Authors by the dozen
From intelligent design to pop culture, from Christian apologetics to politics, 12 contemporary authors do what they do best: pontificate, Q & A style
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The word author is related to the word authority. The authority of Scripture derives from its Author-that is, God. Despite some contemporary critics' belief that a book's meaning has nothing to do with what the author originally intended, the more established tenet is that an author is the best authority about what his book really means.
In support of that principle-and for those who have ever read a book and wanted to ask the author a question-WORLD sent a series of questions to a number of writers who have had much to say about Christianity and culture. Here, in their own words, is what they had to say.
William Dembski helped move intelligent design into public prominence. He is an associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University and a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. His latest book is No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield).
Q: Ray Kurzweil and many others have predicted an age of spiritual machines, complete with artificial intelligence, uploading and downloading of human consciousness, and whatnot. Do you think this will ever happen? A: It's a pipedream. There's no evidence that consciousness, intelligence, or conceptual understanding has anything to do with computation or complexity. Kurzweil's extravagant claims are driven entirely by his materialistic presuppositions: (1) Humans are entirely material; (2) their brains have a certain degree of complexity; (3) computational power is fast exceeding that complexity; (4) thus a suitably programmed computer will in short order beat human cognitive capacities. The actual field of artificial intelligence (rather than the materialistic philosophy surrounding artificial intelligence) has made very limited progress and shows no signs of capturing human cognition. So the short answer is no. Kurzweil is peddling science fiction and bad philosophy.
Q: How do you think mainstream scientists can leave strict Darwinism behind while maintaining their professional integrity? A: Let me turn it around: Mainstream scientists must leave strict Darwinism behind if they are to maintain their professional integrity. Strict Darwinism asserts that Darwin's mechanism of random variation and natural selection is able to account for all the complexity and diversity we see in living forms. The evidence simply does not support this claim, and in fact there is good evidence to suggest that this mechanism cannot do all that strict Darwinists attribute to it (evidence now acknowledged even by biologists who oppose intelligent design). To maintain strict Darwinism is to maintain an unsubstantiated dogma. That's not how science is supposed to work.
Michael Behe questioned common notions about natural selection in Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Touchstone). He is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and co-wrote Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology (InterVarsity) with William Dembski.
Q: Some argue that design is simply an argument from ignorance and that Darwinism will be shown to be true once more study is done. How do you respond to this? A: The public was led to believe that Darwinism was already shown to be true! Saying that future work will eventually vindicate the theory is a very weak position and a significant retreat from what we had been led to believe. Tell archeologists that their discovery of ancient, designed cities is "an argument from ignorance." Tell astronomers that, if they discover what they think are radio signals from intelligent aliens, it would only be "an argument from ignorance."
Q: Is intelligent design verifiable? A: Intelligent design is falsifiable. If an experiment showed that natural selection could make a system as complicated as the cell, design would have been shown to be untrue. To say the least, I don't expect that to happen.
Q: How has your discussion of irreducible complexity added to the debate over origins? A: The concept of irreducible complexity shows there is a problem for Darwinism at the very foundation of life-the cell-which had been ignored. Recognizing the problem shows that Darwinists don't know nearly as much as they had claimed, and that other explanations, such as design, are very much in the running.
John Frame is professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His newest books are The Doctrine of God and No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (both P&R).
Q: Your new book addresses the problem of treating God as female. Beyond the clear-cut issues of heterodoxy, what are the implications of this view? A: Culturally, feminist theologians present the female god as a model for an egalitarian human society, in which (1) there are no gender-based role differences in the church or family, and (2) ultimately, nobody has "power over" anybody else. Theologically, the idea of a female deity destroys the biblical images of God as Father and as Husband to His bride, the church. The submission of the church to Christ as a godly wife to her husband seems to me to be a central concern of Scripture.
Q: You mention that many today seek a God who is nonthreatening, nonhierarchal, and nonpatriarchal. How do you respond? A: First, by making clear what Scripture teaches: that God is holy (and therefore can be threatening), that He is supremely authoritative as the Lord, and that He is the Father from whom every fatherhood is named (Ephesians 3:15). Second, by showing that if God is not truly supreme in authority we have no basis for determining what is true or right.
