November 2006


Albert Mohler reported on Wired magazine’s latest cover article: “The New Atheism.” The author, Gary Wolf, aptly described this new brand of atheism represented by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris:

 

The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. . . . Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.

 

The new brand of atheism is not like the old. Old atheism was relatively passive. At worst the old brand of atheists would argue in the public square that religious belief is wrong, or intellectually inferior to atheism. But now atheists are being evangelistic and militant for atheism and against theism. They are arguing that religion is the cause of the world’s evils, and should be fought against as a social evil. Dawkins goes so far as to propose that the state should prevent parents from being able to teach their religion to their kids!

 

There is a war on religion in the West. This really hit home to me when I was walking through San Francisco with N.T. Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, in my hand. I thought to myself, I am more likely to be privately derided by passerbys for carrying this book than I would be if I were carrying Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Sam Harris wrote that “at some point, there’s going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God.” I think he’s right. That mood is already here. One of the main reasons for this shift is because people have become convinced religion is blind faith, unsupportable by reason. That’s why there’s a great need for Christians to become informed about their faith, learning the reasons that support their religious convictions, and then actively engaging non-believers and believers alike in the public sphere to share those reasons with them, persuading them of the intellectual viability of the Christian faith. Doing so will go a long way toward making Christianity a viable option in an increasingly educated culture that demands reasons to believe.

 

One quote appearing in Mohler’s article is from Daniel Dennett. Dennett argues that “if you have to hoodwink—or blindfold—your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.” I can agree with that!


P.S. Chad says there is a lot of anti-Christian sentiment at the new “On Faith” website.

Wesley J. Smith drew my attention to a short editorial Richard Dawkins wrote in the 11-19-06 edition of Scotland’s Sunday Herald, titled “Eugenics May Not be Bad”:

 

In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous – though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from “ought” to “is” and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn’t the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?

 

These are the sorts of moral options within an atheistic worldview. You can’t tell me atheists have the same moral ethics as other religious believers. There may be some overlap, but there are considerable differences. Theism, particularly Judeo-Christian theism, makes a big difference!

You won’t hear about this in the American mainstream media, so I’m bringing it to you live from my room in my pajamas!

 

While many scientists and the mainstream media are hyping embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), the fact of the matter is that embryonic stem cell research is entirely unproductive at this point. There are no human trials using ESCs, and no treatments/cures coming from ESCR. The same cannot be said of adult stem cell research (ASCR). There are hundreds of human trials, and approximately 75 treatments/cures.

 

In the past few weeks several new breakthroughs using ASCs have been announced:

 

  1. Australian researchers used patients’ own stem cells to treat heart failure.
  2. Researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans injected human ASCs into mice suffering from Type II Diabetes. The ASCs increased their insulin production and even repaired their damaged pancreas. The next step is human trials.
  3. Other researchers have turned umbilical cord stem cells into lung cells.
  4. Nature published research involving adult dog stem cells used to treat the dog version of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that affects human children. After a couple of treatments these severely disabled dogs were able to run faster and even jump. The researchers plan to use this technology to begin treating human children in the next year or two.
  5. Swiss scientists have grown heart valves using stem cells from amniotic fluid. The hope is to be able to use these to repair damaged hearts in newborn babies.
  6. University of London researchers restored vision in mice.

 

None of this progress can be credited to ESCR. Scientists who are making breakthroughs are using ASCs. Dr. Robert MacLaren of the University of London, who restored vision in mice using differentiated stem cells, went so far as to say, “We do not want embryonic stem cells because they are too undifferentiated.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> So much for all the hype about the promise of ESCR. The real promise lies in ASCs, and they’ve proven it. The score is about 75-0.

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>E.J. Mundell, “Cell Transplants Restore Vision in Mice”; available from http://health.msn.com/healthnews/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100148369&GT1=8717#; Internet; accessed 09 November 2006.

I was listening to a lecture delivered by Michael Novak in April of this year on the topic of the universal hunger for liberty. He began by offering a basic, and yet perceptive explanation for why it was that a robust version of religious liberty first flourished in a society of people who held a Judeo-Christian worldview. According to the Judeo-Christian worldview God wants the friendship of man, but He gives us the liberty to choose whether we will accept His friendship. He does not coerce us into a relationship with Him. Each man bears the responsibility of making that choice. This duty is personal in nature. Neither family nor the state can bear this responsibility for the individual. Given the personal nature of this responsibility, the government’s responsibility is to allow each man to perform his duty toward God. This translates into religious freedom.

