Fragmentary Prolegomena to a Theodicy

1. If someone has good reasons to trust a person, then she can have good reasons to believe that he has good reasons for causing, or permitting, some evil, even when she has no idea what those reasons might be. Thus the person of faith need not experience a conflict between her belief in God and the apparently gratuitous evil she sees in the world. But, of course, evil can at times generate a personal, existential crisis of faith. Scripture contains many instances of this, in the Psalms, in Job, in the Lamentations on the destruction of Jerusalem, and above all in Christ’s cry of dereliction from the cross.

2. Whether or not evil causes doubt in the believer, it poses a serious theoretical challenge to Christian belief. If there is gratuitous evil, then the perfectly wise, all powerful, and perfectly good God of Christian faith does not exist, and our faith is in vain. And there appears to be gratuitous evil. The burden that falls to us is to make the case that we have good reasons to deny that the world’s apparently gratuitous evil is really gratuitous, because God has good reasons for making it possible and for permitting it to continue. (The attempt to show that this is true is a theodicy. To show that it could be true is a defense. Here I don’t pay much attention to the distinction.)

3. The Christian has no stake in defending belief in a generic deity in light of the world’s evil. Our concern is to show that the God of Christian faith is a God that has good reasons for acting in ways that made evil possible, and that he deals with the actuality of evil in the best conceivable way. Our contention is that in the history of Israel, and decisively in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and then in the ongoing life of the Christian Church, God has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with evil—what we might better call the problem of sin and death#in the best conceivable way.

4. First, we contend that God had good reasons to create a world in which evil is a possibility. If someone acts in a way that makes evil possible, but this is a low-probability event, and he knows that he can deal with any actual evil that ensues in the best possible way, and intends to do so if it does, then the goodness of his ends may justify his action. If, for example, a physician begins a particular course of treatments, knowing that there is a low probability of serious side effects, but intends to deal with them in a good way if they occur, then he may well being acting properly in initiating the treatment. Whether the action would be justified if evil effects were inevitable, or highly probable, is a further question. But I will argue that evil, or at least moral evil, had low probability in God’s creation. I assume that God never intended there to be evil, at least not moral evil.

5. In The Material Image, I argue that the naturalistic implications of science can be reconciled with Christian faith, but only when we pay heed to its particular claims about God’s purposes in creation. The same, I hold, is true when it comes to coping with the problem of evil. We must take account of God’s aims in creation to grasp how he can justifiably permit the evil that now mars it and calls his goodness, and thus his existence, into question. God created with the aim of there being personal creatures, truly distinct from their creator and capable of being called to share in his triune life. The wise pursuit of this aim involves creating a world governed by indeterministic causal laws. The God of Christian faith does not design his creatures. He brings them into existence by natural means that preclude their specific characteristics being intended, or foreknown, by him. These means, e.g., natural selection in a universe governed by the probabilistic laws of quantum theory, necessitate the possibility of low-probability bad events. (It also necessitates high-probability bad events, such as the suffering of many sentient creatures. Natural evil I will discuss in future, my focus here is on moral evil.)

6. The approach I offer rejects the familiar human impulse to envision human beings as the crown of creation, superior to all other creatures. I conjecture the human species consists of creatures close to the boundary of persons and mere non-personal animals. Most of the personal creatures God’s creation has brought forth are further removed from their non-personal origins than we are. (I assume that the creation contains many other kinds of personal creatures, in absolute terms even if they are relatively very rare.) For them, the irrationality of moral evil is obvious and they do not indulge in it. Humans find it more difficult to avoid irrational choices destructive of themselves and others. However, when God is unambiguously empirically present to them, they are capable of doing so, but their not avoiding such choices remains a possibility, one they can freely choose. The likelihood of making evil choices increases as God’s empirical presence becomes ambiguous. (In the Eden story the humans sometimes hear, but never see, God.) On further conjecture, God’s compelling empirical presence would overwhelm them, rendering them incapable of freely rejecting evil and trusting him. I take it that the story in primeval Genesis, portraying the Fall as an historical event in an imagined past, makes the crucial point that our rejection of God, succumbing to the desire to put ourselves in his place, was contingent: not necessitated by human nature, not God’s intent but only a possibility he allowed for. God, regarding his human creatures’ freedom and distinctness from him, gave them time and space to do their worst, creating a world in which he appears not to exist, and where he is replaced with productions of the religious imagination, byproducts of our evolved cognitive architecture. This is how I understand our fallen condition and ‘original sin:’ it is to be born into a world from which God has to all appearances been evicted. But God does not abandon his wayward creatures. He sets out on the long course of saving them in the best possible way: by letting them do their very worst, executing his incarnate self for blasphemy and sedition, and using this very act to save them. It is a means that will finally deliver them from the subjugation to sin and death they have chosen.

7. Because I invoke God’s regard for human freedom in this account, I pause to note that, so far as I can ascertain, the familiar free will theodicy on its own faces fatal objections.  First, it is simply false to claim that God cannot create a world in which there are free creatures and no moral evil. God could create a world containing exactly one creature who has just one free choice between good and evil. This creature could, since he is free, choose good and not evil. If he does, then God has created a world in which there is freedom and no evil. Giving the creature more choices, and increasing the number of creatures with such choices, makes no essential change. What is true is not that God cannot create a world with freedom and without evil, but that he cannot create a world with freedom and no possibility of evil. He cannot, of course, force creatures to freely choose good over evil. Perhaps it is also true that he cannot create a world in which he ensures that free creatures never do evil. However, if he knows what possible free creatures would choose if he were to create them, then he could create only those he knows will never choose evil. (A response to this is to float the possibility that all possible free creatures suffer from “transworld depravity,” i.e., there are no possible worlds in which they never freely choose evil. I find this implausible: if a creature is free, then whenever she chooses evil, she could have chosen good instead, and thus there is a possible world in which she chooses good over evil. If she has n choices between good and evil in her life, and she has made n-1 good choices, when she comes to the final, nth, choice either she can choose good one more time, or her choice is not free, and all her choices are free and good. In any event, because I maintain that God created persons by indeterministic natural processes, I believe that he did not foreknow what persons he was creating and did not select either species or individual members of species from the set of possible persons.

