The Mankind Project

Aside from the obvious physical differences there is a marked contrast in how men and women relate to their friends. For example, if Laura, Suzanne, Debra and Rose go out for lunch, they will call each other Laura, Suzanne, Debra and Rose. But if Mike, Charlie, Bob and John go out to grab a bite, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Godzilla, Peanut-Head and Useless. When the bill arrives, Fat Boy, Godzilla, Peanut-Head and Useless will each throw in $20, even though the tab is only for $22.50. None of them will have anything smaller, and none will actually admit they want change back. When the girls get their bill, out come the pocket calculators.

A man has six items in his bathroom: a toothbrush, shaving cream, razor, a bar of soap, and a towel from the Holiday Inn. The average number of items in the typical woman’s bathroom is 337. A man would not be able to identify most of these items.

When it comes to children a women seems to be all knowing. She knows about dentist appointments and romances, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears, hopes and dreams. A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house. (1)

The Vanishing Manly Man

Over the last 30 years or so there seems to be an increasing concern that men have forgotten or more to the point not having role models to demonstrate manhood. To solve this “crisis” both inside and outside the church, books have been written and groups have arisen to guide and train men in being manly.

One such group is the Mankind Project (MKP)which is an international men’s network of interdependent centers with members in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. The primary instruction tool of this organization is called “New Warrior Training Adventure” (NWTA) which is a weekend retreat where the supposed goal is to empower men to regain their masculinity. In 1985 three men came together Rich Tosi, Bill Kauth, and Ron Hering whose collective backgrounds and influences contributed to the creation of the Mankind Project.

Richard Tosi’s background was in the United States Marine as a captain who served in Vietnam. He brought a military influence to the MKP training. Bill Kauth who has a master’s degree in psychology and was a self styled feminist is the author of the training manual for men’s support groups called A Circle of Men:TheOriginal Manual for Men’s Support Groups . Ron Hering’s contribution was his ability to instruct others to become effective leaders. He had a doctorate in education and was a teacher, seminar leader and professional coach.

The New Warrior Training Adventure weekend is the compilation of several other human potential seminars spanning four decades. Bill Kauth attended a seminar called Understanding Yourself and Others (UYO), where he met Rich Tosi who was one of the facilitators. (UYO) was started by David Durovy and his wife Patricia. David became an initiate of the first New Warrior Training Adventure. Kauth, Kosi, and Hering together attended a workshop called Men, Sex, and Power in California offered by Justin Sterling. These weekends are currently called (Sterling Seminars) the techniques learned there are a major part of the NWTA. Sterling was an early disciple of Werner Erhard who founded what was then known as EST “Erhard Seminars Training”, today it has transformed itself into the Landmark Forum. Men, Sex, and Power (Sterling Seminars) was the outgrowth of Sterling’s training with EST. Bill Kauth’s experience with Gestalt psychology was added to the NWTA.(2)

Training the Trainers

MKP history comes through a long line of Human Potential Movements that began in the 1960’s. It started with Mind Dynamics by Alexander Everett who arrived in America in 1962 from England and lived in Missouri for a year and then moved to Forth Worth, Texas where he helped establish a private boarding school. Everett’s Mind Dynamics was influenced through his involvement with Unity Ministry in England, Edgar Casey’s work, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Egyptology, and Silva Mind Control.(3)

William Penn Patrick was a student of Everett he used both Mind Dynamics and the Silva Mind Control Method in his pyramid sales organization called Holiday Magic. He also started another organization called Leadership Dynamics which proved to be detrimental to people. The information on this is detailed in a book called The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled by Gene Church. According to Church the hard hitting confrontational group encounters went out of control. As a result lawsuits were filed which caused both organizations to shut down.(4)

Many of the instructors from these two groups went on to found their own:

“organizations using many of the same behavior modification techniques. The goals were to bring people to their highest potential and to overcome their fears. Their method was to break them down by screaming insults at them in order to have them face their fears. The theory behind this abusiveness was that in order to change ones behavior they must be brought down to zero in order to build them up again.”(5)

The following list of instructors from Mind dynamics illustrates the flow of how these groups began and the direct influence each had on the other. Bob White, Randy Revell, Charlene Afremow, John Hanley founded Lifespring in 1974.(6) Werner Erhard, founded EST in 1971 which evolved into The Forum. Bob White left Lifespring, went to Japan, and started a training organization there called Life Dynamics. Randy Revell left Lifespring and founded the Context Trainings. Charlene Afremow joined Erhard’s organization as a trainer. She later left in a dispute and is now back at Lifespring. Howard Nease founded Personal Dynamics. Jim Quinn founded Lifestream. Thomas Willhite founded PSI World Seminars. Stewart Emery worked for EST and later founded Actualizations. William Penn Patrick’s training organization recovered and is known today as Leadership Dynamics.(6) Justin Sterling was an early disciple of Werner Erhard who started the weekend conference (Men, Sex, and Power), today known as Sterling Seminars.

Embracing the New Age

Another major influence for the New Warrior Training Adventure for MKP is Robert Bly’s writings and his influence on the men’s movement. On the Back cover of the training manual for leaders on the NWTA called, The Circle of Men Bill Kauth credits Bly’s influence. It states that the “wild man weekends” are inspired by the mythopoetic writings and personal testimonies of Robert Bly, Sam Keen and John Lee. It goes on to say that they followed Robert Bly’s practical advice he gave to gatherings of men to form small groups. Robert Bly is quoted extensively in their writings. Bly has attended several of the weekends and continues to support MKP. Much of the Native American Indian Spiritualism and rituals performed at the NWTA weekends comes directly from Robert Bly and the works of Carl G. Jung. Several books written by Robert Bly are also used, Iron John, Little Book on the Human Shadow, and The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart Poems for Men.

Some men are introduced to the weekend through informational classes that were held at Christian churches. In most cases the church rented out their facility and were likely not aware of what this group is about. Inquiries from spouses and families came in due to personality changes that occurred in the men after they became involved with MKP.

In April 2003 three separate interviews were conducted with men who were participants a NWTA weekend and then spent time in MKP attending the small groups. One of these men was a facilitator and assisted at several weekend trainings. All these men requested that their names not be mentioned as every man must sign an agreement stating that nothing can be said about what goes on. (This should be a giant red flag). The current price for the NWTA weekend is $650.00 with a $100.00 deposit in advance. In Colorado and around the country these trainings take place in the mountains at various retreat places.

Introduction to Warrior Work

The Mankind Project: A non-profit organization and network of independent centers working together to heal the world one man at a time.

Mission…We empower men to missions to service.

Identity Statement… We are an order of men called to reclaim the sacred masculine for our time; through initiation, training and action in the world.

Core Organizing and Guiding Principle … We empower the evolution of consciousness in each man in our culture.

Principles of Our Order

1. I create my own perception of reality.

2. My outer reality exists as a reflection of my inner world.

3. Higher states of consciousness exist and reflect greater abilities to

manifest my inner reality.

4. Higher states of consciousness embody a life of service, compassion,

and unconditional love.

5. My work towards higher consciousness starts within.

6. My inner work begins with awareness of feelings which become the

doorway for discovering and owning my shadows and wounds.


7. Healing of my wounds comes from releasing my judgments and

forgiving from my heart.

8. My personal life mission becomes my guiding force that transcends

my wounds and moves me beyond healing into joyous service.

9. I take personal responsibility and am accountable for living in

integrity with my mission.

Principles Poetically Put:

We empower men to manifest their potential fully and joyfully, trusting that they will create the healthy solutions needed by our society and planet.(7)

A Typical Men’s Weekend

Upon arrival on Friday evening each man is SMUDGED with burned incense that is placed on sage sticks. This is an American Indian ritual that is done to cleanse and keep the evil sprits away. It is claimed this ritual washes away the cares and negative energy of the day. As the men arrive the facilitators greet them by shouting several times the question, “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” The facilitators look directly into their eyes and tell each man they have power you don’t even know about. All who were interviewed related that it seemed to be very similar to a recruit’s introduction to boot camp. The men arrive on Friday at different times due to their own schedules ranging from late afternoon until evening. While the men wait for the others to arrive they are directed to sit in a dark room, told to be silent, and not to grin or laugh. Some of the men sat in this room for over two hours as they waited for all to arrive.

Once everyone arrived each man had to go through two stations. At the first station they were asked in a loud voice, are you ready to change your life forever? They were told that they had to give up all jewelry and electronic devices they brought with them. At the second station each man was told that they were no longer to be called by their name. They were given a number and told they would be called that number throughout the weekend. They were then asked if they had given up all their jewelry and electronic devices at the first station. They were told if they still had any of these things to empty their pockets and place the items on the table. Several times men had electric razors in their possession; they were called liars and loudly ridiculed. The facilitators were yelling at them saying can’t you understand? There were times when the group leaders would let someone go past the first station purposely with jewelry and electronic devices and set them up to be humiliated at the second station.

There was a one to one ratio of a group leaders and new participants. The new recruits to manhood had very little time alone. Very little food was provided the first two days except for snacks such as apples and nuts. On Sunday just before they left a banquet was provided in honor of their graduation. The activities went well in to the night which did not leave much time for sleep.

On Saturday there were classes centered on the philosophy of what it means to be a man and a warrior. They were told how men have been emasculated by society and by the women in their lives. It was explained that this was because many of our fathers abandoned us emotionally the result is that men were raised by their mothers who also emasculated them. They said that women do not know how to raise a boy to be a man, that they should taught and raised by men. The claim is that the real goal of a man is to be a warrior and in many cases their mothers and wives held them back from their full potential to be a man. The main objective then is to regain the power that was taken away from men. Women it seems, are the ever present enemy.

They are encouraged in sessions to share about times they were shamed while growing up. These are wounds that were hidden that now need to be dealt with. At one session a male phallic symbol was passed around signifying what is means to be a man, they were encouraged to talk about sexual experiences.

Saturday afternoon the “Trust Walk” takes place. This involves the men going on a walk in the nude wearing only shoes and a blindfold. This is to promote trust in the leaders in following someone blindly for about an hour. When they returned from the walk many of the previous graduates of the NWTA showed up. The men still nude were now dancing to the sound of drums. The object of this is to get all your inhibitions out. If you could do this you can do anything and regain your lost power. Every man was given an Indian neck pouch along with an animal name that best described each man’s character. They were called by this name from this point on.

Several times over the weekend the men formed a circle and ritual invocations were repeated out loud welcoming the energy of the East, South, West, North and Mother earth. The purpose of the Invocation as defined in the Facilitators Guide Protocol Manual (The New Warrior Initiation Adventure) is to extend a ritual invitation for ancestral, archetypal, energies to join with and strengthen the container (the man making the invocation). This ritual’s purpose is to bring men to a place where they can do “inner” work. To affectively do inner work requires a departure from the normal limits of our rational minds. To accomplish this, the participants invite the energies of those who passed on, their ancestors, their fathers and grandfathers. They call on the energies of the masculine archetypes, the Lover, the Warrior, the Magician, and the King to ground them in the sacred masculine. They call on the seven energies represented by the seven directions of the medicine wheel. This is derived from the tradition of Native American Indians, which is believed to renew our experience with the ancient wisdom of the relatedness of all beings, the unity of all things.(8)

Test all things

It is plain to see that this is not a movement a Christian man should be involved in. Mankind project does not present itself as Christian but does insist that men from all faiths can benefit from the training. The whole premise is based on man regaining his power that was lost and finding his masculinity. Some men after being involved with MKP for some time understandably developed an attitude against their mothers and wives. They blamed them for being the cause of not reaching their full potential as men.

In Scripture we are told in John 8:31,32- “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” For the believer this should be our hearts desire to abide and focus on Jesus not focusing on ourselves. We should not dwell on the things of our pasts but looking to Christ. Paul says in relation to himself, in Phil. 3:13, 14 – “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” Also Hebrews 12:1,2 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”(9)

(1) Anonymous

(2)Klegman, Hal. “An Introduction to the Founding of the New Warrior Training Adventure” , Mankind Project Indiana Newsletter, January 2002.

(3)Vahle, Neal. “Alexander Everett and Complete Centering” , New Realities Magazine, May/June 1987.

(4)Church, Gene. The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled , Outerbridge & Lazard; distributed by Dutton; (1972).


(6) From an article on the web. Mind Dynamics – Alexander Everett , awareness/mind.htm

(7) Facilitators Guide Protocol Manual (The New Warrior Initiation” Adventure) 29

(8) Pedigo, Mark. MPK-Colorado- I-Group 8 Week Protocol-Facilitators Guide Protocol Manual (The New Warrior Initiation Adventure),1998

(10) Holy Bible, New King James Version: Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, 1988,1997.

Bio: Mark Roggeman has been involved in outreach to those affected by cults and other high demand groups for a period of thirty years. He has assisted with exit-counseling individuals trapped in cults and provides support for the families with loved ones that are currently involved in
a cult. He has served as a police officer in Denver,
Colorado for the past thirty-four years and assists other law enforcement agencies with information and training on cults.

Mark is currently a part time missionary with Haven Ministry located in the Denver Area. He has a degree in Criminal Justice and has attended Calvary Chapel Bible College.

The Dangers of Contextualization

by Stephanie Potts

PDF handout

Short Quote:

” In recent years, the idea that monotheism is found in all nations has  gained significant popularity. Many progressive church leaders claim that evangelical missionaries have done a disservice to indigenous
communities by not contextualizing the Bible to help explain Christianity in terms that Native Americans can better understand.

Is it possible that God revealed Himself to the nations outside the Jewish culture? Why are the Jews so special? Why can’t we use the names of indigenous supreme beings to represent the God of the Bible?

The purpose of this paper is to respond to these false ideas by examining the Scriptures and to demonstrate why it is vital to our salvation (Acts 4: 12) that we … walk in the name of the LORD of the Bible only (Micah 4:5). We will also be examining why this subject is particularly important in today’s postmodern environment and what
these ideas may lead to in the future.”

Contra Hume – “Of Miracles”

by Bill Honsburger “Empiricism”

Inigo Montoya – “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means!”

Hume’s chapter ‘Of Miracles’ in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” has been debated for centuries now.  Most well known is his famous argument that one should always take the “greater miracle” over the lesser one.  That is, one should weigh out the arguments or evidences for a miraculous event against the evidence that it did not happen, subtract the lesser from the greater, and go with the greater.  Hume also spends a lot of time in that chapter discussing the value of human testimony, which is given fairly short shrift in general and none at all when it comes to religious claims about miraculous events.

In this paper I will grant Hume his greater miracle argument (though I don’t really buy it) in favor of critiquing his argument from an alleged empiricist base.  I will do this from the standpoint of human testimony, challenging Hume on the points he makes in this “greater miracle” argument.  I will prove it to be the case that Hume has slipped an a-priori commitment to naturalism into his alleged a-posteriori basis – thus contradicting his own epistemological view.  Additionally, I will show that his logical fallacies include the contradiction, but also that numerous snob ad populums, ad homonyms and genetic fallacies mar his argument as well.     One of the most famous of the British empiricists was the Scottish historian David Hume, who, along with Berkeley, Locke, and Bacon, helped set the discussion in philosophical and scientific circles for centuries to come.  There were some good initial critiques of Hume’s argument, but his position was still not well known until Immanuel Kant was rudely awakened from his “dogmatic slumbers.”  Nevertheless, Hume’s influence in philosophy inspired Logical Positivism, scientific naturalists of all stripes, the search for the “Historical Jesus,” and even Einstein’s theory of special relativity.  But is this reputation earned?  Much of Hume’s fans share his disdain of religion, particularly Christianity, so it makes sense that the naturalists who accept Hume’s argument still presume, as he did, that the argument is between those who are “ignorant” (as in “religious” in any way) and those who are all about facts, reason and evidence.  Much like today’s scientific naturalists (of scientism) – who protest any claims to be driven by underlying philosophical presuppositions (it’s just called “science”) – Hume has gotten by with an undisclosed a-priori claim which comes up several times in the chapter under review.

As an empiricist, Hume held the epistemological claim that all knowledge comes through sense data or experience.  This assertion comes up many times in the chapter.  It arises for example in E10.2, where Hume briefly compares the testimony of the apostles as something one cannot trust, because the stronger claim belongs to “the immediate object of his senses.” (1)  An even stronger version of this is found in E10.3: “Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact” (2)  It is interesting to note here that this quote actually implies that experience can sometimes mislead us!  He also claims that it is our experience which teaches us that “Were not these, I say, discovered by experience to be qualities, inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony.” (3)  Strong words – we shall see whether they help or hurt him.

In some of his other writings also, Hume notes that knowledge ends at our sense experience.  We receive impressions, which include sensations and passions.  We have ideas, yet these are but a “faint” image of some sensual experience.  A modern definition shows that nothing has changed.   Empiricism is defined commonly as “a system of acquiring knowledge that rejects all a-priori knowledge and relies solely upon observation, experimentation, and induction.” (4 – The Free  So the claim is that only that which can be proven by the senses can be considered factual.  Hume claims that a “wise” man will judge a case along these lines.  He later declares that no one at any time in any place has seen a resurrection.  Besides the classic fallacy of begging the question – since this is in fact the exact claim that over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus – there is a more foundational problem.

Is knowledge solely and completely based on experience?  If so, whose experience?  Is someone else’s experience sufficient for knowledge?  What if someone else’s experience contradicts my own?  What indeed can I know of history, or aesthetics, or ethics, or any metaphysical claims (e.g. that justice exists)?  Of course Hume does not give an affirmative answer to these questions but instead gives the definitional and the greater miracle arguments – in other words, he just presupposes his epistemic claim and “runs with it.”  Fine, so do we all at times, but in this case it is critical to what he is critiquing.  Hume’s epistemic position is that we can only have knowledge through our experience, but it only takes a few seconds of pondering to realize that the great majority of what each of us “knows,” or at least thinks we know, does not qualify then as knowledge.  I have no actual sense data to think that I can know that Buzz Aldridge walked on the moon, China exists, atoms can be split, or that Barack Obama is the President of the United States.  I have been closely acquainted with many Vietnam War era veterans over the years, yet I have no sense experience that even the country of Vietnam exists.  I worked with Vietnamese refugees at a factory in San Antonio in 1975, yet still again I have no sense experience of Vietnam.  I had a crush on Farah Fawcett when I was a young man (don’t laugh – everyone else did too!) yet I have no sense experience of her.  All these things happened within my own lifetime.  To make this worse by bringing in the past, I have no sense experience that the War Between the States occurred in the early 1860s.  I have no Hume-style empirical experience of the murder of Abraham Lincoln nor the brilliance of Robert E Lee.  Similarly, I have absolutely no sense experience of Christopher Columbus, Luther, Aquinas, Maimonides, Justinian, Augustine, the Apostle Peter, or Jesus himself.  I have no sense experience of Julius Caesar, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates or Homer – let alone Moses, Abraham or Adam!  Yet in all this I am convinced that I possess a certain degree of objectively valid “knowledge” about all the events and persons just named.  If I were to be even more pedantic I could go on for hours and kill several more electronic trees with all the things I claim to know – none of which do I have a sensual experience of.  And yet out of any such grocery list, it is only a few individuals or events that would cause Hume to suspect I am one who has bought into “barbarian superstitions.”       My point is this, I have far more of an education and knowledge available to me that the good Scotsman had, and yet by his limited definition of what counts for knowledge, I barely know what I had for breakfast!  It strikes me that he knows considerable less than he claims to know.  He “knows” that no one in any country at any time has seen the resurrection of a dead human being.  Just exactly how does he, or anyone else for that matter, know that?  On empiricist grounds a more modest claim might be something like “My entire sense experience is that dead people stay dead.”  This of course was entirely true for Hume I am sure.  But one might point out the obvious “small sampling” fallacy at this point.  If I say I have seen a goose that was black, would I be justified in saying that all geese are black?  What if I had seen a thousand geese?  A million?  At what point would I ever be justified in saying that all geese are black?  The only possible empirical answer would be when I could say that I had seen all geese.  In the same sense, the only way Hume could claim that no one had ever resurrected, was if he had personal sense experience of all countries at all time!  So might it not be the case that Hume was just scoring rhetorical points when he made that claim?  I could be generous and accept that possibility, except for the fact this this is so critical to his definition of a miracle.  Hume argues that it is an “unalterable experience” that the laws of nature are never contradicted.  Never is such an interesting word.  I looked up the definition, and it clearly meant “at no time, ever.”

