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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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Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts

Monday, January 30, 2017

Scientists Have Created Human-Pig Hybrids. So Now What?

It can happen during busy news cycles that some of the more important stories are missed. That may have been the case last week as scientists announced they had successfully created a human-pig chimera embryos in what was called a "first proof" of concept by the BBC. According to the report, scientists were able to inject human stem cells into a newly-formed pig embryo and then implanted the embryo into a sow, allowing it to grow for 28 days. They then looked to see whether the human cells were growing before destroying the embryo.

The ultimate goal in these tests is not to develop some kind of hybrid monster, but to be able to grow human organs in animals for eventual transplant to patients whose organs are failing. In this specific experiment, the embryos would be considered less than one-ten thousandth human. Still, it marks the first time functioning human cells have been observed growing inside a large animal, according to Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute, causing other researchers to describe the published findings as "exciting."

More Questions than Answers

I think this report is important for some very specific reasons. First, the idea of a human-pig chimera is shocking. It opens a lot of questions about humanity and our technical abilities. The report made it clear that this research is highly inefficient and would take many years to develop more fully. But the BBC report also noted this kind of research is "ethically charged" and offered a one-sentence disclaimer stating "There was no evidence that human cells were integrating into the early form of brain tissue." 1

The fact that our technology is progressing faster than our ability to place it in its ethical context is the biggest takeaway from the story. For those who hold to moral pragmatism—meaning the ends justify the means—then it makes sense to do whatever one wants in order to achieve a desired goal. Burt pragmatism isn’t real morality; it simply says the ends justify the means, which is a position used by tyrants.

How Science Cannot Account for Morality

More interestingly to me is the fact that the chimera research is a clear example of how science cannot answer all the important questions. Prof. Belmonte, who was o0ne of the researchers on the project was clear that at this time they were not allowing the embryos to grow longer than one month, as that’s all they needed to confirm development t of human cells in the pigs:
One possibility is to let these animals be born, but that is not something we should allow to happen at this point.

Not everything that science can do we should do, we are not living in a niche in lab, we live with other people - and society needs to decide what can be done.2
I’m glad to see a bit of caution in Belmonte’s words. He’s right to say not everything science can do it should. The statement really rebuts new atheists like Sam Harris, who famously argued in his book The Moral Landscape that science itself can be the foundation of morality. Well, here’s the science. Where does the morality come from? How would Harris ground any kind of moral reasoning as to whether we should do what we can do in this instance? Should we mix human and pig cells even more? What if human and pig brain cells were combined?

Ultimately, this shows that science can only tell us what is possible, not whether it should be. Moral reasoning must come a moral lawgiver, not from the fact that something can be done. Otherwise, we’ll all be left with a real Frankenstein’s monster of moral values.


1. Gallagher, James. "Human-pig 'chimera Embryos' Detailed." BBC News. BBC, 26 Jan. 2017. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
2. Gallagher, James. 2017.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What if Morality was Based on Empiricism instead of Christianity?

The Western world is what it is because of the enormous influence of Christianity. Without a Christian understanding of human beings as those who bear the image of God, our society would be a far different place.

However, atheists have been pretty vocal in their contention that a society based on empirical mortality and not Christian values would be better for humanity. Neil deGrasse Tyson has recently advocated for such a virtual society he named "Rationalia." Tyson's proposal is problematic on many grounds, but he isn't the only one advocating for such a world.

New Atheist Sam Harris doesn't believe a Christian worldview is necessary to ground moral principles, either. In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris tries to argue for a secularly based moral framework. He believes that values and morality "translate into facts that can be scientifically understood: regarding negative social emotions, retributive impulses, the effects of specific laws and social institutions on human relationships, the neurophysiology of happiness and suffering, etc. The most important of these facts are bound to transcend culture—just as facts about physical and mental health do."1

Viewing People through Empirical Lenses

Is Harris right? What would happen if a thoughtful, advanced culture viewed individuals through only an empirical framework? Physical and mental health states, as Harris mentions above, would feed into the value society places upon those individuals. This isn't speculation; we have a couple of good examples to show how this happens.

Along with Christianity, ancient Greek thought has significantly shaped western culture. At its zenith, Greece was one of the most advanced civilizations the world has ever seen and its philosophers continue to impact how we understand our world. Aristotle sought to scientifically categorize the various relationships between people in his On Politics. There, he begins

As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.2

Aristotle then goes on to systematically build his case. There are different kinds of communities to which we all belong: households/families, villages, city-states. He also notes there are also two kinds of necessary relationships for the human species to survive: the male-female relationship, which is necessary for the propagation of the species, and the ruler-servant relationship. Of the second, Aristotle's observations lead him to conclude that some people are naturally predisposed to be slaves of other, more capable men:
But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.3
When reading Aristotle's reasoning, one can see how systematically it moves from empirical observation through reason to its conclusions. Certain people are not smart, or not capable of leadership, or they don't measure up in any one of a myriad of ways. To Aristotle, it makes sense that those individuals are naturally predisposed to be the servants of others—the Gammas and Deltas of Huxley's Brave New World.

Darwinian Theory Leads down a Similar Road

But many people would dismiss this example as an argument against a "scientific approach" to morality simply because it's old. They may be tempted to say something like "We've learned so much in 2500 years, no one would come to such conclusions today." Yet, the modern eugenics movement, based on Darwinian evolutionary theory, took the United States by storm, classifying certain people as less worthy to reproduce. This even led to a Supreme Court case where the Court upheld the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck. Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. famously ordered Buck's sterilization concluding:
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.4
Adding to this, just two years ago famous atheist Richard Dawkins held that for a pregnant woman who has discovered her unborn baby has Down's Syndrome, morality means killing the child:
For what it's worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do. I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child's own welfare.5
Each of these positions begin with a natural or empirical understanding of human beings. They measure people based on their output. But Christianity holds there is more to a person than his or her observable advantages for each one bears the image of God, which gives each one transcendent value. What other rational basis can one offer for holding that all people, even those with mental disabilities, hold inherent worth? There is no empirical measurement that makes us otherwise equal and at that point Aristotle and Dawkins may well be right.