ABC’s Jan Crawford Greenburg recently interviewed Chief Justice John Roberts on a range of issues. Regarding the role of courts in our government Robert said:

 

Think back to the framers who drafted the Constitution. These were people who literally risked everything to gain the right to govern themselves, certainly risked all their material well-being and risked their lives in the struggle for independence. And the thought that the first thing they would do when they got around to drafting a Constitution would be to say, ‘Let’s take all the hard issues in our society and let’s turn them over to nine unelected people who aren’t politically accountable and let them decide,’ that would have been the farthest thing from their mind.I have enormous respect for the authority carried by the people across the street in Congress. Hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people have voted for them and put their confidence in their judgment.Not a single person has voted for me and if we don’t like what the people in Congress do, we can get rid of them, and if you don’t like what I do, it’s kind of too bad. And that is, to me, an important constraint. It means that I’m not there to make a judgment based on my personal policy preferences or my political preferences.The only reason I’m protected from those political pressures is because I’m supposed to make a decision based on the law. And so I don’t think it would be a good idea to turn all the hard issues over to the courts. Those hard issues belong in Congress, they belong in the Executive Branch.The courts have the responsibility to make sure both of those branches abide by the legal limits in the Constitution, but that’s it.

 

I couldn’t agree more. Thank goodness Bush appointed a chief justice with a conservative judicial philosophy.

 

As much as pro-lifers deplore the horror of abortion, on a practical level I think many pro-lifers think it is worse to kill a sentient human being (usually post-natal) than a pre-sentient human being (the unborn). Why? Because the sentient human being experiences pain the unborn does not (at least those who are aborted in the first trimester), and because it robs the person of his aspirations, hopes, and activity in the world.


I can understand this perspective; however, I think it locates the evil of murder in the wrong location, and underestimates the import of death to an embryo/fetus.


What makes murder wrong is not that it hurts. There are methods of killing that do not cause pain. Lethal injection is one. No one would suggest, however, that it is morally acceptable to kill your neighbor by lethal injection. A moral wrong would still have been committed even though the victim experienced no pain. What makes murder such an egregious evil is that it deprives someone of their most fundamental, and inalienable right: the right to life. Every other right is supported by this basic and foundational right. The right to live provides us with the ability to seek other moral goods: meaning, love, etc.


How could killing the unborn be worse than killing a 30 year old, then? Put simply the 30 year old had a past but is robbed of his future, while the unborn is robbed of his ability to have experience life at all. While the murder of a 30 year old is evil, at least he had a chance to experience life by pursuing its moral goods, and everything else it means to be human. When an embryo/fetus is killed, however, it is robbed of any chance to experience life’s moral goods.

Every one of us began our existence as an embryo. The embryo we were was not an entity distinct from us; it was us. Sure, as an embryo we did not exhibit the same properties we do today, but we did possess those properties intrinsically as part of our nature. This invites a question to the pro-abortion advocate: If it is wrong to kill me now (as a child/adult), how could it have been permissible to kill me then (as an embryo/fetus)? Both instances involve the same entity. The unborn differ from the born in their stage of development, not their kind, much the same way newborns differ from adults in their stage of development, not their kind. If we recognize the latter, why do so many deny the former?


To escape the force of this logic the pro-abortion advocate is faced with a couple of recourses. He could admit that the same entity is killed in both instances, but that the stage of development does matter when determining who the recipient of a right to life is and who is not. Killing a human entity in its earliest stages of development is morally permissible precisely because they are not yet fully developed. This response encounters many difficulties: (1) it would justify killing newborns and teenagers because they are not fully developed yet either; (2) it capitalizes on the ambiguity of what it means to be fully developed; (3) it begs the question as to how one stage of development can give someone value over another stage; (4) it falls prey to the problem of authority, because who gets to decide which stages of development are value-laden and which ones are not?


Most will take a different route. They will admit that the same entity is killed in both instances, but killing an embryo/fetus is justified because they do not yet possess the value-defining attributes of personhood. While they are human beings, they are not human persons. They claim value is found in function, not essence.


These are philosophical assumptions that needs to be demonstrated. One cannot simply presuppose that one can be a human being without being a human person, or that value is determined by function. Do these ideas stand the test of reason? No. Some of the difficulties associated with this view are as follows: (1) it suffers from the problem of authority, because who is to say which properties are value-defining and which are not?; (2) it is circular in its reasoning because the criteria for personhood are defined in such a way so as to exclude the unborn from the start, but then used as justification for abortion; (3) the criteria not only deprives the unborn of his value, but the newly born as well, making infanticide morally acceptable; (4) it undermines our intuitive notion of human equality because if value is defined by function, and humans exhibit different levels of functioning, then it follows that humans possess differing levels of value. It seems best to understand personhood—and hence value—to be a property that inheres in human beings from the moment they begin to exist onward.


It stands, then, that to kill the unborn is morally equivalent to killing the born. If the latter is evil, so is the former.

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