Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Rock and the Hard Place

There seems to be some reason to think that Democrats may be starting to see the light on offshore oil drilling:

A top U.S. Democratic senator said in a newspaper interview published Wednesday that he would consider supporting opening up new areas for offshore oil and gas drilling.

"I'm open to drilling and responsible production," Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin told The Wall Street Journal, adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could also support the move.

It's great that the Democrats are beginning to realize that their previous strategy of blocking offshore drilling was growing increasingly untenable with gasoline exceeding $4.00 a gallon at the pump, but I still have a couple of questions for them:

1. If their original opposition had been predicated on a desire to maintain the natural beauty of our coasts I would have thought them mistaken, but I would have empathized with their concern. However, the reason we heard from many Democrats (though I don't know if Durbin and Reid themselves ever specifically said this) was that even if we drilled today it would be years before the oil reached the market and anyway there wouldn't be enough of it to make a significant difference in the price. Now if this was really the basis for their opposition to drilling before why would they now change their view? Have the facts changed or were they being less than sincere before citizen outrage concentrated their minds?

2. Where does this put Barack Obama who opposes drilling and consequently now risks appearing to be out of step on this issue not only with most of America but also with his own party? Can he afford to switch yet another previously held position? Does he remain steadfastly opposed to drilling and suffer the slings and arrows of voter disenchantment? The more Democrats warm to tapping domestic reserves the more unsustainable becomes his opposition to it, and yet he can't change his mind without reinforcing his self-inflicted image as a complete political opportunist. Obama is going to find himself between a very hard rock and a very rocky hard place on this one.


Waiting for Godot

Listening to media forecasts of impending economic recession is like watching Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot. Commentators keep insisting a recession is on its way, but it never seems to arrive. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth, and so far we have yet to have even one negative quarter, much less two in a row. I know the Dems want to paint this as the worst economy ever but, as is often the case, the facts are just not on their side.

The stock market is down and the economy is not great (1% growth in the last quarter), but it's not in recession. It could be, however, if Democrats have their way and taxes are raised on everything we earn, social security remains unfixed, fuel prices are allowed to continue their rise, and business is taxed and regulated into the economic doldrums. The left's solution to a sluggish economy is to smother it with taxes and regulations that drive investment and jobs overseas, the end result of which is to make the problem worse, rather than better.

Their slogan this election might well be: Bring Back the 70s; Vote for Obama!

HT: Hot Air


The God of the Philosophers

Philosopher William Craig offers readers of Christianity Today a fine introduction to natural theology, the attempt to demonstrate God's existence apart from special revelation. He points out that natural theology has been enjoying a renaissance among contemporary philosophers since the late sixties and his overview of the classical arguments for God's existence will be very helpful to students interested in Christian apologetics.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his essay, however, is the final section where he asks the question, why, in a postmodern age, should we concern ourselves with arguments? He writes:

However all this may be, some might think that the resurgence of natural theology in our time is merely so much labor lost. For don't we live in a postmodern culture in which appeals to such apologetic arguments are no longer effective? Rational arguments for the truth of theism are no longer supposed to work. Some Christians therefore advise that we should simply share our narrative and invite people to participate in it.

This sort of thinking is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism! That's just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can't prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.

Otherwise, how do we make sense of the popularity of the New Atheism? Dawkins and his ilk are indelibly modernist and even scientistic in their approach. On the postmodernist reading of contemporary culture, their books should have fallen like water on a stone. Instead, people lap them up eagerly, convinced that religious belief is folly.

Seen in this light, tailoring our gospel to a postmodern culture is self-defeating. By laying aside our best apologetic weapons of logic and evidence, we ensure modernism's triumph over us. If the church adopts this course of action, the consequences in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality. Meanwhile, scientific naturalism will continue to shape our culture's view of how the world really is.

A robust natural theology may well be necessary for the gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today. In general, Western culture is deeply post-Christian. It is the product of the Enlightenment, which introduced into European culture the leaven of secularism that has by now permeated Western society. While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

Properly understanding our culture is important because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the background of the current cultural milieu. A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel. But you may as well tell the secularist to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ!

Christians who depreciate natural theology because "no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments" are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one's immediate evangelistic contacts. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved.

I appreciate Craig's idea of the myth of a post-modern culture. I think he's right that the anti-theists are attacking theism on modernist assumptions and that most people are still influenced to some degree by argument. Even so, I think it's also true that the most powerful appeals are those which are made to one's heart rather than one's head. One does not fall in love as a consequence of a syllogism or rational analysis.

The value of arguments such as Craig outlines in his article is that they help create a cultural milieu in which the idea of God is recognized as intellectually compelling. This is an important precondition because few will be charmed by the claims of the gospel in an environment in which it is presupposed that the traditional idea of a God is intellectually indefensible. Arguments themselves may not often actually result in conversion, but they create an environment in which personal narrative, fiction, music and art can more powerfully exert their tug on the heart and woo people toward a love affair with Christ.

Christian philosophers like Craig have since the late sixties been forcing atheists to play defense, but now a new generation of young intellectuals is needed to rise and fill the shoes of those who are moving on into retirement. It's a noble calling for a young man or woman of keen intellectual gifts, and I urge students who are unsure about the direction they want their life to to take to give it prayerful consideration.

Speaking of students interested in Christian apologetics, this article in the same issue of CT may be of interest to those who fit the description.