What would a society without Christianity look like? It looks pretty scary indeed.


1. Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free, 2010. Print. 1-2.
2. Aristotle. "Politics." The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 2001. Print. 1127.
3. Aristotle, Pol. 1132.
4. Russell, Thomas D. "BUCK v. BELL, Superintendent of State Colony Epileptics and Feeble Minded, 274 U.S. 200 (1927)." American Legal History – Russell. 18 November 2009. Web. June 24, 2013.
5. Dawkins, Richard. "Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar." Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Richard Dawkins Foundation, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.
Image courtesy Wellcome Library, London and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 [CC BY 4.0] license.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Infertility And Christian Families: What's The Right Thing To Do? (video)

Many Christian couples yearn for a child but fertility issues have thwarted their efforts. Now, the medical community has undergone an explosion in new reproductive technologies, promising success where there was previously no hope. But with the promise, they also bring new questions on how Christians should approach such techniques.

In this video, Lenny explains various techniques and the potential dangers that accompany them. He also offers specific questions Christians should ask before embarking on in-vitro fertilization. This is the first in a multi-part series on reproductive technologies and the Christian.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

These 12 Words Perfectly Demonstrate What's Wrong with Popular Discourse

Imagine a city that has several neighborhoods; some are poorer, some are middle class, and there are a few affluent areas. Just as in any city this one has standard comforts like parks for residents, but it also has its share of problems, like crime and drug-trafficking. Now imagine there is a city council meeting where the residents have the opportunity to air their grievances. 

The first lady steps up to the podium. While she lives in the more affluent part of town, she complains that the recent crime wave endangers the poor neighborhood's children. She asks the city to take action and approve funds for additional police offers to patrol the neighborhoods and curb the crime endangering the citizens.

Her request seems reasonable, yet a second lady steps up to the microphone and shouts "Wait! This crime problem has shown up fairly recently. Meanwhile, I've been writing letters for a year about the broken swing sets at our park. It's important for our children's health that they have working outdoor equipment to play on. This lady shouldn't be complaining about a neighborhood where she doesn't live. She needs to be concerned about the problems in her own backyard first."

I think anyone with an ounce of decency would be shocked at the reaction of the second lady. How can she believe the weight of something like swing sets is equal to the risk those in the poorer parts of the city are facing? Yet, in our hyper-political culture this kind of thing happens more often than not. For example, I recently linked to an article on my Facebook page defining some of the egregious abuses women in Muslim countries face because of Islamic jurisprudence. Written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is no stranger to Muslim abuse herself, she documents how a 19 year-old girl was stoned to death in Afghanistan, how Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death for adultery in Iran, and girl in Saudi Arabia was gang raped, but it was she who was sentenced to 200 lashes for being in a room with a man who is not a relative.1

The Reality is Worse than the Hypothetical

The article sounds an alarm about the viciousness women face in countries controlled by Sharia law and Ali even outlines how these laws become so damaging to women and their freedom and notes that Sharia is supported by a wide majority of Muslim nations and is growing worldwide. It is a call to protect women from abuse and death. You can imagine how surprised I was when I received a comment from a follower who simply wrote, "Women's rights are being eroded in America also. Make your own bed."


These twelve words are all one has to say about these poor victims? Someone is actually comparing the stoning of women in Iran to the complaint that not all businesses want to pay for a woman's birth control pills? What other kind of women's rights could she be talking about? It isn't the opportunity for an education as more women than men enroll in college,2 more graduate from college and more earn graduate degrees, like masters and PhDs.3 Women enjoy all the rights to jobs and opportunity men do. They even make the same amount of money for the same jobs, regardless of the oft-debunked myth to the contrary.4

Seeing People as Black or White Hats

My point in highlighting this comment is not to point out one individual. This is a wider trend in our polarized, reactionary culture. Any feminist or progressive should want to do something about those women who are being abused and marginalized by governments. They should be the ones carrying the flag and supporting efforts to put pressure on the governments that allow or enforce such abuse. Conservatives should care about such things deeply as erosions of liberty. There's common ground here, but it was ignored to try and make a clever political jab.

Instead of thinking about the issue, seeing my link as a way to try and leverage one's political point isn't clever. It isn't thoughtful; it's infantile. It's a childish move to say "I want mine and then I'll worry about anybody else." Yet, this is the level of political discourse to which we've sunk. I don't offer this as a critique against liberals, either. I've seen conservatives do the exact same thing. Any person on the opposite side of the political spectrum is stupid or evil so it's OK to put them down. But if we are going to actually do some good in the world, we've got to stop labeling people as the black hats and the white hats.

Debate the issues. There are real evils in the world, like the stoning of women for wishing to marry the person she loves. Certainly we should be able to agree that is a heinous thing needing to be stopped. Anyone who thinks anything women in the U.S. face comes close to that isn't being genuine or reflective. They're adding to the problem instead of helping to solve it.


1. Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. "The Price of Modesty." The Huffington Post., 6 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
2. Lopez, Mark Hugo, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. "Women's College Enrollment Gains Leave Men behind." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
3. Perry, Mark J. "Staggering College Degree Gap Favoring Women, Who Have Earned 9 Million More College Degrees than Men since 1982." AEI. American Enterprise Institute, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
4. CONSAD Research Corporation. "An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women." U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration Report. Pittsburgh, January 12, 2009. Web.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Deconstructing the "Atheist Nations are Better" Meme

Yesterday I wrote about a spate of memes on the Internet that assert countries with atheist majorities are faring better than those whose cultures reflect a religious majority. In that article, I distinguished that the concept of "better" is used pretty loosely, as suicides and the value of life itself seems to be much lower in Scandinavian counties offered as examples of secular states. Today, I'd like to approach some of the other problems with the assertion to provide a fuller response to those who would believe such hype.

