fbpx

Is It Another Great Awakening?

GAEconomist editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge shocked the secular West in 2009 by announcing that God Is Back—starting with China, of all places. Here were two epitomes of British reasonableness explaining that Europe was the modern exception in viewing God as dead, an irrational shadow of the past, with its Continent declining in population and power, and the rest of the world resembling America in having religion as a part of their cultural dynamism.

China’s atheistic communist government conceded that its Christian population had doubled to 21 million over the past decade, worshiping in 55,000 official Protestant and 4,600 Catholic churches. The underground church, it’s widely known, was much larger—by foreign estimates perhaps 77 million, which means larger than the Communist Party. A Pew Global Attitudes study found only 11 percent of Chinese saying religion was not important in their lives, compared to 31 percent saying it was very or somewhat important. Indeed, everywhere the authors looked outside their European homeland, religion was booming in the early 21st century world.

Six in 10 Americans today tell Pew pollsters that religion plays a very important role in their lives. Over 80 percent believe in God or some higher power, with only four percent choosing agnosticism and merely two percent atheism. Only eight percent said they did not pray, as against 73 percent who said they prayed at least weekly, while 83 percent said God answered prayers. Sixty-three percent said they belonged to a church. The most recent Pew poll reflected some changes, with a plurality agreeing that gays had a right to marry, but a majority also thinking that homosexuality was sinful. Seventy-two percent agreed religion was “losing influence” in America but 56 percent of these thought that this was a bad thing.

What is often overlooked is international data. WIN-Gallup International statistics show that 59 percent of the world population says it is religious and only 13 percent is atheistic, almost all of the latter in China, Japan, the Czech Republic and France. The people of Africa, Latin America, India and Asia, and the Muslim world almost all consider themselves religious. Tempering the Micklethwait/Wooldridge thesis somewhat, even many in Europe say they believe in God (with Sweden registering the lowest polling number, apparently we ought to call it Secularism Central) and many Europeans also say they pray.

The Science Times section of the New York Times became part of this reawakening in the person of Nicholas Wade, one of its former editors and earlier editor of the prestigious journals Nature and Science. He issued a book the same year titled The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures. Religion is merely an evolved instinct, Wade argued, but it was essential to the evolution of human beings from frail animal to master of the world.

Wade’s jumping-off point was chimpanzees, asking why humanity’s closest living cousins have not evolved much since their species split some five million years ago even as humans have changed dramatically merely in the last 50,000 years. His explanation is culture, which evolutionists have only recently taken seriously. They’ve learned that culture can feed back into the genome, “accounting at least in some part of the vast differences between people and chimpanzees.” Moreover, evolved humans are “vastly preferable—kinder, more prosperous, less warlike, less profligate of the environment and more knowledgeable.” With the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric times, war deaths reached 15 percent of population, compared to war deaths of one percent even in a horrible century (the 20th).

“Such substantial and fairly steady progress cannot have been directed by evolution, a blind and largely random process with not a flicker of interest in human welfare,” writes Wade. “Surely the only possible origin of progress is human choice.” Early humans in small groups needed rules to restrain individual self-interest for group survival as an instrument of individual survival. These rules “likely” have a genetic root, which accounts for morality at its “core” being “very similar in every society” but their development and significant differences are based on culture. The similarities are rules against murder, theft, and incest and a general belief in “Do as you are done by.” Even Darwin found the latter principle “the foundation of morality.”

Hunter-gatherer religion developed to provide more effective restraints than force, since even the strongest leader was easily overwhelmed by several offended men. The fear of gods and spirits effectively restrained attitudes that were hostile to group survival and solidified the in-group against outsiders, who often were not viewed even as human. Religion provided the “primal glue” that unified these groups and prepared them to survive. Roman emperors even took the title pontifex maximus, meaning chief priest as well as emperor, and all bureaucracies probably started in temples. As the late Samuel Huntington reminded us, religion still defines the line between the major civilizations.

God is making such a comeback that a professor of political science at the University of Texas can write a book provocatively titled, What We Cannot Not Know. Jay Budziszewski argues therein that what we “cannot not” know is moral rules and even God. These are obvious to any thinking person, he claims. Everyone has a sense of a moral law written in his conscience. Only sloth, self-deception, or apathy can lead to denial. To argue that everyone believes in God and morality, in the face of the nonstop proclamations we hear from various people that they do not believe in them, has always seemed rather arrogant if not irrational. But one must admit Budziszewski makes a powerful case.

