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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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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Good Arguments Aren't Enough in Defending the Faith


Facts, reason, and evidence play key roles in apologetics. Christian defenders spend many hours studying the latest arguments for or against God's existence, the resurrection, or other issues fundamental to the faith. This is good and necessary; familiarizing oneself with the latest arguments on both sides of the divide gives you a greater advantage at presenting the most persuasive case possible.

However, there is another piece that many Christians neglect which is just as crucial: how to engage in a disarming, persuasive manner. James W. Sire makes the point in his book Why Good Arguments Often Fail. He writes:
In presentations of the case for Christ, good rational arguments often do not persuade. I mean by "a good argument" one that starts from true premises and/or facts, makes no logical mistakes (fallacies), marshals a great body of evidence, answers objections, clarifies the issues and draws valid (therefore true) conclusions. 1
Sire then recounts the experience of one young Christian who recounted C.S. Lewis's moral argument to an atheist friend. It didn't stir his friend at all. Sire notes such experiences are typical. He then concludes:
When such rational arguments are made in the field of Christianity, they are often not just ignored but rejected. Why is this?

Aristotle overstated the case, but still we should heed the warning it contains:

Every failure of Truth to persuade reflects the weakness of its advocates.

This is a humbling reminder of our responsibility as Christians: we must make the best presentation of the gospel that we can make. Of course, we are limited in our ability—every one of us, the clever and the not so bright. Our Lord knows this and works around our limitations. But we are responsible to do our best.2
Studying techniques at proper approach and presentation, in other words making your arguments not simply sound but persuasive, is known as rhetoric. Rhetoric is probably a more difficult skill to learn than even understanding the arguments themselves, as there is no one pattern that fits every person or every occasion. It's as much art as science, and it requires the rhetorician to be as good a listener as he is a speaker.

This isn't to say rhetoric cannot be taught. Many techniques do exist to make your case more persuasive. Sire's book is a great place to star to learn how to be more winsome and persuasive in presenting your case for Jesus.

When Jesus sent out his disciples in Matthew 10, he told them, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Learning rhetoric is obeying his command to be wise in the midst of wolves. Make sure you take some time to learn persuasiveness as well as the facts.

References

1. Sire, James W. Why Good Arguments Often Fail: Making a More Persuasive Case for Christ. Downers Grove, IL: IVP /InterVarsity, 2006. Print. 73.
2. Sire, 2006. 73-74.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Banning God from Government isn't Neutral



At the last Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa, atheist groups plan on holding a demonstration entitled "Keep Your Theocracy Out of Our Democracy." According to a press release by the Coalition of Reason, the event is a way of "demanding a separation of religion from government" as well as "to raise the visibility of the voice of non-theistic voters and the issues that they care about."1 ;The theme of separation of church and state plays prominently in the press release and will do so at the event as well.

The theme of; Eastern Iowa COR spokesman Rocky Gissler summed up, "An elected government official takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution that applies to all citizens, and their 'sincerely-held beliefs' should not supersede the supreme law of this country. When religious bias is allowed to influence our laws, it can result not only in discriminatory actions toward whole groups of people, such as the LGBTQ community, but grievous harm to individuals."

The complaint that religious belief should have no influence on governmental decision-making is a recurring one among atheist groups today. That's exactly what the title of this protest communicates. I also just wrote about how atheist Justin Scott has been quizzing the various candidates on whether they plan to cater to atheist values and telling Marco Rubio "there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief." When engaging with Mike Huckabee, Huckabee asked Scott whether he thought the public schools should be anti-religious. Scott's reply is telling. He said, "Not anti-religious. I believe there's value in teaching religion in terms of history, in terms of literature, but not in terms of 'This is truth.'"

Secularism Makes Truth-Claims about the World

What Gissler, Scott, and others like them fail to realize is the sentiment of holding religion as an untruth is not taking a neutral position. There's a big assumption that because something may be classified as secular it is unbiased, but that simply doesn't follow. For example, Gissler's statement above takes a particular moral stance on the same-sex marriage debate. He is allowing his secularism to inform him of what legislation he deems appropriate and which legislation he deems discriminatory.

When one looks at education, we can find the same trend. To teach evolution as the dominant explanation for the diversity of life on the earth is understandable in a science class. However, by labeling evolution as "secular" and any and all competition theories as "religious," an inherent bias is set up. That's problematic, because neo-Darwinism needs to be falsifiable to be a scientifically solid explanatory theory. ;But what would the parameters of what falsification look like? Instead of blind natural processes, diversity would require some kind of purposeful creator. Atheist claim this is forbidden.

The preference of atheists to assert secularism over other types of beliefs are clear. Atheists demand that none of their tax dollars goes to anything even remotely resembling faith. Nativity scenes, crosses existing on public lands, and even food pantries for the poor have all been targeted by atheist groups who hate any association of tax dollars with even the hint of a theistic belief system. But what about Christians who are supposed to support secular programs in schools to the exclusion of their beliefs? Why should only those who make the claim "God does not exist" get the free ride? That's what the protesters are really demanding; they want their beliefs to be the only ones in government. But our government is founded upon the belief that it is God who gives us certain rights . Take God away and all those rights the atheists are demanding fold like a house of cards.

Demanding Freedom or Oppression?

It's easy to try and play off secularism as a neutral position, but secularism isn't neutral. It stands opposed to most religious belief systems. If our country is truly going to be a free one, then its citizens must be able to draw upon their first freedom of the free exercise of religion. We must be able to exercise that freedom in our workplaces, in our schools, and in the voting booth. And those whom we elect should be able to exercise their beliefs and draw upon those beliefs to inform their views while in office. Anything less is demanding as oppressive a government as the one our Founders fled.

References

1. "Godless Expression of Free Speech from Atheist Voters at Final GOP Debate." Uniterdcor.org. United Coalition of Reason. 26 Jan 2016. Web. 28 Jan 2016. http://unitedcor.org/godless-expression-of-free-speech-from-atheist-voters-at-final-gop-debate/

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Do Religious Candidates Pose a Threat for Atheist Voters?

It's an election year in the United States and presidential candidates have been stumping for votes across the country. Most have been holding various town hall meetings where they could meet with voters and answer their questions or concerns. Interestingly, one YouTube vlogger named Justin Scott has been attending some of the meetings as a representative of the atheist community. Here's how Scott approached Republican candidate Marco Rubio with his question:
I'm an atheist voter. I represent millions of atheists and non-theists around the country, one of the fastest growing voter blocs and you said earlier that you want to stand up for religious freedom and all of that. My question is for atheist voters that are looking for somebody that will uphold their rights as Americans and not pander to a certain religious group.

