By: Dr. John D. Ferrer, previously unpublished (circ. 2010), updated 17 December 2014.


Introduction

The long and winding road of church history is dotted with potholes, overbrush, and nearly impassible roadblocks. Whether these problems are personal or public, outside opposition, inside divisions, circumstantial struggles or environmental troubles–the church has endured a wide array of problems. But God has sustained the advance and growth of his church regardless. Along this decrepit highway is the church, dipping and diving along on a wing and a prayer, loosely held together by chewing gum and scotch tape. That the church survives at all is a miracle. That the church continues to operate with some degree of integrity is even more remarkable. But more remarkable than the survival and (rough) integrity of the church is the manner by which God has achieved this miracle. Those obstacles noted above were not brushed aside for the kingdom’s advance, nor were they transcended in glorious fashion. Rather God has pushed his church straight through these obstacles succeeding through them, not above or around the fray. Church splits, personality conflicts, political feuds, denominationalism, hypocrisy, power struggles, family feuds, isolationism, colonialism, mercantilism, bigotry, idiocy, and a constant tendency towards heresy all bear witness to that pitifully human incarnation of the Gospel on earth. That God chooses to let His reputation rest on mortal shoulders is no question. Every “Christian” is to be a little Christ and to wear the name well. But why God would choose such a tenuous method of delivery is a great mystery. We can however deduce that if God has chosen to bring his church through such natural disasters, this allowance is good and this work deliberate. Lessons may be learned through the bumpy road that may not have been possible if we had a simpler journey.

Heresy is one of those potholes on the church road. And heresy is one of the best tests of the integrity of the church. Scripture is clear that orthopraxy and orthodoxy are together precious and salvific truth deserves heavy fortification. Scripture also teaches that heresy is to be answered with truth. But, what is not so clear is how it is to be answered.


Problematic Responses

The Hyper-Responsive

Some are eager to spot heresy and even more eager to shoot it down. In fact, those same people can be so trigger happy they shoot at anything that moves. At least three problems arise from this sort of hyper-responsiveness.

First, this response can cultivate a deviant fascination with heresy. Heresy needs to be addressed and squelched, but heresy should not get the glory by being an overriding preoccupation. God’s purposes in allowing heresy are not the glorification of heresy but the refinement and advancement of truth. The hyper-responsive person needs to guard against a morbid fascination with error. Like doctors, we are to know and understand the diseases only so that we may better cultivate health. Apologists therefore have a balance to maintain in order that they do not get so bogged down in their daily grind of studying error that they forget to come home to enjoy truth.

Second, this response lacks wisdom. By hastily rushing into battle the people can prove foolish by neglecting to consider the many and diverse ways in which heresy can be addressed. We need time and tact since we are not just solving equations or firing at targets. We are working with complicated people. Not only are there a multitude of ways to counteract heresy, but depending on the situation those different ways will vary in effectiveness. A direct approach may only incite more conflict and make things worse before they get better. Some heresy requires a multifaceted attack on its wrong supporting motives and its wrong doctrines. Some forms of heresy are best addressed on a person level, while others demand corporate rebuke. If we fall back on bold innocence, we may still do great damage by our foolish uses of truth. We need both wisdom and innocence, shrewdness and purity. We need to heed the command to the disciples in the first commissioning, “be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).[1] And frankly, some forms of heresy are so non-essential or so intimately interwoven with other false beliefs that it is not worth much effort at all. In these latter cases, the apologist may just have to prioritize what hills are worth dying on and then fight accordingly. Also, some heresies are so interwoven that to defeat one is enough to squelch its heretical relatives by proxy.

Third, this method is too often guilty of lovelessness. Because apologetics is concerned with defeating bad ideas and not with defeating people, we need to treat the heresy with concern for the person who holds it. While it will not be possible to restore every heretic to the true faith, that goal is nonetheless at the fore. Apologists should see themselves as ministers of reconciliation not as agents of division. We are to identify and treat diseases to the body of Christ that we may ultimately cultivate health and unity. We are to mourn when a member must be divided from the body. We are patient in using our weapons because we know that a misfire can be deadly. We proceed with reverence and love towards God knowing that he loves those heretics just as he loves all sinners.


The Evasive

Another faulty response is evasiveness. One may avoid conflicts over heresy for fear of conflict, or failure, or bad press, or any number of reasons. But this form is deliberate and therefore in direct opposition to Scripture which demonstrates that challenges to the faith deserve address.[2] This approach can accidentally overlap with the approach of wisdom since its reluctance to act may afford the time and opportunity to identify the best approach. Unfortunately, the evasive do not get around to answering the problem. These are the peace-keepers who fail to identify and defend truth on which true peace can be made. A disingenuous harmony is here preferred over the disruption brought on by truth. Often this response is chosen out of laziness or cowardice and it is only its nobler rationalizations which are espoused vocally. This evasion can be done in the name of pluralism, relativism, tolerance, kindness, or ignorance with words such as, “Judge not lest you be judged,” or “The jury is still out on this subject so we won’t pass judgment.” Such a statement might be justified if the subject were not decided. But we are speaking of real heresy here, not potential heresy. We can know if Jesus is God, and those who argue otherwise are in need of correction. The importance of Christian truth makes this option a non-option. One can justifiably evade a prank phone call or a telemarketer, but if someone is calling with the threat of catastrophic spiritual death, then there is no place for evasion.


The Ignorant

Still others may be evasive or under-responsive out of ignorance. Not realizing what threat heresy may pose nor how to identify such heresy, the ignorant are easy prey for the hounds of heresy. They are oblivious to the indirect benefits to be had with a right response to heresy. This position is painfully common due to a prevailing anti-intellectualism within the contemporary evangelical church and within society at large.[3] This position is perhaps the most blissfully pre-occupied, care-free and comfortable. But such a scene is about like setting up a lawn chair and lemonade at the center of a battlefield. What you don’t know can hurt you. What you don’t know can kill you.


The Under-responsive

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the over-responsive is the under-responsive approach. This approach recognizes that total avoidance is not always possible. Nor is ignorance an option, especially once one gets enough knowledge to know that he should know better. But for whatever reasons this approach does not go as far as the hyper-responsive and rightly tones down its attacks. However, the under-responsive easily mistakes its laziness for wisdom. Rather than responding too aggressively, this person is not responsive enough. Under-responsive churches permit bad ideas to prevail where they should have responded correctively in wisdom and love. While wisdom is not rushed, it cannot afford to be late either. In the time that the under-responsive person delays response, souls suffer at the malicious hands of heresy.


