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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 relativism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relativism. Show all posts

Friday, December 16, 2016

Those Who Complain About Fake News Can't Reject Absolute Truth

Fake news has really been making the news. Both Facebook and Google have announced they will not advertising from websites pedaling fake news, according to the New York Times.1 Facebook has gone one step further and announced new features allowing end users to flag stories as "disputed." Such stories will then be displayed with a warning label if they are shared on users' timelines.

Given the terrible track record social media sites have of allowing end users to "dispute" the posts they dislike, I can see a huge problem with this policy. Just see how often YouTube blocks videos by Dennis Prager and Christina Hoff Summers, not because they're offensive or not factual, but because opponents disagree with their messages. Certainly, there will be many internet trolls who are going to abuse the system, trying to censor those sites they simply don't like. While Facebook has announced that all reports will first be run through "third-party fact checking organizations," there are major problems with the proposal, as Mollie Hemingway has deftly noted.

The Contradiction in Complaining About Fake News

I'm very concerned about how this newfound attempt to squash false information can stifle the free exchange of ideas. One of the more telling reasons to question the earnestness of the effort is the glaring inconsistency the leaders on the left have shown in their own beliefs. After her defeat in the U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton recently spoke out against the "epidemic of fake news," which she characterized as "one threat in particular that should concern all Americans." President Obama had also decried misinformation being passed along as fact, stating:
If we are not serious about facts and what's true and what's not — and particularly in an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in soundbites and snippets off their phones — if we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems. If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won't know what to protect. We won't know what to fight for.2
I agree with the president in this statement. I think he's right that we must take truth seriously; distinguishing propaganda from fact. But, to do so one must assume there is a truth out there to know. In other words, truth is something different than what people want it to be. Ostensibly, fake news is considered such because it doesn't match the truth that is discoverable by reasonable people. Using the philosopher's definition, truth is what corresponds to what really is the case.

So, in order to campaign against fake news, one must hold to some standard of absolute truth. If truth isn't absolute, then how can anyone identify news as fake or not? Yet, in his book, The Audacity of Hope, President Obama dismisses the concept of absolute truth:
It's not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or "ism," any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad.3
There is no idea, or ideology, or "ism" that is always true? That means theism isn't absolutely true, nor is atheism. Neither conservatism nor progressivism can claim any absolute truth. So, using Obama's own words, how, if everything seems to be the do we know what to protect? How do we know what to fight for?

If nothing's true, then what qualifies as Fake News?

Denying certain truths can be politically expedient. One can garner the support of progressives by denying that a person who has XY chromosomes is male and XX is female. One can deny that people have good reasons for not wanting to pay for abortifacients as a matter of conscience. One can even deny that the Founding Fathers absolutely believed in absolute truth. But in each case, what you're pedaling is something fake. The denials are not serious arguments; they're propaganda.

Is fake news a problem? I would say all false beliefs are problematic, though some rise to a higher level than others. The more important the issue, the more important it is one holds to true beliefs. That's why more discussion is the cure, not blanket bans or labeling. The only way to rid us of the darkness of ignorance is to flood it with the light of knowledge. But when I see those who reject the concept of absolute truth all of a sudden become deeply concerned about "fake news," I become deeply concerned about their agenda. One cannot believe hold to both and be consistent.


1. Wingfield, Nick, Mike Isaac, and Katie Benner. "Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
2. Korte, Gregory. "Fake News Threatens Democracy, Obama Says." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.
3. Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Crown, 2006. Print. 93
Photo courtesy Jdmrhd and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When Does Cultural Insanity Hit the Breaking Point?

The Internet is ablaze with all kinds of opinions on about the shooting of Harambe, a seventeen-year-old gorilla zookeepers shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after the beast grabbed a three year old child who had fallen into his enclosure. Twitter showed the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe was trending over the weekend and a petition entitle "Justice for Harambe" has garnered over 350,000 signatures urging that the parents of the toddler "be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life."1

Obviously, this only proves there are 350,000 people in the world who have never had to watch a toddler for an extended period of time.

Others are decrying the response of the zoo in shooting the ape. NBC News reported "Animal rights activists continued to protest Monday" over Harambe's death. But just what is there to protest? A child's life was in danger and the only way to guarantee his safety was to shoot the animal. This is a no-brainer, yet it has seen a significant amount of coverage and discussion across the various media outlets.

Detaching Desire from Reality

The gorilla protesters aren't a big thing by themselves. However, the event is indicative of a very scary trend that has been developing rather quickly in society. People have basically decoupled themselves from reality. We have seen it in the transgender issue where people not only wish to believe their desire is enough to change the reality of their biology; they demand that everyone else reinforce their desire. We've seen it in spoiled college kids who think if they only hear opinions and ideas about how they want the world to be, they won't be "triggered" and therefore bad things won't happen to them. We've seen it in every televised police pursuit where each felon seems to really believe that he or she can unilaterally escape an entire police squad wit radios, spike strips, and helicopters to track their every move. How do those always end?

While it's easy to point at each scenario and shake our heads, I'm wondering when will enough be enough? I understand and accept in any free society one will face competing belief systems. I think that's actually healthy. Everyone should be challenged to understand and produce reasons for the beliefs he or she holds. But that isn't what this is. We've moved from reasoning to reactionary, and from truth to tale. Just as those who use edited photos and posts to craft a non-real version of their lives on social media, there are those who now believe they can similarly shape their entire world experience.

The problem is that the real world doesn't play this game. People end up getting hurt. Zookeepers explained that tranquilizers don't work like you see in the movies. They can take up to 30 minutes to take effect. In the interim, you've just angered a 450 lb. gorilla who can crush that toddler like an empty soda can. Is that really a good plan? If it were your child, would you still advocate for it?

Reality can be hard. Ignore it and sooner or later it comes back at you like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, coldly asserting "I'm not going to be ignored!" If protesters were there to stand in front of the zoo marksmen, stopping them from shooting and the child died, then what? Who would be to blame then?

I applaud the zoo officials for making the right call in this instance. Human beings are more valuable than animals, full stop. If you must choose between one or the other, choose the human. That's what being civilized is.