I just noticed your recent ad. It mentioned nothing about policy, it mentioned nothing about ideas. It simply talked about wanting us to follow faith and find God and go to heaven and things like that, which is fine for those people that align with you.

My question is how do you plan on upholding our rights and focusing on non-theists. You know, there's, there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief, so I'm curious your thoughts.
Notice the core of Scott's question. He states atheist voters are looking for a candidate to "uphold their rights as Americans and not pander to a certain religious group." He then asks Rubio "how do you plan on upholding our rights and focusing on non-theists."

Scott's line of questioning is strange. Must the president of the United States focus on non-theists in order to uphold their rights? If that's true, then he must also focus on every group of every religious persuasion, a daunting process in a widely diverse country of 330 million people. Scott also includes a couple of ad hominems in his question, using the label "pastor-in-chief" and implying Rubio may be pandering to a certain religious group.

Notice, there are no specifics tied to his concerns. He doesn't point to any legislation Rubio sponsored that violates the First Amendment rights of non-believers. He offers no specific instances where Rubio personally showed animus towards non-believers and Rubio does a great job of answering Scott by pointing to the First Amendment. (You can watch the entire exchange here.)

Scott's similar question to Mike Huckabee offers more illumination on Scott's concern:
I'm an atheist, and I feel as if the Republican Party lately is hell-bent on tearing down separation of church and state. I want to know your thoughts on that. I also want to know why should I vote for you. Why should millions of atheists around the country support a candidate that has made comments like you've made about us?
At this point, Huckabee asks Scott "What have I made about you?" Scott again dodges any specific charges, simply offering a generalized caricature of the comments as "they haven't been pretty." Huckabee answers he would in fact uphold the First Amendment and how if guarantees Scott and any other non-believers "to be atheists as much as it guarantees me the right to be a Christian, or somebody else the right to be a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, or Buddhist." Huckabee is right here. The separation clause of the First Amendment simply says the Federal Government cannot compel any religious belief or non-belief upon its citizenry.

One point Scott seems to miss here is being a passionate believer about one's particular faith is not a disqualifier for office, even the office of president. If one holds to Christianity, that doesn't simply mean the person attends Sunday church. It means the Christian worldview will shape his or her understanding of all reality. That's protected by the very First Amendment that also protects Scott's view of reality.

Because Scott can't seem to offer specifics of where the candidates demonstrate a predilection to abridge the rights of non-believers and cannot even name exactly which rights he means, his question strikes me as pandering. He's unjustifiably biasing a candidate solely on their religious views. Thus, Scott really fails to add any substance to the discussion on the candidates and how non-believers will fare under their leadership.

Tomorrow, I will explore a bit more of Scott's comments and specifically his concern with religion in schools. But for now, the lack of detail should be more troubling for those who are cheering Scott on than for any of the candidates.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Does "We Believe as We Are Taught" Explain Christianity's Popularity?



The vast majority of people across the globe believe in some type of deity. However, much has been made of recent polls showing that in western nations such as Europe and the United States there is a growing number of people who do not believe in God. One recent article pointed to a poll of Icelanders that claimed no Icelander under the age of 25 believes God created the world. 1 Given the fact the poll was conducted by an atheist group and they also found 42% of those that same 25 and younger set identified as Christian, I would question the poll's methodology before making the grandiose claim of 0.0%.

But the desire of those like the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association to trumpet how more and more people are disbelieving God raises another issue. What are they trying to say? How does the fact we see some growth in the number of atheists and agnostics correlate with that is true and what is not? Certainly, such an argument would be counter-intuitive for the atheist. If truth was found by percentages, then the theists' numbers provide overwhelming evidence for God's existence.

Usually, atheists don't argue that point. They take the tact that religious beliefs are held because they are taught or caught like a virus. Richard Carrier claims "The most fundamental reason for the persistence of religious belief is the very simple fact that we believe as we are taught." 2 Atheists sometimes make the related argument that goes something along the lines of, "If you were born in Afghanistan, you'd be arguing for Allah's existence right now!"

However, there are several problems with this claim. We can look at least three:

1. It Commits the Genetic Fallacy

Just because we're taught something doesn't make it wrong. We believe other things, like molecules are comprised from atoms. We hold to that belief without having to do our own experiments. Even counter-intuitive beliefs like how quantum particles behave as if they know we're going to look at them before we do in double-slit experiments. Even if my fourth grade teacher was a crook and a liar, does that mean I shouldn't believe Father Serra was responsible for building the California Missions? There are a whole host of things people believe because they are taught. One cannot dismiss the belief simply by questioning the source.

2. Christianity's History Shows the Opposite

While it's true that some people will accept their faith system without question, it doesn't mean this was the way the faith system itself grew. Islam has a history of conquest and pressing its belief system onto subjugated groups. Christianity, however, grew differently. Christians for 2000 years have been going into places where people believed something else and converting them. Although a group such as the Greeks or the Irish or the Romans held to a particular belief system, one that they were taught, they converted to Christianity freely because they were presented with the truth of the Gospel. They changed their beliefs, even though it many times meant more danger and persecution.

3. Atheists Will Abandon Their Beliefs Today

Finally, there are beliefs that are abandoned as unsupportable EVEN THOUGH we've been taught them. Most every adult I know was taught that Santa Claus existed as a child, but I know of not a single individual who has remained committed to that belief. I certainly have never heard of an individual who grew up not believing in Santa Clause but decided at 35 Santa was real!

However, I know many very reasonable people who grew up atheist but as an adult abandoned atheism for Christianity. C.S. Lewis is one example. In countries like Afghanistan today, people are converting to Christianity though they were taught Islam and the punishment of apostasy is death. Ravi Zacharias was born in India, but he isn't arguing for Hinduism.

The claim that religion succeeds because of mental laziness is itself as lazy claim. It's also one that turns on itself; I could use the same concept to argue that the increase in non-belief isn't because of thoughtful reflection, but it is simply a reaction to what atheistic teachers are telling young people in colleges. In order to determine the truth about God, we mustn't look to polls. We need to investigate the truth claims each offers.

References

1. Staff. "0.0% of Icelanders 25 Years or Younger Believe God Created the World, New Poll Reveals." Iceland Magazine. Imag Ehf., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/00-icelanders-25-years-or-younger-believe-god-created-world-new-poll-reveals.
2. Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. Print. 261.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Abortion and the S.L.E.D. Argument



Tomorrow is Sanctity of Life Sunday and I can think of no better post for today than to quote Scott Klusendorf's S.L.E.D. argument answering those who would promote abortion. Abortion is one of the greatest evils in our day and there is no justification for it. There is no greater definition of evil than when a human being is killed simply so other will not be inconvenienced. Here's how Klusendorf lays out his argument:
Philosophically, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be. The simple acronym SLED can be used to illustrate these non-essential differences:

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more valuable than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than you and I. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that the immediate capacity for self-awareness and a desire to go on living makes one valuable. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Infants do not acquire distinct self-awareness and memory until several months after birth. (Best case scenario, infants acquire limited self-awareness three months after birth, when the synapse connections increase from 56 trillion to 1,000 trillion.) As abortion advocate and philosopher Dean Stretton writes, “Any plausible pro-choice theory will have to deny newborns a full right to life. That’s counterintuitive.”

