Review: The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious AtheistThe Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was really excellent. It was level-headed, insightful, interesting. There’s no way I would have read a Thomas Nelson book on this topic by an author I didn’t know if Doug Wilson in Books & Culture and someone at the Gospel Coalition hadn’t praised it so highly. I would have assumed that it was some dewy-eyed evangelical wish-fulfillment book in which some deathbed muttering reported third-hand becomes, in the hands of the kind of person who reports decision figures for revivalistic crusades, a conversion story—despite Hitch’s famous “If I convert on my deathbed it’s the cancer.”

Taunton doesn’t do this. He’s honest. I quickly came to trust him. And like him. He managed to stay humble while telling a story in which, truth be told, he comes off rather well. That’s because he doesn’t think of himself as equal to Hitchens in debate skills or intellect. He clearly admires Hitchens. What’s more, he clearly loved Hitchens. And that comes through. I already felt, after Wilson’s fantastic Collision DVD with Hitchens, an affinity toward this particular atheist that I don’t feel for his compatriots Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris; it was an affinity I couldn’t explain. Now I can. A really special book.

Review: C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”: A Biography

C. S. Lewis's C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”: A Biography by George M. Marsden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Classic Marsden. He did his homework and dug up some interesting anecdotes, offering a strong narrative, a clear outline and analysis, and some insightful points along the way. He did some “reception history” by looking at ways that people have reacted to Lewis’ book, including his famous “trilemma” (Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord).

One insight from the book that struck me: Lewis didn’t use reason to prove Christianity so much as to clear away objections and then invite others to see and experience what he did in the faith.

Another point that helped me was that though Lewis has been instrumental in the Tiber-crossings of some prominent ex-Protestants, some of those very people (including a graduate of my [very Protestant] alma mater, Dwight Longenecker) have pointed out that Lewis’ famous hallway metaphor in the preface to Mere Christianity is actually itself a Protestant conception of ecclesiology:

Ian Kerr, who acknowledges that Mere Christianity was an “enormous influence” on him in his teens, argues…: “The Roman Catholic Church would have to insist that the envisaged house is the Roman Catholic Church, with the other communions as more or less attached to it as annexes our outbuildings.” So, Kerr concludes, “The whole concept of a common hall with different rooms opening off it is not an acceptable ecclesiastical model from the Catholic point of view.” (130)

Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis on Materialism

joyJoy Davidman was an accomplished poet, a sharp thinker, a successful student. She was also an ardent materialist.

A young poet like me could be seized and shaken by spiritual powers a dozen times a day and still take for granted that there was no such thing as spirit. That was what beautiful things did to you. (118)

She guessed that her sensations were just nerves or glands. But her materialism didn’t work for her, deep down:

The very young carry a kind of insurance against atheist despair. Though they believe in nothing else, they will believe firmly in the importance of their own emotions and desires. (87)

What is an “emotion” or a “desire” in a materialist worldview but more nerves and glands, conditioned by untold millennia of natural selection and following in an unbroken chain of causation from the Big Bang?

But Joy prided herself on being a devoted materialist. She thought, as she described it later,

I remember announcing to my parents that I was an atheist at the age of eight. By high school I had it all worked out. Men are only apes, virtue is only custom, life is only an electro-chemical reaction, mind is only a set of conditioned reflexes, and anyway most people aren’t rational like me. Love, art, and altruism are only sex, the universe is only matter, matter is only energy. I’ve forgotten what I said energy was, only. (3–4)

That last line is utterly brilliant. I hope and pray—and prod—that more materialists would come to the place Joy came to:

[I was the] portrait of a happy materialist, but somewhere deep inside there was this girl with dreaming eyes furiously scribbling verses. (4)

Her heart was restless until it found rest with her creator.

HT: Abigail Santamaria

My Skagit Valley Herald Pro-Life Article

After I saw the Center for Medical Progress videos (I forced myself to watch every one), I knew I had to do something—something even more tangible than a vote—to combat the evil of abortion. I almost attended a protest at an abortion clinic in Greenville, but it just didn’t work out before I left for Washington. There is a Planned Parenthood clinic pretty close to my office here, right across the street from the grocery store which offers great prices on Ritter Sport bars. Perhaps one day I will protest at that clinic, but fathers of young children do best not to be absent from the home unless absolutely necessary. I had to ask myself: “What best can I do?” And I thought, “I can write.”

So I contacted our local pro-life group and offered to write. It just so happens they needed a writer for an upcoming paid advertisement in the local paper. I support incremental change (I would also support sweeping, immediate change, but I think it far less likely to be successful), so I’m glad I could do my bit. I hope to do more.

The local pro-life group still needs an editor, however—the resulting article has several embarrassing typos, in particular, the random placing of “That’s why I’m pro-life” in a place it doesn’t belong:

2016-01-17 20.09.14

I feel sick to my stomach about the multiple errors added to my writing, and I find myself super thankful for the great editors I have worked closely with for the last ten years—both at BJU Press and now at Faithlife.

