Justin D. Barnard is Director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Intellectual Discipleship and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Prior to his appointment at Union, Dr. Barnard was an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Crichton College in Memphis, Tennessee, where, from 2005-2007 he served as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. From 2002-2004, Dr. Barnard was a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Dr. Barnard holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Florida State University. He is an active member of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the Evangelical Philosophical Society, serving in the latter as chair of the southeastern region. The author of several articles, essays, and book chapters, his teaching and scholarly interests include: bioethics, philosophy of religion/apologetics, and the philosophical legacy of C.S. Lewis. In addition, Dr. Barnard regularly speaks to church and public audiences on issues related to Christian faith and culture.
August 14, 2013 -
Commenting on recent state laws that tighten restrictions on abortion, Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is quoted as saying: “These states that are passing these laws are being driven by politics. They’re being driven by ideals, but not by science and evidence.”
Philosophically, the rhetorical divide between “ideals” and “science and evidence” is at least as old as David Hume. In fact, it is so commonplace that it has a name: the fact/value dichotomy. It is a convenient rhetorical trope for those who wish to pit the calm, reasonable deliverances of paternalistic science against the insanity of the village idiots clinging to their guns, religion, politics, ideals, moral values, etc. But convenience is cheap. Truth costs. And in this case, the distinction is a phony.
Effective evangelical engagement in the public square depends crucially upon the insistence that the fact/value dichotomy is, at rock bottom, an illusion. Christian belief provides the grounds for this insistence. The fundamental Fact of reality is the existence of a tri-personal God who is Love. Thus, the fact of God’s existence is inseparable from the goodness of his being. The fact of being is laden with the value of love all the way down.
This means that “ideals” or value-laden thinking is inescapable – even if “values” are rhetorically separable from “science and evidence.” So, no one should be scandalized by the fact that laws are driven by ideals. Science and evidence are too.
To deny this is to hate God. For the impulse to deny that reality comes pre-laden with God’s loving intentions is to wish reality to be otherwise than it is. The urge to cleave the ontological unity of goodness and being is the rebellious volition that seeks space to know (i.e., become the measure of) good and evil. For the creation of such fictitious space is the only hope of rationalizing what the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve otherwise know to be acts of disobedience. Those who deny the unity of love and being, ultimately hate the beings whose being is Love's fruit.
June 21, 2013 -
According to a recent book, those seeking to pursue an academic vocation suffer a “baby penalty” when they simultaneously engage in child-rearing. Parents (especially women) are purportedly “penalized” (i.e., less likely to be successful in their pursuit of academic upward mobility) when they attempt to combine college teaching and scholarship with changing diapers and wiping snotty noses.
The typical professor views this situation as an entirely dreadful state of affairs. It is virtually an axiom of contemporary, enlightened thinking on such matters that equality of opportunity and fairness demand that the desire to have and raise babies not be an undue impediment to the achievement of one’s individual ambitions. Thus, the cultural artifice known as the university owes it to the professoriate to remedy imbalances through better policies and of course, if necessary, by overcoming nature.
As a matter of sociological research, the data of such studies merely quantify centuries of common sense. Raising babies and young children well takes time – lots of it. Parents (especially mothers) who attempt to raise babies and young children well are unlikely to have all the time they’d like to have for other pursuits, vocational or otherwise. (Human finitude has a way of dampening the desire for limitlessness.) Thus, for those with a modicum of common sense (NB: not professional academics), such findings are unremarkable.
However, to frame such observations, as this study apparently does, in terms of the rhetoric of penalization is misguided on at least two counts. First, to treat children as obstacles or impediments to professional success (for which more “family-friendly institutional policies” would be a remedy) is a profoundly disordered way of viewing the relationship between parents and children. While it may be true that institutions ought to have policies more favorable to working parents who wish to raise children well, the justification should not be the dis-encumbrance of the parents’ professional advancement. Children are an intrinsic good. Tenure is not.
Second, reducing children to mere hindrances to academic achievement results in proposed solutions that fall short. To propose that the remedy to the “baby penalty” is policies that “even out the playing field both for mothers and fathers who want better work-life balance,” is (at best) to treat children as tangential to success in an academic vocation. To the extent that education consists in successful generational transmission – not of mere information, but of habits of mind and patterns of life – of teaching young birds to fly (C.S. Lewis: Abolition of Man), good parenting is essential to the vocation of the academy. Thus, a university proposing policy solutions that treat child-rearing as merely personal is an institution that fundamentally fails to grasp the nature of its educational mission.
This, of course, does not entail that all who teach must parent. However, it does mean that the imaginative lens through which the current culture understands the relationship between parenting and the professoriate is badly out of focus. As long as raising babies and young children is construed as a problem requiring a fix, colleges and universities will continue to destroy the souls of students in their care. For the spirit of unfettered freedom which demands that the pursuit of publication be unhindered by preschool playtime is the selfsame spirit that annually seeks to disabuse unsuspecting college students of their obligations to all that is true, good, and beautiful.
June 17, 2013 - The sweeping global changes wrought by the industrial and digital revolutions make it difficult for Christians to grasp the contingency of human artifice. Although creation itself is not eternal, the witness of Scripture signals a normativity for nature that cannot be claimed by any aspect of culture.
On the sixth day of creation, God surveys all that “he had made” (Genesis 1:31) noting, as he had on the five days previous, the inherent goodness of his created works. What is striking about the Genesis 1 creation narrative is that the goodness of what God makes consists in its givenness - i.e., in the very fact that it exists. Because water, land, heavenly lights, plants, trees, and animals are all declared “good” prior to the creation of man, their goodness is not merely a function of their use. Rather, they are gifts, gracious signs of God’s presence in reality.
As the so-called “cultural mandate” (Genesis 1:28-29) suggests, the gift-nature of creation is compatible with use. At the same time, both the givenness and goodness of the natural world into which man is placed point to an inherent constraint. Use of created things must conform to the givenness of their respective natures.
To ignore the nature of a magnolia (or a giraffe or a hummingbird), which almost certainly includes the inherent goodness of its existence, treating it merely as a means (or worse yet, an obstacle) to some other cultural end, is to treat the “cultural mandate” with contempt. Parking lots must justify their existence in ways that forests need not.
Of course, dangers here abound. Matters are complicated by our sub-eschatological, fallen state, one characterized by disease, drought, death, and so on. So, there’s no simple, logical line from the presence of a given flower to its at-all-costs-preservation. At the same time, it seems fair to say that despite the curse, the natural world, as a shadow of the primeval creation, occupies a position in the order of reality that no skyscraper or retail shopping district ever will.
Specifying the exact place of that privileged position is more challenging. But perhaps it is not too much to suggest that nature’s superiority consists in the essential, regulative role that natural metaphors in Scripture play. For example, the fact that Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God in terms of nature is not a contingency to be dismissed by pointing to the cultural era in which he lived (as though such metaphors could be adequately replaced by those of machine or computer). Rather, both the nature and on-going work of God’s kingdom must (despite the “achievements” of industrial and digital culture) be understood in light of the givenness of the natural objects to which Christ’s words point (e.g., mustard seeds).
If this is right, the continued existence of trees is essential to the preservation of our capacity to understand the Gospel in a way that the perpetuation of mass media is not. Perhaps Evangelicals would be wise to spend less time clamoring after screens and more time climbing trees.