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already valuable human beings, merely changing their location can’t make them so.

Degree of Dependency: If viability bestows human value, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal (and valuable) because they all have the same human nature.1
1.Klusendorf, Scott. "Five Bad Ways to Argue About Abortion." Life Training Institute. Life Training Institute, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016. http://prolifetraining.com/resources/five-bad-ways/
Image courtesy lunar caustic - Embryo, CC BY 2.0

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Need an End Game for the Origin of Life



Antony Flew was one of the more formidable philosophers who argued against Christian theism over the course of his career. Flew was intelligent, a powerful writer but fair in his argumentation. But he never let his ideology get in the way of his investigation. As he said, "My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also areligious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato's Socrates: 'We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'" 1

Even as an "areligious unbeliever" philosopher, Flew had become more and more bothered by certain inherent problems associated with the neo-Darwinist conception of evolution. Primarily, Flew was concerned about the origin of life, or as the question he later asks in his book, "How did life go live?" Even prior to his announcement that he was renouncing atheism and identifying as a theist, he wrote:
Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin's friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.

But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism. 2

The End Goal of Life Must be there in the Beginning

Flew identifies three key questions about the origin of life that are philosophical in their purpose. He asks, "How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and 'coded-chemistry'?"3 These are key issues in the debate over the origin of life.

The first concept, that of the goal of an organism is tied in come ways to the second concept. Living things reproduce. Without reproduction, evolution is a non-starter. When one discusses the origin of life, one of the goals of that organism's function must be to make more of itself; otherwise we only see a recurring series of dead ends. But we don't see this as a result of any other laws of nature. Just how did this function of organisms that are living and have some kind of end goal (e.g. surviving and reproducing) come about? And how did the DNA, which represents the coded chemistry, become representative of those functions?

Goals and desired ends don't come about by random acts. Neither do codes. Codes are really arbitrary. Flew points to David Berlinski's example of Morse code, noting the connection of dots and dashes to specific letters is the connection a mind makes.4 The codes are a vehicle to carry information, but they aren't the important part of the equation. The message is. Therefore, codes exist first in the minds of the code-builders who construct them for a specific purpose, to communicate messages over a certain medium.

So, the purpose or design or the end game—what is known in philosophy as teleology— of an organism is crucial to not simply sustaining life but to life's origin. From the very beginning, we see life must have the goal of survival and replication built in.  It uses coded DNA to carry out this goal; and the code itself implies a goal-oriented creation.

The very first life requires purpose and cannot be explained away as mere randomness.The question becomes, how can you get goals without a mind?

References

1. Flew, Antony. "Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology." Philosophy Now, Issue 43. October/November 2003. Web. 22 Jan 2016. https://philosophynow.org/issues/47/Letter_from_Antony_Flew_on_Darwinism_and_Theology
2. Flew, 2003.
3. Flew, Antony, and Roy Abraham. Varghese. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2007. Print. 124.
4. Flew, 2007. 127.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

350 Year Old Frenchman Talks About Facebook


I love history. I love to look at ancient edifices or read about past civilizations and try to really get into the minds of those who have come before us. It can seem we're so very different from the Romans or Greeks or Egyptians. We're so much smarter today, after all look at how much our advancements have given us! Such a view is really superficial. Those people were people and their motivations were by and large the same ones we have today. Certainly, they are packaged differently, but it's striking just how much humanity doesn't change from age to age.

Take the issue of self-perception. All people are worried how others perceive them and a significant number elevate the perceptions of others over everything else. Perhaps it was whispers between friends in ages past; today, it's counting comments on Facebook. The drive is the same, though. We want people to think more of us.

As a case in point, look at the writings of Blaise Pascal. His Pensées, or Reflections, was written over 350 year ago, before his death in 1662. Yet, one line neatly sums up the very modern drive of young people fishing for Instagram likes or YouTube fame. He writes, "We are so presumptuous that we would like to be known throughout the world, even by people who shall come when we are no more. And we are so vain that the esteem of five or six people close to us pleases and satisfies us." (#152)1

Pascal even expanded on this to say how much the views of others matter more to us than our own reality. Tell me if these sounds like how so many treat their social media posts today:
We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we want to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavor to make an impression. We labor constantly to embellish and preserve this imaginary being, and neglect the real one. And if we are calm, or generous, or faithful, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to our other being. (#653)
Of course, cultivating the imaginary being online means being something other than honest; making the division more pronounced:
We would rather separate them from ourselves to unite them to the other. We would willingly be cowards to acquire the reputation for being brave. This is a great sign of our own being's nothingness, of not being satisfied with the one without the other, and of renouncing the one for the other! For whoever would not die to save his honor would be infamous. (#653)2
That sounds pretty modern, doesn't it?

We Still Abdicate Our Need for Right-Thinking

Pascal was very aware of the human condition. He knew that while people worried about how other perceives them, such worries are vanity. They don't mean a lot. More important is for one to think well. A strong thinker will examine him or herself as well as the ideas with which he comes in contact:
Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end.

Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man. (#513)3

… Just as we corrupt our minds, we corrupt our feelings also.

…Our minds and feelings are improved by conversation; our minds and feelings are corrupted by conversation. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them. But we cannot make this choice if we have not already improved and not corrupted them. Thus a circle is formed, and they are fortunate who escape it. (#659)4
I use social media a lot and I think its great in its place. However, I also try to set aside a certain amount of time every day to be off social media and read or engage others with ideas that will stimulate me to think better. I want to grow better personally, and I'm really not that interested in posting how well I'm doing so others may see. That doesn't mean there's no place for social media. If you're using GoodReads or something similar to spur conversation with others or hold one another accountable for your book reading, that's a great thing. But I hope you would be encouraged to be a little bit intentional in mental self-improvement, as intentional as you may be in the pictures and posts you share.

Proper thinking starts not with how others think of you but an honest self-examination. If you can identify your own biases and predispositions you are in much better shape to understand others' points of view. You can see things like sources are not necessarily less credible simply because they lived centuries or even a couple of millennia before us. You will be more open to an honest exchange of ideas. You won't be as susceptible to being led by feelings that can be manipulated and false.

