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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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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Top Ten Apologetics Tweets


One of the ways I leverage social media is to expose people to the wider views and issues that are being written about online.  So, I use my Twitter and Facebook accounts to post interesting links or to start conversations about things that matter. (Not exclusively, mind you. If you follow me you may also get some personal updates or a proud photo of a family member.)

Below are the top ten read articles I linked to with an apologetic or cultural focus. It's interesting to see just what resonates with folks out there as well as what was hot in the news this year. Some of both are reflected below.
  1. Why do they always ask about rape and incest? http://bit.ly/Pr1jWM
  2. Roger Ebert Reviews a Tragedy: His Search for God http://bit.ly/Zlw5QB
  3. Supreme Court Decisions Cannot Define Morality http://bit.ly/12lwAtD
  4. The knockout game: reporting more hype than truth. http://bit.ly/18fF27Y
  5. Triumph of the vulgarians http://lat.ms/1aRYlyx
  6. A Tale of Two Hitchens http://bit.ly/1aXsmg0
  7. The Culture of Memes and Why It’s Ruining the World http://bit.ly/18VYVyY
  8. Family Says They Did Tip Gay Server, Didn't Leave Note http://bit.ly/1aRd0y4
  9. A Whole New Meaning to Sex-Crazed http://bit.ly/1hEJbFd
  10. Devastating Arguments Against Christianity (Courtesy of the Internet)  http://bit.ly/16fDcRa

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Top Five Apologetics Podcasts

The Come Reason podcasts have been a weekly staple of our ministry for years. They cover a wide range of topics and issues that help Christians to better defend their faith. This year our top five topics really focused in on God's existence and His revelation to us. My debate against noted Internet atheist Richard Carrier was one of the top downloaded talks, along with the question of the origin of life, and how to answer atheists when they offer objections to God's existence. Tackling the Issue of Homosexuality landed right in the middle of the top five, showing that this topic is becoming more troublesome for those in the church.


Here, in reverse order of popularity, are the top five podcast topics of 2013.
  1. Esposito vs. Carrier: Does God Exist? (Debate)
    Does God Exist? Philosophers and theologians have written volumes on this topic, but it has become especially significant in our modern world. Can we prove that God exists? And what are the implications if God doesn't exist? Listen to this lively exchange between Lenny Esposito and atheist Richard Carrier recorded before a packed house at the University of California Riverside.
  2. The Origin of Life Requires a Creator
    How did life arise on earth? What are the key elements we need to focus on when talking with an evolutionist? What questions remain unanswered? In this class, we will look specifically at the beginning of life and show why given the evidence belief in a creator makes the most sense.
  3. Tackling the Issue of Homosexuality
    Homosexual activists continue to press a pro-gay agenda in politics and in our schools. Even many church-goers believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed. Are Christians bigoted? How can we discuss these issues in a loving and convincing way? Join us to find out.
  4. Answering Atheist Arguments Against God
    Atheism has been taking center stage lately. Both the New Atheists and a cohort of Internet skeptics continue to raise objections that have caught the public's fancy. Are they right? How should we answer? In this podcast, Lenny will point out the poverty of atheist arguments.
  5. How to Know the Bible is Really from God
    When asked why they hold to certain beliefs or why they feel acting in a certain manner is a wrong, Christians will usually point to the Bible. The Bible is the standard of our faith. Why should we put so much faith in a collection of ancient texts? What about the holy texts of other faiths? Join us to see why the Bible is completely trustworthy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to Know the Bible is Really from God


When asked why they hold to certain beliefs or why they feel acting in a certain manner is a wrong, Christians will usually point to the Bible. The Bible is the standard of our faith. Why should we put so much faith in a collection of ancient texts? What about the holy texts of other faiths? Join us to see why the Bible is completely trustworthy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Top Ten Apologetics Blog Posts

We're once again highlighting the top ten blog posts for the year. The blog continues to grow in popularity with over 10,000 readers per month visiting the blog alone.  Add that to our www.ComeReason.org web site and we see over 370,000 hits from nearly every country on earth.

Below are the top ten unique articles or content for 2013. There are a couple of podcasts that were also featured on the blog and would have made it to this list, but I will cover those in a separate post. Questions on the reliability of the Bible, the problem of moral grounding, and even a word of encouragement from J.P. Moreland all resonated with readers. The top post tackles an objection we hear all too often: religion is the cause of so many wars throughout history.

All ten posts are linked below. Which was your favorite?
  1. Does Religion Cause War?
  2. How Can God be Without Beginning or End?
  3. Bible Contradictions - Why Responding "Show Me Some" Doesn't Work
  4. Debunking 'Bible Secrets' Television Shows
  5. Worldview Definitions: The Problem with Postmodernism
  6. J.P. Moreland to Young Christians: "Don't let anybody bully you"
  7. Do You Need Religion to Have Morals?
  8. The Big Bang is Not the Enemy of Theology
  9. How Teaching Answers Fails Christian Students
  10. Why are Christians so obsessed with homosexuality?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Was a Great Year for Apologetics

Christmas is always a joyous time, a time to be reminded of how blessed we are. And now that we're preparing for a new year, I'd like to take a moment and reflect on all God has accomplished through this ministry along with your prayers and support.

Outreaches and Debates

Students at the ForumOne way Come Reason seeks to share the Gospel is through different outreaches and debate opportunities, particularly at college campuses. 2013 was a great year for outreach as we were able to interact with students at four different college or university campuses this year. I was invited to participate in open forums at both UC Irvine and Riverside Community College. Open forums are where a panel of Christians take questions on morality, biblical Christianity, and other issues from the students. The latter event was covered in the college newspaper with a great write up.

Dr. Michael Ruse and Dr. Fazale RanaIn May, Come Reason co-sponsored with Harvest's The Well Club the second Great God Debate held at UC Riverside. This year's debate focused on the question of life's origin and pitted Dr. Fazale Rana against Dr. Michael Ruse. Over 1,000 students attended the event, which was webcast to countries around the world, thanks to Biola University's apologetics department.

Apologetics Missions Trips are another type of outreach we provide. These trips are where we take a group of high school and college kids to locations that are culturally non-Christian. This year, we visited Dearborn, Michigan for the first time, which boasts the highest Muslim population in the U.S. and has the largest mosque in North America.

Dearborn Apologetics Missions TripThe 22 students I took on that trip got to interact with imams, Muslim apologists, speak with ex-Muslims as well as go out on the streets at shopping centers and the University of Michigan Dearborn to witness one on one with the Muslim population.

Conferences

Our Dare to Defend apologetics conferences have been a staple of Come Reason since the ministry's beginning. This year we held two such events, with the first at The Well Church in Oak Valley. Pastor Ron Wood and his congregation graciously hosted a three-day event covering the existence of God, the facts of the resurrection, and other topics. We look forward to holding a similar event in 2014.

A Reason for Hope Military OutreachThe highlight of our year was certainly the outreach at the U.S. Army Garrison in Vicenza, Italy. Entitled “A Reason for Hope,” I was able to give four talks to the troops and their families stationed at Caserma Ederle. I was able to talk about things like the problem of evil to those who had just a few weeks prior returned from the war zone in Afghanistan. Army Chaplain LTC Scott Hammond hosted the event and we are especially thankful to Jeff and Kim Neill for their organization and hospitality in letting us stay at their home.