The Reactionary

Another category of responder is the reactionary. This person rightly responds to heresy and may respond with wisdom and love. But this person errors by letting the heresy lead the discussion. That is, the reactionary person lets the heresy crop up and thereby initiate discussion on the boundaries of orthodoxy. Sometimes heresy is so precocious it sprouts quickly showing no early warning signs. But it is often the case that the heresy has existed for a while but not till it becomes “troublesome” is it addressed. Unfortunately, some diseases do not manifest symptoms until the critically advanced stages. And to wait till the advanced stages arrive may mean that the best point of attack has already passed. Reactionaries often have a remedial disposition rather than a preventative disposition towards heresy. So the response given may not be adequate for addressing or preventing future outbreaks of that sort. Rather than speaking to anticipated deviations in the future, the reactionary formulates doctrine and practices of the church according to the immediately urgent issues at hand. This practice is a new brand of “tyranny of the urgent.”[4]

 

Approaching a Right Response

There is however wisdom to be gleaned from each of the above approaches. The hyper-responsive lend zeal and conviction for truth. The approach of ignorance rightly admits that it does not know everything, a critical admission for the sake of humility and graciousness. The under-responsive rightly tempers zealous excess. The evasive rightly recognize that not every hill is worth our dying. The reactionary can show great wisdom and love and rightly recognize the practical pressing issues involved in manifest heresy. However, these all need the comprehensive integration of wisdom fueled by love. Wisdom is needed to identify what and how to address heresy. The effort is not merely to win arguments, but to change minds and turn hearts back to the truth of Christ. Much zeal with a little information can often win arguments. But it is a greater task to perform spiritual surgery in healing those hurt by heresy and still be able to walk them through the healing process all the way to full restoration. Moreover, love is needed as a right corrective to motivate a timely and tactful address of heresy that is no less concerned for the individuals involved.


The Helpfulness of Heresy

Therefore an approach is needed that is both wise and loving, shrewd but innocent, truthful yet comely. Heresy is to be combated, but its holders should not be objectified merely as combatants. That is to say, both the heretic and the heresy are not merely problems to be answered. Heresy presents a learning opportunity and the heretic a ministry opportunity. Heresy has value even if, by definition, it should not be believed or practiced. This value is seen in people and in the doctrines of the church. Concerning people, heresy is valuable as resistance training and for heightening awareness. In relation to truth itself, heresy can also serve as a backdoor to orthodoxy and as an expose on the gaps in current expressions of faith. Heresy then can be seen as motivation to chisel away the soft or gratuitous overstatements of otherwise correct theology. 


Resistance Training

One value to be found in heresy is that it can serve as a kind of resistance training. Being aware of and exposed to heresy in guarded amounts can be a useful means of training disciples in the truth. “Guarded” is the key term because people can drown when they are inundated in heresy. Even the strongest believers can become overwhelmed. And it is duplicitous and dangerous to present heresy as if it were truth. Everyone is susceptible to heresy whether in belief or practice. But in measured amounts, and provided there is some church support for the tried individual, a little exposure to heresy can provide an opportunity to see how well one’s theology can spar with a conflicting theological system. An occasional debate, informal discussion, open forum or something of that sort can provide an excellent way to utilize an alternative belief as resistance training. Lacking that competition, many Christians have grown up with a poor grasp of their Christian faith. Like athletes who have never scrimmaged, they are ill equipped for the strong competition presented by the world. Of course, too much resistance training is overtraining and leads to burn out. But some resistance training can be of great value for individual Christians.


Heightened Awareness

Heresy can aid strength but can also aid awareness. In light of heresy, the reality of spiritual warfare and practical opposition becomes apparent.[5] Likewise the beauty and value of the true Gospel is sometimes clarified by the contrasting light of heresy. As the thief comes in the night, so heresy is most penetrating when the guards are off-duty. But when it is known that theft is prevalent, one is likely to be guarded so as to protect the valuables. And there is no possession more valuable than the true Gospel. We should never take Christian truth for granted whether it is expressed in logical propositions, in theological verbage, in spiritual symbols, or it is implied in cultural, social and personal applications. In this sense, heresy can drive Christians closer to their own orthodox truth to appreciate and exercise the true faith for its own sake. Yes, Christians are to express their faith in response to heresy but they are also to express their faith for its own sake.


A Backdoor to Orthodoxy[6]

Heresy can also be of great value to orthodoxy itself serving as a sort of backdoor to truth. There is a sense in which heresy can trigger orthodoxy for much of Christian theology has been formulated as an apologetic response to the challenge of heretical suppositions. The Nicene Creed expressing a Trinitarian formula was largely a response to the Arian heresy. Paul’s famous resurrection creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly has in view the heresy that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead. The letter to the Galatians addresses legalism. The book of Romans and the book of Jude answer antinomianism. In modern times, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is unabashedly apologetic in its nature attempting to clarify a thoroughly evangelical view of Scripture in light of challenges to inspiration and inerrancy. One wonders how eager men would be to clarify their beliefs for teaching and training purposes if heretical pressures had not already put the church on the hot seat.


An Exposé on Orthodoxy’s Gaps

Heresy often exposes gaps in our own theology. While a heresy may propose wrong answers, it may expose an important question which still merits an answer. Often it is not the strong voice of a heresy to be credited for attracting a crowd, but the silence of truth which is to blame for neglecting its audience. Van Baalen and Jan Karel express this truth in their oft quoted phrase, “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.”[7] When the church in truth does not answer, or “pay its bills,” where are people to go for answers?

To illustrate this point consider the rise of Mormonism. Mormonism retains the ancient heresy of Arianism. This heresy asserts, among other things, that Jesus was not always God but became God at some point. This view helps explain how Jesus expresses certain limitations in His earthly ministry, after all, Christ would not be “God” in the fullest sense if he is truly separate from the omnipotent and omniscient Father (Matt. 20:23; Mark 6:5; 13:32). Regarding salvation, Mormonism borrows a smattering of different ideas to answer the question such as “what happens to those who die having never heard the gospel?” The Mormon can answer with baptism for the Dead. By this doctrine not everyone has to personally receive the Gospel so long as they have progenitors who are baptized on their behalf. These doctrines are un-Biblical and false, but the questions they address are important and deserve orthodox time and attention.[8]


The Theological Context of Heresy

Heresy serve some practical purposes but it must be understood that everything falls under God’s sovereign authority, heretic, heresy, apologist, and apologetics alike. The value of heresy can be deduced from its practical implications within theological teaching, but its value can also be inferred from the larger context of a systematic theology and theology proper (theology about God) in particular. In other words, heresy is not a surprise to God but actually is an allowance of God which serves God’s ultimate purposes. Because of who God is, there must be a reason that God allows heresy to proliferate. He is not an arbitrary and fickle fairy. He is the sovereign Lord of all. Nothing surprises Him. And nothing happens by accident but only by God’s permission. God does not make mistakes, nor does He perform evil, nor would He allow the evils of heresy unless a greater good were possible through it. The helpfulness of heresy is a testimony to the divine purposes of evil. God can reap where he did not sow. He can claim good fruit even when it was prodigal hands which sowed the seed.[9] This phenomenon is not unique to heresy, but is true of all evil. Were evil only capable of evil products, then God would never have allowed it in his system. But one of the deepest mysteries of the Gospel is that God sent his son to live by dying, to succeed by failing, to conquer by sacrificing his life. What lunacy? What foolishness? But God has proven His great power by winning the grandest of all wars with his (proverbial) hands tied behind his back. He succeeded not “in spite of” or “around” evil but through evil. Heresy is one of those evils Christ endures that His victory can shine more gloriously overtop its competitors.

Addressing Heresy

It has been above that heresy can serve generally positive purposes even though it is not itself “good.” But heresy still deserves specific address. Below is a suggestion of how to address instances of heresy in a fruitful manner. This suggestion is not an attempt at a comprehensive address to all heresy, nor is it an attempt at a fully-orbed consideration of culture. Cultural considerations are nonetheless important in the application of a Christian truth. The Gospel is combative enough; Christians need not add to its difficulty by being culturally insensitive and socially inept.

