November 2009


See comments #22-31.  The atheist, awfrick, is responding to some comments I made regarding positive evidence for the existence of God.  This little exchange was so typical of my “dialogues” with atheists.  Here’s the anatomy of a dialogue with an atheist: 

  • Step 1 = Atheist tells theist how stupid they are for believing X
  • Step 2 = Theist responds to atheist point-by-point, supplying evidence against the atheist’s assertions (rather than demanding that the atheist actually give evidence for his assertion)
  • Step 3 = Atheist tells you to read some article/book that will show why your arguments are wrong, rather than offering any rebuttal of his own. It’s the “I know someone who can beat up your dad” response.
  • Step 4 = Theist takes the time to read the article and interact with its claims.  Responds to atheist with reasons why the article’s claims are mistaken.
  • Step 5 = Atheist ignores everything you said in favor of nitpicking at some irrelevant point.  Asks for more evidence.
  • Step 6 = Theist provides more evidence
  • Step 7 = Atheist acts like you skipped step 6, dismisses everything you say with a hand-wave rather than a rebuttal, and resorts to name calling and putdowns.  
  • Step 8 = Theist calls atheist on the carpet for what he’s doing.  Atheist doesn’t respond. 
  • Step 9 = Atheist goes looking for easier targets – those who will cower at the mention of his intellectual superiority, have nothing to offer in the way of rebuttal, and do not even think to demand that the atheist offer any evidence for his claims.

Awfrick, if you are reading this, I invite you back to truly engage on the topic you started.  All other atheists, if this is not descriptive of you, I am not claiming it is.  I appreciate the atheists who have engaged me on this blog in a serious dialogue.  I cannot appreciate those who assert the greatness of their intellectual superiority and strength of evidence, but never deliver on it.  If you’ve got the goods, show me the money.  If not, play at a different table.  This blog is for the serious–for those who want to engage in dialogue on serious matters in a serious, sensible way.

I just finished reading a tremendous review of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Jesus Interrupted, by Michael Kruger.  I would highly recommend it.  The last paragraph is literary gold in my book.  It’s one of those summary paragraphs that I would have loved to have penned myself.

 

HT: Justin Taylor

Scott posed an interesting question to me that both of us thought would be a good blog topic: Would it be moral for a man to marry a conjoined twin, or would such constitute polygamy, or even adultery?

Let’s call the conjoined girls Mary and Martha.  You wish to marry Martha, but not Mary.  Martha accepts your proposal, and Mary has consented to the relationship you’ll have with her sister (she even promises to be at your wedding J ).  Would it be immoral to marry Martha under such circumstances.  Why or why not?

I have a question I would like to ask those who claim that they are personally opposed to abortion, but do not think it should be made illegal: “Let us suppose that the Supreme Court had not declared abortion to be a constitutional right, and let us suppose that a proposition was put on your state’s election ballot to legalize abortion in your state, and you have the opportunity to vote on it.  Would you vote in favor, or in opposition to it?”

The answer to this question is more telling than the simple affirmation that one thinks abortion should be legal even though they are personally opposed to it, because this question helps reveal why someone holds the position they do.  If someone says they would vote in opposition to such a proposition, it reveals that their real concern is not so much that they believe a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child, but rather that they should be able to keep the right once it has been granted to them.  Many people are uncomfortable taking away rights that have already been granted, but would vote against granting such rights in the first place.  If someone says they would vote in favor of such a law, it reveals that they either have a very idealistic view of liberty (that people’s liberty should be nearly autonomous, even when their liberty involves taking the life of an innocent and defenseless human being), they are relativistic when it comes to moral judgments, or they aren’t truly persuaded of the pro-life position and pro-life logic.

A young skeptic once called into Greg Koukl’s radio show, Stand to Reason, and asked why we should believe our senses are reliable.  Why shouldn’t we believe we are in some computer program like the Matrix, which has fooled us into believing we are experiencing reality when in fact we are not?

Greg’s answer was ingenious: because we’re alive!  Survival in the real world depends on our ability to accurately perceive the real world and maneuver safely within it.  If our perception was off even a little, the effects would be disastrous.  That’s why people who drive cars while intoxicated often end up in fatal accidents: their ability to accurately perceive the outside world is impaired.  The fact that we are still alive demonstrates that our senses allow us to perceive reality in a fairly accurate manner.

But couldn’t it be the case that the outside world we think our senses are accurately perceiving isn’t really the outside world at all (like the Matrix)?  Yes it’s possible, but why should I believe that to be the case?  Just because it’s possible that we could be mistaken in what we perceive about reality does not mean we are mistaken, or should think we might be mistaken.  Possibility and probability are not the same things.  We are prima facie justified in trusting our senses that what we perceive to be the real world is the real world, until evidence arises to the contrary that would falsify this properly basic belief.