Speaking and Teaching

Speaking and teaching opportunities continue to play an integral role in the ministry. I continued teaching the monthly apologetics classes at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA. I was also blessed to help teach Pastor Daniel Eichelberger's Deepening Your Faith classes, which are more in-depth theology studies. We covered topics on logic and argumentation, revelation and authority, the person of Jesus, and historic Christian heresies. Other events included services at Calvary Chapel San Diego and Calimesa, and radio interviews on stations in Michigan and New Jersey. If you would like me to visit your church, I would love to come out! Just let me know.

Internet Outreach

Our online ministries continue to grow. Over the past year, we've had over 300,000 visitors to the Come Reason web site from nearly every nation around the world. I've been writing nearly daily in the Apologetics Notes blog, which now averages over 10,000 views monthly. The podcast saw 485,000 hits this year and over 30,000 downloads of the weekly teaching. Our YouTube channel also continues to expand as we add more teachings there, and Facebook and Twitter conversations have been bristling. If you aren't following the ministry through one of these channels, I encourage you to start!

Publishing

One new project that I'm excited about is the upcoming release of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism by Kregel. I was blessed to have contributed a chapter on the argument from reason, made famous by C.S. Lewis. The book is due to be released on February 1.

Lastly, after several delays, I was happy to see my debate against Richard Carrier released on video. This was the first Great God Debate, and as you can see it was a packed house with great interaction by the audience. If you'd like a DVD of the deabate, comlete with the Q&A and bonus features, you can get one with your contribution to the ministry.

I can tell you that God opened more doors this year than ever before. It has made me deeply humbled to see how He continues to work and excited to see what He has in store for 2014. It promises to be filled with even more ministry opportunities. I also wanted to say thank you to all those who have prayed for this ministry or contributed to its support. Without you, it would be impossible to accomplish so much. He has truly blessed me and I pray that in 2014 He will bless you as well.

Blessings,
 Lenny
Lenny Esposito

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The First Christmas Eve - A Devotion

The day before the first Christmas was a normal day; it was just like any other. People awoke and began their chores. There were fish to catch, meals to prepare, fields to tend, shops to open. Oh, sure the cities were a bit busier than usual, what with the census causing many people to travel, but that just meant the opportunity for more business in the merchants' eyes. Everyone else was inconvenienced by the crowded roadways and the disruption of schedules. Traffic makes it difficult for locals to finish their responsibilities. But such was part of life in this part of the world.


So, people went about their day not thinking twice about what kind of a day it was. The herdsmen took their flocks to the pastures outside of town to find them food. An old prophet and prophetess sat at the temple in Jerusalem, each praying as part of their daily routine, one that they duplicated for so long they had lost count. They pray that they might catch a glimpse of the power of God to rescue their people. But they don't mark this day as anything more. It's simply one more opportunity to petition the Almighty.

There were the common complaints about politics. Some complained that the government taxed too much, others that we should submit to the status quo. Those that sought to overthrow the power structures were seen as zealots, but even they saw today as another day in their quest for autonomy, claiming God was on their side.

Herod was sitting fat on his throne, probably feeling fairly content. His partnership with Rome had brought him considerable power and success. He felt he had the power to vanquish any threat to his rule and his building and construction projects had made him famous. This day he felt no particular worry about losing his title as King of the Jews.

Everyone across the world didn't note this day as anything more than another day. They did not have the luxury of history that we have today. They didn't know that tomorrow would bring the birth of one child and the beginning of end of their world. They didn't realize that one infant arriving in a small backwoods town would be an event so enormous that all of mankind would reckon time by it. Those shepherds didn't know that tomorrow heaven would be so filled with joy that they would see it burst at the seams and hear glorious praise spill onto the earth. Herod didn't know that he would soon be dead and in less than a century his glorious Temple project would be wiped clean from the mount as well as the Jewish worship rituals it supported. Simeon and Anna didn't know that they would have their prayers answered in just a few days, cradling in their arms the Messiah of the Lord. Even Caesar Augustus didn't know that this child would turn Rome inside out.

That first Christmas Eve was remarkable because it was utterly unremarkable. Today we remember His coming and tomorrow we celebrate with friends and family. But come January 30 or March 22 or September 16 we will be back to experiencing ordinary days. I pray that as we think about the birth of the Savior of the world, we would reflect on God's promise and His deliverance not only on December 24, but on those ordinary days, too. Be like that old prophet or prophetess. Make worship and expectation that God is working part of your daily routine. Because you never know, God may make tomorrow earth-shattering.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Does Criticism of Homosexuality Foster High Suicide Rates?

Last week, the Supreme Court in Canada unanimously  struck down many of that nation's laws against prostitution. The ruling wasn't because the laws ran afoul of legal precedents, but was because the court held that by making prostitution clandestine, the laws are "imposing dangerous conditions" (emphasis original) to prostitutes to be vulnerable to violence and therefore violates the basic values that Canada holds.


This kind of reasoning is, of course, insanity. Prostitution is illegal because it causes harm to people and communities. For example, it's widely known that men who visit prostitutes catch sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, herpes, or AIDS. They will then go home and sleep with their wives, infecting them. Young girls who are displaced are more at risk for becoming entrapped in prostitution as a legally available service creates a need for more and more sex workers. Making prostitution legal doesn't rid girls of danger; it will more likely make it worse.

However, prostitution isn't the only area where such reasoning exists, even in the church. Homosexuality is another area where confusion has prevailed. On the same day the Canadian court delivered its ruling, Youth Pastor Tyler Smither wrote a blog piece entitled What You Believe About Homosexuality Doesn't Matter. After noting that there is strong theological debate on the issue, Smither notes that 30% of kids who identify as homosexual commit suicide. He then writes, "It does not matter if you think homosexuality is a sin, or if you think it is simply another expression of human love. It doesn't matter. Why doesn't it matter? Because people are dying. Kids are literally killing themselves because they are so tired of being rejected and dehumanized that they feel their only option left is to end their life." Smither then concludes that we should keep our opinions about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality to ourselves, as it's the morally responsible thing to do. This kind of thinking is well-meaning but just as mistaken as Canada's court decision.

First, it isn't at all clear that "telling a gay kid that you love him and you don't want him to die" will solve this problem. In fact, it may not curb the problem at all. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has published data showing that men who have sex with men have higher rates of substance abuse, engage in high risk sexual practices, and up to 44% experience domestic violence from within their same-sex relationship. So, it doesn't follow that suicide rates are higher than normal simply because others are criticizing their behavior.

The rise in suicide isn't confined to only young homosexuals either. The U.S. National Library on Medicine published a report detailing the high rates of suicide among alcoholics. High school dropouts are also at a higher risk. Tellingly, transsexuals have the same suicide rate as the homosexual kids Smither worries about even after they have completed their surgeries and their transition! It's obvious that the proposed cure isn't working there.

