‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007


Monday, 21 March 2011

British Humanist Association is abusing the census

I believe the British Humanist Association is abusing the integrity and therefore the quality of the census by campaigning for people to say they are not religious when given a choice of options. Clearly they don't have much confidence in people to answer as they see fit, but believe they need encouragement to fill it in 'accurately', but also in a way that suits the BHA. (See  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12799801). As a result the BHA risks undermining the quality of an important survey.

I would go further and argue that such campaigning around the census should be illegal because it puts pressure on people to answer in a way that is not necessarily in accord with their deep seated beliefs.
Andrew Sibley 

Sunday, 20 March 2011

William Paley and Theological Utilitarianism

I have discovered that William Paley was a Theological Utilitarian. That is; that ethics begin with a belief that God wishes people to be happy. But for happiness to be ultimately possible we must accord our lives with the will of God. In other words it embraces deontology (that is an ethical systems involving rights and duties), but one that has a benefit in terms of personal and social happiness. We are often encouraged to think of religion as only embracing rules and regulations, but a true Christian approach to ethics involves happiness for people and benefit for society. This is also the message of John 15:9-17 where deontological ethics are bound up with love, peace and joy.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other."

I disucssed some this in my book, Restoring the Ethics of Creation pp.126-129
Andrew Sibley

Monday, 14 March 2011

Response to Simon Barrow of Ekklesia

Simon Barrow has responded to my article on legal matters and human rights Discriminating Christian Confusion. There is a sense I think in Barrow’s writing that suggests he has failed to understand the nuances of a Christian understanding of grace. I would like here then to offer my approach to these matters and to offer some further thoughts that might help to unlock his mind.

My own background is non-conformist and charismatic. I am socially conservative it is true, but some would say more left wing than right wing. I believe in social morality as much as personal morality. I share for instance a frustration at what I see as right wing fundamentalism in the church because it fails to display the love of God and tends to be very fearful of the world, which can lead to wrong thinking and action. One example is over such strong support for the State of Israel that it leads to lack of concern for Palestinians, and I have written a book Zion’s New Name to try and redress the balance. I share Jim Wallis' sentiment about some Christian approaches to politics that the ’right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it’. For instance, one irony is that although many evangelical Christians are opposed to Darwinism in America, they are willing to uphold a sort of belief in economic social Darwinism through support of weak social legislation. It is also too easy to think that being strong on law and order is a Christian ideal, but fail to see that mercy has triumphed over judgement (James 2:13). I don’t really support the idea of Christians going to court to force legal judgments because it is a hiding to nothing and it risks legal judgments that may restrict freedoms further, as has happened with the various American creationist court cases.

However, I can’t help thinking that Ekklesia are throwing the baby out with the bath-water in their work. They say they want a more humble Christian church that has a servant heart, and I share that ideal. A bottom up Christian faith that serves and loves instead of overbears. But I can’t help thinking that there is a tendency towards an undermining, evolutionary-socialist mindset in the work of Ekklesia, especially when they side with the British Humanist Association that perhaps reflects an approach similar to Daniel Dennett's observation that evolution as really a ‘universal acid.’ This approach risks undermining the good in the church as well as questioning the abuses of power. Yes by all means question abuses of power, but to undermine all forms of Christian authority and power will render the church power-less to work for social justice. I am not an Anglican, but do not for instance wish to remove Anglican Bishops from the House of Lords on the basis that Christians shouldn’t have any elevated positions in society. We need to regain an understanding of meekness; to be guardians of power, but to exercise it lovingly and responsibly – as we are told the meek shall inherit the earth.

Secondly, the argument that the New Testament interpretation of the Law of Moses provides a sound basis for law is not to claim ascendancy of my beliefs over others for the sake of pride or prejudice. It is instead I believe Christian values that most respect the lives and freedoms of others who are not Christian, and historically has informed British laws and values, at least in part. People of other faiths have rights in the West; but such rights are often not reciprocated where those other faith systems are dominant. Secular humanism offers subjectivity based on human sentiment, and this risks leading to relativism in ethics, a relativism that can lead to the rise of nationalism or fascism where the state or race is idolised. Secular humanism risks creating a vacuum that may be filled by those who have a much more legalistic or dictatorial mindset, whether it is militant Islamists seeking to impose Sharia Law, or secularists who idolise the law. It is noteworthy that the last Labour government, that didn’t ‘do God,’ imposed an increasing number of laws to control social behaviour and allowed economic inequality to increase. If you otherthrow the Christian basis for law and values you will find that you are on a road to greater legalism and less equality.

Barrow though questions whether I am committed to equality and justice. Yes I am, but on a rational basis that seeks to understand the real nature of humanity. Today what we call human rights is really based on utilitarian philosophy and is different from historical forms of human rights. It is an Epicurean and Hume’an based approach to rights and not classical deontological human rights. The ideals of utilitarianism can tend towards hedonism and selfishness where we want our rights to ‘do-as-we-like’ protected without considering our duties towards others. We need to be able to discuss this honestly. It is not deontological, i.e. based upon the logic of duties as well as rights, an approach Aquinas saw in terms of teleology and natural law. Today pressure groups of various forms often campaign for their rights without consideration of duties and have no comprehension of duties towards God and others. Of course a society can emphasise duties to the exclusion of rights, but we have swung a long way the other way in our post-modern society where pressure groups campaign for rights that go beyond an understanding of humanity's instrinsic nature. Post modernism is the unwanted child of modernism. Secular humanists don’t really want it, but it is their offspring nonetheless because secular humanism leads to a rootless, purposeless existence for many, and this risks a loss of respect for others.

