Sunday, June 30, 2013

Taking away the power and profanity of money

“We must bring money back to its simple role as a material instrument. When money is no more than an object, when it has lost its seductiveness, its supreme value, its superhuman splendor, then we can use it like any other of our belongings, like any machine. Of course, even if this relieves our fears, we must always be vigilant and very attentive because the power is never totally eliminated.

Now this profanation is first of all a result of a spiritual battle, but this must be translated into behaviour. There is one act par excellence which profanes money by going directly again the law of money, an act for which money is not made. This act is giving.”

Jacques Ellul, Money and Power (Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1986), p. 110.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A gem of a movie

I watched the movie The Sapphires with my wife and daughter. Based partly on a true story it chronicles a female Australian aboriginal singing group who go to Vietnam to entertain US troops in 1968. It is entertaining but also raises important issues about racism and indigenous identity in Australia, both then and now.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Learning about poverty and wealth from refugees

In Christianity Today there is a challenging and fascinating article Saved by my refugee neighbours by Russell Jeung.
It raises questions about the nature of poverty. Many affluent people are actually poor because of the lack of relationships and community. Indeed much of Western affluence is aimed at being independent of others and withdrawing from community.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Contrasting Western and Indian ethics

My wife and I have enjoyed dipping into India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking by Anand Giridharadas.

The author grew up in the US with parents who were immigrants from India. He returned to India a decade ago to "re-invent" himself,  discover his roots, and chronicle the radical social transformation that India is undergoing due to economic reforms.

He contrasts the morality of East and West by asking readers to consider which of the following actions they consider wrong (page 112):

1. To cut ahead of someone in line when you're in a hurry.

2. To let you your parents spend their last years in a nursing home.

3. To use your influence to help your nephew get a job in your company.

4. To let relatives visit your home without serving them a meal.

What do you think?

The author claims most Westerner's [or Indians trained/indoctrinated by Western colonialists (Anglophiles)] would claim that 1. and 3. are morally wrong, but not 2. and 4. In contrast, Indian's [such as industrial magnate Mukesh Ambani] would claim that 2. and 4. are wrong, but 1. and 3. are not.

Western morality, rooted in Judeo-Christian thought, is "concerned with a universal fairness, no matter who the person, no matter what the context." An Indian perspective has an "emphasis on applying ... norms in a family situations more than in the public square; it is the ethics of dharma, duty, not of abstract rules."

The author says these contrasts are explored in an essay "Is there an Indian Way of Thinking?" by A.K. Ramanujan.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Issues in Christian scholarship

This week at the Volfians group we will be discussing the short book Reason within the bounds of religion by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

There is a very helpful summary of the book by Michael Wilson.
Here is my summary of the summary!

Every scholar must choose:

1. what specific subject to investigate
2. what views to hold on that particlar subject

Wolterstorff suggests that a Christian scholar should have distinct views and practice relating to both these issues. To consider, the second, he reviews foundationalism and its failures.

Foundationalism is the classic Western philosophical perspective on theory construction.
One starts with a foundation of specific assumptions that are certain or self-evident. From this foundation one uses inference to demonstrate the certainty of new propositions.

Wolterstorff considers three different types of foundationalism:

1. Complementarism.
Following, Aquinas, faith and reason are considered to be complementary to one another.
Believers and unbelievers can both apprehend the truth of certain matters.

2. Preconditionalist Foundationalism.
"I believe in order that I might understand."
Augustine, Anselm, and Calvin had this view.
Unbelief can prevent apprehension of some matters.

3. Incorporationism.
Followed by many modern Protestants.
"everything the Bible teaches, ..., is incorporated within a body of foundational certitudes."

Foundationalism has significant problems as a self-consistent philosophy. "Many theories that seemingly warrant acceptance are not deducible from any foundation. The example is given of the claim, "all swans have wings." A strict foundationalist can only accept this if they exam all the swans in the world.
The problem is distinguishing between certainty and what is true with high probability.
Furthermore, foundationalism does not provide a justification for induction.

Falsification [Karl Popper's alternative to foundationalism] is not the solution. No theory stands alone. If some experimental result is inconsistent with a theory one does not then always abandon the theory. One may instead reject the experimental result as unreliable.

How does one actually weigh the evidence for a theory?
This is influenced by three things.

a. Data beliefs
Decisions about what data is valid and what is not.

b. Data background beliefs
Criteria one uses to accept some and reject some data.

c. Control beliefs
Criteria that one uses to assess whether a theory itself is an acceptable candidate theory.
Examples include  aesthetics, logical structure, or consistency with another theory.

Wolterstorff suggests that some Christian scholars make the supremacy of science as a control belief. In particular, "Christian commitment [does not] enter into the devising or weighing of theories within the sciences." [page 82]. Furthermore, Christian scholars seldom "suggest any research programs within the sciences" [page 105].

Finally, he turns to issue 1. above: what subjects should a Christian scholar investigate. He contrasts "pure theory" and "praxis-oriented theory." The relative priority is based on "deciding which holds the most promise of contributing most substantially to the cause of in-justice shalom." [page 133-134].

"in justice shalom" means that the "goal of human existence is that man should dwell at peace in all his relationships: with God, with himself, with his fellows, with nature, a peace which is not merely the absence of hostility, though it certainly is that, but a peace which at its highest is enjoyment." [page 114]

This is certainly a challenge for Christian scholarship.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Has Science disproved Christianity?

Here is a nice 3 minute interview where quantum physicist Geoff Pryde, gives his answer to this question.