June 2007


“We are not talking here about the postmodern conception of Christianity that minimizes truth. We are not talking about Christianity as a mood or as a sociological movement. We are not talking about liberal Christianity that minimizes doctrine nor about sectarian Christianity which defines the faith in terms of eccentric doctrines. We are talking about historic, traditional, Christian orthodoxy.

“Once that is made clear, the answer is inevitable. Furthermore, the answer is made easy, not only by the structure of Christian orthodoxy (a structure Mormonism denies) but by the central argument of Mormonism itself – that the true faith was restored through Joseph Smith in the nineteenth century in America and that the entire structure of Christian orthodoxy as affirmed by the post-apostolic church is corrupt and false.

“In other words, Mormonism rejects traditional Christian orthodoxy at the onset – this rejection is the very logic of Mormonism’s existence. A contemporary observer of Mormon public relations is not going to hear this logic presented directly, but it is the very logic and message of the Book of Mormon and the structure of Mormon thought. Mormonism rejects Christian orthodoxy as the very argument for its own existence, and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith.

“Without doubt, Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects that very tradition.

“Richard John Neuhaus, a leading Roman Catholic theologian, helpfully reminds us that ‘Christian’ is a word that ‘is not honorific but descriptive.’ Christians do respect the Mormon affirmation of the family and the zeal of Mormon youth in their own missionary work. Christians must affirm religious liberty and the right of Mormons to practice and share their faith.

“Nevertheless, Mormonism is not Christianity by definition or description.”

Albert Mohler, “Are Mormons Christians? — A Beliefnet.com Debate”; available from http://albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=969; Internet; accessed 29 June 2007.

I’ve heard a lot of pro-human embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) politicians talking about the need for “ethical stem cell research” lately. But this begs the question, and ignores the ethical portion of the debate. The ethical debate centers on the way embryonic stem cells are obtained: by killing human embryos. If the anti-ESCR group is right, and killing embryos for their stem cells is morally wrong, then there is no ethical way to conduct ESCR, because it kills the embryo every time. From an anti-ESCR perspective, when a pro-ESCR advocate talks about the need for ethical ESCR, it is as morally intelligible as saying we need an ethical way of killing minorities. There is no way it could ever be ethical, because the act itself is morally wrong!

If one doesn’t see killing a human embryo as unethical, I don’t know what other aspect of ESCR could be considered unethical. A pro-ESCR advocate might respond that how scientists procure eggs for the research might be unethical (paying women for their eggs), but this confuses cloning (in which eggs are needed) with ESCR (in which embryos, not eggs are needed). Of course, conflating the two distinct arms of research is a strategical move on the part of cloning advocates, in which they hope to gain support for cloning (which lacks popular support) by trying to play it off as part and parcel of embryonic stem cell research (which has popular support). But I digress. The fact of the matter is that apart from killing the embryo, there are no substantive ethical concerns with ESCR (excluding those concerns that accompany all medical research).

Of course, as I reported a few days ago, scientists are starting to discover possible ways to obtain embryonic-like stem cells without having to create, or destroy an embryo. That would be the only ethical way to conduct ESCR. Unfortunately, that’s not what the politicians have in mind when they talk about ethical stem cell research, and that’s not the type of research they are trying to pass legislation for.

Read the article.

The concept is not new. The technology is not new. But when the American Medical Association is talking about its use in humans, that’s a big deal.

Many Christians believe similar technology will be used as the Mark of the Beast. Others believe this technology is the Mark of the Beast. What do you think?

Check out this article in The Brussels Journal about how Europe is silencing conservative viewpoints. Last week a German pastor was sentenced to one year in jail for pro-life statements. His crime? He compared abortion to the Holocaust. He’s not the only pro-lifer to be convicted for being public about his views either. Even calling abortion unjust can land you in jail in Germany.

The Council of Europe (human rights organization) is set to vote on whether to allow Creationism and Intelligent Design. Some are arguing these viewpoints should not be tolerated because they are connected with religious extremism, and detrimental to democracy and human rights.

Read the article for details, as well as other views Europeon countries are trying to silence.

Update: The Council of Europe vote regarding Creationism and Intelligent Design has been called off. I also discovered that even if it had been voted on, and passed, it would not be binding on the 47 member states.

Update: LifeSite, who issued the news about the pro-lifer jailed in Germany, has retracted the story. Apparently their source was bad. The man was jailed for denying the Holocaust, not for comparing abortion to the Holocaust. Although he has been jailed in the past for pro-life activities.

