Friday, January 29, 2016

World History Without HIS Story

It is estimated that approximately 93 percent of Europe’s Jewish children younger than age 16 were exterminated in the Holocaust orchestrated by Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.  Approximately 1.5 million children of age 12 or younger were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.  Most Americans either cannot fathom the Jewish Holocaust or simply regard it as one more tragic historical event.  However, astute Americans have taken note that Holocaust history may be repeating itself, this time in the form of radical Islamic extremists who are waging genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, executing thousands and driving tens of thousands from their homes.   Could this be a case in which failure to learn a lesson from history dooms us to watch history being repeated?

John Koenigsberg, Jewish Holocaust survivor
According to a newspaper report in the Newark (Ohio) Advocate, John Koenigsberg considers himself one of the lucky Jewish boys who avoided death in the Jewish Holocaust during WW II.  John was graciously taken in by a loving Catholic family, the Snijckers, who provided him shelter from the Nazis during the war by welcoming him to their southern Holland home.  After the war, John was able to reunite with his mother, father, and aunt.  But 90 percent of his family had died in concentration camps.  He and his parents lived in Holland until his sophomore year of high school when they immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Cincinnati.  His business career led him to Central Ohio in 1972.

Now, as he nears 80, Mr. Koenigsberg lives in the Columbus, Ohio area and he has devoted his life to what he considers an important cause in addition to being a successful businessman.  He has made dozens of presentations to citizen groups over the years to remind the younger generations of the horrors of the Holocaust so that it will serve as a lesson from history not to be repeated.

In May, 2015, Abby and I were invited by her sister, Mary, to attend one of John Koenigsberg’s presentations.  This one was held in the New Philadelphia, Ohio Library. 

Mr. Koenigsberg began his presentation with a statement of his testimony and purpose. “I am very fortunate to be here,” he said. “I believe the lessons of the Holocaust must not be diminished to just a footnote in history.”

Koenigsberg proceeded to deliver a very stirring and interesting presentation of his experience of being spared the unspeakable horror of falling into the hands of the Nazis.  His passion for telling his story, complete with visual aids and Holocaust memorabilia, made it seem as though it had just happened.  The account also provided a striking contrast between unspeakable evil on the one hand, and the overflowing love and generosity that provided John with a safe and loving haven in the Snijckers’ home.

During the Q and A session at the end of the presentation, I thanked Mr. Koenigsberg for his commitment to teach the realities of the Holocaust.  I also allowed that it must have been a very difficult experience for this gracious Holocaust survivor to reconcile the trauma of this chapter of his life with his maturing outlook in the post-war years.  Then, I asked if he had come to an explanation for how humankind is at once capable of such atrocities and yet, such kindness?"  Mr. Koenigsberg paused and looked at me as if he were slowly gathering his thoughts.  Then, he said, “I wish I knew.”

My reaction to Mr. Koenigsberg’s inability to answer my question was one of disappointment but not surprise.  He had not mentioned God or religious faith specifically in his presentation, although the evidence of God’s providence was written all over the story, particularly in the unselfish risk his protectors took to conceal him.  Furthermore, I had to allow for the possibility that he had simply chosen not emphasize God and religion.  Yet, it seems clear to me that unless Mr. Koenigsberg presents at least some explanation of the origin of good and evil that spawns many bloody chapters in human history, his presentation will have missed its mark.

Several days later, I was able to communicate again with John Koenigsberg by phone.  Perhaps in a more private conversation he would answer my question about the existence of good and evil in humanity.  I greeted him, thanked him again for his presentation, and then repeated my question.  His answer was the same.  I thanked him for taking my call and we said, “Good-bye.” A few days later, I wrote a lengthy e-mail to Mr. Koenigsberg explaining as best I could my understanding of the origin of good and evil in mankind, but did not receive a reply.

During the months that followed, I mentally replayed the experience of Mr. Koenigsberg’s Holocaust presentation and his inability to account for the good and bad in human beings.  I debated whether it would be appropriate to publicly share my encounter with Mr. Koenigsberg.  After all, who was I to question this man who had lived through such a horrendous chapter of world history?  How would I have processed this experience myself?  Would I have had the same passion to share my story with the aim of making a difference in the lives of others? 