Let us suppose that we widen the net and add all 18th century Scotsmen to Hume’s defense.  Let it be granted here that no Scotsman of the 18th century had ever seen a resurrection.  But this doesn’t really help, as no collective group of “18th century Scotsman” has access to the kind of “overview” necessary to claim an unalterable experience.  Let us broaden the net again to include all those fashionably enlightened Europeans, the kind that Hume was at least somewhat inclined toward.  Does the set of all 18th century enlightened Europeans give Hume what he needs?  No, sadly it does not, and this sample is compounded by the thought that most 18th century Europeans probably still believed that someone had resurrected from the dead.  Let us expand the net once more to include all those “barbarian” nations that Hume so disdains.  So now the set includes all the millions of people all over the world which surely gives Hume the grounds by which he can claim that a resurrection never occurred.  But alas, it fails here as well.  Hume claimed that it never has happened at any time as well as in any country.  So we would have to then start the survey over again ad nauseum.  In other words, there is no possible way for Hume’s empiricism to make this claim – yet it has been repeated over and over for two centuries now.  There are only two real possibilities that could explain this – perhaps Hume had access to Calvin’s Transmorgifier and could go anywhere at any time – and thus could complete the scientific analysis needed.  Or one could just admit the obvious, that Hume set aside his own epistemological position to strike at that most hated thing.

Another flaw along the same line is that Hume repeatedly uses language that indicates this very objective.  For example in E10.4 Hume states: “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.  In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event.”  Then he goes on to discuss those kinds of experiences which might be seen with some evidence on one side and some on the other.  However, the resurrection is clearly not like that to Hume.  There are no two sides to that issue.  So we are to understand that we have an “infallible” experience.  This is even more clear when one looks at the “money line” for the whole chapter – his definition of a miracle itself.  Hume put it this way:  “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”  (E10.12)   We will look at this passage a bit more later on, but notice that here experience has provided us with a “firm and unalterable” standing.  Just exactly what experience does David have in mind?  If we apply this passage to the issue of the resurrection – which it seems quite clear that is the direction Hume wants to go – then there again seems to be a problem.

Hume states that experience, “a firm and unalterable” one at that, should be considered a “proof.”  One cannot have any stronger argument than that.  He goes on in SNB 115 to say that there is a “uniform experience” which again amounts to a “proof,” which ultimately in his mind necessitates that no miracle is possible.  Let’s try an epistemological experiment.  I am thinking “treeley.”  (When Robert Audi said this in my class I knew I had wondered into a strange and alien land.)  But what Robert was saying is that my senses, memory, and consciousness were experiencing a collection of phenomena that were coalescing in my mind when I looked at a tree.  In the mind one could smell the pine, or see the needles, or even feel the bark.  A virtual sensual blowout – and just from looking at a tree.  My senses tell me there is a tree in front of me.  My memory reminds me that this same tree was present in this same spot yesterday, and last week and so on.  Given that I am not on drugs, nor is my memory failing significantly, nor are my senses off kilter in any way – it seems that on foundationalist grounds I have the justified true belief that a tree exists and is in front of me.  None of this is terribly controversial in the analytic world.  But now let’s substitute a different sort of scenario.  The Apostle Peter is thinking “resurrectionly.”  He sees Jesus in front of him.  He remembers Jesus dying on the cross.  He can see the scars on his hands.  He has a memory of seeing nails pounded into those same hands.  He can hear the screams of Jesus and the two others as they are nailed to trees.  He remembers his own grief at his betrayal and how his own arrogant heart was smashed by the reality of his cowardice.  Yet there before him is Jesus.  He touches him, he smells him, he hears him.  He has a virtual feast of sense data experience mixed with bittersweet sense data memories.  According to Hume the first scenario is fine as it happens routinely, but the second is not because it violates “the routine.”  Yet let us only suppose, purely for the sake of argument, that the way I know a tree is actually there is on the exact same basis that Peter knew the resurrected Jesus was factually there.  Indeed, as we think about what it is that constitutes a “firm and unalterable” experience, it is this exact same type of experience played out over and over again.  The exact same analysis of the knowing process gives us the experience Hume says that we have.  But in the one case it is affirmed yet in the other denied.  Were the witnesses of the resurrection physically impaired in some significant way?  Hume doesn’t go there – he sees no need.  He has in his hand a trump card – the “very nature of the fact.”  (More on that later.)  Hume does claim that this firm experience is agreeable to the laws of nature.  So yes he is right that the routine experience of nature is that dead men don’t rise.  And from his experience and also from my own experience, he would be right – but again we are hardly in a position to then declare that the event is impossible, are we?  At best we can only say that we have never seen such a thing.

Hume says that no one has seen such things.  A wise man, therefore, proportions his betting to the evidence of the cards that are hidden, not the ones that are on the table.   If he had been a bit more careful, he would not have overplayed his hand.  But then we wouldn’t remember him, as Kant would have seen no reason to lose sleep over him.

What exactly is the “nature of the fact”?  One could say that it is obvious – the very definition or essence of something.  Perhaps Hume has that in mind.  If so, then he still has a problem.  After spending a lot of ink eviscerating the claims of human testimonies – liars and perjurers all, we know – he then states that we have a firm and unalterable experience.  What could this mean?  Who exactly is recording that firm and unalterable experience?  Could it be that the firm and unalterable experience is also put forth through the means of human testimony?  Why it seems it does.  In reference to the resurrection Hume states clearly that no one has ever “observed” one.  Well who exactly has not observed one?  I think we can safely presume that he does not have in mind gibbons or ocelots – for everyone knows their testimony is sure.  So perhaps he means angelic beings – no that won’t work either – if one has no room for God in the universe it is most likely one doesn’t have the little spirits running around either, at least not in Western religious thinking.  Having run out of options, I am forced into the corner and must confess that Hume must have human testimony in mind in describing the observers of that particular observation no one has ever had.  But how can this be? – Hume knows that:

“Were not the memory tenacious to a certain degree; had not men commonly an inclination to truth and a principle of probity; were they not sensible to shame, when detected in a falsehood; Were not these, I say, discovered by experience to be qualities, inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony”  (SBN 112)


“by reason of the bigotry, ignorance, cunning, and roguery of a great part of mankind.” SBN 124 He adds to this later: “With what greediness are the miraculous accounts of travelers received, their descriptions of sea and land monsters, their relations of wonderful adventures, strange men, and uncouth manners?  But what if the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense; and human testimony, in these circumstances, loses all pretensions to authority.  A religionist may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality.  He may know his narrative to be false, and yet persevere in it, with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause: Or even where this delusion has not place, vanity, excited by so strong a temptation, operates on him more powerfully than on the rest of mankind in any other circumstances; and self-interest with equal force”… E10.17

That is just about his neighbors I suppose. He reserves an even greater level of contempt for others. In E10.20 he rants:

“Thirdly.  It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors”

… Or:

“The most ignorant and barbarous of these barbarians carry the report abroad”

Maybe the Apostle Paul should have stayed in Jerusalem.   But now we get to the true bottom of the affair.  In zeroing in on the Christian faith, Hume decides to address the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses.  He proceeds to take the gloves off and tells us who the real barbarians truly are:

“Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long those fabulous accounts, which every nation gives of its origins.”

Those darn Jews!  Hume argues from there the details of his problems with Genesis in particular, how different the experiences cited there are from his experience, and thus reasons that it takes a miracle of faith to believe any of it, because the reasoning Christian knows it all to be nonsense, yet believes it anyway.  How frustrating it must have been for Hume to read John Locke and know that such a brilliant and fellow empiricist had fallen into the hands of the barbarians!

Well it is not like anti-Semitism was a new thing in Hume’s time.  The antipathy that many Europeans had for the Jews is well documented, and the prevailing anti-Semitism that modern British people have for the Jews is staggering.  The obvious fallacies abound within these statements.  The fact that the Jewish people historically have been one of the most literate people in history is of course prima facie evidence of their ignorance.  The fact that per capita Jewish people have won more awards in science and medicine than any other, merely amplifies their barbarity!  I married a Scottish woman so I want to be careful here, but other than golf and the Westminster Confession, what is the great legacy of civilization that Hume must have been self-referencing?  No need for an answer here, but as well as the abundant uses of ad homonyms’, Hume has also given a fine and classic example of the genetic fallacy.  Even if his insults were all completely true, one cannot dismiss a claim as  false merely because of its source.  The fact that Bill Clinton is a liar is well established.  That he lied about his lying is also well established.  (He virtually serves as a living example of the liars paradox!)  But this does not mean necessarily that the next thing he says is a lie – that has to be determined by means of reason and fact, and cannot be adjudicated based upon his past character or lack thereof.

The critical part of the argument we are tracing is that Hume doesn’t trust human testimony when it is referencing something that he does not believe.  But he apparently must accept human testimony to grant him what he does believe.  When he accepts their testimony, they are civilized and knowledgeable, not given to spurious accounts of sea monsters and apparently flying spaghetti monsters.  When he does not accept their testimony, they are barbarous and ignorant, given to lying, delusions, perjury, and self-interest.  But Hume makes another critical mistake.  He cites an example of some people who are not given to lying, are upstanding in their character and so on.  In E10.27 he gives this account:

“There surely never was a greater number of miracles ascribed to one person, than those, which were lately said to have been wrought in France upon the tomb of Abbe Paris, the famous Jansenist, with whose sanctity the people were so long deluded.  The curing of the sick, giving hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind, were every where talked of as the usual effects of that holy sepulcher.  But what is more extraordinary; many of the miracles were immediately proved upon the spot, before judges of unquestioned integrity, attested by witnesses of credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most eminent theatre that is now in the world.  Nor is this all: A relation of them was published and dispersed every where; nor were the Jesuits, though a learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, and determined enemies to those opinions, in whose favour the miracles were said to have been wrought, ever able distinctly to refute or detect them.”

Here Hume lays out a test case  where every one of his possible defeaters has been in fact defeated.  They were done in the modern world, they did not resemble any prior activity, they were asserted by intelligent and modern people, and they were done in this age.  All of these things were asserted in the chapter as good reasons not to believe in miraculous stories.  He goes on to add;

“Where shall we find such a number of circumstances, agreeing to the corroboration of one fact?  And what have we to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events, which they relate?  And this surely, in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a sufficient refutation.” SBN 125

Well I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure want to be one of the “reasonable” people!  A more outstanding example of snob ad populum could never be displayed.  To be “wise” and “reasonable” and “civilized” is certainly to be desired more than to be “ignorant”, “barbarous” and so on.  Why all the right people will surely agree with this argument!  Unfortunately for David as well as the snob appeal, his incredulities cannot be substituted for an argument as well.  So he then is left with one argument and one alone – the “absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events which they relate”.  Now we have come to the crux of my argument in this paper.  How on empiricist grounds can Hume say what he says?  Lets try and see how this can work.

One could object and say that a miracle infers a logical contradiction.  In other words does the account of someone getting healed (or raised from the dead) imply something along the lines of a square circle?  No it doesn’t seem to infer that something is both A and –A.  The person was sick and then was healed.  They were by accounts not both sick and healed at the same time, and at the same place, and with the same respect.  Is it possible that what is meant here is a contradiction of science?  Well then what science?  What school is Hume referring to?  What methodology has he in mind?   Many of the scientists of his day, in fact one could assert the majority of scientists prior to his time and contemporaneous with Hume had no problem with believing in miraculous healings and people being raised from the dead.  A short read from Newton, to Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Boyle, Descartes, the Bacons and others will show this immediately.  Since Hume was a student and a historian, I am fairly confident that he knew that as well, much to his frustration – imagine all those other smart people under the hypnotic grip of the barbarian hordes!  It was the post Kantian turn to materialism as seen in Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Spencer and so on when scientists acquired their taste for denying  the supernatural world view and the desire to have a methodology which assumes naturalist presuppositions for any actual approach of the facts under question.  So this really does not seem to help either.

Perhaps I am missing something.  It is possible for a human observer to not have all the facts under his/her command.  A more modest reading might allow Hume off the hook, but I don’t think that was a possibility for him.  His statement must then be allowed to say all that it really does, and in fact he has referred to this at other times in the same chapter, as I have pointed out.  The very nature of the fact, the very nature of the thing itself, and the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events, are all parallel designations for Hume’s own reading of the facts.  An a-priori claim  in the history of philosophy is something that someone says they know before or prior to the facts.  For example one might say that we understand the laws of logic, not because we have actually experienced them in nature somewhere, but rather because they are built into the mind, as Descartes and Kant thought.  This is all fine and dandy for rationalists and Platonists, but it is anathema for empiricists, especially allegedly strict ones like David Hume.  This is why I am willing to grant Hume his rather poor argument concerning the so called greater and lesser miracles from human testimony.  That is why I am momentarily willing to grant his highly controversial definitional claim – I think that these are both irrelevant to him, although much touted by his admirers.  The example from the Jansenists account is quite telling.  Again Hume is willing to grant (apparently) the testimony of individuals who say that they have never seen a resurrection or a miracle of some different sort.  He is not willing to grant the testimony of those witnesses to the miracles in France, in the same way that he cannot believe the testimony of Jewish barbarians who believed Jesus rose from the dead.  Why?  Because of something else entitled “the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature” of the thing or fact.  We seem to be left with a new greater or lesser miracle dilemma.  Should we grant that Hume is not aware of the epistemic hypocrisy he is about to pull off?  Or like all human beings, especially as he says ones with “interest” at play here, he is pulling a fast one on the readers?  Which would be the most likely and thus invoke the greater/lesser miracle judgment?   Let me go on record here I think David Hume was a very smart guy and gave the philosophical world much to think about.  Since I think that to be the case – then I probably won’t accept that Hume doesn’t see the large dramatic hypocrisy in his argument.  I think when he says that something is an “absolute impossibility” we should take him at his word.  Now on what basis can one say that?  Certainly not as an empiricist.  An true empiricist does not prejudge the possibilities of experience – they merely accept whatever sense data comes their way, at least that is inferred by their self-definition and understanding.  On empiricist grounds one needs to be open to alien invasions, the Titans and the Krakken coming back to earth, and the possibility of Lady Gaga learning to sing.  Yes I know these all involve extremely improbable events, but on what grounds can any empiricist shut them out?  Especially Hume, whose noted skepticism denied cause and effect and that one could know that the sun will come up tomorrow?  Doing Bayesian theorems and Hume’s own probability types claims are irrelevant.  The issue is not what is most probable; rather the only issue for an empiricist is did the event happen?  Are there sensual datum to explore and learn from?  Unless Hume has the secret decoder ring which can tell him which sense experiences are valid and which are not – than one needs to accept the sense experiences that he has and then sort out the real from the unreal.

Let us try another Hume based thought experiment here.  Hume tells a fictional story about the possibility of the Queen of England being killed and then rising from the dead.  Right here in the modern world (for him) and in front of witness both learned and trustworthy.  Consistent to his view he retorts that he would not believe those witnesses either.  Right before this he talked about the example of natural weather changes that have gone off kilter and Hume grants that sort of thing, because it resembles earlier activity and can be explained by other means than appealing to a deity.  What I am wondering now is what if Hume himself were in the court of the Queen when she died and rose from the dead.  Does he stumble about like Scrooge, thinking now that his own senses are being fooled?  Sadly we have no evidence that this happened, but it is  important to think about what validates ones own testimony about a sense experience, but automatically discards others distinct ones?  This brings up another problem.

Why does the argument from resemblance haven any traction in this or any other argument?  Does this rule out the reality of innumerable sense experiences that are singular in nature?  It seems Hume would  want to say no, and yet the strong sense of the resemblance case, in which you can see the distant echo through Feuerbach and Troelstch, and even the Jesus Seminar apostates, seems to rule out any singularities.  How many times would Caesar have to cross the Rubicon, before we would grant that the event happened?  Surely only one the empiricist would insist.  There is nothing earth shaking or involving any bending of the empirical rules by some offhand spirit or god.  But suppose we introduce other singularities; the murder of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s theater and the first step on the moon by Buzz Aldridge.  Certainly leaders have been assassinated before but no one had ever walked on the moon before.  Well perhaps one could then argue that we have analogies to flight before NASA, but is that really the case?  Hume argues in a different setting that one problem with the teleological argument is that the analogy from cause and effect which is laid out, is fine inside the known universe, but is not able to prove the connection between spiritual designer and physical effect.   Why?  Because it is so dissimilar!   Well then isn’t the flight to the Moon quite literally beyond all human experience up to that time?  One could say there is a resemblance to planes reaching new heights, but to steal from Hume’s own attack – those accounts are all about this world.  Outer space is quite literally a different part of the universe.  If one is really petty about it, and had been drinking heavily from the Chaos theory fountain, one could argue that every single event in any and all human individual lives are in fact all singularities at that time and place.  The fact that the overwhelming majority of them are routine is not the relevant factor for an empirical approach.  All events are routine until a new one comes along.  When the Mets won the world series it was known as  “the Miracle Mets”.  Why?  Because all those who would presume  Hume’s probability factors thought the odds were hopelessly too far in the other direction.  Yet they won.  Now of course this is potentially possible by resemblance theory, but odds wise the money said otherwise.  When the United States won the Battle of Midway against all odds, there again was a great discrepancy between what probability can say and what actually happens.  Hume’s entire case for impeaching witnesses seems to be built on a case of probability.  But as we have already seen, that is not really the issue.  Probability leaves even the slightest room for the underdog to come in, whereas “absolute impossibility” tells me the fight is fixed.  And in this scenario one must have prior knowledge to make those kinds of claims and then to make them stick.  Any gambler would immediately assume the fix was in and would bet accordingly.  Hume is telling us that his fight is rigged, and that he knows the time and round the loser will go down.  To quit beating that analogy up, we can see that the parallel with his attitude about miracles is the same.  He will not accept even the slimmest possibility of a miracle happening, regardless of testimony of witnesses.  So all the probability language is a ruse, and the reality is that Hume has an a-priori commitment to some version of naturalism.  Miracles can’t happen because there is no causal agent, i.e. God.

Now I will grant Hume’s earlier complaints about impeachable witnesses.  I have been to Benny Hinn meetings and Rodney Howard Brown and cult leaders from every stripe on can imagine, and I have witnessed false miracles and false stories and aggrandizing for personal gain – money, power and sex.  In many ways I wear the empiricist designation myself.  There are many claims about “secret” or “special” knowledge that I have run into in the New Age world, the Word Faith movement and many secularist situations. (“Hey Rocky watch me pull a transitional form out of my hat!”).  And a healthy bit of skepticism is never a bad thing.  Especially when one has some prior knowledge of the person making the claims.  Are there defeaters or defeasible claims that are being made?  What makes this claim spurious and that one holy?  These are important issues.  This is the proper venue for then examining the witnesses.  Hume gives some important words to the subject, and then proceeds to ignore every thing he just said.  As Whatley said in one of the reactions to Hume, it is possible then on Humean grounds, to claim that the British government concocted the entire story of Napoleon Bonaparte, in order to get better control over its own subjects!  The testimony of the eyewitness is in some degree, the only real issue.  Are they credible?  Are they working with an agenda?  Is money changing hands?  These are issues that every detective has to work with.  One cannot dismiss possibilities because there is no  pattern.  Sometimes people do things completely outside of their own pattern and the pattern of others.  9-11 is an example of that.  The pattern was ignored and thousands of people died.  By the time the fourth plane realized what was happening, that there had been a shift, they had a chance to respond and they did.  The new singularity led to a new pattern.  And many who had their bets on the old routine were left with egg on their faces because this had never happened before.  Hume’s account and critique does not take seriously the nature of human witnesses, which the great majority of his “empirical” knowledge is based on, especially the “unaltered experience”.

As a throwaway line Hume notes the normal sense that there is often  an a-priori connection made between testimony and the way things are.  He dismisses this out of hand.  I think we can see that he makes a different sort of a-priori commitment all the time, as long as it fits his theme.  The empiricist position is hardy enough to endure the possibility of supernatural intervention and should be able to encompass all sense data events, regardless of the source.  The true empiricist needs to check the story out, and not rule out by mere definition the veracity of the claim nor any possible outcomes.  Hume’s empiricism in this chapter is merely an inch deep and as such cannot be a reputable guide for an actual investigation into the miraculous.