I agree that the loss of life we see for young homosexual kids is abhorrent. I agree with Smither that we should do everything we can to save as many kids as possible. But accepting the person is not the same thing as giving homosexual behavior a free pass, any more than saving young girls caught up in the sex industry means abolishing prostitution laws.  We must try to understand and be compassionate, but not excuse their proclivity to same-sex encounters. Otherwise we will be widening a door that destroys one out of three human beings, which isn't at all a moral thing to do.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Phil Robertson, Gay Marriage, and Equality Laws

Phil Robertson's remarks in GQ magazine on homosexual sex have caused quite a commotion, so much so that the Duck Dynasty star has been placed on indefinite suspension from his reality show by A&E. But is such a suspension fair? How does this comport with recent legal rulings against discrimination?

If we look at recent court decisions, the rulings have been clear: corporations cannot deny service or discriminate against individuals who use their services simply because the corporation has taken a principled stance on the topic of homosexuality. Just this month Colorado Judge Robert Spenser held that baker Jack Phillips was violating Colorado's anti-discrimination laws by denying to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple. Spenser decided that even though Phillips was earnest in his beliefs that homosexual marriages are wrong, his view "fails to take into account the cost to society and the hurt caused to persons who are denied service simply because of who they are" (emphasis added).[1]

Interestingly, Bosson rejected the claim that this law should be weighed against the standard of strict scrutiny and narrow definition to which other laws that limit religious liberty are held.  Bosson said that the law in question is valid because it "is both neutral and of general applicability… therefore Respondents are not free to ignore its restrictions even though it may incidentally conflict with their religiously-driven conduct."[2]

Similarly, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Elane Huguenin and her wedding photography business for failing to violate her conviction and photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. In his concurring opinion, New Mexico Justice Richard Bosson wrote that the Huguenins "are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives." Bosson continued, "In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different" (emphasis added).

So, the law is clear. A corporation cannot discriminate against a person or persons when the deeply held beliefs of that corporation conflict with the views of those who use its services. Even if artistic merit is involved, the decisions above seem to reach beyond the specific cases and attempt to make a moral statement that corporations must bow to the beliefs of the individual. And the decisions say that this is the case because there is a compelling interest to seek equality, that is to not discriminate against individuals because of who they are. The decisions make a moral claim that equality for all supersedes corporate positions.

So tell me why is Phil Robertson's suspension from the Duck Dynasty for being simply who he is and stating his beliefs considered OK? Will the ACLU come to his aid like it did the homosexual couple in Colorado? Isn't it just as discriminatory to deny Robertson his ability to make a living on his show just because he believes something different than the A&E executives do as it is to deny a homosexual couple a wedding cake because one does not believe in homosexual marriage? Is this an example of "neutral in applicability", or is it an example of only forcing a single belief—the one that says homosexual relations are OK—onto the public sphere? Does Robertson being an employee make a difference? If Robertson was suspended because he supported homosexual marriage and the company didn't, would there be any concern?

In all, one shouldn't be surprised that moral stances can be so unevenly applied in a single direction. The double-standard simply highlights what we have known for a while. The homosexual lobby has no interest in equality. It simply wants to force itself upon everyone and woe to those who offer any type of criticism. Discrimination against critics is not only allowed but mandatory.

References

1. Initial Decision: Charlie Craig and David Mullins v. Masterpiece Cakeshop Inc & Anor CR 2013-0008, PDF 266.58kb, 06 DEC 13

https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/initial_decision_case_no._cr_2013-0008.pdf

2. Ibid.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Life Itself Shows the Fingerprints of Intelligence

Last year, I debated atheist Richard Carrier on the question "Does God Exist?" I'd like to review some of the arguments I made during that debate and Carrier's responses. If you'd like to see the entire debate, you can do so on the Come Reason YouTube channel. You can also receive a DVD of the debate, along with a bunch of bonus features by making a donation to the ministry here.


One of the points I offered for God's existence is the fact that  life itself shows the fingerprints of intelligence. In the debate, I argued:
In all of human existence, it has been readily understood that life comes from life, since at no time have humans ever observed anything else.  And now, science has amassed even more evidence for the absolute uniqueness of living systems as non-random, information-bearing systems.

Human beings have consistently recognized that highly specified information—from cave drawings to computer systems—are always the result of an intelligent mind.  The identifying features of intelligence are:
  • They are COMPLEX SYSTEMS
  • They are SPECIFICALLY ARRANGED to perform a function
  • They are HIGHLY CONTINGENT. In other words, there is nothing that forces the patterns to emerge as they do.
Code-breakers in World War II and scientists who search for signs of extra-terrestrial life both use these criteria in separating what is natural and what is the sign of a mind a work.

Now, when we look inside living cells, we see that they exhibit the same marks of intelligence.  For example some of the simplest bacteria have a DNA molecule which is about 4,000,000 nucleotides long.  These nucleotides need to be in just the right order or the bacteria could not live.  In fact, Gustaf Arrhenius states that there are more possible nucleotide sequences than there are atoms in the universe.  Yet, these are ordered perfectly in living systems to build the proteins necessary for life.

Secondly, amino acids, the workhorses that build proteins, are selected perfectly, too.  Amino acids are what are known as "handed," that is they occur in two shapes that mirror each other like a left and right hand.  Each of these types is equally distributed in nature: the odds of each are 50% and they will bond to the RNA molecule equally well.  But ALL biological proteins must use ONLY left handed amino acids for life to exist.  So, how can you have an RNA molecule form randomly but only select the left-handed acids?  Given that bacteria are, for e.g., 4 million nucleotides long, how can they assemble by chance to use only left-handed acids?

These and other reasons are why MIT mathematician Murray Eden has stated that the chance emergence of life from non-life is impossible.  Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, also famously stated "the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle."  DNA and molecular systems required for life are specific and complex enough to rule out chance.  And since complex systems that are specific are also a sign of an intelligent mind, it is reasonable to hold that "intelligence" is responsible for life.
Tomorrow, I will discuss Carrier's response to this line of argumentation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Comparing The Matrix, Tolerance, and the Truth

Are you a Neo or a Cypher? If you recognize those names, then you are probably one of the many people who've seen the hit 1999 movie The Matrix or its hot sequel The Matrix: Reloaded. Rarely do popular films come out that spur conversation on such heady topics as the nature of reality, God, fate, and freedom the way these movies have. I'd like to explore one aspect of The Matrix scenario that you may use as a springboard with your colleagues at work or school.



Photo courtesy shaquenova

First, some background. Neo is a computer programmer/hacker living a life of quiet desperation in 1999. After a series of events, he discovers that his life isn't real. He, like all of humanity, has been enslaved by computers who feed his brain with electrical impulses that simulate sensory experience. Life is really a virtual reality program called the Matrix. Once Neo is set free from the Matrix, he seeks to free others.

Cypher, on the other hand, is one of the villains in the original movie. Escaping the Matrix years earlier, he now finds that life in the "real world" isn't pleasant. He's trapped underground in a world with no sun, only porridge to eat, and none of the comforts of life.

One pivotal scene is where Cypher reinserts himself into the Matrix to speak with one of its Agents. There he says:
"You know I know that this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. And after nine years do you know what I've realized?... Ignorance is bliss."

Does Experience Define Truth?

