At the SBTS Blog: Science vs. Scientism: A Necessary Distinction

This past semester I had the opportunity to teach Introduction to Philosophy at Boyce College. This is one of my favorite courses to teach as it deals with one of my favorite areas – metaphilosophy and the relationship between faith and reason. I also enjoy this class because I have the opportunity to discuss the distinction between science and what’s known as “scientism.” What is “scientism” and why the distinction? Well, take a look at my post at the Southern Blog titled “Science vs. Scientism: A Necessary Distinction.”

Les Miles by Patrick Dennis

LSU Fans, We Are The Issue, Not Miles


Les Miles By the Numbers

I try not to write about sports too much on here, but the Les Miles saga at LSU is getting to be a bit too much. I admit, just a few days ago I was ready to see Miles let go. Since 2011, we’ve been plagued with the same offensive issues and have failed to win the SEC West, much less the national title. A change is needed; perhaps Miles has seen his better days.

However, as emotions have settled down, I’ve been won over by those outside of the chaos that is LSU football. Those who are not emotionally involved are looking at this scenario and rightly question – is LSU serious?

Miles has won a title and has never had a losing season. Miles has produced numerous NFL players and is always one of the top recruiting classes. The program is relatively clean, and Miles has walked the talk (who else would have the guts to cut Periloux and Mathieu despite their talent?). Further, Miles has invested in the community (and loves Baton Rouge). There’s so much more to say, but the point is clear, Miles has built a solid and stable program, and he is a coach who draws no attention to himself (see here), but to the program he serves and the students he leads.

Does Miles need to change how he does offense? Yes. Is he loyal to a fault (Jordan Jefferson)? Yes. He’s got things to fix. But he’s not the problem. We are. The primary issue at play here is our dislike of Saban and Alabama, and this colors how we view everything else. It’s as if we compare ourselves to ‘Bama and we get angry when we lose to them because it means we’re not better than them. We judge our program’s success on one game. In short, our frustrations with Les, with the season, and with the program are rooted in our inferiority complex with ‘Bama. That’s our fault, not Miles’.

Les Miles by Patrick DennisWe have a program to be proud of – a team that very few can match up to. I live in Kentucky, and I can tell you there are some football fans up here who would love to have the “problem” of a 7-3 season. Our sustained success since 2000 has caused us to raise our expectations  – which is a good thing. However, in raising our expectations, we have neglected to appreciate what we have with our LSU football program.

I think Joe Alleva, the boosters, and the fans would do well to listen to the likes of Stoops, Jason Kirk at SB Nation, Pat Forde, LSU players, and everyone else not caught up in this scapegoating of Les Miles.

A Night to Remember – the McDonalds at the Bevin/Hampton Rally

Last night, my family and I attended the Bevin/Hampton rally as the election results rolled in. We have never attended anything like this and thought it would be a great opportunity for us to experience American politics in a new way (new to us). The atmosphere was charged with optimism and excitement as Republicans won key positions in state government and as the results of the governor’s race rolled in. It was an experience to remember as we took part in welcoming in Matt Bevin as Kentucky’s next governor.

My wife and I, though, have another reason to be excited about last night. As Bevin’s lead over Conway was at a comfortable  level, Bevin and his family made their way into the ballroom to great supporters. My two youngest daughters wanted to make their way toward Bevin for a chance to say hi and to take a picture with them. Making our way to Bevin was easy despite the crowd around him – we were able to get within two feet of him. The challenge was to get his attention, which my youngest daughter eventually did as she lightly tapped him on the shoulder. I was able to get a picture of my girls with Bevin, and they even took a selfie with him. :)

Little did I know that the media would jump on this photo op, and before the night was over, my girls’ picture with Bevin was on USA Today, the Courier-Journal, and It’s been fun to see an innocent picture garner attention on national media (in a good way!). All it took was a tap on the shoulder for us to have Gov.-Elect Bevin’s attention for just a short moment. The fact that he took the time to take a picture and a selfie speaks volumes about his character. Thank you, Mr. Bevin! Though this may have seemed like a small moment in your busy night (and what a wonderful night!), you made a huge impact on two girls who have big dreams!

