The Seven

September 23, 2013

The Seven

Did you watch the horror movie “S7ven” with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt?  The serial killer justifies his murders by killing people who exemplify the “seven deadly sins.”  Come to find out, the seven deadly sins are not biblical!  Pope Gregory the Great compiled the Seven Deadly Sins sometime in the late 6th century.  God’s list of seven sins is found in Proverbs 6:16-19 which reads

” [16] There are six things which the LORD hates,
seven which are an abomination to him:
[17] haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
[18] a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
[19] a false witness who breathes out lies,
and a man who sows discord among brothers.” (Revised Standard Version, 1964)

The Catholic Church then came up with the seven virtues: wisdom, temperance, justice, courage, faith, hope and love.  I would counter that God’s list of virtues are summarized by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 5 verses 22-23.

“[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
[23] gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Revised Standard Version, 1964)

There are many more verses in God’s Word that give us insight to what God would consider to be virtues.

SO…what on Earth does this have to do with intellectual standards, traits and critical thinking?  Well, if you look at the essential intellectual traits put forth by as virtues and their counter parts as sins then

Essential traits/virtues   Intellectual sins
Intellectual humility vs. Intellectual arrogance
Intellectual courage vs. Intellectual cowardice
Intellectual empathy vs. Intellectual narrow-mindedness
Intellectual autonomy vs. Intellectual conformity
Intellectual Integrity vs. Intellectual hypocrisy
Intellectual perseverance vs. Intellectual laziness
Confidence in reason vs. Distrust of reason/evidence
Fair-mindedness vs Intellectual unfairness

Let’s define humility, courage, arrogance and cowardice in intellectual terms.

Intellectual humility vs. Intellectual arrogance

If we are humble then we know our limits and we are aware of our own ability to deceive ourselves.  On an intellectual basis we should not claim to know more than we do.  Intellectual arrogance is just the opposite in that we can deceive ourselves into thinking we know more than we do.  Those who are arrogant are boastful, conceited and pretentious, just like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Think about Jesus, God incarnate, and how He was never boastful or pretentious or conceited.  Think about some of our Christian leaders who claim to know so much more than the Bible tells us.  They know when the second coming will happen (HA!).  God speaks to them and gives them a new interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. (I doubt that!)  A true intellect/scholar will openly admit that they don’t know everything.  How about you?  Are you humble?

Intellectual courage vs. Intellectual cowardice

John Wayne has been quoted saying “Courage is being scared to death and getting in the saddle anyway.”  This is a very popular quote among my buddies.  Have you ever thought about the kind of courage Jesus had?  He faced many, many challenging questions and He asked many, many challenging questions.  Remember when He wrote in the sand?  He was thinking, deeply, about what to say to the religious authorities.  These authorities were in the right according to the Law but their thinking was wrong-headed and counter to God’s Law of Love.  It took an enormous amount of courage to face those who were right in the letter of the Law but didn’t understand the spirit of the Law.  Intellectual courage means coming to see truth in thoughts, ideas, things that at first seem absurd and dangerous AND seeing the lies in thoughts, ideas, things that have been accepted as truth but simply are not truth.  Cowardice is going along with the crowd when the crowd is following a lie or untruth.  Often conformity is simply the easy way that leads to disaster.  Pursing the truth no matter what the social/religious authorities dictate is costly.  Just ask Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, Mother Teresa, Mary, Martha and many, many other Christians who gave their lives for the truth.  How courageous are you?

Essential Intellectual Traits

Essential Traits
A few weeks ago we had a guest speaker at my church. I found his sermon inspiring and stimulating. It made me think. After church I go to Sunday dinner with my buddies from church. Bob is a retired professor and a long time friend. He and I chatted about the sermon and how much we enjoyed the intellectual stimulation. Our buddies thought we were nuts. They said the sermon zipped right over their heads and they didn’t enjoy the references to the Greek meanings of the scripture. Now, my buddies are smart folks. I don’t hang out with dummies. Most are retired and most have some college work, if not a degree, but they are all smart. I was confused. I just put it down to “different strokes for different folks.” I then started thinking about what Bob and I have in common that our buddies didn’t have. Bob and I are scientists and enjoy facts and insights. We are used to finding the minute details that are necessary to complete the whole picture. We revel in details. As I told you, my buddies are smart but they are not scientists and do not think like a scientist.