See J.P. Moreland’s short article entitled “Answering the Skeptic” for further reading.

I am reading Antony Flew’s book, There is a God.  In an appendix written by Roy Varghese, he relates what appears to be an apocryphal, but nevertheless insightful exchange between a skeptical student and his wise professor.  The student asks his teacher, “How can I be sure I even exist,” to which his teacher responded, “Who’s asking?”  Classic!

Aphorisms are everywhere, including Christian circles.  People love aphorisms because they are short and convey truths in a witty, memorable fashion.  The problem with aphorisms is that while they are intended to convey general truths, many people take them to be Gospel truth.  “All we need is God” is a popular Christian aphorism.  There is a lot of truth to this.  We need God more than anything else, and to the extent that this aphorism emphasizes that fact, it should be affirmed as true.  But if “all” is understood literally, so that it comes to mean that we have no need of anything other than God, then the aphorism is patently false.  Indeed, it is unchristian.  While we need God most of all, Scripture is quite clear that we also need people—particularly people of like precious faith.

God created humans as social beings, to be in community with other human beings.  That is why one of the greatest forms of punishment/torture is isolation.  It’s said that people who experience long periods of isolation literally begin to lose their mind.  We need people.  The need for community is not some defect in humanity resulting from the fall, either.  In the beginning, prior to the first act of sin, Adam desired a human companion.  When God presented Eve to him he exclaimed, “At last!” (Genesis 2:23)  Even God Himself concluded that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

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What does it mean to say something exists?  What exactly is existence?  How does it differ from non-existence?

Most of us have a common-sense notion of existence, and thus we have never really thought these questions through.  But as with so many other things, we know what existence is until we are asked to define it!  Admittedly I’ve never woken up at 4:00 in the morning in cold sweats trying to figure out what existence is and how it differs from non-existence, but it is fun to think about nonetheless.

What is existence, then?  Does saying something exists mean it located in space and time?  If so God could not exist.  In fact, space and time themselves could not exist because space is not located in space, and time is not located in time.

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People rarely agree.  Getting people to agree on one point is difficult enough; getting people to agree on 20, 30, and 50 points in nearly impossible.  In matters of religion, I think it is impossible!  Given the rarity of agreement, one would think that Christian denominations would limit their statements of faith to include only the most salient doctrines of Christianity, as well as a few denominational distinctives thrown in for good measure!  And yet, it is common for denominational statements of faith to include many articles on secondary, tertiary, and quaternary doctrines, as well as non-biblical issues.  This seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.

If an organization has, say, 30 articles in their articles of faith that one must assent to in order to belong to the group, one of at least four things will happen:

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Marcus Borg, like so many other theological liberals (although I must admit that Borg is so liberal that even a lot of theological liberals would disown him as such), claims God is ineffable.  During a recent debate between Borg and William Lane Craig, Craig pointed out that to say God is ineffable is to say that no human concept is applicable to God.  But since ineffability is a human concept, it doesn’t apply to God either.  This is self-refuting, and thus cannot be true.  Great point!

FellowshipI often hear it said that “we don’t go to church for people, but for God.”  This is usually said in the context of addressing interpersonal problems at church: “Just because Sister Susie did you wrong, that doesn’t mean you should stop going to church.  God is still there, so you should come to church for Him.”

While I understand the intent behind such a statement, I think it is almost entirely backward.  While it’s true that we go to church for God, the primary purpose for attending a local assembly is for the people present, not for God.  After all, most things we do for God at church – worship, pray, sing, read Scripture – can be done by oneself in the privacy of their home.  What we cannot do by ourselves, however, is experience Christian community and minister to the needs of one another.  We need to assemble with other believers for that – what is commonly called “going to church.”

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There is a doctrine that has circulated within my fellowship for many years called the Shekel and a Half doctrine.  Those espousing to this doctrine claim that in addition to paying tithes on ones income (10%), believers need to pay an additional 5%.  It is often said that the additional 5% is for the upkeep of the church, or to fund a church building program.  Exodus 30:11-16 is appealed to for Biblical support:

The Lord spoke to Moses: 12 “When you take a census of the Israelites according to their number, then each man is to pay a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Everyone who crosses over to those who are numbered is to pay this: a half shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel weighs twenty gerahs). The half shekel is to be an offering to the Lord. 14 Everyone who crosses over to those numbered, from twenty years old and up, is to pay an offering to the Lord. 15 The rich are not to increase it, and the poor are not to pay less than the half shekel when giving the offering of the Lord, to make atonement for your lives. 16 You are to receive the atonement money from the Israelites and give it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, to make atonement for your lives.”