Here are the pictures that have made the news:

USA Today: this picture was taken as I was taking a picture of the girls and Bevin with my cell phone.

From USA Today’s article titled “GOP’s Bevin defeats Conway in Ky. gov.’s race.” Click on the picture for the article.

Yahoo Newsthis picture was taken shortly after Emma got Bevin’s attention. Here Libby is talking to Gov. Elect Bevin.

Libby (future governor) meeting Gov.-Elect Bevin.

Courier-Journal (Louisville):

The photo USA Today picked up. I spoke with a photographer from CJ to give them my girls’ names.

Deborah Yetter (Reporter at CJ, via her Twitter account: @d_yetter): I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Yetter; she’s a very nice lady. She was patient with the girls and seemed to enjoy speaking with them.

Taken by Deborah Yetter at CJ. We were by the stage getting ready for Bevin's speech.

Taken by Deborah Yetter at CJ. We were by the stage getting ready for Bevin’s speech.

Overall, it was a very good night. My girls’ overnight “fame” just topped it off!

So, with my daddy-bragging over with, I must say that attending the rally last night helped me to get a new perspective on American politics. Yes, we have problems in the government. Yes, it can get wearying hearing the fighting crossing over the political divide. But, seeing our politics in action yesterday showed me that despite our warts, we really do have a wonderful political system.

Always Be Prepared

At The Southern Blog, I have written a post (Always be Prepared to Make a Defense) that discusses how understanding the philosophy of our day helps believers to fulfill Peter’s command in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV).

This post is a small part of my work to show how philosophy – rightly understood – can be of service to theology and to the defense of the Christian faith. I hope you find it helpful!

When Logic and the Real World Collide

Today I had an How to Apply Logic to Arguments Part I titled “How to Apply Logic to Arguments, Part I.” In this article I provide some basic tips to consider when analyzing and developing arguments. In light of this summer’s controversies, I hope this two-part series is helpful for those who are actively engaging our culture (the second part of my article will be published on the SBTS blog shortly).


Writing a Research Paper: What’s Worked for Me

Pen PaperIt’s that time of the semester where students are faced with looming deadlines for…*scarey music*…research papers. Most students (I like to think) enjoy the learning process, but when it comes to writing a research paper, they’d rather binge watch all of the episodes of Caillou.

Writing a paper can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be something you dread or avoid. There are a variety of ways you can approach writing a paper, but what got me on track and to enjoying the writing process is a method that Dr. Ted Cabal (Professor of Christian Worldview and Applied Apologetics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) taught me when I was in my M.Div. days. I used his method throughout the remainder of my masters classes all the way through to my Ph.D. dissertation. As you begin your research process, I’d like to share with you what worked for me.

  • The obvious first step is to determine what topic you are going to research. Ironically, for some students, this is the toughest aspect of writing. Generally your professor will give you some ideas to serve as a springboard into determining your own topic. If you’re still unsure, look through what you’ve covered in class to see if anything piques your curiosity. Is there a topic that relates to an issue you’re dealing with at work or in the ministry? Is there a topic that you are completely unfamiliar with and about which you want to learn more? If all else fails, ask your professor for an idea.
  • Once you have your general topic, brainstorm a list of questions of what you want to know about a that topic. Here you don’t need to worry about whether the questions are related or not. Instead, you’re asking questions that will help guide you in the research of your topic. Once you run out of questions to ask, look at your list and chop out the questions that do not fit or are too broad.
  • With your whittled-down list of questions, write a basic outline based on your questions. This will guide the writing of the paper. Essentially, this outline will serve as the different subsections of your paper – sections that are used to support your thesis.

Now you are ready to do research.

  • Take your outline and go to big picture books (dictionaries, encyclopedias, intros, etc.) and get the big picture of your topic before going into the details. Are there terms or concepts with which you need to be familiar? What thinkers are mentioned often? Does your topic consist of sub-topics? What are competing theories regarding your topic? Modify your outline based on this research.

