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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, April 30, 2015

The Problem of Accounting for Morality From Evolution



J.P. Moreland commenting on the problems with attempts to base morality on evolutionary principles:
One could argue that the evolutionary account of morality commits the genetic fallacy—it confuses how morality came about with what morality is and what justifies it. There is a point in this rejoinder. Taken by itself, the evolutionary account of morality is an example of the genetic fallacy. But there are some cases where the genetic fallacy is not really inappropriate. These are cases where the causal account of the origin of an idea serves to discredit that idea in some way. In a trial, if the testimony of a witness comes from someone with bad motives, then one can rule out his testimony because of where it came from. His testimony could still be true, but it is unlikely. In the case of the mirage, one can rule out the veridicality of this experience by citing what caused it (hot air waves), even though it could still be an accurate experience.

If evolutionary theory is all there is to the development of the cosmos from the big bang to man, then any view which postulates the brute existence of morals would seem to do so in an ad hoc way. The general background theory would count against the veridicality of the claim to know that morals exist, even though it would still be logically possible for them to exist. If theism is true, one's background theory explains the existence of human morality. But if one denies God and accepts evolution, then it would seem more reasonable to accept an evolutionary, subjectivist view of morality. The existence of objective values would still be possible, but it would be unlikely and ad hoc, given this background theory.

References

Moreland, James Porter. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. Print. 125.
Photo courtesy John LeMasney and licensed via the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?

Like most people, I grieve for the tremendous tragedy the Nepalese people are suffering after a violent 7.8 earthquake and its aftershocks devastated much of the nation on Saturday. According to the latest reports, over 4,800 people have dies and at least 9,200 have been injured in the disaster.1 Those numbers are staggering and help is desperately needed for the survivors.

Of course, when a tragedy like this happens, questions of why arise. I saw one meme that shows an image of a girl praying with the superimposed text:
 "Dear God, please help the victims of that terrible earthquake — wait, aren't you the one that created it? Why are we asking you for help? This makes no sense!" (Emphasis in the original.)

As with most memes, this is a dramatic oversimplification of an issue that seeks to sound good without thinking through its underlying assumptions.

I don't think there's any doubt that this meme is meant to argue against the existence of God. It seems to be implying at least two reasons to hold that belief in God is unreasonable. The broader question is "Why would a loving God create something as devastating as earthquakes?" But another question may be "Why would a loving God allow such a devastating earthquake strike such an impoverished nation like Nepal where the death toll would most certainly be high?" Let's look at each in turn.

Earthquakes and Life

The causes of earthquakes are studied by geologists in a rather new field of science named plate tectonics. As this LiveScience article explains, scientists believe the Earth's outer layer is like a hard shell broken into several plates that move over the earth's mantle. When the mantle pushes and pulls these plates, they rub against one another in certain ways, causing earthquakes. Sometimes plates are pulled apart, such as the process that forms the deep trenches in the oceans, sometimes they rub sideways like those like in Los Angeles's San Andreas fault, and sometimes one plate is pushed underneath another, like the plates that for the fault in Nepal.2 The plate movement in Nepal is much faster than most other plates on earth, and it is the reason why eight of the ten highest mountains on earth fall within the borders of the small nation.3

As we learn more about the earth's plates and their movements, astrobiologists and geologists are beginning to discover just how crucial plate tectonics is for life to exist. In their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, Drs. Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee note that of all the planets we observe in our solar system, only the earth has signs of shifting plates in the form of mountain ranges and ocean basins.4 Some of the key benefits they list concerning plate tectonics are:5
  • It promotes high levels of global biodiversity as species as they must adapt to different environments which ensures they don't fall extinct easily.
  • It manages the amount chemicals that form carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, helping to keep the earth's temperature stable, keeping liquid water abundant on the planet.
  • It creates ocean basins and lifts dry land out of the sea, allowing advanced life like humans to be land-dwelling animals.
  •  It also recirculates the minerals that erosion has deposited in the sea,
  • Finally, it creates earth's magnetic field, sheltering life from "potentially lethal influx of cosmic radiation, and solar wind "sputtering" (in which particles from the sun hit the upper atmosphere with high energy) might slowly eat away at the atmosphere, as it has on Mars."
Ward and Brownlee conclude that if there were no more earthquakes, the earths temperatures would quickly become unlivable and "planetary calamity for complex life would occur shortly after the cessation of plate movement."6 Earthquakes are necessary for you and me to exist on earth at all.

Why would such a poor country be hit by such a big earthquake?

At this point the atheist may narrow his claim and simply ask "OK, but why would God allow such devastation in an area where there are so many people?" AS I explained above, there are many areas such as the sea floor where these kinds of earthquakes occur and they hurt no one. But land-based earthquakes are necessary to do some of the things I mentioned above. It is no surprise that Nepal is prone to devastating earthquakes. The Himalayas attest to the fault's activity. In fact, the last devastating quake happened in 1934, killing about 10,000 people. Geologist Hongfeng Yang said that geology of that part of the world is "generally consistent and homogenous" and the region should expect a severe earthquake every four to five decades.7

I live in Southern California, with my house very close to the San Andreas Fault. We know that the San Andreas is overdue for a very large earthquake. While we don't know when it will come, it is a recognized danger. Both private citizens and the government have made preparations for when "the big one" hits. In Nepal, the warnings of the 1990's were ignored, as Samrat Upadhyay explained in his recent article in the Los Angeles Times.8 My survival may depend on having emergency supplies in my home if an earthquake hits. But in other areas of the world, planning and infrastructure buttressing may be thwarted not by God but by the corruption or greed of those responsible for such safeguards. While no one can assume there would be no loss of life in any natural disaster, the loss of lives can be significantly mitigated by those who live in the area.

 The meme seeks to blame God for creating earthquakes.  Yet, without them, our world may be a sterile as Mars or as lifeless as Venus. People have the capability to prevent a significant amount of damage and loss of life from the quakes. Perhaps we should begin by investigating why no one acted on the warnings instead of trying to point an uninformed finger at God.

References

1. Watson, Ivan, Jethro Mullen, and Laura Smith-Spark. "Nepal Earthquake: Death Toll Climbs above 4,600." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/28/asia/nepal-earthquake/.
2. Oskin, Becky. "What Is Plate Tectonics?" LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.livescience.com/37706-what-is-plate-tectonics.html.
3. McClain, Sean, and Shirley S. Wang. "How the Nepal Earthquake Happened Like Clockwork." WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-nepal-earthquake-happened-like-clockwork-1430044358.
4. Ward, Peter D., and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. New York: Copernicus, 2000. Kindle Edition. 194.
5. Ward and Brownlee, 194.
6. Ward and Brownlee, 206.
7. McClain and Wang, 2015.
8. Upadhyay, Samrat. "Nepal Earthquake: We Had Been Warned." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0428-upadhyay-nepal-earthquake-20150427-story.html.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rioting, Race, and the Root of Hardship

I watched in horror with much of the country yesterday as groups of young, violent men rioted in the streets, destroyed and looted property, and threw debris at the police. I listened to the residents who were interviewed and who were angry, not only at the violence, but at what they perceive as a system that is opposed to their success.