Further, we know that human beings are capable of persuading other human beings to choose good over evil, and to do so in ways that involve neither manipulation nor coercion, so that the choice is free. If human beings can sometimes do this to one another, especially when there is a large differential in wisdom, as there is between adults and children, it is not plausible that God cannot always do it. If a human being can freely choose good rather than evil, then there is a possible situation in which she does choose good, and God can put bring that situation about. It’s also worth noting that the bare claim that God permits evil because of the value he places on freedom is not plausible. Sometimes it is right to permit a morally wicked act for the sake of a person’s freedom, but sometimes it is not. One can place too high a value on freedom. It cannot reasonably or rightly be accorded infinite value in its own right. A person having fellowship with God is of infinite valued.  It is sometimes said that God values human freedom because it is possibly for a person to have a relationship with him only if she freely chooses to do so. Perhaps this is true, but it is not reasonable to think that if God prevents someone from doing some great evil he thereby renders her incapable of freely choosing him at some later time. Indeed, the opposite seems more likely in many cases.

Finally, we should note that the appeal to free will runs counter to some traditional theological views held by those who make it. If, as some Christians believe, God causes, foreknows, and intends each human choice, then no human choices are free (even on a compatibilist conception of freedom) and divine regard for our freedom can’t be invoked to explain evil.  If, as many believe, God foreknows who will freely finally choose to be in relationship with him, it is not clear why he would not prevent those who will not be saved from doing certain evils.  And, as my colleague Randy Jensen has pointed out, if God threatens everlasting damnation for those who do evil, this is a paradigmatically coerced choice and thus not free.

On its own, not embedded in a larger context, the appeal to freedom’s value cannot solve the problem of moral evil.

8. We should, of course, ask why God would create a universe likely to bring forth such lowly creatures, given the probability (even if only a low one) of our behaving as we have. God could have created a world containing only superior creatures with no likelihood of rejecting their creator. But God is a community of loving persons, and it is characteristic of him that he freely reaches out to what is other than himself, sharing his love. Thus, while God does not have to create, it is no surprise that he does, aiming for the existence of persons distinct from himself. Nor is it a surprise that this God chooses to create in a way that allows for the possibility of the lowliest personal creatures existing. God has revealed the propensity not only to reach out to those who are other than him, as he does by creating a universe that in due course gives rise to persons, but to reach out as far as—and as far down as—he can. (The great biblical illustration of this is God electing Israel, the least of nations, as his chosen people, his nation of kings and priests to represent him to the world.) I believe that God created this universe with the intent of becoming incarnate as a creature of the lowliest sort. This turned out to be humankind. We are called to serve as the image of God not in virtue of our superiority to other creatures, but quite the contrary. God’s hope was to be welcomed among us as Lord, but in the event comes to us our crucified and resurrected Savior. By this, the best of means, sin and death is defeated. What remains to be seen is the case that this is the best conceivable means for God to deal with evil.



A friend asked me to define, explain, or defend libertarianism—I don’t recall which—and the following is what I wrote in response. My friend is a self-described socialist, but I suspect there is a libertarian inside him, yearning to be free.

Defining/Explaining/Defending Libertarianism

1. Libertarianism, or classical liberalism, has been defended from the perspective of various fundamental ethical theories, e.g., utilitarianism, ethical egoism, social contract theory, Kantianism, etc. As you know from the Material Image my view is that morality has no ultimately objective ground, but is projected upon the social world by human beings who are adapted for social life. Ethical theory does not map a domain independent of human beings, but seeks to systematize our inchoate and perhaps somewhat incoherent innate moral sentiments, concepts, and judgments. Moral theory can never be definitive. There is no hope of a proof of the one best ethical theory, if for no other reason than that the boundaries between morality and other things, such as religion, purity codes, and etiquette are in the nature of things unclear.

Two things I take to be characteristic of morality. One is that moral reasons approach being decisive. If you have a moral reason to do something then, all things considered, that is probably what you have best reasons to do, what you ought to do. But I see no reason to conclude that this is necessarily or always the case.  (I take it that only an untenable divine command theory of morality has that implication.) On full analysis moral reasons could be overridden by other concerns. Second, I take it that morality is essentially a matter of interpersonal relations, constraints on how we interact with other human beings (and with relevantly similar creatures.)  Broader practical questions such as what sort of person do I have best reasons to try to be, what sort of life is most worth living, or what kind of society is best, on my view fall outside the purview of morality. No doubt, though, there are connections. The ethical theory on offer here, applied to politics, is a theory of the moral constraints on government.

My view, from which my libertarianism derives, is that the best way to articulate and systematize our evolved morality, the way to most effectively achieve a reflective equilibrium of theory and intuition, is to work out the implications of a fundamental principle of moral equality: no one by status or nature has the authority to do things to other persons without having the same done to him in response. This is just one possible route to a libertarian conclusion. However, it has what I regard as the virtue of building the political theory upon a minimalist moral foundation.

We have no right to do, with impunity, things to other persons that they prefer not to have done to them. We are subject to having the same kind of thing done to him in return. For example, people do not like being insulted and this is a good reason not to insult them, but if someone does insult someone then the person he has insulted may insult him in return. If we are competitors in the marketplace you may try to produce better and cheaper products than I can and thus put me out of business, but you cannot reasonably expect me not to try to do the same to you. If I refuse to cooperate with you, share with you, or help you, you may in return refuse to cooperate, share, or help. And so on: the natural moral equality of human beings calls for a regime of reciprocity: whatever you do to others, accept that you have no rational objection when they fail to grant you special privilege and respond in kind. Applied to politics the implication is that no one has the right to initiate violence, but that those who do are subject to violence in return.

2. No society has ever fully realized government in accord with this moral principle. But those of us with libertarian, classical liberal, convictions have a reasonable loyalty to the United States Constitution. It of course falls short of the libertarian ideal, but it is the best approximation that has been put into practice. Thus in American politics the libertarian is in significant ways a conservative, advocating for the Constitution against the relentless statist project of undermining it. Libertarianism places what may be unrealistically rigorous burdens of personal responsibility on individuals with respect to taking care of themselves and of one another, and to being the nonviolent enforcers of the moral law. Thus it is an idealization which grudgingly, but on occasion necessarily, compromises with morally bad behavior.

3. Legitimate government governs only with the consent of the governed. Here this means that a government has no moral authority to do things that individuals would not have on their own, in the absence of any government in a hypothetical state of nature. We have good reasons to avoid the state of nature and to delegate our moral authority to respond with violence to those who initiate violence to professionals, i.e., to public servants who act as our agents. We thus avoid what Locke called the “inconveniences” of the state of nature, i.e., the moral risk of being judges in our own cases. Libertarianism regards government officials as literally servants, not as rulers. It regards us as equal citizens, not subjects.

