Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Open Forum Response: Can one use reason alone to make moral decisions?


A Quick Introduction.

Not long ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a Christian student group at Christopher Newport University. The topic for the evening was “The Problem of Evil and Suffering.” Much of material for the talk came from the piece I wrote on "
The Three Faces of Evil and the Christian Response."

This posting emerges from a question I received during the Q & A time. The question was posed by a philosophy student, who is also a Christian, concerning something he was gleaning from his lecture notes in a moral philosophy class. I thought this question was very fitting and very important to the context of my talk for the evening. Let me also state that it is a question that I firmly believe that we apologists need to be able to respond to with precision. The question is as follows: “Do you believe that it is possible to use logic to make moral decisions.”

In this posting I will attempt to provide you with one way of responding to this question.  In essence this essay will be my response to this question during the question and answer session. My answer will be directed at the nerve of the question; which is the futile attempt to bypass a moral Lawgiver in one’s moral decision making and thus stick a dagger in the heart of the moral argument for the existence of God.


What, if any categories are present in the question?

Allow me to restate the question in order to set the table for the approach to the question: “Is it possible to come moral decisions using logical reasoning alone?”  In this question, there are two (2) categories present. The first is a moral category which is the end result of the question.  The second is a category of logic or reason, which is the means to the end of the goal.  Tying it all in one big package it should sound like this:  If I can use sound logical reasoning to make my moral and ethical decision, then who needs a “moral lawgiver (i.e, God)? 

Is it possible to make sound moral decisions using logical reasoning?  What is involved in using sound logic?  Allow me to build my case by giving us a short summary of the laws of logic.


What is involved in the use logic?

Logic is “the study of right reason or valid inferences and the attending fallacies formal and informal.”[1]   Such a study is not without laws for reasoning rightly.  Many of us know these laws to be known as the laws of logic.  Aside of the cohesive and coherence theories for testing truth, there are essentially four laws that I will give a quick description here.

The first law is the cardinal law of logic, and is often disputed one by those embracing philosophical and moral relativism.  This law is known as the  law of noncontradiction (A ≠ non A), which states one cannot make a statement that is both true and false at the same time and expect it to be true for both parties.

The second law is known as the law of identity (A=A).  This law states that something is what it is by its very definition.  A car is a car.  A truck is a truck.  A bachelor by definition is a man who has never been married.  It does not matter what the television program on ABC says about the definition of a bachelor.   A widower is a man who has been married, but is no longer married because his wife is deceased.

A third law pertains to the law of the excluded middle term.  This law states that a statement is either true or false.[2]  Think of this law as claiming that there is no middle ground for a statement being somewhere between being true and being false. Every statement has to be one or the other. That’s why it’s called the law of excluded middle.  It is because it excludes any middle ground between truth and falsity.

So we have the law of non contradiction, the law of identity, and law of the excluded middle term.  Some folks, myself included, bring a fourth law known as the law of rational inference.  This law simply presents the case that words mean what they mean.  Let me give you a quick example.

Suppose I were to tell you that I was going to rob the XYZ First National Savings Bank.  Let’s also assume, that you happen to do your banking at this same bank.  What would you be thinking if I told you that I was going to rob your bank?

You would mostly likely call the police, and possibly have them set a trap to catch me in the act. You would at least do something to prevent me from stealing money (your money) from your bank.  Words mean what they mean, even in a post modern society, especially when they affect us.

Now that we know the laws, let me bring the answer to question in for a landing.


Bringing the Answer to Rest.

Let me go back and state this student’s question again for us. “is it possible to come moral decisions using logical reasoning alone?”

Addressing the question posed at the Q & A, it is one that emerges from a moral theory called moral integration theory.  Moral integration theory is a moral theory being thrown around by those seeking globalization and a globalized ethic.[3]  Thankfully the student was not embracing it.

So in order to answer this question from the floor, it becomes necessary expose the underlying presuppositions within the question.  How do we do this?  One way is asking a question that hits the nerve of the issue.  That question is “since we have discussed the laws of logic and we can agree that they are absolute, where do the laws of logic come from?”

You see if there is foundational starting point for logic, known as the laws of logic, then there must be a starting point that guides the capacity that we have to think logically and critically.  The same goes for morals that are grounded in some kind of ethical framework.  Here is where the problem lies.  

This is where the fundamental nerve of the question seeks to rip the heart out of the moral law argument!   If there is no starting point for my logical capabilities, then I become my own logician and standard for my moral thinking.  At the same, if there is no moral Lawgiver, then there is no moral law.  What are the end results?  Those results bring to light three significant problems that manifest themselves logically problematic, morally bankrupt, and existentially dangerous.  

The first problem is a logical one.  Atheists, verificationists and “Nones”  (skeptics hereafter) are trying to tell us that one only needs to use logical reasoning in order to come to their moral conclusions.  Breaking this down, if God does not exist, then it is totally reasonable, to them and for them, to come to moral conclusions using their own logical capacities.  But is this really true?  Are the logical categories, which they espouse, congruent with moral categories and the moral standard in which they subject themselves and everyone else?  Or are the categories of reason and morals mutually exclusive from one another; and based upon an objective standard?  

Earlier I posed a question as to where is the origin for the laws of logic.  Some skeptics would agree that those laws are absolute, but would disagree on the origin.[4]  But like the origin for the laws of logic, the origin for morals and ethics is inescapable.  

From the Christian worldview context, ethics and morals are based upon an absolute moral Lawgiver.  That same Absolute Being we call God is also the origin for our capacities to reason coherently and cohesively under the laws of logic.  However the skeptics all say “No!” and in that “No!” there is the emphatic denial of absolute moral categories.  In their “moralizing,” they take what is understood to be sound logical reasoning, and smuggle in moral categories that only belong to a biblical worldview.  So where do morals and ethics come from?  Depending upon the worldview an absolute moral “lawgiver” cannot be avoided.

This second problem simply stated creates a slippery slope on what ethical moral actions are reasonably right and reasonably wrong.  

While denying God, and smuggling in moral terms only sourced only in a biblical worldview, one is forced to acknowledge God or reject God, and become their own moral lawgiver.  Sure a skeptic can do morally “good deeds”, and these actions can appear very reasonable.  However how does one determine one moral action as being morally right?  How can one skeptic say that it is is immoral to torture babies and another to hold a converse view from the same philosophically naturalistic worldview?  Why is it good to show mercy to one and not show mercy to another?  The last I knew, this was something only attributed to a perfectly absolute and moral God.[5]  In essence what this means is the skeptic becomes their own “God” in making their moral pronouncements and decisions.  

This is the slippery slope that leads us to the third problem, the existential ramifications of “reasonably moral” decisions devoid of a moral Lawgiver.  What do we see from history is that we will find that we will not have learned from our mistakes if things keep going in the direction they are going.  This leads us to the third problem.

Indeed this third problem is an existential one.  What does it mean when we abandon the standards of sound reasoning in our morality given to us by an absolute God?  What does it look like when we make ourselves the final source for ethics and morals via the means of our fallen reasoning capacities?  