Cypher wants to be put back permanently. He doesn't care that his senses would be deceived. His only concern is to feel the pleasures of life - and to have his memory erased so he won't know the truth of his condition.

All of this raises an interesting question: is Cypher's choice unreasonable? Christopher Grau examines this choice. He writes:
"Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy? Is he right to want to get re-inserted into the Matrix? Many want to say no, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experiences will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience? Remember, once he's back in, living his fantasy life, he won't even know he made the deal. What he doesn't know can't hurt him, right?"(1)
Most people naturally recoil at the idea of living in an existence that's a lie. Even though Cypher will experience greater pleasures by being plugged into the Matrix, they won' be real events; they're merely sensory illusions. We find such an idea repugnant because humanity finds value in that which is objectively true. Truth has what we call intrinsic value, or value in itself, and believing something that's not true is looked upon as tragic.

All of this sets me to thinking about beliefs people hold about religion. We often hear that faith is a personal decision, a private matter between that person and God. The problem here is different religious beliefs contradict each other. Islam and Buddhism cannot both be true. Hinduism has radically different concepts of God from Christianity. And if beliefs are shown to be contradictory, then there are at least some good people holding to beliefs that are simply false.

The Value of Objective Truth

Although many people speak of things like tolerance for all beliefs, if I am holding to something that's not true, then my belief is ultimately tragic; I'm caught in the Matrix unaware. Even if my beliefs give me pleasure, stability of life, a strong morality, self-worth, or self-identity, it is still not enough to continue to hold them. Those are the exact things Cypher was seeking in his deal with the Agent.

No, reality holds an intrinsic value. That is, it has a value unto itself. If I believed in something that is false, I would want someone like a Neo to come and help escape that false system. Of course, I should be on my guard so that I wasn't deluded into abandoning one set of false beliefs for another. And there are good ways to do this. (2)

The idea that there is one true way to understand the world is a basic premise to the Christian worldview. Christianity is the only religion that challenges its adherents to check it out against competing belief systems. Paul says as much to the Thessalonian church: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."(1 Thess. 5:18) It's why Christians are commanded to preach the gospel and convert those who don't believe (ref. Matt 28:19).

If Christianity is true, that is if it really does correspond to reality, then it seems to me that Christians should do everything in their power to try and spread that message as much as they can. Isn't this more right to save someone from a system you believe is false than just letting him live with the status quo? Who is the nobler person? Neo seeks to free others while Cypher seeks his own contentment.

So who are you? Are you a Neo or a Cypher? The choice is yours to make.

References:

1. Grau, Christopher. "The Value of Reality: Cypher and the Experience Machine." Philosophers Explore The Matrix. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 18. Print.
2. See Esposito, Lenny "Testing for Truth"
http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi035.asp 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Can Infinite Universes Explain Fine-Tuning?

In my debate against Richard Carrier, one of the facts I offered for God s existence is that the universe clearly shows evidence of being finely-tuned for life. Our universe is not simply "fine-tuned" but exquisitely -tuned for advanced life. Examples of fine tuning may be found in the laws of the universe, in the fundamental constants of the universe, and in the initial distribution of mass and energy at the universe's beginning.


First, the LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE. Two such finely tuned laws are:
  • The law of gravity that acts on all matter. Without gravity, stars would break apart and we would have no long-term energy to sustain life.
  • The strong nuclear force. Without this, the protons in the nucleus of an atom would repel each other and our universe would be made up of nothing more than hydrogen.
Secondly, we see fine tuning in the FUNDAMENTAL CONSTANTS that govern just how much items in the universe are affected by certain laws.Here are just two:
  • We know that the gravitational constant, which is the value of how much masses will be attracted to one another could sit in a range anywhere within 1x 1040 power, or 1 followed by 40 zeros. But if the force of gravity was increased by one part in a billion, billion, billion, billion, advanced life would be crushed according to Cambridge Royal Society Research professor Martin Rees.[1]
  • Barrow & Tipler, in their landmark book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, note that if Einstein's cosmological constant varied in either direction by as little as 1 x 10120, (which is a fraction so small that it would take more zeros to write than there are atoms in the universe) If this were to be changed by even that amount, the universe would expand too fast for galaxies & stars to form.
Thirdly, we see that the INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF MASS AND ENERGY of the Big Bang needed to be just right. The initial conditions of the universe show extremely low entropy. Roger Penrose calculated the chances of this to be 1x1010^(123), a fraction so incredibly small it defies any example. Penrose said, "I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 1010^(123)."
Taking all this into account, John Leslie remarks, "Clues heaped upon clues can constitute weighty evidence, despite doubts about each element in the pile."[2]

Does the Multiverse Solve this Problem?

Carrier claims that the multiverse hypothesis solves the problem of an exquisitely fine-tuned universe poised just right for advanced life to develop. He claims by simply having an infinite number of universes being created, there is bound to be one that would have the conditions we see, and naturally we are here because we happen to live in that universe. But I see at least three problems with this assumption:

The Many Worlds Hypothesis is Speculatory

The idea of an infinite number of universes having every conceivable construction of laws is sheer speculation. There simply is no observable data to back this up. In fact, there cannot be any observable data since we would never be able to observe anything outside our own universe. If we can see it, measure it, or in some other way capture data, we know it's in this universe.

The Many-Universe Making Machine Would Then Need to be Designed.

If an infinite number of universes that are all divergent are somehow being generated continually, we've simply pushed the problem back a notch. What is this thing, this mechanism that is a universe-generating machine? How come it functions so well at generating universes that it never stops? How does it get all the right components to make a self-sustaining universe together and spit out a finished product? If it is a mind, then it s still evidence for God. If it is material, then the machine must itself have been created somehow, which means we're back to the same question.

Even with Multiple Universes, Our Universe is Special

 EVEN IF multiple universe creation in chaotic/eternal inflation is true, it coupled with our observation that the cosmological constant is non-zero would seem to suggest that our universe would appear to be the first one ever to appear. In their paper "Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant" physicists at MIT and Stanford (Lisa Dyson, Matthew Kleban, Leonard Susskind) show that given the factors necessary for life and the low initial entropy conditions, either there is no real cosmological constant or "an unknown agent intervened in the evolution, and for reasons of its own restarted the universe in the state of low entropy characterizing inflation." [3]

References

[1] Rees, Martin. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2000) 30.
[2] Collins, Robin. "A Recent Fine-Tuning Argument." The Philosophy of Religion Reader. Ed. Meister Chad. New York: Routledge, 2008.
[3] L. Dysona,b, M. Klebana, L. Susskinda, "Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant" Journal of High Energy Physics 0210:011,2002. Revised 14 Nov 2002
Available online at http://arxiv.org/pdf/hep-th/0208013.pdf

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Have We Lost the Christian Mind?

Many believers have absorbed the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting faith to the religious sphere while adopting whatever views are current in their professional or social circles. … The problem was phrased succinctly by Harry Blamires: "There is no longer a Christian mind."

