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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 Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New-Fangled Values May Hold Old-Fashioned Dangers

Downton Abbey, the BBC series showcasing the way of life of the English aristocracy and their servants proved to be a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. For each of its six seasons, audiences would anxiously tune in to watch the Crawley family's exploits as they struggled to adjust from Victorian era mores to that of the modern age.

Part of the attraction of the show was just how foreign the manners and customs of the English aristocracy strike modern viewers. Imagine dressing differently for each meal in tuxedos! The show's expert historian, Alistair Bruce, strove to make the fictional series as historically accurate as he could, although the show is clearly written to reflect 21st century values. For example, the house royalty wouldn't give the servants much of a second thought; they were considered less like employees and more like tools to an end.1 Thus, there's a bit of a wink the writers share with the audience on how quaint and antiquated the customs of the old days were.

Victorian Prudes and Victimless Crimes

It can become easy to assume that old ways of doing things are backwards or naïve. Certainly, this seems to be the case with moral prohibitions concerning sexuality today. Over and over again I hear the claim that because our society is less repressive and sexually freer than in the past, making it somehow better. Casual sex, known as hook-ups, is exploding across college campuses, especially those where the number of female students outweighs the males.2 Sex outside of marriage is considered so normal that virginity is an oddity. Pornography has become rampant, and women are consuming more porn than ever before.3

But is all this really a good thing? Those who would question the sexual liberation and its aftermath are considered out of touch prudes. Sex is what always happens, they say. Porn is just being honest about one's sexual desires; it's one of those victimless pleasures that good people can do in the privacy of their own homes. If the person enjoys it, what's wrong with allowing them to consume it?

In reality, porn is harming a generation of people. The group Plan International, Australia recently completed a survey of teenage girls in that country and revealed some shocking findings:4
  • Seven out of ten Australian girls aged 15-19 believe online harassment and bullying is endemic
  • Australian females aged 15-19 do not want to share sexual photos of themselves online
  • 81% of girls believe it's unacceptable for boyfriends to ask for explicit content although they believe pressure to do so is now commonplace
According to a 2012 report in the scholarly journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity and reported by ABC Religion and Ethics:
Adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as "sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires." The authors found that "adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed."5
I recommend you read the whole article. But is seems pretty evident that our sexually charged culture is not helping people become better human beings. In fact, the results of porn are actually harming women and young girls. They are becoming more victimized and more objectified. Today's open sex culture is not advancing women, it's degrading them.

The old-fashioned folks of early 20th century England would never hear of such open displays of lasciviousness. They recognized the difference between a man's higher nature and his base nature. The higher nature consists of rationality, self-control, moral uprightness. Man's base nature is one that could be found in animals, consisting of satisfying appetites and desires, reacting based on emotion, and so on. Constraining those base natures requires diligence and practice. It doesn't come automatically. But not constraining them leads to the dehumanization of people. Just look at what those 15-19 year old girls in Australia are experiencing.


1. Lee, Adrian. "The Real Life Downton Abbey: The True Story of Servants." Express. Northern and Shell Media Publications, 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
2. Birger, Jon. "Unequal Gender Ratios at Colleges Are Driving Hookup Culture." Time. Time, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
3. Carey, Tanith. "Why More and More Women Are Using Pornography." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 07 Apr. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
4. "Don't Send Me That Pic." Plan International. Plan International Australia, Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
5. Liszewski, Melinda. "Growing Up in Pornland: Girls Have Had It with Porn Conditioned Boys." Collective Shout. ABC Religion and Ethics, 8 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Confusion of Atheistic Moral Grounding

Is morality evidence for the existence of God? At first blush, the answer seems to be no. Certainly there are many moral people who don't believe in any kind of God just as there are people who are strong believers, yet perform some of the most vile, immoral acts. Christopher Hitchens famously dared believers "to find one good or noble thing which cannot be accomplished without religion." This is usually the way such exchanges progress.

But framing the debate in such a manner makes two fundamental mistakes: it begs the primary question while creating a biased set of assumptions. We can look at each of these in turn.

Atheists Acting Morally Begs the Question of Moral Grounding

It doesn't seem to be a grand claim to say human beings are built to be moral beings. By that I mean the vast majority of humanity is inherently sensitive to the concepts of right and wrong, even if their understanding of what constitutes right and wrong are debated. The quip that the young cannibal is still instructed by his mother to clean his plate demonstrates this. It is human to understand actions can have moral implications.

The problem comes in when we begin asking "how do we know which actions are moral and which are not?" What is the "thing" that moral actions share but is missing from immoral ones? It cannot be something as simple as  survivability, for there are many scenarios where people have freely chosen to die for a moral cause. Take abortion, for example. Certainly, if  survivability is the only guideline, then abortion clearly diminishes the survival function of the species and is thus immoral.

This is worse if the natural world is all there is, for we never claim rape or murder for a male lion seizing a female to copulate or a black widow eating her mate.

When one claims that God is necessary for morality to be real, he is not claiming no one can act in ways recognized by a society as moral if they don't believe in God. Rather, he is asking what grounds choices as right or wrong intrinsically? What is the fundamental thing that anchors right and wrong? What is it that stands above and beyond all human beings and even all nature that is at the core of morality? Morals must transcend nature to be prescriptive. What is it on an atheistic worldview that does this transcending?