Q: How does one's understanding of God affect one's understanding of the outside world? A: God created everything by His eternal plan. So the most important part of understanding anything in the world is understanding how that thing is related to God. If we don't understand the world in relation to God, the world becomes a chaos, without value or meaning.
Phillip E. Johnson recharged the Darwin debate with his landmark book, Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity). He is Jefferson E. Peyser Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. His new work, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate (InterVarsity) is set for release later this year.
Q: What got you interested in origins? Did you expect that your work would create so much controversy? A: Darwinism is the culturally dominant creation myth. It is the basis of the power of the liberal elites, and it thrives on the mystique of "science." Yes, I planned for a cultural struggle.
Q: Is Darwinism so dominant because many scientists see it as the core of biology-or because it can be used to explain away God's existence? A: The latter. The whole point of Darwinism is to show that there is no need for a supernatural creator, because nature can do the creating by itself.
Q: Scientific American recently ran a feature, "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense." It boasted that "methodological naturalism can push back ignorance" and that creationism "adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort." How do you respond to a claim like this? A: The important question is whether Darwinism is true, and materialists like the editors of Scientific American employ evasions to avoid confronting that question.
Q: You've written that in the wake of 9/11, Christians were seen by some in the media as "fundamentalist" scapegoats, notably by Richard Dawkins. Is this sort of broad-brush smear a serious problem and how should believers respond to it? A: Dawkins and his ilk believe that all religions are the same (evil fantasies), so they imagine that Christians and the Taliban are much the same. Our media and our educators contribute to these grotesque misunderstandings because they are so poorly informed about religion.
David Horowitz once was a prominent leftist activist and magazine editor. He has since spent years attacking the hypocrisies of his former allies, notably as the president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. His latest book is the upcoming How to Beat the Democrats and Other Subversive Ideas (Spence).
Q: Why do you think leftists who extol free speech and free thought try to take both away from their opponents? A: Because leftists do not believe in principles like free speech, whatever they may say. They believe in revolution. Whatever serves the revolution, they're for. What they regard as inimical to the revolutionary interest, they oppose. Thus when they're in opposition they support free speech-for them. When they have power, they oppose free speech-for others. They have no interest in free speech as such. Of course, in a democracy like ours, leftists are not controlled by a central power. Some leftists therefore do take free speech seriously and that brings them into collision with other leftists.
Q: Do you think conservatives should still pursue mainstream academic careers, considering that so few are represented on faculties? Why or why not? A: A career is a very individual choice; everyone must decide for himself whether it's too hard or not. But I don't think conservatives should give up, or leave an inch of the political terrain uncontested.
Q: Do you believe the old counterculture of the late 60s/early 70s has become the common culture of America today? A: I think the left won the battle, won the culture wars. Of course, there are no won causes or lost causes. The war continues. But for now, the left surely dominates the culture.
Os Guinness is senior fellow at the Trinity Forum. For three decades, he has written more than a dozen books on culture, values, and Christian worldview, including The Dust Of Death (Crossway) No Good But God (Moody) and Time for Truth (Baker)
Q: Do you see many of your books (and your Trinity Forum work) as a form of pre-evangelism? A: Just as Christians have always held that "all truth is God's truth," so I believe that any good Christian argument about anything is "pre-evangelism." It all prepares the ground for the good seed of the gospel. Put differently, my approach to apologetics-compared with most people's-is broadly human and cultural rather than narrowly philosophical.
Q: You talk a lot about Big Ideas like truth, character, virtue, leadership, and the problems of modernity. Is our society becoming more or less oriented toward these core values? A: We are both closer and further at the same time: closer because Big Ideas are becoming all the more vital as the nation's foundations are giving way; yet further because our sentimental, simplistic sound-bite way of modern thinking militates against all serious thinking. As George Orwell put it, we are at the point where restating the obvious is the first duty of thoughtful people.
