Blog Archive

Followers

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label truth. 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.

References

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. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/technology/google-will-ban-websites-that-host-fake-news-from-using-its-ad-service.html.
2. Korte, Gregory. "Fake News Threatens Democracy, Obama Says." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 Dec. 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2016/11/17/fake-news-threatens-democracy-obama-says/94045428/.
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.

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.

References

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. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/
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.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Talking with Mormons: When Beliefs Contradict Themselves



Yesterday, I had two LDS missionaries come to my door. These sisters have visited me before; they came to the door a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a birthday card for a neighbor which gave me the opportunity to engage them in conversation. Both girls were in their early twenties and both had grown up in Utah. Each had at least one parent who was a multi-generational Mormon.

As we talked, I explained that I've spoken with Jehovah's Witnesses and others who have come to the house. These folks were very sincere in their beliefs, but I explained why sincerity isn't enough. I explained that there is only one good reason for believing anything, and that is it must be true. I then said that a lot of people trust their feelings as a guide to know what's true, but this is a terrible guide, for certainly the Muslims who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings are very sincere in their beliefs. I offered the tape measure analogy as a better way to discover truth.

Lastly, I said that for belief systems, the way one can objectively assess their truth value was to look for two things: external correspondence and internal consistency. That is any belief system or word view must be internally coherent and not hold to contradictory beliefs and its claims must match the way we understand the external world to really work. If a belief system is contradictory, then I cannot see how it can be true.

Up to this point, the ladies were following along pretty well and agreed with me. So I then raised the point of eternal progression. I didn't want to talk about ancillary issues but focus on the critical beliefs central to their faith, and eternal progression sits right at the center of Mormonism. They agreed and also agreed that the God we now worship had also progressed from being a man to a God. So, I said I had a difficulty here as the Book of Mormon states in Moroni 8:18 that God is eternal and unchanging (you can read the entire argument here.) The sisters were taken aback at this passage and said they would have to research it more. They took down my number and agreed to come back with an answer for me. I gave them my thanks and our meeting ended.

A Question, a Contradiction, and a Response

Yesterday, the ladies returned with a response. They told me that it was pretty difficult to get an answer to this question; they had to go all the way up to their mission president to find one. As they explained it, all human beings exist in a spiritual state prior to their earthy birth. (This I already knew.) Their president had told them that our God, Elohim, then had existed with his God attributes in this state and he still has them now. They pointed to the teaching of Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse where there was a council of the Gods called to create a plan of salvation for the people of earth and how Jesus existed as God there even before he was born on earth.1 They concluded that just like Jesus was considered God before his embodiment, so too was Elohim considered God before his embodiment and thus has been God forever.

The answer has several problems, two of which I pointed out immediately. The first was "If God existed as God before his embodiment, then why bother with the work of being embodied at all?" The whole concept of God means a perfect being. That's why we worship him. If Elohim had all the attributes necessary to qualify him as God, then he doesn't need to be improved through bodily experiences where he can be shaped and learn. Either he was something less than God in his premortal existence or He went through the exercise for no purpose. Notice this is Elohim, not Jesus we're discussing.

Why Worship God and Not the Guy Down the Street?

The second reason is even more troubling. If their claim is true, that Elohim was God in a premortal state, and he retained that even when he was embodied and went through all the experiences and temptations, learning to resist them on his planet then it means that everyone who is in that embodied state now is also God right now! Mormon theology makes no distinction between Elohim's eternal progression and those Mormon missionary ladies who were standing in front of me. So I asked them, "Why then should I worship Elohim and not the Sister standing next to you right now if what you say is true? In fact why should I worship anyone if I'm a God in my earthy state?"

They countered that we worship God because he created us, but that isn't right as we existed as God prior to our embodiment. This is where Mormon theology becomes hopelessly confused. According to LDS thought, all spirits existed eternally in the past. There is no creation ex nihilo for the LDS. Elohim and his spirit bride gives birth to spirit children who are I guess formed into spiritual bodies (their understanding here was vague) just as earthly parents then give birth to physical children where that spirit joins with a physical body. But given this view, it's just as legitimate to worship our physical parents as it is to worship Elohim, who is our spiritual parent. Of course the sisters were not at all eager to believe in worshiping other people. But that's the logical conclusion if their explanation of Moroni 8:18 is right.

In order to get out of the quandary, they appealed to the mysteries of God, quoting article 9 of their articles of faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."2 They suggested that he may reveal more, but we just must have faith and approach God sincerely.

At this point I reminded them of my first conversation with them, that the truth is something more than sincerity; the 9-11 hijackers were very sincere. I said this is more than a misunderstanding; it's an internal contradiction in Mormon theology. And it isn't any little issue, either. It is the core of Mormonism! Why should I reject historic Christianity for a system that shows itself to be incoherent? (I didn't use those words, but that was the jist of my question to them.)

I then asked how well they understood historic Christian theology. They responded that they didn't know it very well. That gave me the chance to tell them the Gospel and how Christianity is never about works (article 3 of their Articles of Faith) but about a loving response to what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.

I don't know if I'll see the sisters again. I hope I do. But I pray even more that those bothering contradictions that sit at the center of Mormonism will dog them. I pray that the Hound of Heaven will pursue these ladies and they don't find rest until they rest in the one through whom all real rest comes. Pray for them if you get the chance. I think God is on their trail.

