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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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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Being Moral Without God: What's Required?

Is being a moral person important? I don't know of anyone who doesn't think so. No one wants to trust a person who is ruthless, untrustworthy, and narcissistic. Even people who believe moral truths are fictional seem to still believe these are necessary fictions that help us survive.1 Vanity and selfishness are never held to be ideals to which one should aspire.

Given that behaving morally is recognized as an important part of being human, it amazes me how little people actually consider what morality is or how it is grounded in reality. Christians ground moral truths in the character of God. Atheists cannot do so, yet atheists like Phil Zuckerman claim to find their morality in "empathetic reciprocity." Others, like philosopher Marc D. Hauser, hold that morality is the outcome of evolutionary forces and thus a physical and chemical outworking of biology and history.2

Can morality be rooted in a physical cause? What gives moral principles their authoritative power? This is where most people falter in that they haven't considered just what is required to consider an action moral or immoral. Why is my choice to cheat on my taxes immoral while cheating on my diet isn't?

When speaking of what makes an act fall into the sphere of actions that may be considered morally significant, we must have some basic ideas of morality itself. This means that any moral system or moral framework must include at least three components. These are the recognition of moral obligations and duties as real, the moral freedom of the agent to choose to obey those moral duties and obligations, and the genuine responsibility of the agent as that duty presents itself. Let's look at the first of the three today and we'll take the other two in subsequent posts.

Understanding Moral Obligations

The first piece in understanding morality is the easiest to understand. There are real obligations, laws, duties that we are required to obey. As a comparison, we can look to the legal system. People are required by law in the United States to drive on the right side of the road if the street allows for two-way traffic. Usually, there is also a maximum speed limit that people must obey. However, there are some areas like portions of the German Autobahn that have no speed limit. In those areas it is not illegal to drive at even 200 miles per hour.

Turning back to morality, moral laws must exist of a person is to be held accountable to them. Just as the Autobahn above, one cannot be said to be morally culpable if there is no moral law that a one is violating. Because human beings recognize that honesty is a moral virtue to which we should all adhere, it becomes binding on the individual who seeks to cheat at a test. While cheating on one's diet may not be good sense, it is not in itself dishonest and doesn't violate a moral law. If you were to lie about your diet-cheating, you could then be morally culpable, but the cheating itself is morally neutral.

Moral obligations exist apart from their acceptance

Moral laws and obligations are things we are required to do and any system that claims to account for moral values must also account for real, binding laws and obligations. This isn't as easy as it may appear. If these values and duties are truly obligatory, it means that their existence is independent of their acceptance. Just because no one obeys the speed limit on California freeways doesn't mean the speed limit doesn't exist nor does it mean that you cannot get a ticket because you were "going as fast as everyone else." They are all wrong and you are, too! Moral obligations may be held by some people, all of the people, or no one, but that doesn't change the fact that they exist.

Moral obligations may conflict with our desires

One unique aspect of moral duties and obligations is that of they are real, it may be the case that they are distasteful to us. In other words, it is sometimes necessary to relinquish personal pleasure for the sake of doing the good. ;As an example, let's use the concept of not cheating on one's taxes. No one likes to pay taxes and being honest may cost people discomfort, especially those who are struggling to get by in the first place. However, because there is a real moral duty to be honest, one should not cheat on one's taxes. To be moral doesn't mean we only accept the moral laws that we like or that don't cause us discomfort. In fact, we applaud those like Mother Teresa who make great sacrifices to their own comfort in order to obey a higher moral principle. Real moral obligations may mean being honest even when it costs you something.

Moral obligations focus on our motivations

One additional aspect of looking at moral obligations is the fact seeking to be moral is a focus on the will as much as it is a focus on specific actions. David Baggett and Jerry Walls make this point in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. They write, "Morality confers obligations and constraints not only on our behaviors but even on our motivations."3 For example, imagine you were t see a man such into a burning building and pull out a trapped child. The local press captures the act and the man is lauded as a hero. However, if it is later found out that the man knew the child would be trapped and he rushed in to gain the accolades of the press, his selfish motivation basically nullifies his actions, even though in both cases the child is saved.

In all, what anchors morality must be able to account for real moral obligations. If one grounds his or her morality in naturalism, then he must come up with a convincing account of what moral obligations are, why they are objective (that is they sit apart from both our acceptance of them or our desires), and ;how they bear upon our motives as well as our actions. That's much easier to do on theism than naturalism, but that isn't the only factor involved. See my next post on why people must be morally free agents and genuinely responsible for their actions are also required.

