’s truth.” Albert Einstein remarked, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” As a theologian and student of the Bible, I choose to study science and religion because these subjects are interdisciplinary: neither science nor religion can provide a comprehensive view of the world. We simply cannot achieve a “complete picture” without integrating these two worlds.

We know the Milky Way is a barrel-shaped spiral galaxy, one of hundreds of billions in the observable universe. It’s also our home. Like other galaxies, the Milky Way is comprised of stars and other material bound together by gravity. Scientists estimate our galaxy to contain 100 billion to 400 billion stars; a similar number of planets likely exist in the Milky Way—some of them are part of solar systems and others are free floating. In addition to stars, the Milky Way contains innumerable nebulae, which are clouds of gas and dust. The vast majority of interstellar gas is made up of hydrogen and helium. Evidence seems to suggest that material in the Milky Way orbits the center far too quickly to be held together by gravity between the orbits of visible objects. Accordingly, most of the mass of the Milky Way is made up from a form of matter that does not interact with light. Astronomers have labeled this phenomenon dark matter (1).

What is Dark Matter?

Dark matter is the name theoretical physicists give to all the mass in the universe that remains invisible. Research suggests that about 70% of the universe is composed of dark energy, while the remaining 25% is composed of a mysterious substance known as dark matter. Unlike normal matter, dark matter does not interact with electromagnetic forces. This means it does not absorb, reflect or emit light, making it extremely hard to spot. In such instances, we typically look for the “result” of the presence of dark matter. All matter around us is made of elementary particles, the building blocks of matter. These particles occur in two basic types called quarks and leptons. Each group consists of six particles, which are related in pairs, or “generations”. The lightest and most stable particles make up the first generation, whereas the heavier and less-stable particles belong to the second and third generations. All stable matter in the universe is made from particles that belong to the first generation; any heavier particles quickly decay to more stable ones. Dark matter isn’t the same thing as dark energy, which makes up some 68% of the universe, according to the Standard Model.

The prevailing theory of today’s astrophysicists identifies four fundamental forces at work in the universe: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. The idea of a “cosmological constant” was first proposed by Einstein as a means of explaining the concept of a static universe. His formula used dark energy to balance gravity. We later determined that Einstein was wrong: rather than the universe being “static,” it is expanding at a uniform rate. Amazingly, gravity is the weakest of the four forces, but it has an infinite range. Electromagnetic force also has infinite range, but it is much stronger than gravity. The weak and strong forces are effective over a very short range, operating at the level of subatomic particles. It may sound counterintuitive, but the weak force is much stronger than gravity. Bentovish believes theoretical physics is in a state of paradigmatic crisis. The two pillars of theory for the material-causal paradigm—Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics—seem “inconsistent,” as up to 95% of all the energy and mass in the universe cannot be directly accounted for. Hence the terms “dark energy” and “dark matter” (2). This paradigm was shown to “replicate” or account for all major relativistic or quantum phenomena, and offered a satisfactory alternative explanation for the unexplained accelerated expansion of the physical universe. Relativity and gravity alone cannot explain this feature.

What about these “Black Holes?”

The first scientist to talk about black holes was John Michell of Cambridge in 1783. Keep in mind this was theoretical, as no one had observed a black hole in space. Michell broached the subject by explaining how gravity works: If you fire a cannon ball straight up in the air, it will eventually be slowed down by gravity; it will stop moving upwards, and then it will fall back to Earth. However, if the initial upwards velocity were greater than what is called the “escape velocity,” gravity would not be strong enough to pull the object back to the ground. Escape velocity is governed by mass, with the escape velocity for the Earth at 11 kilometers per second. Our sun is far more dense than Earth, with an escape velocity of 617 kilometers per second (3). You may have heard about this phenomenon in relation to launching rockets into space. Hawking states, “During most of the life of a normal star, over many billions of years, it will support itself against its own gravity by thermal pressure caused by nuclear processes which convert hydrogen into helium. Eventually, the star will exhaust its nuclear fuel” (4).