Slipping in Moral Assumptions

One possible counter by non-theists would be it isn't something as crude as  survivability only that grounds morality. One must consider human flourishing, the quality of life we would experience if we deemed immoral acts moral. But such a move doesn't help them in their quest, for terms like flourishing are loaded with moral implication. To flourish beyond  survivability means to advance toward some goal. What is the goal to which we are advancing and why should human beings objectively be the ones to advance? They say cockroaches will be the only ones left after a nuclear war; perhaps homo sapiens have had their run and it's time for the cockroaches to take a turn.

To claim that one's quality of life is the judge or that morals evolve from a concept of reciprocity ("I wouldn't like it if someone did that to me so we shouldn't do it to them") falls into the same trap. Why does it matter whether you like it or not? There's a big difference between preferences and the oughtness of moral values and duties. Moral quandaries are not about what one likes or doesn't like. Situations like the Heinz dilemma show just how problematic these become.

By appealing to one's actions ("I act morally"), to survivability, or to reciprocity, the central question of moral grounding remains unanswered.  None of these responses nail down the foundation of morality; they never answer what makes moral values different than preference or cultural convention. Of course, one could hold that there is no other moral grounding, making objective morality a useful fiction. But if morality isn't real, then no one is really moral at all, including the atheist. It seems the only coherent foundation allowing morals to be real is a transcendent God.
Image courtesy Dean Hochman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why the Resurrection Cannot be a Lie

Easter week is here and Christians are getting ready to mark the rising of Jesus from the grave. The Resurrection is the foundational event of Christianity and it drastically changed human history. But skeptics don't believe the accounts of the resurrection as the Gospels and Paul present them. They doubt the historicity of the resurrection, and think the Gospel writers either intentionally fabricated the tale or recorded legends that grew into the familiar story we know. However, both theories have significant problems associated with them.

Problems with Charging the Resurrection as Fraud

Some charge the Gospel writers with fraud, inventing the resurrection accounts as part of a purposeful plan to "sell" Christianity to the masses or to gain power. This charge goes all the way back to the Jewish Sanhedrin themselves, who claimed the disciples stole the body in order to claim Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:13).

First, it is very unclear how concocting a story of a crucified leader who rises physically would be more appealing to a first century Jew than perhaps a spiritual or ephemeral resurrection. I noted yesterday how the idea of a resurrection here and now created a paradigm shift from traditional Jewish thought. Further, Romans initially reacted to the story with persecution and death. Tacitus even reports that after the first couple of decades for the resurrection, Christians were "hated for their abominations" so much Nero thought they would be the perfect fall guys to blame the burning of Rome on.1

Moreover, the change in the disciples themselves and their unflinching belief in seeing the resurrected Jesus become more implausible if these early followers really knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. Not one disciple ever recanted seeing the risen Christ, even upon pain of torture or death. In fact, their behavior changed drastically. They became bold proclaimers of the risen Lord, even directly defying the very Sanhedrin from whom they ran and hid when Jesus was arrested (Acts 4:18, Mark 14:27).

What About Those Who Held Christianity in Contempt?

Also, the false resurrection theory cannot account for the conversion of those who were antagonistic to Jesus and his message. Throughout Jesus's ministry, his brothers were outsiders, not believing him to be the Messiah (ref. Mark3:21, 6:3-4). However Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection which changed him so much he became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21). What would cause James to change his beliefs? If he didn't believe the miracles of Jesus before his crucifixion, why would he believe Jesus rose unless he actually saw him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 states?

Even more amazing than James is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was trained in the ways of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5), a highly observant and passionate follower of the Jewish faith who found the claims of Jesus and the Christians so offensive, he petitioned the Sanhedrin to capture or kill any Christians he could find (Acts 9:1). Without Jesus appearing to Paul, why would Paul abandon such deeply held and what he would only consider as righteous beliefs? As I explain here, it's like a high ranking ISIS commander, one who ordered the beheadings of Christians in Syria all at once renouncing not only ISIS but Islam and converting to Christianity and holding Billy-Graham style crusades around the world. Again, it wasn't an empty tomb that Paul offered as the reason for his conversion. It was the fact that Paul saw the risen Jesus himself (1 Cor. 15:8-9).

If the resurrection account is a lie, then Paul's conversion screams for an explanation. Paul believed it was a lie. He believed it was more than a lie, but also an affront to God himself. So, what made Paul do a 180 degree change in his beliefs and his attitude?

Where's the Alternative?

To claim the resurrection is a fraud, the skeptic is denying the testimony of Paul and the Gospel writers themselves. Therefore, the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation for the facts we do know: that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, that the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them and they held their belief even unto death, that Jesus's skeptical brother  James became a leader in the Christian church and that one of the deadliest enemies of Christianity reversed himself in the blink of an eye and became its biggest advocate.

How does the skeptic account for these things and is their account more plausible than the resurrection itself? I don't think any alternative theory has measured up to the challenge.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How the Resurrection Changed Jewish Minds

This week is Holy Week, where Christians mark the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No matter if you're a believer or not, it is clear that Easter changed history. Christianity was the most radically transforming movement in human history; and something started that cascade of transformation.