Read part two here!


1. See Michael Ruse's belief that "morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity" from "The Moral Argument in a Nutshell". Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. 03/14/2015.
2. Baggett, David, and Jerry L. Walls. Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 22.
3. Baggett, 2011. 16.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Geometry, Morality, and Suffering in the World

What's the definition of a straight line? Anyone who's taken high school geometry should be able to answer that question with ease. A straight line is simply the shortest distance between two points. The definition is descriptive and concise.

Now, what's the definition of a crooked line? That's a little more difficult. If I tell you that a line I've drawn is crooked, you could imagine many possibilities. The line could be comprised of several angles or it could have a soft radius. It could zigzag or simply fall away from the second point, never actually reaching it. We would say the Tower of Pisa is crooked even though the building's sides are perpendicular to each other. It's simply crooked in relation to the state of being vertical.

Because there are many ways lines may be considered crooked, it would be hard for you to tell just what kind of shape my crooked line actually is simply be me describing it to you as crooked. But there is one thing you would know: it is not the shortest distance between the two points I had in mind. A crooked line is not straight.

Morality is Like Geometry

When people talk about things like good and evil, they tend to assume such ideas are understood. Yet, just like the problem with straight lines and crooked lines above, it's important to stop and think about what the concepts of good and evil entail. Evil is, as I've written elsewhere, a privation of good. It is where good is somehow damaged. Just like darkness isn't a think unto itself, but the absence of light and cold isn't a thing unto itself but the absence of heat, evil isn't a thing unto itself, but the absence of good.

In other words, evil is to good as crooked is to straight. The only way someone can identify evil is to first understand what it means to be good and to know that the evil action (or inaction) falls short of that. There are many ways to be evil, but being good is a much narrower path, just as crooked is a broader category than straight.

Of course, this idea is not at all new with me. C.S. Lewis made it famous in his book Mere Christianity. He wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, why did I who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in violent reaction against it?1
Lewis makes some clear points here. Any objection to the "immoral acts" of the Christian God must appeal to some standard, and that standard cannot originate within the world-system the objector is trying to condemn. Any time a person holds up act A and judges it on the basis of good or bad, he or she is implicitly appealing to a standard outside of the system. There must be what we would call a transcendent reference for all actions. Lewis continued in his explanation:
A man feels wet when he falls into the water because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed, too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.2
Here lies the problem with atheists who claim to offer the existence of cruelty or suffering as evidence that God doesn't exist. By appealing to such evils, they assume that an objective standard exists. But that standard must be above the creation that causes the cruelty and suffering being objected to. There must be "a law above the law" to compare the natural processes that lead to disease or death from things like earthquakes and floods.

Seeking to Straighten Crooked Lines

In geometry, it is impossible to draw a completely straight line. Even with a ruler, there are microscopic imperfections that alter your pencil's path. But that doesn't mean we cannot ever grasp the concept of a straight line or continue to try and get our lines as straight as possible. If a child draws a crooked line, we correct her and tell her to try again. The same should be true for good and evil.

Perhaps the world has gone crooked. Recognizing that doesn't mean there is no God, it only means that the world has somehow distanced itself from God's destination. The solution is therefore to find the shortest distance to the endpoint and get there right away. That's how you make the crooked straight again.


1. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Pub., 1952. Print. 45.
2. Lewis, 1954. 45

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Top Five Apologetics Blog Posts for February

February is the shortest month of the year, but it proved to be the busiest on the blog. Our stats continue to grow with nearly 30,000 pageviews this month. Three posts broke into my top ten most popular of all time.

Myths were the main attraction. My response to President Obama's comments on the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast quickly shot to the most viewed blog post I've written. Debunking the Jesus-Horus myth, a common charge of atheists who think Jesus never existed, just as quickly became #2. Other items of note were several posts looking at the evidence for the authors of the Gospels, taking on Stephen Fry's objecting to God on the basis of the suffering he sees in the world, and encouragement from J.P. Moreland on getting Christians to use their minds.