Budziszewski in some ways models Wade in arguing that there is a “universal common sense of the human race” about morality. Budziszewski calls this “natural law” that, at “some level,” is known to all. He does not find this exclusively biological but neither does Wade with his concept of culture. Budziszewski claims these are also “right for all” and even Wade has his sense of “preferable” human development that implies some sense of “right.”

Budziszewski goes on to say that it “makes a difference” that moral rules “are right for all; otherwise there would be nothing for moral reasoning and persuasion to be about. It makes a difference that they are known to all; otherwise even though moral reasoning and persuasion would be about something, they could never get started” discussing, much less agreeing upon, basic moral behavior or the immorality of the act of murder.

How could we argue something was moral or immoral without some reference point somewhere? Budziszewski says it is naturally in us all. Wade finds it based in genes and then developed further by culture to promote survival. Neither expects we know these principles unfailingly, with Budziszewski arguing that we refer to these principles even when we break them, to justify breaking them. To Wade’s short list of universals, Budziszewski adds: caring for one’s children, and being against maiming, slander, and most adultery. Wade would probably accept these and perhaps even the popular belief in some type of universal spirit or God, as opposed to Budziszewski’s belief in its reality.

Budziszewski slips a bit quickly into treating as universal the Decalogue and its authorship by a designing, caring, forgiving God—clearly neither is universal—but he on the other hand insists that one cannot speak about moral rules in general, only how they are elaborated by tradition. In this he is similar to Wade on culture. We otherwise only know natural law inarticulately, with Budziszewski even admitting that the monotheistic traditions and pre-Noahide covenant pretty much define modern natural law, which has the benefit that these different traditions can understand each other at least to some degree.

The problem is speaking to people with no tradition, or rather to the modern intellectual tradition that explicitly rejects the common tradition in favor of one pragmatically defined by its experts as new conditions arise. To those who argue that the modern is superior because it is based on reason rather than belief, Budziszewski counters that the great atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel admitted his atheism is partially based on the “hope there is no God. I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Still, if the natural law is written on all hearts, and is even enforced by a conscience, how can some deny it? Even in the face of conscience and the possibility of negative consequences, humans desperately want to be thought good, even to themselves. They resist conscience’s demands but they can escape through remorse, blurted confession, reflexive atonement, desired reconciliation or need for justification, for each of which Budziszewski presents pertinent examples. Some people can avoid these manifestations especially when taught to ignore them, but often at a psychic cost. The furies can be fought but there is a price to pay. Feelings can be manipulated even to accept a magazine’s image of a nude woman being fed into a meat grinder and emerging as hamburger; but Treblinka required psychiatric conditioning of its executioners to allow them to carry out their instructions. No matter how repressed, somehow “the flotsam of natural law—all those corks of truth” cannot “all be kept down at once.”

Moderns cannot but find Budziszewski impertinent to insist that we all must believe in God and the natural law when many of us have thought them safely buried. Still, what is one to make of it when, for example, a professed agnostic such as Charles Krauthammer says, “I don’t believe in God but I fear him greatly”? George Will, criticizing the agnosticism of Krauthammer, said that he believed his friend is actually an “amiable low-voltage atheist” like himself but “flinches from saying it.” Listen to Will explaining himself:

The basic question in life is not, “Is there a God,” but “Why does anything exist?” St. Thomas Aquinas said that there must be a first cause for everything, and we call the first cause God. Fine, but it just has no hold on me.

Fearing something one doubts exists? “Fine” about accepting a first cause called God “but it just has no hold on me”? What, we may wonder, is going on here? The books under review here might just be on to something.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on October 24, 2014 at 12:49:01 pm

No matter how repressed, somehow “the flotsam of natural law—all those corks of truth” cannot “all be kept down at once.”