This is also time for you to build your bibliography. What books or articles are mentioned in the “big picture” sources you’ve read? Use these sources as your springboard into other resources that are relevant to your topic. When you are using a primary or secondary source, be sure to review that book’s bibliography and footnotes (or endnotes) for other sources you can review.

  • Now begin reading the books from the bibliography and write down the big single idea, or several ideas that hit you. Write these ideas down in your own words and cite where the idea fits in your outline. (You also need to be sure you cite the source where the idea originates as this will save you from having to hunt for the source later on.) This must relate to the outline you are using so that you know where it fits in the grand scheme of things.
  • Set a time to quit researching so that you have time to write. It is easy to get caught up in your research. If your topic interests you, you may find it easy to get lost in the research process. However, there is such a thing as too much research. If done correctly, you will have more material than you need to write. So, be sure that you set a date on which you stop researching and begin writing.
  • Writing should be the easiest part. Look at what you found in your research. What contains the most information and interest in regard to your outline? Adjust your outline to what you have found. You can get creative in this step in thinking about how to present things in the paper.

You may find that the further you research your topic, the more you may have to adjust your initial thesis. This is okay and, in my opinion (as well as Dr. Cabal), a sign of good research. Your research should guide your writing. So, make adjustments to your outline and thesis as you write. You don’t want to force a thesis that is not valid or relevant.

Again, there are other valid approaches to writing a paper. I’ve found, though, that Dr. Cabal’s suggestion is the most natural one to follow.

Whatever approach you take, enjoy the process. Writing is indeed a journey. There will be moments of deep insight and periods of intellectual drought. Expect this! However, with discipline and perseverance, you can write a paper that you are proud to claim as your own.


In Light of our Chaotic Summer, Don’t Grow Weary…Pray

It’s been a rather tumultuous summer so far this year. We’ve seen race riots flare up because of police-related shootings, raising calls for more accountability for cops. Three theater shootings have occurred in about a month’s time, bringing to the forefront again gun control versus gun rights. The Supreme Court passed a landmark decision legalizing homosexual marriage. And, Planned Parenthood has been exposed by released videos for negotiating and selling the parts of aborted babies.  Anyone who spends even only a small amount of time on social media or on the television has been inundated with opinions and arguments from various sides of the issues.

Because of the non-stop nature of our news cycle, it is easy to become weary of listening to the news about police-related shootings, gay marriage, and Planned Parenthood. The feeling of being overwhelmed with the news sets in, which can lead to a general sense of apathy toward today’s hot issues regardless of which side the news comes from. Though this tendency is natural, it behooves us as Christians to avoid such apathy and to remain aware of what is going on in our culture.

While feeling overwhelmed is a natural reaction to the ongoing news cycle and discussion over shootings, gay marriage, and Planned Parenthood (and any other topic that floods our news media and social media), we must be careful that apathy not take root in our hearts. Once apathy sets in, we are lulled into inactivity, choosing to ignore atrocities that must be met with prayer and the truth of the Gospel. There is perhaps no greater weapon Satan uses than the apathy expressed by the children of God toward the lies and injustices propagated by our culture.

I am reminded of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus Christ spent the early morning hours agonizing in prayer, knowing he would soon be bearing the sin of the world on the cross. The disciples followed Jesus to the Garden, but they did not join him in prayer; instead, they were overcome by weariness (it was late into the night) and fell asleep. Twice Jesus woke them up, but each time the disciples succumbed to sleep. After waking the disciples the second time, Jesus says to Peter, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41, ESV).

Peter would soon deny the Lord Jesus, fulfilling Jesus’ words given just recently of Peter’s denial.The temptation Peter would face was that of denying Jesus in the face of opposition and tribulation. Jesus exhorted Peter to pray that he may not give in to this temptation. Instead, Peter, like Jame and John, slept as Jesus agonized over what would soon transpire.