References

1. Joseph Smith Jr., "The King Follett Sermon," Ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. May 1971, 13
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "Articles of Faith." Mormon.org. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith.
Image courtesy More Good Foundation and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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

References

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.

Friday, September 04, 2015

There's Only One Reason to Hold Any Belief



Every person has many beliefs. Beliefs are central to our worldview and we can't function without them. Still, people don't understand what beliefs are and why we should hold them. They think beliefs are merely personal things, something that gives us comfort or assurance. The concept of belief has been twisted and contorted to a point where most assume they are preferences akin to ice cream flavors—which ever one you like, you should choose.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Jehovah's Witness that came to my door several years ago. Upon answering, I complimented him on his dedication to his faith. Here he was, not watching football on a Saturday morning, but trying to discuss his faith with others.
I then asked him, "Tell me, in going door to door, you must've heard a lot of reasons why people believe what they believe, right?

"Oh, absolutely!" re responded.

I offered some examples: "Have you heard things like 'Well, This is the way I was raised' or 'I'm really comfortable in my beliefs' or 'I'm an American, so I have to be a Christian?'"

He smiled and said, "I've heard all those, and more, too!"

I replied, "Can we both agree that those are terrible reasons for believing in something? I mean, there's only one good reason to believe anything."

"What do you mean?" he asked inquisitively.

I explained: "The only good reason to believe anything is if it's true. Beliefs must be true, even if they are what some would call 'harmless' beliefs. Take the idea of Santa Claus for instance. It's a nice belief and it makes kids happy. And they have some reasons to hold to it, right? Their parents have told them about him. It benefits them since on Christmas morning there are presents and there's empirical evidence; the cookies are gone and the milk is drunk. It's a nice belief that doesn't hurt anyone."

He chuckled as I continued: "But what would you think of a 37 year old man who still believes in Santa Claus? Would you want to spend a five hour plane flight sitting next to him? Of course not! Not because his belief is dangerous, but because it isn't true. We should only believe what is true."

The man agreed with my foundation for belief and stated that the Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth of God. I went on to explain that I have also studied the Watchtower's history and its beliefs. For example, they held that Jesus was coming back many times, including 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, and 1975."1

At this point he interrupted me. "You must realize that those dates are coming from men and men can be fallible."

"I agree with you," I said. "However, these same men also claimed that Jesus is not Jehovah God, but a lesser being created by God. What if in 100 years, they reverse themselves on this issue like they have with the prediction of His return? Now, we are talking about something that is crucial to the salvation of you and me. What happens then?"

He dismissed the idea quickly. "I don't think that would ever happen!"

"But what if it does?" I countered. "What if I could show you from the Bible right now how the Watchtower is wrong on this issue? Would you abandon your belief in the Jehovah's Witnesses?"

The man denied that it's possible, but I pressed again. "If I could conclusively show you that Jesus must be the eternal God, would you stop being a Witness?"

He thought a second and answered honestly. "You know, I've been a Witness for some seventeen years now. I've never found more meaning and satisfaction in my life except by being a Witness, so no, I don't think I would."

I looked right at him and said, "Wait a minute! Didn't we both agree that is a terrible reason for believing something?"

The words hung in the air as the man took a step back. His eyes worked back and forth as he tried to process the discussion. He seemed to think that I had played some kind of word trick on him, but he had no way of getting out of it. Finally, the man wished to go and I asked him to come back next week so we could continue our discussion. He never did.
This one conversation shows how much we've confused the motivations for why believe something with good reasons for believing. There is only one good reason to believe anything and that is if it is true. We may not be 100% certain of the truth, but we can still be reasonable in holding to one belief over another. Just don't confuse feeling s or desires for reasons. One supports a belief. The others don't.

References

1. A good summation of these dates and others may be found on the JWFacts.org page "Changed Dates, Failed Predictions" at http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/1800s.php

Monday, July 20, 2015

Putting Christianity to the Life Test

Car dealers love to get you to test drive one of their vehicles. It's one of the things they aim for when they interact with a new customer. They know test drives increase the likelihood of purchase. You experience all those new sensations: that new car smell, no stains on the seats, and all the latest gadgets. It makes the car that much more enticing.



However, I have found a test drive to be of only limited benefit. I like to rent a car for a week or so and test it that way. We use our vehicles differently in real life than we do driving around the block with a sales man sitting in the passenger seat. We see if the trunk can contain our stuff, how the car reacts in a more diverse range of traffic conditions, and whether it fits the way we live and drive. This kind of gives me a much better sense of whether the vehicle will work in the day to day needs of the real world. To invest in a car that fails to, say handle steep grades if you live in the mountains or (as in my particular case) one that can't haul a lot of kids with large bags of hockey gear would be costly.

Even more costly, though, would be to invest one's life in a worldview that fails the real world test. We live in a culture that currently sees no problem with holding to beliefs that don't square with our real world experiences. For example, recent news events have brought the question of religious liberty and people's right to have their actions be governed by their consciousness into the spotlight. I've seen many letters to the editor like this one from Chris Jacobovitz who states categorically, "Any legislator who lets his or her 'deep personal beliefs' get in the way of making legislative decisions should resign immediately."1 I would like to ask Mr. Jacobovitz if deep personal beliefs of people like William Wilberforce, who lobbied the English Parliament for twenty years to abolish slavery are OK. Or those of Henry B. Whipple. Of course, Mr. Jacobovitz's view is itself a deeply held personal belief, and thus it should not get in the way of anyone else making legislative decisions.