An entrance to the crematoria at Auschwitz, Germany
Regardless of Mr. Koenigsberg’s reasons for not offering an explanation for the evil represented in the Holocaust, I do not want to be critical of this dear man or minimize the significance of his experience and his passionate attempt to retell the history of the Holocaust.  However, I now believe it is appropriate to present a valid basis for why such horrors occur and recur throughout human history.   In fact, I hope readers will see this article as contributing at least a bit to Koenigsberg’s cause.

Two worldviews vie for human acceptance and each offers a lens through which to view the world.  Each of us holds to one or the other of these two worldviews that determines our understanding of reality and the human condition.  One of these worldviews denies that reality exists outside of the realm of matter-energy and random chance events.  In this naturalistic worldview, there is no supernatural reality and no God; nor is there any purpose or any objective foundation upon which to base law and justice.

The other worldview allows that reality includes not only the realm of energy-matter and time but also the existence of a Supreme Being, a personal God Who created and sustains the realm of energy-matter.  This God has revealed and continues to reveal knowable Truth through divine revelation and through the “natural” order and operation of His creation. 

Throughout history, all human cultures have demonstrated an ability to honor God and give thanks (Romans 1: 20-21) or at least to acknowledge the existence of some “higher being” or beings in their definition of reality.  The Judeo-Christian Scriptures of the Bible, regarded as divinely inspired revelation, teach that God specially and uniquely created the first man and woman in His image with “personality” and the ability to worship, exercise rational thought and behavior, and do meaningful work as part of the dominion-stewardship mandate (Genesis 1: 26-28; 2: 15). 

But the first man and woman rebelled (sinned) against God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3). Instead, they chose to believe that God had withheld knowledge and better things from them.  So, they ate the forbidden fruit in pursuit of the better things, being the first humans to worship at the altar of human reason.  But their sin separated them from God. “Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1: 22).” The rest of the account in Romans 1 explains how the seeds from the fruit of human rebellion by fallen mankind and their descendents have sprouted and produced a harvest of more fruit that permeates our culture today:

being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful… (Rom. 1: 29-31).

Francis Schaeffer in his “The Abolition of Truth and Morality” (From: A Christian Manifesto, 1980, Crossway Books) explains the inevitability of different outcomes (“fruit”) of these two different worldviews, the Judeo-Christian worldview and the impersonal, matter-energy, random chance worldview (emphasis mine):

It is not that these two world views are different only in how they understand the nature of reality and existence. They also inevitably produce totally different results. The operative word here is inevitably. It is not just that they happen to bring forth different results, but it is absolutely inevitable that they will bring forth different results.

Schaeffer points out that Christians have tended to view the implications of their faith in pieces rather than realizing that “Christianity is Truth—Truth about all of reality.”  God’s Truth should transform individual lives but also impact the moral and ethical standards in every area of culture—science, education, the arts, government, etc.  Christians and others who have not developed a comprehensive worldview will not connect the dots among a host of social upheavals like the sexual revolution, the undermining of biblical marriage, the breakdown of the family, and the disregard for law and order.  All of these and more are inevitable results of the disregard for the Truth claims of Christianity by both the church and the secular world.   And, these social changes have contributed to an even larger “holocaust” than the Jewish Holocaust; namely, the “abortion holocaust” that is responsible for nearly 60 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, in 1973. 

Returning to Mr. Koenigsberg, we can now see that he is not unique in his apparent inability to connect the pieces.  Like so many, he apparently mistakenly views the Jewish Holocaust as a separate piece and not one of many consequences of the evil that can result from rejection of Judeo-Christian Truth claims in favor of a worldview of material-energy and chance.  But how exactly does this emergence of evil occur?

As Schaeffer predicted, there is an ensuing inevitability that follows rejection of the Christian worldview in favor of the material-energy and chance worldview which lacks any objective basis for ethical and moral guidelines.  Humans are devalued and relegated to the level of animal populations in competition according to the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest.  Without objective truth, survival belongs to those who weld enough power to survive.  For example, Darwinian evolution provided the basis for Nazi Germany’s eugenics experiment involving the Holocaust to deliberately exterminate Jews and favor the Aryan race.  Likewise, without respect for moral values such as the sanctity of human life, the rights of the mother over her unborn child are used to justify abortion.   Legal definition of marriage, religious freedom, right to bear arms, and many more legal protections are all under assault because the U.S. Constitution is no longer viewed in objective terms.  After all, a worldview that rejects the ultimate reality, God, does not recognize “inalienable rights” that come from above.