4. All government action, explicitly or implicitly presupposes the threat of physical violence. There is no government without law and no law without the threat of forcibly imposed punishment. Therefore the question of the moral limits of state power is the question of the moral limits on the use of violence. It is never morally permissible to initiate the use of such force; it is permissible only in response to its initiation. The principle of moral equality implies that no one has the right to introduce violent coercion as a means to influence the behavior of other persons and that whoever does is properly subject to the same in response. Other forms of behavior, however morally deplorable, do not involve the initiation of violent coercion into human relations and thus are not the proper concern of government.

5. The theory construes the morally permitted reciprocity categorically: coercion in response to coercion, failure to help for failure to help, insult for insult, violence only in response to violence, and so on. Why this, rather than calculating the consequences, the amount of harm done? We know, after all, that harm inflicted nonviolently can be greater than harm due to violence. Marvin loves Sally and proposes marriage but he is rejected. This breaks his heart, causing months of sadness and depression. Fred, Sally’s fiancé, learns of Marvin’s proposal and punches him in the nose. In Marvin’s reasonable estimation the violence done him by Fred is nowhere near as bad as the suffering Sally inflicted on him by her refusal. Nonetheless, it is Fred, not Sally, who is properly subject to violent retaliation. Fred, not Sally, ought to be subject to legal sanctions despite her having done the greater harm. Or: businessman Jones, a fierce competitor, puts businessman Smith out of business, offering the market better and cheaper products than Smith’s. This drives Smith to bankruptcy and personal ruin. On the present account, whatever sanctions against Jones are permissible, they include nothing violent; government has no legitimate interest in the matter. Suppose instead that one night Jones breaks into the office of Smith’s firm and steals $100. This is far less harmful than the destructive competition in which he engaged, but it alone warrants a violent response, the involvement of the state.

No formal constraint prevents articulating our innate morality by a weighing of harms done, rather than in categorical terms. The warrant for the categorical scheme is that it is the only one that sustains a framework that can keep the peace and make civil society possible. A world in which violent responses to nonviolently inflicted harms are permitted is an incipient state of nature, where perceived harms readily lead to the initiation of violence, which inspires violence in return, and so on, to escalating cycles of retaliation and war without end. The categorical, in contrast to the consequential, conception of moral equality and reciprocity has the virtue of being a natural, but consciously contrived, extension of the blind operation of natural selection that made peaceable social life, and with it human flourishing, possible. (The reciprocity equality requires is more fine-grained than my examples make explicit: Marvin has no right to kill Fred for punching him in the nose, and so on.)

6. It’s worth noting that among the Left’s prolific evasions and obfuscations is the blurring of the distinction between coercion, understood as violent, and the various other ways in which someone can be “forced” to do something. For example, when an individual, making the best deal he can, accepts a job at low wages and with bad working conditions, he can reasonably report that he was forced by circumstances to accept a less than ideal position, even though it is at the same time his best option. From this those on the Left infer that the employer has forced the individual into the unfavorable situation, and that this in turn justifies using force against him – but now violent coercion in the form of law – to ensure that he provides a higher wage and better working conditions (or, to the prospective employee’s detriment, not to employ him at all.) Even if the prospective employer has taken unfair advantage of him, he has done no violence to the person to whom he offered a lousy job and thus on the current theory is not properly subject to violence for what he is done. He may well be in the wrong, callous and greedy. Perhaps he could easily pay better wages and provide better working conditions. If so he may well be properly subject to any number of nonviolent social sanctions, e.g., boycotts of his products or services, denunciations in the public square, individuals refusing to associate with him, etc. Or [as the friend for whom I wrote this suggests] the exploited workers can form a union and threaten to walk out. The imposition of such sanctions is facilitated by the openness of the liberal society, where information flows freely and helps police antisocial human behavior. (This contrasts with illiberal polities where the scope of government power is expansive and it is worth the rich employer’s money to corrupt the state to protect himself.)

The violence that constitutes the force of law has an efficacy that nonviolent sanctions of bad behavior does not. It is always a possibility that nonviolent social sanctions are not adequate to preventing it. However, it would be a mistake to suppose that the fact that some sanction is necessary to prevent some wrongdoing implies that it is morally permissible. There is no guarantee that there are always morally permissible means to prevent moral wrongdoing. However, libertarians typically believe that non-libertarians mistakenly discount the efficacy of private sanctions in influencing human behavior, especially when government has not broken out of its moral constraints.

7. Libertarianism is diffident toward democracy: There are situations where a group of persons must reach a collective decision about something, and sometimes a majority vote is the best way to do so. However, democratic procedures make nothing morally permissible which would not otherwise be morally permissible. If there are 10 people in a population and nine of them decide to initiate violence against the tenth the fact that this is the majority inclination does not make it right for them to do so. Overall, what makes a government legitimate is whether it is constrained by moral principle, doing nothing other than what individuals would have a right to do on their own, i.e., initiating violence only in response to violence, not its being elected by a majority of those it governs. Better a libertarian hereditary monarch than a democratic government that violates human rights. Better the highly constrained democracy of a constitutional republic, like the United States, than a pure democracy.

8. Liberalism (libertarianism) traditionally regards theft and fraud as forms of coercion properly subject to the force of law, despite the fact that they do not involve overt violence or any explicit threat thereof. If, e.g., a cybercriminal sends someone an email, deceiving him into sending him money for some fictive purpose, unlike the mugger who by threat of violence coerces his victim into handing over the money, he neither does, nor threatens, violence. However, he does something to his victims that, were they aware of it, he could not have done without the threat of violence, a threat to which his victim would have been justified in responding in kind.

The liberal state is limited to protecting the rights of its citizens not to be subject to initiated violence. Nothing beyond this is legitimate. It is not the proper role of government to see to the general well-being of its citizens. They, individually or collectively, can see to their own well-being and safety. The use of violence in response to violence is the unique right we reasonably employ others to enforce because doing so is necessary to exit the state of nature.

9. In contrast to ancient and medieval conceptions of the state, in which good and wise rulers discern the good for human beings and use the force of law to regiment human behavior in accord with it, liberalism conceives the state as properly neutral among competing conceptions of the good and thus indifferent to each individual’s pursuit of the good as he conceives it, so long as in doing so he avoids violating the rights of others.  (Total neutrality is not a possibility: if someone’s conception of the good life involves violating others’ rights, then it is his bad luck that his government must interfere in his pursuit of it.)

