July 2012


Theists often use the basic metaphysical principle that something only comes from something as evidence for God’s existence.  We reason that if the universe (something) came into being, then it must have been caused to come into being by something else – it could not have simply materialized out of nothing without a cause because out of nothing, nothing comes.  The something that brought the universe into being must itself be immaterial, spaceless, and eternal, which are some of the basic properties of a theistic being. 

I have heard a few atheists object to this argument by questioning the veracity of the basic metaphysical principle that something can only come from something on the grounds that we have never experienced nothing to know whether or not it is possible for something to come from nothing, and thus we cannot know that it’s impossible for something to come from nothing.  While we may not have any direct experience of something that comes into being from nothing, it does not mean it’s not possible.  Indeed, in the case of the universe it was not only possible, but it actually happened.

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What makes humans valuable?  There are only two options: something inherent within the nature of humans themselves (intrinsic) or something acquired by humans (extrinsic).  Things that are valuable in and of themselves for the sake of themselves have intrinsic value (love, friendship, health, happiness, virtue, etc.).  Things that are valued for their function – what they do for us or how they allow us to obtain an intrinsic good (money) – have extrinsic value.   

When it comes to bioethics, the great divide is between those who think human value is extrinsic (and many would add, subjective) and those who think human value is intrinsic and objective.  Put another way, bioethicists are divided between the liberals who think human value is based on doing (extrinsic value) and conservatives who think human value is based on being (intrinsic value).  Whereas liberals only value the functional expression of certain human capacities, conservatives value the being who possesses those innate capacities whether they are being expressed or not.

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There’s a difference between how we know something to be true (epistemology), and what makes that something true (ontology).  Keeping this distinction in mind would illuminate many debates.  For example, atheists often claim that one doesn’t need God to know morality and act morally.  That’s true, but it misses the point.  Just because one can know moral truths and behave morally without believing in God does not mean God is not necessary to explain morality.  As Greg Koukl likes to say, that’s like saying because one is able to read books without believing in authors, authors are not necessary to explain the origin of books (author-of-the-gaps).  In the same way books need authors, moral laws need a moral-law giver.

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A friend of mine made a point the other day that I thought was insightful.  If matter is all that exists, and there is no free will because everything is either determined or indeterminate, then there is no real distinction between rape and consensual sex since the distinction relies on the notion of free will.  If the will is not free, then strictly speaking, no act of sex is chosen—even so called consensual sex is not chosen.  Every act of sex is chosen for us by forces that lie outside of our control.  We may think that we choose to engage in sexual activity or choose to refrain from doing so, but these are just illusions.  Prior physical processes cause us to either have the desire to engage in sex or the desire not to engage in sex.  

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Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the Universityof California, Berkeley took part in a panel discussion on June 23, 2012 at the SETICon 2 conference on the topic “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”  Taking a page out of the playbooks of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, Filippenko claimed that “the Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there. With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”[1] If the laws of physics are responsible for churning out universes, then the ultimate question is not the origin of the universe, but the origin of the laws of physics.  Where did they come from?  Filippenko recognizes this problem, saying “The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?’  And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.’”[2] 

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I’ve heard a lot of atheists hypothesize that one of the reasons religion was invented was because people had to manage their fear of death.  If people believe that they will continue to live on in some fashion after death, it mitigates their fear of death.  Can the fear of death explain the origin of religion, or the origin of religious faith in people today?  Perhaps, but three points should be made.  

First, not all religions include conscious existence beyond the grave.  For example, in many Eastern religions absorption into the One (personal extinction) is the end of all things.  Clearly immortality is not the motivation for those religions and religious practitioners.  

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Opponents of same-sex marriage often argue that such relationships are detrimental to children.  Advocates of same-sex marriage point to a litany of studies showing that children raised by same-sex couples fare just as well, if not better, as other children. The American Psychological Association referred to 59 such studies when they announced in 2005 that children raised by same-sex couples fare just as well as children raised by opposite-sex couples.

Recently, Dr. Loren Marks from Louisiana State University examined those 59 studies (ranging from 1980 to 2005) the APA cited in support of their conclusion.  He concluded that they were all fraught with methodological problems that undermined their results.  According to the Science Daily report “more than three-quarters were based on small, non-representative, non-random samples that did not include any minority individuals or families; nearly half lacked a heterosexual comparison group; and few examined outcomes that extend beyond childhood such as intergenerational poverty, educational attainment, and criminality, which are a key focus of studies on children of divorce, remarriage, and cohabitation.”[1]  Dr. Marks is careful to point out that this does not mean children raised by same-sex couples do, in fact, fare worse than other children: “The jury is still out on whether being raised by same-sex parents disadvantages children, however, the available data on which the APA draws its conclusions, derived primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalized claim either way.”[2]

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