By Steve Layman,
Professor of Philosophy

The Seattle Pacific University junior-level Common Curriculum course "Belief, Morality and the Modern Mind" (University Core 3000) deals with challenging questions for the Christian faith that arise from science and modern philosophy. For example:
  • Does science support faith?
  • Does a scientific view of the world clash with religious faith?
  • Is the scientific way the only way of knowing?
  • Can faith be supported by adequate evidence?
  • Does faith need to be supported by evidence?
  • How are science and religion related to morality?
  • Can science account for good and evil?
  • Can religion account for good and evil?
To put it mildly, this set of questions should keep instructors and students busy for a quarter!

To help us tackle these questions, University Core 3000 instructors selected three texts as required reading for all SPU juniors taking the Common Curriculum. They are:

  • Reason for the Hope Within, Michael J. Murray, ed. (Eerdmans, 1999)
  • The Battle of Beginnings, Del Ratzsch (Intervarsity Press, 1996)
  • The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis (Simon and Schuster, 1996, first published in 1944 by Macmillan)

Each of these books provides an insightful discussion of some of the questions listed above. Reason for the Hope Within is one of the finest recent contributions to Christian apologetics (the branch of Christian thought that provides an intellectual defense of the faith). The Battle of Beginnings is a carefully researched discussion of the creation-evolution debate. But here I particularly want to explain how The Abolition of Man fits into the course as a whole.

In the contemporary intellectual climate, we naturally tend to think in terms of the following contrasting pairs:

  • facts/values
  • matters of fact/matters of opinion
  • what is objective/what is subjective
And in this intellectual climate, there is a strong tendency to put religious and moral issues on the right side of this list, under "values," "matters of opinion" and "what is subjective." Conversely, there is a contemporary tendency to place scientific findings and what can be known through the senses on the left- hand side of the list with "facts," "matters of fact" and "what is objective."

The tendency to place morality and religion on the right-hand side of the above list is no small matter. It is a fundamental feature of the current philosophical atmosphere, part of the intellectual "air" that we all breathe. Probably we have all been in a discussion of a religious or moral issue that ended with someone saying (in effect), "Look, there are no facts in this area, no scientific evidence is available. You feel one way; I feel another. And that's all there is to it. There is no objective truth about religion and morality."

The Abolition of Man provides an insightful discussion of certain contemporary assumptions about morality, including the assumption that morality is just a matter of subjective feeling. The book is a profound reflection on the foundations of morality from a Christian point of view, and as such it not only merits inclusion in the SPU Canon, but is also a must-read book for every thoughtful Christian.

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