Q: Do you think that the 9/11 tragedies and the war on terrorism have turned Americans toward virtue? Or does this newfound patriotism veil great amounts of insincerity? A: I believe that the surge of good things we have seen since 9/11, such as heroism, generosity, and patriotism, will all prove to be a temporary spasm rather than a sustained renewal-unless we also see an assertion of leadership and a morally serious articulation of their significance today. When it comes to religion and public life, we are already worse off than we were on Sept. 10. Following the slowly mounting antipathy toward religion stoked by the religious right over the last 25 years, 9/11 had the effect of cementing the conclusion that religion is the problem-at least for educated people. We have a major political-and apologetic-challenge on our hands.
Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition, which promotes issues including public morality, Christian-Jewish relations, and the Middle East. A Jewish rabbi, he attacked militant secularism in the book America's Real War (Multnomah). His latest, Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money (John Wiley) is scheduled for release later this year.
Q: You've pointed out that what some call "tolerance" can be used to suppress one's political enemies. What do you think can be done to inspire true tolerance in American society? A: Unfortunately many so-called Jewish organizations got into the destructive habit of acting as private police agencies, rooting out any hints of Christian "intolerance." Intolerance was defined as expressing certainty either about moral matters (homosexuality, abortion) or about certain theological questions (like, "Who goes to heaven?" or "Who killed Jesus?"). When Christian leaders committed "intolerance" they could count on being publicly humiliated by secular Jewish leadership. Only when the faith that won America's war of Independence 200 years ago again flourishes will public culture welcome standards and values. This will be good for all Americans-including Jews. Until then, however, our culture will remain de-Christianized and continue to be shaped by the fads of multiculturalism, which is nothing but Marxism translated from the economy to the culture.
Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. His recent books include The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity and Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford).
Q: You write of an expansion of Christianity within Africa, Asia, and Latin American cultures. What about Europeans and North American believers? A: Christianity is booming worldwide, but the color scheme is changing fast! By 2050 or so, I estimate that perhaps only one Christian in five or six will be a non-Latino white. Partly, that reflects much lower birth rates in the presently advanced countries. By 2050, my figures suggest that the seven countries in the world with the largest Christian populations will be the United States, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia. I don't place great faith in the absolute numbers, but this is a rough guide. There are no European countries on the list, you notice. By the way, the contrast is even more than that, because in the northern countries themselves, many Christian believers will be of southern or Third World heritage, as a result of immigration. I am thinking for instance of Asian and Latino Christians in the United States. By 2050, about a third of Americans will claim Asian and Latino roots. If you are a white person worried about race, I suppose this might be bad news. If you are concerned with the fate of Christianity, though, this coming century should be a very exciting time indeed. Jesus said His church would endure till the end of the world. He never said that any particular racial group would be in the majority at any given time.
William Murchison is one of America's most celebrated conservative columnists. A longtime staple of the Dallas Morning News, he writes a syndicated column, and the latest of his three books is There's More to Life Than Politics (Spence).
Q: American newspapers tend to be consistently more liberal than the rest of society, even their own readers. Why do you think this happens? A: The quest for mindless, mushy respectability is all-consuming. Liberalism, for some damnable reason, probably abutting the "niceness" and compassion it supposedly embodies, remains our "respectable" creed.
Q: Do you think America's political culture has influenced Christians? A: Most unbecomingly it has sucked Christians into its vortex, causing many to set more store by Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly than by St. Paul.
Q: Are you as interested in politics as you were years ago? Why or why not? A: Less so. Concerning politics itself: Plus c'est change, plus c'est le meme chose; meaning, we don't never get saved by them fellers, do we?
Q: You say you like to cite the text, "Put not your trust in princes" (Psalm 146:3). How come? A: Politicians, bless 'em, aren't any worse than the rest of us fallen humans. Neither are they any better. That's the problem.
Q: Why do you think Christians and conservatives often complain about the mainstream media, but less regularly work to change it? A: If you ever figure it out, tell me, and I'll win the Pulitzer Prize for explaining one of the prime sources of conservative/Christian fecklessness in our time.
Michael Medved is one of America's top family-oriented pop-culture critics. His 1993 Hollywood vs. America invigorated the debate over values in entertainment. He remains a prominent film critic and hosts a weekday radio talk show.