Bill Honsberger


A) Given our assigned readings concerning Wittgenstein’s “views” of philosophy, language and the mind, how would you relate these to Malcolm’s answer to the question he himself poses, viz. “Does Wittgenstein have a religious point of view in his approach to philosophy?

I wish I had known about Wittgenstein’s religious point of view years ago. I probably would have read him much earlier. Before I read any of his books I only knew that he was difficult to read and understand and therefore I avoided him. Now after reading him myself I realize that I was half right; Wittgenstein was difficult but he was also well worth reading, and trying to understand him. Having prattled on for a bit, let me answer the question.

Simply put, Wittgenstein’s view of philosophy is that philosophers in their attempts to understand the meaning of things and relations have gone into a territory that is un-explorable. By this he means that in their misguided attempt to understand why, or for what cause, or what is the essence is of a thing or a relationship, that they take perfectly good language and take it “on holiday”. He argues that if one were to do a “grammatical investigation” of the premises on each side of a philosophical argument, than one would discover that there really is no argument at all. This means that when a philosopher takes an ordinary word and seeks out deep meaning in it and uses that meaning to buttress an “argument”, it really is much to do about nothing. In fact for Wittgenstein the problems that have haunted western philosophy for over two thousands years have been a huge mistake. Using his methodology he believed that one could dismiss the arguments and they would simply “melt” away.

How does this relate to Wittgenstein’s “alleged” religious point of view as explained by Malcolm? Malcolm argues that Wittgenstein’s reduction of philosophy to things which cannot and must be explained is perfectly compatible with Wittgenstein’s religious sensibility. Malcolm uses the story of Job as an illustration of this point. Malcolm argues that God is angry with Job because he asks why he is suffering. Malcolm believes that this illustrates that the concept of God is itself infused with a sense of that there is no need of explanation. To cite as regular religious people do, that something is the “will of God”, is used in regular conversation to indicate that it is beyond explanation, and that in this sense Wittgenstein’s own disdain for explanations in philosophy easily translates into an equal disdain for explanations in religious issues. As we will see later, I disagree rather strongly with this type of religious conviction, but nevertheless I think that Wittgenstein’s philosophy and religious commitment are parallel here.

As to the second point, what is Wittgenstein’s understanding of language? He understands language in a non-essential way. This is to say that words do not have some deep essential meaning inherent to themselves. Rather they have meaning in the way they are used in ordinary language. In this case language can be used in many diverse ways and individual words can be used in different senses and contexts. Language usage gives rise to language “games” and families. By games Wittgenstein meant that one can understand what people mean in a sentence by showing how a word is used in a different context. By families he meant that different contexts use different “families” or groups of words which are related to another by usage in different settings. For example medical contexts use a different vocabulary than is used in military settings. Thus the meanings of words may change depending on when and where and why they are used. This is a rejection of the Augustinian view of language which argues that word are extensively pointed out and used to that end.

How does this relate to Wittgenstein’s religious point of view? As Malcolm points out Wittgenstein believes that philosophy and religion are differing arenas with different languages and “forms of life”.

I see this as similar to what Kant did in the three critiques, separating what can be known in the scientific realm of space and time from what can be believed in the realm of faith. For Wittgenstein, faith is not about doctrines, dogma, and rationality. Like Kierkegaard, it might even be opposed to philosophical presentations. Instead, faith/religion is something that changes ones life. It is something that is expressed in actions, not in doctrines. On a personal level here, I find his point weak but his personal life here is fascinating. The weakness of argument from my perspective is that religious practice is contingent upon religious doctrine. It is possible to be inconsistent, in fact it seems to me that most people are, but logically practice and teachings are inseparable. In the Christian faith, it is as Wittgenstein noted and seemed to live out that it is incumbent upon the rich person to give his fortune to the poor and follow Jesus. Without the teaching given by Jesus at this point, then how would Wittgenstein have known to do this? Without clear teaching and/or argumentation, Wittgenstein conceivably could have stolen from the poor and enriched himself, and this would have had the same religious merit as the other action. In a similar way the teaching of the Buddha concerning non-violence had to be taught prior to their being enacted. Once the teaching leading to action point is established, then the problem comes for people like Wittgenstein to decide why he would take some statements from Jesus as proper to believe and act on (the ethical teachings) and ignore others (statements about his deity, unique revelatory message and so on). But it seems clear to me that his understanding of language does not preclude Wittgenstein from at least taking seriously part of the New Testament account of Jesus. It is a whole other issue as to whether Kant or Hume’s prescriptions against supernatural accounts (which influenced Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein and others) are valid, but that is for another paper.

Did Wittgenstein’s view of the mind influence this argument in any way? This is an interesting question, given that his argument against the traditional way of understanding the inner/outer distinction can be interpreted as an argument against souls or minds. However it is not clear at all that this is the best way to understand Wittgenstein’s point. His point was not to attack a metaphysical belief and language that is common among religious people, but rather to address the way philosophers have used this “distinction” to buttress metaphysical arguments, which Wittgenstein tried to destroy. Malcolm points out though that the mind might also be synonymous for the intellect, which is not what Wittgenstein wanted to express as it relates to religion. Over and over again Malcolm quotes out Wittgenstein’s insistence upon action over intellectual rational discourse. Not that discourse is bad, or out of place, but it does not do what Wittgenstein thinks that religion must do. Like the Apostle James, and even more so, Wittgenstein sees that faith without works is dead. I was impressed by his thought and his actions living out these same thoughts. Not that Wittgenstein discounted all doctrinal issues, as it is clear from Malcolm’s quotes that Wittgenstein believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but he certainly comes at his conclusion from a non-dogmatic or theological way.

In summary, does Wittgenstein have a religious point of view concerning his philosophy? My simplistic answer is that he does, that this is successfully shown by the quotes that Malcolm gave. In addition I would argue that similar to Kant, Wittgenstein separates what can be known (science, empirical data) from what can be believed (faith in the cross, resurrection, etc). But perhaps unlike Kant, Wittgenstein believes that a response from faith is not grounded in the non-empirical world, but rather in the real world. This religiously based response is not in contradiction to his philosophy, but drives him to righteous action his entire life. One might also say that his aversion to philosophical argumentation was analogous to his aversion to religious doctrines. He preferred action and service to talk. You might say he was much more “Hebrew” here than “Greek”. It was not his goal to sit around and ponder “deep” ideas, but rather clear them out of the way and instead do what is right.

B) 1) Briefly characterize the disagreement between Malcolm and Winch; 2) With whom do you tend to side? Why?

It seems to me that Winch’s chief complaint about how Malcolm says about Wittgenstein is that Malcolm is much too sure of his thesis. Winch appears to moderate each of Malcolm’s claims and show that it can be interpreted in different ways. The best illustration of this is seen where Winch quotes Malcolm’s four analogies and shows how it can be seen in a different way. Let me illustrate. Winch summarizes his argument against the first analogy by saying:

“As Malcolm brings out, the attitude of acceptance of one’s fate as ‘the will of God’, an attitude which neither pretends to provide any explanation of that fate nor seeks to find one, characteristically goes along with an attitude of gratitude for life. But acceptance of things as they are, and recognition that, beyond a certain point, no explanation can significantly be required as to why they are like that, certainly need not be accompanied by gratitude.”

Winch goes on to quote another passage which he feels is contrary to Malcolm’s point. On the other hand Winch affirms that Malcolm’s first analogy has some redeeming value. He says: “It is entirely possible that a study of Wittgenstein’s treatment of the constant search for explanation that is typical of so much of our lives, his insistence that ’explanations come to an end’, will have a liberating effect on some people and enable them to take certain religious attitudes seriously in a way they would not have been able to before. Of course, that would still be a very long way indeed from acquiring any sort of religious faith, but it could open the way to it.”

This quote strikes me as a bit disingenuous. It did not seem that Malcolm was trying to make Wittgenstein into a Lutheran scholar, but rather as a person who did wrestle with questions about Christianity, and certainly wrestled with ethical concerns arising from the Gospel accounts. His quotes about the relative value of differing religious points of view show merely Wittgenstein’s disdain for doctrinal positioning and his penchant for ethical service as the mark of true religiosity. Now I might argue with Wittgenstein as to the logical consistency of his view and in fact how many religious view, in particular eastern views, lead away from ethical concerns by postulating that the present world is an illusion or Maya. But this in no way proves Winch’s point. It merely means that Wittgenstein was not a theologian, and that Malcolm’s claim is not significantly damaged by the argument by Winch.

In many ways I think that the dispute between the Winch and Malcolm was merely a matter of degree and Winch gives cause for that in his conclusion. More importantly I think that Malcolm’s point about explanations being a major source for disdain for Wittgenstein, which makes it perfectly sensible to see the connection between his disdain in theological as well as philosophical arenas. Although I am extremely uncomfortable in saying that either man is “wrong” is this discussion, give that my knowledge of Wittgenstein’s writings is so slim, the evidence as I see it leans to Malcolm’s understanding of the issue.

Theology Comprehensive


Bill Honsberger
Question #1 – The 19th century has been called the “heyday” of liberal Christian theology, particularly as it developed within the German academic tradition. Trace at least three of the major trajectories and themes of liberal theology during this century with focus on Schleirmacher, Ritschl, and Troeltsch. What are the distinguishing marks of liberal theology? How does it differ from the kind of “evangelical” theology launched by Luther in the 16th century? Finally, explain briefly Barth’s basic critique of liberal theology and what was meant by the remark that he “dropped a bomb on the playground of the liberal theologians?”

Liberal German theology is built on the back of the romantic’s reaction to the Enlightenment. One cannot make sense out of it unless one understands the currents that add into the larger stream. To survey these developments, one needs to start with Rene Descartes. Descartes departed from the scholastic tradition within the Roman Catholic Church, (and that of the Reformation as well) by leaving the authority of the Scriptures and the church tradition, and instead insisting that all that we know was through the process of reason and deduction. In leaving the classic understanding preeminent in the Western world for so long, Descartes argued that only through these reasonable process could man know anything. As the founder of the modern rationalist school, Descartes thought that one could not trusts sense perceptions of any kind. A stick might “bend” under the water, showing how easily our sight can be mistaken and so on. This sets the tone for the entire Enlightenment period. Descartes was so confident that he believed through mathematics and reason one could readily prove the existence of God himself. His epistemological base however, “cheated” a bit by bringing in God a-posteriori as the one who could guarantee our thought process. Our “clear and distinct” ideas then provided us with all we needed, and faith, in the sense of how the church had used it, became unnecessary. Earlier Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, had all argued the proper roles between faith and reason, how these applied towards the Scriptures and so on, with different answers for all of them. But this was an internal debate as it were, with all of them relegating reason under the authority of the Scriptures. Descartes had changed this dramatically.

In reaction to Descartes’s rationalism, the Scot David Hume reacts later by arguing just the opposite. No knowledge comes from rational thought, but rather comes through experience of the physical world. Hume said that all we have is sense datum, by which he meant the raw information fed to us by our senses. We then take this sense datum and by force of habit interpret it in certain ways that are “reasonable” to us. Even what most take as common sense, such as cause and effect, was attacked by Hume. We can only report what we perceive, and all connections are suspect and mere contrivances and inferences. Buoyed by a wave of disbelief in the Scriptures by people like Spinoza and other critics, Hume then attacked the supernatural or miraculous stories in the Bible. In his arguments Hume basically defined miracles out of existence. Simply put, it reads like this:

1) Miracles are a violation of natural law.

2) Violations of natural law cannot exist.

QED – Miracles do not exist.

Arguing that he had disproved the Resurrection of the dead, Hume relied on the “fact” that no one had ever seen that and strangely, he said that no one had even claimed that it had happen. (Of course this is exactly the claims of all Christians for over 1700 years at that point, so one might be tempted to wonder how much oxygen the highlander had been getting, but that is for another day)) All of this is necessary background for the real revolutionary challenge given in response to both Descartes and Hume – that of Immanuel Kant.

Describing himself as being “awoken from his dogmatic slumbers” by the onslaught of Hume, Kant set about a course of providing a new and comprehensive epistemic base, which would be a type of synthesis of both rationalism and empiricism. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant established, contra Descartes, that we have knowledge only of phenomena, that which we experience in the sensible world. We are limited by our sense data, and are unable to really ascertain with any certainty, what there might be “behind” the sense data. This then is the noumena, the ding an sich or thing in itself. This cannot be determined by any sense perception at all. Kant then argued, contra Hume, that we can use reason in ways like cause and effect, because our minds are built with certain categories, such as quality, quantity, relation and so on, and it is these categories which “sort” out the sense datum and allow us to make use of cause and effect, which had the net benefit of rescuing science from the ravages of Hume. Kant basically had structured two separate worlds with distinct epistemologies applicable only in their respective arena. In the world of the phenomena, science, measurement, sense datum –all of this was authoritative. In the world of the noumena, one was allowed to believe and have faith, because this was literally the metaphysical playground. As long as one did not violate the law of non-contradiction, one could believe what one chose, and the rules of science or natural law that Hume had proposed, were not in play. In this way Kant had “limited reason, to make room for faith”. Science ruled in its arena and Faith ruled in its. In this way Kant thought that reasonable people (Konigsbergians for example!) could use and apply the strictures of his system and both Enlightenment sensibilities and churchmen would all be happy. This was not to be the case, but that does seem to be what his project entailed. Shortly after Kant all Sheol broke out. The Romantics like Goethe and others, were reacting to the overemphasis on reason that was marking the Enlightenment. Buoyed themselves by “wisdom” from the east in the form of recent German and English translations of the Bhagavad-Gita and others texts, the German Idealists and Romantics forged a different synthesis, one which instead of emphasizing reason or experiences of the phenomenal world, exalted feelings and intuitions, a harmony with nature and the ultimate freedoms possible for humans.

The first real liberal Christian that we will look at here is Friedrich Schleirmacher. Raised in a Christian Reformed minister’s home, Schleirmacher was taught reformed Calvinist theology, but then lived for a period among the Moravian Pietists. The Pietists deeply impressed Schleirmacher with their devotion and fervor, but it was also at this time that he started reading Goethe and the neologians, who were very skeptical of the Bible. This dramatically changed him. As he entered ministry and the academic world, he was bothered by the reality that so many educated people, were abandoning their Christian faith, and the sitz im leben of the day was to despise all things “religious”. Deism, which was a reaction to the Hume understanding, reduced God to a clock maker. Kant had argued that there is a moral compunction in humans, which can only come from God, but had ruled out the possibility of miracles being observed in the physical or phenomenal world. The Bible was then seen as fairy tales for children, hardly worthy of serious respect. Schleirmacher wanted to find a new way of understanding religion, especially Christianity, that would both be attractive to the “cultured despisers” as he called them, as well as keep within the bounds established by Kant. In a merger with Romanticist thought he felt he had found his answer. Disdaining all critics from Orthodox beliefs, (including his own father) Schleirmacher argued that religion is not based on miraculous claims but rather on “das Gefuhl”, the feeling, the intuition of the Infinite. Schleirmacher defined this as a feeling of absolute dependence that is ubiquitous throughout the world. It is this common feeling that proves the existence of God for him. With this radical definition of religion, he set out to redefine the Reformed and Lutheran traditions in their own self-understanding. In this way he sets the tone for the entire German academy. If the “embarrassing” myths and fairy tales, which had been the common faith for so long, do not bind Christianity then one could reconstruct or redefine Christianity in all sorts of ways. For Schleirmacher, he had a new understanding of sin, of God and of man. Similar in many ways to another contemporary that influenced him, G.F. Hegel, Schleirmacher brought God into the immanent physical world. God was not so removed, as the deists had argued; rather God was in full and constant communion with mankind and with nature. The Hegelian dialectic had also brought the WeltGeist or eternal mind/nous into history and nature. Since God was in fact in such close communion, it made no sense at all to speak of the “fall” of man in the classical sense. Man was only fallen in that he did not realize how close his communion with God was. His sin was this refusal to recognize the feeling of dependence upon God, and instead to declare himself “whole” without necessitating a resumption of communion. Who then is Jesus? Here Schleirmacher departs even more radically from his Reformed roots. Jesus was not an ontologically divine being, as the Scriptures and early creeds had declared. Jesus was instead the perfect example of a person who more than anyone else in history was aware of his communion with God. His “divinity” was not because of his essence or being, but rather based on his complete intuitive communion with the God who is within and without the world. His “at –one-ment “ with nature, makes him the savior. Doctrine for Schleirmacher was then but the religious experience of Gefuhl as put in print. The Scriptures were to be seen as the religious community expressing their experiences over time, and this tradition was merely the collection of human experiences, not the inspired words of God as thought by the Reformed tradition.

This project sets the tone for many similar yet differing thinkers. Albrecht Ritschl, himself deeply dependent on Kant’s distinctions, argued that Christianity must be rescued from all its metaphysical moorings. Since one could not observe miracles, than Christianity must not be bound by a pre-modern worldview, which believed in such things. It must be based upon a more secure foundation. For Ritschl this was to be found in the real person of Jesus Christ, not the Christ of the miraculous worldview, which was to Ritschl the accumulated effect of centuries of church traditions and apologetics. This simplified Jesus then was about establishing the Kingdom of God, an ethical outpost in a fallen world. Since Kant had argued that the reality of ethics could only be established by the existence of God, Ritschl argued then that it is this reality, which is the central component of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not a miracle worker/magician; rather he was the rational ethicist par excellence. The Sermon the Mount was the basis for all activities, and the Great commandments (Love God, and Love your neighbor as yourself) are then the defining marks of real Christianity.

For Ernest Troeltsch, the defining marks of Christianity were found in a history of religions approach. Since all religions had similar miraculous claims, then Christianity had no right to set itself about the rest, which had been done by Schleirmacher, Ritschl and others. Troeltsch set about to free the Jesus of history (real) from the Jesus or Christ of Heil Geshicte (higher history or faithful history) His methods have been deeply influential to this day especially with the Jesus seminar. He had a three-fold approach to the Scriptures and all other ancient literature as well. First there was the idea of critical analysis. By this he meant that one should look skeptically, with the eyes of naturalism, at all ancient texts. While this did not rule out miracles with absolute certainty, it did make it very difficult to imagine. The second part of the approach was even cleaner on this point. – The idea of analogy. By this he meant that if one were to read about an alleged miraculous story in the Bible, and there was no one for one corresponding event in present history, then one should discount the story. The third prong of the approach was that of Correlation. This means that we have a universal experience in history of many layers of cause and effect events, and the freedom of individuals within this maelstrom of experiences. The Bible should be understood within this framework in the sense that there were causes for its writing, but not cause and effect for its miraculous stories. Troeltsch also was deeply influenced by the Romantics and argued for a type of pantheism in nature, not the complete loss of identity as taught by the Brahmans of India. But for some type of divine seed or spark to be seen in all of nature.

Another famous liberal Christian was David Strauss. His prominence was due to his formal disconnection between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. This “Search for the Historical Jesus”, which in its third or fourth version to this day by different thinkers, established the idea that the Bible was not a historical account that could be verified in any real way, but rather was an historical accumulation of many centuries after the fact. Supported by the Graf/Wellhausen JEDP theory, the Bible was a collection of barnacles that had been edited and redacted, and must be scraped away to find the true, historical “Jesus”.

In a similar way Adolph Harnack, perhaps the most famous of all the liberal Christian theologians, argued that the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus, were two separate things. Jesus had merely preached to believe in God and follow the commandments (Harnack is loved by Muslim apologists these days!) and it was the Apostle Paul who had in fact switched the religious influence, making the deity of Jesus and the resurrection the key parts of the story. Harnack felt once stripped away from the Pauline accretions; Jesus was a very inspiring moral figure, but no more than a man.

In his What is Christianity? Harnack supplied us with a basic outline of the distinguishing marks of liberal theology. They include the following:

1) The Fatherhood of God

2) The Brotherhood of Man

3) The eternal value of the Soul

4) The essential communion of God and man, not disturbed by moral failure but by lack of proper God consciousness.