If we are to understand the transforming nature of Easter, we need to look no further than the very beginnings of the faith. Jesus's followers were Jewish and they held to standard Jewish beliefs. They expected a Messiah, a savior, to be a political or military leader who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and restore the glory of David's throne. They expected to observe the Jewish Levitical laws unto death and that resurrection was an event reserved for the end of time.

All those beliefs changed the day Jesus rose from the dead. As N.T. Wright explains, his resurrection was a paradigm shift for both Jesus's followers and even Paul, who would consider himself an adversary:
The first and most obvious conclusion which the disciples would have drawn, as soon as they came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead, was that he was indeed the prophet mighty in word and deed, and that he was, more particularly, Israel's Messiah. This would not be because they had already believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be raised from the dead, but because the Jesus they knew had been tried and executed as Messiah, and this extraordinary and unexpected event (as it seemed to them) had apparently reversed the verdicts of both the Jewish and the Roman courts. We can see at several points in the New Testament, not least in Paul and Acts, the way in which the church scrambled to pull together biblical texts to make the connection between Messiah and resurrection, a connection which nobody had thought necessary before but which suddenly became the key move in early Christology. The texts strongly suggest both that this was a new connection and that it was the first vital link in the chain.

From that point on, our best early evidence is Paul. He had, in the senses we have explored, a different kind of meeting with Jesus, but he quickly came to the conclusion which the others, too, had arrived at: that in this Jesus, now demonstrated to have been Israel's Messiah all along, Israel's one true god had been not merely speaking, as though through an intermediary, but personally present. [1]
The paradigm shifting nature of the Resurrection coupled with its quick adoption by thousands of Jewish converts argues against its story being fabricated. It is simply much harder to believe that a Jewish culture so steeped in monotheism and Jewish tradition would give up their beliefs so easily had there not been more than the tales of a few rural fishermen. Paul's conversion screams the loudest against fabrication.

The Resurrection has been changing minds and hearts ever since that first Easter morning. Its power rests in its truth.


[1] Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. Print. 576.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Atheists Admit Their Disbelief Linked to Emotional Discomfort

Recently, I was on a college campus as a young atheist asked what I thought was the cause behind the growth in the number of people, especially young people, who don't identify as any particular religion. I answered that it is a pretty big question and I think the reasons are varied and diverse as the group to which he was referring. He didn't seem satisfied with that answer.

My young interlocutor may have believed that nonreligious belief is on the increase because human beings are less gullible than in past generations and more willing to believe science can explain the world better than religion. It seems to be a common assumption with those I engage online, even though science cannot banish God. But even if atheists mistakenly assume science can somehow disprove God, this isn't the real basis for their atheism.

Two new studies by the American Psychological Association confirm that disbelief in God for a significant percentage of atheists is not due to dispassionate reasoning, but the effect of emotional or relational discomfort with what they perceived God to be. According to an article in Psychology Today, which summarized the findings, "54% of self-reported atheists indicated some relational and emotional reasons for nonbelief. In the second study, 72% of 429 American adults who expressed some level of atheism or agnosticism endorsed similar reasons."1 Those are pretty high percentages of self-described atheists who admit to an emotional or psychological component contributing to their disbelief.

As the article notes, this isn't a new revelation. Previous studies have shown that atheists have negative feelings toward their conception of God2 and those emotions play a part in their being atheists. Dr. Paul C. Vitz in his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism explored the link between what Vitz calls "interpersonal trauma with attachment insecurity" of atheists in history. He sees a link between disbelief on God and defective fathers in the lives of atheists, along with other factors.

What Atheists Themselves Say 

The interesting thing in these studies is that the findings are not a result of third party inference, but the admission of atheists themselves. It's nearly three quarters of atheists who are admitting an emotional reason as contributing to their atheism. Those numbers may be higher in actuality as self-reporting usually leads to lower than actual results. Some people may not realize certain emotional motivations and others may not want to admit to them. Regardless, the two studies referenced report the majority of atheists who participated do indeed have emotional reasons for not wanting God as they understand him to exist.

The reason all of this is important is a practical one. Just as dispassionate reasoning alone doesn't usually account for one's disbelief, it follows that dispassionate reasoning alone will only go so far in helping one believe in the God of the universe. As human beings, we are relational creatures. That's part of how we reflect God's image. If you're a master at facts and argumentation in defending the faith but you don't bother to get to know the person, you aren't going to be very effective. People are people and all want to feel like individuals who hold worth. That includes nonbelievers. Don't lead off conversations with your best arguments. Get to know one another. Build relationships. Show them real care and you may find a real person who's willing to share real hurts. Only then will they be really ready to listen.


1. Tix, Andy, PhD. "The New Psychology of Atheism." Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
2. Bradley, David F., Julie J. Exline, and Alex Uzdavines. "The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God." Science, Religion and Culture SRC 2.3 (2015): 120-30. Web.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Moral Argument for God's Existence (podcast)

Atheists claim the God of the Bible is evil, but what makes an action good or evil? Are right and wrong simply what we all agree upon or must they originate in something bigger than humanity? In our latest series, Lenny explores what morality requires and why the existence of right and wrong means God must exist.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Gospels Had to Meet High Expectations as History

Apologists often make the claim that the resurrection is one of the most well-attested facts of ancient history. Some of this is due to the fact that the resurrection account is recorded in multiple independent sources which includes the Gospel accounts. Further, scholars have argued that the Gospel accounts count as a very specific kind of ancient historical genre; they are written as biography.1

Sometimes skeptics will grant the fact the Gospels were written to be taken as a historical record, but they don't believe that's enough. They will assume that history two thousand years ago meant a very different thing than what we mean today. History was basically propaganda where anyone could claim anything.

