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)
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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Sunday, October 05, 2014
Saturday, October 04, 2014
September means back to the basics of Readin', Writin', and 'Rithmatic and it seems that our top five Apologetics posts reflected the basics, too. The post that looks at the tensions those who hold to atheism face far out paced all others for the month, but we still saw the basics of Darwinism, creation, and the existence of God make strong showings. The blog boasted 20,000 views for the month, which isn't too bad! Thanks to all our regular readers.
Here then are the top five posts for September:
Friday, October 03, 2014
Some people misunderstand the concept of being made in God's image to mean that God modeled our physical attributes after his own. This is a mistake as Jesus clearly taught that God is not physical but a spirit (John 4:24). As I've explained elsewhere, bearing the image of God means that humans are fundamentally different from every other animal created on the earth. Part of the imago Dei is the capability we have to reason and the ability to exercise our free will and make meaningful choices.
Recently, though, asked a question that I expect many other Christians may have about this definition. A person asked "What about those who are mentally ill, though? How can they bear God's image if they lack the ability to reason or make decisions for themselves?" This is a good question that reveals bias of our modern culture that has larger implications across a variety of moral issues.
More Than a List of SkillsToday, much of what is valued in society is based on "what can you do for me" or "what skills do you have" mentality. So, it may be natural for people to assume that the imago Dei is measured by one's ability to reason, thus the question above about the mentally impaired. But one isn't considered a person because of one's ability but by nature of being human. We are designed to reflect God's image in ourselves and the design doesn't change even if we cannot properly execute the elements implicit in that. For example, a car is a vehicle whose design and purpose is to move across land, while a boat is a vehicle whose deign and purpose is to move across the water. The can may have a broken axle or the boat a hole in its side that prevent it from executing its normal function, but no one would look at a boat with a hole and say that it changes its function. Boats cannot move across the land unaided because so doing is counter to all of its design. The vehicle may need repair but one can quickly see whether it is a land or sea vehicle.
The reason this concept of design and purpose (what's known in philosophy as the telos or end purpose of a thing) is that it is crucial to the dignity of all human persons. It is not merely the mentally-ill who cannot reason, but the embryo has not yet developed reasoning capacity either. If the imago Dei doesn't apply to the embryo, then why should Christians oppose abortion? However, if the telos of the embryo is a functioning, rational adult who can make free decisions and can have a spiritual sensitivity, then the embryo shows as much uniqueness as any other human being. It is human nature to be social, to be creative, to be relational, to be rational, to have a sense of the moral, and to be spiritual. All of these reflect God's character and all sit in distinction to other animals in creation. And every being that so reflects God's image in this way is intrinsically valuable because God values these things.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
The directive to REFRAIN from judging outsiders, has ONLY ONE context in the narrative: "You WILL be judged by whatever judgment criteria you use against un-believers", period! Paul FRIMLY reiterates this in 1 Corinthians 5This is a claim that I think needs some attention. It seems superficially that the verses above warn against judging others in any way, but the concept of judgment that both Jesus and Paul are talking about does not exclude any kind of condemnation or criticism of sin. Basically the command against judging others simply means that no Christian should ever write off an unbeliever as irredeemable nor should they somehow look down upon unbelievers as somehow less valuable than a believer. In order to demonstrate this, I offer three ways the Bible shows that pointing out moral failings is appropriate when done appropriately.
There is only one judgment allowed to Christians: to ascertain the legitimacy of those who call themselves Christian, and yet indulge in those practices Paul outlines in great detail as forbidden to believers.
- 1Cor. 5:12 "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?"
- 1Cor. 5:13: "But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
1. First Century Understanding of JudgmentFirst off, our 21st century concept of judgment has been warped by those who would say any kind of criticism of another is wrong. In understanding Jesus and Paul, it is crucial to remember they were first century Jews. Ancient Jewish culture divided the world into two simple categories: the Chosen Ones (themselves) and the Gentiles (everyone else). As Merrill Unger notes, Jews of this time were taught the laws of cleanliness and eating kosher were things that separated the clean from the unclean.1 Therefore, nonbelieving heathen were unclean and were fit only for eternal hellfire. Jewish rabbis of this time even taught the faithful Jew to daily pray thanking God that he is "not a Gentile, not a slave, and not a woman."2 This is one of the reasons that the Judaizers were starting to make so much headway in the Galatian church. Jews felt not merely superior to the rest of the world, but confident that God was on their side. Unger states, "the Jews seemed to regard the heathen only as existing for the purpose of punishing the apostasy of Israel… or of undergoing vengeance for their enmity toward her.3
When looking at the culture and language of first century Judaism, one can see that the type of judgment Jesus and the New Testament warns against in the passages above is a wholesale condemnation of other people. Christians cannot simply "write off" another person as unworthy or incapable of salvation. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament expounds on the Greek word for judge and explains "In light of God's judgment, we should not judge others. This does not mean flabby indifference to moral wrong but recognition of solidarity in guilt."4
2. Jesus and His Disciples Call Out Sinners for Their SinsIf we look to the apostles, we see that Paul did some judging of his own. In 2 Timothy 4:14, he calls out one man by name and writes it in the scriptures for all to see: "Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds." A little earlier he condemns the actions of another: "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim 4:10). These sound like pretty big judgments to me. Of course, Paul directly instructs Timothy to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" as his part of preaching the word. One cannot reprove without judging.
