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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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Monday, March 14, 2016

Bible Promise Verses and Apologetics

Yesterday, I posted a short clip on how many people take the oft-quoted passage "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and apply it incorrectly. (Click here to see the video.) I also shared the post with a couple of online apologetics groups. A couple of people were confused on why I even bothered with this point. Why make a big point about something as seemingly small as using Philippians 4:13 to show that they can conquer their difficulties?

The reason is both important and relevant to apologetics. First, apologetics doesn't only concern believers defending their faith against non-believers. 1 Peter 3:15 is clear when it instructs us to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks. That "anyone" includes those inside the church who may not know as much as you or those who are mistaken in their use of scripture. Paul instructs Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Paul immediately follows this up by telling Timothy to correct errors that are being spread within the church, stating "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene."

The Problem with Misapplying Scripture

Of course, some may think that this is a bit of an over-reaction. How can a mis-applied verse on a Bible Promise calendar escalate to spreading like gangrene? The problem is twofold. First, there are those who may "claim" these verses and when they don't play out as they expect in really difficult times, they see it as evidence against the Christian faith. This happened en masse in the Great Disappointment of the Millerite movement of 1844, but I've spoken with those today whose Christian beliefs were more rooted in these feel-good promises than the hard task of working out one's salvation with fear and trembling. When they did face pressures, they felt these promises didn't deliver, and therefore Christianity was something of a bait and switch. Others may not leave the faith, but they question themselves or their standing in salvation.

Secondly, approaching the Bible with this kind of sound-bite exegesis is incredibly misleading and even dangerous. One of the biggest difficulties I have in sharing an orthodox Christian belief with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons is how they try and use the Bible to proof-text their beliefs. They abuse the text in the exact same way as the passage above by ripping it out of its larger context and isolating a verse or two so it can mean what they want it to mean instead of what the author intended. If Christians begin to take all of scripture as a series of verses that stand independently, how can we ever know what meaning the writers actually had in mind and whether this applies or not? Such misapplied Bible verses, even in the guise of providing encouragement, actually encourage the misuse of Scripture. If we chide the Mormons and JWs for doing this, we shouldn't do it either.

In all, I think it's important for Christians to be careful when using individual verses to support any belief. As I've shown before, sometimes people can sound really Christian and even say all the right slogans, but they may not even understand salvation. As believers and faith-defenders it is important we gently correct those who may misuse scriptures, lest they fall into a greater error. The video is one small step in that direction.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What Does the Bible Promise "I Can Do All Things" Really Mean?

Bible promises are very popular, with calendars, posters and inspirational quotes proliferating Christian stores. However, do those promises really mean what we think?

In this short video, Lenny demonstrates how taking a verse out of its context can distort the message the Scriptures actually convey.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is Any Body Modification OK Just Because It's Your Body?

It's no secret the culture has shifted regarding the personalizing of one's body. I've been exploring the question of body modification in a series of articles where I hope to bring some clarity to this contentious issue. I first argued that the human body holds intrinsic worth; the body has value in itself as opposed to merely having value because we give it value. Thus, we should be thoughtful as Christians when thinking about any kind of body modification.

In my last article, I also said that one shouldn't discount any type of modification as some kind of violation of that worth. I offered reconstructive surgery, braces, hair plugs, or even certain forms of tattoos as examples that demonstrate one cannot simply classify any tattooing or body modification as sinful or wrong. But those fall into one aspect of the four different classifications of body modification. There are other types of modifications that are not so easily dismissed.

Further complicating the issue is the question of personal autonomy. As human beings, we know our bodies better than anyone else. We control them and they affect us, not others. If we wish to alter our bodies, shouldn't we have that right? Even some of the more extreme cases, most people are reticent to tell others they cannot do as they wish with their bodies. Take Pixee Fox, a North Carolina woman who had several plastic surgeries including 1400cc breast implants and the removal of six ribs to provide a cartoon-like hourglass shape. Most may call such actions foolish, but would they describe them as sinful or wrong?

Damage for Self-Fulfillment

I think there are instances where certain modifications that present themselves as violating the inherent worth of the body and shouldn't be allowed, even though they may infringe on the autonomy of the person requesting them. There are of course modifications done forcibly against one's will or before one can give consent, such as female genital mutilation. Since informed self-choice doesn't really factor into such cases, I would consider them separate issues.