1. Hurt, Sheila. "Cincinnati Zoo: Justice for Harambe.", 29 May 2016. Web. 31 May 2016.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Trying to Become More Relevant Makes Liberal Churches Less Relevant

There has been a lot of noise about the rise of the Nones in the U.S. As the 2014 Religious Landscape Study reported, more people are not identifying with any organized religious. That doesn't mean they are all atheists, though. According to the Pew organization that published the study, "the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the 'nones' are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith."1 The rise of the Nones mirror the decline in mainline Protestant denominations, while religious groups such as Evangelicals are holding steady or even growing slightly. Millennials are increasingly identifying as Nones.

None of this is surprising. Millennials take an increasingly subjective view of faith claims, just as the more mainline denominations had held and taught. I believe the problem stems from the shift that occurred in the theology of mainline seminaries and churches. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainline denominations became increasingly more theologically liberal, spiritualizing what had previously been understood as objective morality and a record of historic events. This was their fatal move, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out in How Should We Then Live:
The new liberal theology, because it says that the Bible does not touch the cosmos or history, has no real basis for applying the Bible's values in a historic situation, in either morals or law. Everything religious is in the area of non-reason, and since reason has no place there, there is no room for discussion; there are only arbitrary pronouncements. Immanuel Kant could not bring together the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds, and the new theologian has no way logically to bring his personal arbitrary values into a historic situation. Or to say it another way: Sartre said that in an absurd world we can authenticate ourselves by an act of the will; but, as we saw, because reason has no place in this we can help people or hurt them. Similarly, because the pronouncements of these theologians about morals or law are arbitrary, in a different mood they, too, can be totally reversed.

The new theologians also have no way to explain why evil exists, and thus they are left with the same problem the Hindu philosophers have; that is, they must say that finally everything that is is equally in God. In Hindu thought one of the manifestations of God is Kali, a feminine representation of God with fangs and skulls hanging about her neck. Why do Hindus picture God this way? Because to them everything that exists now is a part of what has always been, a part of that which the Hindus would call "God"—and therefore cruelty is equal to non-cruelty. Modern humanistic man in both his secular and his religious forms has come to the same awful place. Both have no final way to say what is right and what is wrong, and no final way to say why one should choose non-cruelty instead of cruelty.2
Because mainline denominations abdicated an objective standard of scripture for subjective one, they lost their claim to any real knowledge about the world. The Millennials have recognized this. If there is nothing liberal theology can provide and concrete and objective, then why bother with it at all? If one teaches an olly-olly-oxen-free approach to faith, then why would anyone need to bother with the inconvenience of waling up early to drive to some church building and sit in a pew so someone else can tell them what their understanding of spirituality is? The congregant has his or her own view, which is equally true, so why not skip the whole enterprise? And that's what they've been doing.

Ironically, many mainline churches have tried to recapture the interest of the Millennial generation by showing just how progressive and accepting of all viewpoints they rare. I see banners all the time hanging from Methodist or ELCA churches proclaiming their diversity and acceptance of views that have historically been anathema in Christianity. They don't seem to realize their stance makes their church less relevant in the mind of Millennials, not more so.


1. "U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 02 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
2 Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005. Print.177-178.
Image by Colin Babb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sharing Absolute Truth with a Relativist

Postmodernists are those who deny that absolute truth exists.They believe truth is like the popular bromide of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. To them, since any absolute truths are unreachable; truth is whatever one identifies as true for them. Such an attitude poses a particularly difficult challenge for Christians who seek to argue for the absolute truths of the Christian faith. How does one convince a postmodernist of the truth claims of Christianity when truth itself isn't absolute?

In his book Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin, Os Guinness addresses the problem of apologetics and the postmodernist. He offers two tactics in his approach, the first being: "relativizing the relativizers" of those things that truly matter to them. He explains:
When I studied philosophy as an undergraduate in the 1960s, an Arctic chill was still hanging in the air that froze any serious appreciation of religion. The source had been the philosophy of logical positivism and the celebrated "verification principle" of A.J. Ayer. Only that which could be tested by the five senses could be verified as true, he said. Theology was therefore "non-sense," or as it was famously said, "The word g-o-d is less meaningful than the word d-o-g."

The trouble for A. J. Ayer was that his verification principle couldn't verify itself—it was self-refuting. For to accept as truth only what can be tested by the senses is a principle that itself cannot be tested by the senses. It too is non-sense. Ayer's approach, he later admitted, was "a blind alley." Years later I enjoyed a conversation with him on the train between London and Oxford. Although retired and knighted as Professor Sir Alfred J. Ayer, he was candid about the failure of his principle. "I wish I had been more consistent," he said. "Any iconoclast who brandishes a debunker's sword should be required to demonstrate it publicly on his own cherished beliefs." Indeed. 1

Pointing Out the Signals of Transcendence

While relativizing the relativizers undercuts the postmodernists' assumptions about their own views, Guinness admit this is primarily negates his view but doesn’t provide a positive argument for the absolute. This is why he also recommends a second approach, one called "pointing out the signals of transcendence" and offers a rather stark example:
Have you ever heard an atheist exclaim "Goddammit!" and mean it? We can all be taught not to judge; we can all be told that there are no moral absolutes. But when we come face to face with raw, naked evil, then relativism, nonjudgmentalism, and atheism count for nothing. Absolute evil calls for absolute judgment. Instinctively and intuitively, we cry out for the unconditional to condemn evil unconditionally. The atheist who lets fly "Goddammit!" in the face of evil is right, not wrong. It is a signal of transcendence, a pointer toward a better possibility—and unwittingly a prayer.

For no human being lives outside the reality common to us all. Whatever people may say the world is or who they are, it is what it is and they are who they are. Again, no argument is unarguable, but there are thoughts that can be thought but not lived. When all is said and done, reality always has the last word. The truth will always out. Standing up to falsehood, lies, and crazy ideas is never an easy task, but—as we explore next—it is far easier than the hardest task of all, becoming people of truth ourselves.2


1 Guinness, Os. "Time for Truth." Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. New York: Crossway, 2011. 649-650. Kindle Edition.
2 Guinness, 2011. 654.

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Culture Demanding We Carry Their Donkey

Our society is changing more rapidly than anyone imagined. One of the primary drivers of this change is the ongoing demand that no one be offended. Christians who hold to certain religious principles are being fined and silenced because their refusal to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Apple banned historically accurate Civil War games from their app store because it featured the Confederate battle flag. Even in college campuses, the supposed haven for the free exchange of ideas, is rotted with demands for only inoffensive speech, equality of experience,  and relative morality.