Hawking tells us Einstein’s equations can’t be defined at a singularity, adding “…at this point of infinite density one can’t predict the future” (5). The most drastic consequence of Einstein’s description of gravity in terms of curved spacetime geometry in the framework of his general theory of relativity is the possibility that space and time may exhibit “holes” or “edges,” or spacetime singularities. In general relativity, spacetime itself behaves pathologically, and it can do so in several ways. According to the present standard, a spacetime singularity can be identified by examining particles in free fall—both ordinary matter particles and massless particles like photons. All singularities formed by the collapse of stars or other bodies are hidden from view inside black holes. Naturally, we cannot tell what’s inside a black hole from the outside. But we do know a black hole has a boundary called the event horizon, where gravity is just strong enough to drag light back and prevent it from escaping. As Hawking notes, because nothing can travel faster than light, everything else will get dragged back also.

I am mesmerized by Hawking’s example:

“It is a bit like going over Niagara Falls in a canoe. If you are above the Falls, you can get away if you paddle fast enough, but once you are over the edge you are lost. There’s no way back. As you get nearer the Falls, the current gets faster. This means it pulls harder on the front of the canoe than the back. There’s a danger that the canoe will be pulled apart. It is the same with black holes. If you fall towards a black hole feet first, gravity will pull harder on your feet than your head, because they are nearer the black hole. The result is that you will be stretched out lengthwise, and squashed in sideways. If the black hole has a mass of a few times our Sun, you would be torn apart and made into spaghetti before you reached the bottom. However, if you fell into a much larger black hole, with a mass of more than a million times the Sun, the gravitational pull would be the same on the whole of your body and you would reach the horizon without difficulty (6).”

Michell believed there are stars more massive than our sun that might have an escape velocity at or faster than the speed of light—186,282 miles per second. In this scenario, we would be unable to see the star because any light it might emit would be dragged back inside by gravity. Michell called these entities “dark stars,” or what we now call black holes. It is mind-boggling to imagine a star so dense not even light can escape its gravitational force. Gravity acts over great distances, which is perfect for our universe. The Earth is held in orbit by the Sun, 93 million miles away, and the Sun is held in orbit around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 10,000 light years away!* Gravity is only attractive in nature; it never repels. Science has discovered gravitational energy as a byproduct of gravitational collapse—the gravity of a collapsing star draws all its surrounding matter inward. This is believed to lead to a point of infinite density: a singularity.

I cannot help wondering how matter can be squeezed further and further in on itself without reaching a specific value of density. Would not such a never-ending singularity eventually suck everything in? If so, does this represent Creation at its primitive stage prior to God calling things forth? Scripture says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2, ESV). More intriguing is the problem of “information,” or the idea that every particle and every force in the universe contains data. However (at least from a theoretical point of view), there is a limit to the amount of information one can pack into a region in space. Hawking says “information” in this instance requires energy, and that energy has mass in accordance with Einstein’s famous equation E=mc². Consequently, if there is too much information in a region of space, it will collapse into a black hole, and its density will be in direct proportion to the amount of information being compressed. But what is meant by information in a black hole? Theoretical physicists believe it is the puzzling result of combining quantum mechanics and general relativity. Calculations suggest physical information could permanently disappear in a black hole.

Are Science and Christianity REALLY Incompatible?

Sadly, the study of science and religion continues to be a “battle” or conflict. Atheists tend to follow a zero-sum model—relating to or denoting a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. Reality cannot be properly studied under this model. John Lennox said about scientists, “They view themselves as the voice of reason. They believe they are working to roll back the tide of ignorance and superstition that has enslaved mankind since we crawled out of the primordial slime” (7). Yet, many of science’s key pioneers were firm believers in God—Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday. Bertrand Russell said, “Most sciences, at their inception, have been connected with some form of false belief, which gave them a fictitious value. Astronomy was connected with astrology, chemistry with alchemy [but] mathematical knowledge appeared to be certain, exact, and applicable to the real world” (8).