Over and over again, the common theme in the protesters and the residents' comments was that these people wanted to be heard. I believe that. While professional protesters and the media elevate tensions, one cannot ignore the real feelings of frustration, entrapment, and profiling those that come from the inner city experience throughout their lives. These people scream in the only way they know, with the violence that has surrounded them.

Are the Right People Listening?

I don't condone riots. This kind of lashing out is childish in its makeup. Those that want a better civilization may protest, but they can protest in a more civilized manner, a fact that Martin Luther King, Jr proved during his life. Besides, screaming frustration doesn't fix anything. You have to get the right message to the right listeners in order for it to be effective.

What is the real message? Who are those that should be listening? If I had to identify the primary disadvantage young blacks face today, I would immediately say it's the lack of fathers in black families. While stats like high school graduation rates for young blacks have risen to historic highs, according to the Pew Center,1 the number of black children being raised in an intact household has dropped enormously. NewsOne reports that 72 percent of black children are born into a single parent household.2 That means while one out of four people in the U.S. start their lives in a single-parent household, nearly three out of four black families do. That's a huge discrepancy.

The consequences of fatherless homes are well known. Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor3, twice as likely to be abused, and suffer from higher rates of school failure, behavioral problems, drug use, and loneliness.4 They are 5 times more likely to commit suicide, 32 times more likely to run away, 14 times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers.5

To me, the protests resemble a tantrum. In poorer communities, a single mother must work to provide an income since a father isn't there to do so. This not only puts incredible pressure on her, but forces the kids to raise themselves. Without a father, there is no anchor to propel the family upward economically or to model what it means to be an adult male in society. All of this was clearly laid out in 1965 in the Moynihan Report, diagnosing the problem of black stagnant economic mobility.6

As I write this, the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments from those who seek to redefine marriage in the United States. Yet, for those who grew up in a culture where marriage was considered optional, where children are brought up without both biological parents committed to rearing them, the results are devastating.

There is no easy answer to the problems in places like Baltimore, or Ferguson, or South-Central Los Angeles. That's because there are no fathers to hear the screams of these children. It's easy to condemn the rioters, and their actions need to be condemned, but the problem cannot be solved by a different police force or a different educational system. To nurture civilly, one must nurture the building blocks of civilization itself, and all civilizations are built upon the family.

References

1. Fry, Richard. "U.S. High School Dropout Rate Reaches Record Low, Driven by Improvements among Hispanics, Blacks." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 02 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/02/u-s-high-school-dropout-rate-reaches-record-low-driven-by-improvements-among-hispanics-blacks/.
2. NewsOneStaff. “72 Percent Of Black Kids Raised By Single Parent, 25% Overall In U.S.” NewsOne. Interactive Media, 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. http://newsone.com/1195075/children-single-parents-u-s-american/
3. “Statistics and Data on the Consequences of Father Absence and the Benefits of Father Involvement.” National Fatherhood Initiative. National Fatherhood Initiative, 2014. Web. http://www.fatherhood.org/statistics-on-father-absence-download
4. Wilcox, Brad. “Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences.” National Marriage Project. National Marriage Project, 16 Aug. 2011. Web. http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/WMM_summary.pdf
5. O'Block, Robert. “Roots of Uncertainty.” Annals of Psychotherapy and Investigative Health, Spring 2008. American Psychotherapy Association. Web. http://www.annalsofpsychotherapy.com/articles/spring08.php?topic=article9
6. Moynihan, Daniel P. The Negro Family: The Case For National Action. Rep. Washington, DC: Office of Policy Planning and Research United States Department of Labor, 1965. Print.
Image courtesy Telefonkiosk - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Understanding Eastern Orthodoxy (podcast)


A surprising trend among a segment of young Evangelicals is their conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is probably one of the most misunderstood divisions within Christianity. This class will compare and contrast the beliefs of Christian Evangelicalism with Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as provide you with ways to defend your Evangelical convictions when discussing the Bible with an Orthodox friend.
If you haven't yet subscribed to the podcast, you can do so via iTunes or by RSS.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scholars Agree: Luke and Acts are History

Among skeptics there's a rather vocal contingent that wishes to classify Jesus as mythical and the events of the Apostles as charades. However, those whose profession it is to understand the documents like the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts hold a much different view.

In his monumental commentary on the book of Acts, Dr. Craig Keener looked at proposals for the book of Acts to be considered within the genre of novel (as a fictional story), of epic (like Homer's Iliad), as a travel narrative, and as a pure biography. Keener then explains that the best understanding of Acts is as a book narrating history. He is not alone in this conclusion, as he writes:
The dominant view today, earlier argued by such Lukan scholars as Martin Dibelius and Henry Cadbury, is that Acts is a work of ancient historiography. As Johnson notes in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious and, to most scholars, compelling: One sampling of recent proposals concerning Acts genre is instructive: two proponents for Acts as a novel, two for epic, four for biography, and ten for various kinds of history. More examples could be listed in each category, but the sampling is nevertheless helpful for getting a sense of proportion: even in a list emphasizing the diversity of proposals, history appears five times as often as the novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel. A similar sampling finds history the most common proposal, with eight examples, and biography the second most common, with two examples, and lists five examples of all other genre proposals put together. Many scholars most conversant in ancient historiography would also concur with Hengel and Schwemer that those who deny Acts as acceptable first-century historiography need to read more ancient historiography "and less hypercritical and scholastic secondary literature."1
In the footnote to that last quote, he explains that Hengel and Schwemer complain "most NT scholars cannot handle the primary sources well enough to discern accurate from inaccurate scholarship and that 'it is easier to keep hawking around scholastic clichés and old prejudices pseudo-critically and without closer examination, than to occupy oneself with the varied ancient sources which are often difficult to interpret and remote.'"

The Jesus-myth crowd is actually in worse shape than those that Hengel and Schwemer complain against, since they are hawking around populist, not scholastic, clichés fueled only by their bias and not by the examination of the evidence.

References

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.81-82, footnote 10.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Muslim Root of the Armenian Genocide

When we hear the accounts of oppression and slaughter coming out of the Middle East we're horrified. I recently read of one such story where a wedding party had just returned to the family's house from the church ceremony. A band of armed terrorists awaited them there, attacking the guests and the wedding party itself, robbing them of their belongings. When they reached the bride, they stole all she had, raped her, and left. Weddings then began to be held secretly in homes for fear of becoming targets or because the Muslims would kidnap the bride prior to the wedding, asking for ransom for her return.1



You may think that stories like this come from recent news reports. But, this story isn't about a group like ISIS seeking to exterminate Christians in Iraq. This was a common occurrence for Middle Eastern Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire from the 1500s until its collapse in the twentieth century.  Today, Armenians the world over are remembering the one hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide's beginning, with ceremonies, gatherings and stories. One hundred years ago today, the Young Turks, while looking to establish a  more modern, more European-like society also began a mass extermination that took approximately 1.5 million lives.