Jesus’ words to the disciples in the Garden can, I believe, apply to Christians today. However, instead of literally falling asleep in the face of upcoming tribulation, we are lulled into a sleep-like state of apathy. The seemingly unending news and debate wearies our minds and hearts; however, we need to remain alert and in prayer for what lies ahead in the coming days. Weariness and apathy causes us to turn a deaf ear to the lies and injustices of our culture; being alert in prayer helps us to be ready for action and to respond with the truth of our Lord God.

I write this not as one who is in the thick of battle, calling out those who are lulled into inactivity. Rather, I am writing as one who struggles with the temptation to tune out the news and debate. I grow weary of the Facebook posts and the talking heads that seem to belabor points as they and their opponents talk past one another. I can then quickly become apathetic and, some times, cynical. Thus, instead of praying for our government or about the hot button issues of our day, I gloss over them by focusing only on those issues that impact me immediately – my family, my church, my work, etc.

However, such an approach does not make the pressing issues of today go away or that less important. Nor does it lessen the responsibility I have as a believer to pray that the truth of God would prevail in such dark times. So, may we – may I – “watch and pray that [we] may not enter into temptation.”

Using Science Fiction to Convey Theology: Robert J. Sawyer’s “Calculating God” as a Test Case

The post below is a revised version of a post from a now defunct blog I once had. In this post I discuss Robert J. Sawyer’s “Calculating God” and briefly explore how science fiction can be used as a vehicle to explore philosophical and theological ideas. This post coincides with my recent post regarding the value of historical fiction. More and more I am convinced on fiction’s value as a vehicle for philosophical and theological exploration and teaching.

What I’m purporting here is nothing new; rather, I’m discovering something that has been utilized with great skill by the likes of Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Twain, Lewis, and Tolkien, and more recently Umberto Eco. Other authors of less renown include Kenneth L. Roberts and Leon Uris. The genre of fiction is immensely popular in Christian literature, but (at least in my opinion) has little value in teaching and exploring; rather, Christian fiction seems to go little beyond mere storytelling. Storytelling is not bad in itself, but it seems that Christian authors have a phenomenal opportunity to use fiction to its fullest extent in teaching Christian truth in way that captures not only one’s mind, but one’s imagination and heart. We have a rich heritage from which to draw in the likes of Lewis and Tolkien, but it is one that is seems to wield little influence in contemporary authors (for the most part).

Despite the flood of fiction-for-fiction’s-sake book flooding Christian bookstores, there are Christian authors who seek to use fiction to build up the Christian worldview. One such author, who is fairly new on the scene, is Dan DeWitt (see recent post on The Owlings: A Worldview Novella here and here. See also his site for other books he’s published.) DeWitt has a new book coming out soon that is in the same vein as The Owlings. Another author is singer-song writer Andrew Petersons The Wingfeather Saga. I am sure there are more out there, but to this point, this is what I know. As I continue my discovery, I hope to find more!

And now, without delaying the inevitable, here is my discussion of Calculating God and the use of sci-fi to convey philosophical and theological ideas.

In 2009 I read Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God and found it to be an interesting work of sci-fi.  To be honest, my impression of sci-fi at that time was not that high.  I’ve tended to see the genre of sci-fi as nothing short of a playground for the imagination.  However, Sawyer’s book has dismantled my ill-informed view.  Science-fiction, at least those that are written well, can serve as a vehicle in integrating current scientific thought into the everyday world.  In other words, sci-fi can serve as a vehicle to play out the implications of certain scientific theories and experiments, utilizing the possible-world line of thinking as employed by philosophers.  More so, some sci-fi can even attempt to deal with the centuries-old problem of science and religion – what is their relationship, if any?  Sawyer’s Calculating God is not necessarily a book about extraterrestrials and their attempt to over take earth, thus resulting in a galactic world war; rather, Sawyer’s book is an attempt to meld together evolution and naturalism with Intelligent Design with the purpose of coming to grips on the existence and nature of God.