The whole thing reminds me of a story I was told as a child. Aesop and his fables are not as well-known today, but he made certain truths more accessible to young minds. This story of the Miller, his son, and the donkey seems particularly fitting in our modern "offend no one" climate:
A Miller and his son were driving their Ass to a neighboring fair to sell him. They had not gone far when they met with a troop of women collected round a well, talking and laughing. "Look there," cried one of them, "did you ever see such fellows, to be trudging along the road on foot when they might ride?"

The old man hearing this, quickly made his son mount the Ass, and continued to walk along merrily by his side. Presently they came up to a group of old men in earnest debate. "There," said one of them, "it proves what I was a-saying. What respect is shown to old age in these days? Do you see that idle lad riding while his old father has to walk? Get down, you young scapegrace, and let the old man rest his weary limbs."

Upon this the old man made his son dismount, and got up himself. In this manner they had not proceeded far when they met a company of women and children: "Why, you lazy old fellow," cried several tongues at once, "how can you ride upon the beast, while that poor little lad there can hardly keep pace by the side of you?"

The good-natured Miller immediately took up his son behind him. They had now almost reached the town. "Pray, honest friend," said a citizen, "is that Ass your own?'

"Yes," replied the old man.

"O, one would not have thought so," said the other, "by the way you load him. Why, you two fellows are better able to carry the poor beast than he you."

"Anything to please you," said the old man; "we can but try." So, alighting with his son, they tied the legs of the Ass together and with the help of a pole endeavored to carry him on their shoulders over a bridge near the entrance to the town. This entertaining sight brought the people in crowds to laugh at it, till the Ass, not liking the noise nor the strange handling that he was subject to, broke the cords that bound him and, tumbling off the pole, fell into the river.

Upon this, the old man, vexed and ashamed, made the best of his way home again, convinced that by endeavoring to please everybody he had pleased nobody, and lost his Ass in the bargain.1
Right now, we’re a society that, in straining to never offend, is carrying the donkey on our shoulders. It has already cost us the natural understanding of marriage. What will it cost us next?


1. "The Miller, His Sone, and Their Ass." Aesop's Fables. 16 April 2012.Web.,_His_Son,_and_Their_Ass

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Criticism of the Bible Demonstrates the Bible's Power

It is commonplace that those progressives who seek to reshape modern society into a vision of their own choosing will criticize biblical standards and even the Bible itself. Dismissed as out of date, backwards, and intolerant, they believe they can set a better standard. Yet, one must ask on what criteria will this panacea be based? With relativism the default position and hurt feelings an ideas measuring stick, the lines seem to be always moving.

In this excerpt for his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi aptly summarizes the problem with the modern critic's ideology and his ability to criticize at all:
Today, many people reject the Bible because they consider it to be irrational and irrelevant. Others believe it to be responsible for racial prejudices, sectarian bigotries, slavery, the oppression of women, the persecution of witches, opposition to science, the destruction of the environment, discrimination against homosexuals, and religious wars. However, this criticism itself reveals the powerful influence the Bible had during the last millennium. During that time, hardly any intellectual position or social practice could become mainstream in Christendom unless it could be defended on biblical grounds, real or mistaken; nor could beliefs and practices be challenged unless their opponents demonstrated that their call for reform was biblical.

Criticisms of the Bible are recognition of its unique cultural power. It has been the West's intellectual and moral compass, the "sacred canopy" (Peter Berger) that gave legitimacy to its values and institutions. The West's rejection of the Bible ushered in what historian Jacques Barzun called its "decadence." It brought an abrupt end to the Modern age just when Western civilization seemed set to win the world. Now, having amputated the Bible, the Western educational machinery is producing "strays," lost like [Nirvana's Kurt] Cobain. It can make good robots but it cannot even define a good man. The postmodern university can teach one how to travel to Mars but not how to live in one's home or nation.1


1. Mangalwadi, Vishal. The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011. 22.
Image courtesy LearningLark [CC BY 2.0].

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal Ordeal Shows Why Race, Like Biological Sex, is Sacred

The Internet is abuzz this morning on the breaking story of African Studies professor and Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, who is a white woman that has been identifying herself as black. Dolezal had claimed she was a target of racial profiling by police, but questions arose about the events as well as her background. It was then discovered that Dolezal has no African-American heritage, even though she had claimed such on an application to the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission.1 In fact, Dolezal's parents confirmed her heritage is Czech, Swedish and German.

The news about Dolezal broke just eleven days after Vanity Fair's unveiling of Olympian Bruce Jenner's sexual metamorphosis as a woman. That event brought many plaudits from those who push the idea that sex is somehow fungible; whatever sex one identifies with, one is. For a week, the Jenner story led many of the transgender support community to ride a wave of acclaim and public acceptance for that premise. Many of the same people don't accept Dolezal's identity as black, even though one's sex is much more clearly a description of biology than race can ever be.

The Sacredness of Race

The denunciation of racism is moral and proper for at least two reasons. Firstly, to ascribe a lesser value to a person because of their race means you are not taking the individual seriously, you are commoditizing them and doing so using a criterion that is inconsequential to do so. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, people should be judged on the basis of their character, not the color of his skin. Secondly, racism dismisses the history and heritage of an entire people group. With a hand-wave it denigrates any contributions a person's culture and traditions had in shaping the character of that individual. While certain traditions may be unhelpful or even evil (think female genital mutilation), one cannot dismiss an entire cultural heritage without dismissing every person who comes out of it. The values and traditions our parents passed onto us are formative and valuable. They are integral to who we are and they link us to our past. That's why, as Ravi Zacharias said, a person's race is sacred.2

That's why the Rachel Dolezal deception is galling. She was trading on a culture and history of which she had no part. She sought to change those very same superficial attributes to appear that she had a common history and culture. Her attempt again reduces the individual to inconsequential criteria. It's still racism, but played in the opposite direction.

The Sacredness of Biology

If Dolezal's act is galling, then how much more galling is the idea that one can change the outward appearance of one's hair, face, and genitals to appear as sex different from your biology. The transgender community would reduce the definition of a man or a woman to injectable hormones and plastic surgery. In fact, it's telling that Jenner wasn't featured in Vanity Fair as a 65 year old female, but closer to the idealized pin-up, a caricature of womanhood. Some of the very same publications who cheered Jenner's photos decried as demeaning similar images when they appeared in cartoon form on a scientist's shirt. The scientist's shirt is denigrating women while Jenner's poses are epitomizing womanhood. How is this consistent?