How could such a thing happen? How could a government seek to destroy an indigenous portion of its population? As Dr. Gregory H. Stanton has taught, there are eight stages people groups are subjected to that point to genocide.2 While the Armenian Genocide cannot be classified as exclusively religiously-motivated, it is the teaching of Islam that clearly set the stage.

The Ottomans, following Muslim Sharia law, had a policy of dhimmi, which meant that non-Muslims would have to pay a tribute tax (jizya) and hold second-class status in their own lands. Through Islamic law, the Armenians were classified, symbolized, dehumanized, and polarized, four key stages that Stanton identifies. Ramsay's report, written nearly two decades before the beginning of the exterminations, reports Christians were viewed as unworthy of even being converted to Islam for centuries:
They were dogs and pigs; and their nature was to be Christians, to be spat upon, if their shadow darkened a Turk, to be outraged, to be the mats on which he wiped the mud from his feet. Conceive the inevitable result of centuries of slavery, of subjection to insult and scorn, centuries in which nothing that belonged to the Armenian, neither his property, his house, his life, his person, nor his family, was sacred or safe from violence – capricious, unprovoked violence – to resist which by violence meant death! 3
The New York Times agrees that there was already "a policy of extermination directed against the Christians of Asia Minor" in place well before the Young Turks began their purging of Armenians.4 The Armenians had subsisted in this manner for so long because of their acquiescence to their Muslim conquerors. Ramsay continues:
Every one knew that any sign of sprit or courage would be almost certain to draw down immediate punishment… [The Armenians] are charged, by the voice of almost every traveler, with timidity and even cowardice; but the for centuries they had the choice offered them between submission and death. So long as they were perfectly submissive, they were allowed to live in comparative quiet; so long as they had money, they could purchase immunity from or redress for, insult. Naturally and necessarily the bravest were killed off, they that could most readily cringe and submit survived, and all efforts were directed at acquiring money, as the only way of providing safety for family and self."5
However, as Taner Akcam writes, in the nineteenth century things began to change. "The Christian minorities, infected with the spirit of progress and freedom blowing in from Europe, began to revolt against political and economic oppression and demand equality, followed by autonomy, and eventually territory. The Ottomans generally met these demands with violent suppression and terror."6

When The Young Turks, a group that sought to create a constitutional government in Turkey instead of a monarchy grabbed power, they provided the other four steps necessary for the genocide: an organized state, preparation, extermination, and denial.7 To this day, the Turkish government denies that any type of genocide has occurred, even though it was recognized by the United Nations thirty years ago.

Christianity upholds the equality of all people. We are all made in the image of God and all worthy of respect. Christianity teaches that we are to pray for our enemies, that we are not to take vengeance but it is up to God to repay. Islam teaches the subjugation and separation of non-Muslims.  It shouldn't be a surprise that horrendous atrocities can be cultivated in a culture where Sharia principles have been lived out for centuries.

References

1. Ramsay, William Mitchell. Impressions of Turkey during Twelve Years' Wanderings. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1897. Print. 208.
2. Stanton, Gregory H. "Genocide Watch." Genocide Watch. Genocide Watch, 1988. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/8stagesofgenocide.html.
3. Ramsay, 1897, 207-208
4. Kifner, John. "Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview." The New York Times. The New York Times, 2007. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/timestopics/topics_armeniangenocide.html.
5. Ramsay, 1897. 208.
6. Akçam, Taner. A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. New York: Metropolitan, 2006. Print. 27.
7. "Armenian Genocide History." Armenian Genocide. Armenian Genocide History, 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.armenocide.am/Genocide_history.html.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Beware of Becoming a Christian Hermit!

In 1694, a group of forty Bible believers headed to an area known as Wissahickon, on the outskirts of what was then the civilized area of Pennsylvania, seeking God. Led by Johannes Kelpius, the group had traveled from Germany in order to prepare for what they had anticipated as the end of the world.1 The group was motivated by Jesus's second coming, which they believed would happen soon. They withdrew from greater society, planted their own food and built a common hall to hold worship, with a tower to spot signs of Christ's second coming.2 Kelpius himself supposedly lived and meditated in a cave.3

Cave of Kelpius (image courtesy USHistory.org)

Known colloquially as the "Hermits of the Wissahickon," the sect spent their time:
hosting public services, bloodletting Germantown residents, studying religion, observing the stars and planets, and practicing alchemy and numerology. One of the focal points of their worshipping practices was music, and most of the sect's members were musicians, including Kelpius, who some consider the first Pennsylvania composer.4
Of course, the end of the world didn't arrive in 1694. It didn't come in 1700. It didn't even arrive in 1708 when Johannes Kelpius passed away. The remaining members stayed for some time, but after a decade, the sect had disbanded entirely. Today, there is nothing left of the sect or their structures. However, the cave still remains, which you can visit if you can locate it within Fairmont Park in Philadelphia.

I bring up this sliver of history because I see so many Christians acting in a way similar to the hermits of Wissahickon. I don't mean that people go out to the wilderness and build monasteries. But we Christians do cut ourselves off intellectually from the wider world. Sure, we work for secular companies, attend state schools, and entertain ourselves with movies and television like anyone else, but how often do we interact with or challenge the worldview that powers our culture today? How many churches are equipping their parishioners to engage with others about their beliefs?

Many Christians today are content to listen to Christian radio, attend weekly services that focus on worship music and talk of how we are living in the end times. That's all well and fine, but the church was never called to live in a bubble. We are commissioned to make disciples of all people, and that means doing the hard work of understanding the beliefs of others while also being able to share Christianity as the solution to the world's problems. We need to be able to explain to our friends and families why same-sex marriage is wrong or why the threat to religious liberty is a fundamental threat to our culture. We need to be able to offer reasons why God exists or how the foundation of Christianity is the fact of the resurrection. How many churches equip their congregations in this way? Far too few.

Christianity has been a world-changing faith ever since the disciples began following Jesus's command to make disciples. We've saved lives, improved nations, civilized barbarous peoples, stopped infanticides, advanced science, stood for equality, and comforted those everyone else rejected. We need to continue that legacy. We need to break out of our holy huddles and begin to be faithful to the call that our Lord gave us. Otherwise, we might end up just as forgotten as the Hermits of Wissahickon.