While it is true that those in power had the ability to shape events in a more positive light, it is far from the case that the ancient audiences didn't care about the truth in historical reporting. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Writings that claimed to be reporting historical events had very specific criteria of recounting what people who were there actually experienced and they should record those experiences as accurately. I'll take a look at each of these in turn.

History was supposed to report what people saw

Were ancient people more gullible and ignorant than people of today? Not necessarily. Just because cultures of the past may have had misinformed or perhaps what we would consider backwards views on matters dealing with science, it doesn't follow they would hold backwards view on everything. Such assumptions are a kind of chronological snobbery.

The fact is ancient historians held to their peers to high standards when recording historical events. Samuel Byskrog, whom Richard Bauckham quotes, explains how the people who were there and could personally recount the event being recorded were consider the most reliable sources, since they weren't hearing about events second or third hand. He writes:
The ancient historians – such as Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, and Tacitus"were convinced that true history could be written only while events were still within living memory, and they valued as their sources the oral reports of direct experience of the events by involved participants in them. Ideally, the historian himself should have been a participant in the events he narrates"as, for example, Xenophon, Thucidides, and Josephus were"but, since he could not have been at all the events he recounts or in all the places he describes, the historian had to also rely upon eyewitnesses whose living voices he could hear and whom he could question himself.2

History was supposed to be accurate

Beyond looking for first-hand reports, historians would also police each other – just like today. While the peer review process wan't as developed, there was certainly n exchange between historians when one thought the other was being less than accurate or trying to push an intentionally biased account. Craig Keener states, "Historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they were thought to exhibit self-serving agendas." 3

One such example form ancient history is how the Greek historian Polybius dressed down Timaneus, another historian, on what Polybius shows as clear mistakes in his report of Africa. He writes:
No one can help admiring the richness of the country, and one is inclined to say that Timaeus was not only unacquainted with Africa but that he was childish and entirely deficient in judgement, and was still fettered by the ancient report handed down to us that the whole of Africa is sandy, dry, and unproductive. The same holds good regarding the animals. For the number of horses, oxen, sheep, and goats in the country is so large that I doubt if so many could be found in the rest of the world, 4 because many of the African tribes make no use of cereals but live on the flesh of their cattle and among their cattle. 5 Again, all are aware of the numbers and strength of the elephants, lions, and panthers in Africa, of the beauty of its buffaloes, and the size of its ostriches, creatures that do not exist at all in Europe while Africa is full of them. Timaeus has no information on this subject and seems of set purpose to tell the exact opposite of the actual facts.(Emphasis added.)4
Polybius goes on criticizing Timaneus' account simply because he offers a false report, but he wasn't the only historian to believe in standards. Even Pliny the Younger, who wrote at the same time the Gospels were being written, thought history should be done with "fidelity and truth"5

Dismissing historical records as unreliable simply because they are old is irrational. Ancient cultures well understood truth from a lie and they wrote history because they wanted to preserve what really happened. The Gospels fit into a genre where truth mattered. Certainly, that doesn't mean everything recorded in every ancient account is true; false perceptions, witnesses would color the truth, and interpreting events so Caesar looked good did happen. But one cannot simply waive one's hand and discount the Gospels because they are old and therefore they could pass fantastic stories on to an uncritical audience. That's simply not the world in which the Gospels were written.


1. See Craig Keener's discussion on this in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 74-84.
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2006. Print. 8-9.
3. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 96.
4. Polybius. "Fragments of Book XII." XII.3.3 Polybius • Histories. University of Chicago, 1927. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
5. Pliny, Epistles 7.17.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

Is beauty something that is objective? As I speak with people today, many answer with a quick "no." "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," they say. However, the thought may be a bit too easily dismissed. Certainly, we all would have serious questions about a person who upon observing a radiant sunset over the Grand Canyon would exclaim "Ew! That's so ugly!" There's something universal in our appreciation for the beauty of that vista.

In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Roger Scruton tackles this point. He explains:
There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian theological thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value-something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations. Why believe p? Because it is true. Why want x? Because it is good. Why look at y? Because it is beautiful. In some way, philosophers have argued, those answers are on a par: each brings a state of mind into the ambit of reason, by connecting it to something that it 1s m our nature, as rational beings, to pursue. Someone who asked 'why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning. He doesn't see that if we are to justify our beliefs and desires at all, then our reasons' must be anchored in the true and the good.1
Scruton then begins exploring the question in more depth. He notes that the good and the true would never be at odds with each other, yet someone can be so charmed by a mythical account, they choose to believe it "and in this case beauty is the enemy of truth."2 However, as he unpacks just what the beautiful entails, Scruton demonstrates that real beauty is more than attraction. It goes deeper, to a deep appreciation for the thing as it is. We appreciate the sunset not because of what it can do for us, but what it is in itself. "When our interest is entirely taken up by a thing, as it appears in our perception, and independently of any use to which it might be put, then do we begin to speak of its beauty" (emphasis added.)3 Scruton defines this appreciation for the thing itself as a "disinterested interest," meaning we are disinterested in what they thing can do for us, but what it's intrinsic essence is. In this sense, the sunset is truly beautiful while a myth is not. The myth is a false beauty, for it is not true, it's intrinsic essence is built upon falsehood.