Your Worldview Must Match Reality

It is common to run into people who think that any kind of personal belief must somehow be distanced from one's public interaction, but this only breeds the self-refuting nonsense like that found in the letter above. It's a small test drive that sounds good at first, but hides its shortcomings. Beliefs must be examined in light of how they make sense of the outside world; they should be lived with and measured. If the worldview is true, it will accurately reflect the real world. And there's no better example of that than Christianity itself.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells the church at Rome they need to change their worldview. He encourages them to not be conformed to the thoughts and ways prevalent in the world of his day, but to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12;2, ESV). The verse is a familiar one, but I like the way the ESV renders it. Instead of the King James "to prove", the ESV uses the more modern "by testing." That is, we can test what is good and acceptable and perfect by living out the Christian worldview and see how it fits. Paul is so confident that living your life sacrificially with your mind transformed will demonstrate the reality and benefit of the Christian faith. He tells the Thessalonian much the same thing, charging them to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).

I've said before that Christianity knows nothing of blind faith. It is an eminently practical belief system that has a 1700 year track record of bettering lives and bettering nations. There is no other worldview that more closely matches reality than Christianity. Christianity is responsible for the concept of human equality, provides grounding for morality, explains life, consciousness, and provides real meaning for our existence. In other words, Christianity teaches us the truth about ourselves and the world around us. Certainly that's worth investing in.

References

1. Jacobovitz, Chris. Letter. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 10 July 2015. Web. 20 July 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-le-0711-right-to-die-keep-beliefs-and-votes-separate-20150710-story.html.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Scary World of Truth



The world can be a scary place. Just yesterday police helicopters were circling the park behind my home searching for a suspect who jumped out of the car and was fleeing through back yards in an adjoining neighborhood. Certainly people should be vigilant when walking in unsafe neighborhoods or unknown city streets.

What's surprising, though, is the fear that so many people have of being exposed to the truth. Philosopher J. Budziszewski in his book How to Stay Christian in College gives one example:
Truth is hot, scary stuff. Truth about God is the hottest of all. It scares some people so badly that they don't even want to search for it. One day in a "great books" course, my students were discussing the great medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas was a Christian, and some of the students were interested in what he believed about God. As they explored his views, one young man became more and more agitated. Finally he said, "This isn't helping me," and asked whether he could just pick up the assignment and leave. Of course, I said he could.

Later he visited my office, and I found out what his problem was. He told me that he wasn't interested in truth—that the only thing he cared about was what had immediate practical value for him. Searching for truth about God, it seemed, was especially impractical because if he found it, his whole world might turn upside down.

Or could it be that it would turn right side up?[1]
This young man was uncomfortable with dealing with facts that didn't fit into his current belief system. That seems to be the default position more and more these days. I've talked before about how college students have descended into an infantile position of trigger-warnings and campus speech codes. But it isn't only individuals who seem to shrink at facing uncomfortable facts. Yesterday, I wrote about how the media is purposely censoring stories like Planned Parenthood's harvesting and selling of baby organs. They censor the facts that put their favored position in a bad light.

Why are people today so scared of the truth? Because the truth can mean work. It takes work to reexamine how you understand an issue. Questioning one belief may cause other beliefs to be questioned as well. Sometimes one's entire worldview becomes fragile. Sometimes it will take a lot of time and research to figure out how to put your beliefs together in a way that corresponds with the truth and still makes sense. However, it's worth it. If you aren't holding to true beliefs, sooner or later you are going to crash into reality and the consequences can be much worse.

The truth shouldn't scare us. Christians more than anyone else should embrace the truth, even if it means changing some of their positions. I can say that assuredly because I know all truth is God's truth. Jesus declared himself as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). That's why I have taken my sons to listen to atheists. I talk with them about other views. I myself read newspapers and opinion pieces by folks with whom I disagree. Sometimes their views will cause me to reexamine why I believe a certain thing or if my understanding of a particular position is shallow. However, I've never found the truth to undermine the Christian faith.
References
1. J. Budziszewski. How to Stay Christian in College. Colorado Springs: TH1NK, 2004. (Kindle Locations 650-655). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Answering "You'd be Muslim if You Were Born in Morocco"


Have you ever tried to argue for the truth of Christianity and had a person object that "The only reason you're a Christian is because you were born in a Christian country. If you were born in a Muslim nation, you'd be Muslim"? It's a common charge that sounds like it makes sense, but as Alvin Plantinga shows below, nothing follows from it. Plantinga writes:
There is an oft-repeated pluralistic argument that seems to be designed to appeal to reliabilist intuitions. The conclusion of this argument is not always clear, but here is its premise, in Hick's words:
For it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.
As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right. Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo. But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it? Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable? Surely not. Furthermore, self-referential problems once more 100m; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.