This is radically different than the evangelical theology of Luther in the 16th century. In harmony with the Scriptures, Luther believed that God was transcendent from this world but also immanent but not identified with nature or history. Sin was a radical break by men towards God. Our moral rebellion against God, most easily seen in our human pride, had necessitated out punishment and only the mercy and grace of God, which was seen in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as established by the Scriptures, could remove this offense and actual separation. One could simply just deny all the Harnackian points, but that is too simplistic. Luther depended on the Scriptures for all his answers. In Bondage of the Will, he repeatedly attacks Erasmus for ignoring the teaching of the Scriptures and instead depending upon traditions of the church, and even worse for depending on human wisdom. By this Luther criticized Erasmus’s apparent fascination with the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, which the Renaissance had brought back to popularity Erasmus thought, somewhat similar to Aquinas at this point, that the classics served as prolegomena or as a preparation for the Gospel for pagans. Luther would have nothing to do with the “bitch goddess reason”. For Luther God as revealed in the Scriptures, first through the prophets and then ultimately through the person of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the written words of Scripture. For Luther as well as fellow reformer Calvin, the inner working of the Spirit upon man’s heart was an accompanying plank to the Scriptures, but both were not impressed with mere religious intuition and experience. This can most easily be seen in his reaction to the Anabaptist movement, which especially early one was awash with alleged prophetic utterances and “enthusiasm” which was resulting in lawlessness. Luther’s dialectic between the justified man being both sinner and saint in tension, allowed him room for some understanding of mysterium. This can also be seen in his understanding of the Eucharist, where he split with another famous Reformer Zwingli, over what Luther deemed the “real presence” of Christ in the elements. This via media between transubstantiation of the Roman Catholic Church and the memorial view of the Reformed traditions, was seen by Luther to be an additional truth of the inner witness of the Spirit, but always guided by God’s written word.

To try and explain “briefly” what Barth brought to the table might require an actual miracle in this room right now! What is called the “bomb on the playground of the liberal theologians” was the publishing of Barth’s commentary on Romans in 1918. Barth had been trained and impressed by liberal theology and took all its earlier presuppositions seriously, but with the advent of World War 1 he was troubled by the acquiescence of his German professors, his heroes as it were, to the war drums of Kaiser Wilhelm. Barth started to see that the identification by Hegel and so many other 19th century thinkers, of the world with God and the church, had created a situation where the church was unable to criticize the world. The church had been co-opted by the world and God as well was identified with whatever happened. Barth’s “bomb” was his central theme in his commentary – that of God as “wholly other”. Unlike classic liberalism, which placed God in ultimate immanency and communion with man and the world, Barth argued that God to be God must be completely transcendent. By this he meant qualitatively not merely location. God is “anderes”. He is holy, not mundane. Barth saw this as a necessary corrective in the Hegelian tendency towards versions of pantheism. God as other could speak to the church and to the world about Sin!!! This was another part of the bomb – Barth had read Romans and in some ways similar to Luther had discovered his total sinfulness, which had separated him from God. Sin was not, contra Schleirmacher, mere lack of God consciousness, but following Kierkegaard here, sin was his pride, his certainty in the Hegelian sense, his identification without repentance and faith, as being in relation with (or possibly even in the blasphemy of identifying oneself ontologically as divine) God. For more on this subject we will move on to the second question.

Question #2 – What is meant by “neo-orthodoxy? What, if anything is “orthodox” about it? Discuss systematically the thought of Barth as the founder of neo-orthodoxy. (As if his commentary on Romans is systematic!!!) To what degree does Bonhoeffer carry through with the program of neo-orthodoxy and how, if any, does he diverge?

Perhaps the simplest way of defining “neo-orthodoxy” is to see it in at least two different modes. First in some critical manners – it is a corrective upon the liberal Christian thought of the 19th century as described in detail above. In this vein it is returning to “orthodoxy” in many important details. God is seen as separate from his creation, transcendent, not part and parcel of the world. Man is infinitely other than God, a creature of the created world, with no goodness in him. A sinner bound by his overwhelming pride to rebel and mar the creation of a holy and other God. God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness were very much in line with Reformed thinkers like Luther and Calvin. Another return to orthodoxy could be seen in the re-emphasis on Jesus Christ, who in liberal theologies had become an example, a shower –of-the-way, but not the way. Neo-orthodoxy, especially Barth, Brunner, and Bonhoeffer, emphasized Christology as the major field of theology. This too was a refreshing return to orthodox thought. Liberal thought about Jesus had called him God, but had also called all men God. Jesus was not really even necessary to the process of God consciousness, but just the best example of it. The crucifixion and resurrection were redefined as mundane events, clouded by editors and churchmen, and again not ultimately essential to the story. But in the neo-orthodox camp, the crucifixion was absolutely critical, because of the sinful condition of mankind and the qualitatively difference of God. These are just some of the returns to orthodoxy that marked the neo-orthodox camp.

However this is called “neo”-orthodox for a reason. In many ways painful to this orthodox reader, the great thinkers in this tradition would accept many of the liberal presuppositions that had marked the 19th century. This second mode accepted much of what had been argued by Schleirmacher, Strauss and others. This is especially seen when it comes to the understanding of the Bible. To the liberals, the Bible was merely a collection of myths and fairy tales, redacted by latecomers at worst, or at best the community of believers religious experiences which had been recorded, complete with false world views, historical and scientific errors and so on. In many ways the neo-orthodox camp accepted these ideas uncritically. They did part company in an important way in seeing that yes even though the Bible was full of these stories and myths – it still in some way contained the word of God. Similar to Troeltsch in some ways, one could encounter the Divine through the instrument of the Bible. God could inspire one in a divine I-thou type encounter through the reading of the scripture or the practice of the liturgy. God could meet you in awe-inspiring ways through the accounts of the stories. In this vein then, the fallen ness of the Scriptures merely reflected the fallen ness of man in general. Both could be uplifted by grace through faith, and in some ways the very humanity contained in the scriptures served as witness to the otherness of God as well.

Karl Barth shows the influence of many of the liberal thinkers in his work, but is set apart from them by his reading of Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard had written much in response to the pomposity of Hegel. Hegel’s dialectic had smoothly worked its way through his philosophy and theology with the net effect that one had all the answers in both field right at Hegel’s doorstep. Hegel was then a new type of rationalist. One did not need to wonder and have faith in God; one could merely trace the working of history to see the presence of God/WeltGeist. If one wanted to perceive the divine, then look at history. The Romantics had pulled God into nature as well. God becomes the evolutionary process. For Schleirmacher this was the real miracle – the working of natural processes. But Kierkegaard sees the problems here. One could see the death of millions in Hegel as the outworking of the Spirit of God, which has a way of minimizing the individual. My death matters to ME thought Kierkegaard. Soren is also reacting to the neatness of the Kantian moral framework, with its duties and obligations all worked out. Ritschl best exemplified this project among the liberals. All ethical concerns in the Kingdom of God can be contained in a grocery list as it were – no faith required here. But for the Dane this was pointless and depressing. Was Christianity merely a formal shell, with grocery lists of doctrines and ethical choices, or was it something that grabbed ones heart and soul and filled it with passion for God, and for life? Did not Hegel lose the otherness of God by this new rationalism? What kind of God is so mundane that one could always see his hand in history? Doesn’t one just wash out the word “God” in this sense with the word “history? How could one have faith, which pleases God, when all knowledge about God is certain and mundane? Kierkegaard argued that “truth is subjectivity”, in that what is true is what moves me to faith and passion and commitment. The “facts” of the Bible were not sufficient to ground faith, rather they serve as the antithesis of faith. This understanding heavily influences Barth. For him, faith in God cannot be minimized by returning to Protestant or Roman Catholic Orthodoxy, in which he believed faith has been relegated to a secondary status by scholars and theologians. Faith in God is faith because one cannot experience God in the phenomenal world. Following Kant’s distinctive here; Barth refuses to see God routinely acting in the world of nature or in the Scriptures. God is hidden, dues abscondum. To see God routinely in nature as Schleirmacher and the Romantics did was to wash out faith. I don’t need faith, I just need eyes.

Kierkegaard had argued that it is the existenz or existence of man that is what is critical, not some formal essence. Before man is anything else, he exists. He is thus “free” to be shaped. What is required is the means to shape him and for SK this is faith, which is a subjective leap across a ditch, against the facts, against the totalizing systems, especially that of Hegel. Barth argues this but has his own version of dialectic – the Yes and No of God. Once can see this best in his understanding of the No to Christ, as seen in the refusal to remove the “Cup” from him, being a Yes to the Church, in that salvation is now offered to all. Barth would talk this way throughout his theology. The dialectic of this world with the wholly other God is also an important one for Barth. Man is free but not really free. He is marked by sin and pride and only God’s justification can truly free him.
Barth argues the way he does because he saw, as mentioned earlier, that the worldliness of the church in Germany, had allowed his teachers to cozy up to the Kaiser and then most distressingly – to Hitler. Shortly after Hitler’s election to office the state church endorsed Hitler and his theology. The church now endorsed the theology of Blood and Land. Seen by both Barth and Bonhoeffer as a twisted take on Luther’s dialectic of man as sinner and saint, Barth helps to establish a “Free” church which could remain outside of the culture and give room for the God who is wholly other, to judge culture. This distance was impossible in the liberal understanding. God as completely transcendent (not as watchmaker – but as holy) was needed to challenge the sins of the German corporate church. The Fatherland or Reich was not a holy one, which especially can be seen in the writings and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – more on him later.

Barth saw the scriptures again as a record of fallen man, with all that means, and so did not take the miracle accounts that are scattered through the scriptures as critical to the faith. This was not the case when it came to the Incarnation and crucifixion, and arguably the resurrection as well (Barthian scholars seem quite confused on this one!) For Barth the centrality of the faith was found in the Incarnation and. Religion in all its forms was man reaching out to God, but the gap was too deep. God is too other. But Christianity was for Barth the only solution to this difference – God had come in Jesus Christ to man. Contrary to liberal thinkers, Barth held both the humanity of Christ along with the deity of Christ. This dialectical tension was always paradoxical. With Kierkegaard, Barth saw this paradox as necessary to faith. To theologize it was to lose the paradox and therefore minimize the need for faith. But like SK – what could be more paradoxical than the infinite (the Yes for God) becoming finite (the No for God)? So then even though many of the “minor” miracles, which had offended modern man had been believed by the orthodox and rejected by the liberals, Barth saw them as unnecessary to the larger project of God – justifying the sinner and later the world. If they were true history, then God would have always been active in the world and this would minimize faith. In this he is similar to Troeltsch. God’s only revelation is to be found not in a written word, nor in an alleged miracle, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ – paradoxically God and Man in tension. This is why Barth would respond so strongly, especially initially, to the natural theology proposed by Emil Brunner, fellow neo-orthodox compatriot. To see God’s hand in nature was to “find” God. God to be other must be hidden. Later Barth would soften his position somewhat.

To Barth, revelation was revealed only when God spoke to me. This encounter was between persons (important to Ritschl and Bonhoeffer and Bultmann – meaningless to Tillich) and was occasioned in the Scriptures that one has the stage set for the encounter between God and man. The actual accounts themselves are merely an “echo” of the encounters. Since revelation was limited to the Incarnation, the encounter between God and sinful man was an existential one. This subjective meeting inspired passion and commitment as man rejoiced in his justification by God’s grace alone. Here Barth reflects Luther – the qualitative distinction between God and man can only be bridged by the Cross, and sinful man can repent and be justified. Barth saw this as a healthy corrective to the rather lame view of sin as portrayed in the liberals. How could the liberal view, with its eyes to ever progressing optimism, deal in reality with Hitler?

In all of this Bonhoeffer is co-simpatico. Much like Barth, he had been trained in liberal schools, most notably by Harnack himself, whom he greatly admired. But Bonhoeffer agreed with Barth, that the identification of the church with the world and therefore with the state, had lost the church’s and God’s voice. Bonhoeffer would like Barth make Christology the central discussion of theology, but he also wanted the eschatological to be important as well. Bonhoeffer actually went much further with his Christology, making what he saw as an important distinction. Christ it to be pro me – that is that the crucifixion and love of God is always to be in the sense of for the church and for the individual. Later Bonhoeffer would say that this is also Christ for others, especially in the secular unbelieving world. This would lead him to his idea of “religionless Christianity” by which he meant (and this is very sketchy since his project was cut short) that the secular world had lost its need for “religion” in the traditional sense, and that Christ had been relegated to the sidelines or a type of God of the Gaps theory by the culture. But for Bonhoeffer Christ was the center of the world and since the church was the Body of Christ, then the church needed to be in the center of world, redeeming it and seeing others as Christ had. This idea of his is very problematic in some way but very much tied in with his idea of discipleship and of ethics. For Bonhoeffer, the Nazis had co-opted Luther’s dialectic and reduced it to “cheap grace”, a grace which not only justifies the sinner, it justifies sin as well. So he could say that all of Germany was “Christian” but nobody follows Jesus. In some important ways this echoes some of Nietzsche’s comments as well. While Barth critiqued from afar in Switzerland, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany under death threats and participated both in an underground seminary, and in the resistance against Hitler. To be a disciple of Christ, since Christ is pro me and therefore pro others as well, meant if nothing else, that the Jews had to be rescued. Bonhoeffer was caught smuggling Jews to freedom outside of the state. This to him was the true meaning of loving your neighbor. While Barth’s ethical concerns always seemed to depend on the dialectic, which sometimes could seem like an equivocation, Bonhoeffer’s own ethics, mirroring Kierkegaard in opposing Kant, took on a sense of freedom and faith. Each individual is a sinner in a fallen world, and each circumstance is unique, therefore no absolutized grocery list is sufficient to be Christ in the world. Bonhoeffer noted that Christ’s attack on the Pharisees exemplified this point. The Pharisee was a man consumed by his consciousness about good and evil, while Christ by contrast was consumed by the need of the Other. The Pharisee would let some starve or be sick because the Law seemed to require this. Christ would violate the law (or at least the Pharisee’s understanding of it!) in order to serve the one in need. No timidity or equivocating for Bonhoeffer. The Church is required to be Christ, to be his Body, to be pro me for all others. One could not hide behind church membership, baptism, or anything else, because grace demanded obedience. This requires the individual believer to abandon his self-consciousness and be Other – orientated alone. I think this is what was most distinctive about Bonhoeffer and Barth, in that Christology was a platform for action for Bonhoeffer, in ways much more dramatic than his Swedish mentor.

Some questions within the framework of German Idealism;

Or how I learned to quit worrying and love global warming!

It almost goes without saying that Immanuel Kant is considered one of the great thinkers of Western Culture. His primary works, the three Critiques, have engendered thousands of volumes of books and papers and baffled graduate students for over two centuries. He certainly has a place in the role of great philosophers of all time. Having said all that, it seems that some of his thoughts, while brilliant in their time and context, are problematic and have caused some thinkers to go in directions which, perhaps upon reflection, have not been profitable. This paper is not a critique of the Critiques per se, but rather a reflection on certain ideas. The legal doctrine of the “fruit of the poison tree” is an analogy, which is appropriate here. If the original arrest was flawed, then all of the information gathered after the arrest is therefore “tainted” and illegitimate. By this analogy, if one of Kant’s points were wrong, then this would lead to equally wrong inferences from that original proposition. Case in point here. Kant famously says that he has limited the role of reason to make room for faith. By this he is referring to the argument from the Critique of Pure Reason. In this critique Kant tries to argue that we can only have knowledge of thing or events within time and space. We can think of things which are not within time space, and it may even be reasonable to do so Kant argues, but nether the less we can only know what we have experience within the time/space framework.

The genesis of this argument was the enlightenment’s twin towers of opposition, Rene Descartes and David Hume. Descartes, considered by many to be the father of rationalism, (dogmatists by Kant’s time) had developed a theory of thinking that in essence argued that all knowledge is gained through rational discursive thought. Descartes even went as far as to argue that one could, properly guided by reason, reason through to the existence of God himself. There was no end to the ability of human thought and unaided reason to settle all questions of nature, physics, morality and metaphysics. Physical sensation and experience were viewed as inadequate guides, subject to distortion and trickery. The illusion of a stick “bending” under water was illustrative of how Descartes thought our sensory perceptions to be inadequate grounds for knowledge. By complete contrast, David Hume is considered by many to be the founder of strict empiricism (called skeptics by Kant’s time). All knowledge is gained by sensory perception and experience. Even the laws of mathematics and laws of logic are things that are discovered apostiori. Mere rational discourse, not grounded by prior experience, gave ground to “specious” discussions like the ontological argument, postulating the existence of something, God, not experienced in space and time. For Hume this is clear in his famous argument on miracles, in which he argues in a simple way that miracles are by definition violations of the empirical laws of “nature” and that since violations of the laws of nature are by definition impossible, then miracles are impossible. Even while realizing that this is a cheap rendition of the argument, I want to say that Hume violates his own principles in deducing it, but this is not the focus of this paper. Therefore for Hume, metaphysics in general are wrong-minded at best and irrational at the worst.

I realize that I have just grossly glossed over two hundred years, but in a simplistic way this is the scenario that is set for Kant. Kant reacts in several important ways to the competing views. For the purposes of this paper I want to focus back to the thoughts from the Critique of Pure Reason. Here Kant argues that while the categories of the mind enable to think of many things in many distinct ways, we can only have knowledge of what we experience in space and time. Now in this way you can see that he has both Descartes and Hume in mind. His nod to Descartes is that our mind works in several ways, in that it is designed with “categories”, which enables us to interpret raw empirical data. This for Kant answers the Humean denial of cause and effect. But in a nod to Hume, Kant limits knowledge to that which happens in space and time. In other words metaphysics can be talked about but not known. So he has “limited” reason to save room for faith. Thus the great philosophical juxtaposition between faith and reason, historically seen as allies, are now set against each other as potential enemies.

Why does this matter? It strikes me that one of the clearest drives within German Idealism is to try and explain the nature/consciousness relationship. Whether one thinks of this or of the one/many problem, they are both part of the same question. We will discuss this more later but it is also clear that within the limitations of Kantian epistemology, the answers got more and more mystical. Think of the main limitations that Kant has imposed. All knowledge is limited to space and time experience. The first thing to say here, as in essence Schelling does later, is that it is self-referentially incoherent. We don’t have physical experiences of concepts like “knowledge”. As Schelling points out, one must posit idealism to explain idealism and also to explain the physical universe. Mere matter or mere nature does not give rise to experiences such as “conceptness” or “theoryness”. One must bring the categories in, for Kant, and the mind uses them to explain the raw data of nature. But this is as deep as Kant goes. The Critique famously tries to refute the Aristotelian/Thomistic account of cosmology, by denying the link between the cause and effect we see in nature, (what we can have knowledge of) and the link to the Prime mover or God (which we can only think of but not have knowledge of). The problem then arises of; just what causes the mind? Where do the categories come from? This problem haunts the rest of German Idealism. Is the mind somehow generated by nature, which then reflects its own way back to nature as Schelling argued? Or is the mind reflecting on itself causing the distinction as Fichte asserts? Or is the whole thing sui generis? All of these accounts have problems but I see them as arising out of Kant’s problematic restrictions.

Not only is the limitation on knowledge problematic in this way, it also gives way too much ground to Hume in another way. As the positivists later found out, the verification principle could be hoisted on its own petard. So also for Hume’s earlier version. If knowledge is limited to what I experience, than I cannot know anything beyond my own meager framework. Everything beyond that becomes hearsay. Now Hume gave ground on that point apparently, but within a few pages he contradicts himself by discounting the accreditation of witnesses that he himself set up, on the basis of his incredulity of the very nature of the reported act. More than that, the attack on metaphysics by Hume, primarily on Christianity, is not voided by Hume’s restrictions or Kant’s “rescuing”. The Christian claim is not purely metaphysical but in fact insists that the critical events of the faith did in fact occur within the space/time universe. So the attempt by Kant to rescue the faith was not really necessary. It is also quite clear by even a short reading of the Philosophy of Religion literature, that the cosmological, teleological and even the ontological arguments are not buried but quite actively used by scholars. So Hume’s attack on cause and effect has not been overwhelmingly convincing nor in the long run was Kant’s limitations on knowledge. One might also argue that the limitations on knowledge don’t necessarily leave room for faith only, but also for nonsense. Kant’s only restrictions on what one can think is that the law of non-contradiction applies. This being true, then the thesis that an omniscient, omnipotent being created the universe including nature and consciousness, is on an equal footing with the P.E.T. hypothesis. The Pink Elephant Theory, which postulates that pink elephants that currently are hiding on the dark side of the moon, actually created the universe. The theory is not contradictory, but seems unlikely to have much staying power.