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? —Tertullian.

At the core of the “science over religion” argument lies observable, verifiable phenomena. Plato’s worldview sprang forth from this axiom, asking Is there any standard of “good” and “bad” except what the man using these words desires? Russell conceded that religion has, at first sight, a simple answer: God determines what is good and what is bad. Accordingly, the man whose will is in harmony with the will of God is a good man. This naturally led to a discussion on the standard of goodness. Is there “objective truth” in such a statement as “pleasure is good” in the same sense that “snow is white?” These thoughts are extremely important, for we are speaking of ontological truth; ultimate standards of morality. Science certainly strives for resolving scientific query through the scientific method: a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

“Athens” refers to the mathematical, observable, natural realm. Indeed, formulas and equations regarding thermodynamics, gravity, relativity, electromagnetism, subatomic particles, dark matter, black holes, and physics are used to decode the physical realm. “Jerusalem” refers to the theological, religious realm. For the most part, the search for “objective” or “ontological” truth is avoided under the Athens model. Instead, we hear, “I shall consider a statement true if all, or virtually all, of those who have investigated it are agreed in upholding it.” At the risk of engaging in hyperbole, we must not allow “mob rule” to answer vital questions like What is the meaning and source of morality”? or Where did we come from? Admittedly, almost everything that distinguishes observances and theories in the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science. Scientific discoveries led to theories and paradigms meant to govern or instruct society. Kuhn writes, “Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science at all” (9). He adds, “At least in the mature sciences, answers (or full substitutes for answers) to questions…are firmly embedded in the educational initiation that prepares and licenses the student for professional practice. Because that education is both rigorous and rigid, these answers come to exert a deep hold on the scientific mind” (10). A hold that is quite difficult to shake free of later in life.

In light of the foregoing, I would like to address scientism—an excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. A basic (dogmatic) tenet of scientism is that science itself is the only means by which a thing or a condition can be explained or defined. This is not “scientific” thought; rather, it is the expression of a philosophical orientation or worldview. Ian Hutchinson of MIT says, “I think science has some very distinctive characteristics. Most of which, we are all kind of familiar with, though we perhaps have not made a list of them…things like observation, experimentation, measurement, systematization, mathematization, and so forth. These characteristics of science, I believe, can be brought together in two primary abstract categories, so we can really, in a certain sense, boil down what we mean by natural science into the insistence upon reproducibility (science depends on repeatable experiments or observations) and clarity (the unambiguous descriptions of things like measurements or sometimes mathematics that science insists upon). These characteristics, I would say, imply that science’s scope of application is limited” (11).

Moreland defines scientism as, “…the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, and astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality” (12). According to scientism, the claim that ethical and religious conclusions can be just as factual as science, and therefore can be affirmed like scientific findings, is seen as a sign of narrow-mindedness or elitism at best, and bigotry and intolerance at worst. Marilyn vos Savant famously said, “Religions cannot be proved true intellectually. They come from the heart—and your parents—and, if you choose to believe it, a soul” (13). Incidentally, she has an IQ of 228, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest IQ recorded to date.

Scientism presupposes that the only true knowledge about reality comes solely from science, and empirical knowledge claims derived from “hard” science are the only claims that deserve the backing of public institutions. This has been the worldview of public education for decades, implying that religious and philosophical claims are matters of personal belief. Moreland says, “Words such as conclusions, evidence, knowledge, no reasonable doubt, and intellectual heritage become associated with science, giving science the ‘right’ to define reality, while words like beliefs and personal reservations are associated with nonempirical claims, framing religious beliefs as mere ungrounded opinions” (14).