There is much more that I could write in this regard, but I will leave it to those interested to grab Scruton's book and explore the ideas further. I do think, though, that the case for the beautiful to be placed beside the true and the good as objective ultimate categories is compelling. As such, we should understand that just as the good and the true are rooted in an all-good and all-truthful God, the ultimate grounding of the beautiful would too be found in a God whose nature is the source of all beauty.


1. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 2.
2. Scruton, 2011. 2.
3. Scruton, 2011. 14.
Image courtesy Todd Petrie and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

twenty one pilots and How to Drown Out Self-Reflection

It's no secret we live in a noisy world. Many pixels have been spilled on just how interrupted our lives have become. Advertisers are competing in an ever more crowded space, seeking to be noticed. Since there's an old maxim that a customer must see one's ad seven times for it to be optimally effective, each tries harder and more frequently to rise above the din and be noticed. Of course, that means invasive advertising escalates until everyone is shouting.

However, it isn't only advertisers that have added to the noise in our world. As with many of the problems arising from modernity, we are not only victims but we suffer from self-inflicted wounds. We carry screens with us at every step. Not only does this provide the channel for those vying for our attention to shout at us, it creates its own distractions. We add our own noise by seeking to be entertained, distracted, or otherwise engaged throughout our day.

Again, none of this is new. What is interesting, though, is it isn't only the "old curmudgeons" that are lamenting the loss of self-reflection. My fifteen-year-old son played me a song from the band twenty one pilots which made the same point. Their 2013 hit "Car Radio" casts a young man lamenting the fact that his radio has been stolen, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Here's a portion of the lyrics:
I hate this car that I'm driving
There's no hiding for me
I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts
So often I ought
To replace that slot
With what I once bought
'Cause somebody stole
My car radio
And now I just sit in silence
Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It's on my sleeve
My skin will scream
Reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream1
The song paints a picture of a young person who isn't complaining about the noise, but pining for it. The silence has forced the driver into self-reflection and he really doesn't like what he's discovering about himself: a person who's prideful, perhaps selfish and definitely shallow. Instead of knowing how to process and perhaps work on his deficiencies, he'd rather have the noise to cover them up and divert his attention once more. Reality, like the quiet, can be brutally honest and I think that many people in our society—both young and old—have sought to dodge self-reflection through business and noise.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. But I don't think we know how to do quiet contemplation well any more. Ask yourself, how long can you sit in a room with nothing but your own thoughts? Researchers recently reported more people were willing to administer electric shocks to themselves than sitting in a chair unstimulated for ten or fifteen minutes.2

Like anything else, quiet reflection and thoughtfulness is a skill that must be practiced. I outline some of the basic principles on just how to do that here. Christians especially are commanded to be contemplative, meditating on God's word and their own place. We may feel discomfort about our own shortcomings, but the answer isn't to turn up the volume. It's to think even more deliberately and more carefully, seeking to minimize them while honoring our God. As the song says:
There's faith and there's sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive.2


1. Joseph, Tyler, and Josh Dun. "Car Radio." Vessel. twenty one Pilots. 2013. MP3.
2. Pomeroy, Ross. "Some People Prefer Electric Shocks to Thinking Quietly by Themselves" RealClearScience. RealClearScience, 13 July 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2014.
3. Joseph and Dun, 2013.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bible Promise Verses and Apologetics

Yesterday, I posted a short clip on how many people take the oft-quoted passage "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and apply it incorrectly. (Click here to see the video.) I also shared the post with a couple of online apologetics groups. A couple of people were confused on why I even bothered with this point. Why make a big point about something as seemingly small as using Philippians 4:13 to show that they can conquer their difficulties?

The reason is both important and relevant to apologetics. First, apologetics doesn't only concern believers defending their faith against non-believers. 1 Peter 3:15 is clear when it instructs us to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks. That "anyone" includes those inside the church who may not know as much as you or those who are mistaken in their use of scripture. Paul instructs Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Paul immediately follows this up by telling Timothy to correct errors that are being spread within the church, stating "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene."

The Problem with Misapplying Scripture

Of course, some may think that this is a bit of an over-reaction. How can a mis-applied verse on a Bible Promise calendar escalate to spreading like gangrene? The problem is twofold. First, there are those who may "claim" these verses and when they don't play out as they expect in really difficult times, they see it as evidence against the Christian faith. This happened en masse in the Great Disappointment of the Millerite movement of 1844, but I've spoken with those today whose Christian beliefs were more rooted in these feel-good promises than the hard task of working out one's salvation with fear and trembling. When they did face pressures, they felt these promises didn't deliver, and therefore Christianity was something of a bait and switch. Others may not leave the faith, but they question themselves or their standing in salvation.