For the record, here is the original version I sent to the pro-life affiliate:

Are There Moral Facts?

Skagit Valley Herald • Jan 17, 2016

How do you know you know something? When are you justified in saying, “I’m certain”?

When asked this question, many Western people instinctively appeal to the scientific method. If you can measure it or test it, you can know it.

In this view, the types of knowledge that can’t be measured and tested, like moral knowledge, get downgraded. In fact, they no longer count as “knowledge” at all. They are “values” or “opinions,” not “facts.” To claim certainty about a moral truth is to impose your values—your mere opinions—on other people.

For example, a number of America’s most prominent philosophers wrote in a Supreme Court brief some years ago,

Denying [doctor-assisted suicide] to terminally ill patients who are in agonizing pain…could only be justified on the basis of a religious or ethical conviction about the value or meaning of life itself. Our Constitution forbids government to impose such convictions on its citizens.

In other words, no mere “values” (not even “ethical” ones) are allowed to constrain the freedom of others.

But what would America look like if we consistently followed this guideline?

Aren’t we glad that 19th century abolitionists imposed their values on slaveowners? Aren’t we relieved that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference marched its values successfully across the South? Should FDR have refused to impose American values on Hitler’s Germany?

Why do most of us consider these impositions of values justified, but not others? Because lying underneath the question, “Is this a fact or a value?,” is a more fundamental one: “Is this value right or wrong?”

But admittedly, there’s no agreed-upon standard in American society by which such a question might be answered. We’re back to asking, “How can someone know a moral fact?”

The Bible says that we all already know certain moral truths through our God-given consciences (Romans 2:14–15); God has also revealed in Scripture what many of our values ought to be. That’s why I’m pro-life.

But even if you don’t share my Christian value system, stop for a moment and ask yourself why it bothers you that I just adverted to my personal values in a public newspaper. Are you prepared to apply that viewpoint consistently?

One prominent national politician said a few years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast:

We can’t leave our values at the door. If we [do], we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries, and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel—the majority of great reformers in American history did their work not just because it was sound policy, or they had done good analysis, or understood how to exercise good politics, but because their faith and their values dictated it, and called for bold action—sometimes in the face of indifference, sometimes in the face of resistance.

I agree with President Barack Obama. Do you?

Mark Ward, Ph.D. is a professional writer in Mount Vernon, WA.

The Just-So Story about Just-So Stories

Illustration_at_Cover_of_Just_So_Stories_(c1912)

We all view new ideas and experiences through our worldview lenses. Every time we turn around, Christians are explaining something through the lenses provided by the Bible, telling a story about God’s goodness in our lives. Every time they turn around, believers in evolution are telling stories, too: just-so stories about various features of human life. So Michael Ruse, atheist philosopher, in the NYT a while back:

I don’t deny substantive morality—you ought to return your library books on time—but I do deny objective foundations. I think morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators. And I would add that being good cooperators makes each one of us individually better off in the struggle for existence…. Morality is purely emotions, although emotions of a special kind with an important adaptive function.

In other words, one day a little elephant got his stubby nose stuck in the bite of a crocodile, and while pulling backwards to get it out he stretched it—and now all elephants have long trunks!

The idea that morality isn’t really real but provides only an adaptive function is truly a convenient one, but it’s an unfalsifiable one. That doesn’t mean I believe it’s true—or that it can’t be “proven” wrong. “Unfalsifiable” in this sense means that, given Ruse’s scientific naturalism, no evidence could be adduced either to prove or disprove his supposition. It’s more than plausible that, given his evolutionary view of the world, he describes accurately how morality developed. But I find it difficult to imagine how any evidence could ever be found for such a thing: what arrangement of bones in a grave or ancient cave-wall paintings could possibly demonstrate, empirically, that morality happened to make us good cooperators?

I have seen evolutionists concoct just-so stories to explain numerous features of human behavior. But I’ve never heard them turn their attention to science itself. The assumption is that while other kinds of human activity are subject to scientific analysis, science itself is a neutral observer standing off to the side. You wouldn’t see Michael Ruse writing paragraphs like this:

I don’t deny that science is useful—it’s great to find the most efficient air-to-gasoline ratio in your carburetor—but I do deny that science is “true.” I think science is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that allows us to make the raw materials of the world useful for human ends. And I would add that “science” is useful for more than just scientists. Science is purely pragmatics, although pragmatics of a special kind with an important adaptive function.

I was just listening to a C.S. Lewis essay or two while doing the dishes, and he reminded me of something important, something I’m not going to forget in my own discussions with non-Christians. In “The Funeral of a Great Myth” (found in this audio collection and this printed collection), Lewis actually praises materialism for telling a more sweeping and grand story about the world than almost any other great myth. He suggests Christian apologists fight grand myth with grander myth—True Myth. The true story of Creation, Fall, Redemption is the grandest story ever told.