The fact is that reducing a person's worth based on their sex is offensive. If racism is wrong, then sexism is wrong and for the very same reason: using inconsequential aspects of a person to demean them. For instance, one's sex has absolutely no bearing on one's ability to function as a scholar, a chef, or a scientist. But just like one's culture, sex does have bearing on important aspects of shaping the family. Only women can give birth and only men can father a child. Those aspects of who we are so shape us and they do matter.

When my family was on vacation a few years ago, our travels took us through Tonopah, Nevada, a town literally in the middle of nowhere. At a gas station, I found myself in line behind Dennis Avner, the man who sought to change himself into a cat. I had seen images of Avner on one of those filler cable TV shows, but he was here in real life standing before me and paying for gas. No one mentioned to Avner that cats cannot pay for gasoline or drive a motor vehicle and he didn't seem to mind taking advantage of the benefits of being human as this point.

The reality is, no matter how much surgery Avner underwent, he would never be a cat. (Perhaps he would have benefitted if he would have read some Thomas Nagel.) He would be a man pretending to be a cat. Human beings have intrinsic worth because they bear the image of God. All races bear that image and therefore they all share that worth. God also created human beings male and female, and therefore both sexes share that worth. Dolezal's charade attempts to move the value of people to something superficial, but it is only different in degree and not kind from the transgender lobby. If race is sacred, so is sex and we need to recognize both.


1. "Credibility of Local NAACP Leader Rachel Dolezal Questioned." The Spokesman-Review, 11 June 2015. Web. 12 June 2015. .
2. Nix, Luke. "Ravi Zacharias on Race and Homosexuality." Faithful Thinkers. Faithful Thinkers, 7 May 2012. Web. 12 June 2015.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Liberal Philosophy is Backfiring on Its Champions

There aren't many people championing Marx and Lenin anymore. The New York Times reported that the Socialist party has only about 1,000 registered members, the Communist Party U.S.A. has about 2,000 members, and the Democratic Socialists, 6,000. Compare that to their heyday; in the 1932 presidential election, their combined votes numbered nearly one million. 1

Why are these parties so unsuccessful today? One reason is Communism as an idea has proven to simply not work in the real world. It was tried across many countries of Eastern Europe, most notably within the Soviet Union. The Communist experiment ran some 70 years, but it didn't improve the lives of the citizens, it worsened them. In fact, in every country where communism was attempted, it became an utter failure. Even today, citizens of Communist countries like Cuba are still suffering in third-world conditions. Once Communist China adopted Western/capitalist economic models (while using communism to hold onto political control) it began to thrive.

I use this example to highlight a fairly simple point: there are a lot of theories that sound good on paper, but when applied in the real world, they simply don't work. In fact, that's one way to identify if your worldview makes sense—see how it matches up with reality.

Political Correctness Eating Its Own

I've been watching with interest how liberal advocates are now suffering the consequences of their own dictums. Universities have been beating the drum on non-offensive speech, relative morality, and political correctness for decades, but now those who have promoted such views have been finding themselves subject to condemnation by the very students they instructed.

One example is Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University and a self-described feminist and cultural critic recently wrote an article decrying the "sexual paranoia" happening at college campuses. She didn't name any names nor did she point to a specific example, yet according to the Fiscal Times, two students filed harassment charges against her claiming that her essay had "'a chilling effect' on students' ability to report sexual misconduct ."2 Since in Title IX cases, the university basically treats the accused as guilty until proven innocent, Kipnis had to undergo an arduous ordeal trying to show how the feelings of the students who felt victimized didn't count.

Edward Schlosser, a professor at "a midsize state school" admits in an article on Vox that "my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones."3 He recounts how a class discussion on the housing crash where a student challenged a film presentation on the underlying cause of the crash because the video did not talk about race as a factor. The student filed a complaint with his director.

Schlosser said the new feelings-based standard has him modifying his teaching style. He reports:
I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We've seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.4
I believe Schlosser is scared. In fact, he was so scared he chose a pseudonym to write the article.

There seems to be no one who is safe from the rebid demand to not hurt feelings by students today. Even Dan Savage, the sex columnist and homosexual advocate was caught the double-edged sword of hurt feelings. You may remember Savage from his castigation of Christian students at a student journalism conference last year. He was hoisted on his own petard when speaking at the University of Chicago. Savage was explaining that he used to use the word "tranny" to talk of transgenders, but even using the word in his explanation caused students to accuse him of committing a hate crime and set up a petition on providing guidelines for future speakers so they will not offend anyone. 5

Tolerance Crumbling Under Its Own Weight

There are many more stories such as these coming out of universities. Christina Hoff Sommers experienced this many times when she speaks, eliciting charges of triggering students and faculty alike. Sommers is also a self-identified feminist, although she likes to present the facts as they pertain to things like wage differences or biases against women in vocations. Those facts are enough to make her an enemy of those who simply want to believe the narrative rather than the truth.

I've written before about living in the age of feeling. I've recognized that by abandoning the traditional moral understanding of sex, colleges have opened themselves up to more sexual miscreancy.. Now, we can see the fruition of the "tolerance" and "do not offend" ideology. Liberal professors, who have taught such poorly defined  concepts are now beginning to reap the consequences of that position. All I can hope is that like communism, the culture abandons those failed ideas and returns to search for the truth, for that's the only thing that will withstand the test of time.


1. Berger, Joseph. "Workers of the World, Please See Our Web Site." The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 May 2011. Web. 08 June 2015.
2. Morrissey, Edward. "Why College Professors Are Afraid to Teach Millennials." The Fiscal Times. The Fiscal Times, 4 June 2015. Web. 08 June 2015.
3. Schlosser, Edward. "I'm a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me." Vox. Vox Media, Inc., 03 June 2015. Web. 08 June 2015.
4. Schlosser, 2015.
5. "Univ. of Chicago Students Offended by Gay Activist's." Illinois Review. Illinois Review, 4 June 2015. Web. 08 June 2015.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How Modern Desire for Virtue Corrupts Virtue

One of the conceits of our society is the assumption culture has become more caring and compassionate than was the case in previous eras. Those who advocate for a secular viewpoint of live and let live believe that it is the restrictions Christianity imposed upon actions that caused people to be less kind and caring and our more detached approach is better.