...What did [Blamires] mean? To say that there is no Christian mind means that believers may be highly educated in terms of technical proficiency, and yet have no biblical worldview for interpreting the subject matter of their field. "We speak of the 'modern mind', and of the 'scientific mind', using that word 'mind' of a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes," Blamires explains. But we have lost the Christian mind. There is now no shared, biblically based set of assumptions on subjects like law, education, economics, politics, science, or the arts. As a moral being, the Christian follows the biblical ethic. As a spiritual being, he prays and attends worship services. But as a thinking Christian, he has succumbed to secularism.

—Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity,
(Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2004).33-34.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Is Christmas Really a Pagan Holiday? (video)


Every Christmas, the charge is made that the holiday and its symbols were originally pagan celebrations that Christians usurped for their own purposes. Is this true? Is Christmas just a cheap imitation of a Roman Solstice celebration? Did Christians attempt to convert unbelievers by allowing them to keep their festivals? As the holiday season approaches, we'll show why such a charge can be easily dismissed.

For more videos, be sure to visit the Come Reason YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/comereason 



Friday, December 13, 2013

Should We Take the Slaughter of the Canaanites Literally?

I read a recent column by Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times where she decried the decision by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to update the definition of the word "literally." Daum writes:
"The entry defines the adverb 'literally' as 'in a literal manner or sense; exactly: the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the roundabout. ' But then it adds a note: 'informal, used for emphasis while not being literally true: I have received literally thousands of letters.'

"The latter, say the editors, 'is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.'"1
Daum recognizes in the article that language is fluid and meanings change. (When was the last time you heard someone use the word gay in a sentence and had it mean happy?) But she complains that literally should not mean figuratively, which is its opposite. She continues:
"I'm sorry: 'Literal' does not mean the same thing as 'not at all literal.' It is not a contranym, like 'sanction,' which means both to punish and to condone, or 'garnish,' which means both to add on and to take away. It's a plain old word with a plain old meaning."
I have another take on the word.  I think that people are not using the word "literally" with the intent to mean figuratively. I think they are using another rhetorical device called hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement intended to "evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally" according to Wikipedia. This is generally the way I see the word work in speech, as when my wife says "it will take me literally five minutes to get ready." Believe me, if I used a stopwatch at that point, I would be in big trouble!

Because "literally" is being employed as a rhetorical device, it means one must understand the statement at the level of the sentence, not the word. Of course, it can cause a bit of confusion when the word "literally" is in a phrase that asks you to not take the phrase literally! People today have a common understanding of this, but I wonder how such conversation will be interpreted in, say, a thousand years.

All of this brings me to reflect on a charge that atheists like Richard Dawkins bring against the God of the Bible. Dawkins asks how any God that would command the slaughter of the Canaanites—even women and children—can be considered a good god? In his objection, Dawkins employs charges of "genocide" or other loaded language. But I believe there are people who are earnestly concerned about this question, so it does require a thoughtful response.

Dr. Paul Copan, in his book Is God a Moral Monster?, does a great job of explaining that part of the problem with the passages in the book of Joshua is that Joshua employed hyperbole in warfare language which was common to all those in the ancient Near East. This is borne out in the fact that while Joshua records his efforts resulted in "all the land captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed ( cf. 10:40-42; 11:16-23),"2 If this description is to be taken literally, then how come the book of Judges opens with an attack on Israel by the very same Canaanites that should have been non-existent? It seems that Joshua's description is more like an avid football fan who proclaims "We killed those guys!" upon a game ending with a score of 9-7.

Copan notes that this idea of overstating one's case isn't exclusive to Israel. He point's to Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen's work and lists examples of similar hyperbole from the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Moabites, and the Assyrians.3

Of course, there are other mitigating factors that also undercut the charge of divine genocide, but I wanted to focus on this one right now. Given that today we understand how the word "literally" is used (and we seem to be aware of when to take "literally" literally), why should it be such a stretch to acknowledge that people from the past would use similar rhetorical language, especially concerning such an emotionally charged topic as warfare? It would be as irresponsible to charge the Israelites with genocide as it would be for me to pull out my stopwatch with my wife, and the end result may be as messy.

Thoughtful questions require a thoughtful response. However, with folks like Richard Dawkins they continue to use the objection without even understanding how the language of the day was used. Thoughtful questions do require thoughtful responses. But with folks like Dawkins, when a thoughtful response is given, it isn't thoughtfully accepted.

References

1. Daum, Meghan. "To thine own selfie be true – literally." The Los Angeles Times. 12 Dec, 2013: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-daum-literally-oed-20131212,0,6736521.column#ixzz2nNfBYwVp 13 Dec 2013.

2. Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011). 170.

3. Ibid. 172.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Of Mice and Men - How Our Assumptions Color Our Understanding

In my time as an apologist, I've come more and more to realize just how much the presuppositions of people will influence their interpretation of facts and truth-claims. All of us carry biases and it is important that we recognize and are sensitive to our own biases as well as those of the person with whom we're discussing things of God.

I was reminded of this just recently. When I used to commute to Los Angeles, I would pass a recycling facility. At one corner of the facility's yard is a large mound of debris that was compiled many years ago. The rubble is weathered and mature weeds grow from the artificial hillside. None of this is particularly worthy of note, except that there is a chain link fence surrounding the pile with both barbed wire and razor wire protecting its cache from any trespassers.

I thought it kind of interesting that a trash heap would be fenced off and protected to such a degree. Letting my mind wander, I thought "What would an archaeologist make of this discovery in a thousand years? He might assume that the contents of that pile were very valuable at one time, seeing as it's so well protected." Of course, I realized that the fence and wire were there to protect wayward explorers from injuring themselves and possibly suing the facility. But if someone didn't have that cultural understanding of our society, they could look at the same evidence I saw and come to a drastically different conclusion.

I further imagined that if this scenario came about the contents of the rubble pile would be cataloged and examined. Academic papers would be written, debates over the importance of this stone versus that one would surface and countless hours would be devoted to rebuilding whatever was supposed to have been originally housed at the site.

A Big Mistake Identifying a Little Animal

Now, this may sound a bit extreme; surely the science of our day is too sophisticated to make such an error! But the skirmish over a little mouse in Wyoming, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer underscores my point.(1) In 1954, Professor Philip Krutzsch identified a new subspecies of Meadow Jumping Mouse from examining the skulls and skins of several samples. The new species was named the Preble's mouse. In 1998, this study was offered as evidence to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help list the Preble's mouse as an endangered species, which the agency did.

Now, according to the Post-Intelligencer, "after six years of regulations and restrictions that have cost builders, local governments and landowners an estimated $100 million, new research suggests that the 'threatened' Preble's mouse in fact never existed." The newspaper reports that recent mitochondrial genetics studies, performed by a team from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science show that the mouse is identical to the Bar lodge mouse, a species common enough not to need protection at all.

Now the critic might say that this proves nothing since modern science caught its own mistake. However, I find it interesting that the only way we could have caught such an error is because we have existing specimens today. We're able to do such things as DNA testing. Remember, Krutzsch's original findings were based on skeletal and skin samples and they were considered acceptable at that time as the article points out. If no live samples of the so-called Preble's mouse were around to be tested, I wonder if the error would have been caught at all.

