Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Should you not teach your kids apologetics because “God is in control”?

I spotted this comment on Natasha Crain’s blog from someone who disagreed with her on training your kids to learn how to defend their faith.

The commenter “Hope” wrote this:

Because this is a blog you are no doubt restricted by trying to be concise and focused on one thought and, for the most part, in the midst of a dialogue with the people (like me) following your blogs…but in reading this out loud to others who are not following your blog, some things were pointed out that I might have noticed otherwise and thought I would mention.

First, thank you for the few tools in trying to help us with our children/grandchildren.

Here are some things we all must remember:

Everything hinges on God, who is the one ultimately in control. It does not hinge on our eloquence, finesse, or intellectual prowess. We can do everything right (or wrong) and still two identically raised children may go into extremely diverse directions.

Our children and grandchildren make their own personal choices.

The greatest tool we do have…even once the kids leave the nest, is PRAYER. Prayers is something sadly neglected by so many Christians. Being ill and many times unable to “do” much of anything, I have sadly in the past said “sorry, all I can do is pray”. I have learned to leave the word “all” out in that statement as I find it a privilege and honor to be able to pray. It is our right, our duty and an awesome responsibility.

I do enjoy your blogs and so look forward to your upcoming book, thank you so much and I will continue to pray for God’s guidance in all that you do and write!

I think her name is kind of ironic, since when it comes to her kids keeping their faith in college, “hope”, is all she has. I think this comment represents pretty well a very common attitude that Christian parents AND pastors AND church leaders have to the problem of children losing their faith. So let’s take a look at this.

What is the practical impact?

First thing to notice is that anyone who says this is basically clearing the way for themselves to not have to do any work. Apologetics is work.

To learn apologetics, I did things like this:

  • read books in subject areas I knew nothing about
  • order and listen to HUNDREDS of audio tapes from Veritas Forum, Access Research Network, Stand to Reason, Biola University, etc.
  • order and watch (many times) dozens of debates on VHS tapes and DVDs
  • order and watch (many times) dozens of lectures on VHS tapes and DVDs
  • attend conferences, debates and lectures locally, in other cities, and in other countries
  • reach out to non-crazy atheists in order to listen to their questions
  • form discussion groups with other apologists to find answers and discuss problems

This is what I had to do in order to answer the questions that people actually ask when deciding on theism and Christian theism, in particular.

Questions like these:

  • how do you know that God exists?
  • how do you know the Bible is reliable?
  • how do you know Jesus rose from the dead?
  • why does a good God allow suffering and evil?
  • why are there so many different religions?

Those are real questions, and they require real answers.

But Hope has a different way of answering those questions. She says:

  • I have no role in helping my children see why Christianity is true
  • Christianity is affirmed or denied by sheer act of will
  • Rational argument and evidence are irrelevant to knowing truths about God
  • Nothing I do can affect whether my children accept Christianity or not
  • All I can do is pray (which requires no spending of money, and no time commitment)

Practically speaking, I understand that this is what a person says when they want to rationalize not having to think, not having to read, not having to spend money, not having to acknowledge that some Christians know more than they do, not having to lift a finger to be a parent unless it feels good to them. They can be as self-centered and irresponsible as they want to be – which they would not be in any area that mattered to them – and then they can throw up their hands and say, “it’s not my fault”. You can easily imagine a case where a teacher told her students similar things – “I have no role in showing you what is true, you will have true beliefs about the material by sheer act of will, rational argument and evidence have nothing to do with this area of knowledge, I cannot control your beliefs about this subject, all I can do is pray for you to pass the tests”. Unless that teacher was unionized or tenured, she would be fired on the spot.

In fact, in NO OTHER AREA of life – not school, not work, not home-buying, not investing, not wedding-planning, not having the family over for the holidays, not planning a vacation, etc. – would this woman apply the method above, which is basically do nothing and pray. It’s very important to understand that. Hope will give her best effort in areas that matter to her, but when it comes to Christianity, she wants to DO NOTHING.