A Most Amazing Creator

I place a great deal of value in science, and particularly in scientific method. As a Christian, I believe in ultimate or ontological truth: a belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity (a fact) to which it corresponds. If there is no such entity, the belief is false. Facts, for the Neo-classical correspondence theory, are entities in their own right. Pythagoras is given credit for the first discussions on the ontological categorization of existence—the philosophical study of being in general, or of what applies neutrally to everything that is real. Essentially, ontology addresses the question Is there such a thing as objective reality? Ontology is closely associated with epistemology, which is concerned with the nature of knowledge itself, its possibility, scope, and general basis: How do we go about knowing things? or How do we separate true ideas from false ideas? or How do we know what is true? or “How can we be confident when we have located ‘truth’?”

McGrath addresses the concept that “…a plurality of methods was required to engage our world…we cannot reduce all cognitive activity to a single fundamental method, but must rather make use of a range of conceptual tool-boxes, adapted to specific tasks and situations, to give us as complete an account as possible of our world” (15). For example, consider the five different ways to explain a frog jumping into a pond: physiological, biochemical, developmental, animal behavioral, and evolutionary. All five explanations are part of a bigger picture. McGrath reminds us that the term “science” is often misused. The general (accepted) definition is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

Hypothesis. Theory. Law. These scientific words get bandied about regularly, yet the general public usually gets their meaning wrong. Both natural science and social science are known as empirical sciences. This means that any theories must be based on observable phenomena, reproducibility of results and peer review. Of course, science is never really finished. It must constantly collect and interpret new empirical evidence and determine if such new findings cause a shift in the paradigm.

Christianity remains the religion who is said to have the most run-ins with science. The chasm between science and Christianity seems to be perpetrated by those who have no personal standing regarding faith in God. Skeptics tend to ride the middle of the road on the subject. Rather than prosecute this war of faith and science, perhaps it is wiser to establish a dialog that can lead to enhanced understanding. Pope John Paul II said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish” (16). I have made it my life’s mission to help increase the dialog between science and Christianity. I see a need for improved dialog and cooperation; indeed, for a new apologetic. It is for this reason that I will follow this article with Science and Religion: The Two Must Meet.

References

*Traveling at the speed of light, it would take 10,000 years to reach the center of the Milky Way.
(1) Paul Sutter, “What is the Milk Way?” Life Science (June 10, 2021). URL: https://www.livescience.com/milky-way.html
(2) J. Bentovish, “G-d’s Physics: On the True Nature of Dark-Energy & Dark-Matter,” Journal of Physics and Chemistry Research (May 23, 2021).
(3) Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2018), 101-102.
(4) Ibid., 103.
(5) 104.
(6) 106.
(7) John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (UK: The Good Book Company, 2019), 9.
(8) Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1954), 34.
(9) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2012, 1962), 4.
(10) Ibid., 5.
(11) Ian Hutchinson, “What is Science and What is Scientism?” The Veritas Forum (January 20, 2010). URL: http://www.veritas.org/what-is-science-and-what-is-scientism/
(12) J.P. Moreland, Science and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 26.
(13) Michael Kinsley, “If You Believe Embryos are Humans,” Time (June 25, 2001), 80.
(14) Moreland, Ibid., 28-29.
(15) Alister E. McGrath, Science & Religion, 3rd. ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2020), 66.
(16) In Science & Religion, Ibid., 10.

2020 Drug Overdoses Were “Horrifying”

August 31, 2021

Dr. Nora Volkow, Executive Director
National Institute on Drug Abuse

The provisional drug overdose death statistics for 2020 confirmed the addiction field’s worst fears. More people died of overdoses in the United States last year than in any other one-year period in our history. More than 93,000 people died. The increase from the previous year was also more than we’ve ever seen—up 30 percent. These data are telling us that something is wrong. In fact, they are shouting for change.

The provisional drug overdose death statistics for 2020 confirmed the addiction field’s worst fears. More people died of overdoses in the United States last year than in any other one-year period in our history. More than 93,000 people died. The increase from the previous year was also more than we’ve ever seen—up 30 percent. These data are telling us that something is wrong. In fact, they are shouting for change.