Secondly, approaching the Bible with this kind of sound-bite exegesis is incredibly misleading and even dangerous. One of the biggest difficulties I have in sharing an orthodox Christian belief with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons is how they try and use the Bible to proof-text their beliefs. They abuse the text in the exact same way as the passage above by ripping it out of its larger context and isolating a verse or two so it can mean what they want it to mean instead of what the author intended. If Christians begin to take all of scripture as a series of verses that stand independently, how can we ever know what meaning the writers actually had in mind and whether this applies or not? Such misapplied Bible verses, even in the guise of providing encouragement, actually encourage the misuse of Scripture. If we chide the Mormons and JWs for doing this, we shouldn't do it either.

In all, I think it's important for Christians to be careful when using individual verses to support any belief. As I've shown before, sometimes people can sound really Christian and even say all the right slogans, but they may not even understand salvation. As believers and faith-defenders it is important we gently correct those who may misuse scriptures, lest they fall into a greater error. The video is one small step in that direction.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What Does the Bible Promise "I Can Do All Things" Really Mean?

Bible promises are very popular, with calendars, posters and inspirational quotes proliferating Christian stores. However, do those promises really mean what we think?

In this short video, Lenny demonstrates how taking a verse out of its context can distort the message the Scriptures actually convey.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is Any Body Modification OK Just Because It's Your Body?

It's no secret the culture has shifted regarding the personalizing of one's body. I've been exploring the question of body modification in a series of articles where I hope to bring some clarity to this contentious issue. I first argued that the human body holds intrinsic worth; the body has value in itself as opposed to merely having value because we give it value. Thus, we should be thoughtful as Christians when thinking about any kind of body modification.

In my last article, I also said that one shouldn't discount any type of modification as some kind of violation of that worth. I offered reconstructive surgery, braces, hair plugs, or even certain forms of tattoos as examples that demonstrate one cannot simply classify any tattooing or body modification as sinful or wrong. But those fall into one aspect of the four different classifications of body modification. There are other types of modifications that are not so easily dismissed.

Further complicating the issue is the question of personal autonomy. As human beings, we know our bodies better than anyone else. We control them and they affect us, not others. If we wish to alter our bodies, shouldn't we have that right? Even some of the more extreme cases, most people are reticent to tell others they cannot do as they wish with their bodies. Take Pixee Fox, a North Carolina woman who had several plastic surgeries including 1400cc breast implants and the removal of six ribs to provide a cartoon-like hourglass shape. Most may call such actions foolish, but would they describe them as sinful or wrong?

Damage for Self-Fulfillment

I think there are instances where certain modifications that present themselves as violating the inherent worth of the body and shouldn't be allowed, even though they may infringe on the autonomy of the person requesting them. There are of course modifications done forcibly against one's will or before one can give consent, such as female genital mutilation. Since informed self-choice doesn't really factor into such cases, I would consider them separate issues.

I'd like to look at a group of people that are becoming better documented in medical literature. These people suffer from a condition called Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) and they have the common trait in feeling that one of their body parts is foreign to them and needs to be amputated. Realize these are healthy limbs or appendages that function normally; there is nothing physically wrong with them. Those with BIID, though, "feel ‘over complete' and want to have the alien limb amputated."1 They will seek out medical intervention, although there are no hospitals that currently allow the amputation of healthy limbs.2

Many may say that such an extreme condition is clearly a mental disorder, and shouldn't be included in a discussion on body modification, but some in the medical community feel the issue isn't quite that cut and dry. Tim Bayne and Neil Levy argue that patients suffering from BIID have an autonomous right to modify their body just as those who undergo extreme breast enlargements or other plastic surgeries have the right to alter healthy body parts for their satisfaction. They note that reproductive surgeries, such as tubal ligation or vasectomy cripple healthy organs, too. They also state BIID patients "who succeed in procuring an amputation seem to experience a significant and lasting increase in wellbeing" and stop seeking to self-amputate, which is much more dangerous and has led to death in prior cases. 3

An Autonomous Lifelong Desire

Sabine Müller points out that those suffering from BIID are not making their choice off the cuff. Instead, they have agonized over their foreign limb and they report having these feelings since childhood. She states "Because of the early onset of the disturbance of the body image, BIID patients cannot remember a life in which the affected limb was integrated into the body image."4

Annemarie Bridy argues the initial revulsion over removing the offending limb as a form of treatment may be simply showing a bias most people have. She writes:
In contemporary society, the body is regarded not as a physiological given to which we must reconcile ourselves, but as a malleable instrument of self-expression amenable to a wide range of medical and surgical interventions…

At the turn of the twentieth century, many physicians believed that cosmetic surgery undermined fundamental tenets of the medical profession by violating the ethical injunction against doing harm…. Body parts perceived to be too small are augmented; those which are thought to be too large are reduced in size or prominence. While the dramatic shift in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery hardly forces the conclusion that elective amputation will one day be as common as rhinoplasty is today, it does suggest that beliefs about the integrity of the body and the nature of bodily harm are culturally mediated and historically contingent. As anomalous as it may seem when viewed in a historical vacuum, elective amputation becomes less incomprehensible when it is viewed as a manifestation of the continuing social and cultural evolution of attitudes toward the body and its modification.5
What further complicates the issue is the question of autonomy. All of those writing on this issue underscore how important it is to respect autonomous decisions by the patient even when we disagree with their decision. Bayne and Levy point to decisions based on religious autonomy that may be harmful, such as Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions.6  Yet, not all procedures are morally justified by claims of autonomy. Müller uses the example of an anorexic patient who deeply desires stomach-stapling surgery.7

Where Do We Draw the Line?

