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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Intellectual Cowardice behind 'Agnostic Atheists'



For certain questions, the answer seems so obvious they feel ridiculous to ask. Questions like: "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" Or (usually asked after you've rammed into something and are doubled over in pain) did that hurt? The answers for each are pretty evident.

What about the question "How Just how much meat do vegetarians eat?" This question strikes one to be much like the others, with the answer being "None, of course!" But in reality that isn't the case. A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that two thirds of those who self-identified as vegetarians ate meat, fish, or poultry on at least one of the two specific days they were polled on.1A Daily Beast article cites other studies with similar findings.2

It may seem bizarre those who eat meat on a semi-regular basis would identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, but as the author of the Daily Beast article, himself a vegan , states: "some vegetarians like the taste of meat, and we sometimes do things we want to do even when we know we shouldn't."3



This is all nonsense. As I've explained before, the term agnostic atheist is self-contradictory. The theist believes in some type of God, the atheist does not believe in some type of God, and the agnostic makes no claim either way; he neither believes nor denies God's existence. His answer is a simple "I don't know." The so-called agnostic atheists try to claim that while the term atheist describes the beliefs of a person, the term agnostic describes the knowledge claim of the person. They do this by abusing the term agnostic by breaking it down to its Greek gnosis which translates into the English knowledge. I've explained all of this in my article.

I bring this up to prove a point; sometimes people will use labels for themselves that are not true to reality but as a way of expressing what they would like the facts to be. That's what I'm finding with a relatively recent movement with the atheist community. Within the last five years or so there has been a growing number of people who define themselves as "agnostic atheists." They claim to be agnostic in that they don't know if a God exists but an atheist because they don't believe a God exists. They even use cute little drawings to demonstrate their point.

Dodging the Need to Support a Belief

So, why would atheists begin to try and change the meaning of agnosticism and atheism to be somehow compatible? What is the advantage? Simply put, the so-called agnostic atheists don't want to bear the burden of proving what they believe. By claiming that they believe in no God but they don't know whether or not He exists, they think they have removed themselves from having to justify their non-belief. "I can lack a belief in God, but I don't claim to have any knowledge of a god or Gods' existence" is the way many would frame it.

Such statements are intellectually cowardly. If anyone claims any kind of believe and also claims he or she has no basis for that belief is to say the belief is entirely ungrounded and may be disregarded. The so-called agnostic atheist will quickly respond "I didn't claim a belief, I said I lacked belief." Ah, but that's a poor attempt at dodging the question. As I argue here, any reasonable aware person understands the concept of God, the concept of ultimate beginnings, and the fact that effects have causes. By claiming to be an atheist, they are negating the claim that God does exist. They aren't neutral but they are saying "I have heard of this concept of God and my belief holds it isn't true." Thus they are making a claim of their own and they need to provide evidence for why they disbelieve the theist's claim.

An intellectually honest person who has no knowledge of something would say he doesn't believe one way or another. For example, I don't follow baseball, so if two baseball fans who disagreed asked me who I think was going to win the World Series next season, I would be agnostic on the question; I have no belief on the subject. But if they both provided me with relevant information and their reasoning, I can make a decision based on that knowledge. It may not be a great decision due to my lack of experience, but I can at least tell them which in my mind is the more likely conclusion based on what I now know. At that point, I am no longer agnostic. I have reasons upon which to base my belief. This is all explained in my article "If You Want to be Reasonable, Then You May Have to Believe."

To be a true vegan and shun the consumption of all animal products is really tough. It requires dedication and sacrifice. You can't honestly call yourself a vegan if once a week you indulge in a juicy In-n-Out Double Double. Similarly, the person who uses the term "agnostic atheist" is trying to have it both ways. He or she wants to deny God's existence, but doesn't want to bear any burden for the justification of that disbelief. The so-called agnostic atheist is hoping push all of the work onto the theist. But that isn't reasonable. Any moderately intelligent person understands the concept of God and at least some of the reasons for why people believe he exists. They should have the intellectual honesty to at least stand up for their own non-belief.

References

1. And, Ella H Haddad. " What Do Vegetarians in the United States Eat?" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 01 Sept. 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/626S.full.
2. Chituc, Vlad. "Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/11/why-drunk-vegetarians-eat-meat.html.
3. Chituc, Vlad. 2015.

Monday, November 28, 2016

How to Use Questions to Help Defend Your Faith



In our post-Christian culture, it's becoming more and more common for believers to have their faith questioned. I have many students come up to me and ask how they can better defend their beliefs when challenged. You may have had such an experience. Or, perhaps you don't have a lot of people who challenge your faith specifically, but they hold to a particular belief that runs contrary to traditional mores and you'd like to be more effective at communicating your views to them. Here are two steps to help you do just that.

I've previously explained how when engaging in "God conversations", one should take up what I call the second grade class photo approach. Let's suppose you've done so and the person with whom you're speaking says something to the effect that he or she only believes in what can be tested. Science is really all we can know. You may ask "What brought you to such a conclusion?" and received a response of "It has a proven track record!" Do you stop there? What's next?