The Story

Without going into too much detail, I’ll need to go into the setting of the book in order for what I’m about to say to make sense.  Tom Jericho, a paleontologist (and, important to the story, an atheist) at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, is visited by an alien (Hollus) who is in the process of studying the evolution of the universe.  Hollus, along with several other aliens, visits Earth with no intention to overtake it; rather, they are on a voyage to several different universes to gather data for their research.  The book, then, is largely Tom’s interactions and conversations with Hollus (and at times another alien, T’kna) in which they collaborate with each other on their own findings and attempt to understand the nature of this world and its relationship to “God”, if there’s one at all (at least according to Jericho).  Of course, there must be action, so sprinkled throughout the storyline is a side plot of two religious fanatics (young-Earth creationists who hold to Scripture and the “traditional” God) who seek to destroy the fossils located in the ROM because of the “lies” they teach.  These characters quickly fade out of the picture, but play an important role in supporting Jericho’s (and ultimately the author’s?) view that anyone holding to the belief in the biblical God and the biblical teaching of creation (specifically of the young earth) is basically barbaric, an un-evolved person.

The Problem of Evil

A significant subplot of the story is Tom’s cancer.  The alien’s visit coincides with Tom’s final stages of lung cancer.  As Tom struggles with Hollus’ argument for “God”, Tom is unable to see why an Intelligent Designer would allow for the “mistake” of cancer, and ultimately, suffering.

Not a Bad Start!

In its teaching regarding the nature of God and this world, the novel starts off rather tame from a Christian perspective.  In the initial stages of Hollus’ visit with Jericho, the alien breaks the news to Jericho that there indeed exists an Intelligent Designer – God.  Hollus explains that the universe itself gives evidence of this Intelligent Designer and uses the same illustrations as current ID proponents to support their thesis (i.e. how the world consists of the right combinations of certain elements, the distances between planets and their sun are set at the precise measurement to avoid destruction, etc.).  Hollus finds it surprising that Jericho and fellow scientists on Earth do not believe in God as, according to Hollus, the evidence clearly points to an Intelligent Designer.  We see throughout the book Jericho’s struggle with this argument and his eventual acceptance of an Intelligent Designer.  Upon further reading, however, Sawyer’s concept of an Intelligent Designer begins to diverge significantly from the Christian concept of an Intelligent Designer (as such, when referring to God as defined by Sawyer, I’ll place the word “God” in quotes, along with any pronouns referring to Him in order to distinguish between the biblical God).

Sawyer’s Assumptions

A major assumption of Sawyer and his characters is the truth of Darwinian evolution and naturalism.  The universe is closed with no being existing outside of the material universe (as opposed to the traditional Christian view that God, as creator, is outside the universe though able to intervene in His creation at His pleasure).  As such, the material world is all that exists and has existed over time.  Further, implied in the novel, I believe, is an empirical view of epistemology – one comes to know something only through observation.  As such, there is no special revelation, no a priori knowledge, etc.  The aliens’ knowledge of “God”, then, came about only through their study of the universe.

A “Scientific” God

Because of Sawyer’s empiricism, naturalism, and Darwinism, his view of an Intelligent Designer takes on a non-theistic understanding of God.  For instance, in one of Hollus’ conversations with Jericho, the alien states, “I suspect God exists in the universe because of science” (92).  The alien further explains:

“As I said earlier, our universe is closed – it will eventually collapse back down in a big crunch.  A similar event happened after billions of years in the universe that preceded this one – and with billions of years, who knows what phenomenal things science might make possible?  Why, it might even make it possible for an intelligence, or data patterns representing it, to survive a big crunch, and exist again in the next cycle of creation.  Such an entity might even have science sufficient to allow it to influence the parameters for the next cycle, creating a designer universe into which that entity itself will be reborn already armed with billions of years worth of knowledge and wisdom” (93, emphasis mine).

In other words, with the creation of a new universe (after the previous universe collapses in a “big crunch”), a new “God” is reborn and “God” gains scientific knowledge based on what was learned (?) from the previous creation(s) and as evolution progresses.  Further, according to Hollus:

“I believe that the being which is now the God of this universe was a noncorporeal intelligence that arose through chance fluctuations in a previous  universe devoid of biology” (93).

