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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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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Secularism isn't a Neutral Position

Should Christianity have a voice in politics, education, and the public square? Many people think so. They tend to believe that you can hold whatever belief you wish, as long as you don't "force your faith into a secular government."1 Organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have been trying to systematically remove all crosses or any type of religious displays set up on city or county properties. The thought is that in public areas such as schools and government a secular viewpoint is neutral while a religious viewpoint is biased.

But I don't think that's true, and neither does philosopher Brendan Sweetman. In his book Why Politics Needs Religion, Sweetman discusses why secularism is anything but a neutral position. He first builds the case that secularism is a distinct worldview with its own specific beliefs. He states that every worldview is what he calls "a philosophy of life" In other words it is the grid through which we see and make sense of the world. Sweetman notes that every worldview holds the following traits:2
  1. It is concerned with three primary areas: nature of reality, the nature of persons, and the nature of moral and political values.
  2. It contains a number of life-regulating beliefs.
  3. Not all beliefs can be fully proven or demonstrated.
  4. It is exemplified by certain rituals, practices or behaviors.
  5. It offers a moral code.
  6. Proponents will explain, defend, and seek to persuade others to their understanding.
After outlining these traits, Sweetman notes how secularism clearly holds to each of the categories above. By denying the interjection of God or any kind of supernatural entities, secularists hold the nature of reality and the nature of persons are purely physical. Sweetman quotes the famous opening line from Carl Sagan in his Cosmos series, claiming "The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be." Sagan makes a clearly metaphysical claim yet secularists would never object to this series because of a distinctively religious viewpoint. Of course, secularists claim that the nature of values comes from ourselves.

Secularists hold to particular beliefs such as all humans should have the freedom to do or not do as they please, as long as it doesn't harm others. Thus we see the push for same-sex marriage, and euthanasia laws become more prominent and offered as secular stances against religious convictions. Secularists also hold to beliefs they cannot prove, such as concepts like the existence of the multiverse or the belief that science alone can answer questions such as "where do we come from?"

Secularism as Religion

However, Sweetman goes further in his comparison. He argues that secularism is not merely a worldview; it can fall in to the category of religion. He outlines what religious beliefs entail and points out secular beliefs are formed in the same manner as other religious beliefs:
When a particular belief or view is described as religious, what is normally meant is that it is supported by or based upon or derived from some of the following sources: (1) a text, such as the Bible, the Qur'an, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, (2) the institutional churches), including representatives such as the priests and other authorities of the worldview (e.g., Billy Graham as a spokesman for Protestantism or Richard Dawkins as a spokesman for secularism); (3) a profound personal experience of some kind (e.g., the experience that God is near, the experience that people are fundamentally equal, etc.), (4) the tradition of the church in question (e.g., in Judaism by appeal to the Talmud; in secularism by [selective] appeal to the works of philosophers John Locke, Immanuel Kant or John Stuart Mill); (5) appeal to faith alone (e.g., believing that life is a gift from God on faith; believing that there is a scientific answer to the question of the origin of the universe on faith).

The reader will have noticed that I have deliberately included secularist examples of these sources, as well as examples from traditional religion, in order to illustrate that it is quite possible for a secularist to hold and to promote a belief based on these sources; these sources are not confined to religious believers. As long as a secularist belief is based on a similar type of appeal to the kinds of sources that religious believers might also use, then the arguments used to exclude religious beliefs because they come from these sources will also apply to secularist beliefs that come from the same kind of sources. Contemporary political theory, as we will see in chapter six, appeals frequently to the authority of liberal political tradition to support some of its important, indeed crucial, claims. These examples also serve to remind us and to emphasize again one of my main claims: that secularism is also a religion, and that it has the same formal structure as traditional religious belief.3
While it may be argued that Sweetman is really describing atheism as the belief system above, it has become increasingly difficult to separate secularism where no ideas based on a belief in God are allowed and atheism where no beliefs based on God can be found. If secularism is the default position in our political discussions, then isn't secularism elevating an atheistic viewpoint above other faiths?


1. Rosman, David. "Forcing Religion into Government Is Wrong." The Columbia Missourian. The Columbia Missourian, 3 June 2015. Web. 4 June 2015.
2. Sweetman, Brendan. Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. Print. 48.
3. Sweetman, 2003. 86-87. "
Image courtesy Jeffrey M Dean and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

God Allows Evil for the Good

There is a lot of evil in the world. I don't think that's controversial statement; most people would agree with it. But is the presence of evil good evidence to hold that God does not exist? That's what many atheists argue. They claim an all-good God could have created a world where no evil exits. Some have gone so far to argue that the fact that evil exists at all proves an all-good God doesn't.

