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Past Weston Lectures, A Springtime Treat for You

Every spring in downtown Ottawa a very special event takes place, the Weston Lecture.  These lectures are examples of top level scholarship from a Christian point of view.  Professors and scholars who love the Lord share their expertise on how Christianity impacts their disciplines.  Often it seems that a lifetime of thought is distilled in these lectures, thought that is often not welcomed at universities but that is a key feature of the Weston Lectures.

These lectures by Christian scholars are both interesting and challenging for adults and older teens.  In fact, they have been a highlight of my spring each time I’ve been able to attend.  This year, of course, the lecture did not happen.

Rather than ignore the event, I decided to see if I could find an online Weston Lecture from the past that I had missed.

When I went searching I found a treasure trove, eight past lectures!  That is too good not to share, so I’ve made a list for you of the eight Weston Lectures that are easily available.  To help you decide which one to start with, I’ve copied the descriptions found with the lectures, some from the Augustine College website and others from the Augustine College YouTube channel.

If you are willing to have your mind stretched, your convictions strengthened, and your understanding of the world enhanced, here’s a treat for you.  Enjoy!

“Against the Ongoing Abolition of Man” (2019) by Dennis Danielson

“Three quarters of a century after the publication of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, proponents of materialism and naturalism still dominate the public square. Their reductionist and nihilistic approach to morality and other things that give meaning to human life also continues to shape what our children are taught in school. There’s every reason, in face of this ongoing dominance, to defend the case that Lewis’s potent little book sketched three quarters of a century ago—a case I seek to reassert in my primer on moral realism, The Tao of Right and Wrong.” (from the Augustine College website)

Visions and Re-Visions of Love:  C. S. Lewis and Dante (2018) by Dominic Manganiello

“The luminous figure of Dante casts a long shadow over the modern literary imagination. The brilliance of The Divine Comedy radiated widely over several generations of twentieth-century writers, including the Inklings. C.S. Lewis in particular hailed Dante as “a strong candidate for the supreme poetical honours of the world,” and drew inspiration from the Florentine poet’s literary masterpiece and other writings for his own project of infusing new life into old tales. Like his great medieval predecessor, Lewis was steeped in St. Augustine’s affective theology which was based on the understanding of virtue as rightly ordered love. Dante, in fact, had used the Augustinian exhortation, “set [your] loves in order,” as the epigraph for the second part of the Comedy. Lewis became captivated also by Dante’s account in the Vita Nuova (The New Life) of how, after a number of wrong turnings, he had come to understand the true nature of love and was eventually led to salvation by the greeting of a young girl named Beatrice. These treatments of an individual’s changing perceptions of love inspired Lewis to explore many variations of the virtues and perils of affection in his own fiction.  He adopted Dante’s literary technique of the dream vision notably in The Great Divorce and in Till We Have Faces to illustrate the key notion that love involves the exercise of free will and moral choice. In the lecture, I will focus on some representative scenes from these novels in which Lewis, like Dante before him, presents the dynamics of love as the “drama of the soul’s choice.”” (From the Augustine College website)

Just Medicine for the Dying (2017) by Farr Curlin

“Dr. Curlin speaks about the purpose of medicine in the health of the patient, about conscientious practice intrinsic to good medicine, and about unjust, nonmedical uses of “medical science” to bring about situations, including being dead, that contradict the purposes of medicine. Dr. Curlin encourages people to contend for good medicine, to bear witness to it in their practices before persuading their colleagues. This means in part letting go of helplessness and victimhood. It means connecting with others who share a commitment to the patient’s health. It means patience and endurance and probably long suffering.” (From the Augustine College website)

Alexander the Great: A Military Genius Who Changed the World and Paved the Way for Christianity (2016) by Edmund Bloedow

I have not been able to find a description of this talk, but the title speaks for itself.  Dr. Bloedow was a beloved professor and a brilliant man who loved the Lord with his whole heart. 