While I understand that many people really believe promoting things like same-sex marriages and single-mother IVF are being more kind and compassionate, the reality is such actions have serious consequences to the institution of marriage, to children, and to society as a whole. In his classic book Orthodoxy, G.K Chesterton nails the dilemma, writing:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive.1
The recent Pew Survey shows this exact trend. Young people think they can be virtuous independent of a holistic belief system. This is one place we need to begin in our apologetic to a new generation.


1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Image, 1959. Print. 26.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Examining the Atheist Ten Commandments

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

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

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

Commandments with Assumptions

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

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

Contradiction of Belief

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

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

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

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


1. "The Rethink Prize - Atheist Mind Humanist Heart." Atheist Mind Humanist Heart. Mind Heart Project LLC, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
2. R.L.W., G.D. AND L.P. "Edit Wars." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 05 Aug. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
3. Fletcher, Joe. "Atheists Rewrite The Ten Commandments - They're Much Better Than The Originals." Addicting Info. Addicting Info, 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Are Christians Wrong to Believe in Only One Way?

Paul Copan comments on how those who quickly criticize Christians for believing they hold to the one true faith are wrong in their own assumptions. In his book True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith he writes:
For the relativist, it's a curious assumption that those holding to the reality of absolute truth are absolutely arrogant. There's no intrinsic contradiction between (A) holding firmly to convictions and (B) treating with love and dignity those who disagree; living harmoniously with people who hold radically different views is a hallmark of maturity. We'd all benefit from the courageous words of qualified people who display both firmness of conviction and civility (or respect)-as Paul says it, "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Martin Marty (b. 1928), noted observer of religion, states that the problem of modernity is that the people "who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and the people who have strong convictions often lack civility."

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dear Mr. President: Holding to Exclusive Belief is not Arrogant

Is it humble to say that no one should claim to have the truth? I've heard such assertions before. I've had discussions with others about religious beliefs and many of them have responded that to claim any kind of concept of God that excludes other beliefs systems is arrogant. But I think the opposite may actually be true.

As an example, I would like to look at part of the speech Barack Obama made at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. While the president, unlike his predecessors, is the first to not hold any observances for the National Day of Prayer during his presidency, he has attended the prayer breakfast each year. The event is put on by The Fellowship Foundation, an organization that blurs all faiths and is described as "assertively non-doctrinal and non-ecclesiastical."1

It isn't surprising, then, that Obama's remarks would take on a non-committal tone. Yet, he made some statements that go beyond non-commitment. In admonishing the audience to "counteract intolerance," he advised:
I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe. And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn't speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn't care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.2

Searching For the True Truth

This is the kind of claim that sounds very good until you think about it a little more deeply. First, I agree with the president that God cares for all people. But where did he get such an idea? Certainly, it didn't come from the Eastern faiths like Buddhism or Hinduism. In these, the universe runs according to the law of karma. You must repay debts you acquired in a previous life. Karma is impersonal and always exacting; no one escapes it.

The Bible clearly teaches God cares for everyone. Verses like John 3:16 that read "For God so loved the world" and 2 Peter 3:9 that says the Lord is "not willing that any should perish"( ESV) enforce this point. Yet, the concluding portions of both those verses are very exclusive in nature. God so loved the world that he gave his son and it is whosoever that believes on him is saved. God doesn't want us to perish, but instead come to repentance. These are exclusive claims and you must accept them as true or as false, but you cannot do both.

You cannot pull the Christian teaching of God caring about all people out of the way he demonstrated that care—through Jesus' death—and say that you must then doubt that exclusive tent of the faith. It makes no sense. This is true of ANY faith system. All of them make truth claims about God, about the way the universe works, and about how an individual can find salvation. If you embrace a religion, then you are agreeing that its teachings are true and therefore any teaching that contradicts it is false.

The Arrogant Anthropologist

Here's the thing. Those who claim that all faiths have some form of the truth are themselves making a faith claim they want you to accept as true. Leaving aside the contradictory nature of the various belief systems, the person making the statement is saying that believers in an exclusive faith have been duped, while he himself has come to a higher understanding.

I once saw a television show where an anthropologist came to live with a native tribe in the Amazon rain forest. Still using Stone Age tools and grass huts, he proclaimed glowingly how the tribe was "closer to the earth" and had so much less impact on their natural environment. The show showed that the chieftain would seek to cure children born with deformities or illness by sacrificing a chicken and leaving them exposed to the elements. Some would, of course, die. He then said something like, "We may feel that such acts are cruel. They're not, for the tribe cannot afford to take on the burden of caring for such offspring when they won't be able to help the tribe survive. It could be a death sentence for them. While their value on children may be different from our own, neither is wrong. Both are the way we survive in the tribes in which we're raised."

That's hogwash.

The anthropologist was saying that he is smarter than both the tribesmen in their belief that a chicken could cure their child AND in you, the person of the modern society who engages in your rituals because you were raised in them. The anthropologist is claiming to have some kind of privileged knowledge that stands above both points of view. However, if he were to be bitten by a poisonous snake or contract malaria in the jungle, do you think he would accept the sacrificed chicken as his only treatment? If his daughter were diagnosed with cancer, would he seek out the chieftain or would he look for the best oncologist he could find?

Belief systems make truth claims and truth by its very nature is exclusive. For the president to lecture us to "not be so full of yourself" to think that "somehow we alone are in possession of the truth" is disingenuous. He certainly seems to be very confident that he is right. I wonder how he reconciles that with his own advice.


1. Boyer, Peter J. "Frat House for Jesus." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

2. Nazworth, Napp. "Obama National Prayer Breakfast 2015 Text Transcript and Full Video; 'The Starting Point of Faith Is Some Doubt'" Christian Post. The Christian Post, Inc. 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Questions to Ask Skeptics: Why Are You So Intolerant? (video)

Those critical of Christianity seem to always have a lot of objections they throw at Christians. They ask question after question, seeing if the believer can answer what they believe are seemingly intractable problems.