References

1. Pascal, Blaise, and Roger Ariew. Pensées. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2005. Print.
2. Pascal, 2005. 199.
3. Pascal, 2005. 162.
4. Pascal, 2005. 200.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Undermining Morality in Medical Care

Yesterday, I wrote an article on the necessity of religious freedom to exist for freedom to exist at all. If one cannot live according to his or her values and are forced to adopt the values of another, then that person is not living in freedom. It is exactly this kind of oppression that Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the Constitution took pains to prohibit.

However, the culture of today has devalued conscience and religious freedom so much that people complain about anyone who tries to exercise their religious freedom when it comes in conflict with the desires of another. One can simply point to the recent lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union against Mercy Medical Center in Redding, CA for refusing to perform a tubal ligation on a patient during a C-section delivery. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Dignity Health, which is the group who manages the Roman Catholic hospital was simply following their policy "'not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health's Catholic facilities,' in accordance with guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops." 1

Given that 1) Mercy Medical Center is a Catholic institution 2) the procedure is elective and in no way necessary and 3) Catholic doctrine does teach sterilization are interfering with the proper function of reproductive systems as God designed them, their denial shouldn't have been a surprise at all. One should no more expect a Roman Catholic hospital to perform sterilization surgery than to expect a Muslim restaurateur to serve alcohol or an Orthodox Jewish Deli to offer a ham and cheese sandwich. If you want that, you may have to go elsewhere.

Who Gets Priority?

The central issue in this fight is one of priority. No one is advocating legislating a ban on tubal ligation procedures. In fact, Dignity Health manages other hospitals that are non-Catholic and performs the procedure at those.  The policy of the company is simply to honor the wishes of the institution it serves. The question is does the desires of the patient take precedence over the moral values the organization wishes to practice? Whose desires take priority?

In his recent commentary on the case, Charles C. Camosy correctly noted that medical care needs to hold to a higher moral standard than, say, a fast-food restaurant:
Alarmingly, this understanding of medicine is coming under tremendous pressure from what Mark Mercurio, a professor of pediatrics and ethics at Yale University's medical school, calls "the Burger King model." Instead of medicine being treated as a profession governed by internal norms and values, it's increasingly seen as market-based, with patients as customers who come in and "Have It Their Way."



But if you take a professional view of medicine, the following question must be asked: Is intentionally interfering with someone's reproductive system (in ways which do not address some injury or disease) an act of healthcare? This is a disputed question, of course, and one's answer depends on one's particular value system. From the Catholic Church's perspective, it is not. 2
Camosy is right here. We hear complaints all the time that corporations are greedy; they shouldn't be in it only for the money but make corporate decisions in way that are morally upright, too. This is much more important for healthcare organizations where the bottom line can include pulling life support in order to save costs on a viable patient. But one cannot have it both ways. You can't demand a corporation adopt a moral framework then ask them to violate it because it conflicts with the desires of a few individuals who don't want to travel to another location. I would rather know a hospital has a strong moral stand towards the preservation of human life in both its existing and potential forms than seek treatment at an avowedly amoral institution.

Camosy concludes "When healthcare providers are forced by law to violate the values that make them who they are — because of the request of customers demanding goods and services in the free market — it signals the end of medicine as a professional practice."3 If medicine becomes a "whatever the buyer wants" business, it loses any moral compunction to do the right thing. In matters of life and death, I'm not willing to make that trade.

The ACLU, an organization claiming to uphold religious liberty, is the agency bringing the lawsuit. Clearly, this institution is more concerned about being on the left side of the political spectrum rather than the right side of conscience.

References

1.Buck, Claudia. "ACLU Sues Dignity Health over Redding Hospital's Refusal to Perform Contraception Surgery." SacBee.com. The Sacramento Bee, 29 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/health-and-medicine/article52168780.html.
2.Camosy, Charles C. "Why a Catholic Hospital Shouldn't Be Obliged to Do a Tubal Ligation." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-camosy-the-ethics-of-catholic-healthcare-20160118-story.html.
3.Camosy, 2016.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

There is No Freedom without Religious Freedom



This weekend marked two important dates in the advancement of freedom. The more widely known was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, celebrated on the third Monday in January. MLK Day is a federal holiday in the United States, set aside to remember not just the work of Dr. King, but his cause.

To view another human being as less worthy or less capable for no other reason than the color of one's skin or heritage is wrong, for all human beings should hold an "equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them" as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of independence. MLK Day recognizes the concept enshrined in that document. Senator Jack Kemp, when voting for the holiday after rejecting it years prior, made the point well:
I have changed my position on this vote because I really think that the American Revolution will not be complete until we commemorate the civil rights revolution and guarantee those basic declarations of human rights for all Americans and remove those barriers that stand in the way of people being what they are meant to be.1
I think that's what makes MLK Day important. It makes Jefferson's belief that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" consistent for our nation. Jefferson's ownership of slaves may make some question his beliefs on this subject, but living inconsistently does not mean the idea itself is wrong; it only demonstrates the person who seeks to follow that idea is flawed.

The Other Holiday for Freedom

The other day that marks the advancement of freedom is less well-known, but no less important, and it also involves the writings of Thomas Jefferson and he felt this document was just as important as his crafting of the Declaration. That document is the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, otherwise known as The Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty and it became one of the sources for the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and it was passed on January 16th of 1786. January 16th has come to be known as Religious Freedom Day.

In the statute, Jefferson lays out why the state should not be able to compel only certain opinions or religious views. It not only argues against elevating a certain denomination or sect (such as the Church of England, that had been recognized as the official church of the state of Virginia), but it argues that government impeding any religious beliefs is a violation of the natural rights of men. Jefferson argues that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." He then points out "proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right" (emphasis added). 2

Jefferson finally argues that any civil official who wants to enforce his own understanding of what is allowable and what is not regarding religious questions actually robs all people of liberty:

To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own3

Losing Religious Freedom Today

But in cases of Christians who seek to both exercise their professions and uphold their religious convictions, that's exactly what we are seeing today. Civil magistrates are trying to override the beliefs of Christian cake bakers, photographers, and county clerks with whom the magistrates' opinions differ. Even the Obama administration hailed Religious Freedom Day as honoring "one of our most cherished ideas" even while it pursued legal action against a group of nuns who hold that abortion is morally wrong.

Today, while racism is widely reviled both in public and in the media, the importance of religious liberty is being eroded. Much of that comes from the confusion over what religious liberty entails. But be certain that if religious liberty is eroded then there will be no check left against whatever opinions those in power wish to impose on the citizenry.