Against Critical Thinking (2015 )by R. R. Reno

“In his talk, Against Critical Thinking, Dr. Reno discusses the way in which today’s academic culture places great emphasis on critical questioning and doubt, but fails to train in how to pursue and assent to truth. Reno argues that the life of the mind is based on our capacity to know and affirm truth, and for that we need a pedagogy of piety – an approach to instruction ordered towards the affirmation of that truth.” (From the Augustine College website)

The Incarnation, Human Dignity, and Freedom: The Christian in the Public Sphere (2014) by Andrew Bennett

“An understanding of the Incarnation is central for Christians’ understanding of human dignity. Such an understanding must inform how we engage the world and more particularly how Christians participate in the political and economic worlds. Drawing from the richness of the Christian tradition, including the Church Fathers and texts such as Dignitatis Humanae, Dr. Bennett spoke to the imperative of Christians being active in the world so as to make the mystery of the Incarnation ever present.”  (From the Augustine College YouTube channel)

The Shocking Truth about Christian Orthodoxy (2012) by John Behr

“Fr. John Behr takes on those who dismiss Jesus Christ on “historical grounds,” by explaining how historicism itself is problematic and, indeed, heretical. The alternative to historicism as our mode of interpretation, he explains, is Christ on the cross as the foundation of all our knowledge and interpretation.” (from the Augustine College YouTube channel)

Clothing Our Moral Nakedness:  Education for Christian Virtue (2010) by Ralph C. Wood

“His lecture revisited Richard John Neuhaus’s famous thesis that the moral arena in our time has been vacated of serious social content by a refusal to deal with the most basic ethical questions: human nature, the human good, moral evil, the virtuous life. The result is not moral perversion so much as moral nakedness, the unclothing of our species as we revert to animality.

Dr. Wood’s familiarity with both literature and theology will move us through Walker Percy’s hilarious and N.T.Wright’s more sombre account of our resulting predicament: “a bizarre privatism in which the left and the right become unacknowledged twins.” Further attention to Flannery O’Connor and G.K. Chesterton – two advocates of education as training in the virtues – promise to make for an engaging evening. The instruction of virtue in the context of education “may well be a long twilight struggle,” says Dr. Wood, “but it is the only one worth waging” in the hearts of the young.” (From the Augustine College website)

Note that I have not attended all of the Weston lectures and I did not agree with everything in the ones I did attend.   Unfortunately, I am unable to be more descriptive than that because it is all too long ago. But I do know that I learned from each one I have attended, was challenged by it, and have benefited from it.  And I’m excited to be ‘attending’ another one this week.  Hopefully you and your teens will have the same experience.

To God be the glory!

Disclosure:  I am a big fan of Augustine College and am not compensated for recommending these talks to you.  I have not yet enjoyed them all, but fully expect they will all be worthwhile.

This post may be linked  to Inspire Me MondayHomemaking LinkupFriendship Friday.

Free Virtual Field Trips

For some of us, being at home is not a big deal—some of us even prefer it. If, however, you and your kids are used to being out and about, being at home can be a difficult thing to manage cheerfully.

However you and your family react to the home-based life, a field trip is always a welcome treat. Here are some great virtual field trips for you to enjoy…and they are educational, too.

The last two days I’ve been taking my breaks at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, enjoying their ‘story’ tours and discussions, remembering the happy days years ago when I visited with three small children. A vast number of other galleries can be visited via this link. (As always, some artwork may not be suitable for children.)

In my blog post, “Visit the Sistine Chapel Virtually”, I give links to a self-directed virtual tour as well as to other online resources to enjoy Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece.

Or, if you wish to explore the history of science, visiting the home of James Clerk Maxwell, one of the greatest physicists who ever lived, is a real treat. Each room can be explored by clicking on artifacts and the pictures on the wall. I was especially fascinated by all the portraits in the stairwell, with accompanying mini-biographies, but there is so much more. (To access all parts of the museum easily, click on the awning on the bottom left of the screen; otherwise it can be easy to miss large sections.)

The Berlin Philharmonic is offering a free voucher to their digital concert hall that features concerts, educational films, and more. Redeem by March 31.

Or, if you like opera, the Metropolitan Opera is offering a different streamed opera every day according to this schedule.

Recently I wrote about a thought-provoking apologetics conference, “Is Modern Science Making Atheism Improbable?” giving annotated links to each of the talks and panel discussions.

If you know of any other great virtual field trips, please let us know in the comments.

Thanks to Miss 22 for some of these links.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure:I am not compensated for recommending these links, nor am I recommending any objectionable content.

This post may be linked  to Inspire Me Monday, Homemaking Linkup, Friendship Friday.

Preparing for the Big Journey

Undeniably, some of us will lose loved ones in the next months. Perhaps some of us, ourselves, will die.

Of course that has always been true, but we are paying more attention to it now.

And the big question is, Are we ready? Are they ready?