References

1. Borneman, Robert. "The Wissahickon Hermits." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 1 Apr. 1986. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1986/issue10/1027.html.
2. Dicciani, Kevin. "The 'rapture' That Never Came: The Story of 'The Hermits of the Wissahickon'" Chestnut Hill Local. Chestnut Hill Local, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. http://www.chestnuthilllocal.com/2015/04/22/the-rapture-that-never-came-the-story-of-the-hermits-of-the-wissahickon/.
3. Avery, Ron. "Cave of Kelpius." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, 1999. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. http://www.ushistory.org/oddities/kelpius.htm.
4. Dicciani, 2015.
Picture courtesy of ushistory.org

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Biology Cannot Account for Personhood


What makes a person? A New York judge has caused a lot of confusion on that score in the last couple of days. After hearing arguments by representatives of the Nonhuman Rights Project, who are seeking the "freedom" of two chimps held at the Stony Brook University lab. Upon hearing the petition, Manhattan Judge Barbara Jaffe issued a writ of habeas corpus, which according to Science magazine reporter David Grimm who has been reporting on the case, "typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention."1 The action by Judge Jaffe would have been the first time non-humans were recognized as legal persons. However, Jaffe quickly amended her court order, striking out the phrase "writ of habeas corpus," according to updates of the story.2

Are chimps persons? What defines personhood? Groups like Planned Parenthood have gone out of their way to make sure that unborn children are not defined as persons. They try to justify that claim by pointing to things like the ability to have complex thoughts or limited brain development. Those kinds of limitations are supposedly what keep unborn children from being seen as persons. Yet, the chimps at Stony Brook University will never have the capacity for abstract reasoning. They may feel pain, but they will never be able to internalize the concept of pain as an idea in and of itself. So, why should people petition for the recognition of chimps as legal persons when the argument can be made much more persuasively that human fetuses are human persons?

Reducing People to Biological Machines

Much of the confusion on what properties define personhood is the shortsightedness of relying on science to answer such questions. Science has been a great tool and has helped us understand things like human development in-vitro. It has also shown us that there are similarities in the way certain processes of biology function in both humans and animals. We share more of these similarities with some animals, such as chimps and apes, than we do with others, such as spiders or earthworms. But is a description of the machinery of our bodies all that's required to determine personhood or is there something more?

I think there is. In fact, biology isn't the necessary component in what makes a being a person at all. What if a human being is not being kept alive by his or her biology by purely by mechanical processes?  If someone has multiple artificial components surgically transplanted into them, does it make them less a person than another without the implants? Of course not. Even if we could one day replace all of that individual's body with machines, it wouldn't change the personhood of the individual.

Personhood is Immaterial

It isn't the biology that matters in the question of personhood. It is the fact that persons share certain non-physical attributes, such as the ability to love, to reason, to recognize other persons as persons and to have communion with God. Those are what make a person a person. Basically, we reflect certain attributes of God, attributes that are immaterial. I want to be clear here, though. I am not saying that these attributes need to be active for personhood to obtain. If that were the case, those under anesthesia or in a coma would not be considered persons. It would disqualify some with significant mental disabilities.  Rather, personhood recognizes the being as having the potential for these kinds of things, even if they aren't fully realized.

Peter Kreeft sums it up appropriately:
The reason we should love, respect, and not kill human beings is because they are persons, i.e., subjects, souls, "I's", made in the image of God Who is I AM. We revere the person, not the functioning; the doer, not the doing. If robots could do all that persons can do behaviorally, they would still not be persons. Mere machines cannot be persons. They may function as persons, but they do not understand that they do not have freedom, or free will to choose what they do. They obey their programming without free choice. They are artifacts, and artifacts are not persons. Persons are natural, not artificial. They develop from within (like fetuses!); artifacts are made from without.3
As long as the broader culture looks to biology to try and define personhood, confusion will continue. Personhood is something bigger than biology, though. We need to expand our thinking to include the non-physical aspects of what makes  each of us persons, lest we lose the concept of personhood altogether.

References

1. Grimm, David. "Updated: Judge's Ruling Grants Legal Right to Research Chimps." Science Insider. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 23 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2015/04/judge-s-ruling-grants-legal-right-research-chimps.
2. Calamur, Krishnadev. "N.Y. Judge Amends 'Habeas Corpus' Order For Chimps." NPR. NPR, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/04/22/401519113/n-y-judge-amends-habeas-corpus-order-for-chimps.
3. Kreeft, Peter. "Human Personhood Begins at Conception." Peter Kreeft. Peter Kreeft, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/personhood.htm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Abortion, Science, and Junk Media

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times carried a front page article decrying the "junk science" that it claims is being used to limit abortion across several states. With the embarrassingly biased headline, "Abortion restrictions relying on 'junk science,' rights advocates say" reporter Maria L. La Ganga writes about how the Montana legislature recently passed a law requiring anesthesia for the fetus undergoing the trauma of being ripped apart by late-term abortion. She also points to Arizona and Arkansas, both of which require abortionists to tell women requesting drug-induced abortions that they may have options if they change their mind early enough.


She then opines:
The 2015 legislative session is shaping up to be a primer in what abortion rights advocates call "junk science," with elected officials across the country passing new laws based on theories that have been called into question or debunked by the wider medical community.

Pointing to bills recently passed in the states mentioned, as well as in Oklahoma and Kansas, Guttmacher Institute policy analyst Elizabeth Nash said: "We're seeing more unsubstantiated science. The problem is that legislators are buying into it and using it.".1
I wonder why such measures provoke so much concern in La Ganga? She goes on to quote from a 2005 article on the Journal of the American Medical Association, but doesn't bother to interview any doctors who are carrying out current research, unlike a similar New York Times article that at least interviewed Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, who is working specifically on this question.2 She simply notes that no further studies have been published.

What Counts as Definitive?

However, the JAMA study she references isn't quite as definitive as the Times article suggests. It is based on the assumption that the experience of pain requires certain brain connections, called thalamocortical pathways be working, which according to the article:
...may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks' gestational age, based on the limited data available. Small-scale histological studies of human fetuses have found that thalamocortical fibers begin to form between 23 and 30 weeks' gestational age, but these studies did not specifically examine thalamocortical pathways active in pain perception.3
Notice that the authors try to be clear that we don't have a definitive picture as we only are looking at "limited data" and "small-scale studies of human fetuses." I actually have no reason to doubt that these brain pathways do develop at the time the study suggests. The problem becomes the assumption that those developments are required to feel pain, which is what Dr. Anand has published. 4

Ignoring Established Science

While the pain issue is interesting and it may or may not be true, here's my primary gripe with LaGanga's article: in supposedly trying to promote providing women with strong science to make their reproductive choices, the pro-abortion industry has consistently lied about one of the most well-established scientific facts we know, that the fetus is a human being. When we speak of the unborn, we must classify them as humans. There is no property that a human being has that a fetus does not. No one in the medical establishment can deny that every single human being was a fetus at the beginning of his or her development. Humans are not metamorphic animals, like caterpillars or tadpoles.5

Even though the science is clear that a fetus is an unborn human being, that established science doesn't sit well with the abortion groups who wish to destroy them for any reason they choose. When the issue is looked at in this manner, the laws opting for caution don't seem to be too far-fetched at all.

