The mind that dare not speak its name

I have a healthy respect for Albert Mohler, but sooner or later a Southern Baptist and an Orthodox Christian will disagree. Mohler:

Christians need to remember that the sufficiency of scripture gives us a comprehensive worldview that equips us to wrestle with even the most challenging ethical dilemmas of our time.

Responding to the Transgender Moment (around 56:31)

That claim was part of his postscript to an interview with Roman Catholic Ryan T. Anderson, who relies heavily on natural law. Mohler’s last three guests have been Catholics. And he had just recommended Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally, for Christians, saying “this book is a very good source, a very good place, to begin thinking through some of these issues.”

Methinks Mohler is a bit double-minded about “the sufficiency of scripture” — and the mind that dare not speak its name at a Southern Baptist Seminary is the mind that gives me my healthy respect for Mohler. (If all he was going to do was stretch scripture, pretending that it is the source of the worldview he has gained by reading and thinking more widely, he wouldn’t be worth bothering with.)

I do wish, however, that Mohler and Anderson had discussed how actual birth anomalies — objectively present and testable, the exceptions that test the rule of sexual dimorphism — would play out in these debates.

I do not think those “hard cases” are where the action is on trasgenderism, but their existence is often an effective rhetorical tool, and with only 24 hours in a day, and with other issues than sexuality to interest me, I haven’t yet nailed down the fallacy in their invocation.

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The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

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Simpler than “as simple as possible”

We are back to Paul Valéry’s maxim: “Everything simple is false. Everything complex is unusable.” In the world of computer modeling, this is known as Bonini’s paradox: The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

(Kevin D. Williamson)

Of course, Williamson has examples, including from “inferior writing about politics” from two of our premier national newspapers.

UPDATE: Immediately after writing the above, I turned to another article which, if true, is rather terrifying in light of the more obvious truths Williamson notes.

The leader of the free world still begins his day by binge-watching cable news until 11 a.m.; still spends official meetings nattering on about anything other than the subject at hand (even when said subject is how to ensure that this year’s hurricane season does not result in mass death this time around); and, most critically, still cannot be bothered to learn the pertinent facts about a given situation, before dictating a policy response to it.

One of the president’s chief complaints about H.R. McMaster was (reportedly) that the former national security adviser had the temerity to brief him with “a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text” — rather than “simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline.” White House aides have grown so desperate to get the commander-in-chief to ingest the most remedial information about the geopolitical affairs he’s mindlessly disrupting, they’ve whittled the bullet points in his briefing book down to “basically slogans,” one administration source told Axios.

(Eric Levitz, Trump’s Briefing Book Includes ‘Screen Grabs of Cable-News Chyrons’, New Yorker)

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Religious tribalism

As a prefatory matter, I have long believed that one’s guiding philosophy is functionally religious. That has ramifications beyond what follows, but those are for another day. For now, think of it as “atheist Stephen Hawking had a religion of sorts.” It’s the sort of thing “scientism” was coined for.

In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.

Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:

We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.

Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.

The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.

I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.

Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”

If there is a defining problem with a certain brand of reformed evangelicalism, it is that we care more about winning—winning debates, winning political campaigns, winning institutional battles—than we do about simply pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful.

(Jake Meador, The Tedium of Worldview Analysis at Mere Orthodoxy)

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It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

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Darwin Trolls

Anyone who has been involved in higher education knows this truth: people are often decent in private, listen, and give interesting ideas about heretical ideas such as intelligent design. They fulminate in public, because they must or risk dealing with the trolls for Darwin. I have heard world class thinkers (not theists) laugh at Internet atheists who misunderstand philosophy of science, but who would never go public, because they do not want the abuse.

(John Mark Reynolds)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.