These rights are, of course, construed negatively. An individual has, e.g., a right to life, but this is a negative right not to be killed by other persons (unless he unjustifiably kills or threatens to kill); it is not a positive right to be supplied with whatever he needs to be alive. If a government recognizes a variety of positive rights, it is a near certainty that it will be impossible to satisfy all of them, and that it will be in the position of adjudicating among competing claims, so that whether one’s (so-called) right is honored depends on the whim of the rulers. If there is a positive right to life, and insufficient resources to keep two citizens alive, government must decide who lives and who dies. Positive rights, in contrast to negative rights, do not constrain the actions of the state. It is possible simultaneously to respect, i.e., not violate, any number of negative rights. The state respects any number of citizens’ negative right not to be unjustly killed simply by not unjustly killing them.

Because the state’s proper function is to protect citizens from having their rights violated by others, no paternalistic legislation is justifiable. Government is one’s employee, not one’s parent, tutor, or custodian. If someone’s conception of the good life involves activities likely to cause self-harm, this is of no concern to his government, although it may well be a proper concern of his fellow citizens who devise morally permissible means to dissuade him. Similarly, as in the case of the stingy employer above, government has no proper concern with forcing individuals to help those in need, but those who fail to may well be subject to nonviolent social sanctions.

10. Finally, we can note that the theory is a form of pacifism. It is always morally wrong to initiate violence. This contrasts with an absolute version of pacifism which proscribes any resort to violence, even to defend the innocent against those who initiate violence. And it contrasts with the incoherent doctrine commonly known as pacifism, i.e., the view that violence against foreigners in war is wrong, but that its use domestically, as in legislating on behalf of favored welfare projects, or to improve society on some criterion, is permissible or even obligatory.




Caucus Speech

At this point in the General Election campaign (mid-October 2016) many of us are wishing things had gone differently.  In an elegiac spirit, I retrieved the speech I gave at my precinct during the Iowa caucuses last winter:

I am speaking for Carly Fiorina.

We are blessed with some truly talented and admirable candidates, genuinely committed to the change this country so desperately needs.  It’s humbling, and maybe it seems presumptuous, to stand here and say that one of them is clearly best

…maybe especially so when the news media, the pundits, and the pollsters—talking to the 8% of Iowans who are still answering their phones—think they already know how things are going to go tonight…

…but this is our decision, our responsibility…

…to decide

Who has the clarity of vision to see what’s gone so badly wrong with our country and to spell it out in terms that will inspire a winning, governing majority to bring us back from the brink…

Not flailing anger but the laser-like focus of wise and righteous indignation…

Not flinging mud at her fellow Republicans, but keeping our sights fixed on our common enemy: the vast, incompetent, corrupt Federal Government and the arrogant, self-righteous ruling class that has formed around it…

Who has the real-world, outside of Washington, outside of politics, experience of real accountability for a huge, bloated, failing enterprise—the once great Hewlett-Packard—and fundamentally transforming it.  Saving the company, saving thousands of jobs, by making hard decisions.  Even when it came to standing up for employees and shareholders against a self-interested Board of Directors.  Fighting the good fight against the crony capitalism and regulatory insanity that’s suffocating the American economy.

Carly Fiorina means what she says and she will do it.  When I first heard her speak I thought: Margaret Thatcher lives!

No political evasion.  No excuses.  No good-old boy deals.  The moral discipline of the free market imposed on government.  Honest, zero-based budgeting.  Obamacare to the dustbin of history.  A simple, rational tax code.  Living within our means.  Control of education returned to local communities and parents.  Protecting personal, religious liberty.  Fidelity to the Constitution against an out of control government that thinks it knows best, thinks it should manage everything and everyone, yet cannot do the few things it ought to do: secure the borders, control immigration, be faithful to allies, show resolve to adversaries, and decisively defeat Islamic radicalism.

The defense of innocent life is an issue especially dear to Carly.  Ten days ago she was the only candidate at the March for Life, in the snow, in Washington, invited because she has so forcibly challenged Planned Parenthood’s horrific and mercenary disregard for the lives of the unborn.  A Carly Fiorina presidency is that evil organization’s nightmare.

Carly Fiorina would be the last person to ask you to vote for her because she is a woman.  Her vision for America is the great land of opportunity, where someone can start out as a secretary and become CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations.  Where each of us is rewarded in accord with our contribution, not for belonging to whatever demographic the ruling elites accord victim status.

A land where citizens take their country back from a self-anointed political class.

But I do like to envision Carly as our nominee, debating, demolishing an (unindicted?) Hillary Clinton, forcing her to run on her record, not on her gender.

She will make us proud.  Proud to be Republicans.  Proud to be Americans.  I urge you to caucus for Carly tonight.

Postscript: There were over 400 people at our caucus. Carly got six votes. Oh well…



Thoughts on Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture

I recently read Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016).  In my experience Carroll is unsurpassed as a popularizer of contemporary physics and this is on display in this admirable book. It differs from From Eternity to Here, which was, for the non-scientist at least, more challenging, delving more deeply into technical matters.  (I imagine the same is true of his The Particle at the End of the Universe, which I haven’t read.) As the title indicates, The Big Picture covers a great deal of territory, necessarily in less depth.  (However, a marvelous appendix explains in some detail the “fundamental equation” of quantum field theory.)


Carroll is an atheist, but I find myself agreeing with most of what he has to say here, even though he takes for granted that the naturalism he propounds is at odds with theistic belief.  His rejection of theism in favor of the naturalistic view of the world current science unequivocally supports appears to depend on a few dubious suppositions and inferences.

Early in the book (pp. 42ff.) he takes pains to point out that we are not justified in assuming that there must be an answer to every question we can frame. The Principle of Sufficient Reason cannot be proved; it is a useful but not a reliable guide to understanding reality.  (I think the proper conclusion is that it is reliable but not, so far as we know, an infallible guide.) “We are not entitled to demand that the universe scratch our explanatory itches” (p. 45). For all we know the fundamental nature and existence of the universe is a brute fact.  Lurking in the background here is the low entropy state of the observable universe, something Carroll invokes to explain various significant features of our world, but does not attempt to explain here. However, this is a question he takes up in From Eternity to Here.

