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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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Monday, August 31, 2015

Christian Morals Make Us More Free



What is true freedom? Does having fewer restrictions make one more free? That's the message advertisers would foist on our kids. From the No Rules skateboard apparel to yesterday's MTV Video Music Awards where Miley Cyrus was given "pretty free reign… no rules,"1 to Ashley Madison's come-on slogan of "Life is short… have an affair, " the message is unmistakable: freedom means shedding the moral restrictions of the past.

It's part of people's nature to bristle against rules, especially those rules that would force one to curb his or her predilections. Children would rather eat candy than vegetables for dinner. Students would rather play video games than study. Most adults in society today look upon those desires as childish. They understand there are real consequences to taking the easy road. Ignoring the nutritional needs of one's body or educational opportunities that color one's future isn't a freeing experience; they have real and significant consequences.

Given the serious consequences of childish actions, people have come to realize that it is actually more freeing to live within these rules. The person who studied hard in school and has earned a degree has many more opportunities in front of him than one who didn't. The person who eats well has the freedom to perform better in sports. Freedom isn't about the next few hours or the next few days, but what happens over a lifetime.

Christian Morality is Freeing

While people generally agree on the obvious examples I offered above, this principle of freedom applies within the moral realm as well. Marvin Olasky recently interviewed University of Texas philosophy professor J. Budziszewski on the changes in attitude college students display today as opposed to years past. Budziszewski has been a keen observer of the difficulties Christian students face when entering college, and given our sex-saturated culture, the temptations for easy sexual hook-ups is everywhere. When asked about what the church can do about all the young people leaving their faith in college, Budziszewski answered:
We haven't a chance of getting people to live a Christian way of life if they think it is just a collection of joy-killing rules. What we should explain is that Christian morality is a prerequisite for happiness, and that it makes us more free, not less—free to do what is good rather than being jerked around by desires. People need to have the vision of the good that temptation is pulling them away from.2
This is a crucial message that the church hasn't communicated very well at all. We've turned sex into a series of "thou shalt not's" instead of emphasizing the holiness of sex. We've warned against the ways of the world in ominous tones instead of talking with kids about just how much freedom one gains when one works at developing the good in one's life. Gratification delayed does not mean gratification denied, it simply means you will have the freedom to experience the full joys of what God has intended for you without the nasty consequences. There will be more choices afforded to you and you will have more control over your life's path.

References

1. Boardman, Madeline. "VMAs Producer: Miley Cyrus Has 'free Rein,' No Rules for Sunday's Show." EW.com. Entertainment Weekly Inc, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/27/vma-miley-cyrus-free-rein-no-rules.
2. Olasky, Marvin. "J. Budziszewski: Generation Disordered" WORLD. WORLD News Group, 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. http://www.worldmag.com/2015/08/generation_disordered/.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

One Quote for Naturalist Professors



Most naturalists prefer a more subtle approach. Instead of openly insulting Christianity, they patronize it, paying it the kind of compliments one pays to children and the simple-minded. Or they use "as-we-now-know" statements: "As we now know, there is no life after death." These are often introduced by "it-was-once-thought" statements: "It was once thought that moral laws were given to us by a God or gods, but as we now know, mankind gives moral laws to himself." Whenever a teacher makes an "as-we-now-know" statement, ask "Who do you mean by 'we,' and how do we 'know'?" If you aren't yet ready for public debate, ask the questions inwardly. If you do ask them aloud, be respectful. Your goal isn't to show that your teacher is wrong but merely that he isn't taking seriously the legitimate arguments on the other side.

To get this point across, ask your teacher to read the following words of Harvard paleontologist Richard Lewontin. Like every naturalist, Lewontin believes that the material world of nature is all there is, but he also confesses to something many of his fellow naturalists would rather deny. The confession is that they all believe in naturalism in spite of the evidence, not because of it. For example, even though the evidence strongly suggests that living things are the result of intelligent design, naturalists are desperate to prove they can't be.' Most of us would call the urge to ignore evidence "prejudice." Strangely, Lewontin calls it "taking the side of science"! See for yourself:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, ... in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
This amazing confession is important because it shows that what naturalists call "science" isn't really science—at least not if science means following the evidence! Naturalists like to think of themselves as brave defenders of clear reasoning itself is the superstition. It isn't supported by reasoning but by blind hostility to the evidence of God. Pray that your professors will finally get tired of their games. As Blaise Pascal wrote long ago, "it is good to be tired and wearied by the vain search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer."
— J. Budziszewski
 J. Budziszewski. How to Stay Christian in College (Kindle Locations 417-419). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Archaeology is Important for the Christian (video)



The Bible is unique among sacred texts in that it is set against a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? In this introductory video to the series, Lenny explains the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies, as well as how archaeology bolsters the faith of the believer.


Image courtesy Hans Splinter and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Discovering God the Way Sherlock Holmes Would



I recently received a comment on my post on how the origin of life creates a significant problem for the naturalist. I was charged with making a "God of the gaps" argument. While a reading of the actual article displays no such breech in logic, it did begin an exchange with my critic that proves all too familiar: any logical argument that ends by inferring a supernatural actor as the best explanation of the facts at hand is easily dismissed as "God of the gaps" while any assumption that "science will one day figure it out" is supposedly rational.

This is an old canard that I've dealt with before (here and here), but I tried to take a different tact in this engagement. I wanted to place the burden on my objector, so I asked "Can you tell me the distinction between a valid inference for God and what you would classify as a God of the Gaps argument?" His reply is telling:
I'm not sure there is one. Abduction seems to be little more than a guess until a better explanation comes along. Science may well provide an answer to the origin of life in the future. (Which is something we may conclude through induction, a much stronger epistemology than abduction.)
There's so much wrong with this statement that it's hard to know where to being. First, let's unpack some terms. There are two ways we can draw conclusions based on reasoning, known as deductive reasoning and inferential reasoning. In deductive reasoning, the conclusion is inescapable from the facts presented. The oft-used example is given the facts that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, one is forced to conclude that Socrates is mortal.

Understanding Inferences

While Sherlock Holmes is well known for what's Doyle's books called "the science of deuction," he actually didn't deduce things. He used inferential reasoning. An inferential argument takes what is generally understood to be the case and applies it to the greater whole. For example, people have observed that like electrical charges repel each other and opposite charges attract. Thus, when English physicist Joseph John Thomson saw that cathode rays would bend certain ways based on whether a positive or negative magnet was placed near it, he inferred that the cathode ray was made up of negatively charged particles. The electron was discovered.1

The argument that Thompson used is known as abduction, which simply means reasoning to the best explanation. We take the facts that we know and try to get at the truth. Usually, that means applying a rule we already understand, such as the laws of magnetism, and seeing if it does a good job of explaining the specific circumstance we see. Your doctor does this all the time, such as when he prescribes penicillin for your bacterial infection. Prescribing penicillin isn't "little more than a guess" but is based on what is most likely, though not necessarily the case.