Holocaust survivor prays at 71st Anniversary of liberation.
This week, dozens of Holocaust survivors lit candles commemorating the 71st anniversary of the closing of the death camps at Auschwitz.  Certainly, news reports of this commemoration as well as the presentations by survivors like John Koenigsberg ought to remind us of this horrible chapter in human history.  Yet, if you consider my logic in the previous paragraph, doesn’t it seem that the lessons of history are being lost on many in America and the Western World today?  Again, I believe Francis Schaeffer offers the answers to how then we as Christians ought to think and live today. 

First, we must recognize that God’s Truth is powerful and comprehensive enough to address all of reality.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ can not only transform our individual lives in Christ, but also they empower the outworking of our servant stewardship as Christian ambassadors to transform culture.  Second, Schaeffer reminds us, as it were, to present [ourselves] approved unto God as a workman who [do] not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2: 15).  In so doing, we can see the current culture through a robust Christian worldview and accurately assess the causes and effects of when Scriptural truth is or is not represented in the marketplace of ideas.  

Third, Schaeffer challenges Americans to realize how unique our democratic republic is in all of world history.  The United States, Canada, and a few other nations of the West are unique in having achieved a form-freedom balance in government—that is, a balance that acknowledges the obligations of the individual to society while also protecting the rights of the individual.  It is this form-freedom balance that characterizes our constitutional system of government that enables America to withstand mass demonstrations, even recent, violent ones such as that in Ferguson and in Baltimore, provided our law enforcement and judicial system function as intended.  Without this form-freedom balance, American governance would wobble back and forth between anarchy and tyranny like an airplane without a stabilizing gyroscope.  

John Witherspoon (seated 2nd from right, facing table)
among signers of the Declaration of Independence (1776)
What we must recognize, according to Schaeffer, is that America’s democratic republic came about by an historical progression heavily influenced by men who stood in the stream of the Judeo-Christian worldview.  These included British judge Henry de Bracton (1210-1268), Scottish Presbyterian pastor Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), Presbyterian minister and president of what is now Princeton University, John Witherspoon (1723-1794).  In 1644, Rutherford’s Lex Rex gave the bold assertion that “law is king” which stood against the tide of history marked by rex lex (“king is law”).   Lex Rex opened the door wider to what became our constitutional heritage of “rule of law.”  In our system of government, “the king” was transformed into “the president” who is supposed to serve America as an executive, who like any citizen is subject to the law. 

Yet, the form-freedom balance also respects the rights of each individual living under the law.  Each possesses “certain inalienable rights”—rights from above, not rights that the state can take away, but rights granted because the constitutional framers believed there is Someone there—the God Who is full of justice and mercy.  British judge Henry de Bracton, centuries before America’s founding pointed out that God has ultimate power to crush wrongdoers, but the true mercy of God chose this most powerful way to destroy the devil’s work, He would not use the power of force but the reason of justice.”  Schaeffer explains, “…Christ died that justice, rooted in what God is, would be the solution.”  Henry de Bracton’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture was influential in the Reformation three centuries later.

Jewish children and mothers walking to the gas chambers.
Is it possible to feel the heat from the pit of Hell amid the darkened world of the Jewish Holocaust and yet not be able to account for how that evil originates and causes men to do what they do?   The answer is “yes.”  And apparently there are multitudes today including John Koenigsberg in that camp.  Indeed, today, thanks to the materialist, time-chance worldview and its liberal, humanist following, we are led to believe that truth is relative, laws should be enforced subjectively, the U.S. Constitution should evolve, and there is no such thing as “evil.” 

History without HIStory of perfect creation, fall of mankind, and Christ’s death to redeem fallen man is leaving our culture helpless and adrift.  Adrift without  moral clarity in the face of the evil and lawlessness being manifested in events like the “Christian Holocaust” in the Middle East today, mass murder in San Bernardino,  and riots in Ferguson and Baltimore.  The old saying, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” should better be stated, “Those who fail to study history that includes HIStory are doomed to repeat it.”