 

Rightly Observe the New Doctrine

It almost goes without saying that the first step in addressing a false doctrine is to observe that false doctrine. This step is not a full evaluation but rather a basic consideration of what this doctrine is and a clear distinguishing from what it is not. This action point sets some broad parameters dividing this doctrine from others by establishing what is and is not included. At this stage one can identify what level of importance this new doctrine holds and whether or not this doctrine is even heresy. This rudimentary step deserves mention because it is often ignored. By beginning with a basic observation this point prevents several errors.

First, one may fail to note the level of importance of this issue. Some heresies are of critical urgency. But other beliefs do not affect theology proper or salvation and may not be of such critical importance. In light of the thousands of heresies extant today in need of an apologetic address, we have to be wise in choosing our battles. Before launching into a full answer of every theological problem we encounter we would do well to conduct a spiritual triage, prioritizing which injuries to the Body of Christ are of the most pressing importance.

Second, one may fail to recognize whether or a not a certain doctrine is even a heresy. Sometimes a deviant doctrine may just be a degree of flexibility allowed with the historic Christian faith. Apologists should take care not to throw the words “cult” and “heresy” around lightly since these are libelous words and, when misapplied, can be sinfully hostile. Apologists, like everyone else, are prone to expect more grace and understanding than they are willing to give. We do not want to be judge yet we want the privilege of hastily judging. A bit of time observing a doctrine can prevent a person from saying big nasty words that they will have to eat later. That same observation may also help a person rightly label heresy as such in its early stages long before its full destructive plumage has been unveiled.

More failures could be noted in this list. But it is sufficient to say that apologists often fail to adequately understand the belief they are addressing. So, in phrasing a defense, they fail to even address that false belief for what it is. Their apologetic is a straw-man argument. Hence a basic observation of that new doctrine is merited.


Rightly Evaluate Yourself

Second one should evaluate his or her own beliefs and practices. In this self-evaluation one should remember that the whole life, not just the spoken word, speaks a message. Perhaps it is the disparity between one’s words and one’s lifestyle that have suggested the need for new doctrine. The first step in addressing potential heresy is to re-evaluate what is known of the truth. The onset of heresy is an opportunity to shine a new light on one’s own faith and evaluate how the truth appears under that exposure. Perhaps that light casts a bad shadow on the truth and needs to be corrected. Sometimes that light exposes actual weaknesses in one’s own life-theology.[10]


Rightly Evaluate the New Doctrine.

Third, having observed the doctrine and having evaluated one’s self one can go deeper and start evaluating the doctrine. Its parameters have been set and now one can begin to interpret and infer from the observed data in effort to clarify the implications of this doctrine and what relations this doctrine may have with others. As with the observation stage, several errors are common at this stage.

To begin with, one may err by not going deep enough. False belief systems are often quite sophisticated and elaborate since they have come into being by dodging and overcoming conventional Christian arguments. It is not enough to tell the Baha’i person (a follower of the Baha’i Faith) that in Colossians 1:15-20 we see that Jesus is God. Bahai’s have answers for that kind of direct and simplistic approach from Scripture. Bahai’s allow for Jesus to be called God and to exercise certain attributes of God since he is a manifestation of the true God. Having a cursory understanding of a doctrine may do more harm than good especially when one imagines it a comprehensive understanding.

Also one may err by failing to note the causes behind these deviations. While one will not understand the effect entirely from the cause, often the causes provide great help in understanding the effect. Doctrines are part of culture. As such, particular doctrines are phrased in a way that specifically reflects the elements of a culture. Understanding the societal, circumstantial, ideological, historical and literary context of certain heresies therefore can provide the groundwork for a tactical rebuttal. If the causes are ignored, the most potent apologetic arguments may prove ineffective because they failed to address the reasons for that belief. Often people choose a cult system for unjustifed reasons. Some ascribe to Mormon theology because of the youth program at the local Mormon church. Some become Muslim with little concern for the truth or falsity of its theology proper focusing rather on how Islam makes provision for the poor. People’s minds need to be dignified with appeals for truth, but people are not merely minds. So a consideration of the other factors involved in their belief can be of tremendous value.

Further, apologists often make the mistake of inferring associations that are not there. The heretic may not be aware of all the ideological baggage that comes along with the one particular belief they are asserting. It would be wrong to assume that this person believes everything associated with the heresy they have professed. Some believers and belief systems are eclectic, inconsistent, or otherwise defy the categories in which Christian apologists are trained. Sometimes a person can be won back to orthodoxy by simply reminding them of how they hold to beliefs which, combined together, disallow this heresy. Of course, one could preempt such problems by phrasing and explaining the true doctrine so as to cut off any deviance in that direction. But there is no way to foresee every possible schism and deviation. The potential for heresy is limitless, so no amount of creed-making or systematizing is sufficient to prevent all future heresies on that subject.

            This evaluation part of the process is rife with error but some helpful aims can still be maintained throughout.


Identify the Question

First, one should identify what questions this doctrine attempts to answer. These questions may recall orthodox answers thus suggesting a direction for ones apologetic defense. Rarely is it enough to respond to dogma with dogma, much less to respond to a reasoned new doctrine with dogma. When a person says “Jesus was really a woman,” it may be a wasted arrow to respond with the counterclaim, “Scripture says Jesus was a man.” If a person came to the conclusion that Jesus was a woman, then the normal reading of canonical Scripture is probably not the method and source which they most respect. Instead, try to identify why this person would believe that idea. If it can be identified why a person would question this rudimentary doctrine one might be able to formulate a comprehensive address to that person’s challenge using Scripture, history, and reason in ways that this person will respect. In that case, one might need to show Scripture and Christianity dignify women and espouse a kind of gender equality, proving more faithful and fulfilling to the female psyche than a female Jesus could achieve. Notice, this example does not discard Scripture just because a person may question it’s veracity, or because a person puts other sources above it. Instead, when you identify what key questions the person is trying to answer, you might find yourself preferring a different set of answers from Christianity than you might have expected. If a person holds this view because he believes Christianity is sexist, then instead of quoting verses about Jesus’s gender, you might instead point out verses about the dignity and value of women–which may say nothing specific about Jesus’ gender.


Identify the Truth

Second, one should identify what amount of truth is present in that heresy. Rarely is heresy 100% wrong. Usually there are elements of truth within any given heresy that need to be recognized and even affirmed lest we forsake the crucial bridges whereby restoration can be made. By recognizing the measured amounts of truth still present within this false doctrine one can begin the work of saving the metaphorical baby while throwing out its bathwater.
Note the Strengths and Weaknnesses

Third, one should search for the strengths and weaknesses within this doctrine. The parts that approach or agree with truth can be affirmed as such. These alignments may provide common grounds whereby the apologist can establish trust and build bridges of communication. Other parts of a doctrine which are heavily fortified but are still wrong may be properly reserved for later address since they will likely need more “ammunition” and training before one can answer them well. Still other parts of a doctrine which are weakly defended and are dangerous in their falsity may be a prime target for immediate apologetic response.