Here are the top five blog posts for February:
  1. What Were the Crusades? Busting Some Myths
  2. How to Quickly Debunk the Horus-Jesus Myth
  3. J.P. Moreland: Why the Church Must Overcome Its Aversion to Intellectual Development
  4. How Would Stephen Fry Answer His Own Challenge to God?
  5. Was the Bible Changed to Make it Look Like Jesus was Worshiped?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Romancing the Mind: Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (video)

Women are crucial in service to the body of Christ. Women tend to pray more than men, tend to volunteer more, and attend service more, too.Most churches offer different ministries aimed at women, from Bible studies to cooking and craft workshops. Yet, there are very few  women's classes aimed at teaching them how to develop their minds and thoughtfully engage the culture with the reasons for their faith. This is a glaring omission for both Christian women and the churches that serve them,

In this full length video, Lenny had the chance to present to a women's home bible study group and explain why women need to develop a not only a strong spiritual relationship with God, but also a strong intellectual one as well.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Overcoming Objections to an Apologetics Ministry

It's no secret that most churches don't offer any kind of apologetics as part of the ministries available to their congregations. There can be many reasons for this, from a perception by either church leadership or the laity that apologetics is too tough, no one is qualified to lead such a ministry, there would be no interest, there isn't enough time, or simply a general lack of knowledge concerning what apologetics really is. Each of these problems can be overcome without a whole lot of difficulty. Let's take each in turn, beginning with the last.

1. No one knows what apologetics is

This is probably the biggest problem in the Christian church. People either don't recognize the word apologetics or misunderstand what the study of apologetics entails. The word apologetics is itself foreign, not used much beyond those interested in it. But this is also the easiest problem to fix.

The word apologetics comes from the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to make a defense (the Greek word apologia) for the hope that is within you." This is a defense like a trial lawyer would put on for his client, using reason and evidence to prove innocence. You can explain apologetics in more detail, but it is perfectly fine to talk about the need today for Christians to be able to defend their faith with reasons and evidence. After all, Christianity has always been a faith based on the evidence of Jesus's resurrection.

It's becoming more and more evidence that being able to defend one's Christian beliefs in a non-threatening and reasonable fashion is important. So, let's speak about being good and thoughtful defenders.

2. Apologetics is too tough

As I said above, apologetics doesn't have to be considered tough. This goes back to misunderstanding just what apologetics is. Apologetics isn't about formal debates or arcane facts that no one would know. It's about giving good reasons for why you believe what you believe. Some of these can be as simple as looking at a movie like Forrest Gump and comparing it to the resurrection accounts. Or, just teaching people the common-sense idea that you can't get a something (like the universe) from a nothing. As I've written before, you're smarter than you think you are, and everyone can easily grasp the basics of apologetics.

3. There would be no interest in apologetics

As I engage with congregations at various churches, I simply don't see this objection to be true. When I speak at conferences or services, people are truly engaged and many are surprised they have never heard some of the arguments that apologists now use to demonstrate why God exists, or why the New Testament is reliable history. Like I mentioned above, people are being challenged more and more about what they believe and they're being questioned as to why they believe it. At the same time, there are many churches straining to become more relevant to help retain young people.

Helping people find the answers to their questions is not merely relevant, it is attractive. People need help in finding such answers and apologetics is just the place to begin. One can perhaps define apologetics as theology practically applied when engaging in conversations about issues of faith or morality. It isn't interest that keeps people away from apologetics topics, but not knowing that apologetics is beneficial to the Christian in many ways. Learning to defend the faith isn't just for witnessing to others.

4. There isn't enough time to teach apologetics.

In our busy world, time is becoming more and more precious. Many of my friends are pastors, and I know how taxed their time is with the responsibilities of preparing messages, managing budgets, visiting the sick, and all the other tasks laid upon them. However, apologetics doesn't need to be "one more thing," it could be simply a part of everything else. Perhaps one sermon a month can have a focus on apologetic-type content. Or, you can plan a movie night to watch one of William Land Craig's debates. Or, you can find someone within the congregation would be interested in leading a small group focused on apologetics. You can even partner with Ratio Christi to find out if there's an apologetics group in your area college that will integrate with your church. There are many other suggestions you can find to implement such a study.

5. No one at the church (either on staff or laity) would be qualified to lead such a ministry.

The idea that an apologetics ministry must be led by someone who has studied it for years is a common misnomer. A small group that goes through C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, J.P. Moreland's Love Your God with All Your Mind, or Lee Strobel's The Case For… books will be well on their way to learning and growing in their defense of the faith. There are also a ton of video resources (I even offer full lectures on my YouTube channel) church groups can share as aids so that the class can be taught by first tier apologists. I've even presented to small groups via Skype or Google Hangouts, giving them all the benefit of a guest speaker without all the costs associated with booking an in person appearance.

What to do next:
If you would like some help getting an apologetics event or ministry started in your church, please contact me here. Come Reason would love to help you take the next step in equipping the saints to defend their faith in an intelligent, loving, and gracious way.

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