We thank John Koenigsberg and others for standing against those who would deny the Jewish Holocaust and even dismiss “evil.”  Today, more than ever, we need to be reminded of past atrocities under Lenin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.  And, let’s also pray for those who are enduring hardship today for their faith living under totalitarian governments like Iran, Syria, and the ISIS Caliphate.  Finally, we ought also to pray  for the multitudes around the world in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4: 4). 

Dedication and special thanks to my sister-in-law, Mary Johnson, Dennison, Ohio.

Your Comments Welcomed:  And I’d like to hear your thoughts particularly on one or more of the following:
1.   In his A Christian Manifesto, written 36 years ago, Schaeffer noted, “The humanists push for ‘freedom,’ but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that ‘freedom’ leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite).”  What indications if any do you see that Schaeffer’s scenario is becoming reality once again America?
2.  According to A Christian Manifesto, a culture must have a Judeo-Christian worldview in order to successfully establish a form-freedom balance of government so rare in world history.  Is there support for this claim in the difficulty the United States has had in establishing democracy in Iraq from the top down?
3.  Does the message of this article, and particularly, the message of A Christian Manifesto, serve to warn those who, in the name of compassion, would support the alteration or bending of U.S. constitutional law so as to aid the oppressed—e.g. illegal immigrants, unwed pregnant women, those who cannot earn an income above poverty level, or those who “are offended” when they encounter Christian truth claims or symbols?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr. Knew God’s Synthesis of Love and Justice

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.  I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.   When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.  Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.  – Unknown Author

In our socially, economically, and spiritually troubled culture, many have taken up the banner of “social justice” to make a difference.  Moved with deep emotion and compassion, they press for justice on behalf of the poor and minorities.  Others carry the “social justice” banner simply for political or economic gain.  Regardless of their intentions, all will do well to remember the elements of Christian love and righteousness that were at the forefront of the civil rights movement of the last century.  Otherwise, well meaning movements will generate a lot of steam and even explosions, while virtues of the human heart are no longer present to bring lasting unity and peace.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Supporters
This week, we celebrate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose leadership based on Christian love and forgiveness did much to bring into reality the biblical teaching that “all men are created equal.”  Dr. King awakened us to the true meaning of the words from our Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, “…one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The following excerpt of Dr. King’s book, Strength to Love, reveals how he framed his vision for “liberty and justice for all” within a Christian, Gospel framework:

At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man. But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance. When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

Without his faith in God’s “synthesis of love and justice,” Martin Luther King Jr. would have accomplished little more than a humanistic attempt at “social justice."  Instead of peaceful demonstrations, he would have simply stoked the fires of anger and produced lawless crowds that trampled on justice while pursuing “what seemed right in their own eyes."  Such a non-biblical worldview of justice brings out self-appointed activists who dismiss God completely or follow a one-dimensional "god of justice" and "power."  When this false god sees “slumbering giants of injustice,” he will "cut them down like grass", and "leave them withering."  Last year, we saw in Ferguson and Baltimore that a godless view of justice merely stirs angry, violent protests and actually contributes to the undoing of what Dr. King and his followers gained.  

Thankfully, Dr. King followed his vision of God’s “synthesis of love and justice” and led hundreds of thousands to follow him in non-violent marches that eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The Baptist pastor’s dream was that God’s love and justice “will lead us through life's dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment."  It follows that any efforts for social justice must be civil and peaceable, and led by those who understand that true social justice is only possible when, in the words of Jesus, people “know the truth, and the truth will make you free (John 8: 32)."

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr., let us join him and other Christian leaders of the past whose priority was to "preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1: 23-24)." May God grant us the eyes and mind of Christ, full of truth, mercy, love, and compassion toward our neighbor, whether rich or poor, powerful or destitute?  For, if we do not know Christ, we are "dead in [our] trespasses and sins,” and our greatest need is to be raised from the dead by faith (Ephesians 2: 8-9).  This spiritual resurrection as "new creatures in Christ" is only possible by the "washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.(Titus 3:5)."  As “new creatures” in Christ, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do what Jesus would do in the midst of injustice.  We can study His life in the Gospels to nurture the “mind of Christ” within us, especially important in today’s divided culture.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the coverage of the nonviolent protests led by Dr. King was possible through newspapers, radio, and the fledgling stages of broadcast television.  Those who opposed his efforts used the power of the pen as well as radio and TV; and, some used stones, bricks, and other violent methods.  Now, we still have these same tools plus the additional technology of social media. 