At the end of the article, LaGanga asks Planned Parenthood representative Rachel Sussman of her opinion. She said, "You cannot exist in a world where you care about women's health and safety and require doctors to tell women things that are medically untrue." Right. So why does Planned Parenthood persist in lying about the humanity of the baby? Perhaps it is because they care more about their profits and their political power than anything an ultrasound can show.

References

1. LaGanga, Maria L. "Abortion Restrictions Relying on 'junk Science,' Rights Advocates Say." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.http://www.latimes.com/science/la-na-abortion-junk-science-20150420-story.html#page=1
2. Belluck, Pam. "Complex Science at Issue in Politics of Fetal Pain." The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/health/complex-science-at-issue-in-politics-of-fetal-pain.html.
3. Lee, S. J. "Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 294.8 (2005): 947-54. Web.
4. Anand, K. J. S. "Consciousness, Cortical Function, and Pain Perception in Nonverbal Humans." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 30.01 (2007): 82. Web
5. Bishop, Cory. "What Is Metamorphosis?" Integrative and Comparative Biology. Oxford University Press, 6 June 2006. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/content/46/6/655.full.
Image courtesy ceejayoz - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceejayoz/3579010939/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why God is the Foundation of American Liberty


In the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance has been a part of American life since 1942 when congress passed the Flag Code into law, describing the proper ways to display and treat the nation's flag. 1 At that time, the pledge did not contain the words "under God" in it. It also originally stipulated that citizens should say the pledge with their right hands outstretched toward the flag. However, given that salute's eerie similarity to the Nazi salute, the wartime congress quickly amended the law to have citizens place their right hands over their hearts. 2

It wasn't until 1953, when Democratic Congressman Louis Rabaut and Republican Senator Homer Ferguson introduced a bill to congress to amend the Pledge to include the words "under God" that the national debate was brought center stage. During this time, many different voices contributed to the debate. While a lot of media today explain away the addition as simply a knee-jerk response to those "Godless communists" in the Soviet Union, I think there is much more to the addition than that. Several civic groups, most noticeably the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus had decided to include the phrase in their recitation of the Pledge a few years prior, modeling it after Abraham Lincoln's use of the term in his Gettysburg address.3 Other groups began to do likewise.

God and the Constitution

In general, the question of how God relates to American government was swirling at the time. In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court had just decided a case (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306) stating school children should be excused from attending public school for reasons of religious education or religious observance. Justice William O. Douglas, in writing for the majority said:
The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concern or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly…

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state [343 U.S. 306, 314] encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.4

Liberty Relies on the Natural Rights that God Bestows

As one can see, it was widely recognized that the United States was a nation founded upon certain principles, and those principles had at their root the belief that God exists and he is the source of those natural rights that this country holds so dear.

Such a concept shouldn't be shocking to anyone who has read the Declaration of independence. Even though Thomas Jefferson was a deist, he recognized that God alone grounds our rights. In writing about the revolution, he said "The god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."5 Jefferson in another letter goes on to reinforce this view. When speaking on the issue of slavery, one that had begun to divide the nation, he said:
And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever. 6
Because the liberties of Americans depend on God and the foundational recognition that all governments must be held to this standard, which is a standard above themselves, the pressure increased to add the words "under God" to the pledge.

A New Birth of Freedom

On Feb 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower attended a service at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where he heard Rev. George Docherty deliver a sermon entitled "A New Birth of Freedom," highlighting this distinction and drawing on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. While Docherty did say "I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity," to assume that was the focus of his reasoning would be to do him and President Eisenhower a disservice. You may real Docherty's entire sermon here, but for conciseness, here is the relevant portion:
There is no religious examination on entering the United States of America- no persecution because a man's faith differs even from the Christian religion. So, it must be 'under God' to include the great Jewish Community, and the people of the Moslem faith, and the myriad of denominations of Christians in the land.

What then of the honest atheist?

Philosophically speaking, an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. Now don't misunderstand me. This age has thrown up a new type of man-we call him a secular; he does not believe in God; not because he is a wicked man, but because he is dialectically honest, and would rather walk with the unbelievers than sit hypocritically with people of the faith. These men, and many have I known, are fine in character; and in their obligations as citizens and good neighbors, quite excellent.

But they really are spiritual parasites. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I'm simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other. These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization, and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow. The dilemma of the secular is quite simple.

He cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic.

And if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life.

In Jefferson's phrase, if we deny the existence of the god who gave us life how can we live by the liberty he gave us at the same time? This is a God-fearing nation. On our coins, bearing the imprint of Lincoln and Jefferson are the words "In God we trust." Congress is opened with prayer. It is upon the Holy Bible the President takes his oath of office. Naturalized citizens, when they take their oath of allegiance, conclude solemnly, with the words "so help me God."

This is the issue we face today: A freedom that respects the rights of the minorities, but is defined by a fundamental belief in God. A way of life that sees man, not as the ultimate outcome of a mysterious concatenation of evolutionary process, but a sentient being created by God and seeking to know His will, and "Whose soul is restless till he rest in God."

In this land, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, for we are one nation indivisible under God, and humbly as God has given us the light we seek liberty and justice for all. This quest is not only within these United States, but to the four corners of the glove wherever man will lift up his head toward the vision of his true and divine manhood.7
After that sermon, President Eisenhower went to congress and asked them to reintroduce the amendment to the Flag Code, which he signed into law on May 28, 1954.

References

1. Streufert, Duane. "United States Code." USFlag.org. Duane Streufert, 8 July 1995. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://www.usflag.org/uscode36.html.
2. "Historical Timeline - Under God in the Pledge." ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://undergod.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000029.
3. "Historical Timeline", 2015.
4. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). United States Supreme Court. 28 Apr. 1952. Web. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=343&invol=306
5. Looney, J. Jefferson, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. Princeton: Princeton University http://www.monticello.org/Press, 2004. Web.
6. Looney, 2004.
7. Docherty, George. "A New Birth of Freedom." Virtue, Liberty, and Independence. City-On-A-Hill, 7 Feb. 1954. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://liberty-virtue-independence.blogspot.com/2012/02/new-birth-of-freedom-rev-george.html.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Evil of Scientology (video)



You've probably seen the commercials for Dianetics or walked past some folks offering a free personality test. Both are ways to entice you into the Church of Scientology. But the sheen of the commercials hide a deadly secret that we must warn our friends and family against. Watch this comprehensive video where Lenny exposes the background and the insidious nature of Scientology, while warning believers about how easily duped one can become when facing the tactics of the cults.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Answering "You'd be Muslim if You Were Born in Morocco"


Have you ever tried to argue for the truth of Christianity and had a person object that "The only reason you're a Christian is because you were born in a Christian country. If you were born in a Muslim nation, you'd be Muslim"? It's a common charge that sounds like it makes sense, but as Alvin Plantinga shows below, nothing follows from it. Plantinga writes:
There is an oft-repeated pluralistic argument that seems to be designed to appeal to reliabilist intuitions. The conclusion of this argument is not always clear, but here is its premise, in Hick's words:
For it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.
As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right. Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo. But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it? Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable? Surely not. Furthermore, self-referential problems once more 100m; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.