It was the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who asserted that the twentieth century man would come of age. By this he meant that the atheist of the twentieth century would realize the consequences of living in a world without God, for without God there are no absolute moral values. Man is free to play God and create his own morality.[6]  We don’t have to look too far back into history to see that he was right in this.  But what about today?  What about some of the decisions in this nation of recent days? I think it is very clear that we can look in our “own backyard” to see what happens when ethics and reason based upon and absolute framework are jettisoned for a rationale of doing “what is right in our own eyes”[7], in our very own nation.

Allow me to paint two scenarios for us.  There are plenty of others, but I would like to just get a glimpse of two that could become cultural norms in pockets of this nation unless God’s people step up and follow the Lord come what may.   These two issues are sanctity issues. 

The first deals with the being a sanctity of life.  Oddly enough, I am not talking about the sanctity of life in the womb but the sanctity of a life that has lived and is now wanting or being pressured to die.  What has been going on for years in Denmark with the acceptance of legalized euthanasia has now become legal in the states of Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington (not DC).  Where is the sound reasoning in these laws and whose moral standard are these decisions based upon?  Whose moral framework is being exercised here?

The second issue is related to the sanctity of marriage, which has been a long heated battle for several administrations over the years.  Just recently, saying the last few years, laws being passed in Maine, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Washington and a few others, that allow same-sex couples to be “married.”  Even Minnesota, this past election prevented the failure of passing a law against same sex marriage.  Where is the sound reasoning in these laws and whose moral standard are these decisions based upon?  Whose moral framework is being exercised here?

Do you see how this is problematic?  Can we honestly think that we can use our reasoning capacities devoid of the One who gave us the ability to use them and make sound moral judgments?  Let me wrap this up.


Conclusion.

Whenever we think that we can jettison God as the absolute moral Lawgiver, we run the risk of creating a “God” we have in our own minds.  The skeptic can reject the existence of God, but in their moralizing and reasoning, they are forced to exercise their own moral (amoral/immoral) decisions.  When they exercise their “absolute moral framework” they run into a slippery slope of showing mercy, or being moral, by their definition, to whom they choose.   The end result is a dangerous slippery slope that clearly demonstrates that we have not learned from the past century.   

So my answer to this question is no, one cannot come to moral decisions using logical reasoning alone.  The only way that can be done is IF there is a moral absolute Lawgiver, who has given us the capacity to reason and do it logically, then my answer would a resounding YES.  But throw that moral absolute Lawgiver aside and heaven help us with the conclusions that can manifest itself on our fallen reasoning apart from that absolute moral Lawgiver we know as God.

"Thank you for your question. It is one that I think we all need to pay heed to in the coming days."


Notes:

[1] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks.  Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 12.

[2] Wikipedia has a good entry on this law, found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_excluded_middle.  This law is not to be confused with the fallacy of the excluded middle, which essentially tries to make the argument that just because there are some things in common, it does not make the case for all things in common.  For example, Just because Jesus and Mohammad had great followings and were founders of large religions, it does not mean that they the same as far as their pointing people to “God.”  Just go to their respective places of burial and see who is in their grave and who is not.

[3] For more information on moral integration please see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2009/07/moral-integration-or-the-pros-and-cons-of-moral-absolutism-and-ethical-pluralism/.  Vojko Strahovnik also has a paper online in Google Docs (PDF) were he defends this view in pursuit of a global ethic.  Search “moral integration” and it will come right up.  

[4] See this great debate, Is the Foundation for Morality Natural or Supernatural?  a debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcwJiF9nVjE)

[5] Exodus 33:19, And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

[6]Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. VII (New York: Doubleday, 1963), 405-406.

[7] See Judges 17:6; 21:25


"Thank you for your question. It is a very important question that I think we all need to pay heed to in the coming days."




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is the God of Islam the Same as the Judeo-Christian God? No!


Have you ever been involved in a conversation with someone who said something like this, "Muslims and Christians and Jews all worship the same God?"  Did you believe them?  Do you believe the political pundits gussying up to the move to allow Islam a place in politics when they say Islam's Allah is the same as the God of the Jews and the Christians?  Here are three reasons why I don't believe that and neither should you.

Reason #1:  Etymologically They are Not the Same.


We are well aware that the name Allah is used by Arab speaking Christians for the God of the Bible. In fact, the root from which the name is derived, ilah, which originates out of the ancient Semitic languages, corresponding to the Mesopotamian IL, as well as the Hebrew-Aramaic EL.  As an example of this we see the names like Ishma-el, Immanu-el, Isra-el. These terms, IL and EL,  were often used to refer to any deity worshiped as a high god, especially the chief deity amongst a pantheon of lesser gods.  

As such, the Holy Bible uses the term as only one of the many titles for Yahweh, the only true God, Elohim.  Yet the problem arises from the fact that Muslims insist that Allah is not a title, but the personal name of the God of Islam. This becomes a problem in the discussion because, according to the Bible, the name of the God of Abraham is not Allah, but Yahweh (YHWH):

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, "I am Yahweh (YHWH) and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty; BUT BY MY NAME, YAHWEH, I did not make myself known to them." Exodus 6:2-3

Therefore, Arabic Christians will say that it is okay to use Allah as a title or a generic noun for the true God, but NOT as the personal name for the God of the Holy Bible.

Reason #2:  Because of Abrogations in Islamic Revelation, They are Not the Same.

Another distinction between Allah, and the Judeo-Christian God, comes in the attributes of God.  Those attributes are the fact of the God of the Judeo-Christian faith being immutable or  unchanging.  When you look at the definition of immutability, you will notice that it refers to something that cannot be changed once it has been created.

The caveat here is that when we speak of God, we are talking about a Being who is the greatest of all beings, who is uncreated, all powerful in every one of His attributes, transcendent and imminent at the same time, loving, holy and just.  The Judeo-Christian God is immutable in all of these attributes, because He is a necessary Being.  

I am often reminded of the God’s words to Malachi 3:6, where God says to Malachi, “I the Lord (YHWH) do not change.”

It is not the same in the Qur’an.  In the Qur’an we see what are called abrogations.  An abrogation is a change or a repealing of a previous revelation, in this context, for one that is new or improved.  Looking at Mormon history, we see this same thing happening as well, but that is another discussion for a later time.

However, when we look at the Quran,  Allah reveals a verse only to have it canceled out a short time later:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We substitute something better or similar- Knowest thou not that Allah has power over all things? Surah 2:106

When We substitute one revelation for another- and Allah knowest best what He reveals (in stages)- They say, "Thou art but a forger"; But most of them understand not. Surah 16:101

What does this show to those who believe in an unchanging God?  It leaves us with a difficulty of having a God, who does not remain consistent and one that changes his revealed purpose at the drop of a hat.  How in the world is one to know that the promises of such a divine being in reference to eternal security can truly be trusted?  Just as Allah changes his mind in relation to the revelation, he also has the divine privilege of changing his mind to the believer’s ultimate destiny without anything stopping from doing so.