Internet and social media allow a more rapid spread of news and commentary than in Dr. King’s time.  But when Christian virtue does not govern the minds and hearts of those who use social media to promote social justice or any other political message, these technologies become the purveyors of miscommunication, division, anger, and violence.  

I apologize to anyone who thinks I am equating “social justice” with the riotous displays in places like Ferguson and Baltimore.  I am sure many programs are producing good results with social justice in mind, even among those who would not identify with Christianity.  However, I do believe that social justice efforts without values based on genuine love for God and for neighbor risk creating a mindset that can lead to resentment of authority, preoccupation with material wealth, and focus on class distinctions that stir envy, anger, and even violence.  Meanwhile, the importance of individual responsibility, spiritual regeneration, and God’s purposes for each human being is diminished.

Today, more than ever we need leaders like Martin Luther King whose faith in a God of love and justice enabled them to change the world.  In this presidential election year, may God raise up men and women who will lead our nation, churches, schools, and communities based on the Spirit’s fruit in their lives; namely, love for God and neighbor, plus joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5: 22-23).  Surely, God will answer our prayers as we humble ourselves and pray and seek [His] face and turn from [our] wicked ways, then [God] will hear from heaven, will forgive [our]  sin and will heal [our]  land (2 Chronicles 7: 14).

I respectfully dedicate this article to a former Cedarville University student and friend, Bill McBrayer, who pointed me to the Facebook page cited below.

Dr. King’s quote from Strength to Love was posted in the Facebook account of The Center for Urban Engagement at Wheaton College, Carol Stream, IL. January 18, 2016

Your Comments Welcomed:  I have not been too specific regarding programs and approaches that attempt to promote social justice.  If you know of such programs, with either secular or religious affiliations, or with either centralized versus a local grass roots approach it would be helpful to read your description of their degree of success.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sports: Exhibit of Stewardship and Worship

It is common to hear people bemoaning the moral decline of America.  Some believe the moral decline is spilling over into the sports world as seen in more severe unsportsmanlike behavior and the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes.  In an era when our young people especially are looking to the sports world for role models, it seems that there are fewer and fewer athletes and coaches deserving of this respect.

As I try to understand the intersection of science, faith, and culture, I want to avoid becoming pessimistic about the apparent moral decline.  Two things give me hope.  First, the Scriptures have not left us without moral clarity and guidance about our future.  The Bible spells out clearly the characteristics of moral decline that have been a part of human history and which are increasingly in evidence today.  While he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting his execution, the Apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy, the following words:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. –2 Timothy 3: 1-5

Whew!  That list is discouraging; but, it seems on the mark for today’s culture.  Knowing these indicators of a culture in decline, we should not be surprised or depressed. Nor should we be passive spectators awaiting the rapture of the church and the tribulation that God has predicted in the Book of Revelation.  Instead, we should be all the more diligent to sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…(1 Peter 3: 15).  Have we shared with our friends and family our hope and its basis for escaping eternal judgment?

Although Christians are not perfect, we are the salt and light the culture needs.  Like salt we can enhance flavor and preserve against moral decay; and, like light we can share Scriptural truth to point the way to peace with God through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.  This point brings me to my second reason for hope.  My hope is renewed when I find heroes of faith who are leaders in our culture.  Some examples of my heroes can be found in the following links—heroes in (1) education, (2) science, (3) missions, (4) sports, (5) fine arts, and (6) politics.

Clemson Tigers Head Coach, Dabo Sweeny
Monday, the Clemson Tigers became College Football Championship
Finalist Runner-up with a 14-1 record in 2015. My attention to the 2015 college football season, now ended, was highlighted by several head coaches who have inspired their teams by a clear and consistent testimony of who they are as men.