There is only one problem with this: it makes her feel bad when her children run off to follow Richard Dawkins. So when that happens, she has to explain why DOING NOTHING was actually the right thing to do. She has to justify herself to her religious peers when her children repudiate Christianity in the strongest possible way. And this is her justification – she is spiritually superior, and not to blame. She wants to put a pious whitewash on her laziness, ignorance and cowardice. And to make other people who are not lazy, not ignorant and not cowardly feel unspiritual, to boot. That’s the real reason why so many Christian parents and leaders say things like Hope.

The worst part of this is dealing with these parents and pastors is actually after the damage has already been done. Even when they are staring defeat in the face, they still resist any attempts to try to get them to engage by learning apologetics. They will continue to resist reading anything, watching anything, listening to anything – it’s very rare that you get one to “turn on” to apologetics and become passionate about it. It’s amazing to me. They are able to marshal all kinds of arguments about the things they care about. But not when their kids are at stake.

I think I am particularly bothered by men in church who follow sports more than apologetics. For them, Christianity is just about reading the Bible and showing up in church. But all the real effort goes into memorizing rosters, draft picks, fantasy leagues and other trivia.  It’s just depressing. Especially since men have the primary responsibility, either as parents or pastors. I really am not sure what to do about it, but it boils my blood to see the way these selfish grown-ups justify themselves with pious platitudes.

You can read Natasha’s much more civil blog post on Hope’s comment. She has a much more tolerant view, and more broad life experiences to draw on than I do. I am sure her feelings and approach would be much more tactful and effective than my angry response.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: children’s brains function better when they can see their mothers

The new study published in Psychological Science was reported in Pacific Standard.

Excerpt:

For little kids, seeing mom or dad nearby is a calming influence, maybe the difference between between perfect calm and a full-bore freakout. It’s as if having a trusted caregiver nearby transforms children from scared toddlers into confident adolescents. And in a way, a new report suggests, that’s what having mom around does to a kid’s brain.

When they’re first born and for years after, infants and young children can’t do a whole lot by themselves. They can’t eat on their own, they aren’t very good at managing their emotions, and it takes a while for them to learn how to dress themselves. Most children figure it out eventually, but in the meantime they need their parents to do a lot of that stuff for them. All the while, their brains are changing, too. Well into adolescence, kids’ brains undergoanatomical and physiological changes that affect the way we think and act.

[...]Young children’s brains responded differently based on whether they were looking at their mothers or strangers. In particular, their brains showed signs of positive amygdala-PFC connections when viewing pictures of strangers, but negative connections when viewing pictures of their mothers, suggesting more mature and stable brain function—and likely more mature and stable behavior, at least when moms were around. In contrast, tweens and teens had negative connections whether they were looking at their mothers or strangers. In other words, looking at pictures of their mothers made young children’s brains look a little more like those of adolescents.

The companion behavioral experiment backed up that thinking—young children made around 20 percent fewer errors when their mothers were present than when they weren’t, while there was no difference for adolescents. That combined with the fMRI results to suggest that mothers—and likely other caregivers—can provide an external source of mental regulation that young children won’t develop until later in life, the authors write in Psychological Science.

In view of the recent triumphs for gay marriage advocates, I think it’s worth remembering that gay marriage, like single motherhood, is not the best we can do for children. I think it’s a bad enough situation when the husband dies and leaves his children to be raised by the mother. That’s hard, but it’s not immoral. On the other hand, I think that deliberately choosing to deprive a child of his or her mother or father IS immoral. It’s child abuse, in my opinion. And that goes for gay marriage as well as “single motherhood by choice”. I also oppose frivolous divorce (“frivorce”), which is very popular in a nation that views structured courtship as “boring” and no-fault divorce as a woman’s right.

Previously, I blogged about another study that showed the importance of moms for young children.

Excerpt:

Both of these images are brain scans of a two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.

According to neurologists this sizeable difference has one primary cause – the way each child was treated by their mothers.

The child with the larger and more fully developed brain was looked after by its mother – she was constantly responsive to her baby, reported The Sunday Telegraph.