However, much later in the book he says things that, if not contradicting this, stand in some tension with it.  He writes, “Everything we’ve experienced about the universe suggests that it is intelligible….Mysteries abound, but there’s no reason to worry (or hope) that any of them are unsolvable” There is, he advises, no need “…to take refuge in a conviction that the universe is fundamentally inscrutable” (p. 430)…unless, one might be tempted to suggest, someone is appealing to the PSR to argue for God as the creator, in which case it must be emphasized that for all we know the universe is a brute fact for which there is no ultimate explanation. Ironically, the context for this passage is the need to seek real explanations for what we find in the world rather than calling it a mystery due to inscrutable divine action.

When, midway through the book, Carroll addresses the traditional theistic claim that the contingent universe is intelligible only if it’s the creation of a necessarily existent being, he casually dismisses it: “…God isn’t a necessary being, because there are no such things as necessary beings” (p. 203).  The objects of scientific investigation are contingent, but if God exists he is not an object of scientific investigation, so he might not be contingent. (Many, both theists and non-theists, contend that if God exists, he does so as a matter of necessity.) There are philosophical objections to ascribing modal properties like necessity to things (de re) rather than just to language (de dicto) but Carroll does not refer to them.  Instead, he makes the irrelevant claim that we ought not to rely on a priori principles when it comes to explaining the universe.  This might, or might not, be true, but the theistic claim is offered as an explanation, and thus as a conclusion, not a premise, a priori or otherwise.  The fact that the Principle of Sufficient Reason might not be true has no bearing on the fact—if it is a fact—that the best explanation of the universe involves a necessary being.  (And if it is a fact, there remains the further question of whether it’s not just best but good enough to be rationally accepted.) Carroll’s question-begging rejection of the theistic conclusion is surprising in light of his commitment to the traditional distinction between necessary and contingent truths, this manifest in the course of contrasting mathematical and scientific reasoning (pp. 123ff.)  One might acknowledge that there are propositions that are necessarily true but deny that any of them are existential, claims about what exists. But this may well appear arbitrary once we admit negative existential propositions, statements about necessary non-existence; some things cannot possibly exist, e.g., square circles, cats that are not animals, even primes greater than 2.  Having admitted necessarily non-existent things, how plausible is an a priori denial of necessarily existent things?

Carroll poses the important question as to the likelihood of various observed features of the world on theistic, and on non-theistic, assumptions.  This is one aspect of his quite charming exposition of reasoning in accord with Bayesian principles, but it is marred by the assumption that the issue is exhausted by ascertaining the likelihood of the physical features of the universe, e.g., how likely is it that God would have created a universe containing 100 billion galaxies? The exception to this is his appeal to the problem of evil: how likely is it that God would have created a universe containing it? Other kinds of evidence, particularly the historical facts that are, or ought to be, of the first importance to Christians, are ignored.  Although Carroll points out that there are any number of ideas of God, his consideration of the likelihoods is adversely affected by too narrow a conception of what God’s purposes in creating might be: “Someone will argue that a universe with a hundred billion galaxies is exactly what God would naturally create, while someone else will roll their eyes and ask whether that expectation was actually put forward before we went out and discovered the galaxies in our telescopes” (p. 149).

Those of us, i.e., everyone, who assign high degrees of credence to various things are at risk of telling ourselves “just so stories” when what the evidence really calls for is the reevaluation of one’s estimate of the prior probability of cherished belief. When a hypothesis predicts a hitherto unknown phenomenon, this is more strongly confirming than when it explains something that’s already known but not yet explained.  So, e.g., the fact that general relativity explained the already familiar precession of the perihelion of Mercury was not as decisive as the apparent displacement of a distant star when light from it passed near the Sun, yet it was important to general relativity’s confirmation and no one was justified in rolling his eyes at Einstein on this score. What we actually observe can make it reasonable to revise downward the prior probability of one’s theistic belief, but it can also make it reasonable to revise and/or more clearly articulate that belief. Here the crucial consideration seems to be whether we have other, independent reasons for those changes.  Does a concept of God and his aims in creation that accords a high likelihood to the kind of universe we actually observe better fit the biblical account and the Church’s experience? No doubt, there’s plenty of room for self-deception here and such claims call for a strenuous defense.  But I don’t imagine, for instance, that Carroll would really say that it would have been unreasonable for a Christian in the 1630’s, cognizant of Galileo’s astronomical observations, to change his mind about the likelihood of certain views of celestial bodies, at the cost of revising his presuppositions about how to interpret scripture, rather than simply finding scripture’s reliability and ultimately God’s existence less probable in light of the new evidence.  In retrospect it’s obvious that the Church in Galileo’s day relied on hermeneutical methods that are unreasonable in light of considerations independent of the discoveries of early modern science. What Galileo saw with his telescope improved our understanding of God; it did not undermine it.

It’s important to keep in view that whatever the folk-theology of “generic theism” might imply, the biblical, Judeo-Christian tradition has a particular conception of God’s aim in creating, viz., the existence of persons truly distinct from their creator yet capable of fellowship with him. What this idea of God makes likely can be quite different than what generic theistic belief makes likely, and it can be quite similar to what science reveals, including things we couldn’t imagine in earlier times.

I share Carroll’s view that moral theory is the project of “systematizing and rationalizing our [moral] sentiments,” (p. 424) not of discovering an utterly objective moral truth. But agreeing with many atheists and theists, he holds that there can be an ‘absolute’ (i.e., objective) moral standard only if God exists.  I don’t see how the existence of God is necessary—or sufficient—for moral truths being objective in some ultimate sense. (I believe, and assume Carroll would agree, that the truths of morality are in important senses objective, even though not finally independent of the human species. Colors make for a useful analogy: properties that thanks to natural selection we spontaneously project on objective reality, but which are “there” independent of what humans think.)

Finally—and this might be a philosopher’s quibble—while I was on board with Carroll’s description of human persons as (weakly) emergent, and thus not fundamental components of the world but complex arrangements of things that are, I found it annoying to read that a human person is a “way of talking” about the world, since this is literally false.  Human persons, as ontologically superficial as they are, are things that talk in various ways, but no one is a way of talking. But I take Carroll’s underlying claim about our place in the world to be correct. There are perspectives on reality from which humans, along with most everything we experience in daily life, are simply invisible.

These objections aside, The Big Picture is a wonderful book, beautifully written, often entertaining and even inspiring.