Abductive Arguments Drive Science

Because deductive arguments are few and far between in the real world, most of science is built on inference to the best explanation. Ironically, my critic got induction and abduction kind of backwards; induction in this sense is actually the weaker of the two. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clarifies the difference:
You may have observed many gray elephants and no non-gray ones, and infer from this that all elephants are gray, because that would provide the best explanation for why you have observed so many gray elephants and no non-gray ones. This would be an instance of an abductive inference. It suggests that the best way to distinguish between induction and abduction is this: both are ampliative, meaning that the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises (which is why they are non-necessary inferences), but in abduction there is an implicit or explicit appeal to explanatory considerations, whereas in induction there is not; in induction, there is only an appeal to observed frequencies or statistics. 2

Closed to the Best Explanations

I explain all this to make sure you understand that the arguments like the one inferring God from the origin of life are not merely guesses or "God of the gaps" claims. They are just like those abduction arguments that are the cornerstone of scientific and medical research. Human beings have observed life throughout our history. Never once in all of that time observing life have we ever seen life come from non-life. In fact, Louis Pasteur's science shows life doesn't spontaneously arise from non-living material. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that all life comes from other living beings and therefore the first life came from a living being. That's abduction.

Notice that when asked for a distinction as to what would make a valid inference for God's existence, my critic replied "I'm not sure there is one." That answer is as telling as the rest of the conversation. He has rejected any argument that leads to the conclusion that God exists at the outset. That's his prerogative, but doing so is anti-logic, anti-science, and inconsistent.

References

1. Douven, Igor. "Abduction." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Aug. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/#UbiAbd.
2. Douven, 2011.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where's the Dignity in Euthanasia?



A couple of days ago I posted about the California legislature seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state. While many of the pro-euthanasia crowd relies on the catch phrase "death with dignity," actively ending a person's life doesn't dignify either one's respect for life or the personhood of the patient.

Kenneth Samples explains that there are two categories of euthanasia and the distinction between them is key:
In active euthanasia, an agent intentionally and actively takes the life of a terminally ill patient. This might be done either by the patient himself or herself (suicide) or with the assistance of someone else (possibly a physician, family member, or friend). Active euthanasia produces or causes death. This means that the patient's death results not from the terminal illness itself but from the specific act of euthanasia (such as a lethal dose of medication or gunshot).

In passive euthanasia, an agent allows a terminally ill patient to die naturally without intervening, usually by withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining (artificial or extraordinary) treatment. Passive euthanasia permits death to take its natural course but does not actually cause death itself.1
Samples then notes that since active euthanasia is the intentional taking of a life, it is something that falls into the exclusive domain of God and is rejected by Christianity as immoral:
What is the traditional Christian view of euthanasia? Most theologians and ethicists affirm the active-passive distinction from both a logical and a moral standpoint. Active euthanasia, however, is viewed as morally offensive and unacceptable (virtual homicide). It is condemned because it violates the scriptural principle that prohibits the intentional taking of innocent human life (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). Many Christian ethicists believe that given the state of human sinfulness (original sin, total depravity; see Pss. 51 :5; 58:3; Prov 20:9), active euthanasia weakens respect for human life and sets a dangerous precedent for humanity.2
I agree with this assessment We are woefully flawed beings and are far too capable of misusing such power, even if the original intentions are to alleviate suffering. The problem with the active form of euthanasia /physician-assisted suicide patients can be manipulated into either thinking that they are a burden to their families or that they would be "better off" dead.

Safeguards Don't Protect Patients

In a 2011 article in the medical journal Current Oncology, Dr. Jose Pereira notes that while both the Netherlands and Belgium has euthanasia laws that require the request to be "voluntary, well-considered, informed, and persistent over time. The requesting person must provide explicit written consent and must be competent at the time the request is made."3 Yet, Pereira reports these haven't been effective in guarding against abuse:
Despite those safeguards, more than 500 people in the Netherlands are euthanized involuntarily every year. In 2005, a total of 2410 deaths by euthanasia or psa [Physician Assisted Suicide] were reported, representing 1.7% of all deaths in the Netherlands. More than 560 people (0.4% of all deaths) were administered lethal substances without having given explicit consent 7. For every 5 people euthanized, 1 is euthanized without having given explicit consent. Attempts at bringing those cases to trial have failed, providing evidence that the judicial system has become more tolerant over time of such transgressions.4
Pereira goes on to report that in Belgium, the situation is worse, with voluntary and involuntary euthanasia rates three times higher than the Netherlands!

Passive Euthanasia

What about passive euthanasia, though? Is it too always wrong? Not necessarily, but caution must still be maintained. Again,  Samples explains:
Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, has been generally accepted by traditional Christian theologians and ethicists, but with some careful qualifications. Passive euthanasia can be considered if a patient has not been denied natural life-sustaining means such as air, water, and food (though artificial measures may not be necessary), and also if the physical condition of the patient has been diagnosed as irreversible, death is imminent, and further treatment would lead only to a burdensome prolongation of death.5
In the famous case of Terry Schiavo, her husband had fought a legal battle to remove her feeding tube and withhold hydration, a move her parents fought vigorously. Schiavo was significantly brain damaged after she collapsed at her home, but she was in no way terminal. In such an instance, I believe removing her feeding tube is immoral. It certainly doesn't give Terri any more dignity to be dead and food and water are basic essentials one must not withhold from any person who may find him or herself incapable of providing independently. We do so for those who may be paralyzed, infants and young children, those with severe mental disabilities, and many others.

Samples ends his comment by quoting from John Jefferson Davis, who sums it up well:
Human life is sacred because God made man in his own image and likeness.... This canopy of sacredness extends throughout man's life, and is not simply limited to those times and circumstances when man happens to be strong, independent, healthy, and fully conscious of his relationships to others.6
The reason we don't simply end the life of the mentally or physically disabled is because these people bear the image of God, the imago Dei, and physical limitations do not diminish it. The imago Dei is what makes all people equal, even those who are severely handicapped or have Parkinson's disease. Schiavo's brain injury was severe, but she was still a human being, and therefore held a dignity intrinsic to all humanity. How can a physician or even the patient himself claim that this intrinsic dignity is now missing and they need to die in order to regain it? It makes no sense.

References

1. Samples, Kenneth R. 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity's Most Dangerous Ideas. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. Print. 176.
2. Samples, 2012.
3. Pereira, J. "Legalizing Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide: The Illusion of Safeguards and Controls." Current Oncology Curr. Oncol. 18.2 (2011): n. pag. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
4. Pereira, 2011.
5. Samples, 2012.
6. Samples, 2012.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Friends' Phoebe Can Teach Us About the Empty Tomb



The linchpin of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. Simply put, the entire belief system hangs on this fact of history; destroy the resurrection and you've destroyed Christianity as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17.

However, there is really good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As William Lane Craig has noted for years, New Testament scholars across the spectrum agree that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, was buried in a tomb and that tomb was later found empty. That means New Testament scholars who are liberal and even those do not themselves identify as Christian themselves will agree that these points are valid history.