It is no longer a question of “doing more” to combat our nation’s drug problems. What we as a society are doing—putting people with drug addiction behind bars, under-investing in prevention and compassionate medical care—is not working. Even as we work to create better scientific solutions to this crisis, it is beyond frustrating—it is tragic—to see the effective prevention and treatment tools we already have just not being used. The benefits of providing effective substance use disorder treatments—especially medication for opioid use disorder—are well-known. Yet decades of prejudice against treating substance use disorders with medication has greatly limited their reach, partly accounting for why only 18% of people with opioid use disorder receive medications. Historical reluctance to provide these treatments and of insurers to cover them reflects the stigma that has long made people with addiction a low priority.

We must eliminate the attitudes and infrastructure barring treating people with substance use disorders. This means making it easier for clinicians to provide life-saving medications, expanding models of care like digital health technologies and mobile clinics that can reach people where they are, and ensuring that payers cover treatments that work. The science of the matter is unequivocal: Addiction is a chronic and treatable medical condition, not a weakness of will or character or a form of social deviance. But stigma and longstanding prejudices—even within healthcare—lead decision-makers across healthcare, criminal justice, and other systems to punish people who use drugs rather than treat them. That approach may be simpler than asking us as a society to have compassion or care for people with a devastating, debilitating, often fatal disorder. But the risk of incarceration does not deter drug use, let alone address addiction; it perpetuates stigma, and disproportionately harms the most vulnerable communities.

Evidence-based harm reduction, such as syringe services programs, also need to be a part of any solution to our drug crisis, as these have been shown to reduce HIV and hepatitis C transmission, and help link people to treatment for addiction and other conditions. While the federal government has embraced evidence-based harm-reduction programs, many communities continue to resist them, erroneously thinking they sanction or encourage drug use. Multiple independent studies have shown that they don’t. Researchers are also evaluating innovative but historically controversial strategies operating abroad like overdose prevention centers, where people can use substances under medical supervision and access other health services, to evaluate cost-effectiveness and ability to reduce deaths and improve health.

Part of the failure of the current approach to the drug crisis arises from the unrealistic expectation that people should—and can—just stop using drugs. Little concern is shown for people with addiction unless and until they are drug-free, but the reality is that difficulties and resumed use typically mark the recovery journey. Compassion, care, and support need to extend to those still using drugs and those who return to drug use, not just to those who can satisfy the stringent standards of abstinence. Everyone with a substance use disorder, regardless of whether they are currently using drugs, needs good healthcare and may also need help with housing, employment, and childcare needs.

To prevent young people from misusing drugs and to keep people from all ages from developing substance use disorders, our nation must address the social and economic stressors that increase the risk of drug use, such as poverty and housing instability, unsafe neighborhoods and schools, and other effects of a changing economy including social isolation and despair. Drug overdose deaths are one component of the “deaths of despair” that, along with suicide and alcohol-related illness, have caused life expectancy to decline in the U.S., even before the 1.5-year drop in 2020 caused largely by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the ground, evidence-based interventions can make a big difference: Universal prevention programs as well as interventions targeted to the most at-risk families and youth not only reduce the risk of later drug taking and addiction but have radiating benefits on other aspects of mental and physical health.

This poses a question of collective willingness to invest in these measures. The long-term savings in healthcare and justice costs relative to the costs of prevention interventions can be substantial. But they are long-term investments with benefits that will take time to accrue, and the nature of our society is to look at short-term bottom lines and expect immediate results. Radical change to save lives is long overdue. It is crucial that scientists help policymakers and other leaders rethink how we collectively address drugs and drug use, looking to the evidence base of what improves health and reduces harms across communities, and funding research to develop new prevention and treatment tools.

Find Help Near You

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on the Treatment page.