When signing MLK Day into law, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed:
Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone."4
The same relationship exists with religious freedom. If we lose the ability to speak about our faith when legislation is debated, we lose our voice of conviction. If we must be compelled to a certain action even though it stands in opposition to our understanding of right and wrong, we are being denied our natural rights. Natural rights cannot be taken from people by governments. Our country is founded on this principle. To compromise on religious freedom would mean subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of the powerful. That's a future that even Dr. King would loathe for his children.

References

1. Jack Kemp Foundation. "Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday." Jack Kemp Foundation. Jack Kemp Foundation, 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2016. http://www.jackkempfoundation.org/news/2012/01/16/martin-luther-king-jr-holiday/.
2. "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786." Transcript. VirginiaMemory.com. http://www.virginiamemory.com/docs/ReligiousFree.pdf
3. "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786."
4. Reagan, Ronald. "Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday." Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. 2 Nov. 1983. Web. 19 Jan 2016. http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1983/110283a.htm

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Are Christians not to Judge Non-Christians?



The command "Judge not lest ye be judged" is one of the most often quoted Bible passages. Less frequently cited but perhaps more applicable is the passage in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul tells the Christians to not judge non-Christians? What are we to make of these passages? In this short video, Lenny offers some clarity to how we should understand Paul's command in light of the examples we've received.



Image courtesy Andrew Hughey and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Was Jesus' Tomb Really Empty?


The empty tomb is a huge part of the evidence arguing for the resurrection of Jesus. We know that the vast majority of New Testament scholars, from the very liberal to the very conservative, hold that Jesus's followers believed they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. "It is an indisputable historical datum that sometime, somehow, the disciples came to believe they had seen the risen Jesus,"1 claims New Testament scholar Alexander J. M. Wedderburn, cited by Michael Licona in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

Licona points to other scholars as well and highlights the work of Dr Gary Habermas who "cataloged the opinions of hundreds of scholars writing on the subject of Jesus' resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. His database divides the opinions into more than one hundred categories pertaining to the questions and subquestions related to the resurrection of Jesus. He comments 'As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus' death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord.'" 2


Dismissing Hallucinations and Groupthink

Because it's clear that Jesus' followers had some kind of experience they believed was seeing him after he rose from the dead, one must ascribe some kind of cause for their experience. Skeptics have tried to dismiss these as sincere but mistaken experiences. They've offered some kind of hallucination theory, cases of mistaken identity, a kind of "groupthink" (e.g. "I can see him, can't you see him, too?"), or dismissing these as spiritual visions instead of physical ones.

Any of the above scenarios must have happened rather quickly after the crucifixion. The gospels and Acts place Jesus' appearances no later than forty days after Easter Sunday excluding Paul's Damascus road experience. Thus, Jesus' corpse could have been produced by Jesus' foes to defeat any such claims. Yet, the corpse seems to not be available to them. In fact, it is the Jewish Sanhedrin who were worried about that very issue and asked Pilate if the tomb could be secured, a request that was granted. Even then, though, they could not counter the resurrection charge. Their claim was "the disciples came and stole the body."

There is only one reason why that story persisted and Jesus' disciples became more confident instead of less so: there was no body in the tomb. As historian Michael Grant states:
Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition [of the angelic messenger in Mark] as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels—as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.3
Grant concludes that there must have been someone who had taken the body, though he doesn't know who. Still, Grant is right to say if the criteria one employ's for ancient history is leveraged, then we are left with the real historical fact that the tomb was indeed empty.

Adding the empty tomb to the knowledge that the disciples had real, sincere experiences they identified as seeing the risen Jesus, we have a much stronger case for Jesus' resurrection. The claims of hallucinations, groupthink, or spiritual visions become much less plausible since none of those can explain where Jesus' body actually went. The evidence leads to a resurrection.

References

1. Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove,Il.: InterVarsity, 2010. 373. Print.
2. Licona, 2010.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. New York: Scribner, 1977. 176. Print.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Overcoming the Conspiracy Against Christianity


Ideas matter. They matter because they shape how we understand the world in which we live. They matter because they motivate us to want to change or why we desire to keep things the same.

Dallas Willard made his living in a world of ideas. As a Christian philosopher he would routinely think through different ideas and how they could impact the larger society. His book, The Divine Conspiracy, is a masterful work provoking Christians to live their lives consistently with Christian ideals.

In one section, Willard underscores how powerful ideas are b quoting economic John Maynard-Keyes. Keyes states:
"…the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

Willard then goes on to opine:
One could wish this were true only of economics and politics. But it is true of life in general. It is true of religion and education, of art and media. For life as a whole, Keynes's words apply: "I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas." Not immediately, as he acknowledges, but after a certain period of time. The ideas of people in current leadership positions are always those they took in during their youth. "But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."1

The power of mere ideas is a matter about which intellectuals commonly deceive themselves and, intentionally or not, also mislead the public. They constantly take in hand the most powerful factors in human life, ideas, and most importantly, ideas about what is good and right. And how they handle and live them thoroughly pervades our world in its every aspect.2
People love to believe in conspiracies. Whether it's the grassy knoll, a faked moon landing, or the CIA blowing up the World Trade Center, it's easy to think that evil acts can only be brought on by some powerful group hiding in a secret back room.

The truth of the matter is that the "conspirators" are those who teach in classrooms or make subtle claims in otherwise benign entertainment. They want to remake society into their particular view. That shouldn't surprise anyone. If a person believes their views are true, of course they would seek to persuade others to hold it as well. But it does mean that Christians should also be prepared to argue how those views are not true and have good reasons demonstrating the truth of Christianity.

If Christianity tells us the truth about good and evil, man and morality, and the nature of the world, then we must inject our ideas into the public sphere. It's the best way to thwart a culture of evil.

References

1. Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. 5. Kindle Edition.
2. Willard, 1998. 5-6.

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's Crippling to Believe Only in Science



I've written several times on how today's culture holds an over-inflated view of science. Science is a great tool that helps us to learn about one very specific subset of knowledge: the mechanics behind the natural world. It cannot tell us about other crucial pieces such as what constitutes knowledge, what constitutes a meaningful relationship, or how to stop people from being evil. Given its limited scope, therefore, science is of a certain limited value.

This isn't to say the study of science is of no value or marginal value. Some of our gravest problems do come from mechanical interactions. Illness would be one example. But it is wrong to think that because one can claim "science says so" and therefore the discussion should end. With politically contentious and highly complex issues like how modern humanity may be affecting climate, a large degree of caution is warranted.

The fact is science doesn't always get it right. Thomas S. Kuhn explained scientific advancements do not come in a pattern of smooth upwards growth, but in a very herky-jerky set of fits and starts, as those holding to old paradigms are hesitant to give their particular views up. Even if there is a strong consensus of opinion on how some particular point, scientists are still people and people are capable of being wrong and being persuaded by others who are also wrong.