Secularism is not Atheism

It must be mentioned at the outset that many of the memes out there are not accurate in their presentation of the facts. For example, the Iceland meme defines Iceland as an "Atheist majority population." According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Iceland is actually "Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (official) 73.8%, Roman Catholic 3.6%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.9%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 2%, The Independent Congregation 1%, other religions 3.9% (includes Pentecostal and Asatru Association), none 5.6%, other or unspecified 7.2% (2015 est.)."1 Taking the Nones and the unspecified together, it means 12.8% of Iceland's nearly 332,000 citizens don't identify with any religious group.  That isn't even close to a majority.

The question changes if one makes a distinction between a secular culture and an atheist culture. Even sociologist Phil Zuckerman, from whose research most of these ideas were taken, tried to be a bit more careful in his definitions, defining an atheist as "someone who doesn't believe in God and/or finds the very concept of God meaningless or incoherent" and a secular person as "someone who is non-religious, irreligious, or generally uninterested in, indifferent to, or oblivious to religious beliefs, activities, and organizations."2 As Zuckerman rightly notes, there are a wide range of beliefs, self-identifications, and even overlapping views. So, while Iceland may have a population that is uninterested in religious beliefs (we don't know if that's the case as no statistics are provided in the meme), it cannot be claimed to be atheist.

Selective Sampling

In another article written for Psychology Today, Zuckerman claims "those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc."3 Interestingly, why did Zuckerman include the qualifier "democratic" in his assessment of secular nations but not of the religious ones? What about the human rights of the citizens of China or North Korea? Here, he doesn't say, but he does mention it in his other work. There, Zuckerman admits such nations "do miserably on various indicators of societal well-being" but he blames this on the dictatorships themselves.4 He may very well be right, but then what to do with including nations like Colombia and Yemen in the list above?

Also, while Zuckerman's article is written to counter what he says is a charge by "religious conservatives," the claim is too broad.  I don't claim that being religious or a belief in God is all one needs for a society to thrive. It is specifically Christian ethics and a society influenced by a Christian worldview that we must discuss.  Islamic nations have a whole host of other problems they must deal with.

In the next article, I focus specifically on the conclusion offered by Zuckerman that countries like the Scandinavian nations are faring better due to their secularism. For now, know that such claims rely more on assumption than fact.


1. "Iceland." CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
2. Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions." Sociology Compass 3.6 (2009): 951. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
3. Zuckerman, Phil. "Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.
4. Zuckerman, 2009.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Naturalism and the Problem of Living a Good Life

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

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


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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Do the Ends Justify the Means in Fetal Tissue Donations?

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

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

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

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

Coercive versus non-coercive environments

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

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

Planned Parenthood Violates the 'Dead Donor' Rule

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

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


1. Brown, Kristi Burton. "Planned Parenthood Abortionists Do Their Own Research on the Babies They Abort." Live Action News. Live Action, Inc., 05 Aug. 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
2. McLaughlin, Elliot C. "Planned Parenthood Exec, Fetal Body Parts in Video" CNN. Cable News Network, 15 July 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
3. Green, Hank. "Hi Hank! Could You Explain What Exactly All This..." Hank's Tumblr. Hank Green, 16 July 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
4. O'Reilly, Kevin B. "Prisoner Organ Donation Proposal Worrisome." American Medical News. American Medical Association, 9 Apr. 2007. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
5. O'Reilly, 2007.
6. Caplan, Arthur. "The Use of Prisoners as Sources of Organs–An Ethically Dubious Practice." The American Journal of Bioethics 11.10 (2011): 3. Web.
7. Lowry, Rich. "Planned Parenthood's Pathetic '3 Percent' Lie." New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc., 3 Aug. 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
8. "In-Clinic Abortion Procedure | What Is the Cost & Process?"  Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 2014. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
9. 2013-2014 Annual Report. Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 2014. Page 21. Web.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why the "Evil God" Objection Fails

Traffic lights across the world use red and green to signify stop and go. 1 From that, the concept of red communication stop or lack of progress while green means continued movement have spread well beyond the automobile. For example, they're used in machinery power switches to signify whether a machine is operating. They're also used in financial reports to show whether a stock is falling (red) or rising (green).

But why these colors? Why couldn't it be blue and orange? There's no objective need for choosing red and green instead of blue and orange to represent stop and go. The Chinese traditionally associate the color red with fortune and luck. Given this, on mainland China, rising stocks are displayed with a red arrow on a graph, while green means the stock is sinking.2

What if some of our other assumptions about what we believe to be up and down are wrong? What about our assumption that God is inherently good? Every once in a while I hear atheists offer a counter-argument to the all-good God concept by asking "what if God isn't good, but malevolent? How do you know that god is good at all?" One example of this is a post by John Loftus on his blog Debunking Christianity:
But what if Satan is the good guy? What if he rebelled against God because he was aware of God's evil plan to create this kind of world and with it condemn human beings to hell forever? What if Satan told Adam the truth in the garden and wanted him to have a true knowledge about God that was forbidden him? What if God was the one who revealed a lie, that Satan was the bad guy even though he isn't?

… What if this so-called cosmic war is being won by the wrong guy? What if in response Satan is sending prophets (i.e. intellectuals), to tell believers the truth, that God is a liar, an evil egomaniac, a moral monster? What evidence is there to deny my scenario? Evidence. That's what I'm asking for in any scenario. Probabilities are all that matter. For if any of these scenarios are to be taken seriously then people are within their epistemic rights to believe the Scientology tale too.3

What Makes Good Good?