Some of us love the Lord. For us, now is the time to get closer to him. Now is the time to really learn, in practice, what it means to love him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, what it means to love those around us. (Mark 12: 30, 31)

But if you, dear reader, do not know Jesus, if the uncertainties of the current situation terrify you, then consider the good news:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

What does this mean? It means that the Creator of the universe, God, looked at the world that humanity messed up and sent his son Jesus as a human being to pay for it all. Because of Jesus we can be right with God despite all the times we did not believe him, despite all the times we did not truly love him, or others, or the world he made. And being right with God is eternal life. (John 3:16-21)

But not being right with God, not even wanting to be right with him, choosing darkness instead, that is eternal death. Don’t go there, dear reader!

Instead, pick up a Bible or find one online and read it. If you’re new to the Bible, start with Mark. Find a Bible-believing church in your area or, if that doesn’t work for you right now, attend one virtually.

And if you are afraid of what the future might hold, consider the introduction to one of the best-loved roadmaps to the Bible:

Q. “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

A.  That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

(Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1)

You see, you do not have to fear viruses! You do not have to fear death, whether soon or many years down the road. In fact, if you are reading this, God is giving you a chance, right now, to turn to him. Take it, dear reader!

And if you already know this good news, now is a good time to realize once again what a great thing it is. Now is the time to be filled with the wonder of it all and to let others know that this hope is for them, too. Now, while people are being shaken from their everyday distractions and have a chance to consider the important things in life.

May God bless us all!

Review: Christian Citizenship Guide by Michael Wagner

Although many homeschooling teens and families have contributed enormously to the political process, no one can deny that the average person does not feel competent to do so. In fact, there is still debate about whether or not Christians should even be involved in politics. And among those who agree that it is a good idea, there is confusion both about how to think about politics in a Christian way and about how to be involved practically.

Our province requires a civics course in high school and our older children have met that requirement in various ways, including significant practical involvement. This time around, one of the resources we used was Michael Wagner’s Christian Citizenship Guide: Christianity and Canadian Political Life. Its goal is “…to help us better understand Canadian political life and the valuable role that we each can have in applying our faith to politics,” noting that the institutional separation of church and state does not mean that our religion should not affect our politics. On the contrary, the author points out that all political involvement is influenced by people’s most deeply held beliefs, whether they are religious or secular.

In four meaty chapters, Christian Citizenship Guide discusses

  1. Canada’s Christian past
  2. Our government’s structure and the effect of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  3. Human rights in history and today
  4. Practical hints for getting involved

Christian Citizenship Guide discusses and pulls together history, modern scholarship, and current events to explain how and why our political climate has changed in the last few decades. It defends the idea that Christians should be involved in politics and highlights current issues such as abortion and the erosion of freedom of speech. These are important matters for all of us. Other topics, such as euthanasia and freedom of the press, can be addressed from a similar mindset.

I found the discussion about the different kinds of human rights to be helpful. The third chapter also relates them to government and society involvement, which is an important aspect to consider. Of course, there is much more to say about the theory, history, and practice of human rights issues.

The final chapter reminds us how all of us must be involved—through prayer. It also discusses why further involvement is good, not bad, and gives wise and practical suggestions about how this can be done. Topics include how to do political work together with others, how to approach elected officials, and how to deal with the media. Aimed primarily at Reformed Christians but applicable to all Christians, it also mentions the Association for Reformed Political Action and the resources that organization has developed to help citizens be involved.

Obviously there are many different ways of thinking about Christian political action and this book represents only one general approach. However, because it is based on history and scholarship as well as a biblical foundation, its point of view can be helpful in rounding out other approaches.

Each chapter ends with a list of books for further reading as well as questions that can be used to gauge understanding of the material and to promote discussion. Even though some of these books are obviously advanced and beyond most high school students, the questions should be answerable by most teens, making this a helpful homeschool resource.

For our homeschool, I asked our teen to read the book, answer the questions, and discuss. We found it a valuable accompaniment to a secular high school civics text. We did not use it as an entire civics credit, but if a student wishes, Christian Citizenship Guide could form the basis for hands-on work in politics that would easily meet civics course requirements.

Although this book is geared specifically to Canadians, parts of it would be helpful to people in all countries. The sections that would most benefit non-Canadians include the first part of the chapter on human rights and the entire final chapter.

Christian Citizenship Guide is available as a free PDF from the publisher. I have not been able to find a source for a paperback like the one we have, but if that changes I will let you know.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure: We used a paperback copy of the book that we have had for years; we are not compensated for presenting our honest opinions. (Currently it is available as a free downloadable PDF as specified above.)  

This post may be linked to Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Homemaking Linkup, Friendship Friday.

Is Modern Science Making Atheism Improbable?