But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.

According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.

The consequences of these deficits are pronounced – the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathise with others.

But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.

The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.

He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function.

[...]The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.

The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.

The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, Neurosciencenews.com reports.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child’s development.

I have a very good feminist non-Christian friend who sometimes comments here. I once asked her about marriage and she said that her skills would be wasting on raising children. I explained to her my view that a mother needs to stay at home with the children, and that is more important work. I expect my future wife to read all kinds of books on child care and to give the child attention, nutrition, exercise and play so that the child will grow up to be an effective Christian. Maybe I need to be clear. I am not going to spend hundreds of thousands per child with just any woman. I need a woman who can produce influential and effective Christians who will engage in the public square. And we do not entrust that job to just anyone. We want educated, professional women who are willing to be stay-at-home moms when it’s necessary to do that – for the sake of the children.

I expect the woman I marry (if I marry) to have a college degree, and preferably a graduate degree, and at least a couple of years of employment. Then she has to stay home and invest in those children through the first five years, at least. After that she can stay home or work as much as she thinks is beneficial to the family goals of impacting the university, the church and the public square – as well as continuing to raise those children. It’s not a waste of her talent to make the next William Lane Craig, or the next Marsha Blackburn, or the next Doug Axe, or the next Edith Hollan Jones.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

New study: stay-at-home moms have strongest sense their lives are worthwhile

The UK Telegraph reports.

Excerpt:

Mothers who have put their career aside to care for their children have a stronger sense that their lives are “worthwhile” than the rest of society, official figures suggest.

New findings from the UK’s national “well-being” index show that those classed as economically inactive because they are caring for a family or home are also among the happiest people in Britain.

The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, also show that people across the UK have got progressively happier, less anxious and more satisfied with their lives in the past year.

The improvement is thought to be linked to the economic recovery and falling unemployment – even if people are not necessarily better off than a year ago.

The ONS said the improvement appeared to be linked to optimism and improvements in people’s personal situations even though typical household incomes are lower in real terms.

So then why don’t more women stay home with their children? Well, part of it is going to be feminism. Feminism is everywhere and it causes women to feel guilty about staying home with their kids. They think that they have to do the exact same thing that a man does in order to have any value. They don’t know what benefits a stay-at-home wife and mother brings to her family.

But sometimes, it’s not feminism, it’s just lack of money.

Young women need to understand that what will really satisfy them in life is a marriage and raising children at home. And this is not free – an enterprise like that costs money. If a woman seeks this sense of having a life that is “worthwhile”, then she needs to find a man who has made decisions in his education and career such that he is able to provide for her to stay home with their children. He has to be faithful, too – not just hardworking.

That’s not a popular thing to say to young women these days, and we don’t usually say that to them. We tell them that they need to find their happiness in a career, doing exactly what men do. And a lot of them let their fertile years pass by in relationships with the wrong men and focused on careers that do not satisfy. By the wrong men, I mean men who are not interested in a lifelong commitment to provide for a family. Maybe we should be telling young unmarried women what will really satisfy them before it’s too late?

 

Filed under: News, , , ,

Should we be trying to change the world from the bottom up or the top down?

Dr. Paul Gould is a professor of philosophy (PhD from Purdue) at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here is his bio, which says, in part:

I have a Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Talbot School of Theology and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Purdue University.

I am an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

What his bio page doesn’t say is that he left a career in business to go onto this apologetics/philosophy track. I find that very interesting, because like most professionals with an interest in apologetics, I had the same dream – to go and do a PhD and get into a college and be a positive influence on Christian kids. But the main thing is that he has had some experience in the real world.

Anyway, Dr. Gould has written two posts on how to change the world, and I want you to look at an excerpt from the first one.