I'd like to look at a group of people that are becoming better documented in medical literature. These people suffer from a condition called Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) and they have the common trait in feeling that one of their body parts is foreign to them and needs to be amputated. Realize these are healthy limbs or appendages that function normally; there is nothing physically wrong with them. Those with BIID, though, "feel ‘over complete' and want to have the alien limb amputated."1 They will seek out medical intervention, although there are no hospitals that currently allow the amputation of healthy limbs.2

Many may say that such an extreme condition is clearly a mental disorder, and shouldn't be included in a discussion on body modification, but some in the medical community feel the issue isn't quite that cut and dry. Tim Bayne and Neil Levy argue that patients suffering from BIID have an autonomous right to modify their body just as those who undergo extreme breast enlargements or other plastic surgeries have the right to alter healthy body parts for their satisfaction. They note that reproductive surgeries, such as tubal ligation or vasectomy cripple healthy organs, too. They also state BIID patients "who succeed in procuring an amputation seem to experience a significant and lasting increase in wellbeing" and stop seeking to self-amputate, which is much more dangerous and has led to death in prior cases. 3

An Autonomous Lifelong Desire

Sabine Müller points out that those suffering from BIID are not making their choice off the cuff. Instead, they have agonized over their foreign limb and they report having these feelings since childhood. She states "Because of the early onset of the disturbance of the body image, BIID patients cannot remember a life in which the affected limb was integrated into the body image."4

Annemarie Bridy argues the initial revulsion over removing the offending limb as a form of treatment may be simply showing a bias most people have. She writes:
In contemporary society, the body is regarded not as a physiological given to which we must reconcile ourselves, but as a malleable instrument of self-expression amenable to a wide range of medical and surgical interventions…

At the turn of the twentieth century, many physicians believed that cosmetic surgery undermined fundamental tenets of the medical profession by violating the ethical injunction against doing harm…. Body parts perceived to be too small are augmented; those which are thought to be too large are reduced in size or prominence. While the dramatic shift in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery hardly forces the conclusion that elective amputation will one day be as common as rhinoplasty is today, it does suggest that beliefs about the integrity of the body and the nature of bodily harm are culturally mediated and historically contingent. As anomalous as it may seem when viewed in a historical vacuum, elective amputation becomes less incomprehensible when it is viewed as a manifestation of the continuing social and cultural evolution of attitudes toward the body and its modification.5
What further complicates the issue is the question of autonomy. All of those writing on this issue underscore how important it is to respect autonomous decisions by the patient even when we disagree with their decision. Bayne and Levy point to decisions based on religious autonomy that may be harmful, such as Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions.6  Yet, not all procedures are morally justified by claims of autonomy. Müller uses the example of an anorexic patient who deeply desires stomach-stapling surgery.7

Where Do We Draw the Line?

While Bridy along with Bayne and Levy see circumstances where they believe amputation of healthy limbs is permissible for BIID patients, I agree with Müller who sees the condition as primarily a psychiatric affliction that should be treated as such. As a Christian, I would recognize the body has a telos, that is it shows design for a purpose. To claim that one's arm or leg is foreign to the individual is to claim there is no objective telos to the body. The only value or purpose the body has is whatever the individual wishes to ascribe to it. Those with BIID are being honest in their feelings of detachment from one of their limbs and their misery in their current state. However, they seem to believe their mental state should dictate their physical state. This doesn't follow for me. Anorexics have mental states seeing themselves as fat, but it would be immoral to allow them to modify their bodies through stomach stapling or some other procedure. It is their mental understanding that is failing them.

BIID is an extreme aspect of body modification. I would argue it holds strong parallels to those who seek sexual reassignment surgery and the issues are nearly identical, although individuals who claim to be transgendered do have the opportunity to modify their bodies to match their mental state while BIID patients do  not. Why? What's the difference? One of the reasons for opposing SRS is that it also disregards the intrinsic worth of the body and gives subjective value to it.

The real question, though, is just how far down the road should Christians go? What about less drastic forms of body modification? Where do we cross the line from personal expression and harmless autonomous choices to demonstrating a subjective value for the body God gave us? Does tongue-splitting qualify? How about vasectomy or tubal ligation? These aren't easy questions, but in a future article I hope to perhaps offer some guidelines to explore them more fully.