For suppose we concede that if I had been born of Muslim parents in Morocco rather than Christian parents in Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. (For one thing, I probably wouldn't believe that I was born in Michigan.) The same goes for the pluralist. Pluralism isn't and hasn't been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn't have been a pluralist. Does it follow that he shouldn't be a pluralist or that his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process? I doubt it. 1
Plantinga clearly points out the propensity to identify with a belief because one is born into a certain culture does nothing to prove the truth or falsity of that belief. Sure, if I were to  be born in aboriginal Australia five thousand years ago, I probably wouldn't believe men could ever construct flying machines, but such a belief would be untrue.

Further, it doesn't even follow that I would continue to be a Muslim if I was born into a Muslim culture. I have several friends who were born and raised Muslim, and yet they converted to Christianity when they saw its truthfulness. Thus, the objection falls flat on every point.

References

1. Plantinga, Alvin. "A Defense of Religious Exclusivism." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1987. 651. Print.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Christianity May Be Right, Even If We Don't Like It

Frank Bruni was the New York Times restaurant critic early in his career. Such a job has the particular advantage of focusing on one's preferences as defining. If a person disagrees with his assessment of a dish, it is easy to dismiss him or her as someone uncultured, a person with an unrefined palette or without enough sophistication to expand his or her tastes. The critic can speak about those things that are subjective, yet they seek to do so authoritatively.



Perhaps Bruni lapsed back into that mindset when he wrote his op-ed piece for the Times last Friday. There, he made the claim that "homosexuality and Christianity don't have to be in conflict in any church anywhere."1 Where would Bruni get an idea like that? The Bible very clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and homosexual acts are not just wrong but contrary to nature.2

Making an Icky Face at Christianity

The problem is that Bruni seems to view these biblical commands like a child would view a plate of Brussel sprouts: something he would never order given the choice. He writes, "Our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn't cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they've jettisoned other aspects of their faith's history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity."3 Note his choice of words here. He describes Christian beliefs on human sexuality as "prejudices," things Christians "needn't cling to" and commands to be "jettisoned." Bruni sees the command for sexual purity as something not pleasing to his palette, and just like the child, he makes an icky face at it and says Christians should do the same.

Of course he's completely wrong here.

Any parent who has lived through a similar situation with their children will know that it is important for kids to eat their vegetables. While rich white sauces, fine wines and tiramisu are great, a diet focused on those things is going to severely shorten your life. Of course Bruni tries to muster his argument by offering a couple of Christians who agree with him, but this is as convincing as the child who points to his friend, claiming "Jimmy's parents don't make him eat these things!"

 Truth Requires Us to Eat Our Vegetables

It is quickly evident that for Bruni, he would rather have Christians order a la carte. But Christianity isn't offered that way. Christianity makes claims about the truth, about the way the world really works. If one is a faithful Christian, it means that he has recognized God as the authority in his life. God knows what's best for us and we follow his commands because we love him enough to be obedient. Does that mean we must follow command that we wouldn't normally choose left to ourselves? Of course. But, just because we don't like it doesn't make it untrue. Mom is ultimately right that eating your vegetables is going to make you healthier because that's how our bodies work. The CDC has also shown that men who have sex with men are at an astronomically high risk for a slew of life-threatening diseases. In his piece, Bruni appeals to "the advances of science and knowledge."4 Yet, it seems here that the science of the CDC argue to the opposite conclusion.

Bruni then complains that Christians view homosexuals as sinners. But Christians view themselves as sinners, just as they view all of humanity as sinners. What follows from that? He misses the point that religious belief has an interconnecting set of truth claims. If you assent to the fact that God exists, then you are forced to assent to the idea that he knows more than we do. If we believe that Jesus died for our salvation, then it will naturally follow that we will seek to be obedient to his teachings.

While there may be some Christians who, like Jimmy, feel that Brussel sprouts are not for them, they either have misunderstood God's command or they're simply acting like defiant children. Either way, religious freedom requires that those who are faithfully trying to live out their beliefs in a consistent manner must be allowed to clean their plates as it were. To extend the analogy, Bruni seems to demand that all restaurants remove from their menus anything that offends him or face being closed down by the government.  Just how reasonable is that?

References

1. Bruni, Frank. "Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.
2. In Matthew 19:6-7, Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 and affirmed that marriage is the joining of the bodies ("flesh") f man and woman. This joining is the act of intercourse which will ultimately produce offspring that is literally the one flesh derived from the genes of both parents. There are several places that condemn homosexual relations, the most clear being Paul's writing in Romans 1:26-27.
3. Bruni, 2015.
4. Bruni, 2015. photo credit: resist via photopin (license)

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Not to Show You Have Truth...

View of the Salt Lake Temple from the East.
In Utah, I was able to speak to several sister missionaries, some young and some old. After watching "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a pair of sister missionaries and an older one asked me a few questions. I explained what I was doing there – that I had questions about the LDS faith and that I was there to find out more about the religion and discuss how it differs from Christianity.

I later found out the older sister missionary got reprimanded for "debating" with us, that "debating was not what they were here to do," and that "if she continued to do this, there would be problems." But the discussion we had was highly civil, respectful and mutually enjoyed – which the sisters themselves verbally acknowledged. This was not an isolated incident, however. Most of my experience with LDS leadership has been that of discouraging questions that are not easily answered via 1) pushing any serious questions to the faith towards the LDS church’s website or 2) by asserting that I needed to test what is true by means of prayer or 3) by simply brushing me off. Obviously, these could possibly be isolated incidents, but the sheer consistency of these responses makes me think this is how the LDS faith actually responds to those sincerely trying to seek truth that have difficult questions.