Clarify orthodoxy

Fourth, with the knowledge gained so far one can return to his or her orthodox beliefs and refine and clarify the truth. Note this does not mean “change the truth” but simply clarify the points that have been left implied or vague. Other parts are supposed to be unknown and to answer them at all is heretical. At this point it is helpful to recall the distinction between orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). Up to this point, this essay has addressed these two together informally under the title of orthodoxy, but formally speaking the two are distinct. And it should be remembered that the task of the Christian is not simply to address problematic teachings, but, just as the Gospel of Christ is at once propositional and personal, so heresy is both in the teaching and in the teacher. Heresy tests not just the orthodoxy of the church but its wholistic integrity. To consider doctrinal implications without considering their practical outworkings may not be an adequate response.

We do not address arguments in isolation rather we address the argument through the arguers. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy may together be refined and elaborated in light of the gaps exposed by a glaring heresy. Of course one should never be hasty in tampering with core beliefs and practices, but one need not hold to core beliefs and practices on blind faith either. Christian truth affords infinite levels of discovery and living application and in 2000 years of the Church’s existence, we have only scratched the surface.


Address the heresy.

Fifth, and lastly, we may address the heresy as such. So far we have addressed the heresy as a tool for learning and as an opportunity for God’s truth to be refined and developed. But we come around now to the point where heresy is to be answered as the sinful error that it is. This step is often the first step in our apologetic efforts, and as such we fail to glean the maximal value from the fact of heresy. While this stage fits best after the observation and evaluational stages, it must fit in or else we are not even talking about apologetics. Comparative religious study, intellectual observation, theological discussion, philosophy of religion, worship or whatever we may call it, it has not reached the level of defense and earned the title of “apologetics.” No apologetic is complete without actually addressing the heresy. There are innumerable ways in which heresy should be ultimately addressed so this short essay is not sufficient for such an ambitious task. And there are many many resources devoted to this topic so little need be said here in that vein.

Conclusion

It can be said therefore that heresy possesses great value just as every other evil possess value. Heresy is one more intrusion upon the true order, but its intrusion falls within God’s sovereignty and will ultimately serve to more brightly highlight the glory of God’s truth. Christians can learn from heresy and through heresy without committing the liberal errors of accommodating heresy or believing heresy as truth. The church should not become a different being or deny its doctrinal roots but the church is nonetheless living. And as a living thing the church is a moving thing for it is always seeking further applications and clarifications of the truth. Consider the illustration in the introduction of this essay the church may be held together by scotch tape and chewing gum. But the church is still a force to be reckoned with and Christ is its animating force giving it power and life. This fragile and goofy machine is really an organism whose essential identity remains the same though it is ever growing and, we may hope, is always maturing.

 

            [1]See also, Tim Downs, Finding Common Ground (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 94-95.

            [2]Acts 17; 2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 1:7, 16; Col. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 3:15-16; Jude 3.

            [3]See, Mark Noll. Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God With All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1997); Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind. 3d ed. (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent, 2005); and John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1975).

            [4]This phrase is originally from Charles E. Hummel’s Tyranny of the Urgent (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999).

            [5]For more on spiritual warfare see, Robert Dean Jr. and Thomas Ice, Spiritual Warfare, What the Bible Teaches About (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000).

            [6]Formally speaking, orthodoxy would refer to true doctrines whereas orthopraxy would refer to true practice. However, informally speaking orthodoxy is used to refer to both and is so used here. Orthodoxy is used here to refer to the truths of the Christian church whether they be of practices such as the Eucharist, evangelism, and prayer or whether they be of beliefs such as the Trinity, and sola fide sola gracia salvation.

            [7]Van Baalen and Jan Karel, Chaos of the Cults 4th rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 14 quoted in Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. Anniv. Ed., Hank Hannagraaf, gen. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997), 20.

            [8]In response to the questions of what happens to those who die having never heard the Gospel, infants who die before they are mature enough to exercise faith, and what are the minimum conditions necessary for salvation see Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology III: Sin and Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004), 430-551.

              [9] See Luke 19:21-22.

              [10] By “life-theology” is meant the wholistic theological belief system one holds as revealed in his or her life. This “life-theology” is distinct from mere “theology” in that it refers not just to intellectual beliefs consciously admitted but the total theology to which one holds whether or not it agrees with what that person confesses. To illustrate the difference between life-theology and theology one may consider the phenomenon of practical atheism. Christians can be guilty of practical atheism when they confess Jesus as God yet live like there is no God. Their life theology belies the theology the confess.

A common objection to Intelligent Design is that it fails to rise to the level of science, sinking instead on the weight of it’s unfalsifiability. Whatever other objections might be mustered against the scientitific status of ID, this one doesn’t have to be one of them.

So is Intelligent Design falsifiable? It depends on what demands you make for “falsification.” Science broadly operates in inductive inferences with a subtext of logic and philosophy which can deal in deduction. Most of the interesting conclusions of science have been through the imperfect but practical method of experimental verification. If someone demands strict logically DEDUCTIVE verification or falsification, that’s only sometimes if ever true of natural science. If someone demands strong corroboration of a theory by INDUCTIVE verification or falsification, well now we can start doing some science. ID fits pretty well here since we cannot test a theory that “X happens by unguided processes” without also testing AGAINST it’s opposite, “X happens by guided processes.” It is literally impossible to test the notion of “unguided change” without also testing for “guided change” at the same time. In the terminology of logic, these two statements have an obverse relation (All X is unguided —> [obversion]–> No X is guided). This kind of logical inference is a direct inference, unmediated by syllogistic premises (i.e.,Premise 1: “X is Y,” premise 2: “Y is Z,” Conclusion: therefore X is Z). Syllogisms are indirect inferences, since they require more than one premise before a conclusion can be drawn.

If we had to break all this down into brass tacks, you can offer some concrete examples to show how ID is falsifiable. Under the premise of ID you can propose and test several expectations of biological organisms. You don’t have to name the designer, or start talking about a designer like it were a personal God just to be able to test ID. To get into the specifics about a designer would be more akin to theology than natural science anyway. Some examples ID theses might be, “the incidence of infertility will rise in the samples of microbes which were forced to mutate by external factors.” This is not a “strong/hard” proof–suggesting high probability for a designer; it’s too thin a line of evidence to provide overwhelming  support for such a huge claim as ID; but it’s nonetheless testing something that one can predict if certain expressions of ID were true, and which would not necessarily be expected if ID were false.

A more historical example might be how scientists under the expectations from ID favor hypotheses where biological assemblages will turn out to be remarkably functional with little waste; what we could expect with a designer and would not expect as often or as much with unguided nature. So, we can look at the human genome under the assumptions of evolution and see the confusing “letters” of our chronomosomes as being rife with “junk” leftover from past evolutionary stages. By that expectation we can be led to treat as “gibberish” what is actually a language we hadn’t bothered to understand. If our scientific assumptions bias us there, we are led away from the best science because of our evolutionary and materilalistic assumptions whereas ID would bias us towards truth, disposing us more naturally to how things really are.