This is such a great metaphor. In case it's unclear, the quote comes from What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide at 223-224, where Budziszewski articulates a process-of-elimination argument for natural law:

[In defending natural law to a skeptic, a]ppealing to … witnesses is fruitless; all we can do is show him that his assumptions are in conflict with each other, as inevitably they will be…. When every intellectual refuge has been destroyed, one by one, then finally he may be ready to embrace a sane view of moral reality. Sometimes this approach to persuasion is called “presuppositional”.
* * *
[R]eality poses a constant problem for fallen man. He wants to acknowledge some of the truth which presses in on him, but taken together it points too strongly to other truth which he resists with all his might. In the end, he must deny so many obvious things that the work is just too much. He is like a man in a bathtub, surrounded by dozens of corks, trying to hold them all down at once. Whenever he pushes one down, another somewhere else pops right back up. This is the reason why his worldview in inevitably incoherent, for bits of truth get into it that he does not intend, clashing with the things he does intend.

I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’s account of his conversion to faith: “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, at 266).

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on October 24, 2014 at 14:40:27 pm

Nobody:

Thank you, sincerely for that wonderful elucidation!

I wonder if the great effort that Will exerts in "cork-bobbing" accounts for his almost comically / clinically detached dispassion. Heck, who could possibly have any reserves left after all that "bobbing."

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on October 25, 2014 at 09:15:41 am

Those who call on "human reason", or knowledge, to support their disbelief ignore history. Only 500 years ago, conventional wisdom held that the earth was flat, and the sun revolved around the earth. To argue otherwise could get you killed. If one considers the known universe, with planets orbiting the sun, or the complexity of the human body, the function of the cardiovascular system or the human eye, it is impossible to dismiss the existence of an intelligent designer. If this designer could create all we see and experience in the world around us, could it not also mettle in the affairs of men, or events that occur around us?
Human reason is ever changing, and we will never know all there is to know. If we could, then we would be "God".

read full comment
Image of Peter Elebash
Peter Elebash
on October 25, 2014 at 18:43:09 pm

Christian perspective: man is sentient, self-aware, morally cognizant, and capable of countermanding and controlling primal instincts with superimposed religious, cultural software that makes civilization possible and he is personally accountable to God for his moral condition.

The key cornerstone of secular humanism is the philosophy of science known as scientific materialism, which quantum mechanics does not support. From our view this side atomic divide, which affords only realism, we simply cannot comprehend that consciousness is the beginning and end of all physics.

Review this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C5pq7W5yRM

This is simply astounding because there is no independent underlying reality that supports the possibility of scientific materialism.

Scientific materialism as a philosophy of science is dead. Secular folks are simply in denial. It’s been over 75 years now since quantum physics established this and every subsequent experiment confirmed it. The situation is like pessimistic intellectuals in the West that believed in the ultimate triumph communism right up to the surprising collapse of this system of lies.

read full comment
Image of Jake Peachey
Jake Peachey
on October 26, 2014 at 04:29:33 am

"If one considers the known universe, with planets orbiting the sun, or the complexity of the human body, the function of the cardiovascular system or the human eye, it is impossible to dismiss the existence of an intelligent designer"

Really? I look at the Mandlebrot set. I see vastly complex intricate patterns created by an absurdly simple repeating algorithm. Now, if I look at the complexity of the human body, the function of the cardiovascular system, or the human eye, I see systems which were built upon in small and intricate ways by a purely natural algorithm. It seems no more mystical to me how genetic drift and natural selection can create a human eye any more than how a solid particle of dust in the upper atmoshpere can slowly collect drops of water which freeze in a hexagonal crystaline structure which subsequently falls back down to earth as snow.

The patterns are remarkable, complex, intricate, and amazing. However the algorithems and structures which generates them at every level appear driven and explained by more nature, not whatever the 'supernatural' means. We used to believe gods were necessary to throw lightning from the sky. Then we learned of static charges, of discharge, we learned that things which had been seen as guided by the gods is built on an intricate but ultimately blind process.

I see no reason why the universe itself is unlikely to fit into the pattern of 'we discover the natural when we previously proclaimed only supernatural explinations'. The supernatural is always a vague causal agent, the natural isn't. The more we learn, the less vague we need to be, and so the supernatural fades away.