First, I’ll mention The Ohio State University head coach, Urban Meyer, who led the Buckeyes to the 2015 college football championship.  Coach Meyer credits some major changes in his life between his tenure as Florida Gators coach and his coming to Ohio State to his reading of LEAD ... For God's Sake! written by Todd Gongwer.  Meyer reached out to Gongwer after reading the book and confessed, according to ThePostGame, "He had lost sight of what was important, and now kind of had his eyes opened to those things that mattered most in life.”  Now, Coach Meyer maintains contact with Gongwer with whom he has developed a close relationship based on their common faith in God.

Coach Jim Harbaugh in Peru (L), and on the sidelines (R).
Having just completed his first season as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh, integrates his Catholic faith with principles of leadership. In 2014, filmmaker Sean Maddison traveled to Peru with Harbaugh to film Peruball: Jim Harbaugh in South America.  The film documents Harbaugh’s short-term mission work in Peru.  Afterward, Maddison concluded, “Jim’s faith is certainly a foundation for the principles he brings to everything he does.  He comes across as a man of conviction, so (his faith) explains a little bit where it comes from.”

Monday, Clemson University head football coach, Dabo Swinney, a devout and outspoken Christian, and his Tigers played with excellence and nearly won the 2016 national college football championship.  According to David French, writing in National Review, Swinney’s faith in God has guided his life and leadership so much so that the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) complained, “Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program.”  The FFRF particularly objected to the presence of a team chaplain and provision of transportation to “church days.”

Swinney did not back down to FFRF efforts to rid his program of Christian influence, and Clemson University stood behind him.  According to French, Swinney’s policy was “a model of polite conviction” with three rules players must follow:  players must (1)  go to class, (2)  give a good effort, and (3) be good citizens.   Coach Swinney also emphasized that he recruits players “of many faiths,” Finally, he makes it clear that (emphasis mine):

Recruiting is very personal. Recruits and their families want — and deserve — to know who you are as a person, not just what kind of coach you are. I try to be a good example to others, and I work hard to live my life according to my faith.

A year later, neither Swinney nor Clemson University budged; and, Swinney added (emphasis mine),

We weren’t doing anything [wrong]. Ain’t nothing to change. .. . People have just got to be who they are, it’s that simple. We’ve never tried to force anything on anybody. Everybody who comes here to Clemson knows who we are as people. There’s no surprises in that regard. 
He adds, Everybody has the opportunity to grow if they want to, spiritually, but that’s a personal thing. We play the best football players. As far as me personally, I am who I am. I don’t apologize for that.

Coach Swinney’s successful spiritual model suggests that rational and reasonable objections to a sports program fully integrated with Christian principles cannot prevail. 

Swinney’s life and leadership also present a metaphor of biblical stewardship at its best.  According to Scripture, stewardship is performed with the understanding that God owns everything and graciously entrusts time, talents, and treasures to us to manage them for His glory (1 Corinthians 4: 7).  As willing Christian stewards lead, teach, coach, or whatever they do, they do it heartily, as to the Lord (Colossians 3: 23).  Therefore, in essence, stewardship is worship.  According to Oswald Chambers, “Worship is giving God the best that He has given you.” (My Utmost for His Highest, January 6)

Although our culture may be in moral decline with difficult times upon us, I am thankful for leaders in every vocation (calling) in life.  I have highlighted three leaders in the world of sports.  May the tribes of Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, and Dabo Sweeney increase.  I’m sure they will as they are permitted to demonstrate excellence in their roles in influencing young men and women with whom they work.  And, as spectators may we observe them and their victories and defeats with thankfulness for their example and for sports in general.  Sports in a biblical context affords athletes the opportunity to demonstrate through their rigorous discipline and performance the very essence of good stewardship—worship of their Creator—and the pleasure of giving back to God the best that He has given them.

I believe God made me for a purpose.  For China.  But he also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his pleasure. 
Eric Liddell (1902-1945), Olympic Runner and Missionary to China

Your Comments Welcomed:
You may wish to add other coaches (Bobby Bowden comes to mind) whose Christian character was a major influence in how they coached.  Please respond with their names and any comments about them you wish to add.

Do you consider worship of God as one aspect of the broader concept of stewardship?  Or is it equal in scope to stewardship?  Or is worship broader in scope than our stewardship?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Conscience of Science: Part 2 Do Museums Make Us Muse?