In summary, I’d suggest that ID is testable, though unfortunately it’s not often as directly and deeply testable as we might like. And it further suggests legitimate methods and modes of testing that can follow a different exploratory course than evolutionary biology does. We can approach biology for insights on reverse engineering–a concept that’s unfit/misleading if there’s no engineer but only accidents. We can study DNA for clues into codes, code-breaking, computer language, etc.–even if we know that our technological and semantic uses all imply mental ability. By supposing “purposes” in nature, we have a wider range of hypotheses we can entertain in our experiments.  Moreover, we can treat the almost inescapable teleological language (purpose-language wherever it may occur) as real and not just some “useful fiction” or mere “heuristic device” (teaching tool). All of this suggests that the ID theorist can be common sensical and realistic in his approach to science instead of being maligned and marginalized as if his ID were magic.

Ebolapocalypse has dominated the media for several weeks now eclipsing other stories about ISIS, the Midterm Elections, or the explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility. The Ebola scare is newsworthy, but the facts of the matter show it’s an African crisis not a world crisis. We should be alert, not alarmed.

Ebola Virus

Courtesy of BBC Science Photo Library

We can learn about ourselves and our politics through the Ebola scare but first we need to settle the noise so we can hear the voice of reason.

From what we know so far, Ebola is not very contagious. It doesn’t seem to be airborne. Nor does it transfer by casual contact. The two nurses who acquired it from Thomas Duncan had extensive contact with him and his fluids (i.e., “soiled linens piled to the ceiling”) while he was highly symptomatic and they had been using shoddy protective measures while treating him. Both nurses are now in quarantine at specialized hospitals receiving treatment from a world-class team of doctors. Thomas Duncan was not diagnosed till the late stages of the disease and has passed away. Hospitals took some time to adjust, but now awareness has been raised, the CDC and NIH are now giving the situation a high level of attention, and while we do need to be careful, be smart, and be prepared, we don’t need to riot in the streets about Ebolapocalypse.

There may be a handful of new Ebola victims over the next few weeks in the United States. But we have no great reason to think this number will skyrocket in the U.S. because the disease seems to be contagious only when patients are symptomatic. Admittedly, “symptomatic” is a gray area which includes 99.5 degree fever and sniffles, or it could be bleeding from the eyes and projectile vomiting. The people at serious risk have had extensive contact with victims or who are that unusual case of transferring fluids accidentally by sneezing in someone’s face or sexual contact. Meanwhile, fellow plane passengers or elementary classmates (of Duncan’s children) are at a very low risk.

So what is the suitable response? Be alert, not alarmed. Here is where your worldview and politics factor in. If you prize safety far above liberty, and if you have a pretty low view of the masses, thinking that people cannot generally take care of themselves, are pretty helpless regarding policing themselves or their neighborhoods, or that low-grade public health risks are just cause for high-grade intrusions on personal freedom then you may be one of the people crying out to ban air-travel through Dallas, close the public schools, and evacuate the victims neighborhoods. You would also be showing a stereotypically liberal bias, favoring federal policy answers where state/community level answers might work better. Perhaps if the health risks were far greater, such as the Black Plague or chemical warfare, then even conservatives might agree with this sentiment. The austerity of solutions must suit the severity of the problem. But when only three U.S. victims are known, and all of them had close contact with contaminated body fluids, we aren’t in that crisis stage yet. And we don’t have cause for crushing the free enterprise of tens of thousands of people.

Conservatives are leery of the nanny state, sometimes to a fault. But in this case, as with any potential crisis, conservatives should beware of excesses even as they support responsible public action respecting individual liberties, and supporting the rule of law. In all that, one need not give ground to progressives who “never let a crisis go to waste.” Lurking in the Ebola scare is an opportunity for federal overreach in the form of open-ended regulations for local hospitals, for CDC expansion (a federal agency), for federally controlled air-travel, or for the federal intrusion into on most any sector where people might interact. It would be only a muted victory to contain the Ebola outbreak in ways that press the federal government deeper and deeper into the private sector, making for harder and harder extraction later. Ebola is not the only epidemic worrying conservatives.

What is a conservative answer to Ebola? Suit the answer to the problem without catering to liberal agenda items. Liberals and conservatives probably agree on the same basic actions: quarantine victims, educate hospitals staff and communities, use HAZMAT teams at contamination sites, equip danger zones with protective gear, perhaps restrict air-travel to stricken countries, etc. The disagreement arises over how to accomplish these. Conservatives admit a role for federal government, often as a necessary evil, but give preference to local initiatives where possible such as public awareness campaigns, non-profits and churches, and individual efforts. These would include educational efforts through social networking, seminars, charitable giving, etc. Cities should be ready to use local cleaners, local clinics, and local hospitals—using “rainy day” funds to pay for these where possible.

Whenever large-scale methods are suggested, however, conservatives especially should consider the consequences. Most every safety policy infringes on liberty. Sometimes the tradeoff is worth it, sometimes it’s not. A travel ban for Dallas would cost millions in revenue, harm local and state economy, undercut exports like fossil fuels, potentially raising costs nationwide while stalling Texas growth. Now if we were talking about a Zombie apocalypse, then those costs might be justified. But the actual threat of Ebola, suggests a Dallas travel ban would be more harmful than helpful. That would be a punishing blow to a largely republican state invariably hampering republican incumbents in the upcoming midterm elections. Liberals might like that idea, but not necessarily for safety reasons.

We should be cautious and alert, recognizing real threats, evaluating options, and weighing the costs and benefits of our actions. Life will go on after Ebola dies down and it is for that future that we must also plan. Each of us can do our part to be smart and avoid transmission so we don’t need the Nanny State to do it for us.

By: John D. Ferrer
Originally: 13 January 2013, updated 28 September 2014

It is common for naturalistic thinkers in ethics to argue that our moral values are derived entirely from nature. Moral facts are facts of nature. For example, DNA wires us to desire pleasure and avoid pain. Our environment fosters community values, and social normas. Evolution filters out extreme deviancy and selects for altruism (charity, mercy, etc.). In schools today, naturalistic ethics is quite common if not the majority view in ethics departments around the country. Yet entering students are far more often raised with a different ethical framework, usually a religious framework where moral goodness is outlined in Scripture or based in God’s nature. For the student trying to forge a path for himself in the university, it may help to have a few responses ready in the event that an ethics teacher proves antagonistic to religious ethics.

  • The “Is-ought” problem—if nature is what it is, where do “oughts” come from? That is, moral prescriptions are a different category from the descriptions of nature we find in the sciences. This problem is well known in ethics, but it’s often misunderstood and rarely if ever solved. Christian ethics, for example, allows that nature can possess the endowed intentions of its creator. God made animals to serve people and populate the earth. God made man to care for the earth, love each other, and honor God. With a divine mind at back of nature, nature can carry His intentions even if it’s not itself intelligent and cannot “intend” things like moral duties.
  • The Problem of Relativism—some professors are committed relativists, others are working hard to avoid it. But however you slice, relativism is a compelling option intellectually even while it offends our moral senses. To justify objective ethics and avoid relativism one needs an objective basis that all people everwhere answer to. Nature doesn’t seem to have this, at least not any sort that is also moral. Also, moral laws differ widely across cultures, and (for naturalists) the grounds for ethics tend to be human desires and intentions. Since those desires and intentions vary between people and cultures, morality would seem to be relative. But several weaknesses stand out. Here are three. First relativism trivializes morality interpreting “Rape is evil” as dislike (“I don’t like rape”), emotional distaste (“Rape is icky gross.”), desire (“I don’t want to be raped.”), or natural hardwiring (“Evolution made me think rape is evil.”). None of these encompass what we really mean when we say, “Rape is evil.” Second, relativism prevents affirmation or disagreement with other people or cultures. If Turkey agrees to kill hundreds of thousands of Armenians then that’s “good” for them and our culture can’t judge them. If Bob enjoys banging his head against the wall, then who are we to judge? If France promotes freedom of speech we can’t even judge them to be right as that would be “passing judgment.” Third and finally, in cultural relativism minority views are intrinsically wrong/evil. Martin Luther was wrong to oppose catholic abuses since the majority disagreed with him. Relativism justifies some heinous things and is highly problematic.
  • A Thought Experiment on Nature: What if nature had produced a radically different set of values for people such as (a) killing the sick, elderly, and slow is “good;” and (b) loving outsiders is “evil,” would those values then be true? that is, would it be factually true that when people agree with those values? If the evolutionist says “Yes,” then he admits that his ethics are arbitrary or relative on the evidence of nature (see #2). If he says “No,” then he has smuggled in leverage from outside of nature. to be more specific, evolution could have made any number of atrocious outcomes to be normal for human populations just as it did for other animal populations. some animals eat their young, some rape their mates, some throw poo everywhere. All of these are offensive to our senses, yet all of it is arbitrary on the evidence of evolution.