While Bridy along with Bayne and Levy see circumstances where they believe amputation of healthy limbs is permissible for BIID patients, I agree with Müller who sees the condition as primarily a psychiatric affliction that should be treated as such. As a Christian, I would recognize the body has a telos, that is it shows design for a purpose. To claim that one's arm or leg is foreign to the individual is to claim there is no objective telos to the body. The only value or purpose the body has is whatever the individual wishes to ascribe to it. Those with BIID are being honest in their feelings of detachment from one of their limbs and their misery in their current state. However, they seem to believe their mental state should dictate their physical state. This doesn't follow for me. Anorexics have mental states seeing themselves as fat, but it would be immoral to allow them to modify their bodies through stomach stapling or some other procedure. It is their mental understanding that is failing them.

BIID is an extreme aspect of body modification. I would argue it holds strong parallels to those who seek sexual reassignment surgery and the issues are nearly identical, although individuals who claim to be transgendered do have the opportunity to modify their bodies to match their mental state while BIID patients do  not. Why? What's the difference? One of the reasons for opposing SRS is that it also disregards the intrinsic worth of the body and gives subjective value to it.

The real question, though, is just how far down the road should Christians go? What about less drastic forms of body modification? Where do we cross the line from personal expression and harmless autonomous choices to demonstrating a subjective value for the body God gave us? Does tongue-splitting qualify? How about vasectomy or tubal ligation? These aren't easy questions, but in a future article I hope to perhaps offer some guidelines to explore them more fully.


1. Müller, Sabine. "Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID)—Is the Amputation of Healthy Limbs Ethically Justified?" The American Journal of Bioethics, 9:1, 36-43,
(2009) DOI: 10.1080/15265160802588194
2. Bayne, Tim, and Neil Levy. "Amputees By Choice: Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the Ethics of Amputation." Journal of Applied Philosophy 22.1 (2005). 75. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
3. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 78-86.
4. Müller, 2009.39.
5. Bridy, Annemarie. "Confounding Extremities: Surgery at the Medico-ethical Limits of Self-Modification." The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 32.1 (2004): 148-58. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.151-152.
6. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 80.
7. Müller, 2009.40.
Image courtesy Jenny O'Donnell [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk],

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Star Trek, Saving Private Ryan, and the Problem with Evolutionary Morality

Morality is real. There are ways one should or should not act. There are values and duties that attach to being human, such as killing babies for no reason other than pleasure is always wrong. Some people don't agree with this view, holding morality as a useful fiction, but I will place them to one side for the moment. I think most people would agree with me that morality is a real thing; good and evil are real concepts.

I would think that most people would agree that there are certain oughts to which people should adhere. One ought not to enslave another human being, for example. The point of disagreement is rooted in where these kinds of oughts come from and why we should follow them. Atheists and humanists feel that moral laws came about because they conferred a certain evolutionary advantage to the group, as Herbert Gintis, et. al writes:
From an evolutionary viewpoint, we argue that ethical behavior was fitness-enhancing in the years marking the emergence of Homo sapiens because human groups with many altruists fared better than groups of selfish individuals, and the fitness losses sustained by altruists were more than compensated by the superior performance of the groups in which they congregated.1

A Utilitarian Morality

In the evolutionary view of morality, it is the survival value of the altruistic act that becomes the crucial thing. Those societies that encourage helping one another, even to one's own detriment, will be "more fit" than others, increasing the survivability of the group as a whole.

Such a scenario makes some sense. If one is to save others at the cost of even one's own life, it is easy to see how survivability is increased. This is a utilitarian concept of morality that philosopher Jeremy Bentham pioneered, but most people would be more familiar with how Leonard Nimoy's character Spock voiced it in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There, Spock heroically exposes himself to lethal radiation levels to save the ship, then pronounces "It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."

What if Morality Contradicts Survivability?

While a utilitarian view of morality seems plausible and fits within an evolutionary framework, it runs into problems in other circumstances. For instance, let's take a different scenario of altruism, the one offered in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. There, a platoon of soldiers is sent deep into enemy territory in order to extract one man—Private Ryan—whose three brothers had already been lost in combat. A real-life scenario similar to the film played out in the Niland family, and their four sons Robert, Preston, Thomas, and Joseph. The Canisus library reports:
Robert was killed on D-day while manning his machine-gun post in Neuville, a city not far from the beaches. Preston was killed the next day near Omaha Beach. Fritz, meanwhile, had been dropped between Omaha and Utah beaches while Thomas was involved in a glider unit that landed in France. Joseph, 25, was not involved with the invasion.

When the Army heard of the tragic story, they determined that the Nilands would not suffer the death of their last child.2
In the film, the Army seeks to do the right thing in removing Private Ryan from potential harm and restoring at least one son to the family. However, the cost is high. In order to save one person, many in the company are lost. Also, significant resources such as these battle-hardened soldiers are not spent engaging the enemy, but rescuing this one young soldier. In any analysis, it seems this situation is all about the needs of the few or the one trumping the needs of the many.

