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October 2019

Think on these things

“The man of action has the present, but the thinker controls the future.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.


I begin with the sober ending from Roger Kimball’s, Raymond Aron & the power of ideas (The New Criterion). Mr. Kimball ends with a lengthy quotation from an essay by Irving Kristol called “On Capitalism and the Democratic Idea” (1973): “For two centuries, the very important people who managed the affairs of this society could not believe in the importance of ideas—until one day they were shocked to discover that their children, having been captured and shaped by certain ideas, were either rebelling against their authority or seceding from their society. The truth is that ideas are all-important.”


Kristol continues, “The massive and seemingly solid institutions of any society—the economic institutions, the political institutions, the religious institutions—are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions. The leverage of ideas is so immense that a slight change in the intellectual climate can and will—perhaps slowly but nevertheless inexorably—twist a familiar institution into an unrecognizable shape.” As we approach this essay’s fiftieth anniversary, it is a pity that many important people still dismiss the importance of ideas.


Another ending is instructive here. In the excellent Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas Stephen Budiansky ends thus, “In another speech at Harvard, which Holmes delivered on “The Profession of the Law” in 1886, he had spoken of the loneliness of original work, the “black gulf of solitude more isolating than that which surrounds the dying man,” but whose reward is “the secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that, a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten, men who never heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought.” This timely reminder from a dead but never forgotten man (for we still move to the measure of his thoughts) suggests that, to dismiss the importance of ideas, is to invite disaster.


All “practical” issues of life involve philosophy, how we answer the big questions, the chief one being: What does it mean to be human? But, important as our individual answers may be, it is our collective answer to this (and other questions) that affects everything from wait times in the A&E to the price we pay for goods and services. It may be tempting to think that there are a mind-boggling number of worldviews (and slump into the asinine:  “True for you but not true for me”). But, at bottom, there are two. Beneath the multitude of options, we ultimately chose between two schools of thought: “Did God say?” (Genesis 3) and “For what does the scripture say?”  (Romans 4:3); or, as Christ put it, “It is written” (Luke 4:4,8).


The first is an opiate for the people, the latter is, according to Marx, “the opium of the people.” The Opium of the Intellectuals says Kimball, is a title that “is an inversion of Marx’s contemptuous [aforementioned] remark.” Another opiate is naturalism. In the twentieth anniversary issue of Philosophia Christi, Angus Menuge says naturalism is “the most insidious and pervasive [worldview] in the academy.” (And what is pervasive in Academe eventually trickles, nay gushes, into the wider society.) But he also points out that “naturalism cannot present itself as the rational, “scientific” worldview because it discredits the reliability of reason.”


As Kimball notes, “Enlightened thinking [never mind how pompous it sounds] tends to be superficial thinking because its critical armory is deployed against every faith except its faith in the power of reason.” Variations of this argument against naturalism have appeared in Philosophia Christi over the years, all building on the basic idea presented by C.S. Lewis in Miracles: “All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. […] ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.’”


And therein lies the rub. The default setting of this world (especially the Sophisticates), “leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends.” So that, and in keeping with our two main schools of thought, the culture (with devastating consequences) parrots the question that snake Pilate posed in John 18:38, “What is truth”? Once Truth (capital ‘T’) is abandoned then refutation is no longer an option (and so, the next event in John's narrative is the Crucifixion). To dismiss Truth is to crucify Christ. No more cryptic parables, God speaks clearly.


Once Truth is crucified we need an intellectual detox, an epistemic humbling of epic proportions is now in order. So that, until we acknowledge reason has been permanently tarnished by the Fall, until we submit to the transforming power of the mind of Christ (Romans 12:2) we will never get a glimpse of what a renewed mind looks like; of what being an image bearer means. I do not know much, but this much I know, only Christ can stop this intellectual and moral rot; the death, disorder, and destruction that accompanies certain ideologies that are, at bottom, a subset of our default setting: “Did God say?”


Little wonder Paul chose “God’s foolishness”, “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” over lofty words. Little wonder it is written “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.”