N.T. Wright offered some insight to Acts 23:7-9 in his tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Luke said the Sadducees deny the resurrection, angels, and spirits, whereas the Pharisees confessed them all. What is meant by resurrection is quite clear (a return to bodily life after death), but what is meant by angels and spirits? We usually interpret these to be a reference to angelic beings, of both the good and bad sort. The problem with this interpretation is that the Sadducees believed in angelic beings. Did Luke make a mistake? No.


Wright points out that “angel” and “spirit” were terms used in that day to refer to the immaterial part of man that survived death. Think back to Acts 12:14-16. Peter was imprisoned. Believers had gathered at Mary’s house to pray (presumably for him). When Peter was miraculously delivered from the prison, and showed up at Mary’s door, in disbelief the people said it was not Peter, but his “angel.” Apparently they thought he had been executed, and his spirit had come to visit them.


When Luke says the Sadducees deny the resurrection, angels and spirits, what he means is that they deny both an intermediate state, and a final resurrection of the body. The Sadducees were anthropological materialists, if you will. They believed the body and soul terminated at death.

Some bioethical issues are pretty cut and dry, such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and so-called “therapeutic” cloning. Other bioethical issues aren’t, such as in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood. While I tend to fall on the pro side of the first issue, and the con side of the second, I think good arguments can be made for both sides of these issues.

I would like to focus this post on surrogate motherhood. What do you think of the practice? Is it moral or is it immoral? Why or why not?

“We should respect other people’s religious views.”


While we should respect the person holding false beliefs, why respect the beliefs themselves? Would we respect the belief that grass is purple, or water freezes in the oven? No, we would consider the beliefs irrational. We might even confront the individual about the absurdity of their beliefs. So why not do the same when it comes to false religious beliefs? As Richard Dawkins wrote in A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love:


Why has our society so meekly acquiesced in the convenient fiction that religious views have some sort of right to be respected automatically and without question?” Dawkins asks. “If I want you to respect my views on politics, science, or art, I have to earn that respect by argument, reason, eloquence or relevant knowledge. I have to withstand counter-arguments. But if I have a view that is part of my religion, critics must respectively tiptoe away or brave the indignation of society at large. Why are religious opinions off limits in this way? Why do we have to respect them simply because they are religious?


“I just prefer to focus on faith.”

Faith is not a blind commitment of the will in the absence of reason. Faith is a reasoned judgment in reality. Faith’s proper object is truth. If what we have faith in does not correspond to reality, our faith is in vain. You see, faith is not virtuous in itself. It derives its value from its content. Faith is virtuous if (and only if) its contents correspond to reality. If it doesn’t, it can be destructive. To survive in the physical world we must determine what is true and false, good and bad. When we fail to properly distinguish between the two the results can be disastrous. If true beliefs help me survive in the real world, why should we think true beliefs are irrelevant to our survival in the spiritual? If false beliefs can be destructive in the physical realm, why not believe that they can be equally destructive in the spiritual realm (assuming both realms are real)? If one’s faith is in Allah, and yet Islam’s description of Allah does not correspond to the way God really is, then faith in Allah is faith in a non-reality. While one may sincerely believe in this non-reality, it is a non-reality nonetheless, no less fictional in nature than Superman. Sincerity does not make an untruth magically become true. So the issue is not faith, but the content and object of faith. If we have no reason to believe the content of our faith is true, or that the object of our faith corresponds to reality, then our faith is vacuous.


“Everyone is an individual, and I feel God respects that and works with us right where we each are in our lives.”


Why should I believe that? Why should I believe that is what God thinks? Just asserting it does not make it so. I could equally assert that God is angered with those who think He is accepting of whatever anyone chooses to believe about Him, and however they choose to seek Him. Would you find that persuasive? Of course not, because I did not supply you with any reason to accept my assertion as being true. All I did is tell you what I feel. But what I feel and what God thinks may be two very different things.

HR 2560, a.k.a. The “Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2007”, was defeated 213-204. This bill pretended to ban human cloning by defining human cloning as the implantation of a cloned embryo in a uterus (though they did not say “cloned embryo”), rather than the creation of the embryo itself.

The bill states that “it shall be unlawful…to perform or attempt to perform human cloning.” So far so good. It goes on to make it unlawful “to ship, mail, transport, or receive the product of human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology knowing that such product is for the purpose of human cloning.” My question is, What’s the difference? What is the unnamed “product” to which they refer? Considering the fact that somatic cell nuclear transfer technology is the technology used in cloning (it’s what was used to create Dolly the sheep), the product is none other than a cloned human being. But wait…I thought the bill banned human cloning. Silly me! I’m using “human cloning” in a scientific way. These politicians aren’t doing that. They are making up their own political definitions of these terms so they can trick the public. Here is how the bill defines “human cloning” and “somatic cell nuclear transfer”:

Human cloning: “The implantation of the product of human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.”
Human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology: “Transferring the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into an egg cell from which the nuclear material has been removed or rendered inert.”