Here are just a few areas where claims based on accepted science were either rushed, fraudulent, or simply wrong:
  • AETHER: Aether was believed to be an element permeating the universe. The view was held by a consensus of scientists for many centuries, including names such as Issac Newton, Thomas Young, Maxwell, and Lord Kelvin. In the 19th century, more and more scientists held to the theory of luminiferous aether as the all-encompassing medium through which waves of light traveled. So strongly was the theory held that published student references works would claim: "The cumulative evidence for thinking space filled with a ponderable medium of exceedingly minute density grows stronger every day."1

    However, the entire enterprise and the many, many well-thought explanations of how our universe works were completely overthrown after an 1887 experiment couldn't detect the aether2 and Einstein showed the medium wasn't necessary. It is now considered scientifically obsolete, however it took decades for the theory to be completely abandoned as the 1914 student reference work demonstrates.
  • PILTDOWN MAN Palentologists in Britain announced Piltdown Man in1913 as a find of one of the "missing links" between ape and man. The general accepted it for years, but in 1953, Piltdown 'man' was exposed as a forgery. The skull was modern and the teeth on the ape's jaw had been filed down.3
  • ACADEMIC FRAUD: The US National Institutes of Health investigatory panel found the immunologist Thereza Imanishi-Kari had fabricated data in a 1986 research paper authored with the Nobel prize winner David Baltimore. The findings claimed in the paper promised a breakthrough for genetic modification of the immune system.4
  • N-RAYS: A French physicist, René Blondlot, claimed to have discovered a new type of radiation, shortly after Roentgen had discovered X-rays. American physicist Robert Wood, however, revealed that N-rays were little more than a delusion. Wood removed the prism from the N-ray detection device, without which the machine couldn't work.5
None of these events show that all of science is corrupted or questionable, but it does illustrate that science has no claim on being the only way to really know something. That's why anyone who says they only believe in "science" has crippled him or herself from the truth before they've even begun to search for it.

Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould said "Scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution."6 I always take exception when in conversation an atheist will claim to "only believe in science."

References

1. Beach, Chandler Belden, Frank Morton McMurry, and Eleanor Atkinson. "Ether." The New Student's Reference Work: For Teachers, Students and Families. Vol. II. Chicago: F.E. Compton, 1914. Online. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_New_Student%27s_Reference_Work/Ether
2. "Michelson–Michelson–Morley ExperimentMorley Experiment." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson%E2%80%93Morley_experiment.
3. "Piltdown Man." Natural History Museum. The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, n.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/departments-and-staff/library-and-archives/collections/piltdown-man.html.
4. Research Integrity Adjudications Panel ."Thereza Imanishi-Kari, Ph.D., DAB No. 1582 (1996)." Departmental Appeals Board, Department of Health and Human Services, 21 June 1996. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. http://www.hhs.gov/dab/decisions/dab1582.html.
5. Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003. 63. Print..
6. Gould, Stephen Jay. "Nonoverlapping Magisteria." Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16-22; Reprinted by The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive. 1998. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. http:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Critics of God Ignore the Biggest Part in the Problem of Evil



One point to consider when discussing the problem of evil is just how much evil infuses all of life. We tend to think of evil as something separate from us. A Hitler or a Pol Pot or a Kim Jong Un. Maybe evil is found in the latest serial killer or corporate pirate. But that's really thinking of the problem in a backwards kind of way. Because evil isn't confined to those names on a list produced in some office of the FBI or Interpol. Evil can be found in the grocery store when a person snatches a few grapes from the produce table. It can be seen on the highway in how drivers treat one another. Evil is everywhere.

In her essay "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged," Dorothy L. Sayers argues that this kind of evil is the type we do not want God to deal with immediately. In fact, we don't even count it as the problem of evil at all. She writes:
The problem of sin and evil is, as everybody knows, one which all religions have to face, especially those that postulate an all-good and all-powerful God. "If," we say readily, "God is holy and omnipotent, He would interfere and stop all this kind of thing"—meaning by "this kind of thing" wars, persecutions, cruelties, Hitlerism, Bolshevism, or whatever large issue happens to be distressing our minds at the time. But let us be quite sure that we have really considered the problem in all its aspects.

"Why doesn't God smite this dictator dead?" is a question a little remote from us. Why, madam, did He not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why, sir, did He not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty little bit of financial trickery?

You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are none the less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people. Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about? That cuts both ways; for, in that case, it would make precious little difference to His creation if He wiped us both out to-morrow.1
Sayers touches an appropriate nerve here, i think. For a holy God to vanquish evil, he is required to vanquish all evil. Every drop. Christianity holds that the death of Jesus on the cross paid the price to conquer evil and reconcile all mankind to himself. Now, God is in the process of preparing the world to work in a way where people can live in an evil-free environment. His allowance of evil simply reflects his love for his people. God's first move isn't to wipe out the person who slanders or the uncaring friend. It is to deal with the reality of the evil that we euphemistically label "being human." I can think of no other belief system—faith-based or non-faith based—that so clearly identifies evil in all its forms and still offers a workable solution to it.

References

Sayers, Dorothy L. The Greatest Drama Ever Staged. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938. Online. http://www.gutenberg.ca/ebooks/sayers-greatest/sayers-greatest-00-h.html,br /> Images courtesy mob mob and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

"Where Two or Three are Gathered" Doesn't Mean What You Think" (video)



It's almost commonplace for church leaders and Christians in general to refer to Matthew 18:20, which says "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." They try to use this verse to prove that Jesus can be found in the fellowship of believers. However, in doing so, they are twisting the scriptures just as much as a Mormon or one of Jehovah's Witnesses do.

In this short clip, Lenny explains what Matthew 18:20 really means and why it's important to use the scriptures properly, especially in church settings.



Photo courtesy Grayson Akerly and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Using Ultimate Evil to Answer the Problem of Evil



Why would an all-good, all loving God allow so much evil in the world? This question, what is known as the Problem of Evil, has been one that both believers and non-believers have wrestled with for much of Christian history. Christians have appealed to God's desire for mankind to have free will as the primary reason evil can exist at all.

Still, atheists will object to the fact that any God that would allow so much evil or certain acts that we recognize as so tremendously evil would be inconsistent with the God defined in Christianity whose primary attribute is love. Is the belief in an all-loving God incompatible with horrendously evil acts in the world? In order to better understand God's relationship to evil, I think it is helpful to look at what we can think of as the most extreme example of evil and see if the belief in the Christian God makes any sense.

What Would Count as Incredibly Evil?

To figure out what counts as a heinously evil act, let's narrow our choices a bit. First, I would argue that intentional evil is worse than accidental or natural evil. For example a person contracts cancer and suffers to degree X. If the cancer was natural we would look upon that suffering as bad. If the cancer was from negligence, we would hold the perpetrator in a certain level of contempt. But if the cancer was intentionally caused, that holds a higher level of seriousness. Intentional evil is a greater evil than unintentional evil.