Evolution's Identity Problems

In fact, that's the whole reason for this discussion. Evolution as a field of study is based pretty much on the evidence of skeletal remains. We have some fossilized skin patterns, footprints, and such. But most of all the advances in evolutionary theory are from fossilized bones. If a modern day professor got it wrong about a mouse that he was able to observe, than how much more likely is it that paleontologists make mistakes interpreting fossils. In fact, author Luther Sunderland asked David M. Raup, a noted evolutionist and Curator of Geology at the Field Museum of Natural History at the University of Chicago, about the practice of naming the same creature by different species names when it's found in different period rocks. "He acknowledged that it used to be a very common practice and still occurred… it was done purposely because of an a priori theoretical mode, but he thought most of these had 'been cleaned out now'."(2)

So here we have evidence that the bias of the scientists come into direct play when they seek to identify a new species. In fact, Raup noted that many times this was done on purpose to try and make the evidence conform to the theory instead of the other way around. He later tells Sunderland that "approximately 70 percent of species described are found to be the same as existing species, so 70 percent of the new species named should not have been, either through ignorance or because of the rules used by taxonomists."(3)

As the debate over evolution continues to heat up, Christians have recurrently been accused of ignoring the evidence because of their beliefs. Is this charge true? Perhaps in some cases. However, the history of paleontology shows just as large a bias on the part of the evolutionists. So, the next time you are discussing the issue with a friend or colleague, make sure you're sensitive to the assumptions that lie behind the assertions. Their facts may be as tenuous as a rat in a trap.

References

1. Gruver, Mead "New research shows endangered mouse never existed"
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Friday, June 11, 2004
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/177640_mouse12.html
2. Sunderland, Luther D. Darwin's Enigma: Fossils and other Problems
Master Books, El Cajon, CA 1988 p.131
3. Ibid.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Would Torture be Good if God is Evil?

Recently on my Facebook page, I was presented with this video from philosophy professor Stephen Darwall of Yale University who argues that one cannot hold to a view that morality comes from God.Because Darwall is a professor of philosophy, his arguments are more cogent than most, but I believe he gets the basis for good and bad wrong. In the following discussion with an atheist friend, I show how God's goodness is grounded in His nature, and also answer the question "Could there be such a thing as an evil God?" To see the complete thread, click here.


Lenny: This is an interesting video, Bernie. I appreciate that it is a thoughtful look at morality. However, the Divine Command Theory espoused here is not the same as the beliefs that I or historic Christendom has held. I don't believe that a value is good simply because God says so. That runs smack dab into the Euthyphro dilemma.

I believe that goodness is intrinsic to God - that is it is part of His nature. God tells us what is good because God is good. As a parallel, human beings are by nature communicative. We don;t choose to think using words and language, we do so because it is part of our nature to do so. So, there is a difference between the explanation above,which relies on God making proclamations that could be made another way and God making proclamations because they correspond to His nature.

For a counter-argument, this video by an atheist does a great job in describing the problems with rooting morality in a human framework. Check it out:
Moral Nihilist: The Intellectually Honest Atheist

Bernie: RE: "God tells us what is good because God is good. "

So that means that "good" is defined by "God" or more specifically defined by God's nature, correct? If so, makes me wonder where God got his nature from; and could it have been any different, and if so, then that different would have been the new "good?"

Lenny: I would word it more like good is that which corresponds to God's nature.

Bernie: So IF it were God's nature to be mean, then that would be considered "good?"

Lenny: That's Stephen Law's argument, but it begins to become confused. First, if we understand what evil is (a privation of the good), then we must realize that good can exist wholly apart from evil, but evil cannot exist apart from the good. That is, a wholly malevolent being who is also self-existent (as the term God is understood) cannot exist. Evil can only exist as a measure against the good, just like a dent cannot exist by itself but must be considered a defect in the original shape of another object. You can have a fender with no dents, but you cannot have a dent with no fender!

Secondly, William Lane Craig makes the point that If God is God, then he would be a being worthy of our worship. however, an evil anti-god is no such being.

Lastly, if an evil anti-god created the universe and his goal was to perpetuate evil, how would we then know what we're doing is evil? if we are following our telos, our purpose, then is such a thing even considered evil at all? You can see that positing a malevolent god starts to have some serious issues associated with it. I can't make any sense out of it based on objection #1 alone.

Bernie: RE: "That is, a wholly malevolent being who is also self-existent (as the term God is understood) cannot exist."

But you said the nature of God, whatever it is, is good. So if a god had an attribute of what we consider to be bad now, it would then be considered good, because it was the god's nature.

Lenny: Right. So the phrase "mean god" is akin to "square circle" since the word mean holds a moral value already.

Bernie: So if it would have turned-out that god thought torture was fun, we would all call that good, correct? Because, that is his nature, which defines good. Is that what you are claiming?

Lenny: No, for two reasons. First you are using a word like torture that carries moral weight. For example, would you say that a person is torturing a tree by picking off its apples? Of course not! The tree has a purpose - it provides food. To consume the fruit of the tree is neither torture nor cannibalism, but recognizing the value the fruit of the tree provides.

Moral values and duties are not arbitrary nor independent of the design of the one acting or of the thing being acted upon. Capricious morality (where God simply determines what's right and wrong by fiat) is more closely associated with Islamic concept of God than the Christian one.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Pagan Christmas Trees and the Burden of Proof

Many times when we seek to defend the faith, we can get caught taking on a bigger burden of proof that we should. I was recently reminded of this when a couple days ago I had two Jehovah's Witnesses visit my home. Given that it's three weeks before Christmas, we discussed the Christmas celebration and its roots. The Witnesses pointed to my tree and claimed it was originally a pagan symbol and Christians shouldn't be bringing such pagan symbols into their homes.


Now, I've heard this charge before. We hear tales of the yule log being tied to celebrations of the winter solstice and Christmas trees symbolizing a pagan concept of new life resurrecting through its ashes. This claim isn't limited to atheists; I found the following story on the Facebook page of a man who claims to be a Christian. In his article, he shouts that following holiday traditions is Baal worship and provides the following as "unequivocally historical." I've shortened the section a bit, but the words are his:
"Nimrod of Babylon whose wife Semiramis deified his memory by implementing an observance to replicate his death and this in the Yule log which was also chopped up to a stump, then she birthed an illegitimate child (Tammuz) through another man, and claimed this new child was Nimrod resurrected anew.

"To memorialize this she instituted a brand new young green sappling (Christmas tree) the next morning and sold this lie that on the night before Christmas the slaughtered and quartered former demi-god Nimrod entered into the fire of purification as a cut down tree (Yule log) and through being made pure as the savior of the world, he resurrected and regenerated the following morning as a new being, i.e. the green tree."
Christians who hear such charges are quickly put on the defensive, and they normally seek to explain how the Christmas tree (or Easter eggs, bunnies, or other symbols used in holiday celebrations) no longer holds their original meaning. They have been integrated into the Christian tradition and now carry Christian meanings—at least for the person with the tree in his house.

I agree that such an argument is valid. Even though we call the fifth day of the week Thursday, doing so in no way implies that we wish to exalt the Norse god Thor even if that's the origin of the day's name. But, as I've been researching Christmas origins, I've found that the real problem isn't with the pagan origins of Christmas traditions, but the spurious origins of the belief that Christmas traditions ever were pagan in the first place.