You're free to propose the supernatural, but to argue 'it is impossible to dismiss the existence of an intelligent designer' is just objectively false. It's easy to dismiss the existence of an intelligent designer, I just did so. You could argue I'm wrong, which is fine, but doesn't change that I can consider those things and still easily dismiss an intelligent designer. I dismiss it mostly because it's a vague answer, if you could ever give me more details than "god just did it", I'd be more willing to consider it a rational and coherent idea.

read full comment
Image of Andrew
Andrew
on October 26, 2014 at 11:33:39 am

"Really? I look at the Mandlebrot set"

This seems to repeat the same mistake that many who argue for a purely materialist view of the universe make - they forget the most salient fact concerning their proof - the proof itself is the product of design - human thought.
Someone designed / developed these equations. That is a far cry from an eyeball arising out of blind chance.

I say this not to advance one argument or the other but rather to point out the obvious - someone designed something!

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on October 26, 2014 at 12:08:21 pm

It is meaningless to consider important the effect of any value, via This Country, as perceived by any foreign culture. China does things for her own reasons and no we will never properly understand them. We are neither the world police nor are we god's voice to the world (equally dangerous... if we are to believe Jefferson).

read full comment
Image of Thos
Thos
on October 26, 2014 at 12:35:22 pm

AN AMERICAN SIGN OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

We are a nation under God, and God exists and lets His existence be known in historical events from time to time. One such unmistakable God directed event was the near simultaneous deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams within five hours of each other on July 4, 1824, the 48th anniversary of Independence Day. I've investigated this subject in a completely novel way and wrote the most unusual article anyone is likely to read on it. If you firmly believe in God and His providence my article will reinforce your faith. If you're agnostic it might make you less so. If you're an atheist my article may raise doubts about your unbelief ,or infuriate you if you hate the God idea. For what I discovered about Jefferson's and Adam's deaths could not have been the work of chance accident.

Click or google www.apollospeaks.com and judge for yourself the importance of my discoveries.

read full comment
Image of ApolloSpeaks
ApolloSpeaks
on October 26, 2014 at 15:07:51 pm

CORRECTION: Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of Indie Day.

read full comment
Image of ApolloSpeaks
ApolloSpeaks
on October 26, 2014 at 15:44:17 pm

The traditional message of Christian faith no longer resonates with people in the post-Christian secular environment because the first principle of faith is that God is who he says he is in his word. Everywhere we are being bombarded with the assumption that everything has a naturalistic explanation. Who needs God?

Dr. Francis Schaeffer (How Should We Then Live) pointed out a communication problem: every generation has to calibrate the Christian message in a way that is can be understood by the current generation.

So much of the traditional Christian message was written in the context of persuading fellow Hebrews who already believe in God and the moral law of divine origin. Most Christian seminaries teach in this contextual language which doesn’t communicate to the post-Christian secular individual. Notice how St. Paul changed the format on Mars Hill to Greek philosophers. This is the kind of switch the Christian message needs to take to the secular world.

This should be done by bringing up empirical science to destroy the basis of the philosophy of scientific materialism. The fundamental problem in biology by two prominent molecular biologists: the genome project turned out to be a big bust because there are less than 22,000 genes in the human genome whereas the tiny water flea has 32,000.

The genes function as blueprints for the sole purpose of making specific proteins, but do not have the information for morphology ----that is the size, shape and form of the organism. This information is external in what they call the field.

Review of this --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXpndnjHvqw
And this ---https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns5sLo59Kak

However, I reserve credence to some of the philosophical, sociological ideas they extrapolate.

read full comment
Image of Jake Peachey
Jake Peachey
on October 27, 2014 at 07:32:42 am

Is It Another Great Awakening?

From Is It Another Great Awakening? China’s atheistic communist government conceded that its Christian population had doubled to 21 million over the past decade, worshiping in 55,000 official Protestant and 4,600 Catholic churches. The underground chur

read full comment
Image of Maggie's Farm
Maggie's Farm
on October 28, 2014 at 13:40:31 pm

This is an amazing article. I am happy to hear that God is making a comeback and holy spirit is being poured out.

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

read full comment
Image of James
James
on November 12, 2014 at 07:03:54 am

[…] This article is reprinted from the blog of the Library of Law and Liberty. […]

read full comment
Image of Are We Seeing Another Global Great Awakening?
Are We Seeing Another Global Great Awakening?
on February 23, 2015 at 07:28:02 am

[…] Similarly, some have wished for a Great Awakening, a major religious revival. That may already be under way: […]

read full comment
Image of Be Careful What You Wish For
Be Careful What You Wish For

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.