1. Müller, Sabine. "Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID)—Is the Amputation of Healthy Limbs Ethically Justified?" The American Journal of Bioethics, 9:1, 36-43,
(2009) DOI: 10.1080/15265160802588194
2. Bayne, Tim, and Neil Levy. "Amputees By Choice: Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the Ethics of Amputation." Journal of Applied Philosophy 22.1 (2005). 75. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
3. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 78-86.
4. Müller, 2009.39.
5. Bridy, Annemarie. "Confounding Extremities: Surgery at the Medico-ethical Limits of Self-Modification." The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 32.1 (2004): 148-58. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.151-152.
6. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 80.
7. Müller, 2009.40.
Image courtesy Jenny O'Donnell [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk],

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Star Trek, Saving Private Ryan, and the Problem with Evolutionary Morality

Morality is real. There are ways one should or should not act. There are values and duties that attach to being human, such as killing babies for no reason other than pleasure is always wrong. Some people don't agree with this view, holding morality as a useful fiction, but I will place them to one side for the moment. I think most people would agree with me that morality is a real thing; good and evil are real concepts.

I would think that most people would agree that there are certain oughts to which people should adhere. One ought not to enslave another human being, for example. The point of disagreement is rooted in where these kinds of oughts come from and why we should follow them. Atheists and humanists feel that moral laws came about because they conferred a certain evolutionary advantage to the group, as Herbert Gintis, et. al writes:
From an evolutionary viewpoint, we argue that ethical behavior was fitness-enhancing in the years marking the emergence of Homo sapiens because human groups with many altruists fared better than groups of selfish individuals, and the fitness losses sustained by altruists were more than compensated by the superior performance of the groups in which they congregated.1

A Utilitarian Morality

In the evolutionary view of morality, it is the survival value of the altruistic act that becomes the crucial thing. Those societies that encourage helping one another, even to one's own detriment, will be "more fit" than others, increasing the survivability of the group as a whole.

Such a scenario makes some sense. If one is to save others at the cost of even one's own life, it is easy to see how survivability is increased. This is a utilitarian concept of morality that philosopher Jeremy Bentham pioneered, but most people would be more familiar with how Leonard Nimoy's character Spock voiced it in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There, Spock heroically exposes himself to lethal radiation levels to save the ship, then pronounces "It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."

What if Morality Contradicts Survivability?

While a utilitarian view of morality seems plausible and fits within an evolutionary framework, it runs into problems in other circumstances. For instance, let's take a different scenario of altruism, the one offered in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. There, a platoon of soldiers is sent deep into enemy territory in order to extract one man—Private Ryan—whose three brothers had already been lost in combat. A real-life scenario similar to the film played out in the Niland family, and their four sons Robert, Preston, Thomas, and Joseph. The Canisus library reports:
Robert was killed on D-day while manning his machine-gun post in Neuville, a city not far from the beaches. Preston was killed the next day near Omaha Beach. Fritz, meanwhile, had been dropped between Omaha and Utah beaches while Thomas was involved in a glider unit that landed in France. Joseph, 25, was not involved with the invasion.

When the Army heard of the tragic story, they determined that the Nilands would not suffer the death of their last child.2
In the film, the Army seeks to do the right thing in removing Private Ryan from potential harm and restoring at least one son to the family. However, the cost is high. In order to save one person, many in the company are lost. Also, significant resources such as these battle-hardened soldiers are not spent engaging the enemy, but rescuing this one young soldier. In any analysis, it seems this situation is all about the needs of the few or the one trumping the needs of the many.

So, here's the question: does the Army act morally in the Saving Private Ryan scenario? Was this the right thing to do or was it evil? If the utilitarian ethic is all there is, that is if survival value is all morality boils down to, then sacrificing so many for the life of a single man is not only not morally good, it is the opposite. That makes it evil of the Army to order Tom Hanks and company to go save Matt Damon.3 But I think people will intuitively understand to call the actions in Saving Private Ryan evil simply doesn't work. There's more to morality that the result of survivability which means that morality cannot be as simple as an evolutionary mechanism.

In order for morality to be real, God must be real, too.


1. Gintis, Herbert, Joseph Henrich, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr. "Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality." Social Justice Research 21.2 (2008): 241. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
2. "The Niland Boys." The Niland Boys. Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library, July 2006. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
3.As an aside, just how many times is Matt Damon going to need to be rescued? He's rescued from a poor life in Boston, from enemy territory, from Mars, from a planet on the other side of a black hole, and even from himself in The Bourne Identity.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Does Modifying Your Body Disregard Its Intrinsic Worth?

