Friday, December 06, 2019

G.K. Chesterton on Eugenics

Last night, at the month meeting of the Chico Triad on Philosophy, Theology and Science,
we discussed eugenics in early 20th century. One of the key members of the group, Bill, brought up the work of G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) who produced one of the few, and perhaps only, criticism of eugenics. 

Of course, Chesterton was English, but recall that in the United States, about 12,000 forced sterilizations under the rubric of "negative eugenics" (removing bad genes from the collective gene pool) had occurred by the time he wrote this book, namely 1922. 

Chesterton is always provocative, and for those like me who are pro-science as a rule, it's always good to remember that science, and the theory of evolution, can be used for some very evil purposes. 

I submit Chesterton's is a voice worth pondering, even if we may disagree at particular points.
The thing that really is trying to tyrannise through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen—that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics.... I am not frightened of the word 'persecution' when it is attributed to the churches; nor is it in the least as a term of reproach that I attribute it to the men of science. It is as a term of legal fact. If it means the imposition by the police of a widely disputed theory, incapable of final proof—then our priests are not now persecuting, but our doctors are. The imposition of such dogmas constitutes a State Church—in an older and stronger sense than any that can be applied to any supernatural Church to-day. There are still places where the religious minority is forbidden to assemble or to teach in this way or that; and yet more where it is excluded from this or that public post. G.K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils
Always worth pondering is the contemporary question: What is our contemporary misuse of science? That is, What is today's eugenics?

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

CSL on Praise and thus Gratitude and Generosity

Praise and gratitude are happy twins. They join together with God's grace and our generosity--an appropriate theme since I'm posting this on Giving Tuesday.

All this brings my mind quickly to C.S. Lewis's words from Reflections on the Psalms
"The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless …shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least...Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: 'Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?' The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value. 
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed… If it were possible for a created soul fully… to 'appreciate,' that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude… The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him." C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

These are insights worth pondering today and during this season.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What the Science of Race Doesn't Show

As a part of my research on science and religion in America over the past two years, which resulted in my book coming out next monthI came to take in the recalcitrant history of the science of race.

And, of course, one all-too-common result has been--and still is--racism, which represents another indelible feature of our country and which some have called "America's original sin."

Maybe you know something about this topic already, but I was woefully underprepared. If you'd like a brief intro, here are three articles from the BioLogos website that offer a solid overview of the topic (and are brief enough that you don't have to do copious reading). 

Here are the links to the mini bibliography:
  1. Dave Unander, "Race: A Brief History of its Origin, Failure and Alternative" 
  2. Deborah Haarsma, "One Human Family" 
  3. Brad Kramer, "Science, Race, and the Bible: Coming to Terms with a Messy History"
  4. In addition to these thoughtful pieces that offer an overview, here's a scholarly article: Alan Templeton's “Biological Races in Humans” in the 2013 Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, 44 (2013): 262–71
The bottom line (or at least, one critical takeaway) from this research is summarized well by Deborah Haarsma:
No genetic basis for race” is referring to the way we define “race” in our culture. When the census asks you to identify as “white”, “black”, “asian”, etc., those are cultural categories, not scientific categories. While some aspects of these cultural categories (e.g. skin color) are genetic traits, those traits are a small part of all the genes that differ between any two individuals. Yes, there is a genetic basis for the many local ancestry groups. But as geneticist Alan Templeton points out, “If every genetically distinguishable population were elevated to the status of race, then most species would have hundreds to tens of thousands of races.” BioLogos President Deborah Haarsma
I'd be interested to hear your comments.

P.S. While I'm at it, I'll link one more article, this by Karen Norrgard, "Human Testing, the Eugenics Movement, and IRBs."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Being Born Again and Again

Here's a little something pulled from my upcoming book, Negotiating Science and Religion in America.

The topic--a religious revival--is also worth taking in as we watch Kanye West tour the country and bring what many are calling a new surge of God's Spirit. (It's attracted the attention of Joel Osteen and the American Bible Society.) 

I remain open--and I've always liked Kanye's music--but I'm not yet convinced this is really a reviving of our country's spiritual life. At any rate, here I look at the question of whether revivals are beneficial. They certainly are American!

A central component of the story of America is the sensational change that religious revivals promise. As Winthrop Hudson makes clear in his classic, Religion in America: An Historical Account of the Development, one effect of the various revivals was missionary zeal: 
“Above all, this surging tide of evangelical religion supplied a dynamic which emboldened the Protestant churches of America to undertake the enormous task of Christianizing a continent….” The late Princeton University historian Winthrop Hudson
Our country maintains a revivalist zeal and the distinctive hope that life can begin again. To our continual human question, Can I change?, revivals offer a resounding unmitigated Yes. And for a country founded by people seeking the New World, definitive spiritual renewals fit beautifully. As the Romanian poet Andrei Codrescu once quipped, 
“The spiritual pastime of Americans [is] getting born again, over and over.” Romanian poet Andrei Codrescu
A radical moment of change or conversion indelibly marked our consciousness and hopes. Instead of continual incremental change—e.g., the notion of kaizen, cherished by Japanese culture—we applaud radical, dynamic disruption, with lives marked by a specific before and after. But, of course, revivals don’t always deliver.