The Material Image

Reconciling Modern Science and the Christian Faith


The Material Image aims to reconcile contemporary science and Christian faith.  Its principal claim is that the portrayal of human nature and human origins on offer from contemporary science is what we can reasonably expect in light of God’s revealed purpose in creating: persons truly distinct from their Creator whose vocation communion with him.  The scientific image of humanity is one we who believe that humans are made in the image of God can honestly and faithfully welcome.

To make its case, The Material Image presents the most plausible available scientifically-shaped accounts of the nature and scope of human knowledge, human origins, the human mind, freedom and responsibility, as well as morality and religion.  In each case, what science tells us of ourselves fits better with the essentials of Christian faith than do traditional, pre-scientific ideas. The book also shows that a full embrace of science is no impediment to rational belief in miracles, and thus leaves open the possibility of reasonable trust in the God who reveals himself in the incarnate life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Further, it offers an account of the identity through time of material persons consistent with the hope that we will share in Christ’s resurrection.

The Material Image speaks from within the broad scope of the biblically-grounded, orthodox Christian faith, but it challenges some views many Christians have long held.  In particular, it severs creation’s assumed connection to design.  It rejects the project of seeking evidence of design within creation, especially in the creation of the human species, as at odds with God’s revealed intentions.  God created persons by way of indeterministic natural processes that reliably achieve general goals, not specified outcomes. The book also revises traditional views of morality and religion, following contemporary science in explaining them in evolutionary terms.  They are not specifically intended by God, but aspects of creation to which he condescends, putting them to use for his ends while holding them under critical judgment.  [327]

The book differs from most other discussions of faith and science in significant ways: Its guiding assumption is that fruitful discussion of the relation of religion to science calls for keeping the particularities of a faith in clear view.  Approaching the issue from a general religious perspective, or from a generic theism, does not dispel concerns about conflict.  Alongside this commitment to letting Christian faith be itself in dialogue with science, is a parallel commitment to letting science be itself.  We should accept not only its well-confirmed theories, but their naturalistic implications, in particular that human beings are entirely material things, the product of unguided natural selection, fully enmeshed in the causal order of nature. Further, in contrast to books that focus on a single issue in light of Christian faith, such as humanity’s evolutionary origins, the physical nature of the mind, or evolutionary theories of morality or religion, The Material Image presents a comprehensive, integrated account of humankind as described by science, one consonant with our vocation as the image of God.

Chapter Synopses

Chapter One: Christianity, Naturalism, and Science

Science and Christianity cannot be reconciled by separating science from its naturalistic implications.  Christians can faithfully and honestly embrace scientific naturalism, defined as the view that science is our most reliable way to know contingent reality, and that it implies that humans are entirely material beings, the product of unguided natural selection. This calls for neither the attenuation of historical Christian belief nor for exotic additions to the picture of the world on offer from natural science. What it calls for is close attention to the implications of science and to the particularities of the Christian faith.

Chapter Two: Knowledge

The first principle of scientific naturalism is the primacy of science as a way to know this world and its inhabitants.  Beliefs, even matters of faith, that conflict with the well confirmed theories of science are not ultimately reasonable.  Science is the most reliable, but not the only route to knowledge. There are other ways of knowing, but science constrains them. The superiority of science as a way of knowing does not deny faith a legitimate role in scientific inquiry, but Christianity has empirical content and is vulnerable to scientific refutation. The nature and scope of human knowledge is limited by our being evolved minds embedded in a world of natural cause and effect. This dispels illusions of certitude and transcendence. The human perspective is that of a trusting creature.

Chapter Three: Miracles

Miracles occur when God acts upon the world, causing what would not occur in the natural course of events. Miracles do not imply that the well-confirmed theories of science are false, since the laws of nature describe what happens in the natural course of events. Ordinary empirical experience cannot overturn well-confirmed scientific theories, but it can make it reasonable to subject them to further scientific testing that might disconfirm them. Analogously, ordinary experience can make it reasonable to suspect that a miracle has occurred. Miracles are indispensable for the Christian faith: God’s aim in creation was persons distinct from, and capable of fellowship with, him. God and created persons can interact only if he acts upon them directly, intervening to bring about what would not have occurred in the natural course of events. Reasonable belief in the miraculous pertains to particular divine actions in human history; it does not compete with scientific explanation of the world’s general features. We can make a principled distinction, denying divine intervention in nature while affirming it in history. Mere absence of natural explanation does not make belief in miracles reasonable. One must already reasonably believe that there might be a God who would intervene in that way. Abstract metaphysical considerations make that belief reasonable, and this in turn can make it reasonable to believe that the miracles central to Christian faith occurred, and thus that God actually exists.

Chapter Four: Origins

If evolutionary theory is true, and the laws of nature are indeterministic, then human beings were not designed by God. No wise Creator deploys chancy means to achieve specified results. It is essential to the Christian faith that God created the world and its human inhabitants. If it were also essential that God designed the human species, then faith conflicts with science. However, Christians have good reason to disconnect creation from design. God, intending there to be persons distinct from their Creator, would choose not to design them. Design precludes the distinctness that personhood requires. A Creator with the purposes revealed in Christian faith would rely on indeterministic natural processes, reliably realizing general goals but leaving specific outcomes to chance.  From the Christian perspective, evolutionary theory’s account of our origins is what we should expect and welcome. Human beings were not created miraculously, but the universe was created for our sake: we are the material image of the transcendent God, creatures given the vocation of sharing the life and work of the Creator.

Chapter Five: Mind

Human beings are material things. There is no non-physical human mind or soul. The mind is the functioning brain.  Ordinary experience joins with contemporary science in strong support of this materialist view. The Bible provides no good reason to doubt it.  Resistance to the materialist conception of human nature can manifest an inflated self-image, a refusal to accept that we are creatures, not transcendent beings but things that can be objectified and explained. The mind is not reducible to physical reality, but this shows our superficiality among created things; it is no mark of human uniqueness or a surrogate for transcendence. What is finally important about human beings is not how we are made—we are mere material objects contingently assembled by mindless natural selection—but the fact that we have been created as the image of our Creator.

Chapter Six: Freedom

Whatever freedom and responsibility is possible for human beings must be compatible with our being fully implicated in a natural world governed by causal laws.  Human choices and actions are effects of causes that occurred deep in the past. We are not the ultimate originators of our actions. Nonetheless our actions can be the effects of our own, reflectively considered and endorsed beliefs and desires: our reasons. This responsiveness to reasons, not a radical freedom impossible for material creatures, is what personal relationship with other created persons, and with God, requires. God, bringing the initial universe into being and authoring its causal laws, is the first cause of all human actions. If those laws were deterministic, then all our choices and actions would be what God intended; we could not have meaningful freedom and responsibility. Because the laws of nature are indeterministic, the conditions for human freedom and responsibility can be satisfied. Yet God remains the most remote cause of human action, so God and humans share responsibility for what humans do. God never abandons his creation but, incarnate and crucified, assumes responsibility for it.