Ethics is a great area of study, but be warned. There are a lot of bad and even dangerous ideas circulating in philosophical ethics and students should be careful and calculating in how they approach this field. These three challenges should help the naturalist refine and develop his ethics beyond many of his peers in naturalistic ethics. And for the religious ethicist, these challenges—used skillfully—may help forge a place for your own ethical system to survive.

By: John D. Ferrer
Originally:  4 February 2014; updated 28 September 2014

Some of us make our living off of ideas—discussing them, teaching them, writing about them, broadcasting them—without necessarily having to apply them. Whether an idea works or not is irrelevant to our employment or success. We “idea-people” are what famed economist and social commentator Thomas Sowell calls intellectuals. In his book, Intellectuals and Society (NY: Basic Books, 2009) Sowell gives a chilling and insightful look into the presumptuous place of intellectuals in society. The “intelligentsia” or “the anointed” as he collectively calls them are typically not subject to the filters of the free-market or the popular wisdom of the masses—yes, wisdom of the masses. Those who assume the masses are foolish, unlearned, and unfit to determine basic measures and laws for themselves are precisely the kind of “intellectuals” Sowell means to correct. Meanwhile, Sowell argues there are some sorts of imbecility so deadly to society, so destructive to humanity, and so patently absurd that we would never believe them except that ivory tower scholars vouch for them. Unguarded by corrective external measures—their ideas on society and humanity don’t have to “work”—they are prone to assuming a kind of authority that is just as capable of authoritarianism as any other field might be. Key “intellectual” ideas include socialism, judicial activism, subjectivism, and moral relativism.

As an intellectual myself I find this book to be strangely comforting, a reminder that ideas can and do matter, that ideas should be tested against reality; that scholars can be wrong; and that we career-thinkers are not necessarily wise or even smart just because we’re educated. The book is hefty, and a thorough analysis of it would take some time—indeed I would not be surprised if this becomes a “great work” in western literature, or at least a staple of conservative libraries. So let me illustrate Sowell’s insight with an example.

In contrast to the vision of today’s anointed [left-leaning intellectual class], where existing society is discussed largely in terms of its inadequacies and the improvements which the anointed have to offer, the tragic vision [the conservative social perspective] regards civilization itself as something that requires great and constant efforts merely to be preserved—with these efforts to be based on actual experience, not on “exciting” new theories. In the tragic-vision, barbarism is always waiting in the wings and civilization is simple a “thin crust over a volcano” (pgs. 77-78).

Like much of Sowell’s writing, his insight here is broad and must be read with some grace since, philosophically, he’s only speaking in generalities and estimations. He speaks not as a skeptic, or even as a philosopher (i.e.: analytic), but as a social commentator waxing philosophic. He has in a few lines characterized a worldview difference in approaching society problems. I find myself at this crossroad. Do I think that societal change tends to be good, and do I welcome radical and progressive efforts at innovation? Or is society a delicate chemical combination of values and ideals, prone to degrade or explode, difficult to improve, prone to instability can only be maintained by strident efforts to avert disaster? Am I a humanist or a realist? An optimist or a pessimist? These are good questions that students and professors alike should ask themselves. And they might do well to wait for an answer before broadcasting their views/ideas as if good intentions and book-learning were enough to rescue bad ideas from social explosion.

Broadly conservative, capitalistic, and down-to-earth Sowell is a refreshing voice in the academic world. Contrarians should find in his work a fine distillation of conservative thought, a solid example of gracious and self-critical scholarship. Advocates might find in this book a refreshing elixir to drink on the porch while the world goes mad.  This book is a must read for anyone seriously interested in the life of an academic, where the currency is ideas, and the market is conversations and classrooms. Happy Reading!

By: John D. Ferrer
Originally: 24 March 2013, updated 28 September 2014

As a student of philosophy, occasionally I find people wandering into my field of study mistaking it for their own.  Generally, I am amused, unoffended, and graciously invite them in, or help the mistaken wanderer back into his own field. Often those misguided ma’ams and misters have wandered over here from their own field of science. Admittedly, the borders of science and philosophy can be difficult to define. With their indistinct edges, I’d expect that mistake sometimes. Science is a grandiose field of wide public acclaim. Many claim it as their own (shared) property. Many boast in its spoils and fruit, claiming all the harder that it is their preferred and favorite field. Going further, we may say, it is considered by many to be the field where truth and facts happen. Other fields, such as my own, in philosophy, or theology or the arts, are where subjective experiences, opinions, feelings, and the softer stuff of life happen. While I disagree with the distinction I understand it and its value, and do not dismiss everything about it. My purpose here is to observe how science, for all the facts, objective truth, and concrete reality it uncovers, is largely a field of art, where subjectivity, analogy, philosophy, and theology all overlap within the craftwork we call “Science.”

In classical categories, education has revolved around two main fields of learning: Arts and Sciences. “Science” referred to any field of knowledge. And the “arts” were all sorts of practical knowledge for making things—that is, craft work from painting pictures, to building bridges, to hunting, to cutting hair, to binding books, and so on.

Before modern science was born, education tended to hover around down-to-earth practical matters, such as reading, writing, basic math, and then craft or trade—be it shoe-making, needlepoint, farming, herding, etc.

And the main means of education were three-fold: parental child-rearing (where kids would learn elementary basics), apprenticeships, and, for the wealthy, a personal home tutor.

At that time, “sciences” referred to all the fields of abstract learning: philosophy, theology, and what we now call “natural science,” but was then approximated with the phrase “natural philosophy.” We’ll call this sense “scientia” (pl. scientiae), referring to the Latin term for “knowledge.”

As time progressed, Plato’s proto-universities eventually led into Medieval Scholastic universities. There, an educated person would have to master three basic scientiae and four advanced scientiae. The three basics, called the trivium, were composed of logic, to help people think well, grammar to help people write well, and rhetoric, to help people speak well. Added to that were the four advanced fields called the quadrivium wherein an “educated” person would need to understand natural science (identified with astronomy), calculation (math), engineering and craft (identified with geometry), and the fine arts (identified with music). Even today, the trivium and quadrivium are standard fare in classical schools.

