I am pleased that you published the essay by Phillip E. Johnson entitled “The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism” (November 1997), because now I can understand exactly what Mr. Johnson’s quarrel with evolutionary theory in general, and with Darwinism in particular, is based on. He makes a basic mistake about what necessary relation a scientific hypothesis might have to a particular ontology”in this case, to the ontology he calls “materialism.” Mr. Johnson’s idea”that “Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence””is simply wrong. Neither evolutionary theory nor any other scientific hypothesis has any necessary relation to any particular ontology. Scientific hypotheses are physical statements, not metaphysical ones. They concern only the analysis, prediction, and retrodiction (explanation) of the phenomena of nature, and can in no case pass beyond such phenomena to any kind of “ultimate reality,” or to “things in themselves” (as Kant put it) . . . . Lewis Beck’s comment that “anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything” need not be the case for someone who has adopted, say, the Thomist metaphysics, in which grace is seen as completing nature, but never as coercing it. This would be an example of an ontology that is (or at least aims to be) compatible with the “standard model” of the world furnished us by modern science. Similarly, Pope John Paul II’s recent comments on evolutionary theory can be seen as accepting evolution as a correct description of the system of natural phenomena that we observe, without considering such theories to extend to the matter of the authorship of that system. I should add that I myself am exactly the kind of atheist and materialist that Mr. Johnson has been so polemically engaged against. But I recognize, as should he, that science, and the structure of scientific hypotheses that constitute the modern view of nature, cannot in and of themselves furnish us with a metaphysics, much less with anything resembling a full-blown philosophy. Mr. Johnson’s much-maligned “materialism” can be, as a matter of science itself, no more than an epistemological model employed in scientific investigations, which constitutes only the scientific method, or the “heuristic” of science. This method has been validated by its historical success, and will be invalidated and abandoned when”and only when”it no longer succeeds in the investigation of nature . . . . Mr. Johnson, along with many others, may not like evolutionary theory’s doctrines, but they should recognize that they will need to find some conceptual framework in which to accommodate them”until or unless some better theory emerges”or suffer the risk of finding that their thinking has less and less connection to the world as we actually find it today.
Peter M. Webster
Dearborn Heights, MI
New York, NY
The point of my article was that neo-Darwinism finds its main support in an a priori adherence to metaphysical materialism, and not in empirical evidence. I relied on direct quotes to show that Richard Lewontin, one of the most prestigious spokesmen for evolutionary biology, agrees with me about what is at issue, although he approves of the a priori commitment to materialism. As Lewontin puts it, the crucial assumption is that “We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of material relations among material entities.” Edward Weinmann knows better than to take on Lewontin, so he writes as if I were relying on the authority of Kant rather than on Lewontin. He then gives the standard spin-doctored story that scientific materialists typically resort to when they are challenged: we are just innocently proposing hypotheses for testing, and aren’t saying anything about ontology or ultimate reality. Baloney. When science educators tell their students that fully naturalistic evolution is a “fact,” they are telling them this is how things really are, and implying that God had nothing to do with the process. Mr. Weinmann himself says that those of us who deny that neo-Darwinism is true are at odds with “the world as we actually find it today.” That is an ontological statement, and he commits the fallacy of begging the question when he attempts to back his ontological claims by citing the success of science (specifically, neo-Darwinism). Whether science has been successful at explaining biological origins by a materialist theory is the point at issue. William Charlesworth is correct that Darwinian science has been unsuccessful in explaining the origin of the mind, but he should understand that it has been equally unsuccessful in explaining the origin of the bacterial cell. Neo-Darwinism is a sham all the way up and all the way down. If Peter Webster actually read my article, he did not understand a word of it. This subject has nothing to do with Special Revelation, or speaking in tongues at Pentecost. Rather, the subject is what the scientific evidence actually shows when it is viewed without bias, rather than through the distorting lens of atheist philosophy. I discuss the recent statement of Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Chapter 6 of my latest book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds . I greatly admire the Pope, who on this subject as well as others is fighting a courageous battle against the forces of modernism inside and outside the Church. The papal statement did say that materialism is unacceptable when it extends to the human spirit, but it neglected to say that mainstream science insists upon a fully materialistic theory of evolution, one which resolutely keeps that divine foot outside the door. Any deficiencies in the statement are probably attributable to the vigorous lobbying of a clique of academics that dominates the “Religion and Science” field, and that wants to “save” religion by bringing it into conformity with evolutionary naturalism. The Blood of the Martyrs
Nina Shea’s complaint in “Atrocities Not Fit to Print” (November 1997) concerning the persecution of Christians around the world is very American but perhaps not very Christian. American because “in publicity of the press do we trust.” Less than Christian for the same reason. I live in the Third World and work directly in over thirty countries. Among them are some where friends and associates have recently been murdered because they were Christians. Other friends have fled their homeland because they knew the threats against them to be real. It is interesting to contrast the reaction of one of my friends with that of Ms. Shea. When I ask him about the recent murder of several from his church he answers, “I thank God for their deaths.” He not only is not concerned to publish the “news” of the deaths, he believes God is bringing forth great fruit from bloody seed once again. One is reminded that the Good News is based in blood and that we followers are not greater than our master. Why would Ms. Shea expect the secular press to support us? I would suggest it is neither “logistical difficulties” nor a “simple lack of understanding and interest” that keeps correspondents of foreign desks from reporting. They are simply from the camp of unbelievers, which we are actively seeking to invade with life. As a result, for them, we have the smell of death about us (2 Corinthians 2:16). As much as we feel-good, late-twentieth-century Christians may want to deny it, we have enemies who mean business. Some of them are journalists. It would be more instructive for us to learn what St. James meant when he instructed Christians to “consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). We say we believe there is power in prayer but our trust in the press belies that. We herald the power of the Word but wallow in words written. We talk of the sharp sword of spiritual warfare and disdain it for the poor pen of publicity.