I appreciate that in following Christ, critical thinking, testing, and transparency is not only a righteous ideal, but a command. The whole worldview of Christianity is strong enough to withstand testing and to be put through the ringer of reason and evidence. If it really is true, shouldn’t that be the case?  Would we really have anything to hide? Had the situation been in reverse, if they sought us for questions about Christianity, I can GUARANTEE we would have been there as long as possible.

It has once been said that, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." That same person did not say truth would be known by feeling, but by reading the word of God. And it is true: in Christianity, testing important truths is not really about feeling; it’s about reading the words of God: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, IF you continue in my word, THEN are you my disciples indeed; AND you shall know the truth, AND the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32 (and essentially Psalm 119).

If you are truly serious about telling me you have truth, then please be intellectually honest: do not discourage sincere questions or stifle the gift of rational, critical thought.

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"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Christian Faith Is an Objective Faith

The Christian faith is an objective faith; therefore, it must have an object. The Christian concept of "saving" faith is a faith that establishes one's relationship with Jesus Christ (the object), and is diametrically opposed to the average "philosophical" use of the term faith in the classroom today. One cliché that is to be rejected is, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it enough." 

Let me illustrate.
I had a debate with the head of the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. In answering a question, I happened to mention the importance of the resurrection. At this point, my Opponent interrupted and rather sarcastically said, "Come on, McDowell, the key issue is not whether the resurrection took place or not; it is 'do you believe it took place?'" What he was hinting at (actually boldly asserting) is that my believing was the most important thing. I retorted immediately, "Sir, it does matter what I as a Christian believe, because the value of Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the one who is believed in, its object." I continued that "if anyone can demonstrate to me that Christ was not raised from the dead, I would not have the right to my Christian faith" (I Corinthians 15: 14). 
The Christian faith is faith in Christ. Its value or worth is not in the one believing, but in the one believed — not in the one trusting, but in the one trusted. 
—Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.San Bernardino, CA. Here;s Life Pub. 1979. Print. 4.

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.

References

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)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Postmodernism is Infecting the Church


When the Church abandons truth, it is one of the most offensive acts you can imagine.

The concept of tolerance is so prevalent today that you cannot help but be pummeled by it anywhere you turn. It's a huge problem and a big danger to the health of Christianity. As the influence of relativism becomes more dominant in society, we need to be more intentional in countering its message. Watch this short video as I comment on the recent trend by believers of accepting a relativistic view of truth and morality and offer a few points on how to counteract this dangerous precedent.




Photo courtesy: Jason Borneman Licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Waiting Until You Feel Your Faith is Dangerous

It's no secret that we live in an age of instant gratification. Crave Mexican food? Restaurants are minutes away. Wondering what other films you've seen that celebrity has starred in? Simply pull out your phone and Google his name. How is your investment portfolio doing? You can log in anytime to check your stocks. I can even use the Internet to see how much electricity my house uses hour by the hour.


While there are clear advantages in living in an age where our wants can be met with ease, there are also dangers. Of course, many have written on the problem of distraction in our wired world, and how much more kids expect to attain a level of notoriety than in the past. But what concerns me more is the expectation of immediate satisfaction as the measure of truth. As our technology has advanced, we have become accustomed to having our desires accommodated immediately. We now expect to satisfy even the feelings of longing or relationship. Facebook provides the illusion of connection. So, what happens when someone seeking a relationship with God but doesn't feel him?

That is exactly the question I was asked a couple of days ago. One of the ministry opportunities I have is serving with the Harvest Crusade, a large evangelistic outreach that just wrapped up a three day event in Southern California. People watching the event online have the ability to request a chat with an online counselor. Some of those requests come to me and I will answer whatever questions or concerns they voice.

This last weekend, I was talking with a young viewer from Japan. He wrote that he was very disturbed because he felt his "troubled heart keeps me in dark" and that he couldn't see God or receive any good news. He basically explained that he couldn't know God because he couldn't feel Him. The idea that one must feel in order to believe is becoming more common; I'm hearing more of it all the time. But to limit one's understanding of truth to only that which one can feel is not only foolhardy, but dangerous! I may feel like I haven't spent much money this month, but if I go by my feelings, I'll soon be overdrawn.

As an illustration, I asked this young man if he was familiar with heat stroke. Heat stroke is a very dangerous condition that happens when people allow their bodies to overheat due to weather and activity. Mostly occurring during summer, folks will be busy participating in outdoor activities and forget to drink enough water or to cool down. They may not feel thirsty, but their body temperature rises to a point where their organs can be permanently damaged.Doctors will instruct athletes and others outdoors to drink plenty of water even if they don't feel thirsty. It isn't the feeling that matters; the body needs to cool down and consuming liquids is how it accomplishes that. Similarly, no one should rely only of feeling God's presence as a way to determine if they may be accepted by him. You can know that God cares for you because of the fact that Jesus died on the cross. We have the evidence to know that the resurrection is a real event in history. By looking at the facts that the Bible offers instead of your feelings, you can get a better picture of the truth.
Photo courtesy Markus Schoepke. Licenced by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mormon Testimonies and the Feedback Loop


