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

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Should We Separate Religious Beliefs from the Law?

Before we start, realize that I am not going to debate the merits for or against Colorado's recent legislation, as it has no bearing on my topic. So, no matter what your position on that issue, you can rest easy and keep reading. I only offer that disclaimer because it has direct bearing on the topic I do address below.

William Kinne is a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, He identifies as a Christian, and he supports Colorado's legislation for same-sex unions. In a recent Op-Ed piece he was quoted saying, "I think it's a civil-rights issue. I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law." His wife Rachel disagrees, stating: "I believe we [should] vote based on our moral beliefs."1

Kinne's response is as worrisome as it is common today. It shows how fragmented and compartmentalized our modern society has become, and how sloganeering has replaced clear-thinking on some very important issues. Especially troublesome is the contradictory nature of his statements. Can one separate his religious beliefs from the law? Should one do so? Really, one doesn't have to spend a lot of time thinking about these issues to see where the flaws in Kinne's statements appear.

First of all, what is religion? Today, many people would say it is what one believes about the existence of God and how that person should worship. It is a private belief that gives comfort and structure to the life on an individual, and each individual will seek out the comfort and structure that best works for him or her. In other words, religion is a pragmatic approach that affects one's individual actions or perhaps the actions of a like-minded group but doesn't really affect the wider world. But this is a relatively recent understanding of what religion is.2 Religious belief encompasses much more than the personal aspects of faith. Religion deals with concepts like why we exist, why there is something rather than nothing, what is right and wrong for all people; basically, any religious system has ultimate realities at its core.

But a great many of our laws are simply a reflection of our beliefs about ultimate realities. For example, we believe that human beings are valuable in and of themselves, so our society passes laws against killing or against discriminating on the basis of race. We value the truth so laws against slander or perjury are passed. While there are tax laws and other procedural legislation, moral values are the foundation for the laws that protect us. These laws reflect our understanding that human beings are intrinsically valuable.

When we talk about concepts like value, we are talking about something the Germans called a Weltanschauung or what is known as a worldview. But one cannot separate religion from worldview like Kinne hopes because religion plays a central role in informing one's worldview. Philosopher Brendan Sweetman notes, "Every time we make a moral judgment, or make a claim about the nature of reality, or about what sort of beings human beings are, or about whether God exists, or about the nature of the good life, or about which political system is best, or about whether a law should be passed regarding such and such, we are appealing to our worldview."3

Sweetman classifies worldviews into broadly religious and secular types.4 An irreligious person would have a secular worldview while a religious person would have a religious one. However, one cannot have a secular AND a religious worldview. Whether or not God exists is a worldview question and to say he does and he doesn't is hopelessly confused. Similarly, if one believes in Christianity then one would hold that moral values are grounded in God. Laws should then be a reflection of one's understanding of how God would have us treat one another. To make a claim that "I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law" is contradictory.

I think we need Christians to challenge this mistaken concept of religion as only a private matter. Perhaps we should question those who would object to religion informing the law as to what they base their ideas of morality and equality. Do they truly believe that all men are created equal? Why? By centering our discussion on worldview instead of faith, we may be able to get farther and help others understand how all ones beliefs should work together to form a consistent whole. A consistent view is to be preferred over a cloistered one, and I've found no worldview more consistent than Christianity.


1. Brownstein, Ronald "Danger Ahead for Democrats: The Passion Gap."
July 11, 2013. <> Accessed July 13, 2013.
2. The early 20th century French sociologist Emile Durkin defined religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society classifies such views as "functional definitions". For more on this, see their entry "Definition of Religion" at
3. Sweetman, Brendan. Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2006. 17.
4. Ibid.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CSI has Nothing on Cold-Case Christianity

Crime dramas are one of the longest-running genres in television. From Perry Mason to Dragnet to CSI, people have consistently tuned in to see how clever detective work can uncover the truth about the facts in the case, sometimes even showing guilt on a very likable character. Former cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace has taken all the drama of these whodunits and created a new apologetics book entitled Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels that is just as engaging as any television show, perhaps more so given that his investigation focuses on the question "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?" The fact that this is a real historical question with the most profound implications makes this book more interesting than any fictionalized television show.

Cold-Case Christianity is at once accessible; each chapter begins with an anecdote drawn from Wallace's 23 year law enforcement career, and then uses that example to show how one discerns the truth from the facts at hand. The chapters are short and only deal with one topic at a time, which is perfect for a 21st century audience more accustomed to Twitter than treaties. Each point is reinforced in a sidebar and the illustrations make it that much easier to grasp.