The apostle John not only judges Diotrephes, but says, "So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us" (3 John 1:10). He wants to make it public! Jesus even gave us a set procedure for those who would sin against a person of the church in Matthew 17. Surely this requires judgment. We also have the admonition in James 5:20 where he writes, "let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Is judgment required there?
I think the Bible is very clear that we are not to retreat into some holy huddle and let the unbelievers go to hell, taking the world with them. Part of that requires us to point out their sin, just as John the Baptist did toward Herod. Even when looking at Corinthians 5, which is the example given above, we can see judgment taking place. Paul clearly judged the person sinning in Corinth. "For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing."
The biggest example of a judgment against unbelievers is Stephen's sermon in Acts 7. Facing the Sanhedrin, he uses some of the harshest language he can in condemning their actions:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53).Either Stephen was wrong to call out the priests or we are also called to be the witnesses of Christ, which must include telling others how they violate His law. Otherwise, why would they ever wish to repent?
Jesus Commanded His Followers to Stem the Moral Decay of the WorldYou write, "The directive to REFRAIN from Judging outsiders, has ONLY ONE context in the narrative: ‘You WILL be judged by whatever judgment criteria you use against un-believers', period!" But Jesus just a few verse later called us to inspect the fruit of others and to make judgments about them based on their actions. He also taught in that same Sermon on the Mount that "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" and "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven"(Matt 5:13, 19). Jesus clearly teaches his church to instruct sinners and to act rightly. Instruction requires correction; you cannot get around it. Being the salt of the earth means the church must seek to preserve a certain moral value in society.
Judging people as beyond salvation is clearly forbidden in the New Testament just as allowing sin to progress unchecked is also. To think that the unbeliever is somehow immune from criticism for his actions would mean that we never share that another person is in need of salvation! For one must be saved from something, and that something is the sin that plagues all of humanity. If we are not able to declare immoral acts sinful, then evangelism is worthless and Christianity becomes a feel-good group, not the truth of the ages.
2. Kahn, Yoel H. The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 10-12.
3. Unger, 466.
4. "Krino." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 472. Print.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
In his article, Istvan recounts Issac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics in his fictional story series I, Robot, which center on the idea that human life must be sustained above any robot's survival. Asimov created the three laws in order to show how mankind can be valued and protected above his own technology, even if that technology is capable of feats that would destroy their makers (think The Terminator.) But Istvan is unsatisfied with these and instead offers three laws of his own. He writes:
In general, a human will is defined by its genes, the environment, and the psychological make-up of its brain. However, a sophisticated artificial intelligence will be able to upgrade its "will." Its plasticity will know no bounds, as our brains do. In my philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager, I put forth the idea that all humans desire to reach a state of perfect personal power—to be omnipotent in the universe. I call this a Will to Evolution. The idea is built into my Three Laws of Transhumanism, which form the essence of the book's philosophy, Teleological Egocentric Functionalism (TEF). Here are the three laws:So, Istvan feels that for transhumans one must be self-centered and self-advancing. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise given that the transuhuman movement is all about becoming a superman (perhaps a god?) in comparison to humanity today. Still, the fact that Istvan doesn't seem to see the unworkable moral implications gives me great pause.
1) A transhumanist must safeguard one's own existence above all else.
2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First Law.
3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
An Old Lie with a Shiny New FinishIn reading Istvan's three laws, I quickly saw that these were not new. In fact, they are eerily similar to a moral principle that was put forth in the early 20th century by a man who others also claimed was a visionary. The principle of "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law"2 was channeled by occultist Aleister Crowley as he wrote The Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX),3 the foundational book for his new religious philosophy of Thelema. Not only does this equate to Istvan's first law, but Istvan also echoes Crowley's dictum of "Love is the law, love under will" in his other two laws. So, here we have a modern transhumanist that is recapitulating the moral philosophy of an occultist who said he received it from a spirit voice! This isn't something new; it's a lie that's very, very old. In fact, it's pretty much as old as mankind being tempted to transcend his current state of being and become like God knowing good from evil. That offer didn't work out very well for us, either.
The scary thing about all this is that Istvan cannot see how self-serving and dangerous such a moral system would actually be. Who defines what "safeguarding value in the universe" is? If omnipotence is a goal, then my existence is more valuable than another's. Is this not the fundamental principle claimed by every single act of genocidal terror that humanity has witnessed in the last 100 years?
Ultimately, Istvan's view of the world is terrifying, not because I fear technology, but because I fear the evil in the human heart. By wanting to elevate himself above his limitations with nothing but his own desires to restrain him, he sends a message that humanity is worthy of being destroyed. Such beliefs don't elevate humanity, they debase it. Self-interest above all is animalistic. Culture and civilization is where one looks to the interests of others above one's self. This is pretty fundamental; most parents teach it to their children from the earliest ages. Accepting selfishness as a moral philosophy can only bode ill for the future of humanity.
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