William T. Hunter, Jr.
While it is true that martyrdom is glorious and the Bible makes a strong assertion that persecution for righteousness’ sake will ever confront the Christian, we must put anti-Christian persecution in proper perspective. The persecutors are wrong and the persecution itself is an evil. We are solemnly compelled by the Scriptures to take up the cause of the needy and to speak for those who are victims. As I quoted evangelical author Ravi Zacharias in my book In the Lion’s Den , “The Scriptures challenge us to reach out to those who hurt, to do all in our power for the rescue of those who are victimized, and if need be, to beseech the powers of the land to give each citizen the right of being treated as a fellow human being.” The New Testament gives us clear guidelines for addressing persecution. First, we must pray. When Peter and Paul were in prison, the entire church gathered to pray for their release. There is also a call to action. This is the moral imperative of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan stopped to extend the love of Christ to the victim. The apostle Paul urged the early Church to take responsibility for the well-being of fellow believers. “Therefore,” he said, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). He also wrote, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners” (Hebrews 13:3). There is precedent for appealing to the government for justice. In Acts, when the mob wanted to lynch Paul, he laid claim to his Roman citizenship and demanded a hearing before Caesar. Just as the Bible tells us that the poor will always be with us, yet commands us to help them, we must take the same compassionate approach towards persecuted religious believers. I Do, Really
As an independent evangelical pastor without benefit of prescribed liturgy, I have sometimes felt pressured to dumb down weddings. So thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks for David Blankenhorn’s “I Do?” (November 1997). I hope the article sparks a renewal of respect for marriage vows. If my fellow pastors would recognize the deep wisdom, not to mention plain good sense, of Mr. Blankenhorn’s proposals, we could make a credible gospel challenge to the culture of divorce. We wouldn’t eliminate the church-hopping that takes place when would-be brides and grooms shop for a clergyman who will give them the ceremony they want. But we would witness to the integrity of the wedding service. If couples heard that witness from three or four ministers in succession, who knows? They might think twice before saying “I do.”
(The Rev.) Kenneth Langley
Christ Community Church
(The Rev.) Charles B. King, Jr.
The Church of the Holy Cross
(The Rev.) Jay F. Dudley
Northridge Church of God
Fair Oaks, CA
I just finished reading “The Denomination Called Catholic” by David R. Carlin in the November 1997 issue. I would like to suggest that his breaking the Christian experience in America down into three parts, Church, Sect, and Denomination, is too limiting. There already is a “Fourth Way” in America; it is called a Movement. Movements have always been more characteristic of the religious experience in America than specific religious institutions. From the Great Awakening through modern day revivalist and monastic movements, the reality of religious experience has been trans-institutional. The reason for this is that for Americans salvation is seen as a direct individual relationship of the soul with God, rather than a result of being a member of the One True Church. What keeps this approach from becoming a case of isolated individualism is that God put us here on earth for a purpose. An individual who has experienced the love of God seeks to share that love through fellowship with others.