For suppose we concede that if I had been born of Muslim parents in Morocco rather than Christian parents in Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. (For one thing, I probably wouldn't believe that I was born in Michigan.) The same goes for the pluralist. Pluralism isn't and hasn't been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn't have been a pluralist. Does it follow that he shouldn't be a pluralist or that his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process? I doubt it. 1
Plantinga clearly points out the propensity to identify with a belief because one is born into a certain culture does nothing to prove the truth or falsity of that belief. Sure, if I were to  be born in aboriginal Australia five thousand years ago, I probably wouldn't believe men could ever construct flying machines, but such a belief would be untrue.

Further, it doesn't even follow that I would continue to be a Muslim if I was born into a Muslim culture. I have several friends who were born and raised Muslim, and yet they converted to Christianity when they saw its truthfulness. Thus, the objection falls flat on every point.

References

1. Plantinga, Alvin. "A Defense of Religious Exclusivism." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1987. 651. Print.

Friday, April 17, 2015

True Beliefs and The Truman Show

The concept of belief has been twisted and distorted to mean something different than what had been traditionally understood. Belief is simply what one holds to be real, what one takes as true. It is just as proper to say that I believe my favorite team will win the championship as it is to say I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. I may have different kinds of evidence for claim number two than claim number one, and I may have a different level of certainty for each, but if I hold each proposition as true, then each forms a belief.


The common perception today is when one references beliefs that relate to certain metaphysical claims like the existence of God or the foundation of morality, belief is nothing more than a preference. Such views are mistaken. Because one's view of reality is different, one's beliefs are different, and that matters quite a bit.

But how can we as Christians communicate the importance of holding true beliefs? Getting someone who holds a different view to understand just what Christians mean when they say belief in God is objectively true or that right and wrong really make a difference can be frustrating. In teaching about spiritual matters, Jesus often used situational stories, called parables, to make his point. Like Jesus, we can use examples to help us illustrate our points. One of the better places to draw upon stories that would be understandable and relatable to most people is Hollywood.

Leveraging secular films to convey biblical truth may seem strange at first, but it shouldn't. All people struggle with the same "big questions" that ground their worldviews: What's the meaning of life? Does it matter what I do on this earth? Should I be true to my beliefs? What is my final destiny? Hollywood has explored these questions almost since the motion picture was invented. While they don't get everything right, you can find real gems in Hollywood blockbusters.

We Should Desire to Know What's True

We can see the value of true beliefs by watching The Truman Show. In Peter Weir's film, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, who had been adopted by a television company so they could film his every reaction to the scripted life they created. Truman is real, but he has grown up in a false world. Friends and family are scripted actors. His town is a gigantic soundstage with the capacity to manufacture weather and change night into day. Since Truman doesn't realize that he's being manipulated, he thinks he's living in the real world. Yet something is gnawing at him. He senses that things in his little town of Seahaven are too perfect and yet too restricting. Living here is safe, but it isn't living. Ultimately, Truman would rather die than not experience the greater reality of life in all its gritty messiness.

In the climax of the movie, Truman is offered the safety and security of staying inside his bubble, but he would have no part of it. He would rather face the difficulties and the unknowns of a world that he never has experienced than live in a world system that isn't real. We hope and cheer for Truman because we instinctively know that being lied to is worse than whatever struggles lie ahead. Manufactured worlds are for hamsters, not humans.

Seek the Truth

The belief that Truman had in the film is that the world was different than the one presented to him. He believed the world was a bigger place than the one presented to him, and he sought answers to those things that didn't make sense to him. While the film doesn't show us this, I imagine that Truman would be quite shocked at the dirty, dangerous nature of the real world. I can't imagine the mental anguish someone in such a situation would feel as they reflect upon all the lost years and dreams of being deceived into believing in a world that wasn't true. However, he doesn't stop searching because the truth is worthwhile, even if it ends up being unpleasant.

Christianity holds that the truth matters. Paul encourages the Thessalonian church to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21, ESV). As I've said before, Christianity even offers a way to investigate its claims. That gives every person a way to check out the truth claims of the Christian faith. If the world is really the way the Bible says it is, then to not believe so is akin to running on a hamster wheel. It may seem fun for a while, but you are really going nowhere.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should Christians be Ashamed to Believe in Hell?

I recently read a question that was posted by a non-believer to a board that both Christians and atheists follow. There, someone posted a simple question: "Christians, Do you ever feel ashamed that you believe in Hell?" The question is a provocative one. It seems to assume that the doctrine of hell is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Yet, there are Christians who may never have felt uncomfortable with the concept of hell react to such a charge in just that way.



But there's no good reason to be embarrassed about the concept of hell. If one starts with the premise that God exists, then hell becomes something that makes a lot of sense. I'd like to examine both sides of this issue to show just why Hell offers nothing to be embarrassed about.

Shame Implies Moral Failing

What is it about the idea of hell that makes people feel ashamed? Shame is a feeling normally associated with moral failing, that is it is properly invoked when the person believes or does something that's in error. For example, one may be ashamed that he or she didn't know the answer to an elementary math question. The implication here is that the person's education was deficient. However, I don't think the questioner has this kind of shame is directly in view. Because he addressed the question to Christians, the fact that they believe in Hell as a real place would follow. It's a belief that has been established since the beginning of the faith. To invoke that kind of shame, the questioner could have just as easily asked "Do you ever feel ashamed that you believe in God?" Notice that the response Christians would have to that question would be different; it doesn't illicit shame in and of itself. Therefore, I think the shame that is meant by the questioner is different than a shame of ignorance.

It seems clear that the shame implied by the question is one of moral failing. The questioner is implying that by believing in hell, the Christian is holding to something that is unconscionable, the torment of other human beings in the afterlife. The unstated premise is that such a view is itself immoral. But is it? If one holds to the atheist caricature of hell being a place of torment for those who don't "believe like me" or "believe the right beliefs," then perhaps shame would come into play. But that's a straw man that doesn't resemble the Christian doctrine of hell at all.

The Need for Justice

Because the questioner presupposes the belief in Hell can be something to be ashamed about, he is implying some type of moral standard in his question itself. Yet, moral standards mean that good and evil exist. To be ashamed of believing that people will be tormented is saying that tormenting people is wrong. It shouldn't be done. But, that forces the question, "What should be done to the person who inflicts torment on another person?" If inflicting torment is wrong, then shouldn't the person inflicting torment be punished for his or her wrongdoing? It wouldn't be enough to simply remove the tormentor out of range of the victim. That isn't justice. The victim's suffering requires that the perpetrator be held accountable for his deeds.