Wallace builds his case by using the first ten chapters explaining how rules of evidence work, then in the last half he turns his attention to the New Testament and applies these rules as strictly as he would to any homicide case. Not only are his results convincing, but the journey is fun, which is not an adjective normally used in describing apologetics books.

Because Wallace also holds a seminary degree and has served as a youth pastor, his application of the material hits all the right notes: there are no theological gaffaws. His apologetic approach is sound and he has familiarized himself with the leaders in the field to know how to put forth the most current and convincing arguments.

Cold-Case Christianity is simply a joy to read and it would be one of the first titles I would recommend to individuals or small groups who haven't had a lot of exposure to the arguments in defense of the Christian faith. I'd also suggest that seasoned defenders read the book so they can learn how to better communicate the truths of the Gospel in a compelling way. As the culture continues to make the false dichotomy of faith versus reason, this book stands to show how one can use reason and evidence to support one's faith.

The detective has found the evidence to show that each of us can be freed from the guilt of our sin. Why wouldn't you grab it?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

J.P. Moreland to Young Christians: "Don't let anybody bully you"

Dr. J.P. Moreland recently gave a talk on why he doubts the neo-Darwinian model of all life arising from purposeless natural processes. I highly recommend the video. At the end of the talk he offered these words of encouragement to young Christians who may not be steeped in apologetics arguments:
"Don't let anybody bully you. I meet Christians all the time who think all the smart people are on the other side. That's not true. And if you don't know how to defend your faith, that's OK; we've got people who do. And we're community; we don't all have to know how. Because we have different roles to play. But we have people in our community who are as smart as the people on the other side and we know what we're talking about. You don't need to let anybody bully you because what the Scriptures teach at the end of the day makes sense and they're reasonable and we have nothing to be ashamed of in believing in the Creator God that we believe in."
J.P. is right. We have very smart people with incredibly strong arguments who are able to show the Christian worldview is at least as reasonable as modern secular viewpoints, if not more so. I know that there is a vast amount of data one must sift through in order to truly understand the points in question, but all Christians should be aware that we do have the goods, and they can walk confidently knowing that Christianity is an intelligent faith.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Authority Matters

One of my favorite John Mayer songs is his breakout hit "No Such Thing." However, its lyrics are indicative of an increasingly acute problem in our culture: the elevation of self above any authority structure. Mayer sings "They love to tell you stay inside the lines, but something's better on the other side." Is that true?

If you think about it, everyone looks to find a source of authority for the actions and decisions of his or her life. Authority is the natural starting point when seeking to understand how anything works. When we drive, we should obey the traffic signs because they are placed by an authority that has the power to control traffic for the public's safety. The authority has the knowledge to know how fast you can corner a turn before your tires lose their grip. An authority can also offer us safety: if one ignores the authority of a stop sign, the intersection may not hold something better of the other side, but disaster!

So, one can say appropriate authorities offer each of us at least two important elements in life: instruction and safety. I use the word "appropriate" because while there may be a lot of claims to authority, there should be some basic things that qualify a source as an appropriate authority. An authority should have some degree of expertise in whatever sphere he claims to have authority over. If we are also talking about authority as a governing institution, then the authority should be vested with the power to do things such as make laws or post traffic signs.

Don Thorsen writes, "Authority pertains to the right and power to command and be obeyed."[1] This is a good definition. If I went outside my house and posted my hand-painted speed limit sign, people would most likely ignore it because I have neither the right nor the power to override the city laws.

This idea of authority becomes even more important when we look at moral laws. In matters such as life and how one should live, the ultimate authority resides in God. God has the right to command us by virtue of His being the Creator of the universe generally and the creator of mankind specifically. In Romans 1:18-22, Paul argues that through His creation God has given us a witness to Himself as creator and because of that all men are obligated to worship and obey Him. Paul also pointed to God as creator of all mankind when he addressed the Athenians (Acts 17:24) and said that they should "seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us."

If God is the Creator, then he would have the definitive knowledge of how the world works and He would have the proper right to set down guidelines for how his creation should behave. God would have the right of authority. Of course, if God is the creator, he also demonstrates his power to control his creation. As the author of life (Gen. 2:7, Ecc. 12:7), God has the power to give life and take it, and can do so with impunity.

Many times when I talk about things of God with people, they will say things like "I cannot believe in a God who would do thus and so." But such statements are akin to posting your own speed limit sign on your street. Just because you want to drive faster doesn't mean that you should ignore the sign or that it isn't there for reasons to make everyone safer. There is a real world out there, and dismissing it can lead to painful consequences.


[1] Thorsen, Don. An Exploration of Christian Theology. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub. 2008).27.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Defining Morality: Objective Morals Must Be Grounded in God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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