The Green Gospel (II)

“‘Climate denier’ and ‘tool of malign fossil fuel interests’ are epithets used to delegitimize dissent and quash diversity of opinion.” – (Rupert Darwall, Green Tyranny)


Whatever one may think of the “settled” science on which climate change is based, the issue has serious political implications, especially as it relates to governance. Issues that are either completely ignored or downplayed. Left unchecked, the Climate Leviathan is (conveniently?) leading us to the state of affairs that prompted G.K. Chesterton to write, “a despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy.” So that one of the more important questions to ponder on this issue comes from Rupert Darwall in Green Tyranny: “Are climate policies compatible with the survival of democracy?”


Mr. Darwall’s Green Tyranny should be required reading when it comes to the politics of this issue. He writes, “China and India, broke into a sprint for economic growth and dismissed environmental concerns as a Western plot to maintain the underdeveloped world in a state of economic backwardness.” Ken Baake (Petroleum Prodigals) cites Alex Epstein (The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels) who shares a similar sentiment arguing that “turning away from oil would deny people in the developing world the same gifts that built and succored the West.”


Politicians and other elites in developed nations can wax eloquent about the social cost of carbon all they want but developing nations will carbonize before they decarbonize. I therefore side with Michael Webber (Power Trip) who makes the point that, “We can’t quit using energy or deny others access as a solution for decarbonization.” The title of Mr. Webber’s book also doubles as a description of what those who most fervently preach the green gospel are on: (a) power trip. Assuming leaders want to stay the course on said trip, they should note the fate of leaders (especially those facing the polls) who bet it all on this issue.


If their fate is any indicator, then the green gospel needs tweaking. Leaders should take note of Emmanuel Macron (yellow vest protests) and Bill Shorten’s defeat at the polls in Australia. Mr. Macron and Mr. Shorten are examples of the fact that the politics of climate change is anything but “settled”. They would also do well to reflect on the Dominical utterance in Luke 14:28–30 as it relates to footing the bill for this gospel. John and Jane Public, with eco-friendly container in hand and paper straws melting in their mouths, are quickly coming to the realization that the green gospel will be accompanied by a higher cost of living.


A recent example of the silliness of unchecked climate piety and the financial implications it can have for ordinary people comes from the higher education space. According to a report, the University of California system announced that “its $13.4 billion endowment will sell all fossil-fuel assets by the end of September, and its $70 billion pension fund will soon do the same.” The university’s chief investment officer said “hanging on to fossil fuel assets is a financial risk.” But thank God for actuaries who are not bamboozled by the green gospel.


A report from the actuarial and consulting company Foster & Foster concluded, “While green tech advocates may be able to cherry pick individual years when green energy has recently outperformed fossil fuels, the long view shows the opposite.” The company found that between 2008 and 2018, fossil-fuel investments delivered an average return of 2.6 percent while the green energy funds returned negative 3.94 percent. A fool and his money (pension included) are soon parted, and as Mr. Macaron and Mr. Shorten discovered, the French and Australian public are no fools.


France’s yellow vest protests started over fuel tax increases while in Australia, Mr. Shorten’s main campaign theme was “curbing climate change”. His party promised to “cut carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030” and to subsidize wind and solar. An Australian commenting on Mr. Shorten’s loss at the polls said, “The cost of electricity in Australia has skyrocketed by 40% in the past decade of becoming ‘green.’ No surprise that the voters didn’t like, or want, what they were hearing from the Labor Party. Are Americans [replace with your nationality] also smart enough not to get taken by hype and green hysteria?”


I am not convinced about the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy. As Mr. Darwall points out, “at low levels of wind and solar PV penetration, renewables have little discernible impact on prices.” However, “as more renewables are put on the grid, prices rise.” He continues, “In 2012, thanks mainly to the headlong rush to wind and solar, Danes paid four times and Germans three and a half times what Americans did for their electricity.” As The Economist said of the situation in Spain, “sustainable energy meets unsustainable costs.” Little wonder clean energy is fast becoming a dirty word at the polls.