The main reason that I have argued for these minor points is that it strikes me that the limitations given by Kant may be seen as counter-intuitive to our normal experience of the universe. If everything that we observe is evidencing cause and effect, it seems more than probable that the great process of the universe, the super effect, must have a sufficient cause itself. Without going into the argument in this paper, the common sense notion of the ancients seems to be enduring. Perhaps if Kant had taken Hume to task in a stronger way, this potential mistake might have been avoided. Hume’s flawed epistemology seemed very powerful at the time, much like the initial effect of the Vienna Circle in the 1930’s. But upon further reflection one notices that more problems arise than are answered by these theories. Can one have a sensory experience of the verificational principle? Does one observe “laws of nature” or merely generalities? Once limited in this fashion, justice, love, history, scientific regularities and so many other things fall out. But for Hume, if that is the price tag of nailing cosmology and metaphysics, then so be it. Kant should have recognized the arrogance of both Hume and Descartes. By limiting knowledge, each in their own way, they present stunted theories which driven to their logical conclusions have failed to prove even their main concerns. Kant does a magnificent job in attempting to synthesize the two, but I think his nod to Hume creates the box that German Idealism is now forced to deal with.

After Kant’s monumental effort, the German Idealists are forced to head in a particular direction. Knowledge is limited to one arena, and yet Kant had not addressed the important question that the Idealists were looking for; how does consciousness and nature arise, interact and eventually harmonize? Fichte’s Subjective Idealism took Kant’s noumenal self and made into an “absolute ego” which is responsible for positing both the structure of the world experience and the data contained within the experience. Each individual is then a part of the larger world since we all participate in the absolute ego. This also included the notion that the primary function of the absolute ego was constructing or idealizing the world. The claim is protected from being perceived as arbitrary by the argument that the world is subject to certain “laws” and therefore not dependent on any one subjective point of view. There is a great convergence of views here with the Hindu scholar Ramanuja, who posited that all the world is Brahman or the divine consciousness or force, and that each part appears separate from each other but in fact are all in part of the same whole. This “truth” is discoverable through mystical meditative experiences or through drug experiences, but is unknowable through reason. Fichte, like Ramanuja, is operating from a framework that is safe from Humean concerns that of factual data and sensory experiences, but is thinkable because it is non-contradictory. It also is shielded from addressing the concern of just where did this absolute ego come from and how does it create? If the absolute ego is identified as “God” in the orthodox Christian sense, then it departs from the orthodox understanding by arguing a form of pantheism, since each part is part of the whole and all share the same nature as the absolute ego. If Fichte argues that the absolute ego is more similar to an eastern conception of the divine such as postulated by Ramanuja, then the problem shifts in a different way. If the question is the issue of separation, then how and why did this happen? Was this merely Lila, the dance, or Maya, the illusion? If the absolute ego created out of itself, then the problem shifts once again. Why would the absolute ego do such a thing? Traditionally eastern religions posit a notion of soul development through reincarnation to answer these types of questions. I have not read enough of Fichte to know if he has an equivalent idea in mind here, but any way you read this it seems that because Kant has posited a closed universe for knowledge, then in some way the question of origins becomes problematic. Not wishing to violate this drives Fichte to seek the answer within the universe itself.

This leads to a brief discussion of sui generis. How is it possible that the effect is also the cause of itself? The ancient formula of “ex nihil – nihil” fit is at least implicitly denied here. But how is this to be seen? It seems very reasonable and rational to understand that in order for an effect to be its own cause it would have had to exist prior to its own existence, in other words this is impossible, or the words cause and effect have no relationship at all. Pick any object O1 created at time T1. For O1 to be its own cause it would have had to exist prior to O1. This defies reason. One could respond that this conception of the absolute is self-existent and not self-created. But that seems to come back to the orthodox notion of God and loses the drive of the oneness of all things if the traditional idea is posited. If nature and we are all part of the absolute ego, then if the absolute ego is self-existent then so are we. In the same way, if the absolute ego is self-created then we are all self-created. But this clearly is an empirical fiction. We have absolutely no experience of any self-created things in the world. So this view becomes problematic on its face.

Schelling comes at the problem in a way that is different but still shares some of the same problems. His Objective Idealism criticized the simplicity of Fichte’s reductionistic views of mind-dependent nature. He argues that the Absolute itself can be seen as having two poles, that of Spirit or human consciousness and Nature. These two poles are in relation with each other and this can be summed up in his famous dictum that nature is “visible Spirit” and Spirit is “invisible nature”. The two poles share different relations that are similar to each other’s. The twin relations “complement” each other. This is finally climaxed in the artist who shows the final complementary roles of Nature and Spirit in the projection of Spirit into the material world of nature. As one writer puts it “extending to absolute consciousness the view that in consciousness subject and object are identical. The sum total of existence then becomes the Absolute as perceived by itself. Naturally, all distinctions and qualities, which are created by a finite relational consciousness, disappear in a self-contemplation of the Absolute by itself, and existence becomes neutral”. (Article on German Idealism in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Fichte muddied some of Kant’s distinctions, and Schelling washes them away all together. The individual consciousness is now seen as problematic and one must have what Schelling called an “intellectual intuition” to see the Absolute and the relationship of Spirit and Nature.

Upon receiving the intuition then the individual sees the oneness of all things and the harmony of nature is idealized and within potential reach physically as well. Much like Fichte’s similarity to an eastern philosopher Ramanuja, Schelling’s view is also similar to an eastern philosopher – Shankara. Shankara posits Brahman or the divine as the ultimate reality of the universe. Brahman is without attributes and “behind” or “underneath” the perceived reality of the university. This perception is flawed because the individual mind is trapped in Maya – the illusion. Through meditation one overcomes Maya and is enlightened as to the true nature of reality. For Shankara, there is perceived reality, the illusion, and true reality, Brahman. The similarities between the positions are quite interesting. Considering that eastern languages and thought have become an interest for Schopenhauer, Schlegel and others and it is not easy to see the interesting connections between eastern and western philosophers.

This view, given early in Schelling’s career, might be seen as indicative of his slide into mysticism later in life. It also explains the move by Schiller, Goethe and others into full- blown pantheism and the Romantics fascination with eastern religion. But I do think that there are some things here that make sense. I agree with Schelling’s note that Newton’s “dead inert matter” is a problematic notion and that at this point something, perhaps Idealism or perhaps something else must be included. But because of the Kantian limitations on knowledge the answers have to come from within the box. Schelling is only operating within the limitations that he inherits. In order to make the connection work between human consciousness and nature he needs something bigger than both, that both could participate in. But there is nothing allowed from outside the box, which is made up of nothing but spirit and nature. So one seems to be stuck with forcing a notion of what “is “being created or organized by what “is”. The Absolute can then be delineated as the god “is”. The god “is” is somehow postulated as the creator and divider of itself. The god “is” then contains the solution for the problem it apparently created. Somehow none of this seems to compute. Perhaps if the German Idealists had been content to think of their systems or fragments as mere thoughts, as opposed to seeking out knowledge, then this apparent quandary might have been avoided. But their goal was knowledge, if not complete then at least as complete as one human could have.

All of this is preparatory for the problem of application. The clue for this perspective was the connection in class of later German Idealism with the perennial philosophy as instantiated by Aldous Huxley and perhaps Ken Wilbur. While trying to be fair to this philosophy would take several books at least, there are some common threads that are foundational. The best description starts with the idea of monistic pantheism. Monistic pantheism means that all is one and all is God. This oneness is usually expressed as an essential oneness. That means that there literally is no distinction between perceived objects in the world. Perception within the illusion of Maya is the byproduct of unenlightened mind. Ramanuja’s version tended to soften the hard blow of Maya by saying that there was some reality in what we perceive but that is purely a temporary reality, which ultimately blends in to Brahman. Pantheism means that all is God. For Shankara, Maya hides the reality of a seamless cloak of Brahman consciousness. For Ramanuja, Maya hides the reality by cloaking Brahman within each bit of the perceived universe. Western views of this idea include Gnostic models that argue that the perceived objects are but material “prisons” trapping the “eons” which have emanated out from the divine source. Some other western models talk about the “interconnectedness” of all of nature but don’t really explain how this works. Nor do they explain how all this originated. Wilbur and Jean Houston probably give the most sophisticated versions available today.

The book that most of the Romantics and innumerable followers of the Perennial Philosophy loved the most is the Bhagavad-Gita. Written approximately a few hundred years before Christ, the Gita is part of the Upanishads, the most esoteric of all the Hindu scriptures or Vedas. There are two central stories in the Gita, the Ramayana and the one pertinent to our report here, Arjuna’s Dilemma. Arjuna’s dilemma is set when a ksaytriya warrior named Arjuna is about to face a major battle. As a warrior caste, it is his karmic duty to kill people and break things. But when his own forces are on the field facing another army and he surveys the opposing army, he sees a disturbing thing. Among his opponents are some of his friends, some of his family members and worst of all, his own guru or spiritual master. So he is stuck with the apparent moral dilemma of fulfilling his karmic duty and this might cause the death of people he cares about. What to do now? In the midst of the situation the god Krishna appears to him and offers to solve his apparent problem. Krishna offers him three possible solutions. One of his possible solutions is that Arjuna could refuse to fight, be branded as a coward, a traitor to his caste and possible suffer in his next incarnation. Not an attractive offer. Another one of the options is that he follows Krishna, forswear his caste and serve Krishna’s idol all his life. Then he would never have to think or be troubled by moral dilemmas again. The other option that is most germane here is Krishna’s teaching that Arjuna should slay, and do so happily! Krishna informs him that his problem is that he sees his friends and family as real and that because of this illusion he thinks that they will actually die. The true reality is that they are each and all Brahman. And Brahman never dies. Therefore they do not die. “So slay with great fervor oh warrior!” So Maya then is a prime key to understanding the heart of Advaita Vedanta or various other Hindu variations. If one takes Krishna seriously here, then not only is killing ok, but so is murder, rape, lying, theft and everything else. The mistake according to the Gita is thinking that these things are real. Once one rises above in enlightenment, then one realizes just what this all is, a dance, a dream, and not something that one should worry about.

There is much more that could be said about these foundations for the Perennial philosophy, but let us now take a look at how this as been applied and what this means for environmental concerns. Historically many analysts of eastern culture have described the overall culture in many as apathetic. I realize that this too is a gross overgeneralization but it does in fact reflect the stated teachings of many eastern religions. In Theravada Buddhism for example, one is told to avoid doing anything, whether good or evil, positive or negative. All action or karma brings about consequences, which will have to be repaid by another life within samsara, the wheel of birth, death and rebirth. In many of the Hindu sects, it is seen as the greatest spiritual action to go into the forest and literally stop talking, doing, eating, drinking. In the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, this can be seen as another potential illustration of the point. Noble truth #1 is that all that there is in the world is suffering. Whatever one enjoys is merely a temporary façade; in the end it will revert to suffering. Noble truth #2 is the cause of suffering. Care, concern, attachment and any other relevant synonym one chooses to use all fit the bill here. Our attachment to the things and people of this world bring about our suffering. Noble truth #3 tells us the cure for this problem. Cease caring, become detached or any way you want to say this it is all the same. If caring is the cause then cessation of caring is the cure. Noble truth #4 then explains through the eight-fold path the mindset one needs to successfully end attachment. Thus care for the environment, also part of the illusion, will continue to trap one in the illusion. A brief summary of the eastern religious point of view tends to convince one that environmental concerns are not part of the package. Since the whole world is an illusion, it tends to minimize any concern for that illusion. Even if one takes Ramanuja’s softening of Maya, ultimately nature and consciousness are still part of the illusion and environmental concerns become actually harmful to ones attempt to get off the wheel.

Another approach to this problem is that of James Lovelock and Lynn Margolis, who have given us the Gaia hypotheses. This idea, promoted by perhaps two of the best-known environmentalists in the world, argues that nature is itself alive and conscious and is capable of self-regulation. In agreement with Schelling, they would argue that there is élan, or vitale, or consciousness, or Spirit or whatever one calls it within each part of nature itself. Human consciousness is only one part of the larger whole of that framework. Lovelock then takes the controversial step of arguing that there is no need to truly be concerned about the environment since it or the God “is” or the Absolute is more than capable of resolving the problem within itself. This of course has the net effect of undermining environmentalist projects, thereby not enduring himself to the community, which once lionized him. But there is a certain consistency within his idea. If nature and human consciousness are in themselves part of a larger whole, which is called the Absolute or God or whatever, then perhaps environmental concerns are in fact part of some karmic plan, or perhaps part of the dance of Maya. If it is not capable of resolving these problems, then perhaps all talk of divinity need to be dropped, at least in the normative sense.

The Ganges river in India might serve here as a living illustration of the problematic connection of German Idealism with the Perennial philosophy. The Ganges, considered to be the holiest of all rivers in the world, is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Perennial philosophers from all over the world come to the Ganges to bath in its sacred waters, amidst the human waste, corpses, industrial pollution and so on. While Indians who are influenced by western thought realize that there is a major problem, many Hindu’s turn a blind eye to the issue because Brahman encompasses all polarities and dualities and all that is perceived in the world, including a major environmental problem, is seen as a non-issue. Now I know that there are environmentalists who are trying to work with the problem of the Ganges and other problems but I would argue that they are doing it despite eastern thought, not because of it.

The point here is to show that monistic pantheism has a track record of undermining real environmental concerns. By definition concern for the world either is problematic for the reason of involving oneself in more karmic attachments or because it is seen as merely an illusion. In either case it ought to be a concern for German Idealism to be aligned in some way with eastern thought. Now it is possible for people within the eastern traditions, such as the Dalai Lama, to be concerned for the environment, but again it could be argued that the Lama’s concern are in spite of the Buddha’s teachings, and not inspired by them.

Kant’s epistemological knot forced the later German Idealists into a path that in many ways undermines a real philosophy of nature that would actually give a foundation for environmental concerns. By the time of Hegel the noose had been tightened and nature had been subsumed into the culture which itself is part of the Weltgeist, or World Spirit. Again the God “is” or the absolute is reduced to whatever is perceived or intuited. What if Kant had not bowed to Hume so strongly? What if he instead had allowed knowledge to be available from other sources? What if there was in fact revelation or answers from outside the “box”? While agreeing with Schelling that one must explain the lower from the viewpoint of the higher, German Idealism seems to have limited the viewpoints of the higher to those possible within the box itself. There are at least potential explanations of the problem of the one and the many, or the problem of the connection between human consciousness and nature, that could come from outside the box. Perhaps one of those explanations could do the serious work of grounding real environmental concerns in a very real world.

Some questions within the framework of German Idealism;

Or how I learned to quit worrying and love global warming!

German Idealism and the philosophy of nature.

Dr. Jere Surber


Bill Honsberger



Bill Honsberger

This paper will outline how I see the relationship between Theology, Religion and Science. As I see the problem in the many views that we have looked as primarily an epistemological one, I will start there and then proceed to define science. Then I will give an explanation for why science and Christianity “appear” to be at war and briefly describe how this historically developed. I will then respond to Griffith’s critiques of the Intelligent Design/Supernaturalism point of view as exemplified by Alvin Plantinga and Phillip Johnson. Finally I will sketch out a framework for a harmonious relationship between science and the Christian faith.

It is important to note at the start of this paper that one critical factor in how I see this issue, is related to my contention that the “war” between science and Christianity is in some ways a media creation and in other ways the byproduct of certain philosophical currents which have given rise to the present situation. This needs to be unpacked a bit. Notice that I am not saying that there is an actual break between science and Christianity. Indeed as Whitehead said, Christianity is at least partially responsible for the rise of “modern” science. Many others, including non-Christians like Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and Carl Sagan, have affirmed this. And since Whitehead and others acknowledge that the overwhelming point of view of scientists prior to Darwin was orthodox Christianity, then it is obvious that it is possible to assert that Christianity and science were and can be complimentary as opposed to conflicting.

Another distinction I am making is that it strikes me that the way this entire discussion is framed in the western academic world is that it is not “faith” that is at war with science but rather orthodox Christianity. The discussion is not about Buddhism, or Hinduism (and certainly these religious perspectives, apologists notwithstanding, are problematic for science, given the acceptance of the idea of Maya or the illusory nature of the universe by many prominent eastern religions), or ever other western religions such as Islam or Judaism, but seems to be rather strictly orientated towards orthodox or conservative Christianity. There are of course benign reasons for this, such as the mere preponderance of Christianity in the western world. In other words we wrestle with the issue as western people because it is our own issue. But some other reasons may not be quite as benign. It is clear from the statements of atheistic philosophers and theorists that it is important that Christianity be seen as the enemy of science. This will be explained later on in the paper. It is also interesting to note that all of the perspectives we looked at in class did little more than give a hand-wave at the orthodox perspective, as if to say that it’s dismissal was a foregone conclusion- “now where do we go from here?”

My primary argument at this point is that the larger issue involved in this discussion is an epistemological one. Because if the point of the study is to show how science and religion can have a harmonious relationship, then the question of what kinds of warrant and justification either side of the discussion has for their own respective positions is critical. I will try and show this in two ways. First to establish what it is that counts for knowledge, and then apply that insight to the areas of science and religion and or Christianity.

Knowledge or justified true belief is based on what is called foundationalism by many philosophers. This simply means that there are certain basic building blocks that give support to what we normally call knowledge. (1) For example, when I perceive visually a tree outside my screen door at this moment, I believe that I am justified in saying that there is a tree there. If I go into the next room and think about what I saw, then I have a distinct memory of the visual event of the tree. In this way both visual perception and memory serve as foundational blocks towards knowledge. There are other basic building blocks as well, such as other sensory perceptions, the laws of logic (identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle), and so on.

Some critiques of foundationalism have centered on the complaints that simple coherence is equally justified in claims for knowledge in that if there many cohering planks, like on a raft, and they go work together in such a way that they all agree, then that is as justifiable as foundationalism. It is also possible for one’s sensory perceptions or memory or rational argument may in fact turn out to be wrong or spurious and therefore the position is flawed. I would respond that what is called fallibalistic foundationalism or soft foundationalism is able to allow for misperceptions to be corrected by more correct information that corresponds to reality. Also mere coherence is not a sufficient basis for knowledge, as it is more than possible to have a very elaborate lie, which while all the parts of the lie may cohere with each other; it is still the case that it is a lie and therefore does not correspond to reality. For example Louie may claim that he was playing cards with several hundred of his friends at the same time the police say he murdered someone. All of his friends may give stories, which cohere with each other. But the police counter with video-cam evidence, footprints, fingerprints on the murder weapon, etc. Mere coherence in this case should not be substituted for evidence. Incoherence can be a defeater of a proposition or knowledge claim but mere coherence while logically necessary, by itself proves nothing.

The notion of correspondence is also critical here, especially when we later relate these points to the question of science and religion. By correspondence we mean something as simple as this, if I claim that I am writing on my computer at this moment, then it means that it is the case that I am actually doing that very thing. So a proposition is true if and only if the truth-value of the proposition corresponds to reality. (2) The very notion of truth itself is then defined as correspondence. Again it is possible that I could receive more data later on which might in fact undermine my current position, but it would again have to verified in the same way and so on. I could receive testimony, which can be falsified or verified as to the veracity of events. Other ways of giving justification would allow for aesthetics and for history and other categories as well.