Yesterday, on our Apologetics Missions trip, I took the team to Salt Lake City to visit Temple Square. We talked with a couple of Mormon missionaries there who were very nice and showed us some of the grounds. One of the missionaries explained that one aspect of the weekly Mormon church service was to offer their testimony. The LDS web site defines a testimony as "a spiritual witness given to an individual by the Holy Ghost… that Joseph Smith is a prophet, which God called to restore Jesus Christ's church to the earth; that we are led today by a living prophet; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior's Church restored on the earth today."1

The missionary explained that everyone was to offer their testimony at some point. On the first Sunday of the month, in the Mormon sacrament meetings, the attendees are encouraged to share their confirmation of the truth of Mormonism.2 Those who teach are also encouraged to share their testimonies to one another.3

Later, when I was asking a few questions, I had said that I understood God and heaven differently than the LDS doctrine she had stated and I explained how the Bible promises that not just my family would be together in eternity, but that I would have a relationship with all the saints in Heaven, and we would be closer than even my family and I am now. This obviously caused some significant problems because shortly afterwards, I was warned by Mormon security that I am not allowed to share my testimony with the missionaries. Basically, they require visitors to just listen to missionaries talk about their faith; it should never go the other way. It seems that the Mormon church's use of testimonies in their services are a lot like that feedback loop.

The Feedback Loop

I've been a professional musician for over thirty years, so I know a little bit about feedback.Some people may not know the term feedback, but you are probably familiar with the concept. Feedback is that high-pitched squeal that gets really loud and hurts everyone's' ears. Sometimes it comes from a guitar but you more often hear it coming out of the PA.

Feedback is caused when a signal amplifies itself. Singers will use wedge speakers on the floor to project their voices and the music back at them for a reference monitor. If the singer's microphone isn't positioned correctly, it will catch the monitor's sound output and send it back through the PA, amplifying it again. Of course, you can see where this will lead: as the monitor gets louder, the mic catches more signal and sends it back to the PA which then sends a louder signal back to the monitor and everything begins to increase exponentially until either the speaker blows out or someone's eardrums do!

The Mormon use of testimony is a lot like a feedback loop. Good Mormons will stand up and share how they "know" that the Mormon doctrine is true because of the feelings they have. This truth-bearing isn't based on scholastic research. As the Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains, "Latter-day Saint missionaries, in particular, rely on testimony bearing, rather than on logic or artifice, to reach their listeners."4 So testimony isn't about logic. But the result is that people hear other's unwavering devotion to Mormonism and they don't feel like they are good Mormons unless they have a testimony to offer as well.So, just as everyone's life looks a lot more perfect on Facebook than it is in reality, the Mormons' use of testimony simply makes doubt or questioning seem foolish or unholy. Testimonies simply amplify the one message the Mormon church wants people to hear: that it is beyond question.

Ultimately, I believe this is one sign that Mormonism is a cult. When another person explaining his understanding of spiritual things is questioned by security because he dared do so on Temple grounds, it raises suspicion. When the security guard told me that we are not allowed to share our testimony, it revealed what the practice of testimony really is: to keep the faithful Mormons faithful and only hear the message the church wants. But, like that signal from the PA, you don't get truth from a feedback loop. Ultimately, you end up with a lot of noise that will hurt people.

References

1. "What is a 'testimony' that Mormons speak of?" Mormon.org. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Web. http://www.mormon.org/faq/purpose-of-testimony. Accessed 6/26/2014.
2. Christensen, Clayton "Testimony Bearing." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. (New York : Macmillan, 1992) 1470. Digital version may be found at http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Testimony_Bearing
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Want a Democracy? Send A Christian Missionary!

I've spent the last couple of posts debunking the idea that "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." You can read why this idea isn't true historically here and here. Today, I'd like to focus on a point that isn't immediately considered by such a screed. It turns out that in the 21st century, in the era of advanced science and instant information, the fasted growing religion in the world is: Christianity! That's right. Even today, Christianity is gaining more new adherents than any other faith system, according to Baylor University's Phillip Jenkins.1


Photo courtesy GPcardenas

Jenkins notes that while Islam has increased faster than Christianity in proportion to the total population of the earth (growing from about 12% of the population to approximately 22% today) while Christianity has maintained its 33% status, the real difference comes in the way that new adherents were added.2 Islam has expanded in its traditional countries simply through rising fertility rates. Christianity continues to expand in historically non-Christian countries, such as those on the African continent, where missionaries have been doing the work of spreading the Christian message.

Let me be clear that the truth value of any belief system is not determined by how many people believe in it. Simply holding to the majority position proves nothing. It is easy, though, to show that Christianity is not growing either by compulsion or by fertility. The Christian strongholds of Europe and other western countries are in a famously rapid population decline. In the last century, Europe went from comprising 66% of the world's Christians to making up only 25% today.3 The African continent has seen a boom, though. According to Jenkins, Christianity has exploded an astounding 4,930%.4

The Effects of Evangelization: Stable Democracies

Why does this matter? It turns out, it matters quite a bit. A very meticulous study by Robert Woodbury shows convincingly that those Christian missionaries that sought to evangelize Africa had an incredibly positive effect for the nations where they flourished.5 Woodbury's data clearly shows that nations who had conversionary Protestant missionaries do their work set those nations on a road to literacy and stable democracy.