Christianity holds that God is a just God as well as a loving one. That means that God must deal with those individuals who have done evil in the world. Think of Stalin. He was a tyrant who was responsible for the deaths of millions of lives, yet he lived comfortably in power until the end of his days. Isn't the idea of Stalin getting away with his crimes an example of the moral failing of the way this world works? Hell appeals to a concept of moral rightness and justice. Rejection of hell implies the moral principles that the questioner wishes to draw upon are themselves nonbinding. They can be dodged without repercussions. And if they can be dodged without repercussions, then why should anyone adhere to them?

Of course, Christians talk about hell in a much larger context than only the destination of the most evil. God never intended for people to go to hell, but because of his love and justice, he must quarantine them there. You may read more about that here. But for my purposes in this article, the idea that there is a hell is nothing that should cause feelings of shame on the part of the believer. A world in which a perpetrator never gets caught in this life and then simply ceases to be is unfair to his victims. ;It minimizes the real suffering and pain they've experienced ass simply a part of an uncaring, unjust world. If there is no hell, then the universe itself is unfair. The atheist may choose to believe in such a world, but they have no grounds upon which to claim that Christians should be ashamed. If there's no justice, there's no need for shame.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Examining the Atheist Ten Commandments

Last year, atheists Le Bayer and John Figdor ran a contest that asked atheists to rethink the Ten Commandments and suggest their own precepts that they believe people should follow. The contest offered $10,000 divided between the ten winners for the "crowdsourced Rethink of the Ten Commandments."1

I think the idea that Le Bayer and Figdor came up with was a genius one in the fact that it aptly promoted their book, Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart.



Crowdsourcing the Ten Commandments doesn't strike me as the most appropriate way to discern moral precepts. All one has to do is look at the horrendous issues with the crowdsourced Wikipedia to see that having a huge amount of contributors doesn't guarantee the truth will be produced. Wikipedia suffers from bias in many of its historically and politically focused articles. Also, edit wars, where different people with specific agendas will change or undo another's edit of an article to advance their own agendas are a continuing problem around the world.2 Yet, even here Wikipedia has an advantage as it is supposed to be focusing on factual data while ethical precepts fall into the category of prescriptions for human actions, whether we like them or wish to follow them.

Commandments with Assumptions

There are a few things that strike me about the ten beliefs that AddictingInfo calls "non-commandments."3 One that jumps out clearly, though, is that they seem to contradict one another. For example, the first two beliefs (you can read the entire list here) are "#1 - Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence" and "#2 -Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true." So far, so good. I don't have any problem with either of those. However, the next commandment reads, "#3 - The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world" and offers the explanation that "Every time humans have questions this method is used to solve them. If we don't know, we don't know but instead of making up the answer we use this method to reach a conclusion/answer." Well, this claim is demonstrably false. As I've written on before, science cannot answer questions of a moral nature. For example, science can never answer "should we clone a human being."

Science also falls short on answering questions like "Why does the natural world exist at all?" How do we get a something out of a nothing? While folks like Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss try to redefine the concept of nothing so they can escape the implication of God, their efforts fall flat. The universe itself—traditionally referred to as the cosmos—needs explaining, just as one cannot look at the liquid inside a bucket and hope to explain how the bucket itself came to be. The bucket must precede its content or the liquid cannot be contained. Similarly, the explanation for the natural order of the universe cannot be found appealing to natural laws or processes. Those are the very things needing an explanation.

Contradiction of Belief

Because this third belief holds very specific assumptions about the world and what's real, it is actually violating the previous two precepts. Would anyone who holds to this belief be willing to alter his or her view with new evidence? Given the problems with relying on science to explain the natural world as a whole, will those who cling to this third precept be open minded enough that they would jettison it, even if it contradicts their desired belief?

Another inherent contradiction can be found in the last statements. Three of them propose moral standards by which all people should adhere:
  • #7 - Treat others as you would want them to treat you and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  • #8 - We have the responsibility to consider others including future generations.
  • #10 - Leave the world a better place than you found it.
While the last two seem a bit redundant, all of these appeal to an idea of obligation to someone other than yourself. There is a set standard that one must live by, and that is to put another person before yourself. First of all, how did the person discover this? Was it via science? Did they boil something in a flask for a certain amount of time and make measurements against a control group? If these precepts weren't discovered via the scientific method, is there another reliable way to discover real truths about our natural world?

Secondly, there's one belief that lands smack dab in the middle of these platitudes: "#9 - There is no one right way to live." Well, commandments numbered 7, 8, and 10 seem to argue differently. In fact, publishing this list at all argues for a certain perspective, as does the book that Le Bayer and Figdor are hoping to sell. I can't see how one who holds to this belief can assent to any of the others as in any way binding. In fact, if you are to take this statement as something everyone should believe to be true, which is exactly the way the list is intended, then one should ask "why should I believe this?" What if my way of living is to reject the idea that there is no one right way to live? What now?

While the idea of crafting a new Ten Commandments seems intriguing, one can quickly see that without anchoring the authority of commandments on a transcendent God, they become void of any real meaning or force. The conclusion is obvious, but I wonder if atheists are willing to be open minded enough to accept it.

References

1. "The Rethink Prize - Atheist Mind Humanist Heart." Atheist Mind Humanist Heart. Mind Heart Project LLC, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. http://www.atheistmindhumanistheart.com/the-rethink-prize/.
2. R.L.W., G.D. AND L.P. "Edit Wars." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 05 Aug. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/08/daily-chart-1.
3. Fletcher, Joe. "Atheists Rewrite The Ten Commandments - They're Much Better Than The Originals." Addicting Info. Addicting Info, 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. http://www.addictinginfo.org/2014/12/22/atheist-ten-commandments/.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Jesus and Logical Fallacies: The Genetic Fallacy

Technology can be a great tool and certain technological achievements have made huge impacts on humanity. The printing press helped usher in the Renaissance and the steam engine fueled the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of the Internet, humanity has entered into the Information Age1, one which pundits lauded as a golden time where an explosion in knowledge would help more people to become more intelligent. However, as anyone who has engaged in an online debate will tell you, that isn't necessarily the case. There's a whole lot of junk out there as well, and it takes a thoughtful person to sift through the arguments.



One mistake I see constantly is a person who rejects any religious claim and asserts that a certain proposition must be right because it is scientific. Such people ridicule religious thought as "ancient" or "superstitious" because it is old or simply part of a traditional faith culture.  Scientists are the ones who really know; and we need to trust them because they are the unbiased discoverers of truth.

Such charges are nonsense. Assuming science can be the ultimate arbitrar for truth is a form of scientism that ignores the fact that scientists are just as biased as anyone else. Those that assume such are making a mistake in thinking, one that even Jesus faced in his day.

Assuming Error Because of the Source

In John chapter 7, during the Feast of Booths, the Chief Priests and the Pharisees had sent its officers out to arrest Jesus, but the officers came back without him. John records the scene:
The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why did you not bring him?" The officers answered, "No one ever spoke like this man!" The Pharisees answered them, "Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed." Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" They replied, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee."2
The Jewish Leadership is arguing that Jesus must be lying about his speaking on God's behalf because he comes out of Galilee, and they tell Nicodemus, that "no prophet arises from Galilee." This is a logical mistake known as the genetic fallacy, which is when you don't look at the merits of the argument, but you simply dismiss it because if its source. It's like arguing that because my 2nd grade math teacher was placed in jail for perjury, I shouldn't believe his claim that 2+2=4.