P.S. Insofar as this is a blog about faith and science, and about what makes a flourishing faith, fully alive, revivals tend to direct Americans away from the rationalizing side of life--the "head," as it were--that we associate with science. America has exhibited a dialectical relationship with science and religion, often expressed with rationality and order on one side in contrast with conversation, feeling, and intuition on the other. In James Gilbert’s view,
Science and religion “are words suggesting two great and opposing philosophic systems—materialism and idealism—that, in a variety of forms, operate as polarities in American culture.” Historian James Gilbert
Head vs. heart? Materialism vs. idealism?  Are these dichotomies that we're facing right now? What would a true revival tell us about how we relate science and religion today?

In the end, this revival (if it is one) may not be so much a rejection of our culture's saturation in science and technology as about Kanye's fame.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Two Hemispheres

I've been meditating on a quotation from C.S. Lewis as he struggled to come to terms with his budding interest in believing in God in Surprised By Joy. Lewis struggled with becoming a believer, finding himself restricted by the influence of a materialist culture around him. 

“The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism.’ Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” C. S. Lewis

Partly, this is a science-faith question. It's often where we're left when we take in the natural world that science describes in purely physical terms (which is what it's designed to do) and try to bring that together with our subjective experience, which so often includes non-physical concepts like love and beauty and meaning and, for most people, includes a search for God.

By the way, the quotation was brought to my attention by an Alister McGrath book I'm reviewing on Albert EinsteinMcGrath brings together insights from a variety of Einstein's comment like "the eternal mystery of the world its comprehensibility." In other words, why should this world make sense if it is really is just facts and numbers? Einstein's understanding of religion was idiosyncratic, preferring to to hold to Baruch Spinoza's god of the mathematical equations and order in the universe, a deity that certainly didn't engage in human affairs and thus present individual lives' with answers to question of life's meaning.

McGrath then considers the physicist and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, who also appreciates science's profound ability to discover the stunning interconnected complexity of the natural world:
"Theology can render this discovery intelligible, through its understanding that the Mind of the Creator is the source of the wonderful order of the world." John Polkinghorne
Does that bring bring together the mind's two hemispheres in a satisfying way? Lewis found his resolution through belief in God. And though not a scientist, he would probably have agreed.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Somebody Else's Problem (A Musing)

I'm part of a conference at Fuller Theological Seminary this week called,"Techno-Sapiens in a Networked Era: Becoming Digital Neighbors." 

While I'm here I've still pondering a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, "Religion and Science," which discovered this. And I'll bold one sentence to make my point.
People’s sense that there generally is a conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perceptions of other people’s beliefs. Less than one-third of Americans polled in the new survey (30%) say their personal religious beliefs conflict with science, while fully two-thirds (68%) say there is no conflict between their own beliefs and science. Pew Research Center
It’s probably not a surprise that the synopsis for the piece reads: “Highly religious Americans are less likely than others to see conflict between faith and science.”

So whether we are "highly religious" or not, when we look at religion and technology (which, for many today, is relatively synonymous with science), I think some introspection is needed. As we ponder technology--and now I'm speaking to older peeps like me--we love the tech we're familiar with, and fear the newer stuff. The laptop was great, but how about VR (Virtual Reality)? We probably have to take a look at ourselves and ask, "Am I the problem? Is my approach bringing an unnecessary conflict?"

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Faith, Dogmatism, and Other Atheistic Cavils

I've been reading and/or listening to Sam Harris (for example here) with some Richard Dawkins and a measure of Jerry Coyne thrown in. It doesn't take much time to realize that one of their biggest beefs with "religion" is that it relies of faith, which to them means resolutely believing something when there is no evidence. In fact, many of the arguments of scientific atheists like these three lean heavily on this assertion. 

For them (and in service of their atheism) faith equals blind, dangerous dogmatism. 

May I point out that this is a rickety foundation for their arguments? And that since I actually teaching comparative religion as a profession, that their scholarship is noticeably lacking?

Certainly there are religious people who believe based on no evidence--that I won't deny. But there are dogmatisms of those who have no religious faith as well. Stalin and Mao's purges for the glories of atheistic communism come to mind as do much more mundane examples (like memes on Facebook and Twitter).

Even more, these leading voices misunderstand faith, which is essentially "fidelity, reliance, or trust" exemplified in the key New Testament Greek word pistis and its cognates. As C.S. Lewis wrote--certainly one who has a right to speak thoughtfully about Christian faith--it means trusting in God based on good reasons and then holding on even when times are tough. In this case, faith actually is grounded on rational reflection and open to conversation. At least that's the kind of faith I see among mature Christian believers and the kind I seek to live out.

Oh, why can't atheists be more rational?