A recent article in Christianity Today highlights some of the advantages:
"Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary."6
The Christian worldview has proven itself time and again as the single best way to ease suffering and raise the standard of living for its adherents. This as it continues to spread even today through the same means it did for the past 19 centuries. No violence necessary.

So, to claim that Christianity spread through violence is demonstrably false. As to the claim about the truth value of Christianity, I've provided many arguments as to why Christianity is a faith based on evidence. No one threatened me to believe or else! I am convinced by the truth of Christianity's arguments and I'm not alone. I know of many atheists who looked at the evidence and converted to Christianity because of its truth value. And we have the real world effects of Christian missionaries spreading the Christian worldview to countries where the measurable effects are the betterment of lives.

References

1. Jenkins, Phillip. "The World's Fastest Growing Religion." Real Clear Religion. 11/13/2012. http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2012/11/13/the_worlds_fastest_growing_religion.html Accessed 6/9/2014.
2. "The Numbers." FastestGrowingReligion.com. http://fastestgrowingreligion.com/numbers.html Accessed 6/9/2014.
3. "Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population." Pew Center of Religion and Public Life. 12/19/2011. http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/  Accessed 6/9/2014.
4. Jenkins, Ibid.
5. Dilley, Andrea Palpant. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014. https://www.disciplenations.org/media/CT-Article-On-Missionaries-And-Global-Democracy.pdf Accessed 6/9/2014.
6. Dilley, Ibid.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why True Beliefs Matter

Wouldn't you love to write the world's next bestseller? Do you wonder what the "secret recipe" is? Stumble on it and you could be showered with fame and notoriety while your favorite movie star plays your main character.

Many authors and publishers have been working hard on trying to find that secret recipe so they can be the next in line to tap the American psyche. Given the success of books such as The Da Vinci Code, right now many believe the formula to be a mixture of God and history, with two parts puzzle and two cups of conspiracy theory generously mixed together and brought to a boil over heated cliffhangers.

Why would such a mixture seem so appetizing to the consumer? I believe that, given our recent turn to a postmodern culture, we're starting to see the inevitable consequences of the surrender of truth. People want to believe that old concepts of God are passé or that they are too restrictive. We need new paradigms, new ways of thinking about who God is and what He (or she or they or it, depending on one's presuppositions) really wants from us. The best way to do that is to make up fables about how the old stories aren't really true, and then start to believe your own fictions.

How Beliefs Matter

Now, there are people who believe a lot of strange things about the world. Some of these beliefs are less concerning than others. For example, I may have a belief that my shortcut to work in the morning saves me five minutes off my drive. That belief may or may not be true, but as long as I'm at work on time it has little impact on my life or the lives of others. If I'm wrong, it's not really a big deal, it merely means that I'm taking a little bit longer than I could have taken. Saving five minutes off my drive to work is not a crucial issue, so my belief about my shortcut is not a crucial belief.

However, if I'm an ambulance driver then my belief about where the hospital is located and what is the fastest way to get there has a much bigger impact. If I believe the hospital is to the north when it is really to the south and I'm transporting a critical patient, then whether my beliefs are true or not become crucial. The issue of getting a critically ill patient to the emergency room is a very important issue, so it follows that truth becomes more important in this instance.

This illustrates a point that I want to make regarding beliefs - the more critical the issue, the more important it is to have true beliefs. When we look at truth claims, it makes sense to ask "How important is this belief? What kind of effect will it have if my beliefs are wrong?"

The Importance of a True Belief About God

This brings me to my main point, which is simply that the issue of who God really is and what we believe about Him is incredibly important. I hold that this is one of the most important beliefs one can have. Think about it for a moment. The belief in who God is and how He feels about individuals shapes the actions of a Mother Theresa or a William Wilberforce. It also shapes the actions of an Al-Qaida terrorist or a Heaven's Gate member.

Beliefs about God are the starting point for all of morality, for how we view and treat other people, and how we should personally act. Therefore, having a false belief about God - who He is and what He really does expect from us - is a very serious problem. If you hold a false belief about God, it is a big deal, perhaps the biggest in your life. Because the stakes are so high, we need to examine our beliefs about God and not simply hold to those we "like" while discarding al those we don't. We need to make sure that our beliefs about God match what we can know about Him. It is simply foolish to think that you can pick and choose your God -narrative based on whether you liked the story that someone told or whether you like or dislike certain requirements for serving Him.

I have used the illustration that as a child there were many rules my mother set down for me that I didn't like. She made me eat those nasty vegetables. I had to go to bed at a certain time, and so on. However, as I grew and had children of my own, I see the wisdom in my mother's rules. Just because I didn't like them, didn't mean they weren't right or applicable to make me a better person.

Similarly, to deny aspects about God simply because you don't like them in no way proves that those aspects are not how God really is. God may actually be the type of being who seeks to communicate with mankind through the Scriptures. God may actually be the type of being who holds justice in high regard and because of that, He will judge the sinner. And God may actually be the type of being who also felt compassion for humanity and therefore became man to provide a way of escape from the judgment of sin.