As I thought about what I would write today I remembered that I asked you if you thought that Jesus exhibited the intellectual standards that I had listed from I also wrote about how evangelicals fear critical thinking because it means the powers that be lose their hold over the people. Another reason Evangelicals fear critical thinking is that they are afraid to question their own beliefs. What if those beliefs are wrong? How do you know if your beliefs are right or wrong? Questions…you must question your beliefs in order to understand those beliefs and WHY you believe them. These questions utilize what call essential intellectual traits. Here are the essential intellectual traits and their counter traits.

Intellectual humility vs. intellectual arrogance
Intellectual courage vs. intellectual cowardice
Intellectual empathy vs. intellectual narrow-mindedness
Intellectual autonomy vs. intellectual conformity
Intellectual Integrity vs. intellectual hypocrisy
Intellectual perseverance vs. intellectual laziness
Confidence in reason vs. distrust of reason/evidence
Fair-mindedness vs. intellectual unfairness

Over the next few weeks I will explore these traits and their counter traits and how Jesus exhibited each trait. I also want to challenge my evangelical family to serious consider if they are truly of “one mind” with Christ if they are not exhibiting these traits. My Sunday dinner buddies would not enjoy this discussion, except for Bob. I hope you will find the next few weeks stimulating and thoughtful.

Fear of Reason

I usually read 2 or 3 books at a time. Currently I am reading a book by Mark A Noll titled Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. It is short but dense. Noll’s previous book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, bemoans the anti-intellectual culture of the evangelical congregation. In Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll argues that the Christian faith lays the foundation for intellectual advancement and critical thinking at its finest. If this be true then WHY are most evangelicals terrified of intellectual advancement?

In the first 3 centuries of Christianity the believers were faced with confronting the Greco-Roman intellectual scrutiny. These early believers had to know the Hebrew Scriptures intimately as well as the Hellenic culture of intellectualism. The apologists were well educated and equipped to debate the finer points of the Christian faith and the polytheistic beliefs of the day. This is why God needed Saul to become Paul. God needed Paul to debate the Hellenic cultural standards. Read Paul’s letters. He is addressing the Hellenic culture not the Hebrew culture. Jesus addressed the Hebrew culture and mastered any and all intellectual arguments brought to Him. Once Christianity came into favor with the Roman Empire then the power base shifted from Hellenic culture to a merger which became what we call the Western civilization culture. During this time power shifted to the head of the Roman Catholic Church from the Roman emperors. Education shifted from the middle – privileged class to the clergy. Knowledge is power and the powers that be at that time (and our time) did not want the average person to be knowledgeable. People who are knowledgeable are capable of critical thinking and making their own decisions. There is less power for the big dogs when the little dogs know fact from fiction.

So, one reason evangelicals are afraid of intellectual pursuits is that it takes power away from the leaders and puts power into the hands of the population. A second reason most evangelicals are afraid of intellectual pursuit is that it promotes critical thinking. Knowledgeable people ask questions, lots and lots of questions.
o What’s the purpose?
o Where did you get that information?
o What is the problem?
o What is the goal?
o How did you come to that conclusion?
o Is the reasoning logical?
o What assumptions are being made?
o What are the consequences?
o Who does this profit?
Promoting critical thinking skills means promoting intellectual standards which leads to a higher level of thinking. A thinking people learn how to reason through questions using intellectual standards: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic and fairness. A thinking people then begin to exhibit the traits of the intellect: humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, integrity, perseverance, reason, and fair-mindedness. The powers that be then lose more power.

Ever wonder why the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted Jesus dead? It had less to do with His claim to be the Christ than the fact that He challenged their authority and thus their power over the people. He was teaching the people to think for themselves rather than blindly follow the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was diminishing their power base. Do you think Jesus exhibited the intellectual traits listed above?

My original thoughts in April of 2013

My thoughts
I thought I would post the grant proposal I wrote. As we go through the year let’s see how close I stick to the original intent.

Here is what I was thinking back in April 2013:

Being a Christian in Biology
The mission statement and vision statement of East Texas Baptist University center on the integration of faith and learning in the pursuit of truth. Biological science, by its very nature, is the pursuit of truth in the physical observable universe. Jesus is spiritual truth and the creator of the physical, observable universe. Studying the Bible, prayer and meditation are often times considered the only way to know Christ and to find the truth. Most Christians forget that we may come to know Christ better, more fully, by understanding that which He created. Humans have built barriers between faith and science. Christ has no such barriers. Reflection on Christ’s teachings in conjunction with studying His creation leads to a fuller understanding of the truth and the nature of Jesus as God and Creator.