First post:

Christians like to talk—and aspire—to changing the world. This language stems very naturally from our God-given desire to make a difference, to live a life that matters. In a very real sense, making a difference is to change the world. But, usually, when Christians talk about “changing the world” they mean something like “winning the world for Christ” or “helping the gospel to gain a hearing in culture” or “contributing toward shalom.”Recently, there have been a number of very helpful books written by folks who challenge the common view of how to go about the task of world-changing, and call into question the relationship between Christ and culture. One of the most important books to enter this discussion is James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of world-change. In this post I will share his critique of the “common view” of world change. I think his critique is dead on.

Hunter argued that by and large, Christians have gone about the task of world changing in completely the wrong way and the result is that Christianity in our country at least and in the western world in general, represents a weak culture.

He focuses on world-view ministries (primarily from the US such as Chuck Colson’s Wilberforce Forum and Focus on the Families’ Truth Project) and those like them that offer the following view of how to change the world:

Common view of world change: as we change the individual beliefs and values of persons, and change enough persons, then we will ultimately change society. This is a bottom up approach.

On the common view, the implicit view of culture is that “the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals” and that culture change will come as enough individual lives are transformed.

Hunter argues that this approach fails to take into account cultural elites and the institutions that yield power within culture.

Instead, cultural change has always been top-down: it is always elites—those who have cultural capital to exert influence and power—who have changed the culture. This is why the university, and the media, and the arts are so important in shaping the culture.

All of this leads to a fascinating conclusion: some ideas have consequences—namely ideas propagated by those within society who possess cultural capital and a supporting network of other individuals and institutions also within the center of cultural influence and production.

Second post is here. The second post has a link to his review of Hunter’s book (PDF), which is published by Oxford University Press.

I agree completely with the top-down thesis of James Davison Hunter, and I think that it is a tragedy that the Christian parents and Christian churches don’t do a good job of challenging and guiding young Christians to study the things that will allow them to have an influence. Most Christians I talk to have a negative view of steering young Christians towards advanced degrees, or towards making a lot of money, or towards positions of cultural influence, etc. Instead of focusing on being effective, they tell me “I will do what I want to do, because God has a mysterious will for me to be happy”. I don’t buy it. I am happy to consider alternative plans that serve God better, but I don’t think that the “I’ll do what feels good” view is interested in producing a return for God in terms of money and/or influence. Crazy plans do not work out just because we want them to. There are costs to every plan, and not every plan is as likely to lead to influencing the culture as any other plan. This is reality.

I also think it is important to steer children into positions where they can be prosperous and/or influential. Again, many Christians disagree with guiding children that way. In my experience, it is assumed that children need to be happy, and that they are the best people to decide what they should be doing in life. Well, I’m not a heavy-handed bully, but I am not letting my children do whatever they like, because they don’t have enough wisdom and experience to know what to do. For example, I am not letting my children study ballet in university. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it isn’t likely that they will have an influence compared to other choices. Money is important because money can be used to fund Christian scholars, apologetics ministries and apologetics events. Marriage is a great way to have an influence, but marriage costs money, and that means that marriage-minded people should have a plan to pay the bills before they consider marriage. We do not have the right to do whatever we feel like, because we have a boss who expects a return on his investment. If a person is capable of doing hard things that produce a better return (money or influence or children, etc.) then he should do that.

We have a problem in this country as it is with young people borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to study things that either don’t pay off, or that don’t allow them to have an influence. It’s not unloving to tell children the truth about the choices they make. Especially when the cost of having a child is over six figures per child. You can have a huge Christian influence with that kind of money if you spent it on other things, like apologetics scholars, their ministries and their events. So, if you are going to have children and spend it on them, you’d better have some sort of plan, and look for a spouse who is on board with that idea of providing God with a good return on his investment. Everything we do – including the choices to marry and have children – should be focused on serving God. If people shy away from the idea of steering children to have an influence, I don’t think it’s a good idea to get married at all. Save the money and use it for the kingdom somewhere else. Marriage is about making the best decisions you can in order to serve God, and you can’t marry someone who puts their own happiness over the need to produce that return for the boss.