Now how does this apply to the areas of science and religion? In the case of science it is almost axiomatic. Working science is based on sensory perception and rational argumentation. Mere coherence, as in the example of “cold nuclear fission”, cannot be substituted for correspondence to reality. Objects or processes must be perceived in some way or fashion to qualify as scientific knowledge. Normally for something to be considered a scientific “fact”, it must be observable and repeatable. There are things which science deals with that are singularities such as the Big Bang, initial formulation of enzymes, etc. Normally, both of these knowledge conditions are consistent with the basic premises of foundationalism. None of this seems to be very controversial, excepting the possibility of “postmodern science” as identified by McFague. (3)

The more contentious arena is the application of foundationalism to the religious arena. On Bultmann’s account, he appears to endorse foundationalism as it is buried within logical positivism. It is on this philosophical basis that he rejects supernaturalism and insists on an existential reading of the Christian faith in order to harmonize faith and science. Some strict empiricists like to read “foundationalism” and somehow see Hume’s empiricism and logical positivism as all synonymous ideas. As mentioned in my earlier paper, logical positivism is self-referentially incoherent, but this does not mean that rejecting LP is the same as rejecting empirical data. On the contrary fallibalistic foundationalism affirms all empirical data. What I am rejecting is the limitation of knowledge that LP entailed, that only what is physically verified counts for knowledge. It is possible to have knowledge of things that cannot be physically verified, for example in the cases of inductive, deductive and abductive arguments or aesthetic sensations etc. This involves some complicated arguments that cannot be drawn out here, but generally the limitations that LP involves have been rejected by most analytic philosophers, but sadly not by scientists. The question now arises, was Bultmann correct in assuming that science precluded supernaturalism?

My response is that he was incorrect in this matter. One could argue that the strict dualism presented by Bultmann, with existential faith in one category and scientific truth in another, is itself inconsistent in that it requires empiricism with regards to the scientific category but denies the need for empirical verification at all in regards to the religious category. Herein lies the problem. Religion or faith, or Christianity, now appears to have a separate and even privileged status of knowledge. Everything that counts for knowledge in ones life has to correspond to reality in some way, but religion, prima facie, now does not. At least that is what the situation seems to be. I want to argue here that even given Hume’s parameters, Christianity still can assert supernaturalism. Put briefly Hume’s arguments against miracles hinges on two controversial claims. The first is that no interruption of natural law has been observed and the second is that even with evidence postulated contravening the first claim, as in people who claim to have seen someone rise from the dead, the sheer “nature” of the claim overrides the potential evidential claim. He has other arguments as well but these two seem to me to be the most troubling. The first claim is problematic in that Hume commits the fallacy of begging the question. He is merely gainsaying the claims of people who are saying that they physically observed the very thing Hume is denying in principal. On even closer examination it seems troubling that Hume, whose epistemological position was based on experience or sense perception, could then out of hand deny the sense perception of other human beings. This inconsistency sets up the second problem. In the face of the claims that people have in fact observed supernatural events, then Hume makes an extremely non-empirical move, in denying in principle the mere possibility. This is something that empiricism qua empiricism claims cannot be done.

In reaction to Hume, Kant “rescued” faith from science and reason. He separated them into two distinct categories and never the twain shall meet. I am convinced that this philosophical move gave us the very contemporary discussion we are having in our class. Kant’s limiting of reason to make room for faith seems to have instilled hostility between the two. Both can now make truth claims that are totally contradictory towards each other, and ultimately both often seem to be talking past each other. But I think that Kant gave way too much ground over to Hume’s epistemological argument. Even saying that though, it seems like regular empiricism, which contrary to Hume does not rule out in principal the “miraculous”, can allow ground for the supernaturalist world-view. For example, we cannot determine the historical claim that Julius Caesar lived on scientific grounds, if we mean that the event must be observable and repeatable. By the very nature of what history is, single events cannot be repeatable. However they are observable and therefore can be validated within a foundationalist perspective. Now although the meaning of history is often quite subjective, generally single events are view-independent. By illustration Caesar’s existence is not predicated upon some a-priori commitment to some position. Positivists, Republicans, Buddhists and truck drivers or anyone else can assert the factuality of the claim based upon the evidence available. With some notable exceptions most historical events have verification possible because of empirical evidence of some sort – testimonies, engravings, photographs, etc. I do not see why religious claims should not be put through the same stringent requirements as all other knowledge claims. The Hadith claims that Muhammad rose to the moon and slice it with his scimitar. Did the Red sea part at Moses’ command? Did Jesus rise from the dead? All controversial knowledge claims to be sure, but mere controversy or blind acceptance by the faithful should not require that special privilege be given to a whole category of claims.

At this point my strategy should be clear. The claims of Christianity are in fact not merely metaphysical, but instead are based at least in part on real historical events. Since it was the claim of the early Apostles that they had in fact seen and talked with and ate with the risen Christ, then these knowledge claims should be treated as all other claims. Either there is sufficient evidence to warrant the claim or there is not. The presence of faith should not be a shield for false claims. Since historic orthodox Christianity was based on historical claims, subject to verification or falsification, then their epistemic merit stands on the exact same basis as those of modern science. The Apostle Paul argues in First Corinthians 15:12-17 that the resurrection of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith. Either it happened or it didn’t. There is no claim of privilege claimed or demanded. This resolves the philosophic issue between the two positions of science and faith/religion/Christianity. In science and religion all knowledge claims are then open to verification and they all stand or fall on that basis.

Is this the case with the other claimants that we have examined in class? It strikes me that all of them at least in part demand a surrender of one side or the other, and it is usually the faith or religious side that must yield the ground. As we saw earlier, Bultmann does this in a matter of fact way. No one can take supernatural claims seriously who uses a transistor radio. His argument is that the scientific worldview precludes the miraculous worldview of supernaturalism. But does the presence of technology preclude miracles? In what way? Not only is this position philosophically flawed but also upon empirical grounds alone it is easily disproven. In fact perhaps hundreds of millions of people do that very thing. Or at least with a CD player instead of a transistor radio! Are they all just inconsistent or perhaps instead they don’t see the contradiction that Bultmann does? In fact on merely pragmatic grounds it is hard to argue that people of faith whether Christian or most other religious groups are somehow alienated from science. I believe, on the basis of evidence, that the supernatural world-view is correct. As I believe this, I am writing on a P3 personal computer, answering the phone and watching the hated Red Sox beat my beloved Yankees! Bultmann’s contention seems rather arrogant at this point. Nor is this merely a contemporary reaction, it was also true in Bultmann’s day. Some of the earliest proponents of the relatively new invention of radio, which Bultmann was able to witness from afar, were in fact preachers. Whether Catholics like Bishop Sheen or fundamentalists like Charles Fuller, Christians were not opposed to technology, which is certainly the most important proof of the scientific endeavor. So how does this idea that Christianity is opposed to science become so popular, the Amish aside, in light of what is so empirically obvious?

A problematic area with the epistemology of Peter Berger, which I will elaborate more on later on, is the issue of methodological atheism. His argument, mirrored by many others and assumed as gospel in science classes throughout the country, is that if one wants to do science, then one must assume an atheistic stance, not allowing for divine interaction in the world, or else it is not “science”. Since this is clearly an a-historical point of view, given what we have already mentioned before, then perhaps there is a logical issue at hand. But no logical contradiction entails from the belief that God can work in the world, as positivists claim. In fact in reading about this question for several years now and even from an interesting discussion with “Bergy” in our own class, the only response I have heard on this is that “it wouldn’t be science” if one did not start with this methodology. I know of no other explanation than a-priori commitments as to why this should be seen as true, philosophically or methodologically. So for Berger to argue that all religion is merely a construct, and that his “science” requires him to argue that way, must be seen as the byproduct of a flawed epistemology. Even on the grounds as given by methodological atheism, a sociologist is supposed to study a society, and that society might in fact includes claims by some of its members as to some sort of religious phenomenon in the past or even presently. It is hard to see how a sociologist could logically exclude these claims and make the incredibly broad statement that all religions are constructs, and therefore have the epistemic value of a fairy tale. Does that methodology exclude historical experiences of a society as well? Like Bultmann, Berger’s epistemology, even granting his openness towards transcendence hinted at in other books, separates science and Christianity in such a way to privilege one over the other.

I think that Sally McFague’s epistemology is a fascinating study in itself. I had not even heard of the phrase “postmodern science” until I read her book. I think the reason for that is postmodernists in general (which is problematic to say as well!) have been highly critical of the scientific endeavor. Especially the hubris of scientists who as the penultimate “modernists” claim to have possible access to all knowledge. Postmodernism usually attacks all claims that even come close to claiming “certainty”. This has created a rather radical subjectivity in terms of knowledge. This is my mind is antithetic to science. Cold fusion cannot be scientific and true for some and false for others. The scientific method of verification must be applied to all claims. But most postmodernists reject this claim, seeing it as the very essence of modernity’s hubris. This is seen from within this camp as “epistemic humility”. Interestingly enough one of the common earmarks of this view of “epistemic humility” that I keep running into seems to be the much stronger claim that not only do we not have any certain knowledge, we are certain of it! And we are certain you don’t either!

McFague’s view is very sympathetic to the qualified non-dualism of Hindu scholar Ramanuja (c. 1017-1137) who argued quite forcefully for seeing the universe and creation as the body of God. I think most orthodox Christians would see her position as too close to paganism, which is not to argue that the position is wrong at this point, but it is to say that it is not been a Christian option and historically has been actively opposed by the Church. If as she argues that God “is in the young woman killed in the accident and in the baby with birth defects” then the logical entailment of her position is that God is also “in” Stalin and Dahmer and so on. The Bhagavad-Gita could not have said it any better. Also, since her argument is that her position is merely one perspective in a larger quilt, then she seems to be arguing the position is not necessarily available to epistemic critique. She claims that she is not putting forth “truth” but rather a story with a dominant metaphor. But this is an epistemological claim in itself. Throughout her book she assumes the truth of science but insists that the scientific naturalists accept “God”. However, if one grant as she does that there can be no supernatural, then why would a scientist see any reason to “let God in”? Once you have separate grids for understanding the two categories of faith and science you have special privilege somewhere. Also, as we discussed in class, it is very difficult for her to make an ethical case for environmental protection, when one starts with a postmodern view. It is hard to argue from the perspective of epistemic humility that one must do x or y to save the earth. If one is a perspectivalist about knowledge, that prior commitment logically undermines activism, for the earth or any other cause. People are wonderfully inconsistent on this point but a serious theology and/or philosophy should not contain obviously contradictory planks. But this is exactly what she does in several places in her book. (4)

I think there are epistemological problems from within the view of Whitehead and Griffith as well. If science is based on what is observable and repeatable, it is therefore a physical activity, it seems that it is a leap of faith to argue for things like “prehensions” given that we have no evidence for such things except for their place in certain arguments. Whitehead could be right about the prehensions but it is contrary to scientific perception and therefore no more harmonious with science than any other faith claim. The strength of Whitehead’s claim is that his view is very parallel with the scientific worldview. But his epistemological stand gives privilege to science and Christian faith must be dramatically altered to fit the new paradigm. However, if it cannot be shown to have some correspondence with reality in some way, then like Bultmann, Whitehead’s rules for science differ from his rules for religion. As I argued earlier, this type of philosophical dualism places some knowledge claims apart from others with differing standards and verificational qualities. Much like Platonic “forms”, merely arguing for their logical necessity from within one’s position does not protect them from their lack of correspondence to anything actually existing in the universe. A Whiteheadian response at this point might be that this view actually helps because it fits in so well with quantum mechanics, but I would argue that there are many orthodox Christians who are physicists (for example Hugh Ross, The Creator and The Cosmos, 2nd Ed. Navpress. Colorado Springs, CO 1995) who see quantum mechanics as perfectly acceptable within a supernaturalist perspective so Whitehead can make no ground here.

As mentioned briefly before, I would argue that the misperception of the war between Christianity and science is in some ways a media creation. One good illustration of this is the movie “Inherit the Wind”. Based on the news reports of the Scopes trial in 1925 as shaped by Baltimore Sun writer H.L. Mencken, the movie clearly caricatures the Christian perspective and by the end of the movie, any “reasonable” person would, as a matter of course, understand that to be a thinking person one must embrace evolution and discount the Bible. That is certainly how my friends and I reacted to the movie when it was shown in my high school. As a non-Christian, I was amazed how anyone could be so stupid as to deny the truth of evolution and believe in something as ridiculous as “miracles” or a book about them or a “God” that couldn’t be seen. As the Scopes trial is constantly referred to in the larger discussion of why Christianity is anti-intellectual and anti-scientific, then perhaps it can be seen as to why on a popular level people think that Christianity is in principle opposed to science. While this is a patently shallow way to think, it is a popular one. In the same way, I found out literally decades after I had initially studied about Isaac Newton, that he had in fact written much more about theology than he had about physics. The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be one of the great minds in American history, wrote numerous papers on Newtonian science and other scientific subjects. But you would never know this from reading history books in public school today. Conspiracy theories aside, one might at least question the possibility that cultural understandings has been sculpted in certain ways. (5) Mencken’s anti-Semitism only became known years after his death. Is it not a possibility in this post-modern world to think that perhaps it is possible that his views might not have colored his work? At least it is possible and might give a clue as to why Mencken would write such a biased report about the actual trial.

Regardless of these fun speculations one clear thing to come out in the past twenty years is that the once imposing theory of evolution is showing some huge cracks in its edifice. As Griffith reports in his book, Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis was the first major admission from within the evolutionary camp itself, that all was not well. The war between Dawkins, representing orthodox Darwinian gradualism and Gould and Eldridge representing punctuated equilibriumianism, has become really interesting from the perspective of an outsider like myself. The net effect of both Dawkins and Gould yelling at each other that the other has no evidence for their point of view is such that another committed evolutionist like Francis Crick, admits that both are right in that respect and turns to pan-spermia for answers to the dilemma. I agree with Crick’s assertions about Dawkins and Gould but I don’t think aliens or space spores do anything to solve the problem, they merely push it back one step. Whichever way you want to look at it, it is at least problematic to assert that evolution is a proven theory or fact. It is not repeatable nor is it observable. As Phillip Johnson has repeatedly documented in his books, taking a contrary position to one or another of the major Darwinian views can cost one their career and reputation. (6) But if as Johnson suggests and I have argued earlier, this is really a philosophical debate and not an evidentiary question, then it becomes much clearer as to why good people from all sides can look at the exact same evidence and come away with markedly different conclusions.

I now want to look at Griffith’s particular arguments against the supernaturalist view as given in chapter three of Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts. The heart of Griffith’s critique is what he calls “the equation of theistic realism with supernatural interruptionism.” He argues that Johnson and Plantinga’s strong view of divine interruption is problematic in that it 1) is not a model which will likely offer a harmonious reunion between science and religion; 2) it does not “reconcile theism with evolution”; 3) it interrupts the mode and tempo of creation and finally 4) the theodicy problem. His argument asserts that these problems make his “naturalistic theism” view much more attractive as an option which will bring about the desired reconciliation. Let me respond to each of these critiques.

First, the fact that the Supernaturalism claim will not be well received within the scientific community does not argue one way or the other for its truth-value. Either the view is true or false based on the merits of the arguments and evidence alone. If there is no evidence and the claim is still taught or in the other case where there is evidence for a claim and yet it is not accepted, then other explanations like philosophical commitments and prejudice seem to be in the mix. There are many historical examples of scientists being slow to accept the new (or old!) ideas. As Kuhn points out paradigm shifts take time. If you were to look for serious books and articles on intelligent design twenty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a handful. But there are numerous published articles, books, study groups and scientists with serious credentials who are either on the ID bandwagon or heading that way. Whether it again becomes a dominant mindset is yet to be see, but even if it does, that does not prove that the view is true or not. Only evidence and sound argumentation do that work.

Secondly, I am somewhat surprised that given that Griffith is well read on the tumult going on within the evolutionary camp itself that a critique of supernaturalism would be made on this particular point. Why would one want to reconcile theism with a scientific theory that is so problematic from within its own writings? If the evidence is so overwhelming, as many claim, then why are the preeminent representatives of Darwinian thought so deeply at odds with each other? The usual response is that “everyone” agrees on the facts of evolution, it is merely dickering over the how. If this is the case then as mentioned in class, the “evolution of the gaps” theory is protected from its own internal contradictions. If this discussion were going on a hundred years ago, would it be an appropriate critique to say that because theism is not reconciled with ether theories that it is disqualified in the arena of ideas? Perhaps one might say that it is evolutionists who need to worry about not being reconciled with Supernaturalism.

Third, the argument concerning the time and mode of the development of the universe and the planet. This one seems to be speculation based on estimates. Without going into a very long and protracted argument about the dating methods, suffice it to say that there are several illustrations of these estimates being shown to be patently wrong. For example the case brought out a few years ago when a particular star was dated and the date was actually older than the current estimate of the universe itself! ( – this article claims that the discrepancy is now cleared up, but I think my claim is the softer one of problematic dating methods is still operative here) (7) All extended discussions of dating techniques include the fact that all the current methods involve certain assumptions about uniformity over time. It is very problematic to argue from estimates to hard facts. As an aside here, several times in the writings of the class and within the class itself it was brought up that supernaturalists believe that the earth is six thousands years old. Without taking any more cheap shots than necessary at Bishop Usher, I have spoken in churches all over the country and at numerous colleges and universities and I can’t remember even meeting someone who takes that idea seriously. I know that there are, but it is a straw man to argue that serious scientific discussion within the Christian community is beholden to Usher’s dates. The discussion of whether there are more problems for creation ex nihilo or billions of years of development is quite a raging discussion in some philosophical circles and there is no time for that here, but it is not easily shown that Griffith’s point here has any merit.

The fourth argument is an interesting one to be put into this discussion. As Griffith admits it is not a normal part of this discussion, but since he brought it up as one of his critiques, then I will try and respond to it as well. Simply put, one can make a strong case that the theodicy question can only be put forth consistently from within the Supernaturalist/Christian framework and can only be answered, however problematically, from within the same. The eastern world-view in almost all it variations denies the real existence of good and evil. It is intrinsic to the enlightenment message as given by numerous Gurus and philosophers that good and evil are part of the illusory nature of the universe (Maya) and once a person realizes this, they are enlightened and recognize the relativity of this world’s morality and nature and so on. So it is hard to see how this view can even ask the question in a real way. On the other end of the spectrum, a naturalist world-view has a hard time putting forth the question in light of their philosophical assumptions. Given naturalism’s leveling of ethical concerns and methodology, as seen in very problematic schemes like emotivist ethics or G.E. Moore’s ethical non-natural indefinable qualitative things, etc, one could say that since there is almost no consensus on meta-ethical issues (especially in western philosophy since Nietzsche) then the question of God being blamed for allowing “evil” seems especially problematic. (8)

Historically Orthodox Christianity has dealt with this problem in numerous ways. Perhaps the most popular is some version of the free will defense. (9) That is that God allowed human agents to be truly free agents in that they can truly make moral choices and included in this great gift from God is the fact that these really are choices and therefore include the real option to choose to do evil. Now this is an extremely short version of a very important argument, but that is all we have room for here. Perhaps more importantly though is how Griffith thinks that process thought does not also have to deal with the problem. If process theology differs with orthodoxy in relation to one of the two planks (1. God is all loving, therefore He would help, and 2. God is all-powerful, therefore He would help.) of the argument as given, then it is hard to imagine why this view of God would be persuasive. If God were not all loving, then why would anyone want anything to do with such a God? If God is not all-powerful then we now are faced with a God who cares but can’t do much to help us. This neo-deistic view might keep the word “God” in our lexicon, but seemingly only with a sympathetic role. As I argued in my earlier paper, if God truly is in the Whiteheadian moments, holding the universe together, and if God truly is not synonymous with nature as Griffith claims God is not, then it seems the question is even more problematic in this scenario than in orthodoxy. If panentheism is indeed true then God is in everyone and everything, then why does this extremely immanent view not have some sense that God can control behavior? Seems like a free will defense would need to be available here as well. In either case the process view of Griffith has no edge on orthodoxy on the basis of a critique from the theodicy question.

Let me know briefly tie some of these thoughts together and outline a harmonious relationship between science and Christianity.

A rigorous objective science needs observability and repeatability. This eliminates many spurious claims to knowledge, but is open to new discoveries and paradigms. It also needs defeasibility, in that a theory ought to recognize the possibility of overthrow if new evidence becomes available which leads in a contrary direction.

Regular empiricism, as I am using the terms, is differentiated from Positivism in that it recognizes that empiricism is fine as far as it goes but aesthetics, justice, love, history and many other valuable things are not always observed with the five senses. Therefore additional criteria are necessary to judge things beyond the empirical scope, but we must not abandon the empirical.