Of course the percentage of scholars accepting of each of these points differs a bit. While Jesus's death by crucifixion is nearly unanimous, the number holding to the empty tomb are about 75%.1 This is partially because a reference to the empty tomb doesn't appear in the creedal tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. 1 Corinthians is the earliest of the New Testament books, being written sometime around spring of AD 54.2 But in the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul uses language that denotes it is a creed, saying "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received..." As Paul was converted sometime between 1-5 years after Jesus's crucifixion, and he received this creed early in his instruction, we can know the creed had been in use within a few years after Jesus's death.3

Given all this, scholars place great weight on the creedal passage as being very early and yet the creedal passage doesn't talk about the empty tomb. It mentions the burial of Jesus but not the women finding the tomb empty on Sunday morning. That has led to some skeptics to doubt the empty tomb story entirely. Here's the thing, though. The story of Jesus's death, burial in a tomb and the later discovery of that tomb being empty is a single narrative. It is one story where the goal of telling about Jesus's death is to establish his resurrection.

Rewriting Old Yeller

Stories are a continuum. If the empty tomb isn't part of the story, the whole meaning of the story changes. It reminds me of a popular episode of Friends, entitled "The One Where Old Yeller Died." You can watch a YouTube clip here, but basically in the episode Phoebe comes upon her friends watching the Disney movie Old Yeller and she can't understand why they're crying. She believes it's a happy movie, where Old Yeller saves the family from a rabid wolf and all live safely forever. She believes this because her mother would shut off the television before the film's end, where it's revealed that in the act of saving the family, Old Yeller sacrificed himself and contracted rabies. Yeller's owner Travis is forced to shoot the now mad dog.

The point of Old Yeller turns on its sad ending. As film critic Scott Wienberg notes, "by upping the ante and allowing this beloved beast to meet an unpleasant demise, the message is softly-delivered but crystal clear. Death, like love, is an integral and inescapable part of life, so the earlier you learn to accept and embrace both, the quicker you'll be able to appreciate one and deal with the other."4 That message is never communicated to Phoebe who believes its only about "family fun!" The story relies on the ending to make its point. Without the ending, it simply isn't the classic film it has come to be.

Similarly, the empty tomb of Jesus is just as critical to the point the early church was trying to tell. While the creedal passage of 1 Corinthians doesn't specifically mention the empty tomb, it is certainly inferred as the passage contains both the empty tomb and the resurrection account along with the testimony of Jesus being seen alive by many witnesses. Add to this that all four gospels, including the early Gospel of Mark leverage the empty tomb as part of their narrative and its validity as part of history is not a stretch, especially when the tomb is first discovered empty by women, whose testimony was discounted in that culture.

The empty tomb is part of a larger narrative of Jesus dying, being buried, and being seen alive after his resurrection. To eliminate the empty tomb from the story is akin to jumping up and stopping a movie because you are uncomfortable with the next scene. But that doesn't mean the story isn't reliable. It means that you want to close your eyes to the implications.

References

1. See Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. Print. 70.
2. Wallace, Daniel B. "7. 1 Corinthians: Introduction, Argument, and Outline." Bible.org. Bible.org, 26 June 2004. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. https://bible.org/seriespage/7-1-corinthians-introduction-argument-and-outline#P95_28390.
3. See Gary R. Habermas, "Evidence for the Historical Jesus: Is the Jesus of History the Christ of Faith?" - available free of charge from www.garyhabermas.com/evidence
4. Weinberg, Scott. "Old Yeller 2-Movie Collection." DVD Talk. DVDTalk.com, 13 Nov. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/18680/old-yeller-2-movie-collection.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Conscience, Death, and Marriage



Earlier this year, a bill that would make certain instances of assisted suicide legal in the state of California was passed by the state Senate and is now trying to slip through the assembly via a special session, according to Los Angeles Times reporter George Skelton.1 Modeled after a similar law that has been active in Oregon, the California bill would allow patients who supposedly have less than six months to live to end their lives by taking lethal drugs prescribed by a physician.

These kinds of laws are problematic for a number of reasons, which I will go into in a later article. However, Skelton made one comment in his opinion piece as he tried to sell the legislation that caught my eye. He wrote, "To protect hospitals and physicians from acting against their beliefs, none would be required to participate."2When I reviewed the actual legislation, it did indeed contain a clause for conscience. SB-128, Sect 443.14 (e)(1) reads:
Participation in activities authorized pursuant to this part shall be voluntary. Notwithstanding Sections 442 to 442.7, inclusive, a person or entity that elects, for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics, not to engage in activities authorized pursuant to this part is not required to take any action in support of an individual's decision under this part.
Isn't that interesting? A physician, a hospital, or any other appropriately licensed individual or organization may refuse the wishes of the patient "for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics.” This runs contrary to what normally happens when patients walk into care facility and are suffering. Doctors are supposed to alleviate suffering. Emergency rooms are required by law to take in and examine all patients who complain of significant pain, whether they can pay or not. It would seem the responsibility of hospitals would be the same in this instance as the patient is still suffering, but it's due in this instance to a terminal illness.

The Double Standard

Don't get me wrong. I'm no supporter of this legislation, and I'm glad that doctors will have the opportunity to opt out if it violates their beliefs. But here's the thing; a suffering person is a far more urgent situation than say a wedding and a physician carries a far greater responsibility to the public good than a cake baker or photographer does. It is a more urgent situation than having one's employer pay for whatever kind of birth control will help you fulfill your carnal desires. Why then would democratic legislatures in the state of California include such an extremely wide and open conscience clause in this piece of legislation when we are told over and over that belief isn't something that should affect one's profession? Why aren't the pro-assisted suicide groups rallying to throw out this exception, complaining that it's inherently discriminatory, that one's beliefs shouldn't impose on the suffering patient, or that any person who chose to go into health care should have known that they may need to provide life-ending drugs?

One can quickly see the disconnect in the two positions. If belief, moral conviction, or ethical understanding is enough reason for any doctor or an entire institution like a hospital to refuse to alleviate the suffering of a patient, then it is clearly more than enough reason to refuse to bake a wedding cake or take pictures at someone's wedding. Skelton trumpets the exemption in the bill as a good thing. Would he be willing to support such legislation if that clause stood alone, such as a Religious Freedom bill? Or is this clause to get the camel's nose under the tent until a judge decides to wipe out the exception through judicial fiat? I can only surmise, but one thing is clear. It is wholly inconsistent to uphold an exemption for belief when suffering is involved but to say one's convictions don't count in lesser circumstances.

References

1. Skelton, George. "Legislature's Action on 'right to Die' Bill Is Fair and Square." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-cap-special-session-20150824-column.html.
2. Skelton, 2015.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What Archaeology Can and Can't Do (video)



Archaeology has helped the biblical scholar put together a lot of pieces from the stories of the Bible. It has shown many places and events to be true. Yet, archaeology cannot be the silver bullet that proves God's existence or that the Bible is his inspired word.

