Monday, October 30, 2006

What Apostasy Looks Like

John Derbyshire has a fascinating, if typically grim, column up on National Review describing how he lost his Christian faith. Now, one may argue that he never had it very much, but since he has accurately identified its core, believing that Jesus of Nazareth is divine and was bodily resurrected, and says that before the fall of 2004 he shakily believed in that, and now definitely does not, I think this can be taken as a description of apostasy.

It is an interesting confirmation. Back when I first began to go online, I liked Derbyshire, while sometimes disagreeing with him. Since then, particularly since about 2004, in fact, I've found the cast of his thought increasingly alien and indeed repulsive to me.

The culprit in his apostasy that he identifies is modern biology, and specifically the idea that humanity has no fixed nature because of its constantly evolving genome. It would not be too strong, I think, to say Darwinism killed his Christianity. (What he would rather say perhaps, and does in almost those words, is that modern biology killed his residual, lingering creationism.)

What lessons can we learn from this?

1) Darwinism is indeed an anti-Christian viewpoint.

2) Pascal's wager still holds. At least as a writer and thinker, John Derbyshire seems to have become a significantly less pleasant figure for losing his Christian faith. To that extent, his own case seems to disprove his contention that "Mostly, I think [religious faith] makes no difference. Evelyn Waugh would have been no more obnoxious as an atheist."

3) Even so, we need to remember that the core of the Christian faith is not measurable progress in sanctification, but in the forgiveness of sins. We believe mostly by faith and only partly by sight that people do get better by being Christians, but that is not why we should be Christians. We should be Christians even if we can't see ourselves getting better at all, because if we believe in Jesus we still have the forgiveness of our sins. (I've talked about this here.)

4) We need to properly relate nature and grace. This comment is striking:

[The experience of raising two kids] made me realize how perfectly natural religion is. We have a religious module in our brains, and with little kids you can actually watch it waking up and developing, like their speech or social habits. The paradox is, that to the degree that you see religion as natural, to the same degree it becomes harder to see it (and by extension its claims) as supernatural.

Again, Pascal's wager still holds. Assuming the truth of this statement, going from being a Christian to being a Darwinist involves the disabling of a natural part of the brain, something like being no longer able to see colors or (to use the analogy he gives) being no longer able to experience sexual arousal.

Of course the point here is a old one that only religion which is completely disfunctional in one's life can be trusted. (I've touched on that here). Now, one can point out first off that we don't use this standard with any other brain function ("It is so natural to exercise vision, which casts serious doubt on whether objects exist"; "You can actually see sexual interest being aroused in boys; clearly girls don't exist," etc.), why should we use it with this part of the brain (if part of the brain for religion there indeed be?)

Remember, that this whole way of reasoning began as a Christian (esp. Augustinian and Reformed) critique of idolatrous religion: that which helps us achieve our natural desires can only be a product of wish-fulfillment. Harriet Beecher Stowe has something of a novelistic riposte to this that begins with Jacob at Bethel. For now, it is worth repeating that while to say we all naturally believe in the Christian religion is to deny the Fall, to say that the Christian religion has no positive relation to our pre-redemption existence is to deny the fundamental doctrine of recapitulation (that redemption involves re-doing, right this time, the creation in Eden).

5) Yet at the same time, the Evangelical teaching of the bondage of the will and the answer of incarnation in resolving theodicy (again, summarized here), is an important part of our response. The theodicy of free will assumes that 1) free will exists and that 2) in some minimal sense all have "a chance" to exercise it in matters of faith, that is, that in some basic sense we are all equally able to be saved, that the God of nature has not placed such fundamental blocks so as to defeat the God of grace. This seems to me far more vulnerable to "modern biology" than the Evangelical presentation of the issue (one which John Derbyshire obviously never heard or assimilated in any way).

6) The "image of God," and hence our special creation, is not primarily (pace Reformed and Catholic emphases) the reasoning faculties, knowledge, freedom, etc., we possess (of which Derbyshire points out, grossly inferior, but not necessarily qualitatively different forms can be found in lower mammals like apes, elephants, and parakeets). Rather it is our inborn "bright light in the heart to know God and His work": the fear, love, and trust in God. This has been lost in the Fall, from which time on all humanity has been born in the image of Adam, not God. Thus the only true proof of the image of God in humanity, is that all humanity is capable of knowing and believing in Jesus, something which no animal, even in the most rudimentary way, can do.

What relation the innate religiosity of fallen man has to this true image of God is a theological question that really needs addressing.

7) Obviously, the final lesson for baptized Christian who mean to stay so is that the third commandment is to be obeyed ("Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy") in the New Testament sense, and the means of grace are to be attended to -- preaching, Bible reading, confession, and Holy Communion.

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