Loftus asks for evidence, and I think we can offer some. The problem in Loftus' proposal is that if we were to grant it, it runs smack into another favorite objection offered by atheists: the Euthyphro dilemma. In his Euthyphro dialogue, Plato asks if God is considered good because he follows some intrinsic goodness independent of Him, or is good whatever God declares to be good? In Loftus's scenario, we have an objective good that sits outside of God, one that he should obey, but doesn't. But how does this work? If God is understood to be pre-existent and it was he who created all things including Satan, the concept of a moral law sitting outside of God is nonsensical. There is no good and evil per se. There is only the universe as it was created to operate and it functions as it functions.

As the Moral Argument concludes, the very notions of good and evil, right and wrong require God to exist. An all-good God is the foundation for our moral values and duties. He is neither beholden to some external principle nor does he create moral values arbitrarily. The good is found within God himself and moral values simply reflect his nature. But with a supposed evil God, there's no way to know what good actually is; thus there's no way to understand what the term God means. An evil God really becomes an oxymoron at that point, given that part of what we mean by God is he who grounds moral obligations.


1. Scott. "The Origin of the Green, Yellow, and Red Color Scheme for Traffic Lights." Today I Found Out. Vacca Foeda Media, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015.
2. Jiang, Feng, Su Lu, Xiang Yao, Xiaodong Yue, and Wing Tung Au. "Up or Down? How Culture and Color Affect Judgments." Journal of Behavioral Decision Making J. Behav. Dec. Making 27.3 (2013): 226-34. Web.
3. Loftus, John W. "What If Satan Is the Good Guy?" Debunking Christianity. John W. Loftus, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What Should We Think About Genetic Engineering?

What does it mean to give your children the best chance at success? Would it include changing their DNA so they would never get sick? Could it include genetically changing them to make them stronger, smarter, and faster than others? Is that even moral?

These questions used to be relegated to the realm of science fiction, but as genetic technologies advance, they have become more and more real. There are already instances of people using genetic screening during in vitro fertilization.1 While this process is currently used to only identify the correct number of chromosomes in an embryo, the Guardian article states, "If doctors had a readout of an embryo's whole genome, they could judge the chances of the child developing certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's."2

While genetic screening itself opens a host of moral questions, even more provocative is the concept of genetic engineering: changing the gene itself to either rid the embryo of a trait or to enhance natural traits such as strength or intelligence. This morning I read two articles from Christians (J.W. Wartick and ElijiahT) who outlined the issue and offered their views. They've done a good job in laying out most of the arguments, both pro and con, that you find see in the debate, so I won't rehash them here. Both are worthy of your time. But there is an aspect that neither touched on which I think is fundamental to the discussion.

Genetic Therapy and Genetic Enhancement

First, I do wish to distinguish between the two goals of genetic engineering. There is a distinction between genetic therapy, which is basically correcting a genetic defect such as Sickle-cell disease that Wartick offers, and genetic enhancement, which takes a function that would fall within the normal range and improve it. 3 Yet, even here the standard isn't so easily discernable. For example, the deaf community even today has significant disagreement whether deaf children born to deaf parents should receive cochlear implants.4 In fact, one lesbian couple sought out a sperm donor who had five generations of deafness in his family to ensure their IVF child would be deaf.5

I have some problems with the couple's approach, but it does illustrate that defining disability versus difference isn't always so clear. However, with most cases, I think a case can be made that genetic therapies fall within a Christian construct. God has given us the ability to learn about His creation and to try and alleviate some of the suffering brought on by the Fall. Treatments for maladies are currently invasive (they require surgery), artificial (stints, mechanics, etc.) and even happen in utero as with fetal surgeries. Delivering treatments at the genetic level seems to me to be only a difference in degree, not in kind.

We are More than Our Genes

I have a different concern with genetic enhancements however. In his article, ElijiahT quoted Kurt Baier writing, "The best course of action is… the course of action which is supported by the best reasons. And the best reasons may require us to abandon the aim we actually have set our heart on."6 This is a fair standard and one that I think I can use to expand the debate.

The piece missing in both articles above is that every human being is not simply a product of his or her genetics. Human beings are also living souls and God is extremely concerned with the development of the soul as well as the ability of the body. Theologians have understood that while eliminating suffering is important and Christians should help those who they can, God's providential ordering of things is also important. That's why the Psalmist writes "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."7

Part of our fearful and wonderful makeup is our specific limitations in certain areas. These shape us into who we are as much as our ability to excel. While I personally didn't struggle academically, I wasn't a natural athlete growing up. I was very small as a teenager and didn't have much experience with a ball. However, I found sports that stressed endurance such as cross country and wrestling and I was able to do very well in both. Striving there taught me perseverance and discipline that I may not have otherwise experienced. If my strength and height were genetically enhanced in utero, I wouldn't have the soul-shaping experienced I had, which helped form my spiritual makeup and attitude.

In his post, Wartick opines, "It is unclear, though, whether genetic enhancement would undermine the good of accomplishment and human achievement. Indeed, one could argue that genetic enhancement, in fact, bolsters human achievement by widening the scope of possibility for humans."8 Physically, that may be true, but I am not sure that it would be true spiritually. While our culture overburdens the concept of diversity, there are things one can learn from those who have varied obstacles they had to overcome. Sometimes, those experiences inform the rest of us in new way. We can learn from Helen Keller.