The fact of the matter is that somatic cell nuclear transfer is the process by which a human clone is created. Once the nuclear material of a human somatic cell has been transferred into an enucleated egg and fused together, the act of cloning is complete. Where one puts the newly cloned human being after that (whether in a uterus, Petri dish, or trash can) has nothing to do with cloning. Shame on the politicians who are writing these deceptive bills (including an earlier Senate bill, and several different state bills), but thank goodness for the sanity of those in Congress who voted to defeat this bill.

Three independent research groups have reported successful adult cell reversion to embryonic-like stem cells in mice. While this is yet to be tested in human adult cells, if it is equally successful there won’t be any need for embryonic stem cells. This has the potential to end the moral debate over stem cells.

Over the next couple of days I am going to post a quick 1-2 response to five different empty slogans of religious pluralism. Here are the first two: 

 

 

 

“I feel each person has a right to believe as they choose.”

 

I agree in the sense that a person should not be coerced into believing anything. They should have the liberty to choose what to believe or not believe, but what they choose to believe should be determined by whether those beliefs are true to reality. If those beliefs do not correspond to reality, why believe them?


 

Clearly not all religious beliefs can correspond to reality because they contradict each other at vital points. God cannot both be one and be many; God cannot both approve of and disapprove of homosexuality; we cannot both be resurrected and be reincarnated at death, etc. Someone’s beliefs are mistaken. Determining whose beliefs are right and whose are in error matters because beliefs have consequences. True beliefs have positive consequences, and false beliefs have negative consequences (whether in this life or in the life to come), both in the physical realm and in the spiritual realm. That is why we ought to be concerned about who is right and who is wrong when it comes to religious questions, and use our best thinking to sort the truth from the error.


 

 

“People should believe whatever works for them.”

 

Discussions about religion are never helped by appeals to empty slogans like “whatever works for you.” Beliefs about spiritual things should not be based on their utility or our personal preferences, because reality is not concerned with what we prefer to believe about it. You may like to believe you are invisible and won’t be harmed by standing in the path of oncoming traffic, but reality has a way of converting those who don’t take it seriously! The only reason to believe anything is because it’s true; i.e. it corresponds to the way the (spiritual) world really is.

Part of our theodicy for the problem of evil includes the point that it was logically impossible for God to create a world in which humans enjoyed free will (a good thing), and yet were unable to use that freedom to choose evil as well as the good. I accept that as true, and yet Christianity proclaims there is coming a day in which there will be a world consisting of humans with libertarian free-will, who will never choose evil: heaven. The future hope of Christians seems to undermine one of the central premises in our theodicy. Can this be reconciled?


One might point out that the future world void of evil is only possible because God will glorify our humanity. But this is not a solution; it is an admission of the problem. Glorification is being put forward, not to show that such a world cannot exist, but rather to explain how it will become a reality. If in the future God is able—through glorification—to make human beings such that they have free will, and yet will not choose evil, then it falsifies the claim that God cannot create a world in which humans enjoy libertarian free will, and yet never choose evil. Indeed, He will do so in the future. In light of such, we might ask why God did not do this from the onset. Why didn’t He create humans in a glorified state to begin with, if glorified humans can exercise free will and yet not choose evil?


 

I’ve been mulling these questions around in my mind, and here is a possible explanation I have come up with. Could it be that the presence of sin—and our subsequent struggle against it—are necessary to create the kind of free creatures who will not exercise their free will to choose evil? Is God using evil as an immunization of sorts, in which our experience with it actually creates in us a hatred for it, to the extent that if our fallen nature were removed, we would always choose the good in the future—a choice we would not be able to make without first experiencing evil (a la Adam)? In this schema, evil is used as a divine teaching tool to create in us the ability to always and freely choose the good. Our present problem consists of our inability to actually perform what we presently will to perform because of our fallen nature. But in the end, God will restore humanity to its original state—removing from us our natural propensity toward evil—so that we can truly perform what we have learned to will in this life: the good.


 

On this proposal, evil is necessary to exercise our moral being to the point of maturity, so that in the next life we will only choose the good, and will do so freely. The purpose of glorification is not to remove the possibility of choosing evil, but to remove the barrier that is currently preventing us from choosing what we want to choose: the good.


 

What do you think about this proposal? Do you have a different one?

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