The person above gave an answer to your question, but it was pretty broad. In fact, when you think about it, it doesn't make much sense at all. First science is a pretty big category. Still, "science" is wrong all the time. A fifty year old textbook on any field in the sciences will be filled with errors that were assumed to be true. Add to this the fact that there are a whole range of things we can know that science cannot begin to explain, such as if a person is in love or what experiencing the color yellow is like. Lastly, saying something like "science is the only thing we can know to be true" is itself a claim about the truth. Yet, it isn't based on any science, so if the statement is true, it's false.

Of course, this is only one illustration. The conversation could go many different ways, but it does serve to underscore a point. You will find many times people do not have a well-developed reason for a lot of the things they hold. They've come to believe things because they've heard it from others, they take positions that are advantageous to themselves without thinking through all the ramifications, or they are simply comfortable and don't like change.

Asking pertinent questions helps to challenge their views

That's why asking specific questions in response is a great technique to use. You want to think about questions or conditions that they would hold but would also show the problem in their current beliefs themselves. In our example above, one could say "Boy, science is a big area. Which branch of science are you talking about? Do all branches of science have the same track record for being right?" You could also ask "How do you know that science is the only thing we can know to be true? What did you do to find out that piece of truth?"

Here's another tack: ask "How does science prove that all people considered equal? When I use scientific methods to test for intelligence, strength, stamina, or even biological functions, I see great disparities between individuals. Some people are physically disabled and some are mentally handicapped. How then does science tell us they're equal?" Or how about this one: "If evolution is about survival of the fittest, then shouldn't we sterilize the most stupid and lazy among us?" That isn't a far-fetched question; scientists came to this same conclusion in the early 20th century in the U.S. and Britain, spawning the eugenics movement. The last forced sterilization in the U.S. occurred in 1981.And even the U.S. Supreme Court upheld forced sterilizations on the grounds that some people may produce "degenerate offspring."

So, ask questions and try to get details for the beliefs your challenger holds. Identify the fuzzy points in their argument. it will help you as the conversation advances and helps them to see they may not have any good reasons for the things they believe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teaching the Three Rs of Being Human



Every parent wants his or her child to grow into a fully capable, knowledgeable human being. One way we seek to accomplish this is to make sure our children have a proper education, beginning with what has colloquially become known as the three "Rs": reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic. These three Rs are not simply basic skills. Reading allows children to take in knowledge, writing allows them to communicate and distribute knowledge, and arithmetic provides the basis for not simply mathematics, but logical comparison and a host of other concepts. Together, the three Rs have become a shorthand way to reference a complete foundational knowledge all children need to build upon for a successful education.

However, there is another set of three Rs that are at least as foundational to the development of successful human beings as those with which we're all familiar, and I've noticed that not only are these three Rs not taught to children today, but young adults who are deficient in understanding them are causing major repercussions in our university system. These aren't three Rs of education. These are three Rs that distinguish us from animals. They are the three traits that make us civilized human beings and if the next generation doesn't learn them, society will regress as it has already begun to do.

The three Rs of being human are Reason, Regard, and Reverence. Let me briefly explain each of them below:

Reason

Reason is an incredibly important skill human beings are capable of developing, and it is one that makes us uniquely human. Animals operate off of their appetites, desires, and drives. Bonobos are very sexually active and much more socially open, so much so they are called the "hippie apes."1 But bonobos also cannibalize their young.2 They operate off their drives and instincts. Humans use their reason to overcome their drives. This is what being civilized means. But left-leaning political movements today have been pushing to return to basing our decisions on our desires. We have become men without chests, flabby, and looking more like animals and less like rational beings.

Regard

Another concept that is being lost on the next generation is the Golden Rule. Many people give lip service to the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do to you, but it seems that a whole lot of college kids think the rule comes with an asterisk, acting as if it only applies when that other person agrees with your position. But Jesus put it in context, declaring "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matt. 5:39-41, ESV).

The concept of recognizing and extending honor to people because they are also human beings is uniquely Christian.. It recognizes that people are flawed and no one is beyond redemption. It is a practical way to show humility as opposed to arrogance. Given the protest culture we increasingly find ourselves in today, humility has become a rare commodity.

Reverence

Lastly, we need to teach our children the crucial aspect of reverence toward God. No one should believe he or she is the center of the universe. By recognizing there is a higher moral law to which we all are accountable, it further serves to help us realize both our fragility and dependence.

Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa theologiae, recognized that human beings alone weigh their actions through reason, seeking to attain "the good" or the highest level of happiness. As Shawn Floyd summarizes, Aquinas believes "human actions are those over which one has voluntary control (ST IaIIae 1.1). Unlike non-rational animals, human beings choose their actions according to a reasoned account of what they think is good."3 Aquinas argues that each of us seeking happiness can only find its ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate good, which is God. Without recognizing God, we are doomed to seek only immediate and imperfect pleasures, diminishing our capacity to be truly human by finding the ultimate good.