No Genetic Lottery

So are we to leave our children to what has been deemed the "genetic lottery"? And, to extend the argument, is seeking a child's excellence through genetic enhancement techniques any different from some of the advantages certain children currently enjoy? Outlining this aspect of the pro-enhancement position, ElijiahT writes:
Parents make choices regarding the life and welfare of their children all the time, yet no one claims the autonomy of the child is being violated. Expectant mothers will regularly take vitamins (to enhance the prenatal environment), read or play music to the developing child and alter her diet, all in an attempt to give the child the best environment possible. After birth, parents deliberately choose the child's nutrition, education, entertainment and health. In fact, to neglect these things is often seen as inappropriate parenting.9
I agree. Yet, the difference is qualitative; it's one of nature versus nurture. One need look no farther than the recent Lance Armstrong scandal. No one would bat an eye if Armstrong was reported taking the best vitamins, using the best trainers, and following the best exercise and diet regimen. It was the artificial input of what should be a natural (e.g. "God-given") function of his body. If we are created fearfully and wonderfully by a holy God, it simply may be that our limitations are there to build our character and our spirit.

Escaping the Playing God Dodge

ElijiahT counters with the argument that "playing God "with another's life may be a fallback excuse: "The actions associated with ‘playing God' are usually new technologies that alter something about the human condition. In this case, genetic engineering is seen as playing God, but couldn't the same argument be used as a ‘catch-all' for anything that makes us uncomfortable?"10

Of course he's right. The objection has been used as a conversation-stopper many times. But that doesn't mean that it is always fallacious. A doctor who indiscriminately euthanizes his patients is playing God; he's taken upon himself the mantle of choosing which people are worthy of life—the province of God alone. Similarly, if God is interested in shaping us into mature souls, he may limit certain physical attributes that we would otherwise wish for ourselves or our children. These differences are not defects caused by the fall, but truly differences that God allows for our good. One shouldn't assume to modify them because we believe they are not as worthy as other characteristics.

There's an interesting scene in the 1999 hit move The Matrix, where Agent Smith tells Morpheus that human beings don't thrive in paradise. The character explains:
Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.11
That's an oversimplification, but it does bring up a point. Struggle and hardship may be uncomfortable, but they are not always to be avoided. They can and often do serve to benefit believers. Holding to a "genetic lottery" assumes at the very least a deistic worldview. While we mitigate the defects brought on by sin, including Original sin, we shouldn't be so bold as to assume we can improve physical characteristics that are not defective. The Nazis sought to do that with race, but race isn't a defect. Neither are our lesser or grater physical abilities.

Without a discussion of the soul-shaping nature of bodily limitations, the questions raised regarding genetic modification is incomplete.


1. Sample, Ian. "IVF Baby Born Using Revolutionary Genetic-screening Process." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 7 July 2013. Web. 15 June 2015.
2. Sample, 2013.
3. There is also a distinction between treating someone genetically where the modified genes are localized versus recoding the person's entire DNA, as would happen at the first stages of life. Biologists differentiate the two by referring to the first as somatic genetic treatments, where the gene therapy would not be passed on to succeeding generations. Germ-line genetic treatments, however, are passed from parent to child.
4. Ringo, Allegra. "Understanding Deafness: Not Everyone Wants to Be 'Fixed'" The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 09 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 June 2015.
5. Spriggs, M. "Lesbian Couple Create a Child Who Is Deaf like Them." Journal of Medical Ethics 28.5 (2002): 283. Web.
6. ElijiahT. "Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children." ElijiahT. ElijiahT, 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 June 2015.
7. Psalm 139: 13-14, ESV
8. Wartick, J. W. "Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?" Always Have a Reason. J.W. Wartick, 15 June 2015. Web. 15 June 2015.
9. ElijiahT, 2014.
10. ElijiahT, 2014.
11. The Matrix. Prod. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. By Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. 1999.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where Do Moral Values Originate? (video)

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Atheism, Ethics, and Immorality

In my time of interacting with atheists, the problem of moral grounding comes up over and over again. Most atheists believe they are good, yet they cannot anchor their goodness in God. In fact, the UK Huffington Post featured a story on notable British atheists and where they find their morality. Many were asked if atheists were as moral as people of faith. The answers were pretty unanimously "yes." Julian Hubbert said, "I'm always perplexed by those who believe that in order to have a moral code it is necessary to have a religious belief - it seems to me astonishing that people would have to look up what is morally right and wrong." Richard Dawkins made the claim, "Atheists can be just as moral as religious people. And I think there is some reason to expect a statistical tendency for atheists to be more moral."1

But the question becomes more complex when they are asked how one discovers moral duties. Comedian David Baddiel said, "I have only one principle, not even a moral one, really. Which is: to be as true as possible, both to myself and to some notion of objective reality, all the time." He's right there; such a code may be used as justification for all kinds of immoral behaviors. Polly Toynbee asserts that "everyone is born with an inbuilt moral purpose. It springs from mankind's evolution as a social being, acting collaboratively, with altruism and good of the community hard-wired."2 I don't believe that matches reality at all. Certainly, as a newspaper columnist, Toynbee must read the papers and know the ongoing selfishness and violence people inflict upon each other every day.

Assuming Self-Interest

As I've spoken to atheists, many of them have told me that they would deny absolute morality but they are ethical in how they live. One of our guest atheist speakers stated that he felt ethics was a much more interesting topic that morality. When questioned about the objectivity of their morality, other atheists tried to shift the discussion to ethics as well. But that won't help. Ethics is setting a standard of how morality plays out in various situations. So, to be ethical in business for example, one must not defraud another. How is that different from the biblical command "Thou shalt not lie?" It simply isn't.

I think many people assume since ethics is mostly spoken of in instances of organized interaction like business, people assume it protects them from the cheat, while morality prohibits them from doing things like being sexually promiscuous. Yet, ethics still encompasses an "ought": one ought to behave this way and not that way. And that's the trouble. Oughts are the language of morality.

Attaching Obligation

As I've written before, anytime there is an ought, it implies that the person being told to follow the ought is under obligation to do so. Simply because a man walks onto a court with a ball, we cannot tell what way he ought to handle that ball. If he is playing volleyball, there is a rule penalizing him for letting the ball fall to the ground whereas that rule makes no sense in basketball. The rule isn't binding on him.