But is this argument sound? I don't think so. In his book God, Freedom, and Evil, Alvin Plantinga lays out a very careful argument for why an all-good God would create a world where evil exists. Plantinga writes:
A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, an else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.1
I think this argument is correct. God valued significantly free creatures so much that he allowed them the ability to choose to do evil. I've previously offered a digestible example in a short video you can find here.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977. Print. 30.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Today's Snake Oil Includes a Scalpel: The Damaging Treatment of Transgenderism

The Internet lit up yesterday when Vanity Fair unveiled photos of Bruce Jenner in his transitioned state as a woman. Immediately, cheers went up for Jenner, displayed as a 1940s Hollywood siren who now wishes to be called Caitlyn. An article on the American Civil Liberties Union site exhorted others to use Jenner's new name declaring:
It is important that people do actually call her Caitlyn.

Words matter and erasing the identity of trans people by calling them by their birth names and birth-assigned sex is an act of hatred — one that is inextricable from the brutal violence that so many trans people, particularly trans women of color, encounter just for existing in the world.

How we talk about trans people sets the tone for the world in which trans people live.

And because young trans people are dying by suicide and trans women of color are being murdered at alarming rates, those of us forming public narratives about trans celebrities have an obligation to tell those stories with care.1
I agree with the article that words matter and that lives matter. We should care about all people's lives and the difficult struggles they face. But it's because their lives are in danger that I will say the ACLU and the homosexual lobby are wrong to be pushing sexual reassignment surgery for people who feel uncomfortable with their body's sex. It's a dangerous falsehood that many times proves deadly to the patients that should have been helped.

Fifty Years of Results

The history of the modern transgender movement began about seventy years ago with three men: sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, endocrinologist Harry Benjamin, and psychologist John Money.2 Kinsey's sexual deviancies, who famously said "there are only three kinds of sexual abnormalities: abstinence, celibacy and delayed marriage" are well known. 3 Kinsey referred Barry, a 23 year old male with gender dysphoria to Benjamin in 1948, and though no U.S. hospitals would do the surgery, Benjamin encouraged Barry to have three operations performed in Germany.4 However, Benjamin never heard from his patient again, so we don't know how the surgery affected Barry long-term.5

Dr. John Money was a member of Benjamin's research team, and in 1967 he sought to change a two-year-old boy whose genitals had been damaged by a botched circumcision into a girl, reassuring the parents that the child would grow up never knowing the difference. But as the Los Angeles Times reported, "the gender conversion was far from successful. Money's experiment was a disaster for Reimer that created psychological scars he ultimately could not overcome." David Reimer committed suicide at the age of 38.6 Yet that gap proved to be enough time for Money to advance his agenda that sex is fluid and changeable, and to legitimize transsexual surgery in the minds of many around the country.

Responding to these initial success reports, the prestigious Johns Hopkins University formed a clinic to facilitate transitioning patients to their desired sex with John Money as a co-founder. Dr. Paul McHugh, the director of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center sought to find evidential support for this treatment and began studying patients both in pre and post-operative stages of treatment. His study revealed two things: First, 70% - 80% of children who report transgender feelings spontaneously lost those feelings when they were left alone. That means the vast majority of patients left to themselves would identify as their biological sex. It's the counseling and initial treatments that make these patients continue to believe they're the wrong sex.

Secondly, McHugh found that post-surgery, the patients' mental health issues did not go away. He said, "Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as 'satisfied' by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a 'satisfied' but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs."7

Suicides of Post-Operative Transsexuals Incredibly High

McHugh notes that a very recent (2011) study pout of Sweden followed 324 patients for a period of up to thirty years after they underwent sex-reassignment surgery. Unlike Benjamin and Money's reports, this study has strong evidence for the efficacy of SRS. McHugh Reports:
The study revealed that beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population. This disturbing result has as yet no explanation but probably reflects the growing sense of isolation reported by the aging transgendered after surgery. The high suicide rate certainly challenges the surgery prescription.8
In 2010, National Center for Transgender Equality produced a survey reporting that a staggering 41% of those who identify as transgendered have attempted to commit suicide. 9 A study of 425 patients who were currently in treatment receiving hormone therapies found "the number of deaths in male-to-female transsexuals was five times the number expected, due to increased numbers of suicide and death of unknown cause."10

Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld was a partner to Harry Benjamin and worked with him for six years. But when Ihlenfeld discovered the findings of McHugh, he too announced that most patients suffering from Gender dysphoria shouldn't begin transitioning. "There is too much unhappiness among people who have had the surgery…Too many end in suicide" he said.11

Why is Culture Buying the Snake Oil?

Today, there is really no excuse to continue the charade that SMS is a proper treatment for gender dysphoria. We know the story of Mike Penner, the LA Times sports reporter who became Christine Daniels only to switch back and ultimately take his own life. It was a very visible public display of what the transgender lobby doesn't want to admit: your body's sex is not the source of the patient's problems.

There are people who feel that some part of their body is foreign to them. They are officially diagnosed as having Body Integration Identity Disorder. Those people seek to amputate the limb or whatever part they feel alien to. However, I know of no doctor or mental health professional who would amputate a healthy limb simply because of the belief of the patient that it doesn't belong there. Yet, that is exactly what our media and the transgender lobby is pushing for with Jenner and others. Chase Strangio and the ACLU don't care about saving lives, they care about advancing their agenda! Transsexualism is snake oil with a fifty year track record of failure that ends with many patients committing suicide. We need to focus on that cause, not on surgeries that amputate healthy organs.