Well, the reason-giving game goes both ways. In this short video clip, Lenny offers one of five questions the Christian should ask of the skeptic: Why are you so intolerant? These questions are designed to show how many of the critic's own beliefs can be contradictory and why Christianity makes sense.


Monday, December 01, 2014

Truth Versus Relevance in Today's Culture

When standing before Pilate, Jesus claimed he had come to testify to the truth. Pilate famously replied, "What is truth?" While Pilate's response may seem a little dismissive, Christians shouldn't be too quick to ignore it, especially in our modern culture. Most young people today would side with Pilate here. On issues like absolute morality, whether God exists, or if Jesus rose from the dead, young people think either the truth cannot be found or if it can be discovered, it really doesn't matter much in their lives. It is an abstraction to them; a fuzzy concept where they would argue about the concept without seeing any practical implications.

I've spent countless hours on college campuses engaging in many conversations with young adults about their lives, their concept of morality, good and evil, and religion. I've already written about the girl who told me that she couldn't tell a rapist he was wrong even if he was attacking her sister. The fact that she said this with her sister standing next to her demonstrated that she wasn't taking the question seriously; she was simply trying to win an argument. She viewed the concept of right and wrong as something surreal. Over and over I see this same pattern of confusion in kids who are attending some of the most prestigious and academically powerful universities in the country. They simply dismiss the search for truth as something unnecessary.

Young people are motivated by things that are "relevant"; things that matter to them and are more concrete. They value ideas such as fairness, the well-being of others, or the future of the planet. Christians must be able to demonstrate that the truth is relevant and that what one believes has real-world effects if our evangelism and apologetics are to be effective.

The trend to dismiss truth as irrelevant especially troubling because I know the reverse is true: truth does matter. It is more important than ever to now show how the abstract concepts of truth really matters in the everyday lives of these students and how it affects the things they care about. Here are three ways you can do just that.

Prove that Ideas have Consequences

False beliefs are dangerous to oneself and to others. But that isn't well understood today. It is assumed in popular culture that religious faith as merely a preference to give a person comfort or inspiration; one can find solace in a quote from Colossians or a quart of ice cream. Isaiah or Instagram serve equally well to inspire.

Yet, the real world again and again shows how ideas have consequences here and now. Therefore, the first step is to find out what the person you're talking with cares about. Are they passionate about injustice? Perhaps you mention that Martin Luther King's fight for justice was anchored in his Christian faith. Inequality? Ask them what makes us equal in their worldview. Equality of all people isn't possible in an evolutionary framework.

It isn't any type of religious belief that can produce real world benefits, but it is Christian beliefs that do so. ISIS' motivation is not some generalized view of religion but a wrong one that cannot survive in a Christian theology. Poverty is a serious issue across the globe. While Christianity has not only been on the forefront of aiding the poor through such organizations as The Salvation Army, it's been conclusively demonstrated that in countries where Christian missionaries made a significant impact enjoy better health, greater literacy, lower corruption, lower infant mortality, and better educational opportunities, especially for women. In the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia, some women must humiliate themselves just so they can travel within their own country. Even with the Ebola outbreak, the faithfulness of one man following his Christian beliefs made it possible to save strangers in Dallas who were infected accidentally. Comforting the hurting is what Christianity has always done.

To become more effective in our evangelism, we need to demonstrate why beliefs matter and why truth matters. False beliefs about morality can be just as dangerous as false beliefs about medicine. Christians should prepare themselves to show why. Tomorrow, I'll provide some ways to do just that

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Truth and Inclusivism

We must keep in mind that truth and reality are not in themselves pluralistic. If your gas tank is empty, social acceptance of your right to believe that it is full will not help you get your car to run. Everything is just exactly what it is, and you can develop cultural traditions, vote, wish, or whatever you please, and that will not change a thing.

Truth and reality do not adapt to us. It is up to us to adapt to them. A four thousand year old tradition does not become truer as the years go by. If it is false or wrong, it simply continues to be a long-standing error. If it is popular, it is widespread. If adopted by the powerful, it is authoritative. But it is still wrong. Acceptance of its right to exist in a pluralistic society does not make it any more correct, and will be of no help to those following it when they finally run into reality.

Some of my intellectual friends say that this is true in the domain of "fact," but that religion is the realm of "faith." They are victims of the unfortunate delusion of current culture that "fact" is limited to what is sense-perceptible. Hence they say that whether past or current living species where created by God or not, for example, is a matter of "faith." The implication is that for faith things are, somehow, as you think them to be. Much of what is now written in support of pluralism or "inclusivism" in religion assumes that there is no "way things are" with God, or at least that we cannot know how they are. Hence all views of God are said to be equally true because all are equally in the dark--an astonishingly fallacious inference.

— Dallas Willard, "Being a Christian in a Pluralistic Society"

Monday, October 06, 2014

Why Morality Must be Objective

My son is a big Disney fan. He loves the movies, the theme parks, and just about everything Disney.  Walt Disney really knew how to not only tell a good story, but reflect the way many people feel. Pinocchio is a great example of this. In Disney's version, one of Pinocchio's temptations is to go to Pleasure Island, where there are no rules. You can break things, get in fights, smoke, drink, or do anything your heart desires and never get in trouble. It seems a morality-free setting.

In reality, we know that it would be impossible to live out life morally free. If such a place existed, you could never be sure that someone else wouldn't strike out and kill you just for his own enjoyment. We rely on laws as well as the generally accepted ways of behavior so we can have order in our society. But these laws are not merely practical from a survival standpoint. They are essential.

Defining Morality: Commands for how we should live

When I talk about moral principles, I make the claim that they are objective and prescriptive. By objective, I mean that human beings don't invent morality out of nothing. Moral laws aren't merely ways we choose to live. They are as real as physical laws, such as gravity. That's what I mean when I say they are objective; moral laws are true whether or not anyone believes them or practices them. They exist apart from man and have their basis outside of mankind.

Some people believe morality is like traffic laws, that is they are merely a whole bunch of people getting together and agreeing that driving at some speed, say 80 miles per hour, is too fast and therefore pass laws to make it illegal to do so. There isn't anything intrinsically wrong with driving 80 miles per hour. For example, the Autobahn in Germany or certain areas of Montana don't have a maximum speed limit. But for this group of people in this place, they feel we'd all be better off if speeds were limited. However, morality is different from traffic laws. By saying morality is objective, it means that certain actions are wrong simply because they are wrong. It doesn't matter if a lot of people recognize that they are wrong.

