Russell and Duenes

Spiritual Knowledge, Barack Obama and Honorary Law Degrees

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2 x 2 = 4

“The earth revolves around the sun.”

“A complete sentence must have a subject and verb.”

“Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Ask ten people on the street what the separates the first three statements above from the fourth, and you’ll likely get all ten of them saying, “The first three statements are statements of fact while the fourth statement is a religious opinion, something that people just take on faith.” In other words, biblical teaching is thought by virtually all to be something that one believes by a kind of blind “leap of faith,” not by any rational warrant. Scriptural statements are not thought of as a proper subject of knowledge in the way that, say, mathematics is. And we Christians are highly to blame for this error, for we decided long ago that it would be safer to remove discipleship to Christ from the realm of knowledge and sequester it in the “you just have to believe” category.

But this retreat from spiritual knowledge has its consequences, one of which is brilliantly discussed by Dr. Francis Beckwith in the latest issue of Touchstone Magazine (Justice for Some”). Beckwith hits upon the fact that President Obama, like many others, has removed the issue of when human life begins from the arena of knowledge and relegated it to the arena of “deeply held belief,” something which cannot be known, but only professed. And much to its shame, Notre Dame university gave approval to his falsehood not only by inviting him to speak to their graduates, but also by bestowing upon him an honorary doctorate. Beckwith notes,

I am confident that Notre Dame would never bestow an honorary doctorate in science on an astronomer who vigorously advanced the theory of geocentricity, or to a chemist who refused to teach his students the periodic table. Nor would it award an honorary doctorate in divinity to a theologian who was an unrepentant apologist for racial apartheid and white supremacy. Why, then, did it bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on someone who, for his entire public life, has enthusiastically fought to keep the unborn permanently outside the protections of the law? If a Christian university is to remain true to its identity, it must recognize that the truth it claims to know in dogmatic and moral theology matters as much as, if not more than, the deliverances and insights of the other disciplines in the academy, such as law, business, chemistry, physics, or art history. (Emphasis mine)

Beckwith has put his finger precisely on the problem: Our universities, including many Christian ones, have accepted this false “fact/ belief” dualism when it comes to Christian theology, and thus chemistry, mathematics, physics, engineering and psychology have the exalted status of “knowledge” while faith in Jesus Christ and the truth of the Scriptures have been relegated to a blind leap, a mere profession. So our president can say that the answer to when human life begins is “above my pay grade,” and still be given an honorary doctorate from a university that claims to know better. Other examples could be adduced, and thus you see the trouble we’re in. Beckwith concludes with wise counsel:

For Christians, resisting this epistemological apartheid will come at a price. A bold and confident propagation of what they believe is true will put Christians at odds with those who have the influence and power to dispense prestige and authority in our culture. But no matter—those who serve the truth will garner a far better and more lasting reward.


Written by Michael Duenes

May 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy, Theology

2 Responses

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  1. Does the Bible teach unequivocally when human life begins?


    May 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    • My thought is this: In Psalm 51:5, David says, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” I take this to mean that David was sinful from the time of conception, from which I infer that he was also human from the time of conception. I think Psalm 139 corroborates this when it says, “You formed my inward parts; you wove me together in my mother’s womb.” Now of course, the Bible is not an embryology text, so it’s not giving us precise definitions of when life begins. But we do know that a sperm is a living thing, an egg is a living thing, and when the two come together, we still have a living thing, but now it has all the material it will need to become, well, you and me. One thing is clear: God creates all life, and all human life is “in his image.” It would seem to be a bit of casuistry to assert that somehow the Bible thinks of image-bearing human life beginning at some point other than conception. The best science says it begins at conception, which doesn’t mean the Bible must agree with it, but one would have to give good grounds for why we should think it doesn’t, in my view.



      May 27, 2010 at 7:54 pm

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