In Defeat in the Air at the Climate Conference, Mr. Darwall cites the chief economist of the Potsdam Institute who explained why efforts thus far have done little to curb rising emissions: “Ottmar Edenhofer, said the fundamental reality was an oversupply of fossil fuels, making it harder for renewables to be cost-competitive with coal.” Mr. Edenhofer alluded to the “underappreciated factor” of monetary policy: “Zero interest rates act as an artificial stimulus to renewable energy, which is much more capital-intensive than gas and coal.”


He continued, “As interest rates rise, renewable energy can’t compete without carbon pricing.” And therein lies the rub. During the lost decade, zero and low interest rates stimulated investment in renewables but as Jay Yoder of Altius Associates said in an interview with the Financial Times, with renewables “one is investing more in political decisions than in tangible assets.” Renewable energy is too reliant on green hype and hysteria (and, of course, tax credits and subsidies). As Mark P. Mills points out, “Using wind, solar and batteries as the primary sources of a nation’s energy supply remains far too expensive. You don’t need science or economics to know that.”


There is a reason why ordinary people (deplorables?) told Mr. Macron to stick his fuel tax increase where the sun doesn’t shine. There is a reason why the average Australian did not buy into Mr. Shorten’s green gospel. The science might be “settled” or as an op-ed in the Jamaica Gleaner put it, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” But, the political implications can be quite unsettling for leaders and the financial implications are equally unsettling for the public.


The green gospel has scant regard for the Creator (who is forever blessed, Romans 1:25) and has somehow managed to turn environmental stewardship into false worship. But, there is another gospel under the sun; it speaks to creation groaning in anticipation of what is coming (Romans 8:19-25). It speaks of scoffers in the last days, and the present heavens and earth being “… reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 3:3–10). On that Day, our eco-friendly containers and paper straws will be of little use but, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved ” (Romans 10:13).


Choose your gospel wisely.

The Green Gospel (I)

“If there is one lesson we should learn from our energy challenges, it is that there are no universal, immediate solutions.” – (Power Trip, Michael E. Webber)


The writer of Ecclesiastes uses the phrase “under the sun” several times, and of late Bajans’ favourite phrase is “You, de sun real hot yuh”; but we should also remember that there is nothing new under it. A tweet about the recent “Climate Strike” read, “A fifteen year old girl skipped school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) building in order to protest against inaction on climate change. … You didn’t know her name. Greta Thunberg.” In the aptly titled Green Tyranny Rupert Darwall writes, “… Sweden deployed environmentalism as a top-down tool of social control. … As with acid rain, Sweden would be the first to make global warming a political issue.”


It is fitting that a Swede should, once again, garner the world’s attention. If we take our minds back to the Olof Palme era it should give us a sense that this road looks familiar. Especially Palme’s idea about the importance of giving up “part of the national sovereignty” regarding “the risk of climate change from human activities.” In Petroleum Prodigals (Christianity Today June 2019), Ken Baake writes, “The dangers of dirty air were contemplated as early as A.D. 61, when Seneca wrote about the “oppressive atmosphere” of smoke shrouding ancient Rome. The Romans allowed smoke pollution lawsuits, and more than a thousand years later, England made modest attempts to limit the burning of coal under Queen Elizabeth I.”


I do not agree with Mr. Baake’s suggestion that renewable energy is now “cost-competitive with conventional fuels”, but I do side with him on this point, “Alternative energy certainly is an important tool in the creation care tool box, but the hope that yesterday’s technology will easily be replaced with acres of solar panels and wind farms may lead to disappointment and missed opportunities to adopt a more prudent lifestyle.” This sentiment is also shared by Mr. Webber (Power Trip), “Every fuel and technology option has benefits and risks. It’s folly—and typical in the contemporary political climate—to advocate for or against one fuel or another without admitting the contributions of or problems with each.”


This is a stewardship issue, and our stewardship of the environment should be informed by a proper understanding of the meaning of subdue and dominion in Genesis 1:28. Throughout the Old Testament, the welfare of the people is tied to the welfare of the land – Leviticus 19:25; 25:2–5 – so our definitions should not include the exploitation and/or abuse of the environment to which we have been entrusted. The May/June 2019 issue of MIT Technology Review, also devoted to climate change, carried an article with a telling title: How much would you pay to save the world? (The green economy is ultimately about the greenback.)