Similarly, the atheist isn't bound by the Christian moral command to not lie; he isn't playing that ballgame. It would be completely logical for the atheist to ask, "Who says? Why should I live by your standards in this area. I choose to play a different game." His being true to himself may simply be expressed in making a lot of money.

The obligation question is a key one and I think many atheists realize that it brings up some difficult problems in their worldview. I don't believe most atheists are seeking to cheat people or are more dishonest than anyone else. But one must wonder, what rules are obligatory to follow if there is no rulebook, no referee, and you don't even know if you're playing the same game as the other person?


1. Ridley, Louise. "Famous Atheists Tell Us Where They Get Their Values From." The Huffington Post UK. AOL (UK) Limited, 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
2. Ridley, 2014.

Image provided by Orietta.sberla is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Where are the Survival of the Fittest Ethics?

Ideas have consequences. It should be no surprise that how one sees the world will also influence his or her understanding and interpretation of certain events. Unexplained healing of a loved one after praying will be understood by a Christian as the intervention of God while an atheist would probably assume it was simply a coincidence. It would be difficult to prove either point given on a single, specific instance. The fact that each offers different explanations for the resultant recovery shouldn't surprise anyone.

Worldviews not only influence how we interpret results, they also influence our actions prior to the result. Given the example above, the Christian who believes in the power of prayer will pray for the sick person before he is healed. He or she may admonish others to also pray, asking God to intercede for them on whatever difficulties they may face in life. Pastors will encourage prayer and one would expect prayer to become part of the "fabric" of the Christian life. If the One who created the world exists and has instructed us to petition him, then we should do so.

But one would not expect prayer to become part of the fabric of the atheists' life. Someone who doesn't believe in God has no one to whom he or she would appeal. They would hold that we are the product of evolutionary processes, random genetic mutations that are shaped and strengthened through selections that weed out the weaker, less advantageous traits in whatever environment the creature would find itself. It is as Richard Dawkins puts it "life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."Things like unexpected healings are based on the mechanics of the body, and may simply be sheer luck. Perhaps that individual has a genetic mutation that provides the ability to recover from an affliction that most people wouldn't. That person is fit, surviving to possible pass that mutation onto his progeny.

What are the Ethics of Evolution?

One would expect this worldview of indifference regarding survival to become part of the fabric of the atheists' life. Survival of the fittest should be the fundamental principle that shapes their understanding of the world. But when we look at the ethical systems that people who identify as atheists adopt, they don't champion laws allowing the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak. People consider the idea of domination by conquerors to be ancient, backwards and barbaric. Instead, the atheists will uphold ideas such as the weaker members of humanity should be protected.

Of course, sometimes the evolutionary worldview has made its mark, most notably with the eugenics movement popular in the early twentieth century. The term eugenics was coined by Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, who sought to apply Darwinian principles to attributes like human intelligence. It was then promoted by people like Charles Davenport and Margaret Sanger, who began Planned Parenthood.2 Ultimately, the United States over 64,000 people deemed genetically inferior were sterilized under eugenics standards implemented by 30 states in the country.3

Realize that I'm not arguing that the eugenics movement as implemented in the first half of the twentieth century was right in its mixing of social dynamics with biological heredity. The proponents may have oversimplified the source of intelligence. However, it is consistent with the naturalist, Darwinian worldview. Accepted moral concepts like those with inheritable mental illnesses, those who are unable to reproduce, or those who are physically incapable should be afforded equal worth are not grounded in an evolutionary world view. In fact, such beliefs are the opposite of survival of the fittest.

I don't believe that holding to atheism makes one any more immoral than anyone else. In fact, I applaud those who strive to be good, decent people. However, I struggle with the inconsistency of how a naturalist would ground his morality in an evolutionary framework. It’s like an atheist praying—he may do so, but it doesn't show much consistency in his belief system.


1. Dawkins, Richard. River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York, NY: Basic, 1995. Print.
2. Witkowski, Jan. "Social Origins of Eugenics." Social Origins of Eugenics. Image Archives on the American Eugenics Movement, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
3. Rivard, Laura. "America’s Hidden History: The Eugenics Movement." Nature Publishing Group, 8 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.>.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Atheist Steals from Christian Values

Phil Zuckerman is an expert on the modern day secular family and he wants you to know how moral secularists are. In a recent Los Angeles Times article entitled "How secular family values stack up," he asks, "So how does the raising of upstanding, moral children work without prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Quite well, it seems" which he follows up by saying, "My own ongoing research among secular Americans… confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts."1

But just does a secular moral standard look like? What kind of authority does secular families look to in order to anchor their moral precepts. Zuckerman answers:
For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs.

Doesn't Zuckerman realize that the teaching of treating other people as you would like to be treated is a specifically Christian teaching that comes straight from the mouth of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus says in Luke 6:31 "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you" (NASB). So, why would Zuckerman try to smuggle a clear Christian teaching off as a secular moral precept?

Is the Golden Rule Universal?

Part of the confusion may be due to Confucius. It is true that some 500 years before Jesus that Confucius wrote "What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men" as the goal to which Tsze-kung should aspire.2  Hinduism teaches the same basic concept. But that isn't the same thing as Jesus's teaching. It is one thing to resist knocking another man over the head because you disagree, it is quite another to carry a Roman soldier's pack an extra mile after he compelled you to carry it the first mile. Jesus taught "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also" and "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"(Matt 5:40,44). These are specific ways to carry out the Golden Rule, with his ultimate example being the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy agrees that it was Christian teaching that made the Golden Rule the powerhouse it is:
Only when this rule was made a centerpiece of social interaction (by Jesus or Yeshua, and fellow John-the-Baptist disciples) did it become a more radical message, crossing class, clan and tribal boundaries within Judaism. Of special note is the rule's application to outcasts and those below one's station—the poor, lepers, Samaritans, and certain heathens (goyem). [Jesus] apparently made the rule second in importance only to the First Commandment of "the Father" (Hashem). This was to love God committedly, then love thy neighbor as thyself, which raised the rule's status greatly. It brought social inclusivity to center stage, thus shifting the focus of Jewish ethics generally. …