Having said that, if you are already married, stick with it. I am advocating for making smarter decisions before you commit. And before you go off to college, ask yourself: is what you are thinking of studying worth it? Trade school is an excellent option that will give you an income that can support a family AND give to apologetics ministries, with less exposure to debt. If you must go to university, then it’s generally wiser to stick with STEM degrees, so that you can get a job and actually pay off those loans. Marriages and children are NOT free. Retirement is not free. Health care is not free. Christian apologetics ministries do not run on wishes and hopes. Christian scholars do not get their degrees for free – they need support. I think another good plan is to have one person do philosophy or history and then be supported by other people with jobs in STEM fields. That’s what I do – I help out Christian scholars on my team to finish their graduate degrees in fields related to apologetics. Those non-STEM degrees are the best way to have an influence, but it’s easier to get them as a multi-disciplinary team effort. Everyone has to pull their weight!

And one last point. The most amazing thing in the world is when I meet people who are very very skeptical about mentoring young people and steering children towards prosperous and influential areas, even though they themselves may be facing the results of their own poor decisions. You would think that someone who has burned $60,000 on a degree in Women’s Studies and can’t find a job would be on your side about helping other young people to make better decisions, but they are often not on your side. Why is that? Somewhere along the way, this culture stopped liking the Mr. Knightleys who were praised for loving people by telling them the truth about their bad decisions. Now we think that the Emmas can do whatever they want, and no one should be giving them any guidance. How sad.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , ,

Ryan T. Anderson defends marriage at Indiana House Judiciary Committee hearing

(the video is 11 minutes long)

The Heritage Foundation reports.

Excerpt:

Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, testified before the Indiana House Judiciary Committee yesterday on their proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and woman.

The controversial bill, which would place the amendment on the state ballot and give citizens the right to vote about such an important matter, spurred a three-hour heated debate full of testimonies from both supporters and opponents.

Anderson,  co-author with Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis of the acclaimed book “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense” which Justice Samuel Alito cited twice in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case involving the Defense of Marriage Act, began his testimony by explaining what marriage is and why marriage matters. According to Anderson, the collapse of marriage over the past 50 years is directly tied to the over-expanded welfare state of the country, and lack of male figureheads in families.

“If the biggest social problem we face right now in the United States is absentee dads,” Anderson said, “How will we insist that dads are essential when the law redefines marriage to make fathers optional?”

The full testimony is here at the Public Discourse, and here is one part of it:

Part of this is based on the reality that there’s no such thing as parenting in the abstract: there’s mothering, and there’s fathering. Men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise. Rutgers sociologist Professor David Popenoe writes, “the burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender-differentiated parenting is important for human development and the contribution of fathers to childrearing is unique and irreplaceable.” He then concludes:

We should disavow the notion that mommies can make good daddies, just as we should the popular notion that daddies can make good mommies. The two sexes are different to the core and each is necessary—culturally and biologically—for the optimal development of a human being.

This is why so many states continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, many doing so by amending their constitutions.

So why does marriage matter for public policy? Perhaps there is no better way to analyze this than by looking to our own president, President Barack Obama. Allow me to quote him:

We know the statistics: that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

There is a host of social science evidence. We go through the litany and cite the studies in our book, but President Obama sums it up pretty well. We’ve seen in the past fifty years, since the war on poverty began, that the family has collapsed. At one point in America, virtually every child was given the gift of a married mother and father. Today, 40 percent of all Americans, 50 percent of Hispanics, and 70 percent of African Americans are born to single moms—and the consequences for those children are quite serious.

The state’s interest in marriage is not that it cares about my love life, or your love life, or anyone’s love life just for the sake of romance. The state’s interest in marriage is ensuring that those kids have fathers who are involved in their lives.

People who are honest in recognizing that fathers matter cannot press for a redefinition of marriage that makes fathers optional. Any policy that normalizes and celebrates gender-interchangeability is bad for children, and we should be favoring the rights of children over the selfishness of adults in our laws and policies. Period.

The rest of the article is a nice short summary of the case for traditional marriage. It addresses social issues like religious liberty, but it also addresses fiscal issues like the costs of social programs.

Filed under: News, Videos, , , , , , , ,

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