From the Editor: Faith and Skepticism
With this issue we turn our attention to skepticism in a few of its many modern forms. The “New Atheism,” which now seems to be losing steam, was the initial inspiration for this choice, and several of the articles we’ve included here do deal with the criticisms of religion that have come from that direction. But we’ve cast the net a little wider and also asked some Christian academics to reflect on challenges to faith in their areas of research or study. The articles we received are as interesting and instructive as they are different from each other. The range of responses to the criticisms of skeptics is broader than might be expected.
Ryan Dueck kicks the issue off with an article that aggressively argues for the moral (as opposed to the rational) motivation in the anti-religious criticisms of prominent New Atheists. He wonders, given their rejection of God, on what ground they base their moral outrage.
Biologist Michael Kunz takes on evolutionary biologist and arch-atheist, Richard Dawkins, and challenges his claim to be “intellectually fulfilled.” Along the way, he assesses the value of the theory of Intelligent Design in defending Christian faith. John Brubacher, also a biologist, educates lay readers in the uncertain nature of all scientific endeavors so that they can give science the respect it deserves—no more than that, but no less either. Scientists, too, see through a glass darkly, but they do see some things clearly.
In a more personal paper, psychologist John K. Rempel presents some of the serious challenges psychological research poses to faith. He also shares how he’s managed to remain a practicing Christian and at the same time a practitioner of a science that looks only for psychological explanations for why people believe the way they do.
Religious skepticism is also a theme that great fiction writers have grappled with. Justin Neufeld brings the literary art and criticism of three such writers into conversation with each other: two of them are devout Christians and one, a morally sensitive atheist. Readers will agree that the results are most illuminating.
The Bible itself includes a book that, surprisingly, gives voice to the extreme form of skepticism we call nihilism. The book is Ecclesiastes, and Pierre Gilbert offers a thought-provoking interpretation of this ancient literary gem. If the implications he draws for homiletics are correct, then preachers must present disbelief much more convincingly than they often do when they defend the faith.
One of the brighter theological lights to burst on the North American scene lately is David Bentley Hart. Paul Doerksen offers a review essay of one of Hart’s most recent books, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies. He describes Hart’s account of the “Christian revolution” as positively evangelistic. There are times when, as the article’s title suggests, the shrewdest way to deal with condemnation is to change the subject.
The Recommended Reading section abandons the usual bibliography format for an essay on Charles Taylor’s much praised tour de force, A Secular Age. Taylor, a Christian philosopher, picks up the Christian story much later in the game than Hart—and as a philosopher, not a theologian. But the cumulative impact of his more modest arguments is just as great and, in a quieter way, perhaps just as evangelistic.
In our Ministry Compass section we have a most welcome unskeptical reflection by Jan Woltmann on the ancient Jesus Prayer. If it is true, as some writers argue, that apologetics divorced from Christian practice is impotent, it is entirely appropriate to include this fine little essay in this issue.
Book reviews, this time most of them of books by Mennonite writers (Stuart Murray and Gerald Schlabach are the exceptions), are in their usual place. This being the Spring issue, we also include Current Research, an annual bibliography of publications by the faculty of our sponsoring institutions.