Only when the golden rule was applied across various cultures did it become a truly revolutionary message. Its "good news," spread by evangelists like Paul (Saul of Tarsus), fermented a consciousness-shift among early Christians, causing them actually to "love all of God's children" equally, extending to the sharing of all goods and the acceptance of women as equals.3
Meanwhile, Confucius's teaching didn't have the same effect, as the Chinese "increasingly interpreted the rule within the existing network of Chinese social conventions. It was a source of cultural status quoism—to each social station, its proper portion. … The social status quo in Confucian China was anything but compassionate, especially in the broader community and political arenas of life."4

The Necessary Conditions for the Golden Rule to be Authoritative

As the Chinese outcome demonstrates, the moral grounding of the do unto others imperative cannot exist in just any moral system. Christianity taught a very specific moral and metaphysical grounding that provided the fertile soil to root Jesus's teaching. This includes the doctrine that all human beings are equally valuable as image-bearers of God. Thus, the teaching is predicated on 1) a belief that God exists, 2) that every human being has an immaterial essence that holds the image of God, and 3) that Jesus has authority to instruct humanity on moral issues.

So Zuckerman is simply wrong that secularists who use the Golden Rule are anchoring their family's morality in secular values. I want to be careful here to make sure I'm not misunderstood. I believe that secular people and secular families can and indeed are as moral as anyone else. I am again demonstrating that there is no way to ground morals in secularism. Zuckerman himself steals from Christian moral teaching as he tries to argue for the morality of secular families. What are we to make of that?


1.Zuckerman, Phil. "How Secular Family Values Stack up." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
2. Confucius. "The Analects." The Internet Classics Archive. Daniel C. Stevenson, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 Jan. 2015.
3. Puka, Bill. "The Golden Rule." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
4. Puka, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morality Relies Upon God's Character, Not Simply His Commands

The moral argument for the existence of God has always been compelling to me; I see no way to anchor the reality of objective moral values than within the person of God Himself. Yet, some atheist claim any attempt to source morality in God means that God is somehow capricious in doling out just what should be counted as right and what should be counted as wrong.

 This is not what Christians believe. As Dr. Scott Rae in his book Moral Choices writes so succinctly, morality is anchored not in arbitrary commands, but in God's very nature. He explains:
Morality is ultimately grounded in the character of God, the ultimate source for morality is not God's commands but God's character. The virtues, or character traits, that are made clear by God's character and further clarified by Jesus' character, are the ultimate foundation for morality from a Christian worldview. God', commands are derived from his character. God issues the commands that he doe' because he is the kind of God that he is. For example, God commands that we low our neighbors, ultimately not because "love makes the world go 'round," though that result is surely a good thing, but because he is that kind of God. In addition, God mandates that we be forgiving people not primarily because forgiveness restores relationships, though that is certainly true but because God is fundamentally a forgiving God. The virtues, then, are primary, and the moral principles, or God's commands, are derived from them.


Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000. Print. 24.

Friday, October 24, 2014

God Outwits Ann Coulter on Ebola

At the beginning of August, the news of American missionary doctor Kent Brantly's contraction of Ebola made the headlines across the country. Some people who were incredulous that a healthy American doctor would risk his life to serve others in a foreign country. Others, like commentator Ann Coulter seemed indignant. Coulter opened her August 6 column with the following:
I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered.

What was the point?

Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals.1

As I had previously responded, Coulter's article devalued human life by weighing the price tag of Brantly's treatment against the human suffering he was alleviating treating Liberians with the disease.2 I had noted that putting oneself at risk for the sake of others has always been a part of the Christian tradition.

I also wrote that Coulter also errs by taking a utilitarian approach to Christian missionary efforts. I wrote, "If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good." Little did I realize how quickly this would be proven, for just today CNN reported that Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was free of the disease. CNN reported that Pham "thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick."3 As ABC News notes, "Antibodies in the blood of a survivor may help a patient fight off the germ."4

Interestingly, Brantly himself received plasma from one of the very patients he was treating in Liberia. A 14-year-old boy under Brantly's care had recovered from the disease and donated plasma to Brantly.5

However, that wasn't the only treatment Brantly received. He was also given an experimental drug named Zmapp, which also contains Ebola antibodies. However, that wasn't an option for Pham, as “Its maker says supplies are now exhausted,” according to the ABC report.6

So, just before a Liberian traveler to the US contracted Ebola and spread it to Pham in this country, a US doctor who treated and helped a young boy recover from Ebola contracted the disease himself, was given an experimental drug rich in antibodies before supplies ran out, was flown back to the very same state at considerable expense, and ultimately overcame the disease. He was then able to donate his plasma to those like Pham who contracted the disease through a completely different contact point. And because his recovery was such a short time ago, Brantly's plasma was still rich with the antibodies that could help fight the virus.

My answer to those like Coulter who asked "What was the point?" would be "Perhaps God had a bit more knowledge and foresight in this whole situation." Brantly's plasma has helped save American lives. And that only happened because Brantly was faithful to his calling to serve the suffering people of Liberia. I had written before that "for Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives."7 God's ways are indeed higher than our own, but it sure is cool seeing how He works it all out to His glory.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online.
2. Esposito, Lenny. " Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
3. Martinez, Michael, Michael Martinez, and Jason Hanna. "What Will Nurse Do after Beating Ebola? Hug Her Dog, of Course." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
4. Marilynn Marchione Ap Chief Medical Writer. "How Plasma Transfusions, Antibodies Fight Ebola." ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Esposito, Ibid.
Image courtesy Samaritan's Purse.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why Understanding the Imago Dei is More Crucial than Ever

In the very beginning of the Bible, it states that man is created in God's image. In fact, the phrase is repeated three times in Genesis 1:26-27, which is the ancient Jewish equivalent of typing in all caps to underscore the point. Theologians throughout the ages use the Latin imago Dei when speaking of this unique aspect of human creation, however most people are still a bit fuzzy as to what being made in the image of God means.