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42-16341014To determine if someone believes morals are merely social constructs ask, “If no humans existed, would objective moral values exist?”  If they say “no” then they are moral constructivists.  If they say “yes” then they believe morals exist in some objective sense independent of the human mind and human culture.

If they do exist in some objective sense independent of the human mind and human culture, what exactly is their source?  God…maybe?!?!

Michael Patton at Reclaiming the Mind has some nice charts showing the breakdown of the world’s religions (numbers and percentages), as well as the breakdown of Christian traditions.

I just became aware of another referendum related to same-sex partnerships, this one in Washington State.  In May 2009 Washington’s legislature approved a bill that expanded the rights of domestic partners to include all the same rights as married couples, lacking only the name “marriage.”  Again, this was put to the voters as a referendum, and the citizens said, “Yes.”  The final vote was 51% to 49%. 

I find it interesting that those who supported the referendum to expand domestic partnership rights, raised nearly 1.1 million dollars for their efforts.  Those who opposed the referendum, however, only raised $60,000.  And yet still, the vote was within 2% points.

Once again, when the question of same-sex marriage is put to the voters, the voters say “No” (the 31st time).  Last spring, Maine’s legislature passed a law making same-sex marriage legal in that state.  The law was stayed, however, until the people had a chance to vote on it yesterday.  And they said no, but not by much (53%).

Very cool.  Use the scroll button beneath the picture to zoom in.

 

HT: William Dembski

It’s common to hear people say Christians are biased, not objective.  How can we respond to this charge?  J.P. Moreland makes a distinction that I find helpful.  He notes that there are two ways to be objective: (1) psychological objectivity: the absence of bias (2) rational objectivity: the ability to tell the difference between good and bad reasons for a belief, whether or not you accept that belief.[1]

Humans are psychologically objective (50/50) only in areas we know nothing, or care nothing about.  Once we come to know something about a topic we typically go from being psychologically objective to psychologically biased, even if the degree of our bias is minimal.  Such bias is to be expected, and is good.  After all, what would be the use of studying out an issue/topic if after having studied it you could not draw a conclusion?  We should expect informed people to be psychologically biased.

But does the presence of psychological bias eliminate the possibility of being rationally objective?  Are we locked into our own culturally relevant way of viewing the world?  Is reason and argumentation useless for the person who is no longer psychologically objective?  No.  We all know this to be true because we have all had experiences in which we changed our beliefs on an issue because they were challenged by good arguments.  It should be clear, then, that our psychological bias (lack of psychological objectivity) does not eliminate our ability to be rationally objective.  Postmodernists understand this.  That’s why they try to reason with the modernists to change their worldview, while at the same time denying the validity of reason and argumentation!

[1]J.P. Moreland, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn,” a paper presented at the November 2004 Evangelical Theological Society meeting in San Antonio, TX.

 


I found the following statistics from the Marriage Index quite interesting:

  • In 1970, 78.6 percent of adults age 20-54 were married. In 2008, it dropped to 57.2 percent
  • In 1970, 77.4 percent of first marriages were intact, but only 61.2 percent were intact in 2007
  • Today, only 60.3 percent of all babies are born to married couples, compared to 89.3 percent in 1970.
  • Half of all children born to cohabiting couples see those unions end by age five.
  • In 1970, 68.7 percent of all children lived with their own mother and father. In 2007, that percentage had dropped to 61.

 

HT: Al Mohler

errorIf I were a bumper-sticker manufacturer “fear error, not terror” would be my next product.

I was thinking this morning about all the things people tend to fear in this world.  People fear local thieves and robbers, rapists and murderers.  We fear for our financial future (or present in many cases).  We worry about our relationships with other people, and the well-being of our loved ones.  We fear terrorist attacks on this nation.  But how often is it that we fear error?

I am bothered by the moral evil that runs rampant in our day.  I am concerned for personal, relational, and national safety.  But there is nothing I fear more than error.  I’m not referring to some sort of emotional fear that grips my heart, but an intellectual fear that grips my mind.  I am always cognizant of the existence of truth and error, and do my best to maximize true beliefs and minimize false beliefs.  Why?  Because nothing matters more in this world than the truth.  Nothing has greater power than truth, but likewise nothing can be more damaging than belief in that which is false.  You may live your whole life untouched by the egregious evils that occur in society, but if you embrace false ideas the consequences will be far worse than any terrorist attack.

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