(The Rev.) Robert M. Haven
Mt. Dora, FL
Peter J. Leithart paints with a mountain-sized brush (“Typology and the Public Church,” November 1997) when he suggests that “evangelicals are at one with Protestant modernism in their rejection of typology.” In point of fact, most Protestant scholars, especially evangelicals, do not reject typology. How could they given the fact that Christ and his apostles employed that method of biblical interpretation? What Protestants do typically reject, however, is the uncontrolled use of typology. This is necessitated because of their acceptance of sola scriptura . A Protestant’s only source for authority is the Bible. He has no right even to be a Protestant if he is wrong about this foundational matter. Because of that, Protestants, more than Roman Catholics, must be extremely careful about the way they interpret Scripture. Thus, their scholars have devised a number of rules about the way they interpret a text in order to limit the dangers of eisegesis. The problem with the use of typology within a Protestant setting is its inherent subjectivity. Roman Catholics do not have this problem. Since they recognize a second nexus of authority in the Church, their use of typology is controlled. If an interpreter strays the Church can correct him or her. Protestants, however, must correct themselves. Therefore, in the use of typology they have decided to accept any typological interpretation of the Old Testament mentioned explicitly by Christ or his apostles within the New Testament, while maintaining a posture of unease or distrust toward any other. This method may rob them of some of the richness to be mined from the Old Testament text, but it allows them to be more confident that the Word of God is not being replaced by the word of man.
I generalize, of course, and am happy to concede that recently evangelical scholars have been notably kinder to patristic and medieval exegesis. Mr. McKay, however, confirms my original charge: to select a handful of texts for typological interpretation is precisely to reject typology as the controlling hermeneutical framework, for what is to be done with that remaining mass of the Old Testament never cited by the apostles?
As for the Protestant-Catholic difference: I would roundly dispute the idea that Scripture is the "only" authority for Protestants, since Scripture itself requires submission to a "second nexus" of authority in civil and ecclesiastical matters (Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:17). And I find the distinction between Catholic scholars corrected by "the Church" and Protestants correcting "themselves" somewhat misleading. Whoever are these Protestant censors, if not "the Church"?Staying or Leaving
It is with deep compassion that one reads William Murchison’s account of "developments" in the Episcopal Church (“Episcopalians: The Leftward Center,” November 1997). However, the utility of the enterprise of an "emerging province" seems questionable, and one wonders if it is anything more than the brave, empty words uttered so frequently during the past thirty years. Anglicans in general, and Anglo-Catholics in particular, have a most peculiar sense of catholicity, one that is ultimately but a form of congregationalism that fails to comprehend the situation or to take seriously the reality of those around them. For example, among other points unmentioned by Mr. Murchison is that much of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England itself, is in little better theological shape than the Episcopal Church in this country . . . .
Mr. Murchison claims that the four remaining Anglo-Catholic dioceses in the U.S. are becoming a basis for the formation of a new province within the Episcopal Church or within the Anglican Communion. If one can get beyond the question of why bother given the state of things, one must then ask if the claims for this new group are in fact credible. Facts indicate they are not. First, without becoming yet another breakaway group, it has no power to endure as it cannot canonically perpetuate itself in either the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. Second, Mr. Murchison glosses over the fact that in the much vaunted but poorly thought through effort to bring a bishop to trial on dogmatic grounds, those presenting the case chose not to appeal the preliminary ruling to the House of Bishops because they believed they could not win politically: hardly a credible commitment to witnessing to Eternal Truth, the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field . . . .
Having reached my own crisis regarding the Episcopal Church a year ago, I made the commitment to become Orthodox, letting go of the hell of a purposeless effort of trying to find a way to remain Anglican, and to focus on the Way to become Christian. Though theologically challenging, . . . the overwhelming experience is of the consolation of the Spirit surpassing understanding. I have been especially richly blessed in the Antiochian Archdiocese in that I have been able to know both a vibrant, healthy, and warmly receptive Byzantine Rite parish and a new Western Rite mission, which has helped provide an efficient idiom for worship and prayer in these hectic times.
John R. Heffernan
When one stalks out of a once-beloved, now-corrupted relationship or institution, the understandable temptation is to look back and exclaim, phooey! I think this is what Mr. Heffernan, God bless him, is doing, as he proceeds from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy. He may be right about those of us who have chosen to stand and fight on Anglican ground; I only wish he could acknowledge that we stand because it is our ground. There has been much holiness, much devotion here. Maybe there can be again. But running won’t bring that about; only standing”and praying”will do the job.A Catholic Rush to Judgment?
Regarding “Sin and Risk Aversion” (Public Square, November 1997): It is in the nature of witch hunts that those in politics, religion, and journalism who have promoted them, participated in them, or publicly endorsed them have done so under the guise of "the public good," and with a perceived "public sanction" that has historically consisted of two equally influential components: the noise of a few, and the silence of many.
It was, therefore, with appreciation for the courage of Richard John Neuhaus that I read his comments concerning the politically and emotionally explosive topics of the sexual abuse of children, public hysteria, and the response of the Church’s hierarchy and clergy to those within their ranks who have been publicly accused of sexual abuse.