If human beings are created in the image of God, as I believe, then that includes the rational, the relational, the emotional and the volitional (as Selwyn Hughes noted). I fear though that some of the modern thinking about rights seeks to deny the volitional, especially in sexual ethics. Modern society has taken something that is really I believe a lifestyle choice, and then seeks to deny the capacity for choice by asserting that it is an intrinsic part of who people are. Then modern society seeks to protect it through human rights legislation and use it as a wedge to discriminate against those who hold to a more traditional Christian understanding of rights and values. Of course it may be claimed that Christian belief is also a choice, but is it appropriate to elevate one set of choices above another in human rights legislation? I don't think it is. This denial of the volitional capacity I believe leads to a loss of freedom for many individuals because there is loss of clarity towards understanding the true human nature and a disjunction between physical reality and emotions and mental thoughts. It is this confusion and loss of freedom for an individual that needs to be questioned in a loving Christian society. It is the truth about who we really are as human beings in an intrinsic sense that will enable people to recover an understanding of the volitional capacity and allow freedom to be regained. This is not at all an unloving approach; many of those Christians taken to court for their beliefs in this area have demonstrated a life time of service towards others irrespective of lifestyle choices. So there is nothing unloving in seeking to recapture a deontological approach to human rights where we develop a true understanding of humanity including the volitional capacity, even in sexual ethics. However, such understanding also needs to be held within a doctrine of grace where Christ comes and indwells the new believer, and then heals the eyes of the heart of the person so that they are able to see their true Christ-like humanity more clearly.

Socially conservative Christianity offers a vision for society as the City of God, based upon love, equality and justice, where power is exercised in humility, and on the basis of understanding the intrinsic nature of human beings in terms of belief that we are created in God’s image; that is volitionally, relationally, emotionally and rationally created. At the same time a Christian vision for society is one that gives freedom and liberty in areas where activities do no harm to others, and I am opposed to the type of Dominionist thinking that seeks exclusivity and control in these matters. A socially conservative Christian vision upholds the family, not as perfect units with 2.4 children, but as the best foundation for society even in brokenness, remembering also that Christ established a bigger family that is the Church community. Alternatives for society, for instance Plato’s city republic of Polis, are much more class-based, where a few Philosophers-Kings rule over the masses. Family ties are broken and people reduced to mere economic units, kept in place by a higher-class military or Polis force. Sadly, aspects of the politics of Plato often have a superficial appeal from both the left and right and have influenced Marxism, socialism and economic social Darwinism and even some forms of Christian fundamentalism that strongly support unregulated capitalism or over-emphasise law and order and control in a legalistic sense. But which vision does Ekklesia share for society, one based upon the rigid, legalistic class-based worldly city of Polis, or freedom, equality, grace and love that comes through Jesus Christ in the Civitas Dei?
Andrew Sibley 


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Barbara Forrest - Attacking the Wrong Guy for the Wrong Reasons

Well known Darwin defender Barbara Forrest has got into trouble for attacking the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. She wrote an article in Synthase Journal against Francis Beckwith, but left out a lot of useful information, such as the fact that Beckwith is himself a critic of intelligent design. Read about it here, here, and here.

There is a bigger issue here about trust in the science and religion debate. Is the debate between those for and against evolution so heated now that anything goes, or do some 'see red' to the point where they can't think clearly?


Saturday, 5 March 2011

More Double Standards from Ekklesia?

Ekklesia seem to prefer minority groups if they are of the right sort; that is if they appeal to their liberal-socialist mindset. But for other minorities they are dismissive of people's concerns. For instance Simon Barrow writes that claims of discrimination against Christians in Britain is misleading Misleading claims about discrimination against Christians

He writes further "The argument of the socially conservative Christians who are pursuing these cases to seek to demonstrate 'discrimination' or 'persecution' against Christians in the UK appears to rest on two false premises. The first is that theirs is the only Christian view and should be backed up by law, irrespective of the dignity and rights of others." But I would respond by asking whether traditional Christian views are of such a wicked character that they should not be respected by the law? Should only one view prevail? And if not on what basis except that it does not seem to agree with the present day liberal agenda? When laws are supported only by the majority or popular mandate then we are on the slope to tyranny. The interpretation that Jesus placed upon the Law of Moses, and as outlined by St Paul, have historically provided a firm and loving foundation on which to build a solid legal code. This solid basis is now being lost thanks to the liberal agenda, and it is only replaced by popularism.

Barrow's second point is that "...discriminatory actions justified on religious grounds should provide immunity from fulfilling legal requirements over equality and justice towards others in the public sphere. That cannot be right." What does he mean by equality and justice? We are living in an age where we have invented rights that go beyond a true understanding of the human condition, mankind created in the image of God with both the capacity for suffering, pain and emotions, but also with the capacity for free will - the capacity to make choices. Today people are encouraged to think of their transitory emotions and feelings as being an intrinsic part of who they are, fixed for all time. This takes away from people's ability to see themselves in that volitional capacity. i.e. it is a message that really enslaves people because it seeks to deny freedom to make choices over and above our feelings. We need to move away from seeing people as either gay or straight and to see all instead as volitional beings created in the Imago Dei.

So this liberal-socialist message that Ekklesia promotes takes away from a true understanding of the human condition. It also places a belief in human social progress against a belief in divine grace; a grace that can transform people and bring them into a spiritual place of new birth in Jesus Christ. We reject the claim that those who hold to traditional Christian beliefs are unloving and instead believe in the transforming love of God in Christ that seeks to reach out to all.
Andrew Sibley