Chapter Seven: Morality

Human beings have innate dispositions to altruism, to care about, and cooperate with one another, even when doing so is not in one’s interests. Evolutionary psychology explains this as an adaptation to social life. Altruism, morality’s core, is the product of our ancestors’ metaphorically selfish genes. There is a mistaken idea that this debunks morality by revealing that human altruism is not genuine. The real debunking threat arises because the evolutionary theory indicates that moral facts are not features of objective reality, but projected upon it by the human mind. Moral truth is not relative to individuals or to cultures, but it is relative to the human species.  Morality’s authority depends finally only on our evolved moral sentiments. Science reveals morality as fully human, not divine, transcendent, or even rooted in a reality independent of us.  Science does not debunk morality, but it dethrones it. An intimate connection of morality to God has long seemed obvious, but science affords an understanding of God’s relation to morality that better coheres with the Christian faith. Morality’s claims on us partially overlap what God cares about: God loves human beings and wants what is best for them, and morality generally prescribes good treatment of human beings. God condescends, making use of the natural morality with which evolution has endowed us insofar as it serves his purposes, but also putting it under critical judgment. The Fall and Original Sin, traditionally conceived in moral terms, can be better articulated once science puts morality in its properly human place.

Chapter Eight: Religion

Evolutionary theory explains human religiosity, but not as an adaptation. In contrast to its explanation of morality, it portrays religion as an accidental by-product of the interaction of our evolved capacities. Humans are innately disposed to believe in unseen agents on the basis of minimal evidence. This, the cognitive theory of religion, has a clear debunking potential: it claims to explain our propensity to religious beliefs without presupposing their truth. We would believe whether or not the unseen agents of religion exist. Such beliefs are, at face value, unreasonable. Christians can try to sidestep this debunking effect by contending that the theory uncovers the sensus Divinitatis, an innate inclination to belief with which the Creator has endowed us. This strategy should be rejected, since it relies on divine design. God’s relation to human religiosity is instead best conceived as analogous to his relation to human morality. God accommodates himself to our natural religiosity, making use of it even as he subjects it to judgment and ultimately dispenses with it. This makes sense of the ambivalence toward religion found in both the Bible and Christian theology.

Chapter Nine: Last Things

Despite the weight of evidence in favor of a materialist theory of human nature, many Christians adhere to a dualism of body and mind (or soul), on the ground that otherwise the resurrection is impossible. A naturalistic understanding of the identity through time of material persons allows for the possibility of supernatural resurrection with no need for an immaterial soul existing between death and resurrection. This account is susceptible to paradoxes of transitivity but they have force only if there must always be an objective fact as to whether a human being exists. However, humans belong to the surface of reality, existing only because chancy natural processes have assembled basic physical things in a particular way; therefore there need not always be a fact of the matter about our existence. The Christian claim that God resurrects finite persons to everlasting life gives rise to various objections, but answers arise from the fact that the future life is not mere infinitely extended existence, but created persons sharing in the life and work of their Creator.


For persons of Christian faith, the incursion of natural science into distinctly human domains once thought beyond its reach rightly occasions not anxiety or rejection but a bold and faithful welcome.

Thanks Adolf!


I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to Adolf Hitler.

Not to say that I approve of the man and his works.  One of leftist statism’s worst manifestations was National Socialism, but I loathe it in all its forms, even the mild version that now labels itself progressivism.

Still, honesty requires that I acknowledge that I owe der Fuhrer my existence. If not for him, I would not be here. Of course, all he was after was Lebensraum in the lands to the east.  Setting the stage for me was an unintended consequence.

The same is true for many persons of my generation and thus for our children and grandchildren.  If Hitler had not ordered the invasion of Poland, and started the Second World War, the United States would not have eventually entered that war, my maternal grandfather would not have been transferred to Boston, his daughter would not have met my father to be, they would not have married and procreated, and I would not have existed.  Of course, even if all of this had happened, but things had then gone just slightly differently in any number of ways, I still would not have existed.

Right from the start: Which spermatozoon reaches the ovum, and thus which of a large set of possible siblings comes into existence is, it appears, a matter of chance—the little swimmers buffeted by Brownian motion.

Wars set large numbers of people in motion, in which case people meet, marry, and reproduce, so over the course of human history many owe their existence to the evil men who start them.

Of the vast number of possible human beings, only a very few get to be actual.  You and I are, let’s face it, astoundingly improbable.  Getting to be actual depends on a very long sequence of contingent, improbable events.  Suppose that your great, great, great maternal grandmother had not caught that gentleman’s eye…they would not have married and none of their descendants would have ever existed.  Had they not met, probably many other persons who do not now, and never will, exist would have existed instead

Early modern science taught us to look out into the unimaginable vastness of space and contemplate how small we are in comparison.   Contemporary science adds to this the realization that each of us, and all of us, and most everything actual, occupies a vanishingly small space in a vast space of possibilities.

Maybe, this drastic improbability is illusory: although it’s true that if things had gone a bit differently, then I would not exist, it’s also true that things could not have gone differently.  Given the world’s laws and initial conditions, everything Adolf got up to in the middle of the 20th century was what had to happen, and all the effects of his aggression followed necessarily, so here I am.  Given what happened 13.76 billion years ago, I was in the cards and eventually guaranteed to appear.  This depends, though, on the laws of nature being deterministic, which at the very least is not obvious the still standard interpretation of quantum mechanics being that measurement collapses the wave function stochastically.  Only the general shape of the development of the universe was more or less guaranteed, the specifics left to chance.

Even if determinism is true, contingency, and with it our fantastic improbability, is not easy to dispense with.  We still ask why, of all the possible sets of laws and initial conditions, just these are the ones that are actual.  If this, a universe guaranteed to produce you and me, is just one of some vast number of possible universes, then our existence remains wildly improbable.

Maybe, though, these are the only possible laws and initial conditions, this is the only possible world and, bizarre as it seems, “Don Wacome exists” is no more contingent than “2 + 2 = 4.” That’s at least as hard to grasp as my being contingent and astronomically improbable.