It's no surprise that culture is changing at an ever more rapidly pace. Norms that had been held consistently for centuries have in a couple of decades undergone radical redefinition. Marriage is one of these, but it is far from the only one.

One stark example may be the huge increase in the popularity of tattoos and other forms of body modification. According to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, nearly four-in-ten Millennials have at least one tattoo and half of those who have at least one have more than one. Additionally, "nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe — about six times the share of older adults who've done this."1 Tattoos and other forms of body modification are just as likely to be found on evangelical Christians in the pew as they are in the general public, which underscores their ubiquity in our culture.

What Do We Mean by Body Modification?

Within the Christian community especially, body modification has become a very controversial issue. In fact, whenever the topic comes up a contentious discussion usually ensues, especially online. It's that contention that bothers me the most, for I fear that Christians need to be careful and think about all the implications of their particular stance. That's why I want proceed with caution as we think through many of the facets that encircle the debate, some of which most people haven't yet considered .

First, as I argued in this article, the human body is not nothing. It has intrinsic value, which places it in a very limited category. Therefore, taking care to think about what modifying one's body means is appropriate for the Christian. There may be a different answer for those who don't share a Christian worldview. My thoughts in this and the articles to come are primarily targeted to those who hold the body as something that holds intrinsic worth. It seems to me that intrinsic worth is really where the main objections to body modification can be centered. I say this because when one looks to define just we mean when we talk about body modification, the categories are a lot larger than most people let on.

Four Categories of Body Modification

In the book Brave New World of Health, sociologist Isabel Karpin provides a very helpful overview of the various ways human beings have modified their body. She breaks these down into four primary areas: modifications that are therapeutic, cosmetic, enhancements to the body itself, or what she terms radical modifications.2 Usually, the first and at least some forms of the second set are non-controversial.

Therapeutic modifications are defined as "performed on abnormal structures of the body, caused by congenital defects, developmental abnormalities, trauma, infection, tumours or disease. [They are] generally performed to improve functions, but may also be done to approximate a normal appearance"3  Thus, breast reconstruction and tattooing would fall into this area. Many breast cancer survivors will receive tattoos to simulate lost areolas. If applying ink under the skin is by its nature a violation of the intrinsic worth of a body because it is artificial, then these types of modifications would be considered wrong. However, I don't see anyone arguing that way.

What about cosmetic modifications? I will leave aside temporary modifications such as haircuts/dyes for the moment and focus on only those things that permanently change the body. Are they different? Here Karpin defines cosmetic modifications as things like tummy tucks and breast augmentation. However, permanent cosmetic modifications also include such subtle things as braces for straightening teeth, ear piercings, hair transplants and permanent eyeliner. To condemn all cosmetic modifications would be to condemn these as well.

The last two categories are normally where there is more contention. Enhancements are those like people having magnets implanted under their skin to pick up metallic objects.4 Radical modifications are those that are the most non-conformist in our culture.  Radical modifications include nipple or genital piercings, skin braiding, scarring, branding, 3D implants, such as silicone horns, metal screws to attach whiskers, tongue slitting, Karpin defines this category somewhat subjectively as "as the alteration of someone's appearance in a way that does not accord with cultural ideas of the normal and the natural."

Modification and Worth

So, does modifying the body show a disregard for its worth and dignity? I don't believe it does specifically. Therapeutic modifications seem to recognize the value of a healthy, fully formed body and recipients are seeking to emulate that. I also don't believe that simply because a modification is done for cosmetic purposes, it invalidates the body's value. Sometimes, permanent eyeliner or laser hair removal is undertaken as simply a time saver rather than a statement. The appearance of those individuals still conforms to societal standards.

Even when defining radical modifications, societal standards play a central role. That's the key, it seems to me. I don't think body modification is something that violates the recognition of the body's intrinsic worth by definition. That isn't to say no body modifications ever disregard the body's intrinsic worth.  The issue is actually more complicated than that. One must know if and when modification does demonstrate disregard for the worth of the body. That means Christians shouldn't approach body modification with abandon. I'll tackle that in an upcoming article.


1. "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next." Pew Social Trends. Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.
2. Karpin, Isabel. "Constructing the Body Inside and Out: Genetic and Somatic Modification." Brave New World of Health. Belinda Bennett, Terry Carney, and Isabel Karpin, Eds. Sydney, NSW: Federation, 2008. 77-81. Print.
3. Karpin, 2008. 80.
4. Karpin, 2008. 81.

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