In this short clip, Lenny outlines just how archaeology can illuminate the biblical accounts and why it isn't the last word on faith.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Naturalism and the Problem of Living a Good Life



Scott Rae, in the introduction to his book Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, lays out some of the reasons the study of ethics is important and why the modern assumption of naturalism endangers the concept of even a good life:
Most people, when they are genuinely being honest with themselves, associate doing well in life with being a good person. Having moral character is still essential to most people's conceptions of what makes a person flourish in his or her life. For example, it is difficult to imagine a person being considered a success in life if he has gained his wealth dishonestly. It is equally difficult to call a person a success who is at the top of his profession but cheats on his wife, abuses his children, and drinks too much. On the other hand, we rightly hold up a person like Mother Teresa as a model of living a good life, even though she lacked most material goods that society values. One of the principal reasons for being moral is that it is central to most concepts of human fulfillment. For the Christian, being moral is critical to a life that seeks to honor God. We could say that being moral is inherently good because it is foundational to a person's flourishing in life, since doing well in life and being a good person still go together for most people.



These reasons for the importance of studying ethics all presume that there is as genuine moral knowledge. But that notion is being increasingly called into question in philosophy today as a result of the cultural dominance of the worldview of naturalism. Among other things, the naturalist holds that all reality is reducible to that which can be perceived with one's senses—that is, there is nothing that is real or counts for knowledge that is not verifiable by the senses. As a result, moral knowledge has been reduced to the realm of belief and is considered parallel to religious beliefs, which the culture widely holds are not verifiable. The theist maintains that moral knowledge is genuine knowledge in the same way that scientific knowledge is real—that the notion that "murder is wrong" can be known .as true and cannot be reduced to subjective opinion or belief without the risk of all morality being subjective. The theist argues that no one lives consistently, as though morality were entirely subjective, and that moral truths do exist and can be known as such.1

References

1. Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000. Print. 11,13

Friday, August 21, 2015

Making an Atheist by Listening to Echoes



In his article "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist," Mike Frederick Ziethlow tells his story of moving to disbelief. He recounts his tearful wedding vow, telling his wife "I love that God gave you to me." From there, it becomes only a matter of months until his interaction with social media let him to conclude two things: 1) people will believe anything, like a quote misattributed to Churchill, and 2)people will generally be uncritical to the extent of reinforcing their own biases.1 Ziethlow then concludes, "Once I realized I'm just as fallible as the next, liking things that confirm my beliefs, sharing things that echo my perspective, I understood how lies really do get halfway around the world while the truth remains pantless." It is from this framework that Ziethlow begins questioning the Christian faith he was given buy his parents, ultimately becoming an atheist.

Setting the Bible Up to Fail

I think the initial questions Ziethlow asks are worthy and should be asked by each person. One cannot live on the faith of one's parents; each person must seek out the truth for him or herself. What bothers me about Zeithow's story is how he proceeded to investigate the Christian faith. He admits that he didn't really know a lot about Christianity and he was "starting from scratch." So, he figures reading the Bible will sort it all out. However, he sets up the biblical text to fail even before he begins by creating a false dilemma. He recounts:
Now, starting from scratch, the first question I had was whether to take the Bible literally or metaphorically. If you are a literalist, fine — you trust the Word of God is inerrant. If you are a metaphorist, your faith may be "on sand." For example, which parts do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively? Earth created in six days? Talking snake? The dead rising? Unfortunately for metaphorists, the Bible is quite clear these things must be accepted, and that if you are "lukewarm" on the subject, He will spit you out. So literalism — trusting that the Word of God is all you need — is really the only logically defensible position for a religion that repeatedly claims as much.2
The stark either/or approach to literal or metaphorical text has never been advocated by the Bible or anyone who teaches the Bible. In fact, to read any text in such a way is to mangle the text itself. Even our modern day newspapers cannot be approached in such a wooden fashion. Just go to the Sports page of your local paper and you will see that in even this literal medium is replete with metaphors and hyperbole. Was that baseball team really torpedoed?3 Wouldn't that constitute an act of war? Aren't newspapers supposed to only deal in facts? If so, then why should I take anything as metaphorical when a paper is quite clear that it is a paper devoted to presenting news stories?

Dismissing a Childish Faith

Given this foundation, Zeithlow unsurprisingly finds his journey through the biblical accounts less than believable. He dismisses a young earth creation reading of Genesis, the global flood of Noah, and Joshua's long day as impossible because "laws in the observable universe tested time and again by science and physics would prove untrue." Notice two things here. First, a miracle is defined as an event that suspends the laws of science (physics being a sub-branch of the larger discipline), so Zeithlow's concern is demonstrably false. Miracles don't disprove the laws of nature, they are exceptions to them. Secondly, if Zeithlow would have consulted with those who know about biblical exegesis, he may have found out that there are good Christians who are divided as to what those passages really mean.

The primary problem with Zeithlow's approach is it isn't rational. In his article, he never states that he consulted with biblical scholars or even pastoral commentaries to uncover what the biblical text meant. Perhaps if he did he would have found out that the story of "a guy chopp[ing] up his recently-raped concubine and mailed her body parts all over the country" isn't commended but condemned in the book of Judges, a book that repeats the warning "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6. 21:25). Instead, all of Zeithlow's references and recommendations are of atheists who helped him move "from the Bible to science."

Listening to the Echo Chamber

One can see the irony here. Zeithlow has committed the very flaw that he condemned at the beginning of his piece. He confirmed his hunch that God wasn't real by liking people who confirmed that hunch and he shared those sources that echoed that perspective—the very problem he decried at the beginning of his article! There is no real investigation of the Christian faith, something that may take more effort than asking a few Facebook friends to help you out. In order to be fair, one should seek out the best arguments for a position, not simply straw men.

Given how Zeithlow describes Christianity, I would tell him I don't believe in such a faith either. My belief is much more mature, much more robust, and much more capable at handling issues he hasn't even brought up. I take its foundational texts not simply "literally" but seriously, seeking to understand the author's intent. If he is willing to investigate the true Christian faith, I'm more than willing to help point him to an adult understanding. Otherwise, it seems Zeithlow is the one caught with his pants down.

References

1. Ziethlow, Mike Frederick. "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist." Medium. A Medium Corporation, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. https://medium.com/@mikefziethlow/how-facebook-made-me-an-atheist-a5d0e19046c6.
2. Ziethlow, 2015.
3. Digiovanna, Mike. "Angels Can't Complete White Sox Sweep after Fatal Fifth Inning." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/la-sp-angels-20150821-story.html.
Image courtesy Nevit Dilmen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

If You Want to be Reasonable, Then You May Have to Believe



I've had the opportunity to interact with many people who would classify themselves as either atheists or agnostics. (Sometimes, they try to classify themselves as both, but that's an untenable position. ) While theists and atheists will argue back and forth on the legitimacy and support for each one's position, it is the agnostic position that intrigues me the most. Many agnostics claim to be reasonable people who rely on evidence and rationality to come to a conclusion about God. But is the person who withholds a belief always more reasonable than one who accepts it? In a word, no.