In the words of Dr. McHugh:
At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. "Sex change" is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.12
Let's not let the media circus over Jenner distort the fact that this is a dangerous road and we shouldn't be enabling him and others by cheering him on.


1. Strangio, Chase. "Call Her Caitlyn But Then Let's Move on to the Issues Affecting the Trans Community." American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union, 1 June 2015. Web. 02 June 2015.
2. Heyer, Walt. ""Sex Change" Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know." Public Discourse. The Witherspoon Institute, 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 02 June 2015.
3. Crain, Caleb. " Alfred Kinsey: Liberator or Pervert?." The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Oct. 2004. Web. 02 June 2015.
4. Schaefer, Leah Cahan, and Connie Christine Wheeler. "Harry Benjamin's First Ten Cases (1938-1953): A Clinical Historical Note." Archives of Sexual Behavior 24.1 (1995): 73-93. Print.
5. Schaefer, 1995.
6. Woo, Elaine. "David Reimer, 38; After Botched Surgery, He Was Raised as a Girl in Gender Experiment." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2004. Web. 02 June 2015.
7. McHugh, Paul. "Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution." Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 12 June 2014. Web. 02 June 2015.
8. McHugh, 2014.
9. Moskowitz, Clara. "Transgender Americans Face High Suicide Risk.", 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 02 June 2015.
10. Asscheman, H., L.j.g. Gooren, and P.l.e. Eklund. "Mortality and Morbidity in Transsexual Patients with Cross-gender Hormone Treatment." Metabolism 38.9 (1989): 869-73. Web.
11. Heyer, 2015.
12. McHugh, 2014.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Replying to Science-of-the-Gaps Arguments

I had a commenter named Barry respond to my blog post "Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science". First, he asked whether it is appropriate to couple the origin of life with neo-Darwinian evolution (it is), he then made the following statements:
You can't say "Well, we don't know how life emerged so God musta done it" simply because scientists don't know (yet). … That we don't know NOW how life began doesn't give anyone intellectual license to say that life has a supernatural cause due to a creative moment by a whimsical Omniscient Being. Relax. So we don't know right now what caused life to emerge. That's just the way it is. We'll understand some day. Maybe not in our lifetimes but it's likely to happen in the next fifty years or so.

In the meantime, God-of-the-gaps arguments aren't arguments from the point of evidence. They're arguments from the point of faith and belief. That's not a persuasive rhetorical tactic for the plain reason that reality is preferable to believing in things simply because you want these things to be true."
You will notice that Barry admits a couple of things. First, he holds that arguments that are not from the point of evidence are not strong. He refers to these as "intellectually feeble." He also admits that scientists don’t know how life began. In fact, they have absolutely no idea, no working models, nor even any controlled lab experiments that shows how one can get even a self-replicating RNA molecule from ribozyme components. I also brought this up in my response, pointing him to the enormous odds Dr. David Berlinski offered.

Barry’s response was telling. He replied:
Odds, shmods. It happened. Life DID emerge when it did and that's that. The only thing we don't understand is HOW life emerged—and there is zip evidence that it was due to some supernatural intervention. Evidence is tying a palm print on the rifle to Oswald. Evidence is collecting DNA from a crime scene and connecting it to a suspect. You? You got nuthin' to link to.
Can you see how this paragraph directly contradicts his previously stated view that arguments without evidence are intellectually feeble? Odds schmods?? It’s clear that Barry doesn’t care what the evidence (e.g. the mathematics) shows on the possibility of life emerging by chance. He simply wants it to be true. But that’s what the decried in the previous exchange! He’s not relying on a God-of-the-gaps argument, but a science-of-the-gaps one. He rejects the actual scientific data that that natural laws and chemistry alone could never assemble the first living organism simply because he doesn’t want to believe it to be true!

You’ll also notice that Barry claimed I had "nuthin' to link to." I did link to a couple of articles in fact, one being the Berlinski quote above. One of the main tasks of the scientific method is to either validate or falsify a hypothesis. You see, scientists understand that a negative result is still a result. We have data on what is required for life to exist, and it is showing more and more that spontaneous self-assembly is not a logical option. Asserting "we'll understand some day" is a statement of faith that directly contradicts the increasingly mounting evidence against the hypothesis.

To trust in science alone is not following the evidence wherever it leads. It is seeking to validate a preconception at any cost, something rational individuals should shun.
Original image courtesy Dale Schoonover, Kim Schoonover [CC BY 3.0]

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Can Governments Define Marriage? (video)

The issue of what marriage is who should be allowed to marry is making headlines around the world. With the homosexual lobby pushing for states to recognize same-sex marriage, it becomes more important than ever to understand just what marriage means and who has control over its definition.

In this video, Lenny explains that marriage stems not from any law or court decision, but from the same source as human equality: natural law. Thus marriage, like human equality, cannot be redefined.

Image courtesy Fibonacci Blue [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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