Today, education has largely shifted (at least in the U.S.) away from the classical model, replacing logic and rhetoric with math and natural science in the basic studies, and identifying engineering, technology, and most any productive field under some form of natural science. Reading and writing are not as greatly emphasized, while “science and technology” are emphasized more heavily. For that reason, “natural science” (the term which replaced “natural philosophy” during the 19th century) is usually what people mean by “science.” Other fields, like theology and philosophy, may or may not be treated as fields of knowledge. They are considered fields of theory, value, or conjecture, often thought to be separate and subordinate to the findings of natural science.

The title of this post, then, might seem like a category mistake. To blur “art” and “science” is to treat science like it’s not a field of knowledge, but just a big how-to seminar.

Nevertheless, there is an artistic side to science. Navigating the modern educational world can be confusing, with many different models of education to choose from, different philosophies of education driving them, and serious consequences if we choose poorly.

This article is an attempt to cast the natural sciences more realistically, so that readers can have an advantage in approaching them in a university or vocational setting. He or she can anticipate, appreciate, and operate within the actual practice of natural science, and do so without having to first dig through idealistic misrepresentations in the brochures and ads.

The artistic side of science does not have to be a fault or a hindrance, but can dignify and distinguish the natural sciences. If you are a science major, or are entering a career in science, it is critical to understand the art of science, lest disillusionment cost you grades, time, money, and a lot of energy.

But how, then, can science be an art?

First, “science” is not a concrete term, but an abstraction referring to an activity. It refers to a certain craft involving the scientific method, some appeal to natural effects and causes, and falsifiability. One does not bump into a science as if it were a rock or a stump. Science is conceptual, referring to how one goes about understanding the world. Even though it’s difficult to define exhaustively, it’s broadly agreed that science involves the scientific method (hypothesis, experiment, conclusion), and some form of falsifiability.

When we learn, for example, that dolphins are mammals, that knowledge of nature can be called “science,” but to be more specific it should be termed “scientific,” since it’s consistent with the knowledge of nature gleaned through the craft of science. People observed dolphins, hypothesized that they were mammals, and then tested that hypothesis by looking to see if dolphins met the criteria of mammality. Science is an activity that people engage in, not merely a set of ideas. Art is the fitting term for craft work such as science.

Second, besides mere activity, there is practical skill involved in conducting science. Much of science is exact, requiring great care, lest one ruin an experiment or data set with careless errors. And even the inexact practices permitted in science still have their appropriate degree of precision.

There may be estimates involved in counting planets in a solar system, but if those estimates are too far off, then they might not be exact enough to be considered scientifically credible. The demands of science are exacting, requiring practical skills, be it operating a telescope, cleaning beakers, calculating binomials, programming computers, or fixing the lab video camera. Being a skilled craft, science is therefore an art.

Third, there is an aesthetic component to the methodology of science. In evaluating which interpretations best account for the experimental data, there is no single and rigorous manner for weighing competing views. Scientists employ “inference to the best explanation,” or what’s called the “abductive” method.

Suppose two theories are equally precise, comprehensive, and accurate (account for all the relevant data), but one theory is aesthetically beautiful. The more beautiful theory can get the nod. With inference to the best explanation, or abduction, any number of different lines of evidence can be used to support a theory even when we admit that “beauty” is not the most objective, concrete, or definite evidence to appeal to. Simplicity, beauty, and explanatory power can all be used with various respective weights as evidence for a theory. Part of the appeal of Darwinian evolution is precisely that it’s beautiful in its simplicity. It streamlined the theory of speciation down from the theologically dense and mysterious theories of the day.

Fourth, the social side of science involves persuasion, and art matters in persuasion. Science is expensive. It takes time and money to hypothesize, experiment, make findings, write out those findings, publish those findings, and gather grants for further study in order to advance one’s particular field of science. Persuasion works in enticing donors, winning friends at conferences, earning grants, and in drawing together an audience to present findings. Persuasion is itself an art, but it also involves other arts such as language, beautiful displays, skillful planning, and stylish practice. Otherwise these artistic elements might seem unrelated to natural science. Strictly speaking, grant writing is not “science.” But in a broader ense it is, since the sociological phenomenon of science requires funding, peer review, publishing, and collegial interaction, and all of these have their respective artistic features where people, for good or ill, are more likely to sit through an aesthetically attractive presentation than a monotone monologue—even if both discuss the same experiment.

ifth, natural science is just as value-laden as it is factual, and “values” tend to be categorized at least as much under “art” as under “science.” Ideally, science should be done in as objective, or value-neutral, a manner as possible. However, the actual practice of science incorporates all sorts of values, such as liking or disliking colleagues, discerning practical values for conducting research (i.e., preferring early morning over late nights in the lab since the cleaning crew gets in the way after 10 p.m.), identifying ethical means of experimentation, and identifying ethical uses of one’s research.

Also, different fields of science can develop biases that direct what fields of study are valued—neuropsychology is deemed valuable, while parapsychology might marginalize the scientist, even if one’s hypotheses and experimentation are equally scientific in their rigor.

Sixth, natural science involves interpretation. While interpretation need not be subjective, at least not totally, it often is subjective, revealing as much about the scientist as it does about the data. Our interpretive filters can be skewed by faith, presumption, expectation, and agendas of various sorts, and these can slip into the “conclusions” that scientists draw, even without noticing, if enough peer scientists share those biases.

I’m not saying that subjectivity is necessarily bad, or that the interpretive element in science is purely subjective. But there is at least a subjective component to a lot of scientific interpretation, and where there is subjectivity, there is a degree of artistry that is liable to slip in.

Seventh, science involves creativity in constructing experiments, formulating hypotheses, elaborating theories, projecting uses of new knowledge, etc. That creativity is art.

Eighth, because science is difficult to demarcate thoroughly from other fields (the “demarcation problem”), one going definition of science is “science is what scientists do.” Whatever weaknesses this definition may have, it does admit something obvious—science is at least an activity. Hence, it’s a craft; its product is discoveries and technology, and it thereby falls within the realm of art.

Ninth, since Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions first shook the science world, it has been widely recognized that science is not the simple, steady steamroller of certainty we once thought. Its advance is not necessarily a straight line of human progress. Scientists fight, old theories persist, new theories don’t always win out. Some win out for non-objective reasons. Others persist despite objective rebuttal. Some theories abide in tandem, having only “soft” or subjective differences between them. Scientists may change their views to get the grant to do their research. Other scientists spend their career reinforcing a theory that is abandoned a generation later.

Without taking a strong stand on one side or another, it may be admitted that there is a lot of subjectivity within the scientific world, and at least some of that subjectivity undermines the simple view of science as objective fact-gathering. Instead, the social phenomenon of science is deeply interwoven with artistic elements.

Tenth, the results of science can be beautiful. It is no embarrassment to science at all that its findings can be gorgeous. Watch an episode of Blue Planet, or study the physics of a water droplet, or a rainbow, or observe the geological findings cast upon the side of a mountain—the view is breathtaking.

Eleventh, there is a sense in which all scientific argumentation is by analogy. Natural science is, by its nature, inexact—compared to math and logic, for example. Following the scientific method, people observe some aspect of nature and then propose a testable theory, a hypothesis. This hypothesis is a generalization implying a conclusion about some feature of nature on the basis of incomplete but (usually) observed evidence.