To Hold a Justified Belief

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy identified Roderick Chisholm as "one of the most creative, productive, and influential American philosophers of the 20th Century."1 Chisholm studied an area of philosophy devoted to understanding how we know things, called epistemology. His book A Theory of Knowledge provides a strong framework for what constitutes a rational belief. There, Chisholm explains that to have not simply a belief (which anyone can hold about anything—reasonable or not), but to have a justified belief is to "say something about the reasonableness of that belief." 2 Chisholm goes on to explain that when we make statements like "one who believes in X is at least as justified as one who withholds belief in X" we are making a claim that each position is equally reasonable; that is there is just as much reason to withhold that particular belief as there is to affirm that belief.

However, Chisholm makes the point that if arguments or evidence are presented that argue for a particular belief, the equation changes. To withhold a belief is to be neutral, not to take sides either way. For example, I'm completely neutral as to whether I think the Philadelphia Phillies will be playing in the World Series. I do not follow baseball closely and I don't know the standings of the teams. But after I look at the standings, even for a moment, I would no longer be neutral. Given the Phillies are last in their division and have a record of 47 wins versus 73 loses, it would be unreasonable for me to remain neutral on this question. Knowing the standings doesn't give me certainty about my belief, but I'm more justified in holding to the belief that the Phillies won't make it to the World Series.

Chisholm argues in a similar way when he writes that "St. Augustine suggests that, even though there may be ground to question the reliability of the senses, most of us are more justified most of the time believing that we can rely upon them than believing that we can not rely upon them" (emphasis in the original).3 Because there is good evidence that our sense tell us the truth about the world most of the time, it is more reasonable to believe what our senses tell us rather than doubt that they are providing truthful information. If additional evidence is offered (i.e. the person is having an extraordinary sensory experience and has taken a hallucinogenic) then we can adjust the justification to that additional information and say one may be more justified to not believe their senses in that instance. However, neutrality, what Chisholm calls counterbalanced, is a difficult position to maintain.

Can Agnostics Be Counterbalanced?

Given the fact that arguments and evidence changes the equation of belief, I must question those who claim to be agnostic on their position. It is not reasonable to withhold a belief if there are facts that argue either for or against a position. The agnostic wishes to stay neutral on the question of God's existence, but we know quite a bit that makes neutrality a less reasonable position than that held by the theist. We know that something doesn't appear from nothing. We know that consciousness has never materialized from non-conscious material. We know that at least some people have reported seeing miracles and we know that includes the reporting of seeing the resurrected Jesus. All these facts point to the existence of a God. If one were to argue against these as evidence for God's existence, then the burden would be upon that person to show why their approach isn't assuming atheism rather than agnosticism. But to simply claim to withhold belief given the facts above is simply not justified. It is what Chisholm would call unreasonable.

References

1. Feldman, Richard and Feldman, Fred, "Roderick Chisholm", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/chisholm/.
2. Chisholm, Roderick M. Theory of Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989. Print. 8
3. Chisholm, 1989. 8.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Do the Ends Justify the Means in Fetal Tissue Donations?



The Center for Medical Progress has released seven undercover videos showing how Planned Parenthood staff will use the remains of aborted babies to procure fetal tissue, which it then sells to medical research firms, tissue middlemen like StemExpress, or to the abortion doctors themselves who sometimes do their own research.1

Many who seek to defend the practice have tried to argue that providing fetal tissue is a good thing. For example, Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferraro stated, "Women and families who make the decision to donate fetal tissue for lifesaving scientific research should be honored, not attacked and demeaned." 2 Blogger Hank Green responded to a question about the practice similarly, stating:
For those wondering, fetal tissue is used in medical research. It has been used in medical research for decades and has been instrumental in the development of vaccines for diseases like polio and treatments for conditions like Parkinson's disease. Planned Parenthood helps biomedical research labs acquire fetal tissue for this research.

I understand being morally confounded by the question of whether abortion is moral or should be legal, but I don't understand why legally providing inanimate tissue for life-saving research is a more inflammatory issue than the abortion itself.

Planned Parenthood does not "sell" the tissue, which is illegal, though they do ask the research facilities using the material to cover the costs of transport.3
Is it morally wrong for Planned Parenthood to sell or otherwise help labs acquire fetal tissue for research purposes? Have such techniques been going on for decades? I think a bit of clarity about the situation is in order, and it begins with how the tissue samples were obtained.

Coercive versus non-coercive environments

 There is no law prohibiting an inmate from being an organ donor. In 2007, South Carolina State Sen. Ralph Anderson proposed two bills that would reduce inmates' sentences if they agreed to donate bone marrow or organs like kidneys, however such bills have been criticized by the American Medical Association.4 Yale University Transplant surgeon Amy L. Friedman called the move "extremely inappropriate" noting the ability for free and informed consent without coercion "is totally absent in the prisoner's circumstance."5 Organ donations are a vital part of the ability to save lives, but bargaining for body parts with those who want to escape the confines of prison smacks more of usury than informed consent.

Transplant doctors have even shunned receiving organs from prisoners scheduled for execution. In his paper for the American Journal of Bioethics entitled "The Use of Prisoners as Sources of Organs–An Ethically Dubious Practice", Dr. Arthur Caplan notes the practice first wouldn't yield many usable organs because of the nature of the execution process. However, he notes if the goal is to harvest organs, the method of execution could be changed "in order to increase the chance of a successful procurement." He explains:
Prisoners might be anesthetized and have their organs removed by a medical team before they are dead. I have dubbed the notion of execution by means of the removal of the heart or other vital organs the "Mayan protocol" after the Mayan practice of human sacrifice by removing a beating heart during certain religious rituals (Wood 2008). It is, however, morally repugnant to involve physicians as executioners or to shift the setting of punishment from prison to hospital. Involvement in causing death in any way is a direct violation of the "dead donor" rule, which has long been maintained as a bright line between death and donation in order to insure public trust and support for cadaver donation (DeVita and Caplan 2007). This principle would even restrict efforts to maximize the likelihood of procurement by the use of drugs and cold perfusion as steps prior to execution (emphasis added).6

Planned Parenthood Violates the 'Dead Donor' Rule

There is a similar dynamic at work in Planned Parenthood clinics. While the agency claims abortions account for only 3% of their services, this is a myth of statistics created by breaking up an abortion visit into its various parts and charging each step separately. The New York Post's Rich Lowery demonstrated how this fiction is perpetrated.7 The Planned Parenthood website itself states an abortion procedure could run "up to $1500 in the first trimester."8 Even at $400 each, the 327,659 abortions performed during their last fiscal year gives a total of over $ 131 Million in service fees.9 Add to that the additional money generated by the specimens from even half of those abortions and one can see the incentives are there for Planned Parenthood to push abortions and fetal tissue donations at all costs. This is not a coercive-free environment!