Maybe, instead, all the possible sets of laws and initial conditions are actual, and all possible universes exist. Thus all possible persons exist.  Why, though, do all the possible universes, with all their possible inhabitants, exist?  Is this, finally, a matter of necessity, or is it a contingent fact? (At this point, we might begin to see the wisdom of rejecting the application of necessity and contingency to things—de re modalities—rather than just to our thought and talk of things—de dicto modalites.)

As a Christian theist, I believe that God created me and the universe I live in.  Because God’s aim in creating was the existence of persons truly distinct from himself, and thus capable of freely sharing his triune life, he most likely deployed indeterministic means to bring persons into existence, e.g., evolution by natural selection in a universe governed by indeterministic laws.  The fact that the universe gives rise to persons of some sort or other is a more or less sure thing, but which species, and which individuals, actually come into existence is a matter of chance. Christians properly separate creation from design.

However, many theists believe otherwise. They think that from the set of possible persons, God selected who to make actual, either by creating a universe with initial conditions and deterministic laws guaranteed to actualize the chosen possibilities, or by miraculously intervening to bring the desired individuals into existence.  Assuming that the persons God makes actual comprise a tiny subset of possible persons, the question is why God chose for us to exist.  Did God choose arbitrarily? That just shifts our utter contingency from the creation to the mind of the creator: that you exist is a stroke of fantastic good luck.  The alternative is that there is something about you that was, for God, a good reason to create you.  This could be some inherent feature of you, or the fact that a world that includes you is the one that God chooses to make actual.

Progressive Christianity

Some autobiography: I grew up in a community of theologically conservative, evangelical Christians.  There, in accord with the stereotype, salvation was principally an individual matter.  Despite avowed rejection of “legalism” in opposition to salvation by grace through faith, Christian practice centered on individual morality and tangential behavioral matters, e.g., (not) swearing, drinking, or smoking, i.e., the “purity code” of the community.  Structural matters of public policy, justice, discrimination, poverty, war and peace, in contrast to the needs of individuals, were not on our radar.  The mid-century evangelical world was to a serious degree shaped by what it was against, and that included “liberalism” and its “social gospel,” which in caricature at least was an alternative to genuine Christian faith.  In retrospect, this seems to have gone so far as to make the Pauline epistles the focus of preaching and teaching.  In practice, what mattered about Jesus was being born of a virgin and then his cross and resurrection; nothing in between seems to have been important.  I suspect that we implicitly thought paying much heed to the Gospels was the province of liberalism and its allegiance to Jesus the mere moral teacher.  There was some slight tilt toward the Republicans, though this was never regarded as a matter of much import. There were certainly members of my church in good standing, in fact in leadership positions, who were Democrats, but any investment in political matters beyond being a good, law-abiding citizen—St. Paul apparently commanded this in Romans—and voting, would have been looked down upon as “worldly.”

In the 1970’s this changed rapidly and drastically, so that by the 1980’s there was little daylight between evangelical Christianity and the political right.   Theological conservatives discovered their own social gospel, a package of moral values and political polices intended to mold society in accord with them.  The etiology of this, in the social changes in the later 1960’s and after, as well as in cultural resentments going back to the early 20th century, are well-known and I won’t rehearse them here.  Aside from the merits or demerits of any of the particular beliefs of the “religious right,” I believe we now see that this was a disaster.  Today, many young (and not so young) people who grew up in this religious culture rightly reject the identification of faith in Jesus Christ with commitment to a conservative political program, the uncritically held values of the white middle class, free market capitalism, and American nationalism, and, hoping to find an authentic faith, look elsewhere.

As a professor in a Christian, i.e., evangelical, college, I have seen this going on for a long time.  There is a common, but by no means universal, trajectory.  The student arrives at college raised with the conviction that a particular collection of moral, social, cultural, and political beliefs are essential and incontestable matters of Christian faith.  Theory aside, in practice this student has his entire life been taught, for instance, that a particular stance on abortion or homosexuality, or on evolution, is not just important to the Christian faith, but more important than, say, the deity and resurrection of Christ. (I hope there is a difference between what is still officially taught in the evangelical churches, and the unnuanced messages their young people imbibe, but I am no longer sure.)  For some students, often the most committed and brightest, the experience of higher education is an ongoing crisis.  Even in what is overall still a relatively conservative (theologically, socially, and even politically) campus environment, they absorb many challenges to the politicized, enculturated Christian faith in which they were raised.  Some simply jettison the totalistic ideology of their past in favor of a new one, rejecting the morally and intellectually bankrupt evangelical culture in favor of the leftist political monoculture of the academy and this country’s ruling elites.  One package is dropped and a new one takes its place, the contents of neither ever have been closely examined. Raised as an evangelical Christian but having spent my career in the academic world, what I find striking is the formal similarity: a package of beliefs in which familiarity creates an impression of internal coherence, serious critical questions are made invisible, and the believer taught to find satisfaction in being smarter and better than non-believers.  (It is amusing to encounter the young person who sees himself as a rebel and individualist in virtue of adopting wholesale the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the educational establishment, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the United States government.  The only rebellion is against one’s déclassé parents.)

Others retain their Christian faith but seek an expression of it free of American evangelicalism, adopting something sometimes called progressive Christianity.  Insofar as I understand it, much here is laudable: the rejection of biblical literalism, abandonment of evangelicalism’s purity code as well as its facile certitude, giving up belief in damnation, rejection of the assumption that non-Christians must be either stupid or wicked, openness to women in ministry, inclusion for LGBT’s.…in general, the discovery that it is possible to be a Christian without trying not to be a human being.

On the other hand progressive Christianity is troubling when it makes a political ideology an integral component of the Christian faith.  Many young people seem to be making exactly the same mistake an earlier generation of Christians made, but now by making faith a front for the dogma of the Left, rather than the Right.

Christian faith is not just belief.  It is trust in the God who in Christ reconciles the world to himself, and that trust calls for action.  Christian action is not properly contained in individual life, but belongs in all areas of human activity, including our social, cultural, and political existence.   But faithful Christianity is not a matter of making one’s own a pre-packaged bundle of values, beliefs, and commitments.  The evangelical culture’s worldview rhetoric probably makes this seem reasonable. So does the growing tendency on our highly polarized political scene to demonize and silence opponents. In contrast faithfulness calls upon us to break open the ideological packages and to think through the issues with honesty and freedom.  It seems to me that this is in short supply in “progressive Christianity,” just as it is on the Christian Right.