Again, this is different from the God (YHWH) of the Holy Bible who does not change because His nature is unchanging.  Because He is unchanging, He can be totally trusted in fulfilling all His promises.  To give some Scripture to back this up, let’s look at the following:  

“God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?” Numbers 23:19

For I, the Lord Your God (Yahweh), I do not change. Malachi 3:6

If we are faithless, he remains faithful; he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:13

Reason #3:  Because of Who and What YHWH is, They are Not the Same.

I could go on much further in the study of the abrogations demonstrated in the Qur’an.  I could also bring more examples from the Bible that point to God’s immutable nature.  However at this point, I want to close this argument with a practical illustration that I think deals with the essence of who God is and how He reveals Himself in contrast to Islamic monotheism.

So what I would like to do here is discuss briefly (ya, right!) the personal attributes conveyed in orthodox Christianity and what it teaches about how God discloses (reveals) Himself.

At first glance of the Shema, the word LORD is used, which is one of many names for the Judeo Christian God.  Remember earlier in this post, I mentioned that the word, God, is generic title.  In Islam, as in the case of Judaism, Allah and God (YHWH) respectively, are seen as a monad.  


By using this word monad, I am referring to a term meaning "unit" used by philosophers to signify a variety of entities from a genus to God.  We see this monad in both the Shahada of Islam and in the Shema of Judaism.

The first part of the Shahada states, “There is no god but God.”  while the Shema starts out with “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). If you look at the nature of God in both the Islamic and the Judeo-Christian contexts you would find some agreement on this issue of God being one.  However . . .God does not, in the Judeo-Christian context reveal Himself just as a single monad.  He discloses Himself as triune within that monad.  You ask how can that be? 

God (title) is triune, which means that He (personally) reveals Himself through the Persons of the Trinity.  Yes God is one God but He is triune in His personal nature.  Taking this title/personal relationship a little further, God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Sometimes when we speak in theological terms, we use phrases like, “God the Father,” “God the Son,” or “God the Holy Spirit.”  Notice the title “God” with the person.  Are you starting to see it?

The Father (Who) is God (Title) (Luke 3:21-22; c.f., Matthew 3:16,17).  The Son (Who) is God (Title) (see John 1:1, 14; 8:58).  The Holy Spirit (Who) is God (Title) (See Acts 5:3,4) .  God is not three Gods but one God. As the great hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” declares, “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”  It is like the mathematical equation, 1 X 1 X 1 = 1.  God, in His essence is a divinely, all powerful, infinite, and personal.  He is distant, but He is also imminent.  With all these infinite attributes, wouldn’t it stand to reason that God is able to disclose Himself in this manner?  All three are revealed to be God, all at the same time. 


When you look at the creation, one cannot help but see this personal nature playing out in the creation, how everything is finely tuned for our survival.  One cannot help by think that God has a personal interest in we see around us.    

Again, God is transcendent, but He is also imminent.  Although God is distant, He desires us to know Him intimately; unlike Islam where the Muslim will say that Allah is knowable only when they pray the salat. But the Muslim will say that you cannot know God in the personal sense, like we claim that we know God in the Christian context.  I find it interesting that the Muslim is willing to admit that Allah (God) is loving, but how do they know that if they cannot know God personally and intimately?  If God is loving and He is only a monad, who was God loving before he created man?

But God in Islam is not knowable in the personal sense of knowing another person.  How does the Christian and those who hold to a monadic view of God come to know Him personally? 

We come to know God through His Son, Jesus who is fully God and fully man, and through the working of the Holy Spirit who takes up residence in the life of the believer upon believing that Jesus is the only way, truth and life, and the only one who can bring us to God the Father.


Conclusion


There are many other reasons that can be given as to why YHWH and Allah are not the same deities. So the next time you are in a conversation with someone who “spouts off” and says, “the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same gods” or if you are talking to a Muslim, and they tell you something like, “we worship the same God,” remember these three points.  

Oh, by the way, if you do hear that from a Muslim that we all worship the same God, it may be that he or she is trying to get you to see things their way and their interpretation as the only right interpretation.  Friends, in formal logic this is called “the appeal to authority.”  Stand firm and lovingly hold your ground standing on the Word of God.

If you would like to know more about how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, click on the link in the navigation bar of this blog, and learn more.  For now I close with these words from the Apostle Paul, (see 2 Corinthians 13:14), known in theological circles as the Trinitarian benediction, 

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Who), and the love of God (the Father (Who) and fellowship of the Holy Spirit (Who) be with you all.” 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Objections Coming from Those Against Apologetics, Part 2: You Can't Prove God's Existence!

As I continue to march forward in this "apologetic for apologetics" I would like to bring in another objection that comes from Christians and atheists alike.  Let me bring back to mind the recent criticism earlier this week:

"Trying to prove to someone that Christianity is right, by logic, when the bible is filled with what many see as contradictions, even if you can twist it into a reasonable conclusion, does not work." 

Another well meaning believer told me

"The problem with "debunking" an atheist's POV is that it doesn't lead them to want to learn more about Christ or follow him, which should be the goal of any true Christian... first off, using the Bible as a resource to "disprove" someone who doesn't believe in the Bible is backwards. The Bible itself is not going to lead a non-believer to Christ."

As I look at these two criticisms, it shows me how lacking the Christian community is or at least these folks' churches are in there understanding for the need of apologetics in evangelism.  Because our culture and the church has allowed relativism and other isms and schisms to the forefront, the type of evangelism needed today CANNOT HELP BUT have the Christian discipline and task of apologetics undergirding it.

So the objection I would like to bring before us in this posting is one that says, "you and I cannot prove God's existence with indubitable certainty."  How many times have you and I heard this?  Believe it or not there are well meaning apologists out there (we're on the same team folks!) who believe that they can prove that God exists with absolute certainty.  While the evidences may voluminous, there is still the lack absolute certainty in their arguments, and therefore a need for faith that God does exist.

Well meaning Christians are not the only ones making this claim.  The atheist will tell you and I, that we cannot prove God.  At the same time the atheist cannot prove the non-existence of God.  In interchanges such as these, I have been told that "you cannot prove a negative', however this is another future posting.  All I will say here is that if we say that God exists, and the atheist says that God does not exist and that you and I cannot prove a negative, the burden of proof is still on the atheist.

So let's get to the objection and look at the statement.

"You cannot prove God."

The statement, "You cannot prove God" believe it or not, is actually a legitimate statement.  In fact if it were possible to prove God's existence with absolutely indubitable certainty, then there would be no need for faith.  Of course many of the crowd with the new atheists and the Nones would like to throw down that our faith is either, delusional, or considered blind faith or credulity.[1]

The problem with argument is that faith comes from facts or evidences.  In order to have faith in something, you have to know and believe what you are believing to be true.  And then you have to trust that to be true.  Trust is the key ingredient in faith.  When it comes to the facts and the worldview of historical biblical Christianity, there are facts that have been proven to be better than the other worldivews (i.e., Jesus' life and work, Jesus' sacrfice for sin on the cross and His bodily resurrection, that God has spoken and intervened in the life of Israel, and still intervenes in the life of those He calls to salvation through faith in Christ)  That is why it says in Hebrews 11:1,  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

So while I might not be able to prove God's existence with absolute certainty, the element of faith comes in when looking at all the factual evidences and seeing those as a reinforcement to the faith that I have been given by God to place in what Christ has done.  That faith is an assurance, and a conviction that the evidences for believing something to be true.  Those things I have summarized in the previous paragraph.

"God has put enough in this world to make faith a most reasonable proposition.  But He has left enough reason out to make it impossible to live by shear reason alone."  If we had all the reasons to prove that God existed with indubitable certainty, then there is no more room for faith.  Not only that, but could it be that if we would have the kind of knowledge to prove God (a Being with absolute knowledge) existed, would this mean that we might be dancing with the idea of having infinite knowledge ourselves?  Does that make sense?  Where is faith in that?  Where is the need for faith?

Let me wrap this up and share a quote that I have heard others use.  It is from Blaise Pascal, who put it this way, "the heart has its reasons that reason does not know."  There is a point in which you go beyond plain rationality.  Yes it is true that you cannot prove God but let us not forget that God Himself has said, "The heavens declare the glory of the Lord and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).  We may not be able to empirically prove the existence of God, yet there are plenty of arguments for His existence to show that the secular worldview is a meaningless worldview without God.

This is where a persuasive apologetic come into the picture.

There are plenty of Scriptural references where apologetics is needed, and even commanded.  Let me also share with you, the reader, and I close with this.  You and I need to remember that whatever means, the Holy Spirit uses our words, it will not be my nor your persuasive prowess.  It will not be our tactical arguments.  Can God use them?  Absolutely.  Will God use them?  Certainly.  But it will not be through our eloquence, nor our abilities.  We are called to be His mouthpiece in this post-Christian culture.  We are also needing to remember that  when a person comes to Christ, it will be because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit..  How many times will we win a discussion hands down and yet no one comes to faith in Christ?  You may use apologetics "to put a stone in someone's shoe" (spiritually speaking here) and God will take that and the Hound of Heaven (the Holy Spirit) will work through that until that person bows or does not bow the knew to Christ.

A well trained apologist or a well studied Christian can out argue almost anybody they meet, because that person has not done half of the homework that you and I have done.  But the point of any discussion is not to win the discussion, nor the argument, but to nudge the person along the direction of Christ so that they can good look at Christ and come to Him and not your mind or my mind or our argument.

Thank you for your comments and encouragement in the past postings.  I invite you to pose a question or a comment on anything that you engage on The Real Issue -- R.L.

Notes.

[1] Credulity is the disposition to believe something on little evidence.  A delusion is the disposition to believe something to be true despite evidence to the contrary.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Skeptic’s Faulty Syllogism in the Search for Meaning


It is amazing to see the logic that some skeptics and in particular atheists use in their attempts to debunk the existence of God.  As a frequent Facebook flyer, I have some friends who are atheists that have engaged me in some spirited conversations.  Every so often I will return the favor and visit their pages to see what kind of vitriol they are sending out against a theistic worldview.  Sometimes I will peruse and find something that will give me a spark to put forth a blog response.  The following syllogism is one such spark.[1]

My skeptical friend's syllogism runs as follows:

Premise 1:  Any life without meaning is absurd.
Premise 2:  Meaning can only be provided by a God higher than one’s self.
Premise 3:  God, if he exists, has no God higher than himself.
Conclusion 1:  God’s life is meaningless
Conclusion 2:  God’s life is absurd.

One of the fascinating things is that the individual putting the syllogism together starts with a very logical premise.  In his second premise, he makes a hasty assumption that causes this argument to self destruct.  The third premise really asks another question which I will tackle in just a moment.  Lastly, the conclusions (1 and 2) are just his opinion.  The funny thing to all this is this:  if God did not exist, I would agree with him.  However there are plenty of reasons for this argument to be blown up base on the illogical trail that he follows.

Let’s look at it shall we...

Breaking down the argument.

Premise 1:  Any life without meaning is absurd.

This is the only true premise in the whole syllogism (argument).  The reason it is true is because it assumes that life has the possibility of having meaning.  By saying that any life without meaning is absurd assume the contrary; that life is not absurd if there is meaning to life.  It was the philosopher Socrates who once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”[2]  If there is no meaning to life then it is absurd even to think that anything in life would have meaning or be meaningful.  In fact if anyone were to think that everything in life is meaningless, then they are truly living a self-defeating philosophy of life.   “Kick this around” without spinning the argument on its head and it is not too difficult to see that the premise can be and is in its isolated sense true.[3]  But that is were it ends.  Why?  Because the  waters start to get muddy with his second premise.
 
Premise 2:  Meaning can only be provided by a God higher than one's self.

Here he makes the assumption that God’s existence brings meaning to life.  In this premise notice that he also tries to put a qualifying on what God he is trying to define by adding the phrase “higher than one’s self.”  This is neither logically nor existentially plausible.  Let me see if I can sum what I mean here.

When I  make the statement that this premise is not logically plausible, I am critiquing the part of the statement “a God higher than one’s self.”  Does he think that if one creates a god out of wood or stone that the (created) god is higher than its creator (the man)? Does he really want to go there?

Let me see if I can illustrate this. Let’s imagine that a pagan in the deepest darkest recesses of the globe decides one day to make a "god".  He takes his machete, chops down the biggest and best tree he can find.  After carving all the bark off the tree, he starts cutting and carving muscles, engraving a bunch of eyes going round the circumference of the trunk, and big teeth, to make the (create) a god that is strong, all seeing, and fierce.  Once he is finished, he lifts up this new god erect, and makes offerings to it from the first fruits of the hunt or the produce and then . . . bows down and worships it. Who is higher than who?  Hmmm, sounds a lot like the old prophet Isaiah’s words

14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an     oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” [4]

In all sincerity this premise is absurd.  Why?  Let's look at it again.  "Meaning can only be provided by a God higher than one's self."  Is the tree cut down by the pagan, really higher than the man (the pagan in this case) in the created order of things?  No!  It is the happy pagan, in spite of his worldview,  who knows within his heart of hearts that there is the one true God; but he creates this "god" as an idol of mind in his not wanting to follow the one true God.

So what is the premise appearing to assume?  It gives this writer the picture that my atheist friend is saying, that if God "exists"OR assuming that God exists; this "God" is no different than the mythological deities of the polytheistic religions; no different than an imaginary God who moves things around in a relentless and cruel fashion.  There is no source for finding any meaning in any of these interpretations of "God."

If this is the case, there is a second problem with his second premise.

Since the second premise is making an assumption that God exists, which by the way I believe to be true, we can assume that this God is not some deity like I have very briefly described in the preceding paragraph.   Assuming that God searches out those to fellowship with Him, is it God that really “provides meaning” or is it something else?  You see when I was at the Reason Rally this past March, I was asked by one the cordial atheists, "Why do you worship the Christian God and not some other god?  What makes the Christian God the right one?" Assuming that the Judeo-Christian God, who reveals Himself in Scripture, searches out those to fellowship with Him [5], is it God who really “provides meaning” or is it something else related to the Judeo-Christian God that brings meaning?

All the other deities of the other world religions are impersonal.  In Islam, Allah moves events and people around like a cosmic chess player, according to his will (kismet - fate).  The pantheon of deities in the eastern religions are also impersonal.  The worshiper of these deities does not have a relationship with them but worships them out of blind obedience to the religious authorities and the sacred writings.  So the question still stands, where does meaning really come from?

Huh, if we were to put God on the same level of worship as the Muslim worshiping Allah or those putting vegetables out for a god in the pantheon of deities from the east, we would have to say, that is not true.

What do we do to find meaning and purpose in life?  Where do we go to find meaning and purpose in life?  Can a house or a fancy car bring meaning and purpose in life?  No.  Can a lot of money bring meaning and purpose in life?  How much is too much money?  When John D. Rockefeller was asked “how much would be enough?” he answered “just a little bit more.” What an ironic answer, coming from America’s wealthiest businessman who at the height of his financial success personally accounted for almost 2% of total US GDP!

So it is not in material wealth where meaning is found.  Sure man can worship his material wealth, but like the happy pagan creating his deity, man's wealth is not higher than himself.  It is not in monetary wealth.  Sure man can worship money, but money is created by man and so is his wealth.  Just ask Rockefeller. 

Let's cut to the chase. May suggest to you that meaning comes from relationships?  Relationships with our spouse, or a member of the opposite sex, or our fellow man may or may not bring forth a meaningful relationship. But we do seek meaning in those relationships.  So relationships are the avenue by which we search out to find meaning and purpose for our lives.  Why do we do this?

Because inanimate objects are impersonal and when we are left to ourselves we are only looking for meaning for our lives within ourselves when it is all said and done.  The God of the Judeo Christian faith is a personal God and we find our meaning and purpose in a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.  Sure you can find meaning in relationships and friendships with your fellow human beings, but you know what?  People will let you down.

The pagan deities let their worshipers down.  May I suggest to you that God, being the relational God, desires and initiates the relationship and He will never let you down.  Meaning is found in a personal relationship, where one knows God through the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, devotional prayer time, fellowship and worship, to name a few.  You that you cannot have that kind of relationship with your car nor the contents of your wallet that are all lower on the chain than man.

So my atheist friend's premise really "misses the target" in defending his argument.  In fact from here the rest syllogism is a moot point.  But I need to show the short comings of the third premise before wrapping this up.  

Premise 3:  God, if he exists, has no God higher than himself.

If we look at the statement of this premise by itself, it is true.  If God exists, and for those who believe He does that statement is true.  The second part can be assumed to be true by the believer based upon all kinds of evidence available to us that bolsters our faith.  It isn't blind faith we see things like the arguments for a First Cause, the design argument and the moral law argument that the God who exists has no god higher than Himself.

Someone might ask, if God is the First Cause of all that is created, what caused God?  While a premise might be from a conclusion of a prior syllogism, this one is not the case.  It is an assumption based upon  the prior two premises, based upon the phrase, "if he exists."  The atheist's assumption is that there is no God.  So the "if" clause in this premise is a non issue.

When I have used the word "God"in the context of this posting I am speaking of a God who is personal, infinite in power, knowledge, and presence and yet He is transcendent.   God is the First Uncaused Cause that has nothing or no one before Him.  God is the only entity in existence, the reason for whose existence is in Himself... Necessary being.  God created everything but nothing created God, because God is uncreated.  I could delve more into this but that is for another posting.

So what does this say about the conclusions:  God’s life is meaningless and God’s life is absurd?  What is his premises say, never really reach the conclusions.  If this were a logical syllogism, empirically and existentially, and God did not exist, then I would agree with him.  However this syllogism is a self-defeating argument that never reaches the  conclusions.  I can’t even say “close but no cigar.”    I won't even give it an "A" for effort.

Notes

[1] A syllogism is another name for a logical argument that possesses more than one premise and comes to a conclusion.  (E.g., Premise 1:  A bachelor by definition is an unmarried man, Premise 2:  Bill is an unmarried man;  Conclusion: Therefore Bill is a bachelor.)  A syllogism may have more than one premise, but as you will see here in this discussion I will show that the syllogism from this atheist is logically and existentially self defeating.

[2} Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology; Greek philosopher in Athens (469 BC - 399 BC)

[3]  Imagine for a moment after reading Jacques Derrida's works on deconstruction and meaninglessness wondering if he found is work meaningful.  
[4]  Isaiah 44:14-17.

[5]  John 4:22-26.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Criticisms (Objections) Coming From Those Against Apologetics


Introduction.

This morning I posted a Facebook comment that said that the reason why the church in America was behind the eight ball in the culture was because much of the secular city defines truth from the parameter of science, and in many cases psuedo-science.  The result has been (at least since Darwin's writings) the religious community withdrawing itself with a foundation in faith and feelings, thereby insulating itself from the secular thinkers then and now.  

Well as it is with Facebook, whenever one puts something like this up on their wall, especially as the local Chapter Director/Apologist at the University of Mary Washington, it will draw commentary from a different array of folks.  This comment was no different as it drew the ire of a twenty year old Inter-varsity student telling me that we are all sinners and one trying to reason out the BIble in 'scientific or logical ways' to someone who is not a Christian does not work.  He also stated that the reason why the we are in a 'post-Christian culture is because the Church as a whole has done a horrible job of witnessing to people in a "Loving Jesus Type way."   How is that for friendly fire?

Well, as I ponder my next series of postings, I am drawn to answering some of the top objections that people raise about apologetics.  Many of these objections show one's misunderstanding of this subject and that everyone who says that philosophy is a bad thing really does not understand that they are making philosophical statements themselves.  The reason is because philosophy enters our lives from three different angles.  It may be through the use of philosophy, logical theory, or academic statements that one may argue the point they are trying to make.  It may be through an song, a movie a play where the philosophy or worldview encased in the song may be illustrated.  Or it may be through just the casual conversation around a dining table or the kitchen table at home where we all try to ideas of the cultural setting.  Nevertheless we all are impacted by philosophy in one way shape or form.  The only thing is whether or not the philosophy one has is a good one or not.  

So with this let me enter the first objection.  That objection of whether or not apologetics denies or diminishes biblical authority.

Does apologetics diminish or deny biblical authority?  

In responding to this objection, I am referencing the "friendly fire" comment that we are in no way able to "reason out the BIble in 'scientific or logical ways' to someone who is not a Christian" because it "does not work."  

This statement is partially true and partially false.  It is very true if one is under the impression that the apologists' arguments are going to make the Bible authoritative.  If I or any other apologist thinks that we are going to make the Bible authoritative by the way we are defending it, then this objection is credible.

On the flip-side of this objection is the statement's falsity.  Let me make this perfectly clear, the Bible is ALREADY AUTHORITATIVE; and so long as our apologetic keeps taking the skeptic or the critic back to the Word of God and not to myself or my argument, then we are in line with that authority in our methodology and in our purpose for our polemic at that moment.  

The task of the apologist is not to usurp the authority of the Bible.  The task of the apologist IS to drive people BACK to the biblical authority.  Much of the challenges coming after the church and into the church today are centered on where "authority" comes from:  does it come from the Bible or does it come from some place else outside of the Bible?  

It is the task of the apologist to defend that authority of the Word of God, while "clearing the bushes" so people can get a clear picture of who Jesus is, and why He came and how they can receive the forgiveness that His sacrifice and resurrection offers them.

Conclusion.

In my next posting, I will be answering the objection:  "You cannot prove God exists!"  Look for it in the next Real Issue.  



Friday, July 27, 2012

Challenges from Atheists: Did the Universe Begin to Exist?

Continuing on in the series Challenges from Atheists, the difference between the theistic view and the atheistic view for the origin of the universe are diametrically opposed to one another.  The former (the theist) believes that the universe was created by an infinite, personal, moral, all powerful Creator, called God.  The latter (the atheist or naturalistic) holds that the universe is either infinite or if it did have a beginning, we cannot know where it came from.  Although I am not a scientist, I do know that those who argue from a naturalistic view for the origin of the universe at a "table talk" level, right where we live day in and day out, are not scientists either.  But they mimic their heroes like Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Meyers; all of whom neglect the truth and are blinded by their philosophical underpinnings.  The scope of this posting will deal with those f-a-c-t-s (facts) that have to do with what we know from the general scientific perspective.

It was the well known mathematician and physicist, Stephen Hawking who made the statement in his most recent book, The Grand Design, that "philosophy is dead." Anyone believing Hawking in this statement is already in some logical peril in two major ways.  The first is that the statement, "philosophy is dead," is a philosophical statement.   The second, one must do some philosophical inquiry using the scientific method.

What I am going to do here is deal with straight hard cold case facts and then make a philosophical conclusion from those facts.  First some preamble.  Let's deal with what the scientific method is all about.

Scientific method.

I like how the Physics department from the University of California Riverside describes the scientific method on a link from their physics site, as  "the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion.[1]   UC Riverside then follows up with a simple version of the scientific method looking something like the following:  The simple version looks something like this: 
  • Observe some aspect of the universe.  [Comment:  One makes this observation how?  Asking questions?  Using one's five senses of sight, taste, tough, smell, and hearing; natural senses. Interpreting all these questions takes them to creating a hypothesis.] 
  • Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed. [Comment: The scientist needs to ask a question to get the ball rolling.  The problem is whether or not the question come from a sound philosophical framework..By inventing a tentative hypothesis, the one doing the experiment will be using philosophy or allowing their philosophical underpinnings to rule the hypothesis.  Science does not say anything, but scientists do say, and many times their philosophy gets in the way of the empirical facts.]
  • Use the hypothesis to make predictions.  [Comment:  Again, that hypothesis is under-girded by the philosophical underpinnings or world view of the one making the predictions.]
  • Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.  [Comment:  The testing can be through the use of the five senses or by any means of apparatus where the five senses can assist in making the deductions for reporting the experiment.]
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.
Much more could be discussed within this part, but we can leave that for a later discussion.

What is the Anthropic Principle?

The word, "anthropic" means relating to human beings or human existence.   The word principle means "law."  The anthropic principle points to and depends upon numerous cosmological constraints and parameters within the laws of physics and the natural sciences whose numerical values must fall within a very narrow (restricted) range of values.  If even a single variable were off even slightly, we would cease to exist.  The extreme improbability that so many variables would align "so auspiciously in our favor merely by chance has led some scientists and philosophers to propose instead that it was God who providentially engineered the universe to our our specific needs" for our survival."[2]

Simply stated, the anthropic principle is the "law" that the universe (cosmos) and the general revelation appears to have been finely tuned for our very existence.  I have added the general revelation to deal with the biological realm within the cosmos.

The Anthropic Principle Manifested in the Scientific Findings
.

Whenever a conversation stirs up with an atheist or someone of the evolutionary bent, one does not need to fear.  Science and religion are not enemies.  Again, science does not say anything but scientists do.  So what have we found from good science that might show some sort of interest for the anthropic evidence?

"Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient "coincidences" and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if "a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics."[3]

To see the problem, imagine playing God with the cosmos. Before you is a designer machine that lets you tinker with the basics of physics. Twiddle this knob and you make all electrons a bit lighter, twiddle that one and you make gravity a bit stronger, and so on. It happens that you need to set thirty-something knobs to fully describe the world about us. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile.

To give an example of this, scientist, Paul Davies tells us

"that neutrons are just a tad heavier than protons. If it were the other way around, atoms couldn't exist, because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang. No protons, then no atomic nucleuses and no atoms. No atoms, no chemistry, no life. Like Baby Bear's porridge in the story of Goldilocks, the universe seems to be just right for life."

Conclusion
.

So if there is all of this evidence for design in the natural world in which we live, how can one conclude that it was all brought about by random causation?  Is all that we see around us an accident? 

I am not a scientist, but I enjoy science using a sound scientific method.  If you and I look around us, we can see that there is a vast amount of information available to show the design of the cosmos.  At the same time, 
we need not fear scientific data that is pointing to the grand design to the universe in which we live. 

And even though we cannot prove God's existence with indubitable certainty, there is one thing that we do know. That is if we can even delve deep into the biological and examine the many facets of the DNA, the "inner space frontier."   We look to the stars and we look within the biological systems and we see DESIGN and the thumbprints of a Creator.

Folks, faith and science are not enemies. We can use science to point to the evidence that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by an intelligent Creator, who has given us purpose and the capability to know that He is there and that He is not silent.

Notes.

[1]  http://physics.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes_www/node6.html   Before anyone starts getting excited, as a theist, I like science... good, genuine, bona fide scientific methodology is not harmful to the Christian worldview.

[2]  http://www.gotquestions.org/anthropic-principle.html

[3] Things like the Earth's distance from the Sun (93 million miles), the speed of the rotation of the earth (mid-latitudes of the U.S. and Europe speed along at 700 to 900 mph), the angle of the axis of the Earth (approximately 23.5 but some say it is changing), the speed of the revolutions around the sun (30 kilometers a second or 67,000 mph), that placement of Jupiter to deflect and keep objects from crashing into the Earth, and other factors are all for a reason that is transcendent to accidental random causations.   

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Challenges from Atheists: Is Religion Delusional or Dangerous?

One of the most vocal challenges coming from the "new" atheists and "Nones" (those who profess no religious beliefs or affiliations) is that religion is a delusion.  Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Rorty along with others have all at one time or another pontificated such a statement of some degree or another.  This assumption is also one that attacks and often persuades the impressionable first/second year "born again" college student, sitting in their first university science class being taught by one of 51% of the professors claiming to be an atheist or a hard boiled agnostic.

But is this claim that religion is delusional or dangerous really true?  What can be made of this claim and what should be an intelligent Christian response?

In this posting, I hope to answer these questions and show how a properly understood Christian belief is not delusional.  At the end of this posting, I will point out that the charge of religion being delusional can be turned back to the one making the charge toward the Christian.

Definition:  Delusion.

Many of the skeptics making this objection seem to have the definition correct.  Some will only give part of the definition to fit their rhetoric, almost bulldogging the definition to fit their lack of a defense for their atheism.  (Some atheists who read this post might not think I am being nice.  Really, if they want to push and be antagonistic toward Christianity, consider this my shoving back.)  To be fair to both sides of the belief line, a good definition should come from a reliable source, like a dictionary.  I will use entries 3 and 4 from the dictionary.com delusion entry as our foundation.  It states that a delusion is "a false belief or opinion: as in delusions of grandeur."  From the contextual framework of 'psychiatry', since most atheists make this claim of religious people from this context, a delusion is "a fixed belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact."  In summation of these two definitions, let's agree that a delusion is about "believing something to be true, despite evidence to the contrary."

What Are These Folks Saying?

Atheists, whether they want to agree with this definition or not, deny the existence of anything supernatural being called "God."  Richard Dawkins during his debate with John Lennox synchronized his atheism to deny that the Christian God exists and that it is unreasonable to believe such a Being exists.  Some of the "new atheists" will say that they do not believe in Zeus, Thor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, pink unicorns et al.  Well neither do I; and those "deities" are not descriptive of the God that I believe in.  Those gods are created, and anyone that believes in those or believes that a Christian believes in a deity like those is delusional themselves.

The God that I believe in the God that is personal, in that He is a Person. God is infinite, moral, transcendent and yet near, infinitely powerful and at the same time infinitely loving.   This is hardly anything in comparison to the created gods that the "new atheists" and Nones think we believe in.  In fact it is quite laughable that they cannot separate these facts.

At any rate what they are saying is that anyone who believes in a supernatural deity, which cannot be proven by giving "factual" evidence, is delusional.

A Response.

First off, looking at the definition for the word delusion given earlier this challenge from atheists is already riddled with holes.  Let me remark on a few of those holes.

First off,  the objection of calling religious folks delusional is dishonest.  What do I mean?

Richard Dawkins, in his debate with David Quinn stated that "delusion means a falsehood which is widely believed, and I think that is true of religion."[1] Did you notice how Richard defined "delusion" in his statement?  He didnt give a thorough definition.  All he did was give part of the definition.  So let's work with that.

Let's grant that a delusion is "a falsehood which is widely believed." Atheism is growing in popularity.  I saw this at the Reason Rally this past March.  Why can't Richard's definition refer to all those 7000+ at the Rally professing to be non religious?  Why can't that also refer to atheism?   Who is to say that atheism is not a delusion with all the people coming to believe Richard and Co's "preaching."

Second off.  I have neither seen a debate, nor listened to a one, where both participants in the "existence of God debate" had claimed to have absolute certainty on God's existence or nonexistence. While  atheists like to argue as if they have indubitable certainty, they do not.  Christians, who are honest in this debate, are wiling to admit that we do not have absolute certainty.  At the same time, however we do have pretty strong convictions for the existence of God and for the authenticity and historical reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  When it comes to the debate for God's existence, there are several lines of evidence.[2] 

To say that Christians are delusional for believing in God and the supernatural is not only ignorant but it is really a delusional statement itself.  As Christians we have several lines of evidence for the existence of God.  We have the fact that truth is knowable and can be proven to be absolute.  We have tons and tons of evidence for the reliability of the Bible from the context of history and not just its supernatural nature.  We have an historical crucified Savior who was resurrected from the dead three day and nights later that precedes any (let me say again ANY) record coming from the pagan sources.  We have reliable arguments for the beginning of the universe and its intricate design and fine tuning.  So much more could be said for the reasonable evidences for historical Christianity it isn't funny.

So.  If we have all this evidence that is reasonable; and neither of us on the side of belief can prove that God does or does not exist, but the evidence falls on the side of the positive, I just have one question.

Who is really the delusional one?  Who is ranting all the rhetoric for the non-existence of God?  Sounds to me like those of us on the side of believing God exists and He has made Himself know are not the delusional ones.  Could it be . . . those who are ranting and raving?  Could it be that it is those who have made a "moral" decision not to believe in the existence of God are the delusional ones?

That is why I don't have enough faith to be an atheist!  Just look at the history of the acts by atheist regimes over the last century. In fact, I think it is atheistic ideology that is dangerously delusional.

Notes*

[1] See http://catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0086.htm. 

[2] Here is a list of the major arguments:  The Argument from ChangeThe Argument from Efficient CausalityThe Argument from Time and ContingencyThe Argument from Degrees of PerfectionThe Design ArgumentThe Kalam ArgumentThe Argument from ContingencyThe Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole, The Argument from MiraclesThe Argument from ConsciousnessThe Argument from TruthThe Argument from the Origin of the Idea of GodThe Ontological ArgumentThe Moral ArgumentThe Argument from Conscience, The Argument from DesireThe Argument from Aesthetic Experience, The Argument from Religious ExperienceThe Common Consent ArgumentPascal's Wager

* While I am not Catholic, I do appreciate the resources from our friends on the side of Catholic apologetics, of the likes of Peter Kreeft and Paul Tacelli who have written their Handbook of Christian Apologetics. This is one of many great resources that have contributed to the defense of the historical Christian faith.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Challenges from Atheists: Can One Be 'Moral' Without God?

Without belaboring the point of not posting a response to  "Challenges from Atheists" in over a month, this posting has been in the works during this unwanted time of absence.  Just last month, there was a letter to the Editor of our local newspaper, written by a local atheist giving his definition of atheism and then moving into a tome that atheists atheists are moral people.   Of course I could not resist in giving a response to this gentleman and I also received some interesting responses.

This posting comes on the heels of my letter and the topic of this posting has had me scribbling on notepads and napkins along with involving myself in some cordial conversations toward my argument to the editor.  This posting will use a similar argument to answer the question, "Can one be moral without God?"

While I will not disagree that there are well meaning people seeking to live moral lives, my challenge comes to those who are professing atheists or having no religious affiliation ("Nones").  It is the challenge on their foundation for "why" they believe that they can be "moral."  While there are many nice and cordial people who profess to be atheists and Nones, my conversations with some of them have run to a conclusion that the foundation for their morality to be on a very slippery slope.  

So what I would like to do here is address this subject from a few different angles.  First I will give a couple of definitions that will set up the foundation for everything that follows. After setting up the  foundation by defining ethics and morals, I will move into some questions that will help solidify that an atheist or a "None" can try to be "moral," but their reasons for being moral are really not good ones unless their ethical foundation is rooted in the God that they reject.

Defining the Terms That Set the Foundation.

Why do I start with defining these terms?  The reason is due to those who are professing to have no religious affiliation (Nones) and atheists like to argue they can be moral (one category) and argue from an ethical framework.  So let's look at the definitions.

Ethics.  There are many perspectives toward defining ethics, so what I will do here is stick to the simplistic definition from the dictionary and provide this source's definition.

There are approximately four definitions for the word "ethics," starting with a system of moral principles.  Notice that this does not say morals but it with values relating to human conduct, with respect to rightness and wrongness of certain action and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of sub-actions."

It is the fourth definition that ties the other three together with words like principles, values of human conduct, rightness/wrongness and goodness/badness dichotomies.  When you think of principles, goodness and rightness (along with their converses) there is a sense of "moral ought-ness."  It is about how one "ought" to behave; how good and right behavior "ought" to be.   

Morals.  Moving to morals we see the dictionary definition as something that is moral can be described adjectivally or as a noun.  When we say that something is morally rich, we are using it as an adjective.  In this case, we are speaking to something that is pertaining to or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct (ethics).  We are speaking, secondly to truths that are relevant to right conduct within the boundaries of moralizing.  Morals can also be founded, thirdly, on the principles of right conduct rather than legalities (i.e., moral obligations).  Fourthly morals are capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct (those rules are what?  ethics).  A fifthly and lastly morals are relevant to the previous that when one is conforming to the rules of right conduct, then they are being a moral individual.

Now. What does this tell us about the relationship between ethics and morals?  Ethics have to do with the rules and the principles of what ought to be right and wrong.  Morals have to do with the outward actions based upon some or someone's ethical standards.  

The Argument.

As Christians, we believe in a personal God who is transcendent, personal, and infinite in all His attributes.   Also, we believe that God is the Moral Lawgiver, who has given us His absolute moral law in the form of moral prescripts that are the foundation of our ethics and moral living.  They first and foremost reflect His holy character (His Person) and that He calls us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16).  Although we are not in bondage under them, they do provide an ethical framework for how we should live our lives.  As we pursue holy living, we are to remember that they are not just prescripts reflecting His person but the given prescripts are also for our protection against the destruction that could come from living in violation of that moral law.

With reference to the biblical view of man, God created man in His image and likeness.  Within the image of God (imago Dei) we have the ability to love, to create, to reason, etc.  The image of God is about physical attributes.  All of these attributes reflect God's character, HIs attributes and His glory.   Because of how God created man, the human being has an intrinsic value placed upon his life by God,  so that we are of great personal value in the eyes of our Creator (See Genesis 9:6).

As for the atheists and the Nones, allow me to say that the description I am giving  is based upon those conversations, both personal and online, in the not too distant past.  First off the atheist and the Nones reject outright that they are created in the image of God.    Instead, the atheists and the Nones believe that they are a product of random chance and accidental causation from the procreation of their parents.  Some believe that if one follows the progeny in regression they would find themselves related to the chimpanzee or the Bonobo.  Some believe as what Carl Sagan proposed as nothing more than "star stuff" or "star dust."

As far as the value of a human being, the atheist and the Nones assert that man has is no intrinsic value placed upon their being or their existence.  There is no meaning to their lives.  There is no purpose for their existence.  Therefore there is no need for any kind of salvation, because there is no need to be accountable to any "moral lawgiver" because this "mythical Moral Lawgiver" does not exist in their thinking.

How Does Morality "Flesh" Itself Out?

Penn Jillette stated at the Reason Rally that he believes that Christians are moral because, as he asserted, that we are are looking to gain all our rewards in this life so that we may receive them in the next.  Say what!??!   This is so far off to the truth it isn't funny.  In fact Jillette's assertion is nothing more than nonsensical drivel.

So why are Christians moral?  The reason Christians are moral (or should be moral) is because God has intervened in our lives through the finished work of Christ on the cross at Golgotha.  We are moral out of gratitude.  We are moral as a means of worship and obedience to what God has called us to be... "holy as He is holy" (See again 1 Peter 1:13-16).  That holiness will never attain the perfection that God has, but it will allow us to be separated (hagios) from the world, the flesh and the devil.

Can Atheists and "Nones" Be Moral?

That depends.  Anyone can seek to live 'morally.'  Anyone can do 'good deeds.'  It does not matter whether one is a believer in a moral Lawgiver or one disbelieves in that moral Lawgiver.  The Christian has an ethical foundation for those good deeds that is absolute because it comes from God.  The atheists and the 'Nones' do not have this absolute ethical framework.  So how can they truly be moral?  Whose morality standard are they following?

I find it fascinating in listening to many of the answers to these questions.  Many have tried and will continue to try and smuggle in moral language that is only appropriate to those embracing the Christian ethical framework.  Unless one is willing to do this, they really should be using such language, particularly when they reject the Source.

Remember that morals proceed from the ethical framework; this is something that the Christian and "religious people" in general have that the atheist and the Nones refuse to acknowledge.  Their reasons for any form of morality is found in accidental chemical reactions equalling some form of "compassion" which then begets the "moral behavior."  One person professing to be "star stuff" and yes, even "thinking star stuff," stated that they are moral.  Again the question is why and how can you as an unbeliever be "moral?"

Their ethical framework is not based upon an Absolute Moral Lawgiver but themselves.  And if you follow this logic to its end, the result is a severely slippery slope for the unbelievers' moral thinking.   Put a few unbelievers, atheists and "Nones" in a room and let them debate the abortion issue or the gay marriage issue and see if everyone is in agreement on the issues.  Follow this back a few decades in history where we see the outward workings of a pragmatically atheistic regimes living out their ethical framework to its fullest extent.  What has been the result?  The death of millions of people.

What About Self-less Actions (Altruisms)?

If the atheist or the "None" wants to try and do something self-less (altruistic), on what basis can this happen? Firstly, it can't happen if one's moral actions are based upon an accidental chemical responses happening to "star stuff."  Secondly, it cannot happen because that accidental chemical response that influences an act of compassion is really not self-less at all.  If there is no intrinsic value to the individual or group needing compassion and if there is no intrinsic value in the mind of the one meeting the need, then that is not an altruistic (self-less) action.  Let me explain.

The only way a selfless action can take place is when the one needing compassion or a need met is seen as one who has intrinsic value in the eyes of a Moral Lawgiver and in the eyes of his fellow man.  The atheist and those who profess to be unbelievers (Nones included), have no morally ethical framework other than their own individual standard.  There is no need to do something altruistically speaking.  It just does not work that way.  The best thing that happens in the heart and mind of the one rejecting a Moral Lawgiver is a good feeling based on an accidental chain of chemical reactions and/or possibly a tax deduction if that good deed is done within the milieux of good deed or work of philanthropy.

If only the unbelievers, like the atheist and the None, followed the evidence to where it led.  If only they followed the evidence and found that they do not have a moral leg to stand on without a moral Lawgiver.  Without the moral Lawgiver, there is no standard for determining what is "good."  And if there is no way to determine a standard for "good" then how does one determine what is or is not evil?

Besides, history has shown One who came and carried out the greatest altruistic (self-less) action anyone could carry out.  That self-less action?   Dying on a cross for your and my sin.  That action was an historical fact by an historical Person, Jesus of Nazareth, who committed the greatest selfless action anyone could ever do.  And He did that not just for you, but also did it for this former atheist who was gloriously redeemed 32 years ago this very day.  -- Rob


Thank you for engaging this essay.  If you find this essay challenging and would like to pose a question, please be cordial.  Any hostile questions that are off track will be put in the trash can and off to oblivion.