The Christian faith, built upon the empirical observations of the people of God in both Testaments, is a truth claim that can be verified at least in part, even under the original Humean constraints. Shortly put, many people were willing to die for what they would have been in position to know better – that is the physical resurrection of Jesus. It is conceivable that I am being fooled and might give my life for the “lie” of Christianity, but it is inconceivable that the Apostles would die for something they knew to be a lie. I cannot even think of an analogy that makes sense out of that. None of the usual human motives are present here either. There is no trace of greed, sex, power, fame or insanity, which are the usual reasons why people lie. It has been argued by many who are far more qualified than I, that something had to happen historically to explain the existence and meteoric rise of the early Christian church, in the face of tremendous persecution. (10) It can also be argued that both believers and unbelievers observed the resurrected Jesus. Believers like Mary and Martha, and skeptics (at the time) like Thomas and Saul. Even if one responds by claiming that Thomas and Saul are really believers or at least pre-disposed to believe, than there is still the claim of hundreds of people, many of whom were willing to die for the claim, that they observed the physically resurrected Jesus. To discount their testimony would be analogous to a defense attorney telling the prosecutor, “other than your five hundred witnesses against my client what evidence do you have?” Now other evidence might be needed but the type of knowledge claim cannot be discounted a-priori (Hume) merely because of its “nature”.

If one applies consistently the same criteria for historical verification towards Jesus as one does towards Julius Caesar, than the case for Christianity is an empirically based claim and as such cannot be perceived as opposed to science.

The historical claims of the Christian church contain no logical contradictions or fallacies. By this I mean that although it is not a common event to have people raised from the dead, hence the natural “law”, there is nothing contradictory, as in the case of a square circle or the like.

If as in premise one, science is based on observability, then it must allow for observations, however inconsistent with previous observations, to be added to the mix regardless of their controversial nature. This does not commit one to believe all claims of observed events, but it does not commit one to some claims over others on the basis of philosophical pre-commitments. Scientific, historic, religious and all other claims are then put through the same grid. Are they internally consistent? (Do they have any internal contradictions?) Are they externally consistent with reality? (Do they correspond to what is observed?) One could even add aesthetical and existential questions to ask of the claim, but these would be secondary to the primary questions.

If there is something good to be learned from postmodernism, it is a healthy reminder that politics and philosophy do “infest” the world, that is the claim that all people are subject to bias, prejudice and hubris. This speaks well to both science and Christianity. However, the fact that we do not have all knowledge does not mean that we have no knowledge. So this should not preclude us from seeking and finding truth wherever it may be found. And we should not be precluded from calling it truth, even in the pluralistic morass that we live in now.

Christianity and even other religious views should be very wary of marrying the current science. How many times does the church have to be a widow before it will learn?

Methodological atheism is not required historically in the field of science and is not a logical necessity either. If in fact an intelligent designer who is outside of the universe in some important sense, is the best explanation for some phenomenon then so be it.

A strong point of the Supernaturalist view is that there is now room for purpose and order in the universe. One of the results of methodological and philosophical atheism is that determinism and eventually chaos theory become live options. No purpose is needed in a meaningless universe. But if the universe is not a closed one then purpose and meaning and order are brought back in. I think the fact that the universe is an ordered one (the dominant view of scientists up until the 20th century) gives security and certainty to science, in that pure arbitrary chance does not upset the “laws” of science.

Aldous Huxley confesses that the evidence may not be the critical issue. He states “For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…” (11) In light of this it is likely that the quest for universal harmony between science and faith or Christianity will not be solved in this life in such a way that all will fall into step. Too many competing worldviews and ulterior motives may color the way we look at things and given that, it seems like the quest for a harmonious relationship between science and religion will be a difficult one at best. But it is one of the most important questions and well worth the effort to continue to search out for the best explanation of all the evidence.


1) For a great primer on epistemological questions, I recommend Robert Audi’s Belief, Justification and Knowledge. Wadsworth Publishing Co. Belmont, CA 1988.

For a good discussion on the question of correspondence, I highly recommend Doug Groothuis’s recent book Truth Decay. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 2000

Good critiques of postmodernism include not only the above-mentioned Truth Decay, but also The Gagging of God, D.A. Carson. Zondervan Press, Grand Rapids, MI 1996

My best illustration of this is found on page 78 in The Body of God, where she states “While the attempt to see continuity between the Christian story of redemption and the cosmic story of the evolution of the universe is one that all Christians must support”… Hard to get a “must” out of just a “perspective”.

This is a theme that is often preached on but perhaps a book like The Long War against God, Henry Morris. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, MI. 1988. is a good example. Even a Jewish critic like Michael Medved often comments about the anti-Christian bias often displayed in the schools and in the media.

Of Phillip Johnson’s many books on the subject in general, the pertinent ones here are Reason in the Balance and Objections Sustained. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL 1995 and 1998 respectively.

One of the classics in the field is Meditations at 10,000 Feet: A Scientist in the Mountains, by James Trefil. (Senberne Press. New York, NY 1986) He freely admits that all the major dating methods include estimates and assumptions about uniformity. Normally we like to call that “theory” and not fact, but I guess I am not a scientist.

For a good read on this subject, I suggest chapter four, “God and the meaning of life” by J.P Moreland in his book Scaling the Secular City. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, MI1987 and Ethics – Approaching Moral Decisions. Arthur F. Holmes. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL 1984

A very balanced presentation of the argument is presented in The Problem of Evil. Edited by Marilyn M. Adams and Robert M. Adams. Oxford University Press. Walton St. Oxford, England. 1900.

One of the classis apologetic works discussing this theme is The Testimony of the Twelve, by Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf. The Harvard School of law is named after him. He started his investigation of the subject as an atheist and converted during his research. Some other works, which document the rise of the Christian church during this time, include A History of Christianity Vol. I Beginnings to 1500. K.S. Latourette. HarperCollins San Francisco, CA. 1953 and Evidence for Faith. J. Warwick Montgomery. Probe Books, Dallas, TX 1991. As to the very controversial question as to whether the Gospel accounts themselves are trustworthy, I suggest A Ready Defense. Josh McDowell. Here’s Life Publishers. San Bernardino, CA 1990.

Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means. Chatto & Windus. London, England. 1946


Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy. Anchor Books, New York, NY. 1967

Bultmann, Rudolf. New Testament & Mythology. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA 1984

Griffin, David R. Religion and Scientific Naturalism. Suny, New York, NY. 2000

McFague, Sallie. The Body of God. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. 1993

Whitehead, Alfred. N. Science and the Modern World. The Free Press, New York, NY. 1925

Revenge of the “Enlightened”:
The Exclusive Nature of Religious Pluralism

by Bill Honsberger

Few things are more volatile than religious issues. There is hardly anything that can inflame people more than the types of questions and answers that surround discussions of faith and ultimate concern. In light of this fact many people in academia and in the religious world have turned to Religious Pluralism as a reasoned and measured response to the problem of conflicting truth claims. Religious Pluralism has many forms and this paper will take a cursory look at several and then survey the viewpoints of John Hick, Joseph Campbell and Huston Smith. The paper will explain and define Religious Pluralism and give the motivations of those involved. The paper will then show the inconsistent and hypocritical tenets and practices of Religious Pluralism proponents, with Christianity as the one “safe” prejudice. The conclusion will then respond in an indirect way to the arguments of Religious Pluralism, and present an argument for the real value of studying religious issues.

“Why are hard-working prosperous religious people – so often intolerant, narrow-minded and boring?” Ashleigh Brilliant – Pot Shots Cartoon 1999.

There are few more divisive issues in the world than the competing truth -claims of religions. Devoted people in different religions may participate in conflict, both verbal and physical. Or at least that is a popular notion that intrigues the academic study of religions and many within the Western world. We are told “at this point in history, developing an attitude at least of tolerance, if not of genuine pluralism, is no longer a luxury for an intellectual and spiritual elite”. (1)

Gordon Kaufman of Harvard University sees this within Christian theologians: “Instead of continuing the traditional attempts to make definitive normative claims about ‘Christian truth’ or ‘the Christian revelation’ many may not see the plurality among religious traditions… of profound human meaning and importance; what seems required now, therefore, rather than polemical pronouncements, is careful and appreciative study, together with an attitude of openness to what can be learned from this great diversity…” (2)

One must be open. An “openness” towards divergent points of view is the only way to protect the “other”, the obscured viewpoint of oppressed peoples, whether women or people of color or of minority religions. According to Peter Harrison of Bond University “the discourse of religious pluralism in the 20th century is a legacy of the 19th century creation and discovery of religion within a context of colonialism and imperialism”. (3)

In this political sense then, pluralism has become a necessity driven by western imperialism and religious imperialism personified by Christian missionary efforts most notable in the 19th century. For others like John Hick, Religious pluralism is driven by “our modern awareness of religious plurality and conceptual relativity”. (4)

You might get the sense from him that the mere plurality of religions present in our increasingly smaller world demands a new solution for the west, in particular, Christianity. Conceptual relativity shows up in many frameworks, but the essence of this comment is that a new humility is present in academia, and that certainty of knowledge is an anachronism of the hubris of the Western traditions, in particular the enlightenment and triumphant Christianity. We cannot now claim to know anything in its real self, only our perception of the thing perceived. Lay people chime in as well. In a recent letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, Edward Tabash states:

“It was refreshing to see your article on the religious relativism of Abdul Kareem Surash in which this Iranian theologian is quoted as saying that all religious tolerance and pluralism is needed in Iran. In the United States, people like Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Jerry Falwell need to comprehend that they do not possess a monopoly in understanding God’s will. Additionally, of course, it would be a great day for the world if the Pope would also adopt Surash’s admonition to abandon religious absolutism.” (5)

Many people see Religious Pluralism as a philosophical and theological system arising from the dramatically shifting reality of religious, ethnic, immigrant plurality in the formerly Judeo-Christian west. Harvard scholar of Religion and director of the Pluralism Project, Diane Eck points this out in verifiable ways. She notes that:

“In May of 1990 in a suburb of Boston not far from the starting point of the Boston marathon, the Hindu community of New England dedicated a temple to the goddess Lakshmi, pouring the consecrated waters of the Ganges over the temple towers, along with the waters of the Colorado, the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers. In April of 1993 in Sharon, the Islamic community of New England broke ground for a major new Islamic center to provide an anchor for the nearly 20 mosques in the Islamic Council of New England. These events are increasingly typical of the religious life of New England. Indeed, the religious landscape of much of America is changing – slowly, but in dramatic ways that test the pluralist foundations of American public life. (6)

She also cites statistics, which show that Los Angeles now is home to more types of Buddhists than anywhere else in the world. There are more Muslims than Methodists in England. In the light of all this plurality, and perhaps more importantly in light of the potential and historically based problems that religion have when in relation with each other, (“Fault lines” as described by Samuel P. Huntington) (7) a peaceful and open view of religious pluralism is necessary.

Harold Netland points out that “Canon Max Warren said prophetically in 1958 that as serious as the impact of agnostic science was on theology, it would turn out to appear as mere child’s play when compared to the challenge that other religions would eventually make on Christian theology.” (8)

And I would add not only on Christian theology but also perhaps on the Western world at large. “My son, always respect and honor the other fellow’s point of view. Unless it’s different from yours, of course”. Hagar comic strip. 1999

What exactly is Religious Pluralism? For Huston Smith it is a poetic image. “What a strange fellowship this is, the God-seekers in every land, lifting their voices in the most disparated ways imaginable to the God of all life. How does it sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange, ethereal harmony? Does one faith carry the lead, or do the parts share in counterpoint and antiphony where not in full-throated chorus”. (9)

For some it is tolerance among competitors. For example Ted Turner states there “was one God and multiple ways he manifests himself and that it makes little difference which one is right’. (10)

Others realized that something much more profound is necessary. Audrey Thompson of the University of Utah, quoting Ann Diller, states, “In ‘Pluralisms for Education,’ Ann Diller argues that neither a laissez-faire nor a cooperative conception of pluralism is adequate to ‘the relational tasks of human communities.’ Models of pluralism, if they are to lend themselves to the building of communities, must ask more of us than simply getting along with one another. Pluralism has to plan actively attending to others, appreciating their distinctive perspectives, not just letting them be different”. (11)

Thompson goes on to argue that pluralism is by definition non- coercive. But she wants more than a simple acceptance of the status quo by all possible groups. She wants a “radical” pluralism which “which valorizes difference, plays with difference and acknowledges diverse groups…”(12)

Under the heading of “Education as Transformation” Victor Kazanjian argues that “both scholarship and spirituality are essential to fostering global learning communities and responsible global citizens who can address the challenges of a diverse world.” (13)

In the same website, Diane Eck defines pluralism as “an encounter of all our differences. It is a reconstruction and renegotiation of our common life in light of that encounter. Pluralism requires something of us…” (14)

Even stronger is the statement of Susan Laemmie, Rabbi and Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. She emotes “We need a change whereby our colleges and universities become at one and the same time, through our cooperative vision, first welcoming of spiritual perspectives, second – supportive of particular religious expressions and third – exemplary of the way in which all spiritual paths are finally leading to the same sacred ground”. (15)

At the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, Illinois 1993, the challenge was for all religions to accept the truth of the “perennial philosophy…(which) calls for experiencing religion at the essential level”. Rita Gross concurs:

“This genuine and very real pluralism of religious worldviews and value systems does not cause psychological stress or distress. Rather, there is deep and thoroughgoing appreciation of the different systems; their infinite variety becomes a source of fascination and enrichment rather than a problem. Finally without trying to create a single religious system out of the plurality of world religions, it becomes possible to be inspired by other religions, to the point that one welcomes and fosters mutual transformation, taking on aspects of other religions that are lacking or weak in one’s own”. (17)

Now from these myriad expressions of Religious pluralism, as well as from dozens of other similar statements that I collected, you can see several commonalities. Religious Pluralism supposedly promotes tolerance, which at one point could have been described by noting that two people actually disagree and that they would do so in a respectful manner. In actuality, the Religious Pluralists whom we encountered dramatically quashed that point of view.

Most felt that toleration has working model of the world and as such was proven a failure. Another constant was the idea that tolerance was a mere starting point leading to full acceptance and as Gross says, a type of syncretism which benefits each religion equally. In this “tossed salad” every religion/world view would be a distinct element, but part of a larger whole. Notice that at this level of definition, it is stated early and often that each religion is to be accepted, praised, and valued. This sets the state for some comments I will make later on.

Three noteworthy thinkers have proffered their own views of what Religious Pluralism is and ought to be. Philosopher John Hick, Arch-mythologist Joseph Campbell and Religious scholar Huston Smith are all well respected in their fields and their books headline the field of Religious Pluralism. I will expound the views of all three and briefly evaluate them..

Philosopher John Hick states his view “perhaps the fact of religious diversity should not be seen as a challenge to the rationality of forming religious beliefs on the basis of religious experience, but to the assumption that all authentic religious experience must be the same kind and produce the same sets of beliefs.” (18) This quote gives the Hickian perspective in a nutshell. As a self-described orthodox conservative Christian, Hick encountered good, decent, “saints” within other religions, Hick believed that he was forced to rethink his own religious paradigm to envision a belief system that could and would incorporate the religious experiences of non-Christians into a salvific experience. He comments:

“it is rational to base our beliefs upon our experience, including religious experience, which leads inevitably to the problems of religious pluralism; and that there are resources within the major world traditions themselves that can, when supported by important philosophical distinctions, point to a resolution of these problems.” (19)

Using a Kantian distinction between phenomena (the things as perceived in the physical world by humans) and noumena (the actual thing in itself, unknown as to its true essence), Hick argues that at the center of all the axial religions (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism) is the “Real”, the ultimate essence, the God, the creator, the source of all life or of enlightenment. Since the Real is not in the phenomenological world, then no religion can claim certain knowledge of who or what the Real is. Each religion is bound by cultural forms and structures and therefore the Real must be experienced within each of the different religions. This experience is not just any alleged experience, but rather an experience which produces certain types of behavior.

These behaviors can be instantiated in people’s lives who become more loving, humble, patient, etc. If the net result of the experience produces this type of “soul”, Hick argues that these kinds of experience cut through the cultural structures to reveal the essence of all faiths. Thus Hick argues that his view is not Exclusivistic for religion, nor is it syncrestic in that no religions mixes with any other in the phenomenological world. Seeing himself in the same vein as Mircea Eliade and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Hick is driven by the justice of his cause. He argues that “In so far as such a resolution proves acceptable within the different traditions, it provides a basis for the mutual respect that is necessary for fruitful inter-faith dialogue and for practical collaboration in face of the common threats – of nuclear destruction, of North-South and East-West confrontations, of irreparable damage to the environment – that face the human family on this small and fragile planet.” (20)

Now while this paper is not a direct attack on the substance of differing Religious Pluralism arguments, I do want to give a few passing comments. Critics point out some major problems with Hick’s thesis. All of the axial religions truly believe that their view is right and true and not merely a cultural phenomenon.

Also many note that Hick’s position in some obvious way presumes some arguments that very much fit the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu thought. This explains perhaps why Hick’s view is popular among scholars and lay people who are already involved with eastern/New age thought. I have met no orthodox Muslims or orthodox Jews or orthodox Christians who will accept his paradigm.

One last brief critique that I would add is that if Hick’s use of Kantian epistemology is accurate in describing the proper relation between the Real and the world’s religions, then many serious problems arise. If the Real has not communicated to us and we are incapable of seeing the Real in itself, then how do we know that we should live the life of saints? How do we know that any of our experiences are anything but individual experiences which might be explained in various ways without positing the unverifiable existence of an alleged real? In fact if the Real is in the noumenal realm and beyond our ken, then maybe we should kill our neighbor in an Islamic Jihad instead of loving our neighbor. Who is to say? Jeff Dahmer or Mother Theresa – eat the neighbor or love the neighbor – both have the same epistemic grounding assuming Hick’s epistemology. This however must be dealt with responsibly in a different project.

Joseph Campbell is best known for two of his books; The Power of Myth and The Hero of a Thousand Faces,. He has been a major influence on George Lucas and other new age luminaries. Describing Campbell’s view, Bill Moyers notes that:

“He found in the literature of faith those principles common to the human spirit. But they had to be liberated from tribal lien, or the religions of the world would remain – as in the Middle East and Northern Ireland today — the source of disdain and aggression. The images of God are many, he said, calling them ‘the masks of eternity’ that both cover and reveal ‘the Face of Glory’, He wanted to know what it means that God assumes such different masks in different cultures, yet how it is that comparable stories can be found in these divergent traditions…He liked the insight of the Hindu scripture: ‘Truth is one; the sages call it by many names.’ All our names and images for God are masks, he said, signifying the ultimate reality that by definition transcends language and art…(21)

In this statement we see his method of Religious Pluralism, that is, he looks behind the cultural mask to see the “ultimate reality”. We also see his motive in that faith must be liberated from “tribal lien” or customs and dogma, which he sees as the source of wars. I think another story about Campbell that Moyers tells is also interesting. “In Japan for an international conference on religion, Campbell overheard another American delegate, a social philosopher from New York, say to a Shinto Priest, ‘We’ve been now to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a few of your shrines. But I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.’ The Japanese paused as though in deep thought and then slowly shook his head. ‘I think we don’t have ideology,’ he said. ‘We don’t have theology. We dance.’ And so did Joseph Campbell – to the music of the spheres.” (22)

In relating his theory about religion, Campbell argues that myths are energies in conflict with each other. Each culture has a mythic Christ or Messiah who is here to teach the perennial philosophy to each culture at different times.

This perennial philosophy can be summed up as the divine in all things, persons and places. The distinction here between Hick and Campbell is pronounced. While Hick’s borrowing of Advaita Vedantic principles is under the surface as it were, Campbell openly praises the eastern, mystical, and Native American religions and others which embrace the perennial philosophy in some way or fashion. Campbell also makes another move which is similar in some ways and distinct in others from Hick. He argues that God can’t be known in a cognitive sense. “I mean that whatever is ultimate is beyond the categories of being and nonbeing. Is it or is it not? As the Buddha is reported to have said: ‘it both is and is not; neither is, nor is not.’ God as the ultimate mystery of being is beyond thinking.” (23). So in this sense both views become immune from intellectual critique, as they are posited in a “safe” place. Much like Vedantic scholar Sankara, once cognition is abandoned mystical experience must be exalted as a new way of “knowing”, meditation instead of “mentation”. Why the mystical leap? In the earlier quote Campbell stated that groups which cling to their own particular myth, instead of “seeing” past the myth to the perennial philosophy, are the cause of war, etc, etc. Our failure to get along is our lack of enlightenment as to the true nature of things. While appears quite often in New Age literature, it is found in Vedic or Sanskrit literature dating back thousands of years. Hence the name “perennial philosophy”. Campbell believed that if the groups would only see the oneness of all things and the divinity of all things, then the world would be “saved”. Campbell describes this monistic pantheism in this way :

“We spoke of the metaphysical experience in which you realize that you and the other are one. Ethics is a way of teaching you how to live as though you were one with the other. You don’t have to have the experience because the doctrine of the religion gives you molds of actions that imply a compassionate relationship with the other. It offers an incentive for doing this by teaching you that simply acting in your own self-interest is sin. That is identification with your body.