Even within intentional acts there are degrees of evil. We rightly look upon murder as an evil act. As a though experiment, think of a 35 year old female victim who was murdered by a gunshot to the head. The killer is apprehended and placed on trial. If this was an indiscriminate act, such as a drive by shooting, one would rightly demand a certain level of punishment for the crime. However, if it was found that the victim was kept alive for several hours so the killer could enjoy himself torturing her, our view of the crime would change. It is more evil to torture and kill a person, especially for pleasure, than to simply kill them and walk away.

Secondly, I would argue murder is probably the most evil act one can perpetrate upon another because it robs an individual of one's most valuable asset, which is life itself. By taking a life, a perpetrator has robbed his victim of a future and the victim's friends and family of an irreplaceable asset. If one doesn't see human beings as intrinsically valuable, then the problem of evil is a functional one .Human beings are simply resources like the rest of the planet and cancer can be compared to any other natural resource. The problem of evil goes away at that point. But if human beings are intrinsically valuable, then they are different from the rest of the natural world. Their value rests in their existence. Therefore, to take away their existence is to do something uniquely evil, something more evil than any other act.

The Suffering of the Innocent Compounds Evil

Thirdly, the suffering of the innocent is held as more tragic than the suffering of the non-innocent. Suffering as a consequent to wrong actions is many times seen as "just desserts" in people's eyes. But causing the suffering of a child who may be considered ignorant of the world's workings is considered more heinous. This concept seems to be behind the questions I receive about God allowing young children to have cancer or other diseases. They appeal to children to imply the innocence of the one who is suffering.

Innocence is also important as we are talking about an all-knowing God. What if God allows a certain amount of evil or suffering in the life of a sinful person to show that person the ramifications of sin? It may be that an all-knowing God would use a sinful person's suffering to draw his or her attention back to himself. But if an innocent person suffered, then one can legitimately question how God could ever allow such a thing to happen.

The Most Evil Act Demonstrates an All-Loving God

I could go into more detail on my points above, but I will leave them as they stand now for brevity's sake. I lay all this out in order to develop what could be considered one of the most evil acts in history and see if we can measure how such an act could be perpetrated and still be compatible with the belief in an all-loving God. As I've noted, an intentional crime of murder against the innocent there the innocent suffer prior to death for no reason other than the enjoyment of the perpetrator is probably the most evil act one can think of. If the Christian God would stop any kind of evil, certainly he would begin with this kind of evil. This is evil with a capital "E" and certainly deserves God's attention. Does it make sense to believe in a God who allows this kind of evil to happen?

Yes it does. In fact, we have a very real historical example of just such an evil being perpetrated and we find that God not only doesn't stop it, but he allows it for very specific purposes. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we have the epitome of the innocent individual. Christians hold that Jesus was not merely one of God's creatures but God Himself incarnate. That places his value even above those of humanity. Christianity also holds that Jesus was completely innocent and free of sin. He not only was born innocent as a baby, but he accomplished what no other human being on earth could, he remained sin-free even as an adult.

However, God allowed the most innocent and most valuable person to even walk the earth to suffer the most hideous evil of which we can conceive. Why would God allow such hideous and blatant evil to happen? Christianity tells us it is because God wanted to reconcile all of humanity to himself. As John 3:16 says "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that if you believe on him you will have everlasting life." This means, given the free will of creatures, it is not inconsistent for an all-loving God to allow even hideous evil acts to occur. The crucifixion of Christ is the most evil act human beings could perpetrate and yet God allowed it to reconcile those very human beings back into a right relationship with him. Without that evil act, we would never have that opportunity. It is the cross that proves that God not only understands the problem of evil, but he's taken the brunt of it. He then answered it by rising again.

It isn't inconsistent that the God of Christianity allows evil to exist in this world. Rather, the cross proves God can leverage the evil of this world for his purposes, making the end result (reconciliation with God and redemption from hell) a better condition than if the evil itself never occurred.

Only Christianity holds the answer to the problem of evil.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Just What is This Evil We Object to, Anyway?



What is evil? Why would God create evil in the world at all? I've engaged in conversation on this issue many times and I've found that a lot of confusion exists on even what we mean when we say something is evil. There's a clip at the end of Time Bandits where the Supreme Being has cooked the personified Evil to a crisp. He says of the charred remains, "Do be careful! Don't lose any of that stuff, that's concentrated evil!"

That's how a lot of people think of evil—as a thing in itself that stands in contrast to good. The Yin and Yang symbol represents such a view, showing how good and evil are necessary for each other's' existence.

However, this view is incorrect as the church father Augustine has argued:
All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its "nature" cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. There is good reason, therefore, to praise an uncorrupted thing, and if it were indeed an incorruptible thing which could not be destroyed, it would doubtless be all the more worthy of praise. When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good. As long, then, as a thing is being corrupted, there is good in it of which it is being deprived; and in this process, if something of its being remains that cannot be further corrupted, this will then be an incorruptible entity [natura incorruptibilis], and to this great good it will have come through the process of corruption. But even if the corruption is not arrested, it still does not cease having some good of which it cannot be further deprived. If, however, the corruption comes to be total and entire, there is no good left either, because it is no longer an entity at all. Wherefore corruption cannot consume the good without also consuming the thing itself. Every actual entity [natura] is therefore good; a greater good if it cannot be corrupted, a lesser good if it can be. Yet only the foolish and unknowing can deny that it is still good even when corrupted. Whenever a thing is consumed by corruption, not even the corruption remains, for it is nothing in itself, having no subsistent being in which to exist.1
Augustine points out that if God created everything, everything would be good. However, created things aren't good necessarily like God is so they can be corrupted. It is this corruption or deviation from their original created purpose that we call evil. Just like the cold is the absence of heat, darkness is the absence of light, and a vacuum is the absence of matter, evil is the absence of good. By understanding what evil is, it gets us a step closer to understanding why God would allow evil in the world at all.

References

1. Augustine of Hippo. "Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love (Enchiridion)." Translated by Albert C. Outler. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College Computer Science, 1 June 2005. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/enchiridion.chapter4.html.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Questioning Our Over-Reliance on Science (video)



Recently, I got to sit down with the One Minute Apologist, Bobby Conway, and discussed several topics. One item that came up was our culture's over-emphasis of science as the last word in knowledge. The role of science does seem to be misunderstood these days, with people giving it more credence than it may deserve.