While one may shudder at the idea of bargaining days of freedom for organs from prisoners, what Planned Parenthood has done is worse. It is trading not on the patients' own lives, but the lives of their innocent children. And in this article, I've given Planned Parenthood the benefit of the doubt, assuming for the sake of this article that their actions are legal! Tomorrow I will demonstrate why they aren't. Green inquires, "I don't understand why legally providing inanimate tissue for life-saving research is a more inflammatory issue than the abortion itself." I don't know that it is, but the supposed donation help coerce women into having abortions and helps justify ending the lives of helpless babies. That should be not merely inflammatory, but opposed at every turn.

References

1. Brown, Kristi Burton. "Planned Parenthood Abortionists Do Their Own Research on the Babies They Abort." Live Action News. Live Action, Inc., 05 Aug. 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://liveactionnews.org/masters-of-deceit-planned-parenthood-doctors-perform-their-own-research-on-babies-they-abort/.
2. McLaughlin, Elliot C. "Planned Parenthood Exec, Fetal Body Parts in Video" CNN. Cable News Network, 15 July 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/health/planned-parenthood-undercover-video/.
3. Green, Hank. "Hi Hank! Could You Explain What Exactly All This..." Hank's Tumblr. Hank Green, 16 July 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://edwardspoonhands.com/post/124281239155/hi-hank-could-you-explain-what-exactly-all-this.
4. O'Reilly, Kevin B. "Prisoner Organ Donation Proposal Worrisome." American Medical News. American Medical Association, 9 Apr. 2007. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://www.amednews.com/article/20070409/profession/304099964/6/.
5. O'Reilly, 2007.
6. Caplan, Arthur. "The Use of Prisoners as Sources of Organs–An Ethically Dubious Practice." The American Journal of Bioethics 11.10 (2011): 3. Web.
7. Lowry, Rich. "Planned Parenthood's Pathetic '3 Percent' Lie." New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc., 3 Aug. 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://nypost.com/2015/08/03/planned-parenthoods-pathetic-3-percent-lie/.
8. "In-Clinic Abortion Procedure | What Is the Cost & Process?"  Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 2014. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion/in-clinic-abortion-procedures.
9. 2013-2014 Annual Report. Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 2014. Page 21. Web.

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Makes the Persons of the Godhead Different from One Another?



Some claim the concept of three persons in a single being we call God is somehow contradictory. I've shown previously this isn't so. But how can we understand the difference within the Trinity? The first piece is to distinguish between personhood and being, as this article clarifies. Once that difference is understood, then one can begin to appreciate the persons within the Triune being of God. Yet, while there are three separate persons in the Father, Son, and Spirit, they share all the attributes and qualities of God while still remaining one.

In his wonderful book The History of Christian Thought, Jonathan Hill describes how the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century (Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus) understood and clarified the doctrine of the Trinity. Their explanation shows that there is no distinction between any of the members, except for their relation to one another:
Basil invites us to consider the difference between, on the one hand, the word human and, on the other, the names Peter, Paul and Timothy. Human is a general term; it refers to a class of beings; the names pick out particular members of that class. In the same way, when we talk about "God," or the divine substance, we are using a general term. The three Persons are three separate manifestations of that substance, just as Peter, Paul and Timothy are three separate manifestations of human nature.

This seems pretty strange. If the three Persons of the Trinity are three in the same way that three people are three, then there are three Gods! It looks as if we have drifted away from monotheism altogether. But the situation is more complex than this. Gregory of Nyssa helps to explain it. He points out that when we have several different members of one class, there are usually certain ways to tell them apart: they may be different sizes, shapes or colors; and most fundamentally they must all be in different locations in space. But none of these things apply to the divine nature. God is incorporeal, a fact that Gregory, like Origen, is quite insistent on. So although the three Persons are different members of the one class, they cannot be distinguished from each other in the normal way.

In fact, there is only one difference between them: their mutual relations. This central idea was first articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, in his famous Theological Orations. The Father has no characteristic that the Son lacks, and vice versa-because otherwise they would not be equally God. The only thing that is true of the Father but not the Son is that he is the Father of the Son; and similarly the Son is the Son of the Father. And the Spirit is the only one that proceeds from the Father. In every other respect except their mutual relations, the three are identical.

Gregory of Nyssa repeats the same idea and also points out that it is impossible to think of anyone Person without also thinking of the others. To talk of the Spirit is to think of the Son who sends him, and to talk of the Son is to think of the Father who begets him. Gregory likens the process to a chain: pull one end and the rest follows.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How Archaeology Confirms the Bible: Jericho (video)


Everyone know the story of Joshua's army marching around the walls of Jericho until they collapsed, allowing the Israelites to take the city. It's a famous story, and if true would provide evidence for both God's existence and the validity of the Bible.

Archaeologists have known for years where Jericho is and they've conducted many excavations at the site of the city, searching to reconstruct its history along the way. Was there a battle in Jericho like the one describe in the Bible? In this video, Lenny explores recent finds in archaeology and how they support the biblical accounts.



Image courtesy Salamandra123 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Can You Trust the Bible? (podcast)


Christians hold that the Bible is God's revealed word given to us. But critics argue that the Bible was written by men and changed over the years to suit their purposes. Is there a way to tell? In this podcast, Lenny Esposito demonstrates how we can have assurance that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Bluffing is for Poker, Not Apologetics


A few days ago I wrote a blog post arguing one mustn't be a biologist to comment on the evolution debate. The post was well received, but also gathered a few comments, such as a gentleman who responded, "I agree that people shouldn't be prohibited from opining on [evolution] just because they aren't biologists but they should familiarize themselves with the subject matter. Both sides often do not do so which leads to so many angry, pointless arguments." I saw more than one response that commented similarly.

It's interesting that this particular issue generated the responses it did, all basically stating while one needn't be a biologist, they should have taken some time to understand the arguments of evolution before criticizing it. One person even noted that uninformed Christians can make silly arguments, such as "If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?" I've heard such cringe-inducing objections, and they are more damaging than helpful.

Though the article made the argument that non-experts have a chair at the table, I never meant it to mean that one doesn't have to study the subject matter. One should know something about evolutionary theory and the state of the debate before commenting. In fact, I would say the caution offered by my commenters don't go far enough.

It isn't simply evolution where Christians need to dig in and make sure they have a proper understanding of the issues at hand. It's any issue where one wishes to engage in a thoughtful defense of the Christian worldview. If you are going to discuss the origin of the universe, the existence of the soul, the historical nature of the resurrection, or any other topic where you are seeking to change minds, you should not try and convince others by faking an answer that you do not know. Bluffing may be a good strategy for poker, but not for apologetics. Apologetics is all about clearing away objections and showing others the truth of Christianity. Pretending you know something about a topic you really don't is contradictory to searching out the truth. So, it means Christians must study these topics to some degree to talk about them intelligently.