It seems to me people want God both ways. They want to know that there's a real God out there; there exists someone who loves them and is in control of everything. This gives many people comfort and assurance. However, they also want to pick and choose what kind of God they believe in, and usually it's a God that looks a lot like themselves. However, holding a true belief about God is more important than that. I hope that as people continue to think about the claims of pop culture, they will also realize that a true belief may not be a popular one, but it must be recognized as true just the same.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Science versus Its Evil Twin: Scientism

One of the difficulties Christians face in defending their faith today is this misplaced elevation of science above everything else. I've had conversation with people who, like the trident chewing gum ad, think that if a majority of scientists hold a view then that somehow provides evidence for that view being correct. They believe this even if the point we're discussing is not a point of science! They claim that science is the only way we can know truth and if a claim doesn't have its basis in science then it's either not knowable or not worth discussing.


Those who claim that science is the only way to find truth remind me of actors cast in a 1950's b-grade movie, a flickering sci-fi tale where our hero (science) is replaced by his evil twin, intent on ruling the world. All those in the film who should know better continue to mistake the twin for the original, even though signs are clearly there to tell the two apart. The name of this evil twin is scientism, and while it may look like science on the surface, all the signs are there to prove that it's nothing like science at all. Of course everyone watching the movie can easily see the differences, but those poor victims never see the clues and usually fall right into scientism's evil clutches. So, to make sure we don't become scientism's next victims, let's take a look at the first of five clues that show the differences between the role of science and the philosophy of scientism.

Clue #1—Scientism selfishly believes only its own rules apply

Those practicing science make theories based on observable evidence.

Whenever school children begin science programs, the first thing that they are asked to learn is what the concept of science entails. Usually, this includes some nod to the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, testing and reporting results. The National Science Teachers Association defines science as "characterized by the systematic gathering of information through various forms of direct and indirect observations and the testing of this information by methods including, but not limited to, experimentation."1 C. John Collins, in his book Science and Faith comes up with this definition:
"A science is a discipline in which one studies features of the world around us, and tries to describe his observations systematically and critically."2
Whichever definition one uses, it's normally understood that the study of science has at its basis observations. Many times we picture a scientist in a lab doing experiments, but as Collins rightly points out we cannot also discount someone like the ornithologist whose specialty is migratory patterns of birds. Although he does not gather his information in the lab, he does observe birds and makes predictions and conclusions from those observations. So, science has observation as a necessary condition of its practice at some point in its process.

Those holding to scientism exclude any theories that cannot produce observable evidence as unworthy or not true.

Given the above, things we know to be real or true and are yet unobservable must be learned by some way other than science. Moral knowledge is one example. Moral laws are not things we can see or feel. We cannot measure them with a ruler or say "They occupy this amount of space and have this much mass." While we can observe the effects of people breaking moral laws, we cannot see the laws themselves. Therefore we know them by ways other than science. But we know moral laws are real.3

However, those who hold to scientism are not satisfied with the possibility that there are ways of knowing beyond the scientific method. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in a recent debate gave a stark example of scientism. He opened his talk by noting that colleague Peter Atkins, when asked to give a talk at Windsor Castle was questioned by Prince Phillip who asked "You scientists are awfully good at answering the ‘how' questions but what about the ‘why' questions?" According to Dawkins, Atkins replied "Sir, the why questions are just silly questions."4 In one sweeping generalization, Atkins and Dawkins dismiss all those "big questions" of life, the ones that humanity has held in the highest regard for most of our existence! They reject wholesale the pursuit of understanding for why there is a universe at all, whether man has a purpose, how we fit into the grand scheme of things.

What motivates such a dismissal of the very issues that have been at the center of human consciousness throughout recorded history? It's because those who hold to scientism believe in another proposition that you may not know about. They believe that the natural world is the only world there is; that anything that cannot be explained by exclusively natural causes is either not real or not worth knowing. Dawkins alluded to as much in the quote above. But notice, this is a belief; a philosophical one known as methodological naturalism.5 The evil twin has contradicted himself! In stating that only things that can be explained by nature are knowable, he has made a statement of knowledge. But there's no way that the statement itself can be found in nature! Those who hold to naturalism as the only way to know things have undercut their own position because they start with a belief not found through science! Like our study in moral relativism, we see that scientism has a problem in that it cuts its own legs out from underneath itself. Yet, those who cling to it continue to deny that there are other ways of knowing. They believe their own rules only apply. Anything that doesn't fall within the realm of scientific investigation is considered a "silly question."

Science's evil twin, scientism, has made a mistake as bad guys always seem to do. He has tried to fool the world into believing that only his rules apply and are worthy of consideration. Some may believe that for a time. However, if you are sensitive to this trick, you can see that it really makes no sense to hold onto such a belief at all. Naturalism is self-refuting, which makes scientism the position that's silly.

For part two of this series, click here.

References

1. "National Science Teachers Association. The Nature of Science Position Statement. July 2000. 9 March 2011 .

2. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books. 2003. p34.

3. For reasons on why moral laws are real things, see "The Case for Morality" section of chapter two.

4. Dawkins, Richard. "Debate: Does the Universe have a purpose?" 10 November 2010. YouTube. 09 March 2011 .

5. In a recent trial on the merits of teaching school children intelligent design along with evolution, Judge John Jones III, after hearing testimony from three scientists, stated "Methodological naturalism is a 'ground rule' of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify." Jones III, John E. "Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District;Decision of the Court, Part 2." 31 December 2005. The Talk Aroigins Archive. 21 March 2011.
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X