That hypothesis could concern the mating habits of penguins, the decomposition rate of an element, the expansion of the universe, or most any natural thing whatsoever. Rarely does the scientist observe all cases over all their times before drawing a hypothesis. But how does one construct a general rule like that, proposing some theory which accounts for cases and times that one has not observed?

That inferential work is by analogy. Analogies are comparisons on the basis of similarities. Where the similarities are relevant, plentiful ,and otherwise sufficient, an argument by analogy can work. Often we don’t even realize we are doing this. We may experiment on 1,000 or 100,000 penguins before concluding that the males warm the eggs. But what can we say about the thousands or millions of penguins that were not in our study? We apply these findings to those penguins, too, believing that their differences aren’t important enough to trump their similarities. On the basis of their similarities, we infer a conclusion—that is an analogy.

But let’s take this farther. Suppose, we could find a way to observe all penguins, and we find that in January, 2013, of all the penguins in the world, only males warmed the eggs. Have we gotten away from analogical argumentation then? Not quite. We still have to generalize over different times. It would be non-analogical to speak of the penguins observed only at the times they were observed. But the moment we treat the numerically same penguin as if it was identical across times, we have employed analogy again, presuming that Penguin A at time T1 is going to act consistently at times T2, T3, T4, T5, and so on.

In this manner, scientific argumentation operates by analogy. This is no shame or embarrassment, it’s just the nature of the beast. Understanding and appreciating how that fact redraws some presumed lines can give the individual scientist an edge in his field. But that element of analogy also reveals an inexact and even subjective component that might otherwise be overlooked. In that crevice, artistry can make the difference between an intuitively compelling theory and a counterintuitive, overly hasty generalization.

Twelfth, and finally, science cannot produce itself any more than the reader can be his or her own father. Science was born out of the philosophy of science, whereby someone first dreamed up the scientific method, falsification criteria, or whatever proposed distinctions qualify an activity as “science.” Philosophy is an open field permitting all manners of theory and evaluation—much of it rich with art. Philosophy of science is no exception. There is artful imagination, artful demonstration, and artful persuasion—all necessary for cultivating budding science from its philosophical soil.

As you can see, science is deeply artistic. There never was a strict divide between the arts and sciences. Art employs truth and knowledge about nature, and science employs art in conducting experiments and interpreting data.

Why might this matter to the vocational scientist or science major? For one thing, modern education might stand to benefit from appreciating the intersection of these typically divided disciplines.

A science major might do well to take an art class or two, cultivating the “right brain” a bit. A creative thinking class or a literature class could also help in these ways. A vocational scientist might benefit from a computer graphics course, or a study on interpretive theory. A bit of artistry might enable someone to interpret data in a more groundbreaking way that a non-creative scientist might miss. Not to mention that that person can, potentially, present his material in a more interesting, compelling, and persuasive manner, thus improving his chances for praise from superiors, for winning prizes, and for publication and circulation of his ideas.

It’s a mistake to think of science without some artistic component. Science has been a great friend to modern man, but can just as easily become our enemy. Science has risen in influence in the modern era, but it has not outgrown its dependence on other fields like philosophy (philosophy of science, ethics) or the arts.

Craft, skill, and creativity can spell the difference between successful science and failed theorizing.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! (Psalm 133:1-2)

One of the cheesiest  most overused terms in the church today is “fellowship.” We hear the term all over Christian culture reiterating a Christian answer to the troubles of our lonely, isolated, and fractured selves. Many of our church efforts in this vein are surfacy and ineffectual. A potluck dinner, a sunday school class, a sermon series on brotherly love, etc. etc. Yet it seems like we rarely experience fellowship. Closeness, vulnerability, rebuke, love–these are the kinds of features that distinguish fellowship from just “buddies” or “acquaintances” or “facebook friends.” In the shallowing of fellowship, closeness is replaced with text messaging, vulnerability is reduced gossip, trust is replaced with independence, rebuke with ad hominem attacks, and love becomes “likes.”

birds on a lamp post

I contend that one of the biggest reasons we don’t typically have great fellowship is also the most obvious, We. Don’t. Know. How. This is not simply a matter of will–choosing to BE in fellowship or to DO fellowship–though we can’t have fellowship without some willful submission to the demands, hopes, and expectations of others. This is not simply a matter of “making time.” Fellowship does indeed take time, and if you value it enough you will make the needed time for these loving trusting relationships to grow strong. But having a strong will and free time is not enough to make fellowship happen. Nor is this simply a matter of abstract knowledge–knowing why fellowship matters, what it looks like, or how God has commanded it. That kind of knowledge would certainly help. But fellowship is also a matter of practical knowledge. Fellowship is, among other things, a skill, and if you have not practiced it, you won’t be good at it. And when you don’t know how to do something as big and unwieldy as fellowship, then you can get hurt, badly.

Unfortunately, even when you do know how to do fellowship and be in fellowship, it still will hurt you sometimes. The hurt doesn’t have to be any more than the hurt from a surgeon who operates on you to help heal you, but that is still a kind of hurt. People can hurt you. And you may be tempted to push them away, keep them at arms length so they can’t hurt you. But at that distance, neither can they help you. For that matter, neither are you much help for them. And besides helping and hurting, people who are pushing others away just aren’t being together. And you can’t have fellowship without some sort of togetherness. There’s a kind of meaningful peace when we aren’t trying to fix problems, or accomplish things, or plan for the future, but instead we are just together.

For those of you know know me well, you might not think me an expert on fellowship. That’s an understatement. I’m a novice. To me, fellowship is a mystery that comes easy for other people but hardly comes at all for me. I want it, but don’t understand it. I need it, but I’m so clumsy at it that I get hurt whenever I feel like I’m using it right. If you get bucked off the horse too many times, you start to prefer walking over riding. That’s kind of where I’m at. So as I speak, please don’t think I’m presuming some expert status on the subject of fellowship. The how of fellowship remains a mystery for me. But at the same time, it doesn’t seem to be rocket science either. People need to trust each other, fight fair, work through conflicts, hold each other to honorable standards, put each other’s needs above their own, help, love, and be willing to be changed and grown in the process. That means saying you are sorry (and meaning it), that means preempting feuds rather than saving up grievances against each other. Fellowship means giving what you have to offer, and receiving what they have to offer. In short, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

The difficult artistry of fellowship enters here. The command does not say to “love your neighbor as if he were yourself.” They may not receive love the same way, or have the same needs and interests I do. I should love them with the personalized fellowship with which I would like them to love me. I need to seek to understand you, and as I learn how you receive love and how you operate in trust, I offer expressions of fellowship that address you there. After all, I want people to love me through food, respect, and encouraging words–some of my preferred modes of affirmation. It’s only fair for me to find ways that speak the same kind of love to you in your language.

Meanwhile, as I’m slow to learn this new language, I can testify that fellowship hurts. Don’t expect a lot of credit for trying either. Your efforts might be invisible, or the verbal equivalent of gibberish. Courageous humility is paramount. Until you find those expressions of fellowship that speak to them, they may not even know you are trying. It’s worthwhile, but the payoffs can be slow coming. It hurts, but ultimately it’s a good hurt.