Degrees of Knowledge is OK

Realize I'm not saying that one must put in years of study before one can have an opinion on an issue or voice that opinion in public.  That isn't what I'm saying at all. Knowledge is not a binary thing where one is either an expert or an ignoramus. There are degrees of knowledge and understanding.  For example, I'm not a biologist, so I didn't argue with that biologist objector using his area of study. I argued in my original post and also answered him using a philosophical argument, an area in which I have much more experience. That allows me to make statements more confidently and know that I won't fall into a "gotcha" moment because I do know what I'm talking about. It also demonstrates that topics like evolution are not "siloed" into a biology-only or paleontology-only discussion. There are other ways to approach the question.

The Critique Cuts Both Ways

While this article is directed towards Christians, there is one more thing you should realize; this critique cuts both ways. In fact I've found all too frequently that those with whom I've engaged have a very shallow or distorted idea of theology and philosophy. They dismiss a position that looks nothing like what I actually believe. They criticize me for not being an expert, yet they haven't taken the time themselves to familiarize themselves with even the essential Christian beliefs that have been consistently held for centuries.  The New Atheists are famous for their knocking down theological straw men. Such actions have caused thoughtful atheists like Michael Ruse to write articles entitled "Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster."

In all, don't be afraid to speak your mind on a subject. However, if a person brings up a specific fact or point with which you're unfamiliar, don't be afraid to ask for more of an explanation. Find out how just what their objection is. Ask them for some materials where you can read more about that topic. If they are not bluffing themselves, they should be able to help you understand their claim and point you in a direction where you can study it in more detail to see whether it's a valid objection and if there's an answer to the charge. When you study in this way, you will grow in both your knowledge and your faith. But you will know the material; you will have the truth to pull from and the confidence it brings with it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: God's Crime Scene

Former cold case detective J. Warner Wallace's new book God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe opens with a vivid retelling of one of Wallace's first homicide investigations. He explains:
Every homicide case begins as a simple death investigation. When a dead body is discovered, detectives must investigate the evidence to determine the most reasonable explanation. Did the body die naturally? Did he suffer some kind of accident? Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? These are the four possible explanations at any death scene. Homicide detectives are concerned with only the last one.
Wallace then notes that while the first three explanations require no other actor, evidence for murder means that the victim's death cannot be explained by only what investigators find "inside the room." Another actor must be involved.

Using this analogy, Wallace has once again written a highly engaging yet informative apologetics book demonstrating the reasonableness of God's existence. Like his previous Cold Case Christianity  (reviewed here), each chapter opens with an anecdote of a homicide investigation and sets the stage for the concepts of the chapter. This format makes what could be somewhat difficult concepts, such as the attributes of consciousness and how they differ from materialism, much easier to digest. The liberal use of illustration (drawn by Wallace himself) and sidebars also coalesce the important information for easy digestion.

In building the case for God's existence, God's Crime Scene tackles many of the standard arguments including the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the reality of moral values and duties, the emergence of consciousness, and even the problem of evil. Each chapter offers seven or eight separate arguments or "lines of evidence" that point to that chapter's topic and each ends with the question of whether the evidence indicates there was someone "outside the room."

The nice thing here is Wallace approaches the existence of God as a cumulative case instead of assuming God first. This is not only a more reasonable way to approach the question of God's existence, but it has the added advantage of forcing the atheist to explain all of the facts as an integrated whole instead of piece by piece.

While most of the objections that one would hear from skeptics don't appear in the chapter itself, there is a "secondary investigations" section at the end of the book that voices the most common objections to each evidentiary point and briefly answers them. This allows the reader to have at least an idea that the objection is known, an answer exists, and gives him a direction where he can continue his own research in that direction.

The book is a great primer on arguments for the existence of God. Wallace's writing style is easy and the book could be understood in a high school or junior high Sunday school class. Instead of miring his arguments down in too much detail, Wallace relies on his "expert witnesses" to do that heavy lifting for him and simply explains their conclusions. For specifics, one much dig further into the bibliography that he has compiled chapter by chapter.

God's Crime Scene is a wonderful addition to any Christian's library. It should be read by all believers to understand the basic arguments for God's existence and why belief in God is inherently reasonable. It is persuasive for seekers and non-believers open minded enough to weigh the evidence on their own merits. It is a convicting case.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Must You Be an Expert to Criticize Evolution?



Who's allowed to comment on a topic like evolution? Are only those who are professionals in the field capable of drawing conclusions given the neo-Darwinian framework that drives modern evolutionary theory? That was basically the question poised to me after I received some feedback via Twitter on my article "Is the Origin of Life Part of the Evolution Discussion?" The article makes the case that the problem of how life begins cannot be separated from the evolution question and those who offer Blind Watchmaker-type solutions need to account for this issue in their theories.

Instead of responding to the arguments raised in that piece and its companion, I received several tweets by atheists who criticized the article on wholly unrelated grounds. One was from godFreeWorld who tweeted:
This kind of reply staggers me. It reminds me of people like pro-abortion Wendy Davis saying men cannot comment on abortion because they can't get pregnant and it's equally as much nonsense. I answered his tweet with one of my own stating that not being a biologist is completely irrelevant and it's an inherently biased position to dismiss God as an explanation a priori. He responded by stating:

Is Experience Always Necessary?

So, godFreeWord claims that I must be a biologist to comment on evolution. Does this make sense? Of course not, and for several reasons. First, there are many very good biologists who dismiss the Blind Watchmaker hypothesis as untenable. Michael Behe and Fazale Rana are just two of those, but it's obvious that this person rejects these biologists' conclusions. More importantly, though, to hold a criterion of expertise as the bar one must meet before commenting on any facet of an issue is ridiculous.

Even if his claim is that one must be an expert in a particular scientific field to comment on that field is demonstrably false. Unless the question at hand is one of a technical nature, well-informed people who are rational can draw rational conclusions without being experts. For example, I don't have to be an expert in biology to know that in the entire history of human existence we don't have a single observable instance of life coming from non-life. Thus the claim that such has happened before demands some kind of evidence. I don't have to be a biologist to know that consciousness has never been observed to spontaneously appear from non-conscious material. Because I know these events have no observable evidence behind them, it is well within my purview as a rational being to ask for a model of just how these things came to be. Without them, one leaves a gaping hole—a science of the gaps if you will—in one's theory.

The Demand for Expertise is Illogical

But there's a bigger problem with his objection. The demand for expertise as a criteria for commenting on evolution undercuts its own standards. On his Twitter profile, godFreeWorld claims to be a professor of biology. I will take him at his word. Perhaps that's why he feels that he can demand anyone speaking about evolution be so credentialed. Given that, I simply asked him:

You see, when godFreeWorld to objects to my argument, he is criticizing my philosophy on the subject. But according to his own standards, only experts are allowed to do that. As a biologist, he would be attacking a field he "has no experience in" to use his own words. The critique is self-defeating.Therefore, it cannot be taken seriously and be ignored.

Image courtesy Martin Pilote and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Contradiction of Preaching Morality as Cultural


One of the runaway concepts plaguing society today is the denial of moral duties and values as objective external things. Most people assume morality is fluid and right and wrong are nothing in themselves except a reflection of the likes or dislikes of a certain people at a certain point in time. Thus, while some cultures would have regarded homosexual acts wrong in their day, they were simply voicing their dislike for it while in our own time acceptance has made the act wrong no longer.