By prescriptive, I mean that moral laws apply to all men at all times. Morality is what we should do; no one is exempt from it, no matter what their situation or status. Nutrition is a good analogy here. Human bodies have need for certain vitamins, minerals, and other elements  to continue operating. If you have a deficiency of Vitamin C in your diet, you can develop scurvy, and a deficiency of calcium will cause weakened bones and teeth susceptible to decay. These facts are true whether you know them and choose to eat wrongly or, like ancient sailors, don't know about them; you will still suffer the same effects regardless. Just as the human body requires nutrition to live, human persons require a moral framework to survive.

Morality is recognized by all men

Because moral laws are objective, they are also universal. All people have a moral sense inside of them. If God exists, it would make sense that He would create us with the ability to discover and understand moral laws. We find this is true through many different types of evidence. First, all societies do develop a moral foundation for their community. There are right and wrong ways to act across all cultures. Second, we find that the genesis of most of these laws has a common basis in development. Some cultures say that a man may marry only one wife, while other cultures permit multiple wives for one man. However, no culture deems it acceptable that a man may steal his brother's wife and marry her. The roots of marriage and spousal fidelity are universal.

Philosopher Paul Copan argues that human beings' ability to recognize certain actions as right and wrong is properly basic, just in the same way that recognizing colors is properly basic.1 If someone is color-blind, we see that as a defect in their visual processing. Similarly, we should question a person when they fail to recognize that moral values are real. Recently, an interesting study was published by Paul Bloom, a Yale professor of psychology who found that moral traits can be seen in infants even before they learned to speak and therefore were not influenced to believe in acting certain ways just to get cultural approval. He concluded that human beings are simply hard-wired for morality from birth.2 We all are born with a moral conscience that tells us right from wrong. That conscience shows that moral values exist and can be recognized by all men.

Everyone believes something is wrong

Some people will fight you on this point, but it's easy to show that people simply think in terms of right and wrong for certain actions and they can't escape doing so. If someone seeks to challenge the claim by saying they don't believe that objective moral values really exist, then just ask them if they have any money in their wallet right now. Tell them that you're planning to knock them over the head and take all their money. You will certainly get a quick reply that you cannot do such a thing. But if there's no morality, then there's nothing wrong with me taking all your money. You see, when people use the words “can't” and “shouldn't” in this context, they are really saying that there is a way to behave and what I just proposed isn't it. But who set that rule? Says who? What do you mean? Now you're invoking a moral law? I ought not to do that? You're saying I ought not to punch you in the nose? What this “ought to” stuff? Who's making these laws up? Now, some people believe that morality is relative, made up by people to get to an end. I've looked at the problems with moral relativism before, you can read those here, here, and here as a start. All that to say, we know that it's impossible for morality to be both objective and relative.

Killing babies for fun is always wrong — no matter what anyone thinks!

Another way to counter the claim "I don't think there's any such thing as moral law that exists" is to ask "So do you think killing babies for fun is okay? I really want to get this clear. Is that what you're telling me? That killing babies for fun is okay?" Any sane person wouldn't answer such questions affirmatively because, whether you believe it or not, it's never right to kill a baby just for the fun of it. Now, were there people who killed babies for fun? Absolutely. Even the Bible talks about the Assyrians and others who would ride into town and dash the children on the rocks and horrors like that. But when we read that we shudder. Such actions are hideous and never OK. I don't care if you believe it's right or not. People who believe killing babies for fun has any justification are regarded as sociopaths — people whose moral sense is defective. We lock such people away. Would the person claiming there is no moral law tell me that Jeffrey Dahmer was just exercising his morality? It was just right for him? Well, open up all the jails. Let everybody go. That's what asserting “there's no such thing as morality” means.

See, nobody lives an amoral life. What you find is people will be amoral about all the things that they don't care about. And that's intuitive. Everybody believes something is wrong. When you say that morality is merely a motive, it's like, "I don't like that." It's not an ought. Then it becomes a problem. When wronged, they will claim, "You shouldn't do that!” Even those with whom we have moral objections hold to some moral values.

Click here to continue to Part Two.


1. Copan, Paul. "A Moral Argument." Beckwith, Francis J., William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Editors. To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 110.
2. Bloom, Paul. "The Moral Life of Babies." New York Times Sunday Magazine. 9 May 2010: MM44.
Image courtesy amdigitalcitizenship and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Relativism's Roots lie in a Valueless Culture

The rapid spread of relativism shouldn't surprise us. While relativism grows out of the heady freethinking of some of our culture's brightest minds, it feeds on the collapse of everyday norms. It results from the breakdown of the family brought on by divorce, illegitimacy, and the neglect of children happening in all strata of our society. The instability and insecurity our youngest generations have experienced have severely affected their ability to loveand to work—and, I believe—to appreciate the existence of objective truth.One young woman, a punk rocker, depressingly expressed this reality when she said, "I belong to the Blank Generation". I have no beliefs, I belong to no community, tradition, or anything like that. I'm lost in this vast, vast world. I belong nowhere. I have absolutely no identity.
               —Paul Copan, True For You , But Not For Me. (Minn: Bethany House Pub., 1998)

Friday, July 05, 2013

Defining Morality: Objective Morals Must Be Grounded in God

Last time, we looked at the three main concepts of morality offered today. In that post, I showed why neither the emotive definition nor the subjective definition can properly ground moral values since neither provides a prescription for the way people ought to behave, but only expresses the opinion of the holder. Even if the holder of a moral view is the community at large, it doesn't follow that the community opinion is the moral one. (See my post "Relativism sinks into the quicksand of meaningless morality" for more.)

I'd like to now look at the last definition of morality, that morality is objectively discerned from a source outside of us. If morality is objective, it means that we can hold opinions on moral issues that are wrong; moral duties and values are prescriptive, and they tell us what we should do rather than merely describing what we are doing or what we're most likely to do. This view is also called moral realism, because it holds that moral facts are real and they can be true independent of one's beliefs. Indeed, under moral realism, a moral statement can be true even if no one believes that it is.

