WELCOME TO THE JOSHUA LETTER
The Joshua Letter has had a web presence since 2000. Until 2008, the web site was published by Thomas Alderman as an individual, and the emphasis was on the question of the roots of human dignity. As phrased on the original homepage,
[I]s there anything which explains our entitlement to [justice]? Is it not true that we regard ourselves as entitled to justice because we possess an attribute to which we refer as "dignity" and which we consider to be essential to our humanness? I believe most will agree that it is.
But is this dignity real? What does it consist of, and where does it come from?
It was during that time that the essays on human origins and American slavery were published. The essays on slavery have received praise from many quarters, and particularly from among those having to contend with expressions of white supremacy within the Church.
In 2008, The Joshua Letter was incorporated in the State of Oregon as a public benefit corporation, and was recognized by the IRS as a charitable, tax-exempt organization. Later the same year, two big changes in the web site were made. First, it was reformatted to permit its use as a platform for dialogue. Especially noteworthy in this respect were the addition of a weblog and a wide range of forums.
Another important change is that the breadth of our stated concern was expanded to reflect our conviction that truth is indivisible. Thus, we are convinced that theology, science, philosophy, and law – and indeed, all areas of human concern – are deeply and pervasively interrelated, and that if we are to comprehend our world and our place in it, none of these areas of concern can be well understood in isolation from the others.
The emphasis on human dignity is retained; but now the intention is to place it in its full context, in which the law of human rights can be seen as rooted in human dignity as understood in the light of science, theology, and reason.
The Divided Field of Knowledge.
We have become convinced that the divided field of knowledge is the defining myth of our age, and that it is a great obstacle to human understanding. According to this notion, there are two realms of knowledge: science, which governs the realm of fact, and religion, which governs the realm of meaning. What’s more, these two realms of knowledge are considered to be mutually exclusive. Therefore, scientific advances can never inform morality or existential value, and religion can never properly influence – it can never inform, support, or critique – the pursuit of knowledge about the natural order. As stated in the essay, Defining "Science": How Philosophy Reconciles Science and Religion [see Forums/Philosophy; see also Articles and Essays/Evolution/Chapter 8]:
It is this divided field of knowledge which is responsible for the modern proclivity for thinking of science as an exclusively secular pursuit of mechanistic, naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena, and not as an integral part of man's unitary quest for knowledge. . . .
This way of thinking is so deeply embedded in the western mind that we are not even aware of it. Of course, evolutionary theorists do everything they can to perpetuate it, but it was and remains a catastrophic blunder. There is only one field of knowledge. Whatever is, is, and whatever is not, is not. But by the turn of the 20th century, for many reasons, naturalism and science had become synonymous, and naturalism has ruled science ever since.
Thus Stephen Jay Gould, who until his death in 2005 was the world’s best-known popularizer of evolutionary theory, stated that "science treats factual reality, while religion struggles with human morality." As Phillip Johnson says, this is naturalistic metaphysics in a nutshell, and it is transparently fallacious, because God’s commandments cannot provide a basis for morality unless He actually exists. But if God actually exists, then we are not entitled to assume that all natural phenomena have resulted from physical causation.
It should be apparent from the foregoing that if we do seek an integrated view of reality, our options are severely restricted. If science and religion are unrelated, then science becomes unimportant, and religion unverifiable. Neither science nor religion can succeed without the other.
The Joshua Letter does bring a particular view of reality to the discussion, already formed. However, it is that view itself – rooted in the veracity of the Bible – which entails a profound respect for every individual, irrespective of religion. That respect is based on the biblical doctrine that every human bears the God-image and therefore has inherent value and dignity, and on the belief that the God-image is most clearly visible in the individual human conscience. If this is true, then each person’s conscience must be cared for, each one’s spiritual journey must be respected, and every opinion, sincerely expressed, must be heard.
The Unitary Field of Knowledge.
Theology and Science.
Big Bang theory – the notion that the universe exploded from a singularity, a point of zero volume and infinite density – is a very recent development in cosmology. It was not until the 1920s that Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding. Until then, it was supposed that the universe is static, and that it is either eternal or was created in the finite past in more-or-less its present form.
But although Big Bang theory has been extensively verified experimentally and is well-accepted within the scientific community, and although its theistic implications are obvious, the scientific community is divided in its reaction to the theory. Many have squarely recognized that a universe which has a beginning necessarily entails a First Cause – a creator of some kind. Others have proposed alternative hypotheses which, without exception, lack empirical support and are so farfetched as to seem plainly contrived for the sole purpose of evading the natural implications of the theory.
A prominent example is Stephen Hawking, who resorts to imaginary numbers to avoid the conclusion that time had a beginning. Others resort to such transparent fabrications as the "multiverse," positing an infinity of universes. Still others cling to the argument that Big Bang theory does not "prove" there was a First Cause because it is physically impossible to extract from the singularity any information about what preceded it. Finally, there are those (Hawking included) who appeal to the possibility that if a unified field theory1 is ever discovered, it will in some undefinable way explain the Beginning in non-theistic terms, and who appear to prefer to leave the question of what preceded the Big Bang open until then.
The significance of such a variety of responses to the idea of a Beginning is poorly understood, both within and without the scientific community. I submit that if there is one thing which clarifies the issue more than any other, it lies in the fact that when Hubble was gazing into the night sky, the divided field of knowledge had already long been firmly established as the reigning paradigm, not just in science, but in western civilization generally. The natural and obvious theistic implications of Big Bang cosmology (to say nothing of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe, see Articles and Essays/Evolution/Chapter 5) are simply dismissed as "religion," and therefore, "not science" at all.
The Joshua Letter proposes to ask afresh whether it is possible to keep science and theology separate forever.
Theology, Science and Law.
We also hold that human rights theory cannot proceed fruitfully without being rooted both in what can be verified experimentally and in Who God is. Of course, science, if kept tightly sealed off from meaning and value, will never by itself yield a coherent theory of human rights. Evolutionary theory, for instance, does not entail any value in human life. Indeed, it denies not only that there is anything special about the human species, but it also denies that there is any such thing as human nature at all. Our species, like all others, is by definition merely a transitional form; and whether one assumes that the next form will be an advance or not, the word, "human" has no particular meaning, but is just a label we apply to ourselves for convenience.
But neither can theology alone justify a high view of human rights. Even a philosophically sufficient religious doctrine of man must fail us, unless it is true; and in order to establish whether it is true, we must verify it with convincing evidence.
We at the Joshua Letter believe that the biblical doctrine of man – that we have value because of our having been created in the image of a personal God – justifies human dignity and hence, human rights. We also believe that there is convincing evidence that this doctrine is true.
We welcome anyone to these pages who wishes to engage others in honest conversation concerning these things – whether in a spirit of dissent, or encouragement, or inquiry.
1A unified field theory is one which would reconcile Einsteinian relativity with quantum mechanics.