Some people misunderstand the concept of being made in God's image to mean that God modeled our physical attributes after his own. This is a mistake as Jesus clearly taught that God is not physical but a spirit (John 4:24). As I've explained elsewhere, bearing the image of God means that humans are fundamentally different from every other animal created on the earth. Part of the imago Dei is the capability we have to reason and the ability to exercise our free will and make meaningful choices.

Recently, though, asked a question that I expect many other Christians may have about this definition. A person asked "What about those who are mentally ill, though? How can they bear God's image if they lack the ability to reason or make decisions for themselves?" This is a good question that reveals bias of our modern culture that has larger implications across a variety of moral issues.

More Than a List of Skills

Today, much of what is valued in society is based on "what can you do for me" or "what skills do you have" mentality. So, it may be natural for people to assume that the imago Dei is measured by one's ability to reason, thus the question above about the mentally impaired. But one isn't considered a person because of one's ability but by nature of being human. We are designed to reflect God's image in ourselves and the design doesn't change even if we cannot properly execute the elements implicit in that. For example, a car is a vehicle whose design and purpose is to move across land, while a boat is a vehicle whose deign and purpose is to move across the water. The can may have a broken axle or the boat a hole in its side that prevent it from executing its normal function, but no one would look at a boat with a hole and say that it changes its function. Boats cannot move across the land unaided because so doing is counter to all of its design. The vehicle may need repair but one can quickly see whether it is a land or sea vehicle.

The reason this concept of design and purpose (what's known in philosophy as the telos or end purpose of a thing) is that it is crucial to the dignity of all human persons. It is not merely the mentally-ill who cannot reason, but the embryo has not yet developed reasoning capacity either. If the imago Dei doesn't apply to the embryo, then why should Christians oppose abortion? However, if the telos of the embryo is a functioning, rational adult who can make free decisions and can have a spiritual sensitivity, then the embryo shows as much uniqueness as any other human being. It is human nature to be social, to be creative, to be relational, to be rational, to have a sense of the moral, and to be spiritual. All of these reflect God's character and all sit in distinction to other animals in creation.  And every being that so reflects God's image in this way is intrinsically valuable because God values these things.

Photo courtesy diegain and again and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Britain Looks to Soylent Green Energy

The headline read like something out of a horror novel. Certainly this wasn't what it seemed, right? It must be satire, a Modest Proposal updated for the 21st century. Yet, there is was in the respected UK Telegraph for all to read: "Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals."

The story tells of how the remains of over 15,000 aborted or miscarried babies were labeled as "clinical waste" and incinerated in hospital "waste-to-energy" facilities while the mothers of those babies that were miscarried were simply told their babies' remains were cremated, with the hospitals never asking the parents how they would like their children's remand to be handled.

The British healthcare system is run through their government under the label of the National Health Service or the NHS. NHS Trusts are the public corporations that run the hospitals on behalf of the NHS and must answer to the UK's Department of Health. 27 NHS Trusts were found to have incinerated aborted babies over the last two years, according to the British television program Dispatches. This was not a rogue hospital making an error in judgment but a systemic approach to desecrating human remains throughout the government healthcare system.

How can such hideousness and callous disregard happen in an advanced society? Part of the problem stems from the rhetoric that has permeated the abortion wars. We're told over and over that fetuses are nothing more than "a clump of cells" or "a mass of tissue." So, even if a young couple was hoping to start a family but suffer the tragic loss of miscarriage, you cannot have a service for a mass of tissue. You simply dispose of it, like a removed appendix.1

This is certainly part of the problem, but it isn't all of it. The emphasis on finding new ways to "go green" reduce waste and carbon emissions plays into the decision as well.  This document published by the NHS's Sustainable Development Unit gives us a better understanding. In part, it reads:
Although domestic waste is by far the largest proportion of NHS total waste, clinical/hazardous waste is the most costly to dispose of: £380-450 per tonne for non-burn alternative technology (i.e. autoclave/microwaves etc) and £800-1,000 per tonne for hazardous/pharmaceutical waste high temperature incineration. As waste created by the NHS continues to rise, both by tonnage and by disposal cost, this is an area where investment in sound management can save money and reduce carbon emissions. The most important principle in waste management is to apply the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery – with disposal being the least favourable option (emphasis added).
So the push by the NHS was to save money, especially on clinical waste which is the most costly, and to reduce carbon emissions. The answer is simple: go green by not burning coal, but burning bodies. The UK has pioneered the use of Soylent Green Energy, where we protect the environment at the cost of human dignity.

Western culture is now beginning to suffer from the ramifications of its own teachings. We're told that people don't bear the image of God but are simply another evolutionary accident, simply another kind of animal. We're told that the miracle of bringing new life into the world is only special if the parents to be wanted that child, and only then if it meets factory specification. We're told that the only truly valuable thing in the world is the world itself, so we had better do everything possible to make it as though no humans even live on the planet. Then, when people take those teachings seriously, we become aghast at the horrific results. Ideas matter and I shudder to think of what other repulsions await us when people start believing what they've been teaching.


1. I would object to even the burning of amputated organs such as appendixes to heat hospitals. That is simply because these are not like medical sponges, discarded gauze, or other disposables that are byproducts of modern medical care. These organs were a part of a human being, and as such they are unique. We don't need funerals for them, but we do need to recognize that the owner has suffered a loss and thus they should be disposed of with at least some distinctio
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