It used to be that atheists would point to science and say that they couldn’t believe in God because of science. Now, however, it is becoming less and less possible for any well-informed person to honestly embrace atheism.

The universe is just too complex and too perfectly designed for such an idea. What’s more, every year new discoveries make the idea of the universe coming about by chance or designing itself less and less likely. The more we learn about the intricacies and interconnectedness of biological systems, the farthest reaches of space, or biochemical interactions, the more we all need to accept that there’s got to be a “Designer” of some sort.

Last fall I attended Dig and Delve 2019, a conference which discussed the following questions:

Are multiplying scientific discoveries making it more and more unlikely that the neo-darwinian evolutionary theory is true? Are scientific discoveries making it more and more likely that there must be a “Designer” to account for reality? Does the acceptance of a Designer threaten or ground science? Has belief in a Designer in the past stifled science? Given the scientific and rational issues, which system of thought best describes the Designer? Can you be rational, scientific, and know the Designer? 

The Dig and Delve team brought together a biologist, a physicist, a medical doctor, and a philosopher to discuss these issues and to answer the audience’s ‘toughest questions’ in a panel discussion. Two other speakers rounded out this conference.

Dig and Delve Speakers

The biologist is well-known Intelligent Design champion, Professor Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, The Edge of Evolution, and Darwin Devolves, and he discusses design and his latest research.

The physicist, Dr. Brian Miller of The Discovery Institute, speaks about design both in space and on earth. His talks are dynamic and a good first pick if you do not want to watch the talks in order.

Professor Robert Larmer, a philosopher, clarifies ideas behind common objections to Intelligent Design and shows when they are not valid.

Dr. John Patrick, professor, medical doctor, and president of Augustine College, speaks about the relationship between science and religion.

Dr. Jonathan Patrick, professor, explains why science needs faith.

The Reverend George Sinclair of Church of the Messiah, and Dig and Delve organizer, introduces the topic and conference in a memorable way.

Dig and Delve Talks

I hope you will find the time to watch some of these talks so that you, too, will see why atheism is becoming less and less scientifically probable. (Note that the descriptions in italics were taken from the Dig and Delve website; those in regular font are from my own notes.)

George Sinclair – Evolutionary Theory is a Big Deal

Can you believe that Christianity is true and evolutionary theory is true? Is it reasonable to say that evolutionary theory merely describes how God created all things? Does evolutionary theory require larger claims that touch on both the universe itself and human experience? This talk will help frame the questions and issues and help people understand the flow of our 2019 conference.

Some say, “Evolution proves that atheism is true,” but what if science shows the universe was actually designed, not evolved?

John Patrick – Causes & Consequences

European science in the Middle Ages was comprised of the study of nature, mathematics and natural philosophy and the church was the patron of science. The story of how this relationship changed and what the consequences are for us today is fascinating.

We need to learn how to approach the different areas of learning. Our God is a God of order, so it is possible to do experiments.

Michael Behe – Fearfully, Wonderfully, Deliberately: The Argument for Intelligent Design from Biochemistry

Throughout recorded history, virtually all people — intelligent or not, devout or not — have thought that life was purposely designed. That changed in the mid-19th century when Darwin proposed his theory of evolution. With the development in the early 21st century of sophisticated new tools to probe the molecular basis of life, however, it’s changing back.

We need to look at how life works at the cellular and molecular level to evaluate Darwin’s ideas. The more science progresses, the more evidence there is for design.

Q&A Panel Discussion #1

Topics Include:

  • Why is truth so important?
  • Is Intelligent Design theory theology or science?
  • You can tell something was designed without knowing its history.
  • We need to speak up more about our own stories.

Jonathan Patrick—Why Science without Faith leads to Post-Modernism

In our post-modern times many see the sciences as a means to power instead of the search for truth that it was in the past. Unbelievably, “science” is, in some cases, becoming what those in power believe, regardless of the facts.

Brian Miller – The Evidence for Intelligent Design in Physics, Cosmology, and Planetary Science

Advances in physics and planetary science over the past century have consistently yielded evidence that the universe and our planet are the results of intelligent design. Dr. Miller will explain how recent discoveries from research on the Big Bang and on how the laws of physics were carefully chosen to allow for life in the universe point to a Creator. In addition, he will describe evidence for design in our planet, moon, sun, and galaxy.

“A little science can bring people away from God but a lot of science inevitably brings them back.” When one sees the incredible ‘coincidences’ in the physical world, there are two possible responses: “Wow, there is a Creator!” or “Let’s try to explain it away by supposing there are many universes.”