Did pagans ever use Christmas trees?

Let's look at the concept of bringing a Christmas tree into your home. Critics will try to point to some ancient rite or festival prior to Christianity where trees were used and force a connection between them. For example, Jacqueline Farmer, in her children's book O Christmas Tree, writes that the ancient Egyptians used palm branches to decorate their in celebration of the winter solstice. She then points to the Romans celebrating Saturnalia and says they also used evergreen branches to brighten their homes. Both are offered as the genesis for Christmas trees.

But, why should we believe that? It is no surprise that ancient people would decorate their homes to mark significant events, including the beginning of a new growing cycle. It is also no surprise that trees would play an important symbolic role across many cultures. Trees live much longer than people and can be identified as existing from generation to generation. Also, because fruits and nuts will grow on trees, they can be a source of food. Finally, the shedding of leaves and the new blossoms that accompany the seasonal cycle makes trees a natural symbol for these ideas. This is easily shown by looking at the practice of Northwest Native American tribes, who had no connection with Egyptian or Roman culture whatsoever, would take a tree to carve and decorating it as a totem pole.

Assuming the worst

Behind each of the assertions that Christmas and its traditions are rooted in paganism lies the flimsiest evidence. There is just no historical connection to Christmas trees and pagan rites. There are some scholastic works on the history of Christmas traditions that try to make the connections, but these tend to come from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and are woefully out of date.

Simply pointing to some festival that used a log or a tree and then claiming that this proves Christmas to be rooted in pagan worship is on the same level as one who would point to totem poles and say that their origin lies in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. The evidence for both is the same: cursory and unconvincing. Why not go even further and argue that since the Bible used the symbol of trees (the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) in its creation story, perhaps the Romans borrowed their use of trees from the Bible!

While Christians can make a case for symbols in modern culture adopting new meaning, I don't think it's necessary. It seems to me the burden of proof is on those making the charge of paganism, and I see no evidence to believe their charge has merit.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A Brave New World: Why Science Cannot Replace Religion

Many times in popular articles commentators will state that old religious dogmas are being replaced by the new knowledge that comes from scientific discoveries. In fact, many people believe that science and religion cannot coexist - that fact and faith are contrary ways of understanding the world. Usually when this argument is asserted, it is to bolster the view that science is a better and truer way of seeing things; that humanity is in the process of abandoning its myths in order to come into a new enlightenment.

Unfortunately, those who advance such notions don't realize that they've made a fatal flaw in their thinking. They've not abandoned religion; they've simply substituted one belief system over another. What's more, to substitute science for religion is a proposition destined to fail. Let's look at the roles of both and see why.

The Role of Religion In The Life of Man

Throughout history, humanity has sought the highest meaning of life through religion. Christian scholars set out to try and understand the ultimate reality of our existence and to establish a cohesive worldview. People would turn to the cleric as a trusted source of knowledge in their search for the truth.

Christianity specifically has always held the view that the world can be knowable. The Christian worldview teaches that God created the material universe. Since the universe is designed by a rational being, it should behave in a predictable way. In other words, the world as we know it should act in accordance with certain observable physical laws and that would allow us to predict how objects will react in specific circumstances. This is the origin of modern science.1

Today, however, the understanding of religion has changed. Come up to a person today and say you want to talk about religion and you'll usually get an interesting reaction. Many people get uncomfortable discussing religious topics; they feel that religion is a personal matter and that spiritual matters should be a private affair.

The New Role of Science

Science, on the other hand, is treated much differently. New scientific breakthroughs are trumpeted in newspapers and discussed at the water coolers the next morning. Scientists are now looked upon as the ultimate arbitrator of truth. If science says something is true, it receives widespread public acceptance. Even corporate America has discovered that the credibility of a product will rise dramatically when a man in a white coat advertises its benefits.

It is because of the amazing achievements we've seen through science that many people have jumped to the conclusion that science is capable of explaining everything. However, science by itself is useless. It cannot answer the most important questions of morality and ethical actions. Science is primarily a way of understanding the material world. Science can tell us what is the case, but it cannot tell us what should be the case or what we ought to do about it.

Where Science Falls Short

A recent meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology highlights this difference with frightening clarity. Several shocking announcements were made in the name of advancing the science of human reproduction. Robin Marantz Henig of the Washington Post reports "An American scientist, Norbert Gleicher, announced that he and his colleagues had successfully inserted cells from a male embryo into an early-stage female embryo, creating a mixed-gender chimera that some journalists called a 'she-male.'"2 Gleicher allowed the embryo's cells to duplicate and grow for three days before killing the embryo.

In another announcement at the same conference, a group of scientists from Israel and Holland extracted egg from aborted female fetuses and kept them alive in the hope that the "aborted foetuses could one day be used to obtain eggs for fertility treatment, leading to the possibility of babies being born from mothers who were themselves unborn."3

Both these examples are pure science - those involved followed the scientific method in their experiments. And the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK agency responsible for licensing such research said there was no law that expressly forbade such experiments.4 So why do people recoil in horror at the thought of such experiments? Because it is our understanding of morality that tells us life shouldn't be used like tinker toys. Denying a fetus life and then using its remains as spare parts strikes us as repugnant. Fertilizing a human embryo to only experiment on it and destroy it is obscene.

Science without ethical guidelines is not a boon to mankind, but an unwieldy power capable of evil. It has no way of determining good. There is no scientific test for the moral. It is religion that tells us not only what is, but what's right. It is only when we practice our science with an overriding goal of pursuing the good that science can serve man at all.

The Category Problem

The problem is really one of misunderstanding. Those who try to exalt science to the ultimate arbitrator of truth are committing a fallacy that is known as a category error. Science serves only to explain a small subset of the human experience - the way the material world behaves. Religion is an entirely different category - one that seeks to answer to what our purpose in life should be.

Now, the scientific progress that's been made in the last 100 years is astounding. It's allowed us to travel great distances with ease, given us the ability to communicate instantaneously, and overcome disease more easily than ever before. Neither are most scientists like those we've seen above. However Christians need to be aware that good science does not fly in the face of Christianity, but Christianity is its source. It is only when we grasp that science gets its worth from theology—the appreciation of God and his relation to the world—that we can use this tool to benefit mankind.

References

1. - Hodgson, Peter "The Origin of Modern Science"
Video lecture accessed at http://www.meta-library.net/cosmcrea/hodg-frame.html
2. - Henig, Robin Marantz "Think Baby Louise, And Don't Be Afraid"
Washington Post Sunday, July 13, 2003; Page B01
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46178-2003Jul11.html?nav=hptoc_c
3. - Ibid
4. - Sinclair, Keith and Collins, Vicky "Science creates she-male human hybrid"
The Herald July 3, 2003
http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/archive/3-7-19103-0-21-59.html

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Some Problems with Consequentialism

This month, I got to interact with students at a local college, as part of a panel hosted by The Well club. Four of us answered questions from students about the nature and evidence of Christianity. One questioner, the president of the newly-minted atheist club on campus, engaged in a discussion on morality. I've maintained that if morality is objective it must be grounded in God.  He said that he held to an objective moral standard based on "ethical consequentialism." In a separate discussion at a later time, another atheist also offered consequentialism as a basis for morality.