Q: Now that Hollywood has had time to digest 9/11, do you think we'll see more patriotic fare in theaters? A: We already have. What's interesting about that is that many movies that were already in the pipeline before 9/11 seem to address the changed atmosphere after the catastrophe. I'm thinking of movies like We Were Soldiers, Behind Enemy Lines, Black Hawk Down, and other nakedly pro-military movies. Those films were all virtually finished before 9/11, but I think their critical acceptance and general popularity were enhanced because they came out after the attacks.
Q: Your Saving Childhood book talks at length about how American culture drains the healthy innocence from youth. What can parents to do to better protect and support their kids? A: Very simply: They can remove or at least limit access to television. That's the main thing. It's amazing that most American families give their kids a TV set in the bedroom. That's crazy, dysfunctional, destructive, altogether inappropriate; there's no reason any American child should have a TV in the bedroom, thereby removing any effective parental influence on what he watches.
Q: Many conservatives are so fed up with pop culture's decadence that they all but give up TV, movies, and other entertainment. Do you think this rejection is healthy? A: I think what's healthy is substituting some of Hollywood's timeless triumphs for the trash of today. The DVD and video revolutions have made available to everyone some of the real glories of American pop culture. There's no reason at all to watch Moulin Rouge, which is decadent junk, when you can enjoy a DVD or a video of Guys and Dolls or The Sound of Music or Carousel or My Fair Lady, just to name a few musical examples.
David Wells has fired up discussion of Christianity, theology, and culture with 15 books, including No Place for Truth and God in the Wasteland. He is the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Q: Since No Place for Truth came out, have you seen evangelicals restoring their core beliefs, moral vision, and worldview? Why or why not? A: There are pockets of hope but the larger picture is not encouraging. A recent study by George Barna on boomers illustrates the main problem. In recent years, boomers have been opposed to organized religion but now make up half of the born-again population. What happened? They are consumers, Barna says, and we offered them a deal they could not turn down. For a one-time admission of weakness and failure they got eternal peace with God. That was the deal. They took it and went on with their lives as before. The result is that there is no significant difference between the way born-againers live at an ethical level as compared with those who are nonreligious.
Q: You've spent a lot of time talking about how the church has fallen victim to secular trends, even while trying to transform society for Christ. Why do you suppose this happens? A: The story of the Old Testament is that of people falling victim to the religious pluralism around them, so this kind of spiritual capitulation is nothing new. What is perhaps different is the degree to which today's culture is intrusive-meeting us in the workplace, on television, in the hundreds of ads we see each day, and in movies. And it is seductive. Clearly, the evangelical church is not building the kind of steel-like character that can resist the temptations modern life brings along with its many benefits.
John Piper pastors Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn. His massive literary output includes such books as Desiring God, Future Grace, and The Dangerous Duty of Delight (Multnomah). He also co-edited Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Crossway).
Q: You say that believers, especially pastors, face a society where Christ's supremacy is taken more and more as an offense. Should this change the way Christians present the faith? A: There should be a relentless Christ- and cross-centeredness, lest the offense of the cross be neglected (and Jesus be made to fit into the pantheon of gods that the world will happily endorse). We should make explicit that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father by Him (John 14:6), and that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12), and that he who does not have the Son does not have life (1 John 5:12), and that this uniqueness of Jesus is the best news in all the world, for there is no other savior who provides forgiveness and righteousness freely through faith alone.
Q: You write that America's response to 9/11 was tarnished by an odd ecumenicism between Christians and Muslims. What was wrong with this? A: Islam denies that Christ was crucified and that He rose from the dead. It claims to esteem Christ as a prophet more highly than Christians because they don't believe God would give Him up to a criminal's death. There is no more serious attack on the essence and heart of the Christian faith than this. If Christ has not died for our sins and risen again, there is no forgiveness, no justification, no reconciliation, no salvation, no gospel, and no hope. Therefore to stand with a Muslim as if Christians and Muslims are both savingly related to the same God is to undermine the gospel and deny Christ.
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