Interestingly, John Cleese of Monty Python fame also recently tweeted:
Cleese went on to offer a couple other tweets, which could be viewed in different ways, although folks like John Prager at AddictingInfo felt Cleese was slamming "anti-science conservatives." I don't know of that was Cleese's intention. However I do know that in his podcast, he seemed to make fun of those who would place an over-emphasis on science and scientists in this humorous video.

Of course, taking that tweet as it stands, Cleese is right. Science is only one method we use to know about the world and it is a fairly limited one at that. That's what I was able to explain in this short clip with Bobby Conway. You can watch it here:


For more detail on these ideas, check out my previous articles here, here, and here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Talking Wrong and Testimony as Trustworthy



When I was a kid, I listened to Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy album. Martin told a joke there about a dirty trick to play on a three year old kid:


In the clip, Martin explains "Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents. So, if you have a three-year-old kid and you want to play a dirty trick on him, whenever you're around him you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand: "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"1

Martin's joke is funny, but it actually highlights an interesting point about the nature of being reasonable. Kids DO believe others will talk with them in a way that's trustworthy. They believe parents will give them a basically truthful concept of the world, that they will be honest in using words and filling them with proper meaning, and that, dad jokes excepted, people are not trying to intentionally mislead them.

We shouldn't think of children as being unreasonable in trusting the statements of others even with no evidence. One of the reasons that dad's tall tales work on kids is because dad is generally otherwise trustworthy. Those tall tales leverage the child's inexperience and their reasonable trust of authority.

The Principle of Testimony

However, children are not the only ones to whom it would be considered reasonable to hold to the general trustworthiness of others. All people must operate on this principle in order to have a world that makes any sense at all. Yesterday, I highlighted one of the fundamental principles of knowledge, the Principle of Credulity, which Richard Swinburne defined. Along with that one, Swinburne also offers the Principle of Trustworthiness. Swinburne defines this as "individuals ought to believe the reports of others about how things seemed to them, and so (given the principle of credulity) that things were as they report—in the absence of counter-evidence. That is, other things being equal, the reports of others are probably true."2

Swinburne goes on to clarify that one would never be able to understand another person if one were to believe they were playing Steve Martin's dirty trick on them. How could we? Even if they used proper words but communicated false ideas half the time, it would be impossible to know if and when they truly meant anything. That would make all of their statements untrustworthy and therefore meaningless.

Swinburne does say that experience can teach us that "certain persons or persons in certain circumstances are not to be trusted."3 That's why I can no longer get away with pulling dad jokes on my kids; they recognize when I've planted my tongue in my cheek. Now, they just roll their eyes and continue the conversation.

The Trustworthy Testimony of the Gospels

The principle of testimony also applies when reading ancient historical writings. While people can always be biased (should we believe the campaign slogans of politicians even today?), for the most part an ancient source can be held as truthful. Take Luke who wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Craig Keener notes that the dominant view of Luke's writings by scholars today is that they are historical in nature. Keener quotes the Anchor Bible Dictionary in stating, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious, and to most scholars, compelling."4 Keener then points out that when compiling the different genres suggested for Luke's writings, "history appears five times as often as novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel."5 In other words, Luke is hoping to convey what he believes is historical reality. That means one should approach Luke as someone trying to tell the truth and measure his trustworthiness in what we can measure.

In speaking with atheists, though, they don't take this approach with the Gospel accounts. Because they classify them as "religious writings," they hold all of them to be untrustworthy unless the opposite can be proven. That's simply backwards and it causes the same effect: they won't really be able to weigh the evidence the Gospel accounts offer because they refuse to understand them to begin with. In their eyes, Luke may as well have written "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Such a position shows it is those atheists who are the ones being unreasonable.

References

1. Martin, Steve. A Wild and Crazy Guy. Rhino/Warner Bros., 1978. CD.
2. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 13.
3. Swinburne, 1986, 13.
4. "Luke-Acts." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 406. Print. As quoted in Craig S Keener's Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 91. Print.
5. Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print. 91.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Belief without Evidence is Crucial for Knowledge



Being a reasonable person is a great goal; no one wants to be thought of as foolish or gullible. But does being reasonable mean one needs to have reasons for all of one's beliefs? I've run onto many people who would answer "Yes" to that question. I mean, even the word "reasonable" contains the root of "reason!" How could one be reasonable without having reasons for one's beliefs?

This kind of thinking is prevalent in the online conversations I have with atheists. I recently offers one in this example. But not only is my interlocutor unreasonable in asking for evidence for what would be rather benign claims (like a person's academic achievements in casual conversation), he is wrong about what constitutes reasonable belief at all.

Principle of Credulity

In the introduction of his book The Evolution of the Soul, Philosopher Richard Swinburne lays out some key principles we all use in our reasoning. The first is the Principle of Credulity. Swinburne defines it as "in the absence of counter-evidence probably things are as they seem to be."1 This principle holds that we should basically trust what our senses tell us. While sometimes our sense can be wrong, we trust them to tell us true things about the world, for that's simply how we observe the world. As Swinburne points out:
Without this principle, there can be no knowledge at all. If you cannot suppose thigs are as they seem to be unless further evidence is brought forward—e.g. that in the past in certain respects things were as they seemed to be, the question will arise as to why you should suppose the latter evidence to be reliable. If ‘it seems to be' is good enough evidence in the latter case, it ought to be good reason to start with. And if ‘it seems to be' is not good enough reason in the latter case, we are embarked on an infinite regress and no claim to believe anything with justification will be correct.2
This is the key point in when debating with a person who will only accept something based on evidence or that evidence only counts if it is scientifically testable.

What Counts as Evidence?

Take a claim like the one Paul made in 1 Cor. 15:5-7 that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, then all of the apostles, then to James, and then to five hundred people, and lastly to Paul himself. Paul is offering evidence in the form of eyewitness testimony, both his own and of others. If one discounts that as evidence, by what criteria are they doing so? If it is because eyewitnesses can get things wrong, then why ever allow them in courts? What about scientist who base all of their research on visual observation of events or instruments. Doesn't it follow that their eyes could deceive them as well?

The objector might claim, "My problem with that testimony is we simply don't observe people rising from the dead!" But that objection really begs the question, as Swinburne notes. If observation cannot be trusted, why should we trust the observation that people don't rise from the dead?  Maybe they have in the past and we missed it!

If you press for evidence before you believe anything, you will never reach a starting point. There is always the question of "What is the evidence that backs up the evidence you're presenting? Why should I believe that to be true?" It becomes as Swinburne said an infinite regress, where one can never justify anything at all.

In the next post, I highlight another of these principles, one that states why in the absence of any evidence to the contrary testimony specifically should be believed. Stay tuned.

References

1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 11.
2. Swinburne, 1986. 12.
Image courtesy jon crel and licensed via the Cretive Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License
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