For those that don't know, consequentialism is an ethical system that seeks to root moral values and duties in the consequences one's actions will produce. In other words, an action is moral if it produces consequences that are seen as beneficial in some sense. Utilitarianism is the most well-known version of consequentialism, with philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill arguing that what is moral is that which promotes the greatest good for the greatest number. I don't think any kind of consequentialism works to ground moral values and I want to offer three initial reasons why.

1. Consequentialism results in immoral acts being identified as moral

The first thing one should realize is that consequentialism makes the claim that rightness and wrongness are not found in any action itself, but in the consequence of the action, that is what the action will produce. So, adultery isn't in itself wrong, it is wrong only when the result is one that causes adverse effects, like the harm it causes the offended spouse. But what if a "Same Time Next Year" scenario were to present itself? In this film, the once-a-year tryst not only produces no adverse effects on the marriage the rest of the time, but each participant actually helps the other through different emotional trials. In such a case consequentialism would say that their adultery is the moral thing to do and it would be immoral to withhold this meeting form either party. Calling adultery moral shows the absurdity of consequentialism played out consistently.

2. Consequentialism asks too much

Another problematic aspect of consequentialism is the fact that one must determine one's consequences when performing any action. How is on to do this? Many times, seeing what the actual consequences of an action are is nearly impossible! How could one see all the ramifications of a simple lie? Sometimes it amounts to nothing; other times it can have devastating effects on a third party, perhaps a party whom you never realized would be privy to the lie at all! And is it reasonable to ask people to really reflect on every consequence of all their actions or should they do the right thing for no other reason than it's the right thing to do? If the consequences in question are not personal but are weighed at a societal level, the problem becomes even more egregious. No one could possibly know the outcome their actions would inflict  upon an entire culture. Such knowledge would truly require a form of omniscience, but then we're arguing for God.

3. Consequentialism fails because it assumes what it is supposed to prove

While the two problems above are serious issues with consequentialism as a workable moral system, the biggest problem is with the understanding of how consequences benefit either the individual or the society. You see, by appealing to actions that produce a benefit, the consequentialist has smuggled in a concept of good and evil to measure against. But you cannot do that if you are talking about a system that is supposed to define what good and evil are in the first place.

Consequentialist will say, "We can know what is good because those things allow humans to survive and flourish." But this doesn't solve the problem. First, why is it "good" that all of humanity flourish instead of just the individual? Who says that one should sacrifice one's life for the sake of the society? Just because I would want someone to feed me when I'm hungry doesn't mean that I want to go hungry for the sake of someone else. If I can achieve the first and not the second, I have advanced the good for myself.

Secondly, where did this idea of advancing "the good" for all humanity come from? Philosopher Peter Singer argues that when we think this way, we are committing a kind of speciesism and other species hold the same rights as humans. Maybe by allowing humans to thrive we are denying the cockroach a chance to evolve into the next ruling species on the planet!

No matter which base point one chooses for "the good" consequentialism has no way of answering "why that point and not this one over here?" Instead of defining what is "the good", consequentialism assumes the good and begins to argue from there. It becomes question-begging! Therefore, consequentialism can never really be considered a basis for understanding good and evil. It is simply another subjective viewpoint that doesn't ground right and wrong, but describes them based on assumptions of the individual espousing it.

Morality must be prescriptive if it is to be binding. Consequentialism fails to be even descriptive, since it cannot ground ultimate concepts such as "the good." Most consequentialists are moral, but only because they borrow from Christian ideas, like the inherent worth of persons, in order to begin their calculations of end results. Thus, consequentialism fails as a basis for true morality.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Separating What's Possible from What's Reasonable

Man: Oh look, this isn't an argument.

Mr. Vibrating: Yes it is.

Man: No it isn't. It's just contradiction.

Mr. Vibrating: No it isn't.

Man: It is!

Mr. Vibrating: It is not.

Man: Look, you just contradicted me.

Mr. Vibrating: I did not.

Man: Oh you did!!

Mr. Vibrating: No, no, no.

Man: You did just then.

Mr. Vibrating: Nonsense!

Man: Oh, this is futile!
I've always been a big Monty Python fan. The Pythons' ability to mix thoughtful, intelligent subjects with all-out silliness has never been matched. One of their most famous sketches is "The Argument Clinic" where a man pays for the service of having an argument. Unfortunately, his results are not what he expected. If you're unfamiliar with the sketch, you can watch it below.

The discipline of apologetics is all about giving reasons for your faith. I've engaged with many people, both in person and online, who are skeptical about the claims of Christianity or the Bible. They demand evidence for things like God's existence or the resurrection of Jesus. They say that "blind faith" should be avoided and reason should hold sway over our beliefs.

In such conversations, I usually agree. Christianity has never promoted a blind faith, but one based on certain evidence. Then, depending on the objection raised, I demonstrate this by explaining the evidence I have for my view. If we're discussing God's existence, for example, I talk about the fact that something cannot come from nothing, that we see clear signs of design in the conditions of the universe, and so on.

Like the man in the Argument Clinic, my reasons have been sometimes met with "but it isn't impossible that the initial conditions of the universe just happened to be set that way" or "it may be the case that the universe came from something else that we don't know" or "it could be possible that certain chemicals came together to form a living organism." Others will respond with claims that although science offers no answers for us now, it will someday; we just need to give it more time.

The problem with such replies is that they are not seeking to answer the question the skeptic originally raised. The person has asked you to defend the reasonableness of your belief. If you can show that your belief is built upon evidence, then you have at least met the initial query. The question now becomes is there any counter-evidence to rebut the evidence you have provided. This is a crucial step. It isn't good enough to say "Well, we don't know what happened so there could be other possibilities." Of course there could, but the burden of proof has just shifted to the one who is dismissing your evidence. He or she must do more than posit "just-so" scenarios.

Just-so scenarios are just that: ideas without any evidence behind them. As such, they put the objector in the very same category as that to which they are objecting: offering a case with nothing to support it. Part of being a rational person is to draw a distinction between what is possible and what is reasonable to believe.

There are a lot of things that may be possible in the world, but are highly unlikely: such as dealing oneself a royal flush in poker two times in a row. Of course mathematics shows that such an event is possible, but it isn't reasonable to believe that such a thing happened without deliberate intervention. If I'm playing poker and I see you dealt two royal flushes, I'm going to accuse you of cheating. That would be the reasonable thing to do. Similarly, seeing the strong evidences for a creator from the natural world, one is reasonable to infer deliberate intervention.

The man in the Argument Clinic sketch recognizes that he is not getting what he paid for. He complains:
Man: An argument isn't just contradiction.

Mr Vibrating: It can be.

Man: No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.

Mr Vibrating: No it isn't.

Man: Yes it is! It's not just contradiction.

Mr Vibrating: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Man: Yes, but that's not just saying 'No it isn't.'

Mr Vibrating: Yes it is!

Man: No it isn't!

Man: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
"Just-so" responses are really a form of gainsaying. The person is simply dismissing the evidence that you have just presented.  As the man in the sketch said, it isn't an argument, but a childish way to escape the evidence that you may present.

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