As such, “God” is not omnipotent or omniscient, for these are just “adjectives” assigned to “God” by humans (170).  Instead, “He” just seems to be a higher evolved being than humans (and whatever else exists out there).

A question I have based upon this reading is: what has priority, science or “God”?  If I’ve read Sawyer’s work correctly, it seems that science has priority, setting the parameters from which “He” is to work.  Nonetheless, one sees the preeminence of science in understanding the world and God according to Sawyer’s view.


With a “God” limited by the world (being contained in a closed universe) and possibly even being created “Himself”, how, then, does “He” relate to creation, and specifically, to mankind?

Real = Imperfect

According to another alien (of a different species) named T’kna, because “God” is real, “He” is imperfect, as only “an abstraction can be free of flaws.”   In fact, the idea of a perfect God is a “fallacy.”

Referring back to Tom’s cancer, because “God” is real (and thus imperfect), it ‘follows’ that suffering exists since an imperfect “God” cannot prevent it.


Borrowing from quantum physics, only that which is observed is real.  Whatever “God” chooses to observe (having chosen from any number of possibilities) is what is real.

An Impersonal Being

“God” does indeed have a purpose for creating the universe (a purpose not mentioned, at least explicitly); however, “God” takes no interest in individuals and their lives.  As such, one is “delusional” in thinking that God listens to his prayers.

This idea is illustrated towards the end of the novel when Tom was able to travel with the aliens to the site of  a dead star (a star that had gone supernova that “God” shielded the aliens’ universe and Earth from) in order to meet “God.”  Upon arrival, Tom expects to receive no acknowledgment from “God” (though he does have some slight hope for a small acknowledgment at the least), and his expectations come to be true.  “God” is portrayed as some deep-black, spherical being with six appendages that shows no inclination of acknowledging the presence of the aliens and guests other than giving “life” to the concoction of DNA made by one of the alien groups.


With “God” having no part in an individual’s life, the role of morals and ethics takes an expected turn – they are merely man-made.  Specifically, morals are just a means to an end.  For instance, Hollus’ species determined their morals in order to instill peace in their society (which had been war-wracked for so long and almost faced complete destruction of their race).


Staying true to the naturalistic view, there is no life after death.  Any belief of life after death is based upon a fear of death

Science, then, can lead one to belief in the existence of God, but this “God” is nothing like the God revealed in Scripture.  In fact, Scripture is never referenced as support for “God”.

Scripture, etc.

Though not explicitly stated (if I recall correctly), Scripture is nothing but a book developed by ignorant (not as highly evolved) mankind.  Scripture, according to this book, does not reveal a true or real God.

If you recall the side plot with the two religious nuts, those who believe in Scripture as literal truth (the world is created, God is revealed to us in the Word, etc.) are presented as fanatics, those who seek to impede the progress of mankind.  In fact, when Tom finds out the purpose of the religious fanatics and their plot, he mutters, “Creationists!”  Quite humorous, but a sad fallacy of generalizing all who believe in creation to be backwards, ignorant people.

Sawyer’s book by no means conveys a traditional view of God, but it does illustrate what I spoke about earlier in this post. Fiction is one area that Christians can redeem and use to its fullest extent. Fiction need not be for the sake of merely telling a story; rather, employed with telos, it can help shape and guide the worldviews of generations of Christians to come.

I hope to write more on this topic in the near future, so stay tuned!

Virginia Corwin on Ignatius

A great summary of Ignatius by Virginia Corwin in St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960):

The suffering on the cross was real and the final proof that the grace and love of God are one. History and the world are thus not surrendered to Satan but remain the areas in which God works. Nor is redemption an isolated, profoundly individual moment all but out of time, as the modern existentialists would have it, but a stumbling and wholly human journey in a real world, to find grace in company with others in the church, and in the end to attain unto God (271).