"Overall, the nation has a big problem,” says Dr. Brian Alters, president of the National Center for Science Education.  Dr. Alters is concerned that approximately 50% of Americans polled still believe evolution does not occur.  What’s more, nearly half of college students reject evolution or consider it “just a theory.”  These data stun many other evolutionary biologists who have invested their lives for decades in classroom teaching, curriculum revision, and teacher training built upon a naturalistic evolution foundation.  Yet they seem to have failed to convince students and their teachers that life on Earth originated and evolved as a result of time, gene mutations, and natural selection over billions of years.

A museum display of the supposed evolution of humans.
How could it be so difficult to convince science teachers and their students to believe what seems logical to most scientists?  Could it be that many students (and science teachers) are turned off by a classroom that pressures them to change their whole outlook on human origin?  This notion is plausible considering that most students of science have had at least one teacher who inspired them by presenting science as an invitation to inquiry and wonder about the natural world.  Would such students sense something unnatural about a science classroom that aims to “indoctrinate” learners into a naturalistic, evolution way of viewing the world?  Could it be that indoctrination in science is “poison” to both good educational pedagogy and the process of science itself?

After 50 years in science education and research, I am persuaded that a major purpose of what I call good science is to invite students to observe God’s creation, experience wonder in response to its grandeur, think critically as they formulate important scientific questions about the natural world, and participate as researchers in a logical method of scientific inquiry to find answers to the questions.   In this second part of my series on “
The Conscience of Science,” we will consider the role of natural history museums in promoting scientific understanding and the pursuit of knowledge of the natural world.  Specifically, we’ll ask, “Do natural history museums motivate visitors to join in the “process of science” by welcoming critical analyses of what are believed to be valid theories of science while inviting participation in the discovery of what is not known?”  In other words, “Do museums cause visitors to muse—i.e. to wonder, to ponder, or to think reflectively?” Or, “Are museums more like dark, musty temples filled with images underwritten with captions that insult visitors by declaring notions about human origins which they should accept without questioning?”

I still remember my first visit as a junior higher to a natural history museum, the
Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  When I saw the reconstructions of prehistoric animals, fossils, and geologic timelines, I stood in awe of the vast scientific knowledge of the natural world.  Of course, I didn’t question the authority of science to make judgments about the fossil record, or the age of the Earth, or how the first humans originated.  After all, who was I as a young student of science and history to question the scientific claims etched in stone within this giant “temple of knowledge?”

Wikipedia defines museum as is “an institution that cares for (conserves) a collection of artifacts and other objects of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary.”  Natural history museums that aim to accomplish these functions can elicit wonder about how life on Earth originated and diversified. However, most museums of natural history present a view of life’s origin that assumes an ancient Earth and a Darwinian timeline of human evolution from ape-like ancestors.  But, how do museums communicate this message?

Do similar anatomy and DNA mean a common ancestor?
The arrangement of displays of fossils and reconstructions of plants and animals in most museums are situated in a configuration that teaches a Darwinian interpretation of life’s origin and diversification.  However, the extent to which these museum presentations line up with good science varies greatly from museum to museum.  A recent article by Marvin Olasky in WORLD Magazine, entitled “A Tale of Two Museums,” compares two national museums with respect to how they convey what is known about life’s origin.

Dr. Olasky compared the
National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC (NMNH, also called “the Smithsonian”) with the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City.   According to AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual report on the world's most visited attractions, the NMNH and the AMNH are ranked 3rd and 12th among the world’s most visited museums.  These two museums boast a combined annual attendance by over 12 million visitors.  The popularity of such museums with their expansive collections, imposing displays, and scientific-philosophical storyline enables them to convey an authoritative if not dogmatic message about the origin of life to their visitors, especially to impressionable children somewhat like I was as a junior higher.

I encourage you to read the Olasky article referenced above.  You can also take a virtual tour of AMNH. Here, I will highlight examples from the Olasky article to illustrate how the two museums differ in the way in which they explain life’s origin through historical science.  Historical science aims to understand the significance of an object or process as affected by one event or a series of past events called "causal histories."  Usually, causal histories must be reconstructed from inferences.  The approach of historical science resembles forensic science because in both sciences, no one was there to observe the causal events—i.e. what caused the fossils.  Or, in forensics, who committed the crime?