Losing Our Humanity

It's become popular to bash the medieval as people who were stuck in the Dark Ages and ignorant. However, Aquinas understood what it meant to be human rather than an animal and he strove to live out that difference. Today, our society is regressing, operating more on feeling than facts and comfort over truth. They would rather have us behave more like the bonobos, indulging our sexual passions whatever they may be.

If we don't start teaching the three Rs of humanity, we are in real danger of our culture becoming truly debased, one not fit for real humans to live in.

References

1. Angier, Natalie. "In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails." The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/science/bonobos-apes-matriarchy.html.
2. Callaway, Ewen. "Hippy Apes Caught Cannibalising Their Young." New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd., 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18454-hippy-apes-caught-cannibalising-their-young/.
3. Floyd, Shawn. "Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-moral/#H2.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Why Virtue Matters in Politics



Today, as Americans across the country select the next Commander in Chief, many go to the polls with trepidation at the choices set before us. Does character matter in a candidate? In surveying the charges against character, it seems a lot of political supporters believe character only matters if your opponent shows a deficiency. If it is the candidate you support, then poor character may be excused.

I'm not pointing to a specific candidate in my remarks today. Neither presidential contender could be described as virtuous in any sense of the word. But this cavalier attitude towards character is disturbing. I believe our Founding Fathers were smart men who understood some of the dangers that could befall our freedoms and created a system of checks and balances so that should one branch of government become corrupt, it would be restrained by the other two.

However, one thing the Fathers could never guard against is if the American people as a whole became unprincipled and selfish. That would be the grains of sand that would bring the whole engine to a stop. John Adams, when writing to the Massachusetts Militia made this abundantly clear:
But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, … while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.#1
Is there another way than "assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance" to describe a people who bludgeon those seeking to live out long-established religious beliefs in the name of tolerance while accepting those who have proven themselves to disregard law or common decency in their arrogance? Virtue does matter. Without it our government will no longer function to secure the freedom of people but will crumble to an oligarchy serving only a privileged few.

References

Adams, John. "From John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, 2 Feb. 1999. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
Image courtesy Erik (HASH) Hersman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Starting God-Conversations: Take the "Class-Photo" Approach



AS the holidays are approaching, families will be reunited and seldom seen relatives will have the opportunity to share with one another. Burt when the topic of faith comes up, the conversation can quickly turn contentious. How can you get "God conversations" started where others are interested in engaging instead of arguing with you? How do you set the stage so others won't be put off before the conversation has begun?

First, listen more than you speak

One of the bigger problem in witnessing today is Christians equate it with preaching or dumping our information onto someone else. Some think "as long as I say 'Jesus died for you' and share a couple of scriptures, my witnessing obligations have been met!" That's a complete misconception of what sharing the Gospel is. Jesus never did this. Jesus actually cared enough about each person he engaged to ask them about their lives and he tailored his conversation to their interests. With the religious leaders (Nicodemus/Pharisees) He discussed theology and with the common people (woman at the well, the blind man) he engaged them in the tasks they were doing or the needs they had.

With Zaccheus, Jesus went further. Zaccheus was a tax collector; this meant his attention to the Jewish laws and requirements were not strictly observed "because someone unreligious enough to collect taxes would not be careful about tithing his foodstuffs."1 But Jesus wanted to build a relationship with Zaccheus, not just preach at him, so he invited himself over for dinner. It was the building of intimacy and the care that Jesus showed towards Zaccheus the individual that prove3d effective in the sinner's repentance.

People's favorite subject is themselves

So, my first point in starting God conversations is to make sure you listen more than you talk. Take what I call the second grade class photo approach. Do you remember those pictures you would take in elementary school with your class in three rows and the teachers standing at each end? When the class pictures were distributed, what was the first thing everyone did? They looked for themselves! I'm sure you were interested in your friends and what kind of faces they may have been making, but you first wanted to see how you looked in the picture. That's because no matter the person, everyone's favorite subject is themselves.

Given this, the Christian can be very effective in beginning conversations not proclaiming pronouncements but by asking questions and trying to understand the person with whom they're conversing. Ask, "What's the thing you're passionate about these days?" Most people's passions have a moral component that leads into conversations on good and evil. Even sports or hobbies have broader implications, as the Colin Kapernick controversy has shown. Make sure you follow up their answer with another, such as "Why did you get involved in that specifically?" or "What is it about that that you find satisfying?"

Paul used this technique to great effect in Acts 17 when he was asked to present before the Greeks at Mars Hill. He first starts with a compliment (Men of Athens, I perceive you are very religious in all respects.."), then quotes some popular poets, then ties hose interests to his message. Paul made sure he knew the interests and ideas that motivated the Athenians before he brought up Jesus.
By seeking to understand the drives and motivations of an individual, you'll be in a much better position to discuss things like what makes life meaningful.  You may also find the conversation you planned would not be effective at all, as I did here.

People will tell me they've had the greatest conversations when they feel they were heard – not when they were talked at. That means you must listen first.

References

1. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993. Print. 229.
Image courtesy John Atherton and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
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