So, here's the question: does the Army act morally in the Saving Private Ryan scenario? Was this the right thing to do or was it evil? If the utilitarian ethic is all there is, that is if survival value is all morality boils down to, then sacrificing so many for the life of a single man is not only not morally good, it is the opposite. That makes it evil of the Army to order Tom Hanks and company to go save Matt Damon.3 But I think people will intuitively understand to call the actions in Saving Private Ryan evil simply doesn't work. There's more to morality that the result of survivability which means that morality cannot be as simple as an evolutionary mechanism.

In order for morality to be real, God must be real, too.


1. Gintis, Herbert, Joseph Henrich, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr. "Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality." Social Justice Research 21.2 (2008): 241. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
2. "The Niland Boys." The Niland Boys. Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library, July 2006. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
3.As an aside, just how many times is Matt Damon going to need to be rescued? He's rescued from a poor life in Boston, from enemy territory, from Mars, from a planet on the other side of a black hole, and even from himself in The Bourne Identity.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Does Modifying Your Body Disregard Its Intrinsic Worth?

It's no surprise that culture is changing at an ever more rapidly pace. Norms that had been held consistently for centuries have in a couple of decades undergone radical redefinition. Marriage is one of these, but it is far from the only one.

One stark example may be the huge increase in the popularity of tattoos and other forms of body modification. According to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, nearly four-in-ten Millennials have at least one tattoo and half of those who have at least one have more than one. Additionally, "nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe — about six times the share of older adults who've done this."1 Tattoos and other forms of body modification are just as likely to be found on evangelical Christians in the pew as they are in the general public, which underscores their ubiquity in our culture.

What Do We Mean by Body Modification?

Within the Christian community especially, body modification has become a very controversial issue. In fact, whenever the topic comes up a contentious discussion usually ensues, especially online. It's that contention that bothers me the most, for I fear that Christians need to be careful and think about all the implications of their particular stance. That's why I want proceed with caution as we think through many of the facets that encircle the debate, some of which most people haven't yet considered .

First, as I argued in this article, the human body is not nothing. It has intrinsic value, which places it in a very limited category. Therefore, taking care to think about what modifying one's body means is appropriate for the Christian. There may be a different answer for those who don't share a Christian worldview. My thoughts in this and the articles to come are primarily targeted to those who hold the body as something that holds intrinsic worth. It seems to me that intrinsic worth is really where the main objections to body modification can be centered. I say this because when one looks to define just we mean when we talk about body modification, the categories are a lot larger than most people let on.

Four Categories of Body Modification

In the book Brave New World of Health, sociologist Isabel Karpin provides a very helpful overview of the various ways human beings have modified their body. She breaks these down into four primary areas: modifications that are therapeutic, cosmetic, enhancements to the body itself, or what she terms radical modifications.2 Usually, the first and at least some forms of the second set are non-controversial.

Therapeutic modifications are defined as "performed on abnormal structures of the body, caused by congenital defects, developmental abnormalities, trauma, infection, tumours or disease. [They are] generally performed to improve functions, but may also be done to approximate a normal appearance"3  Thus, breast reconstruction and tattooing would fall into this area. Many breast cancer survivors will receive tattoos to simulate lost areolas. If applying ink under the skin is by its nature a violation of the intrinsic worth of a body because it is artificial, then these types of modifications would be considered wrong. However, I don't see anyone arguing that way.

What about cosmetic modifications? I will leave aside temporary modifications such as haircuts/dyes for the moment and focus on only those things that permanently change the body. Are they different? Here Karpin defines cosmetic modifications as things like tummy tucks and breast augmentation. However, permanent cosmetic modifications also include such subtle things as braces for straightening teeth, ear piercings, hair transplants and permanent eyeliner. To condemn all cosmetic modifications would be to condemn these as well.

The last two categories are normally where there is more contention. Enhancements are those like people having magnets implanted under their skin to pick up metallic objects.4 Radical modifications are those that are the most non-conformist in our culture.  Radical modifications include nipple or genital piercings, skin braiding, scarring, branding, 3D implants, such as silicone horns, metal screws to attach whiskers, tongue slitting, Karpin defines this category somewhat subjectively as "as the alteration of someone's appearance in a way that does not accord with cultural ideas of the normal and the natural."

Modification and Worth

So, does modifying the body show a disregard for its worth and dignity? I don't believe it does specifically. Therapeutic modifications seem to recognize the value of a healthy, fully formed body and recipients are seeking to emulate that. I also don't believe that simply because a modification is done for cosmetic purposes, it invalidates the body's value. Sometimes, permanent eyeliner or laser hair removal is undertaken as simply a time saver rather than a statement. The appearance of those individuals still conforms to societal standards.

Even when defining radical modifications, societal standards play a central role. That's the key, it seems to me. I don't think body modification is something that violates the recognition of the body's intrinsic worth by definition. That isn't to say no body modifications ever disregard the body's intrinsic worth.  The issue is actually more complicated than that. One must know if and when modification does demonstrate disregard for the worth of the body. That means Christians shouldn't approach body modification with abandon. I'll tackle that in an upcoming article.


1. "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next." Pew Social Trends. Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.
2. Karpin, Isabel. "Constructing the Body Inside and Out: Genetic and Somatic Modification." Brave New World of Health. Belinda Bennett, Terry Carney, and Isabel Karpin, Eds. Sydney, NSW: Federation, 2008. 77-81. Print.
3. Karpin, 2008. 80.
4. Karpin, 2008. 81.

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