Usually people who explain away moral precepts in this manner are trying to accomplish two things: they seek to lift the restrictions that traditional moral values demands of them while demonstrating that we live in a more enlightened age, not beholden to rules that were crafted in a less progressive time. Their message is that it isn't good to stay locked in the backwards thinking of the past.

But this is exactly where their problem lies. If their view of morality as merely the outward voicing of likes or dislikes a specific culture holds is true, it destroys not only the wrongness of what we wish weren't wrong; it destroys the very idea that we must progress to a new way of thinking about morality at all.

G. K. Chesterton noted the trend well in his book Orthodoxy. He observed:
We often hear it said, for instance, "What is right in one age is wrong in another." This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard? Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them. How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction? You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy. It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat.1
Chesterton is right here. The idea of assuming right and wrong change with preferences means that right and wrong don't really exist at all. One society can never be better than another, only different. That means the person who wishes to fight for the civil rights of an oppressed group isn't right in taking on that crusade, he or she isn't advancing the society in so doing, because there is no place to advance. He is only moving it sideways.

The concept of better or worse can only make sense when an outside frame of reference is used. By relativizing moral values to societal preferences, the fame of reference no longer exists. Therefore the very goal of the moral relativist is undercut, demonstrating their "new way of thinking" is simply confusion.

References

1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print. 63.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Is Christianity Simply a Corrupted Form of Judaism?



Recently, more and more atheists are offering the objection that Christianity stole from ancient religions like Mithraism. They paint Christianity as plagiarized from other faiths, but as I've pointed out here and here; their similarities are more imagination than reality.

However, I recently received a question from a person that took a different tact on Christianity as a borrowed belief. She explains:
I am having a hard time explaining the difference between Judaism and Christianity. I have an ongoing argument with an atheist that goes like this:

He thinks Judaism precedes Christianity and therefore is the correct religion and way of thinking (he doesn't believe in either). He is claiming that Christianity came along later and changed the whole story and that makes Christianity false. "Since Judaism was one of the first religions why am I not following that way of thinking?" he asks.

I have been a Christian my whole life but I still have a lot to learn myself and also how to explain my faith to an atheist. I feel I am always defending my faith and it's very frustrating at times. I am very thankful for finding this ministry and all that you do! I am very blessed to be able to reach out. Thank you for everything! Any advice on how to tackle this argument?
Does the atheist have a point? If Judaism preceded Christianity by thousands of years, does it make sense that someone can be OK if they become Jewish instead of Christian? Did Christians "change the whole story" and is therefore a less reliable belief system than Judaism? The answer to all of these questions is no, and for a very simple reason: today's Judaism is not the same as the Judaism outlined in the Bible.

Destruction of the Temple Destroyed Biblical Judaism

Before Judaism was an established religion, they were an ethnic group. When Moses delivered the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt, he also delivered to them a system of worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a specific way. Even today, observant Jews recognize Moses' instructions given in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, as the key texts defining what the Jewish faith is. Even the highly influential 12th century Rabbi Maimonides when listing his thirteen principle of faith underlined the central nature of these texts, declaring the prophecies of Moses are true, the Torah that exists today is the same Torah that Moses delivered, and the Torah cannot be changed.1

Yet the Torah poses a problem, even for Maimonides, because it outlines a sacrificial system of worship that places the Jewish priests and their service at the Altar of God right at the heart of the faith. The Israelites in the desert received this law and quickly built the Tabernacle to execute the commands of God. Later, David and Solomon erected the Temple in Jerusalem as a more permanent structure for Jewish worship. After the Jewish captivity by the Babylonians, another Temple was erected then expanded, but the Jewish faithful always had a temple where they could observe the laws Moses wrote down. That ceased in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the Temple, just as Jesus had prophesied (Luke 21:6).

Rabbinic Judaism Cannot Offer Sacrifices

Given the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the priestly class was lost in the second dispersion of Jews around the world. In order to maintain their identity and hold on to some semblance of their faith, the local synagogue, which was a local house of worship and study, became the new spiritual center for faithful Jews, and the office of Rabbi (teacher) replaced the priest as the primary authority on how to live a devout life. As Dr. Rich Robinson writes, "It is best, however, to use the term 'Judaism' to refer to the religion of the rabbis that developed from about 200 B.C. onwards and crystallized following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In this way, Christianity is not described as a daughter religion to Judaism, but more correctly as a sister: both branched out from Old Testament Faith."2

This is a fair assessment, as the central commands of Moses concerning both the sacrifice and the Temple worship are not being practiced by any Jewish person today. Even the most orthodox follower cannot be orthodox in the key elements of their faith. Given this understanding of Judaism as it is practiced today, it is not older that Christianity. It formed at the same time as Christianity with both faiths anchoring their beliefs in the Old Testament.

Christianity as the Fulfillment of Judaism

However, there is a big difference between the two faiths. Another principle of Faith that Maimonides wrote was "I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true," referencing not simply the Torah, but the entire Old Testament of the Bible. Those prophets clearly and repeatedly, promised a Jewish Messiah that would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), he would be "cut off" during the Temple period (Daniel 9:26), he would be rejected by his own people, (Psalm 22:6), and ultimately be the final sacrifice that takes away the sins of the people (Isaiah 53:5,8). In other words, Christianity is the logical outworking of the Jewish worship taught by Moses. While Rabbinic Judaism reduces the need for sacrifice to a symbolic act of self-denial, Christianity took the Jewish sacrificial system so seriously, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes the center of the Christian faith. As the Book of Hebrews, explains, Jesus fulfills the need for sacrifices and only this fulfillment explains why God would no longer require a temple whereby atonement for sin may be made.

Where to Go from Here?

For the atheist, he may or may not find any reason to rethink his objection to Christianity. However, the way the objection is phrased is problematic in itself. One doesn't discern the truth value of a belief by its age. To prove this, all you have to do is point out that a lot of what we believe about the world has been known only relatively recently. Science is learning new things all the time. Even atheism as we see it today is a very new point of view, only coming about in the past couple of centuries. It isn't the age of a proposition that makes it true, it's whether it fits the facts we do know. Christianity fits the prophecies and the need for sacrifice that are clear in the Old Testament. It fits the facts of why there is something rather than nothing, it fits the facts that good and evil are real things, and it fits the historical evidence we have for what happened after Jesus's death. "What fits the facts" is a better question to answer than "how old is it." Perhaps you can begin there.

References

1. Daum, Ahron. "Maimonides' Thirteen (13) Principles of Faith." bestjewishstudies.com, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Aug. 2015. http://www.bestjewishstudies.com/13-Principles-of-Faith.
2. Robinson, Rich. "Judaism and the Jewish People: A Religion Profile from International Students, Inc." Jews for Jesus. International Students, Inc. 1995. Web. 9 Aug. 2015. 1.

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