Robert Larmer – Is There Anything Wrong with ‘God of the Gaps” Reasoning?

Any appeal to divine intervention to bridge what seems to be otherwise unbridgeable gaps in naturalistic explanations, for example the origin of life, are routinely dismissed on the grounds that they commit the fallacy of the “God of the gaps’. Dr. Larmer will examine this presumed fallacy and argue that this routine dismissal is unjustified.

If God ever does intervene in nature, there will be gaps; in the miracle of the fish and the loaves, the fish’s existence will have a gap in its explanation. Don’t model the universe as a machine that God set going and then ignores; think of it as a musical instrument that God interacts with. Our increased knowledge of the cell since Darwin’s time has made it a whole lot harder to explain the cell in terms of natural causes.

Q&A Panel Discussion #2

Topics include:

  • Is the universe fine-tuned for us, or are we fine-tuned for it?
  • The amount of time that is available for evolution.
  • Life is nanotechnology, and as science advances it is becoming increasingly difficult to rationalize away the evidence for design.
  • What about imperfect or poor design?
  • And over a dozen more topics.

Michael Behe – Less is More: How Darwinian Evolution Helps Species Adapt by Breaking Genes

The Darwinian mechanism of natural selection sifting random mutations helps species adapt to their environments. With the development of new laboratory tools to sequence DNA, however, we now know it does so mostly by degrading pre-existing genetic information.

Using new DNA sequencing techniques, it is now possible to study mutations in bacteria over tens of thousands of generations. These show that Darwin’s mechanism is dominated by the squandering of important genetic information for short term gain. What’s more, it seems that evolutionary biologists have no detailed, mechanism-based answer to this problem.

Brian MillerThermodynamics, the Origin of Life, and Intelligent Design

Origin of life research over the past few decades has consistently demonstrated that the driving tendencies in nature work against the coalescence of simple chemicals into a functional cell. In addition, advancements in thermodynamic research indicates that the origin of life is theoretically impossible without intelligent direction. Moreover, analyses of a minimally complex cell continuously identify characteristics which only correspond to objects of intelligent design. Dr. Miller will explain this ever-growing body of evidence and identify the stages where design is required.

Large biomolecules (like protein and DNA) tend to fall apart; every natural process does the opposite of what we need to produce life.

Robert Larmer – The Many Inadequate Justifications of Methodological Naturalism

Contrary to proponents’ claims, methodological naturalism is not metaphysically neutral. Consequently, its acceptance as a practice requires justification. Unfortunately for its advocates, attempts to justify it are failures. It cannot be defended as a definition, or a self-imposed limitation of science, nor, more modestly, as an inductively justified commitment to natural causes. As a practice, it functions not to further scientific investigation, but rather to impose an explanatory straitjacket.

What one thinks to be the nature of reality cannot be neatly separated from methods one uses to study it. Accepting methodological naturalism guarantees that if supernatural causes exist, they can never be recognized. The Intelligent Design movement is about recognizing design, not about figuring out who the designer is.

Q&A Panel Discussion #3

Topics include:

  • Historically, it is difficult to demarcate science from non-science.
  • Is there evidence against natural design?
  • How can one engage with the culture about Intelligent Design?
  • Some books.

 Final Thoughts

Note that the question being discussed at Dig and Delve 2019 was whether or not science supports the existence of a God. This is where the big battle in our culture is: is there something more than just physical reality? In other words, does God exist?

However, behind the main battle line are other important debates that can be divided into two types.

  1. The first centers on who this Designer God is, and Dig and Delve 2019 mentioned a few times that it makes sense to see him as the God of the Bible (rather than Allah of the Koran or a more diffuse deity as those of Eastern thought).
  2. The second centers on how this Designer did his work: how much time did he take and what processes did he use? Dig and Delve speakers carefully avoided getting involved in these issues—this was a conference to discuss how science shows that a Designer exits. Its goal was not to debate how he does his work.

I hope you will listen to these talks whether or not you currently acknowledge a Designer. And if, by grace, you come to the point where you feel a compulsion to acknowledge that God exits, then know this—only Christ can make you right with him, as Pastor George Sinclair pointed out.

Imagine, it is possible for us to have a good relationship with the Designer of the universe!  This is good news that we can share with others, but first we may need to show them that a Designer exists.  These talks will help equip you to point people to God’s great proof for himself, the world he made.

This conference was aimed at college students, but high school students and anyone else would benefit as well.  I highly recommend the conference videos to all.

Disclosure: I am not compensated for telling you about this conference.

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