However, between those who hold to an objective moral framework, there is still a significant disagreement on where those moral duties and values are rooted. The Christian worldview holds that moral values and duties are binding on the individual simply because these things have the property of being good and right. We are created by a good and righteous God who wishes us to be morally upright, and we are morally aware. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to behave in a morally upright manner. Rightness and wrongness are rooted in God's nature; they are independent of our whims or opinions. This idea doesn't yet account for how we know certain things to be right or wrong, which is a topic that I'll examine in a later post.  But it does say that morality is objective and transcends human opinion.

Others, such as naturalists, offer that morality is rooted in the way the world works. That is, they hold that morality is simply describing actions that allow human beings to thrive. If people were to be more selfish or less altruistic then we as a species would not do as well. They argue that values like cooperation and empathy give human beings an advantage in a hostile world and since that advantage falls outside of only human opinion, this qualifies as an objective morality.

There are several problems with this view of morality, though. First, it isn't clear at all how certain moral constraints actually work in such a view.  I've offered an example in the past of seeking to euthanize felons sitting on death row in order to harvest their organs. The inmate is sentenced to die anyway and the organs can possibly go to someone who can greatly benefit the society. Beyond this, the government is spared from spending all that money housing the inmate.

Secondly, an idea such as the equality of all human beings doesn't naturally follow from such a view. Certainly, there are incredible differences in the aptitude of each person. If the Darwinian view of natural selection is to hold, then the weaker humans must give way to the stronger, fitter ones. To protect the weaker is to actually inhibit the advancement of the species, as the proponents of the eugenics movement argued a century ago. Darwinian natural selection only works when the best of any species is allowed to overtake (e.g. leave the most offspring") its competitors. Certainly, the only true competitor to a Nietzschean superman is the common man who completes with him for resources.  I think that Michael Ruse got it right when they said that "morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective.  Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity."[1]

Lastly, it seems to me that in assuming human flourishing is itself an intrinsic good, the naturalist is actually begging the question. He assumes that good exists in stating that human beings should be able to flourish, and then argues that these steps will lead to that end. But why should one assume that the universe is ordered in a way to desire human flourishing if God is not at the center of it? If the laws of nature are all there is, then it seems pretty obvious that nature is indifferent to whether human beings continue or go extinct. Would the naturalist conclude that the mass extinction of dinosaurs was a moral travesty in wiping out the dominant species on the planet? If not, why?  Perhaps our culture is simply a stepping stone for the cockroaches that will evolve in some 200 million years to flourish on the earth.

When looking at morality, we can see that in order for morals to have force, they must be objective in nature, and in order for them to be objective, they need to be rooted in something bigger than ourselves. God is the only source from which concepts such as right and wrong or good and bad can stem.  Other systems ultimately break down. Without an external lawgiver, moral laws become either opinion or assumptions, neither of which would be binding on all people.


1. Ruse, Michael. Taking Darwin Seriously. (New York: Prometheus Books, 1988. 253.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Worldview Definitions: The Problem with Postmodernism

Last time I discussed rationalism and naturalism, two worldviews that changed much of how we perceive our modern world. But naturalism is not the end of the story, even though there are many who hold those views today.

photo courtesy Ben Terrett

Out of the assumptions of naturalism, a new idea began to take hold in the late 19th century and early 20th century, known as the modernist movement. Modernists wanted to not only abandon belief in God, but felt that religious faith was just one of many traditional ideas that were slowing down the advancement of man.

The modernists held that if you don't break from the traditions of the past you will never grow beyond them. This made sense to them; if religion was hindering science, then all past traditions are suspect.  God was no longer a factor in the modernist's day-to-day thinking, so holding onto traditions were at best silly and at worst debilitating. They considered nothing as established or sacred. Social organization and daily life had become outdated and it was essential to sweep them aside and reinvent culture forever. The goal for modernists was to find that which was "holding back" progress, and replacing it with new, and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end.

Postmodernism – "It's all about me"

Modernism  failed to bring the next advancement in human evolution some of its adherents thought it would. Wars were still fought:World War II was the largest conflict in history and originated in Europe, the birthplace of modernism. People still took advantage of each other. Cruelty and crime continued to flourish no matter what advancements science and technology brought about.

Rationalists and modernists hadn't realized the impact  factoring God out of the equation would have on society. In factoring out God, they also factored out the concept of sin. They thought human beings had it within themselves to make themselves better. But the Bible teaches that we are inescapably corrupted by a sin nature. We cannot live perfect lives, it's simply impossible. Since modernists had already excluded God from any explanation as to why their utopia was failing to materialize they had to come up with another way of looking at the world. Their proposed solution is Postmodernism.

Modernism held that in order to advance one must throw out past traditions. However, one thing that modernism did hold onto, like all previous worldviews, was the concept that there was a truth to be known. In other words, each worldview may have differed in their beliefs on how to find truth, but they all believed that truth was something separate from and independent of themselves. It could be known.

Advocates for post-modernism said that even these ideas needed to be jettisoned. They argued that all communication is colored and molded by the biases and beliefs of the communicator. This means that no one can discover a raw truth, since he or she will read into it those biases and then reinforce them when communicating to others. The problem, they believe, is these assumed grand stories were ignoring the fact that no raw truth could exist, when in reality they are discounting one bias and favoring another. Therefore, there really shouldn't be any grand stories but we should allow each person to experience truth in his or her own way and there is no real right or wrong to it at all.

Postmodernism, in losing the meta-narrative, caused man to lose his moorings and purpose for himself in the world. God had already been dismissed as non-existent. Rationalists and modernists felt that man had it within himself to find the meaning of life. But now, the postmodernist strips even that away and says there is no real meaning of life. You can make anything mean whatever you want.

Think About it

Postmodernism’s "Grand Story" is to reject all Grand Stories. But if that true, they must reject their own – which means that they should accept others. The position is hopelessly self-contradictory.
But think about the implications of this. Imagine if you lived in a country where they had no values printed on their money, only animals. You walk into a store and try to purchase something. The shopkeeper tells you that the bill with the eagle is worth ten of the bill with the bear, whereas another shopkeeper says the bear is worth twice as much as the eagle. You can quickly see how in such as system that money becomes valueless. I would not want to be paid in bills that have no set value accepted across all areas of the economy. I would want to be paid in tender that everyone agrees is valued the same. Similarly, when there is no real meaning to life, then any meaning you try to create is simply a fraud. Therefore, by trying to make meaning malleable, postmodernists really strip meaning of any value at all.
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