Those who search for truth need to have the ability and skill to discern truth from propaganda, prejudice, and lies. They need to be able to think with clarity, accuracy, depth, and breadth to understand the significance of the information being presented and the fairness of the presentation. Most people live their lives with a lower order of thinking. They lack reflection and logic relying mainly on distorted, uninformed, self-serving, self-deceiving, and prejudicial thinking. Many Christians believe something is true simply because it’s what they have always believed. For example, many Southern Baptists believe that dancing is a sin. This is not a Biblical truth, it is a cultural construct. As Christian scholars it is our responsibility to teach/lead/model the pursuit of truth with Christ-like thinking. Jesus was a profound critical thinker. He demanded clarity and accuracy from those who were the interpreters of the Law. He challenged the relevance of the traditions of the religious leaders and required His followers to think deeply about complex issues. He taught His followers to broaden their preconceived ideas to include people who had been previously excluded from God’s teachings. He dared to ask questions about the way life was lived and whether or not that way made sense or was fair.

Christ demanded that we know the truth in order to be free. He demands that we be free from the Law, prejudice, hypocrisy, cowardice, arrogance, and conformity. These are all attributes of the sin-filled life. In order to be free we must be humble, have the courage to face the tough issues, persevere in integrity, fairness, and Christ-centered autonomy. To be free we need to think critically the way Christ demands. In my reflections I will discuss what it means to be a critical thinker and the attributes of a critical thinker. I will use biological/bioethical questions and issues to model integration of Biblical principles with scientific reasoning. I will model intrinsic motivation in order to inspire others to begin their search for the truth. By embracing Christ-centered faith, I will model engaging the mind of a critical thinker in order to empower leaders to be free to pursue truth where ever it may be found.

What is critical thinking?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving thinking.

I know the definition states that critical thinking is an “art” but it utilizes scientific standards. Or did scientific standards come from critical thinking? Is critical thinking natural or cultivated? Both, I think. There are those who are by their very nature critical thinkers/problem solvers and others who are not. Critical thinking skills can be taught, learned and cultivated.

There are 8 elements to thought:

  • Purpose
  • Questions
  • Information
  • Interpretation and inference
  • Concepts
  • Assumptions
  • Implications and consequences
  • Point of view

Which when coupled with the universal intellectual standards …

  • Clarity
  • Accuracy
  • Relevance
  • Logicalness
  • Breadth
  • Precision
  • Significance
  • Completeness
  • Fairness
  • Depth

…Result in self-directed self improvement. To be a lifelong learner one must be able to evaluate and cultivate traits that promote intellectual humility, autonomy, integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence, reason, empathy, and fair-mindedness.

WAIT! Ummm… don’t those traits remind you of someone special? Someone who taught His pupils about loving God and loving others? Someone who bucked the system because it was leading people away from God? Someone who baffled the intellectual and religious leaders of his day when he was only 12 years old?

This week go through the gospels and read Christ’s teachings (you know the red writing) and look for the elements of thought the intellectual standards. Was Christ a critical thinker?

Why Biology?

Why Biology?

By our very nature all humans are born scientists.  Most of us get so beaten down by the public school systems that we lose our love for learning and exploring.

I never lost that first love.

As a toddler I was forever bringing bugs, lizards, snakes and small mammals into the house to show Mom.  She was terrified of critters but being the great mother that she was she kept an assortment of jars nearby in which to keep my latest critter.  The rule was that all critters had to be loosed at sunset so they could go home for supper.

The Christmas I was 12 I received a microscope and biology kit.  My brother received a chemistry kit.  I traded him my baton (a fantastic sword) for his chemistry kit and thus began my whole-hearted love affair with the natural sciences.  I looked at everything I could under that microscope.  Finally I went to Mom and asked to look at human blood.  She pricked herself with a sewing needle and we made several blood slides.  I was forever hooked on the biology aspect of science.  Many years later I learned that Mom was terrified of needles and her own blood.  What a LOVE!  Mom encouraged me to pursue my dreams.  Dad cheered me on toward my goals.  They were phenomenal in their encouragement and support.  My path was fraught with many obstacles but perseverance is one of my spiritual gifts.  God has blessed me with ETBU and the ability to pursue teaching biology in a Christ-centered atmosphere.  I pray that I am a model for young, Christian scientists.  I pray I give them a safe place to ask questions without being ridiculed for their faith.

There are two ways to know God…through His word and through His works.  Both are equally important.  God expects us to be thoughtful, as Christ was thoughtful, about every aspect of our lives.  We need to think critically about our beliefs, spiritual and scientific, and be able to defend them.  I want to explore critical thinking and how it applies to the various aspects of our live in this blog.  Please feel free to send feedback.

HERE WE GO!                      — jcc