Evolutionary view of human origins at the Smithsonian Museum
Olasky recounts how the Smithsonian welcomes visitors to travel “Evolution Trail” of the museum which leads from simple aquatic forms of life all the way “up” to the “Mammal Family Reunion.” Here visitors are invited to “come meet your relatives” in the “Human Family Tree.”  Olasky expresses the theme of the Smithsonian as follows:

Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology.  There is no scientific controversy about whether evolution occurred or whether it explains the history of life on earth.

Olasky notes correctly that this sweeping claim is false.  On the contrary, more than 800 Ph.D. scientists have signed onto the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism (see  Olasky notes that even the famed evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mayr, acknowledged “a large, ‘unbridged gapbetween humanlike species in the fossil record and our supposed apelike australopithecine ancestors.” Although he died in a decade ago, Mayr’s somewhat tentative and skeptical tone is reflected in museum captions like the following:

Not having any fossils that can serve as missing links, we have to fall back on the time-honored method of historical science, the construction of a historical narrative.

Although this statement at the Smithsonian admits to the absence of “transitional fossil forms,” the museum dismisses the fact that the “construction of a historical narrative” (i.e filling missing gaps) involves much of what Olasky rightly terms “speculation and storytelling.”  Filling gaps with little or no fossil evidence has given historical science, and the natural sciences in general, a bad name. 

Here, we should note that historical science is also involved in the risky business of predicting future global climate trends by piecing together the past history of global climate and constructing models that project future climate trends.  Because of the uncertainty and risk involved in reconstructing the past and predicting future trends, the claims of historical science about both evolution and global climate trends must be subjected to ongoing scientific testing.

In view of the gaps and uncertainties that exist in the fossil record, how can natural history museums serve their visitors in a manner that is consistent with good science? Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language defines science as “Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.”  Recall that by using the term, good science, I want to emphasize the “quality” of the science.  In our context of “musing about museums” and the message they convey about the origin of life, readers of Olasky’s article will find that the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City offers its visitors at least two marks of good science as follows:

1) Good science affirms that well accepted science knowledge is durable, but must always be open to revision and even rejection when new evidence consistently emerges.  The AMNH supports good science, when it admits the need to correct errors in prior scientific claims.  For example, according to Olasky, the AMNH admits that Pterosaurs (“flying reptiles”), once thought to be mammals related to bats, are now believed to be archosaurs, more closely aligned with crocodiles.  The “take home message” from this humble admission is that science is a process of ongoing inquiry, subject to error, and in need of occasional correction.   As such, good science is not a stale and boring activity that smells like a preserved museum specimen, but rather an invitation to wonder and excitement in pursuit of truth about the natural world.

"Good Science" caption at National Museum of Natural History
2) Good science acknowledges that certain questions about the natural world may be difficult or impossible to answer.  Unfortunately, many brilliant, motivated scientists find it difficult to admit that there are limits to what we can know about prehistoric life forms.  Refreshingly, Olasky found some evidence that the AMNH admits to the limits of science.  For example, one statement admits,

We cannot be sure how pachycephalosaurs used their skull caps, because theories about the behavior of extinct animals cannot be tested. 

Commendably, in regard to whether carnosaurs were hunters or scavengers, another AMNH caption states that, because of

…fossil bones that are often incomplete, or that have been distorted… We may never have all the evidence needed to support these ideas.

There you have it.  It seems clear that Dr. Olasky’s “A Tale of Two Museums” presents two visions of the science of human origins as presented in major museums of natural history.   We have learned that a museum can represent the spirit and approach of good science.  Or, it can present a distorted and dogmatic version of science through overstated conclusions that lack solid support from the fossil record.  Instead of becoming more convinced of the support for Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution of life, visitors may leave with a sense that they have been manipulated or insulted.  Most sadly, such approaches diminish the wonder of science as an invitation to inquiry about the natural world, or creation.

In my next article on “The Conscience of Science” we will consider in more detail the difference between good science and what I will call “incredible science” with respect to how the science addresses evidences for human origin.  Hopefully, we can identify specific reasons why about half of Americans surveyed have persisted in rejecting the claim that humans evolved from non-human primates and ultimately, from ancient life forms.