Here, the officers are reporting that Jesus's teaching is remarkable, something that needs to be considered. However, the Priests and Pharisees dismiss their claim, stating it cannot be true because Jesus comes from the wrong area of Israel. They challenge Nicodemus to "Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee." Here, the leaders were actually wrong even in their challenge. There were at least two prophets of the Old Testament that came from the Galilean region, Jonah, who came from Gath-hepher (2 Kings 14:25), which is just north of Nazareth, and Nahum.3 In Jesus's day, the people of Galilee were composed of many different races, and as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, "Their mixed origin explains the differences in speech which distinguished them from their brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galileans with a certain proud contempt (Joh 1:46; 7:52)."4 So it may very well be their bias against people from Galilee that the leaders were trying to exploit against Jesus.

Assuming Truth Because of the Source

The Jewish leadership offered another form of the genetic fallacy when they faced off against Jesus in John 8. In an exchange that became a bit tense, Jesus challenged them by saying, "I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father."5  The Pharisees responded by claiming they were true Jews: "Abraham is our father," they exclaimed. But just being the biological offspring of Abraham doesn't make one righteous or right. This is a literal version of the genetic fallacy! Jesus corrected them and states that they don't follow the faith of Abraham, they follow their spiritual father, the Devil.

In the first instance we see the Pharisees dismissing Jesus's claims because he isn't from Galilee.  The Jewish leadership does not recognize anyone from Galilee as authoritative. This is very much like those who would dismiss any biblical teaching because they say the source, which is the Bible, is invalid. In the second instance, the leadership held that they couldn't be wrong because they came from the right source; they were the descendants of Abraham. This is very much like the claim that science and scientists hold the authority over any other claims because they come from a scientific origin.

Neither of these arguments are logically valid. One must look at the actual argument and the reasons supporting it to judge its worth. To discriminate either for or against a view based on its origin—whether it is new or old, faith-based of scientific, comes from an expert or a novice—without examining the argument itself is a form of prejudice. It's the genetic fallacy, and something we should all avoid.

References

1. "Living in the Information Age." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. http://www.ushistory.org/us/60d.asp.
2. John 7:45-52, ESV. (Crossway, 2001).
3. Souvay, Charles. "Nahum." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Web. 13 Apr. 2015 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10670a.htm.
4. "Galilee." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online. Ed. James Orr. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/G/galilee.html.
5. John 8:37-38. ESV.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where Do Moral Values Originate? (video)



Most people recognize that moral values and obligations are real. However, they disagree strongly on where moral values come from. In this clip, Lenny explores the three possible origins of moral obligations: they are either determined by nature, they are designed by men, or they are discovered as something independent of ourselves and our world. See which concept makes the most sense.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why it Is Reasonable and Scientific to Consider the Soul

A 2008 article in the magazine New Scientist by Amanda Gefter criticized several Christian philosophers for rejecting a purely physicalist account of consciousness. However, Dr. Angus Menuge provides a compelling rebuttal as to why it is both reasonable and scientific to consider a human being as one who is made up of both a body and a soul:
At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available
evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy—the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic—that most resembles a virus?
Gorra, Joseph. "EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On 'Creationism' and Materialism."  EPS Blog. Evangelical Philosophical Society, 23 Oct. 2008. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. http://blog.epsociety.org/2008/10/eps-philosophers-respond-to-new.asp

Friday, April 10, 2015

Did Jesus Go to Hell on Holy Saturday?

When I was young, the word salon was only used by old women who would go for their weekly rinse and set. I accompanied my grandmother on one of these trips and I still remember her sitting under one of those huge hot air dryers reading an old magazine while waiting for her sponge-rolled hair to dry. While there were a ton of magazines available, they were mostly old issues filled with stuff that would never interest me.



Given the ubiquity of digital media today, one would think that stale old magazines are no longer a threat. But if they are reading Salon, the digital magazine, they'd be proven wrong. Borrowing a headline that would be more apt in the Weekly World News, Salon published the article "Jesus went to hell: The Christian history churches would rather not acknowledge" where author Ed Simon unveils the shocking—shocking I say!—discovery that the Apostles creed states Jesus descended into hell. Simon writes:
The fourth century Apostle's Creed tells us that following his crucifixion, but before his resurrection, Jesus "descended to the dead." The Athanasian Creed of at least a century later is more explicit, Christ "descended into hell." Depending on context and translation Jesus either journeyed to Sheol, Hades, or Hell. 1
Um, yeah.

If you were raised Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or in one of the more traditional Protestant faiths such as Lutheran or Anglican/Episcopalian you have said the Apostles Creed many times in your life. It is a weekly recitation in many churches. Yet, Simon takes the phrase "descended into hell" and applies it in a way to mean "Holy Saturday was a day in which God was not in His heaven, but rather in his Hell."2 But that's insane. The phrase originates from the passage found in Ephesians 4:7-9, which reads:
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

"When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men."

(In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)3
The Greek for "hell" in the creeds is the same as the one translated "lower parts" in Ephesians 4:9: katōteros (κατώτατα). A quick look up in Kittel tells us:
This word might refer to the realm of the dead (the underworld as the lowest part) or simply the earth itself. The reference to "above all heavens" in v. 10 suggests that "under the earth" is in view here, and Christ's death rather than his incarnation offers a better antithesis to his resurrection and ascension… The idea of leading captives is not so much that he liberates the dead in Hades as that he subdues the spirits that kept us captive I1:21, 2:1 ff).4

#SalonChristianitySecrets

Well, opening one book before writing this article wasn't too hard for me, so I'm kind of stumped on how Ed Simon couldn't accomplish it. Of course, scholastic theology books may be a bit much for Simon, but he could have always used, I don't know, perhaps a professional research tool like Google to find this article on the subject at Christianity Today.

It seems that the word Salon still invokes the idea of hot air, but maybe not in the way that the digital publication's authors had imagined. That's why shortly after the article was posted, Twitter users decided to have some fun at Salon's expense. Creating a new trending hashtag #SalonChristianitySecrets, Twitter users began to imagine some of the other headlines that Salon may come up with concerning Christian beliefs. A few of my favorites are below:





References

1. Simon, Ed. "Jesus Went to Hell: The Christian History Churches Would Rather Not Acknowledge." Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. http://www.salon.com/2015/04/09/jesus_went_to_hell_the_christian_history_churches_would_rather_not_acknowledge_partner/.
2. Simon, 2015.
3. Ephesians 4:7-9. English Standard Version, Crossway Pub. Web. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4&version=ESV
4. Buchel, F., III. "Kato, Katotero, Katoteros." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 422-23. Print.

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