(Moyers) Love thy neighbor as thyself because the neighbor is thyself.

(Campbell) That is what you have learned when you have done so.” (24)

This solipsism of the other into the self is distinct from Hick in that Campbell is describing a practical and ethical pluralism based on an ontological reality. The Religious Pluralism principle is then an ethical and practical way of working out the true nature of the universe.

A few passing comments are in order here. Like Hick, Campbell posits a religious experience which is by definition unverifiable and is often ineffable. How does one unverifiable experience have any more weight than another? One person says she “saw” the divine and “knew” that she was to love everyone and another person “saw” the divine and “knew” that he should kill all “bad” women! If experience and autonomy are the only standards, then how can Campbell say that war is wrong, or any other alleged evil in the world? Time honored proponents of the “perennial philosophy” such as Sankara knew that the only way to posit a non- dualistic reality is to claim that this world and all its experiences are Maya – the dream, the illusion. Krishna clearly teaches this in the Gita. Good and evil, war and peace, and all other experiences are nothing but an illusion and do not incite to remedy them, but rather to learn their true nature and ignore them. (25) The third prominent writer is Huston Smith, considered by many the pre-eminent comparative scholar on world religions. Smith is an interesting study in himself as he practices many rituals and practices from numerous world religions. In one sense one can say that he literally practices what he preaches. He states that:

“When, then, a lone spirit of success in breaking through to major conquests here, it becomes more than a king or queen. It becomes a world redeemer. Its impact stretches for millennia, blessing the tangled course of history for centuries. ‘Who are…the greatest benefactors of the living generation of mankind?’ Toynbee asked. ‘I should say: ‘Confucius and Laotze, the Buddha, the Prophets of Israel and Judah, Zoraster, Jesus, Mohammed and Socrates’” (26)

Smith is passionately motivated to see this viewpoint enacted. He preaches, “But if we take those religions seriously, we need not fail miserably. And to take them seriously we need do only two things. First, we need to see their adherents as men and women who faced problems much like our own. And second, we must rid our minds of all preconceptions that could dull our sensitivity or alertness to fresh insights.

If we lay aside our preconceptions about these religions, seeing each as forged by people who were struggling to see something that would give help and meaning to their lives; and if we then try without prejudice to see ourselves what they saw – if we do these things, the veil that separates us from them can turn to gauze.” (27) He goes go to argue that science has armed the human race, and that the “flames of fear, suspicion, and prejudice” are a threat to our very existence. His is a cry for a common humanity, not based on a singular reality, qua Campbell, but rather on a common necessity. The world is a dangerous place and only love can fix it. Jesus told us the Golden Rule and so did the Buddha. Therefore we must echo their statements so that the world will survive. Smith takes a very pragmatic view on the world religions. Rituals and rites then are the particular language of a given culture and therefore by definition are culturally bound. The loving view is to see the common teaching of all the great religious teachers, and strive for that commonality.

While I find Smith’s passion impressive and understand the motivation, there again are several problems which can only be mentioned here. The most basic problem is that only by omission can Smith try and make a case that the religions share these wonderful common themes. The opposite case is much easier to make. For example, Islam believes that Hinduism (and Christianity for that matter) systematically commits the greatest blasphemy possible -shirk—the ascribing of divinity to any created thing. Idol worship by definition is an affront to Allah and must be eradicated. Hinduism, and this is in danger of being a gross simplification, believes that bhakti, or devotion to the god/goddess through dedication to the representative idol, is the greatest marga or path that one can take. Here are two of the world’s greatest religions historically and numerically and yet they agree on virtually nothing. And historically they have fought for over a thousand years. To steal a quip, if only these Hindus and Muslims would act like proper Christians! But that is the point – they are what they are. And Smith admits early in his work that he deliberately avoids all the things in the different world religions that he knows are provocative and destructive. Is this really a fair way to treat any world religion, by creating a sanitized version and then pronouncing it homogenous and good. More on this will be raised later.

In all three views some common themes are persistent; the world is in trouble and so we must postulate a common religion/ethic/practice in order to save it. At the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, Robert Muller, former asst. secretary General of the United Nations and self-described Ambassador for World Peace, addressed the opening gathering with three general themes. The first is that we are all one. The second is that we are all God. And the third is that we have to do something about those “fundamentalists”. (28) Each pointed theme was given a thunderous ovation. The interesting observation is that even the definition of toleration has changed and this comes out as well. The old fashioned notion of tolerance was some version of acknowledgement that we have different points of view, but that we can deal respectfully with each other. The new version is that we must go beyond that mere ‘tolerance” to something much better – true Religious Pluralism. The twist is more than semantics. It involves a mindset that, like Muller above, is actually the birth of a new exclusivism and therein lies the motivation for this project. The great irony is that it is often the loudest, most vociferous voices crying for pluralism, that are the most strident in their language toward anyone, especially Christians, that would disagree with them.

Several illustrations will point this out. In an article entitled “Religious Diversity: Some implications for monotheism” the Buddhist and Feminist author Rita Gross, argues that “Claims for a unique and universal truth, frequent among monotheists, can become quite specific and overwhelmingly exclusive, excluding everyone even slightly different from ‘us’ from felicity and long-term well-being. Such religious ethnocentrism truly parallels racial, ethnic, class, and gender chauvinisms and is, unfortunately, frequently combined with them by those who dislike diversity.” (29) The basic theme of her argument is that since monotheistic claims tend to be exclusive, then by definition monotheists are ethnocentric and chauvinistic.

On a website entitled, they talk about freedom of religion for all believers, provided they stay within “reasonable limits”. In their summation on this site they spell this out. Number one on the list is that “criticism of religious beliefs is not acceptable”. Does this mean that evangelism is not allowed in any direction because by definition involves sharing contrary ideas? To state that the world is round is by definition an affront to those who believe it is flat. In the Global Ethic document, written by Catholic theologian Hans Kung and presented to the Parliament of World Religions, Kung makes the following statement; “Of course, religions are credible only when they eliminate those conflicts which spring from the religions themselves, dismantling mutual arrogance, mistrust, prejudice, and even hostile images, and thus demonstrate respect for the traditions, holy places, feasts, and rituals of people who behave differently.” (30) Ted Turner, owner of CNN, recently spoke before the United Nations and shared his “conversion” story from Christianity to a more “open” view. He said it was the exclusive claim of Christianity that chased him out. He goes on to argue that all ways to God are legitimate and it doesn’t matter which one you take. But this is the same man who said a few years ago that Christianity was a religion for “losers”.

In a message last year from a local Methodist pastor, he praised the openness of the liberal church, the tolerance that he thought should be the earmark of “real” Christianity. But in describing the evangelical that he was arguing with, the language is stunning. His foil was “narrow”, “infantile”, “immature”, “deluded”, “unimaginative”, “pabulum”, “judgmental”, “self-righteous bigots”, “backward”, “mean-spirited”, “hands covered with blood”, “repressive”, and all in five pages! (31) I know I could “feel the love” and his acceptance. This is seemingly the only safe prejudice left. Orthodox Christianity, “fundamentalism”, or the “religious right” apparently is the only path that does not make it to the crest of the hill. The Christian faith is the only spoke on the wheel that does not make it to the hub. It is the only part of the elephant which in fact is not a part of the elephant. In numerous articles and letters that I have, Christians are hateful, fascists, Nazis, responsible for burning of black churches, responsible for O.J. Simpson’s murder of his wife, the Holocaust and as best I can tell the Alamo, the sinking of the Titanic, and fall of the Roman Empire!. The interesting thing is that these accusations are hurled by those who proclaim themselves tolerant, open-minded, and Religious Pluralists!

A website run by the Interfaith Alliance, describes itself as a “non-partisan, faith-based organization with supporters from over 50 faith traditions, including Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. We are dedicated to promoting the positive role of religion as a healing and constructive force in politics and in public life…The Interfaith Alliance organizes people of faith to promote shared religious values: compassion, civility, and mutual respect for diversity and human dignity.” (32) In the same page the Alliance states that they “challenge those who manipulate religion and promote an extreme political agenda based on a false gospel…” (33) The Religious right has a whole page, with highlighted sections for Religious Political Extremists, including the Christian Coalition, the Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, and all of the rest of the usual suspects. The Alliance intones that “Any movement that seeks ’one true faith’ as a national panacea to the complex problems facing society undermines the integrity of our democracy and threatens principles inherent to the strength of our nation…”(34) The irony of the page is stunning.

Another example of the same mind set can be found on the page from a group called The Blue Mountain Working Group. Their message entitled “A Call to Defend Democracy and Pluralism” has entire paragraphs with lists of synonyms, none too kind, of the religious right. They summarize them by calling the religious right the “anti-democratic right”. We are told that the religious right are “troubled” by critical thinking, cultural diversity and dissent.. They are moralistic, self-righteous and sanctimonious. They demagogue and demonize. They are fascists and racists. In one rather poignant paragraph they state: “We share a sense of urgency. Time is of the essence. We must stop the hard right anti-democratic backlash movement before it inflicts more damage on our society. In defending democracy and pluralism we must refrain from using the same polarizing techniques of scapegoating, demonization, and demagoguery that have been so successful for the anti-democratic right.” (35) The hypocrisy is evident even in the same paragraph, let alone the rest of the article. There is much more but the inconsistency is dramatic. Everyone is accepted and welcomed as allies, except for those on the other side of the political and religious fence.

One Canadian Bishop righteously intones that the Christian church must change its tune. “The problem with exclusivism is that it presents us with a god from whom we need to be delivered, rather than the living God who is the hope of the world,” writes Ingham. “The exclusivist god is narrow, rigid and blind…Such a god is not worthy of honor, glory, worship or praise.” (36)

I could repeat examples ad infinitum, but I think the point is clear. Pluralists seem to have this nasty tendency to attack exclusivism, in particular orthodox Christians. Exclusivists by definition see themselves as being involved in the true religion or faith. Other religions then, again by definition are seen as false. To the proponents of Religious Pluralism this is anathema. This presents the Religious Pluralist with a logical dilemma. The Pluralist asserts that all religions are “right” in some sense. The exclusivist, be they Muslim, Christian, Theraveda Buddhist or any other group, asserts that their group alone is right. The Pluralist must then deny the religious claim of a particular group in order to maintain their pluralism. So they in affect must deny their basic premise to assert their basic premise!

Two personal examples will show the point. In attempting to evangelize people in the New Age, I have been screamed at, cussed at, spit at, had spells cast at me, etc. all by the most tolerant, open-minded people in the world. Just ask them. In the quest for tolerance I have been asked not to ask questions, not to attend meetings and been followed by a security guard at a Psychic Fair. Signs were put up anticipating my involvement in these types of events, threatening to throw anyone out who tried to “proselytize”. So much for open-mindedness. Another time I was on a radio interview discussing Wicca, the religion of witchcraft. After talking about Wicca and what I believe are its serious problems, a witch called the show and proceeded to attack the host and myself for being narrow minded, bigoted, intolerant, mean spirited, and so on and so on. The host of the show tried to calm the caller down and said, “Let me get this straight. You believe that all religions are right, that each person can choose to believe whatever they want and that no one has the right to criticize anyone else’s beliefs” He was ecstatic. “Yes that is exactly what I believe”. The host went on. “O.K. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and that all other religions are the work of the Devil and will lead people to hell. Am I wrong?” There was silence for a moment, in which you could almost imagine the caller biting his tongue not to respond in the affirmative. “You’re arrogant!” he yelled. “That is not what I asked you. Am I wrong? The caller hung up. The only way he could respond in the manner he truly believed would force him to contradict his pluralistic platitudes that he has used as an hammer to beat the mean, nasty exclusivists with.

There is no logical response to the problem. To assert pluralism about religion requires one to totalize all other exclusive positions. At least the exclusivists are honest about it, well most of them. The Pluralists want to have it both ways. Exclusivism is wrong but all exclusive religions are still “right”? You can see why Hick and Campbell and Smith have to turn to a non-cognitive mystical approach to make sense of their systems. But in all these cases the cure is worse than the disease and in fact in some ways does the same kind of arrogant posturing of which the open exclusivists are accused. To resort to non-cognition undermines even the passionate, cognitive argument for pluralism. To posit Maya, as the screen for the true underlying reality, has the net effect of denying ethics en toto, historically and theoretically. To point everyone to an alleged “Real” which does not communicate with creation and even if the Real did, then one can only assume the Real is schizophrenic at best, seems to be no help in any way.

The Reverend Bear intones, “Let us all give praise, for ours is the one true faith:”. A rabbit parishioner responds, “Pardon me, but the very essence of faith is a belief in the existence of something that can’t be proven. So, naturally everyone believes their faith is the ‘right’ one…this means all faiths equally valid, giving no one the right to claim any religious superiority…so let’s just practice our faith in the time honored tradition of religious tolerance.” Reverend Bear ponders the response and then eats the rabbit. In mid chew he spouts “thay – urp – hawayooya!!” Non-Sequitar cartoon. 1998

What then is a possible solution? One of the biggest consequences of Religious Pluralism’s nasty habit of denuding religious beliefs that do not fit within their neat tidy Procrustean bed of liberal democracy, is that the particular religion in itself ceases to exist. It becomes a shadow created for a different agenda by those not participating in the religion. By contrast it seems that the really important questions raised by religions world wide, are the normative claims of truth and the metaphysical claims of reality, and the ethics that are derived from them. Did Mohammed really rise from Jerusalem to slice the Moon with his scimitar? Did the Buddha really encounter an evil demon who attempted to stop Gautama in his quest for enlightenment? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? These are examples of the normative approach to the study of world religions. The fact that there are contrasting claims are part of what makes the study of religion so critically important. The mere fact that there are many potential answers to the question “2 + 2 =? , does not logically follow to the conclusion that all answers must be right!

The metaphysical claims of life after death, the existence of a personal creator versus an impersonal force, meaning in life, etc, are also critical. What if one of the exclusivist claims is correct? What if Heaven or Hell does depend on choices made in this life? Pascal wrestled with this question and deemed it “The question people must wrestle with.” Whether one agrees with Pascal or not, isn’t the question worthy of serious discussion and thought? Pluralism denies the need for even a cursory look, other than to condescend to observe the exclusivist in their native mean spirited state.

The ethical claims also are more than critical. As mentioned before, the price tag of Maya is ethical suicide. That all three of the best-known proponents of Religious Pluralism must posit Maya in some sense in order to make their theory
work and since it is motivated as a result of ethical dilemmas, it commits intellectual suicide. Many university professors can tell stories of students who are so thoroughly relativistic and pluralistic in all areas, that they feel that criticizing Hitler and the Nazi’s is worse than the actual Holocaust itself! The only “sin” in a pluralist ethic is intolerance. Tolerance is not the cure, but the acceptance and affirmation of all beliefs, no matter how repulsive or immoral by formerly universal standards, and so must be “decreed” into existence.

It is also interesting to note that the birthplace of Western Religious Pluralism is Liberal Christianity or its synonyms. There is a doctrinal issue at stake here. As William Lane Craig points out “Universalism is thus the raison d’etre for the response of openness to religious diversity thought to be required by post-modernist thinkers. Total openness and religious relativism spring from an abhorrence of Christian particularism.” (37) This Exclusivistic claim is the most hated one in the literature. I rarely read about Islam’s exclusivity or Theraveda Buddhism’s despisal of Mahayana Buddhism, or even the recent dispute among Tibetan Buddhists denouncing other types of Tibetan Buddhist. This ought to cause one to ponder as to why this is. And as Winfred Corduan points out, once you remove the truth claims there is really no reason for dialogue. So the one absolutely sure object of knowledge is that there is no truth. That thought forces one to deny the laws of logic and to deny reality.

The real interesting questions of religion are ones of passion precisely because they do incite such passions. For all the intellectual joys of a chess match, a soccer game in Europe is much more interesting if for no other reason that it inspires millions of people to act passionately! Surely that kind of passion is worth discussion. None give their lives as martyrs over the preference of Grey Poupon or Mayonnaise. It is precisely the questions that religions raise, and competing truth claims among those religions, that makes the study of religion one of the most important areas of study historically. It is the paradox of the modern academic arena that while universities increasingly have to hire security guards for events, require pledges from students not to cheat, and threaten faculty members to keep them from sexual contact with students, that the study of religion, with all its potential bounty, is given short shrift.

1) Rita M. Gross, “Religious Diversity: Some Implications for Monotheism.” Http:// Html.

2) Gordon D. Kaufman, “Evidentialism: A Theologians Response,” Faith and Philosophy 6 (1989): 40. My thanks to William Lane Craig for this citation in her article “Politically Incorrect Salvation,” Leadership University.

3) Peter Harrison, Radio National Encounter with Florence Spurling. “Religious Pluralism”, 06-06-99. Http://

4) John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion. Yale University Press. New Haven and London.1989. P. 9. For a defense of Hick against some of his critics see Sumner B. Twiss, “The Philosophy of Religious Pluralism: A Critical Appraisal of Hick and His Critics.” The Journal of Religion, Oct 1990. 70: 533-568.

5) Gregory Koukl, “Religious Pluralism”, Stand to Reason Commentary. Http://

6) Diane L. Eck. “Challenge of Pluralism”, Nieman Reports “God in the Newsroom” Issue, Vol.XLVII. No. 2, Summer 1993. Http://

7) Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Touchstone Books. New York, NY 1996.

8) Harold A. Netland. Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1991. As reviewed by Roger S. Greenway in Trinity Journal Book Reviews P.226.

9) Huston Smith. The World’s Religions. HarperSanFrancisco. San Francisco, CA 1991. P.2

10) Austin Ruse. “Turner attacks Christianity at U.N. ‘Peace Summit’. August 30. 2000 Http:// 00/8/29/192330.

11) Audrey Thompson. “Radicalizing Pluralism”. Philosophy of Education. 1992 Http://

12) Ibid – Thompson.

13) Victor H. Kazanjian Jr. ed. “Education as Transformation: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality, and a New Vision for Higher Education in America. Religious Life October 25,2000. Http://

14) Diane Eck. “From Religious Diversity to Religious Pluralism.” Education as Transformation. Religious Life. Http://

15) Susan Laemmie. “From Religious Diversity to Religious Pluralism”. Education as Transformation. Religious Life. Http://

16) William Metzger. “Toward a New Spiritual World Order?” The Quest. Winter 1993

17) Ibid – Gross

18) John Hick. “Religious Pluralism and the Rationality of Religious Belief”. Faith and Philosophy 10(2): 247. April 1993. My thanks to Carl Severance for this reference.

19) Ibid – Hick. An Interpretation of Religion. P.xv

20) Ibid – Hick. P. xv

21) Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth. Doubleday. New York, NY P.xvii

22) Ibid – Campbell. P.xix

23) Ibid – Campbell. P. 62

24) Ibid –Campbell P. 225

25) For an elaborate discussion of this point, see the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Los Angeles, CA. 1994 Especially Arjuna’s dilemma in Chapter 2.

26) Ibid – Smith. P.9

27) Ibid – Smith P. 11

28) Based on meeting I attended at the Parliament.

29) Ibid – Gross

30) Hans Kung. “A Global Ethic”. Handout – 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Chicago, IL

31) Message given by Rev. Charles Schuster. October 1999

32) The Interfaith Alliance Website. Http://

33) Ibid – Interfaith Alliance

34) Ibid – Interfaith Alliance

35) The Blue Mountain Working Group. “A Call to Defend Democracy and Pluralism.” November 1994. Http://

36) Terry Mattingly. “Can today’s church veto the Saints?” Washington Bureau. Scripps Howard News Service. October 8,1998.

37) Ibid – William Lane Craig