As one of the incarcerated priests from whom Father Neuhaus has received the correspondence he cites, I have a firsthand account of the presumption of guilt, rush to judgment, and shunning to which his comments give voice. As Fr. Neuhaus is aware, I have maintained my innocence throughout this process, and continue to do so. I live daily with the devastating fact that I would not now be incarcerated if I did not maintain my innocence. The choice presented to me at trial three years ago was to either participate in a negotiated lie, and serve a token prison sentence, or stand by the truth and serve a life sentence. I continue to opt to reject a negotiated lie, and I remain in prison.
Fr. Neuhaus’ article presupposed that some would view the correspondence he has received as self-serving. Perhaps, at some level, it is. I stand to gain nothing, however, from writing of my experience in the justice system and the Church. I will not gain freedom. I will not be believed by most, and I will not regain respect, acceptance, trust, support, or even a letter or prison visit from my brother priests or diocesan authorities. The Corporal Works of Mercy should not, in any case, be exercised because an institution has been embarrassed into doing so. I know that anything I write merely leaves me open to further ridicule, judgment, and presumption of guilt. Writing about this feels much more frightening to me than it does self-serving . . . .
Attempts at risk aversion by shunning the accused, which has undeniably been the response of some in the Church, have not really served to either avert financial risk or improve public perception of the Church’s integrity in the matter. A growing number of clergy have personal experience of the Church’s current efforts to indicate that it no longer "shelters" its accused, but now holds them in disdainful contempt. The process has merely been seen as the Church’s attempt to respond to a public scandal by perpetrating a private one. I correspond with a number of imprisoned priests, guilty and not, who live as outcasts and pariahs in both the unforgiving prison society in which they now exist and the apparently unforgiving Church which they once served.
Gordon J. MacRae
As an evangelical, I too am disturbed by the strident statements made by some evangelical leaders about Roman Catholicism (While We’re At It, November 1997). I personally know too many genuine believers (my daughter-in-law included) in that communion to paint with so wide a brush.
However, Catholics would be mistaken to conclude that all defections from their church are the result of misleading attacks by "Catholic bashers." Ralph Martin, lay leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal, addresses this issue in "Why Catholics Leave" ( New Covenant, July/August, 1990 ).
Martin states that one response to this situation is to blame Protestants for evangelizing Catholics. However, Martin’s view is that "while underhanded’ means of evangelizing are not unknown, most of these ex-Catholics were not lured by such means." Often "they met coworkers, friends . . . or a preacher at a church service . . . who offered them a fuller experience of Christ . . . than they were experiencing in the Catholic Church." Indeed, "Many talk as if they’ve encountered the Lord himself for the first time."
Bishop Flores of San Antonio spoke almost thirty years ago "of many Catholics who have been sacramentalized’ but never effectively evangelized.’" Father Avery Dulles, S.J., has written more recently of the "many Christians, including Catholics, [who] were never evangelized, [who] have never made a living personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel."
Ralph E. MacKenzie
San Diego, CA
Richard John Neuhaus (While We’re At It, November 1997) muses, along with Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard, that Martin Luther today would be so aghast at subsequent history that, given a chance, he would go back and say just the opposite of what he said during the Reformation. I suppose one could just as easily argue that the birth of this nation resulted more from the "secondary motives of history" than from the "genius of its founding," and that, seeing both personal liberty and governmental regulation gone haywire, the founding fathers today would say the opposite of what they said then.
So what? I’d like to think of them as less gutless than that, just as I personally would like to think of Luther as one bold enough to say "Here I stand. I can do no other," not, "Here I stand unless things don’t work out down the road." But either way such an argument does not address the issue of whether what was said then remains true or not. A disowned truth remains true.
I realize Father Neuhaus and I disagree on what constitutes an authoritative source of truth, but we should agree that neither Luther’s opinions (real or fancied) nor the current state of the Church address the issue of whether Lutherans confess the truth or not. Truth derives from the authority of its source, not the desirability of its consequences. God judges individual Christians according to the fidelity of Christ, and the Church by her fidelity to Christ, i.e., the revelation of Scripture and the Scriptures’ God.
(The Rev.) Peter A. Speckhard
Community of Faith Lutheran Church
Spring Grove, IL
Here I stand. For the truth as best as I can understand it. The truth is infallible; my apprehension of it is not. Now we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13). Given persistent disagreements among us, in the End Time, when everything is clarified, many of us (I expect all of us) will have occasion to say that some things were not as we thought they were. I trust we will be judged faithful when we know more as we were judged faithful when we knew less.