David Rotman opens with the “most important number you’ve never heard of”: the social cost of carbon (SCC). This number “reflects the global damage of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the sky, accounting for its impact in the form of warming temperatures and rising sea levels.” Economists see it as a “a powerful policy tool that could bring rationality to climate decisions.” Mr. Rotman cites Solomon Hsiang, a climate policy expert at Berkeley, who says “It is the single most important number in the global economy. Getting it right is incredibly important. But right now, we have almost no idea what it is.”


In that regard it is similar to energy. As Richard Feynman explained, “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is.” “Energy’s magic,” writes Webber, “quietly brings illumination, information, heat, clean water, abundant food”, and economic growth. Webber speaks to the “liner relationship between wealth and energy consumption.” Generally speaking, the richer a country is, the more energy it consumes per capita and the more energy it consumes per capita, the richer it gets. Little wonder is it not, that fast-growing economies (like India) are shaping up to be the biggest loser regarding the SCC. Climate scientist Katharine Ricke says “India bears a huge share of the global social cost of carbon.”


Making matters worse for developing countries is the economists’ magic bullet: carbon tax. Interestingly, around the time that Greta Thunberg made her debut, 500 scientists sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General with the heading: “There is no climate emergency”. In part it read, “Current climate policies pointlessly and grievously undermine the economic system, putting lives at risk in countries denied access to affordable, reliable electrical energy. We urge you to follow a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.”


The letter speaks directly to our concern, vulnerable image bearers who will be “harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.” You know, those who Jesus takes a special interest in. As Craig Keener (Christobiography) notes, “Most scholars also agree that Jesus’s contemporaries experienced him as a healer and exorcist, offering divine help to the vulnerable. … He appealed to the poor, the disenfranchised, the disabled, and the ill, and he encountered conflict with various elites.” The Climate Leviathan, if unchecked, will turn the virtue of sensible environmental stewardship into a vice that harms the most important part of creation.

Philosophia Christi (20th Anniversary Edition)

Excerpts from the 20th Anniversary Edition of Philosophia Christi


Stephen T. Davis (Recent Christian Philosophy):

Although Christian apologetics is not the central focus of Philosophia Christi, I consider it to be an excellent source of both negative apologetics (that is, responding to criticisms of Christianity) and positive apologetics (giving arguments in favor of Christianity). It fairly and rationally explores both challenges to faith and challenges to nonfaith.


J. P. Moreland (My Retrospective and Prospective Musings on the Evangelical Philosophical Society):

First, the warning. Today it is all the rage to engage in revisionist interpretations of scripture to fit what secular culture and liberal scholarship find acceptable. There are enough people out there doing this. I urge my EPS friends and colleagues to go the other direction. Stay faithful to traditional interpretations of scripture unless it becomes really clear that we have misunderstood the Word. Let us use our skills and training to clarify and defend what seems true and biblical even if it is unpopular.


As culture slouches toward secular progressivism, there will be increasing pressure on us all to compromise the faith. Let’s help do integration with other disciplines to form solid, philosophically informed, biblical views of sociology, history, and so on.


I offer three closing words of advice. First, fall in love with Jesus and stay there. Keep your heart warm toward Him. Cultivate attachment and intimacy with Him. Sustain your passion to please Him and to make His name famous to the nations. Second, we don’t need more philosophers who happen to be Christians. We need Christian philosophers who see the world and their work through a scriptural lens. Strive to be like this. Finally, be a whole person. Don’t use your philosophical work as a place to hide from emotions or psychological problems. Practice spiritual formation exercises and seek to have a healthy soul. Develop your emotional intelligence and relational skills. In this way, you will fulfill your calling.


Paul Copan (After Twenty Years: Personal Reflections):

As I reflect on this journey, I see the many signs of God’s kindness and leading in my life. I recognize the power of Christian community and the beauty of Spirit-inspired philosophizing—loving wisdom and thinking hard about things—to the glory of God and the building up of Christ’s church. The EPS truly is a nurturing community that takes seriously the life of the mind, prayer, the Great Commission, and the task of discipleship.


Evangelical Philosophical Society: