Thursday, June 30, 2011

Atheism and God's authority

I found this post on Wintery Knight's blog. I'm actually quite surprised the post didn't generate a discussion. There were 14 comments, but all seemed to be from Christians simply agreeing with WK. 

Anyway, his post is titled, "Does God pose an authority problem for you?" and the title says it all. WK goes into how prominent atheists express a staunch disdain toward God (as described in the Bible) and his authority, which seems to be the root of their unbelief. 


"So you might be surprised to know that even if Christianity were true, atheists have no intention of changing the way they live. That’s the real issue – and that should be scary for any atheist to realize. If they just cracked open a Bible and read Romans 1, that should be enough to scare the crap out of them – because it’s pretty obvious what is going on with humans – all of us have an authority problem. And a lot of the learning and striving that atheists do is just an effort to get people to think that they are so great and successful after they’ve dumped their relationship with God.

I hope that more atheists look in the mirror and are honest with themselves about what’s really going on. Is it really such a terrible thing to have a relationship with the person who cares the most about you and wants the best for you? Is fun really that important that people have to push away a real, significant, eternal relationship just because it requires self-denial? If I didn’t embrace chastity, as God wishes, where would I get to time to do the really heroic things I do – and how could I concern myself with a woman’s real moral and spiritual needs if I got into the habit of using them selfishly? You can’t experience imitating God when you shut him out. And that’s what we are all here to do – to know him, to be his friend, to act in a way that allows us to feel what he feels, and to have sympathy with him."

I encourage you to read the entire post because I just pasted what WK said at the end of the post. He cites passages from atheist writers and gives surveys of atheist responses to God. 

Read the entire post here. and don't forget to comment on his post!

The Conservative Believes In An Enduring Moral Order

For the next 10 days, I'm going to post about the ten conservative principles by Russel Kirk. I think these principles are important for conservatives to remember and reflect on. This will be especially important for the new conservative wanting to deepen or solidify his beliefs. Kirk starts his essay with principle number one about the existence of an enduring moral order. 

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.

"That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.

Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.

It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be."

To deny the existence of a moral order or the objectivity of moral duties and values is to deny what many people cherish and take for granted: human dignity, which is strong evidence for the existence of unchanging moral truths. Most naturalists will tell you there isn't a Darwinian explanation for human dignity or for "disinterested altruism." The lack of a natural explanation for a moral order does not destroy the existence of a moral order. You and I both know there is good and evil in the world, which is defined by the moral standard of the universe. Often people suppress that truth to gratify certain appetites, but it's only a matter of time before you will hear that person say, "Well, that's wrong!" or "You shouldn't have done that."

Conservatives know a good society is governed by acknowledgement of objective moral values and duties, a.k.a, the moral order. Do people fall short of the standard? Of course! Failure to live up to the standard is not evidence for the non-existence of the standard. Denial of the standard leads to nihilism and/or moral chaos and neither produce a good society.

Tomorrow will be principle number 2.


1. Taken from the Russel Kirk Center.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can we trust the Bible?

Looking around for resources on the trustworthiness of the Bible and found a few gems worth checking out. For a quick answer to the question, here is William Lane Craig's answer.

Brian Auten of Apologetics315 said this of a Dan Wallace MP3 audio: Is What We Have Now What They Had Then?

"New Testament schollar Daniel B. Wallace presents this talk on the New Testaments documents entitled: Is What We Have Now What They Had Then? This is perhaps one of the best single audio files on the reliability of the New Testament documents. Highly recommended."

You can find the audio by clicking here.

Check out all of the Bible resources at Apologetics315; click here.

John Macarthur has a series titled Is the Bible reliable? in which he explains how science, archaeology, and history give evidence to the bible being inspired by God.

Check out the series by clicking here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Is Divine Election fair?

In light of the traffic generating over the "Five bad arguments against calvinism" I thought I would share two videos made by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. The first video is about natural ability vs moral ability, i.e., man's natural ability to respond to the gospel.

This second video deals with the question, "Is divine election fair?"


Also, if you haven't checked it out, here is the link to the "Five bad arguments against Calvinism."

Comment if you'd like.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The unicorn argument

*Note: This topic is covered in more detail in the post The unicorn argument revisited. 

I'm so glad Brian Auten (Apologetics 315) shared the link to "Atheists and Unicorns: Emotional Appeal," by J.W. Wartick because I think all theists grow tired of the "you can simply use the word unicorn instead of God for that argument" argument. I've read a lot of atheist comments using the unicorn argument. I'm not trying to be a jerk when I say this, but it seems it is used only when the skeptic/atheist is out of ammo. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Anyway, here is an excerpt from the blog post:

"You may have heard it before. “I’m an a-unicornist, just like I’m an atheist.” “I don’t believe in unicorns, nor do I believe in God.” “There’s as much evidence for unicorns as for God.”

What are these statements supposed to show?

Whether intended or not, these kinds of statements are simply emotional appeals. The atheist is attempting to psychologically discredit Christianity without ever engaging any kind of logical reasoning."

I agree. He then goes on to write:

"But what about another common use of the unicorn within atheism? Namely “I can’t prove there is no God, just like I can’t prove there are no unicorns.”

While this initially seems plausible, it only remains plausible if one assumes positivism. We can actually prove there is no God. If the Christian’s account of God was found to be incoherent, then God would not exist. It would, in fact, be impossible for God to exist were his nature contradictory.

So even in this use of the phrase we find that the atheist is committed to a dogmatic assumption of positivism. By assuming that God can only be disproven by empirical evidence, they uncritically advance a philosophical enterprise which has largely been abandoned within modern philosophy.

A word of advice: focus on the arguments at hand, not pejorative language."

Positivism has been abandoned with modern philosophy. For example, positivism fails to prove there are not abstract ideas, principles, and laws beyond our sense perception or that we can even know of them. There are also other, better developed, refutations of positivism; one by William Lane Craig can be found here.

Be sure to read the full article by Wartick by clicking here.

Five bad arguments against calvinism

I enjoyed writing the other "Five bad arguments..." posts, so I thought I would write another one. When I first heard of Calvinism, I heard about it from a friend who really disliked the Calvinist theology. He seemed to know a lot about it, so I didn't put much thought into researching it myself. Well, one day I was bored on the internet and thought, "Why not look up Calvinism." At first, I was a little confused. To be more exact, the TULIP confused me; not total depravity (the "T" in the TULIP), but the rest of the arguments. Unconditional election? Limited atonement? Irresistible grace? Perseverance of the saints? Where did all of that come from? It couldn't have came from the bible.

I began to research the TULIP in scripture, read and listened to the ideas from teachers of Calvinism and found Calvin's ideas to be strongly supported by the Bible. I also read and listened to the opponents of Calvinism. I eventually learned, for myself, the opponents of Calvinism attack strawmen; they're not attacking Calvinism, they're attacking Hyper-Calvinism. No, hyper-Calvinism is not taking Calvinism to its logical conclusion, hyper-Calvinism is taking a theology, twisting and distorting it to it's own theology. What's annoying is to hear opponents of Calvinism attack hyper-Calvinism and say they're debunking Calvinism. So, this post will be my attempt to clear the room of smoke and possibly help Calvinism's opponents to stop attacking straw.

1. If God is sovereign, then there is no free will.

Not all opponents of Calvinism raise this objection, e.g. middle-knowledge folks, but many do raise this objection. I'm not sure why they do because Calvinists are not hardcore determinists. We do not think God causes everything to happen. When I pickup my cup of coffee for a drink, I don't think that was caused by God. My choosing to take a drink of coffee was a choice of my own free will. Now, some would say "I understand that. That's not why I object to Calvinism. If God is sovereign, guaranteeing certain outcomes in people's lives, then that is a violation of man's free will; that's why I object to Calvinism." I personally don't see the conflict and here's why: It doesn't follow that if God is in full control, then free acts aren't possible. Let me explain.

What we need to understand is how God guarantees outcomes in the lives of people, or, the relationship of God's omniscience and man's free will. The relationship is quite compatible. How does God know our choices? Are our choices made because in God's knowledge He sets in stone what will we do and then our carrying out of the action "appears" to us as a free choice? Or does God have knowledge of what we do because He foresaw our action? Maybe even, there is a middle option of all of the possibilities of our actions according to our personalities? How does it work? Let me lift an illustration from blogger Sam Harper:

1. Ethel will boil peas tomorrow.

2. Ethel will not boil peas tomorrow.

Regardless of which one happens to be true, the thing that makes it true is that it corresponds to what Ethel will actually do tomorrow. Let’s suppose that (1) is true. In that case, Ethel will boil peas tomorrow. Now we can form the following argument:

4. God knows (1) because it’s true.
5. (1) is true, because in reality Ethel will boil peas tomorrow.
6. Therefore, God knows (1) because Ethel will boil peas tomorrow.

Here is another good illustration given by Greg Koukl:

How would you catch a criminal who is on the run? Well, you'd think about where he might go, then you'd try to be there to intercept him. Now, if you had perfect knowledge--if you knew everything-- you'd not only know where he is at any given moment, but where he'll be at any moment in the future. You'd know exactly what time he'd arrive at any point along his entire route. 

Would you be able to catch a criminal if you knew the exact moves he was going to make? If you knew the things he was going to freely choose to do--and this is important--at any given point, would you be able to catch him? Sure you could. 

If you know he's going down a particular road and will come around a particular corner at a particular time, you could place your men there so that when he takes the route he freely chooses (though known by you), your men would be right there to nab him. You're in control the entire time--you're sovereign. You're able to be in control because you know every move he's going to freely make. Therefore, your plan can be perfectly executed, even though he's making his free choices. 

God knows enough about our free choices to carry out His sovereign plan. He does this without violating our free will.

2. If God chooses whom to save, then we are predetermined machines. 

"If God determines my salvation, then I have no free will at all! Either everything I do is a free choice, or nothing I do is a free choice!" That's another way to word the objection. I hear and read this objection a lot. "Calvinists view human beings as robots!" or "Calvinists view human beings as puppets!" Basically to our opponents, we are cold determinists, but that just isn't true. God determines one aspect of our lives, so we are mindless robots? It doesn't follow that since one part of our lives is determined then we are predetermined machines without a clue. We can do many things freely (as pointed out above). We freely choose to sin a lot (some more than others) and that makes us guilty. What does God do? He makes a choice to forgive and show grace for the sin we freely chose to commit.

If I may, let me borrow another excellent illustration from Greg Koukl (He's full of excellent illustrations).

If you owe me a million dollars and I choose to completely forgive the debt, how is your will violated? The debt is owed to me; it's on my side of the ledger. I can cancel it if I want. It may have a further impact on your life, that in canceling the debt you don't have to work for 20 years to pay it off. But it seems to me such an action grants you freedom, not bondage. 

Further, freedom usually has some limitations. Even a criminal in prison has a measure of freedom. Though some choices are restricted, it doesn't follow that he has no choices at all. In the same way, if God chooses us for forgiveness and salvation, it doesn't follow that we have become robots.

3. If God saves some, but not others, then God is responsible for sending the rest to hell.

Again, the conclusion doesn't follow. If God saves some and not the rest, it doesn't follow that he is responsible for causing the sin in their lives, thereby sending the rest to hell. Now, hyper-calvinists will tell you, yes, God does cause the sin in those who aren't saved and sends those who aren't saved to hell, which is not true. We are responsible for our own sin. If God chooses to save some and not others, it seems to me that he's entitled to such a decision because it's His choice, His mercy. Mercy is undeserved. People go to hell based on their own sin not because God created the sin in their souls and then damns them for eternity based on sin He created in them.

We've broken His law, we're in deep trouble; all of us. Those who are punished are punished justly because they are guilty. Some receive forgiveness, but not all. Why are some forgiven and not all? It's a mystery, but those who are forgiven are not forgiven in an arbitrary or capricious manner.  

Now, we do have to ask: Does God love everybody? Or as Michael Horton asks, "Does God only love the elect, and fatten the wicked for slaughter as some hyper-Calvinists have argued?" Horton then goes on to answer his own question:

"Scripture is full of examples of God’s providential goodness, particularly in the Psalms: “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made …. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:9, 16). Jesus calls upon His followers to pray for their enemies for just this reason: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44). Christians are supposed to imitate this divine attitude.

The doctrine we are talking about has come to be called “common grace,” in distinction from “saving grace.” Some have objected to this term (some even to the concept), insisting that there is nothing common about grace: there is only one kind of grace, which is sovereign, electing grace. However, it must be said that whatever kindness God shows to anyone for any reason after the fall, can only be regarded as gracious. Once again, we face two guardrails that we dare not transgress: God acts graciously to save the elect and also to sustain the non-elect and cause them to flourish in this mortal life. While it is among the sweetest consolations for believers, election is not the whole story of God’s dealing with this world.

When we, as Christians, affirm common grace, we take this world seriously in all of its sinfulness as well as in all of its goodness as created and sustained by God. We see Christ as the mediator of saving grace to the elect but also of God’s general blessings to a world that is under the curse. Thus, unbelievers can even enrich the lives of believers. John Calvin pleads against the fanaticism that would forbid all secular influence on Christians, concluding that when we disparage the truth, goodness, and beauty found among unbelievers, we are heaping contempt on the Holy Spirit Himself who bestows such gifts of His common grace (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.15)."

Horton's full article can be read here.

Now, there is another answer to this objection as well, (it's not the Calvinist answer), but I don't think it's entirely incompatible with Calvinism. See "middle knowledge."

4. God wills all men to be saved, yet Calvinists say God only wills the elect to be saved.

Yes, on the surface, there seems to be a contradiction, especially after reading such texts as 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 23: 37, one would come to the conclusion that there is a contradiction given Calvinism. This poses a problem for Calvinism, doesn't it? If God wills all men to be saved, but only the elect are saved, then something isn't right. Shouldn't all men be saved? This isn't only a problem for Calvinists, this is a problem for all Christians. Why is it a problem for all Christians? Well, because the Bible seems to indicate all are willed to be saved.

Fortunately, there is an answer. It may be a little confusing for some on first reading. Rather than try to explain it myself in detail I'll reference Greg Koukl and others from time to time. The answer is that there are two aspects to God's will: His moral will (what he merely desires, but doesn't come to pass, e.g., salvation for everyone) and His sovereign will (that which He purposes and always happens). Greg Koukl describes this well:

"Two wills of God. Moral will and sovereign will. Moral will entails all those things God wants us to do, yet we may disobey. God wants us to be saved, yet many are not. God wanted Israel to turn to Jesus, yet most did not. God wants all kinds of things of His people--He wills those things--but they don't come to pass. There's a sense of God's will that can be violated. 

Yet, at the same time, there are other things which are clearly stated about God's will that He intends actually come to pass. We see some of those details in the book of Daniel, and this is why Daniel makes the statement that God's will, in this sense, cannot be violated. Daniel's statements can only be sound if we're talking about a different aspect of God's will. If we're not talking about a different will, then we have a contradiction. 

If you reject the notion that there are two aspects of God's will-- sovereign and moral--and don't want to concede the obvious contradiction, you have one of two choices. Either all of God's will is moral, or all of God's will is sovereign. 

If you choose the first option, that there is only one aspect of God's will--the moral aspect--which can be broken by our free choices, then it's hard to see how God can have ultimate and sovereign control over human history if our choice is the deciding factor. You might take refuge in the element of God's omniscience, as I mentioned above. I think that explains some things, but I think the full sense of God's sovereignty entails more than just incorrigible anticipation of our moves." 

Greg doesn't say this, but I will, he then goes on to describe Hyper-Calvinism, not Calvinism folks, Hyper-Calvinism.

"If, on the other hand, God's sovereign will is the only concept taught in Scripture, then there can be no immorality. Everything we do is something that He, as the primary and sufficient cause, irrevocably ordains. We don't choose to disobey His moral will; we're just doing what God has already caused us to do. This would make God the direct author of evil." 

I think it's clear that there are two wills or two aspects to God's will. This fourth objection is defeated, I think, by this answer because the two alternatives do not make sense of humans and their relationship with God. If God's will is all sovereign (as hyper-calvinists declare) then we would not be responsible for our sin, we could not disobey God, morality would be illusory. On the other hand if God's will is totally moral, then scripture wouldn't make sense at all. God wouldn't have any control and things would be in chaos because He would be totally dependent on His creation; that also doesn't make sense. There's a moral will and a sovereign will.

5. Calvinists shouldn't evangelize. That's a contradiction. 

If those who are saved are predestined to salvation, then why evangelize? Why is evangelism important to Calvinists? First, God has told us to evangelize in the Bible, so firstly, we evangelize because God has told us to do so. Second, God works through secondary causes (us) to regenerate hearts. It might be a process of months of dialoguing with someone over God, science, and philosophy, then one day the person finally realizes Jehovah God exists, God did raise Jesus from the dead, and the plan revealed in the Bible is true. For others, it could be hearing a message given by a pastor in a church on a Sunday. Still others, it could be hearing a lecture on TV or radio. We don't know when, how, or where a person will hear the gospel, but for the Calvinist we do know God will save the person and it's our job to deliver the gospel and to give a defense for the truth claims of Christianity. 

Also, Charles Spurgeon was asked since he believed in election, why preach? Why do you care about spreading the gospel? He said if you can lift up a person's shirt and see an 'E' stamped on their back standing for elect then he won't preach. We don't know who is elect and we don't know the means God will use to reveal the gospel to the elect. 

There you have it folks. This is my take on the five bad arguments against Calvinism. This post is in now way a clear-cut, end-all arguments post, but I do hope it shows why some arguments against Calvinism are weak and better at attacking strawmen than actual Calvinism.

Related posts

For further study I suggest you read Greg Koukl's article "Bad arguments against Calvinism," which is where my excerpt's of Koukl came from for this post. 

Check out the discussion over Calvinism between Michael Horton and Roger Olson here.

Edit: After reading over this post again, I realized I didn't clarify some things in point number 3. I left out that hyper-calvinists hold that God creates the evil in the reprobates' souls. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Radical Corruption and Knowledge of Morality

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."
Immanuel Kant Idea for a General History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose (1784), Proposition 6

"For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, captives of various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another."
Paul Titus 3:3, HCSB translation

The Apostle Paul and philosopher Immanuel Kant have a similar view of the morality of mankind, i.e., mankind is like a crooked piece of timber, i.e., mankind's moral inclination is bent toward evil or radically corrupted. Some would say that man is totally depraved and I would agree that, spiritually, mankind is totally depraved, but I prefer to say mankind is radically corrupted. Why? I think we all know even the most heinous person, e.g. Hitler, could have been even more morally depraved than he really was, there is always room to grow, right? So, we can't say that mankind is totally depraved morally speaking, so I will use radical corruption for my description of man's state before regeneration.

Given the warped timber of humanity, it's difficult to imagine how we can even acknowledge morality. If we are indeed radically corrupted people, "...foolish, disobedient, captives of various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another," then how do we even know such actions and behaviors are wrong? My dog doesn't know his actions are wrong. When he "steals" my other dog's food, he hasn't a clue that such an action was wrong. Or when a dog attacks a cat for no reason, he doesn't know such an action is "bad." Humans know good from bad. We know morality is selflessness. Why would morality develop in creatures who are obsessed with survival and reproduction? Why would creatures be selfless? There are natural explanations.

Charles Darwin developed the group-selection argument in The Descent of Man: "“although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet . . . an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another." This argument was popular for some time as it seemed to reconcile evolution and morality. However, as we now know, the argument is flawed and has been abandoned due to questions such as, "Why would the tribe be self-sacrificing in the first place?"

Atheist Richard Dawkins stepped up to the plate to answer the question. In Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene, he develops the argument, you guessed it, that our genes are selfish. He says individuals are, "survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes." The selfish gene argument is not without merit. Think of a mother rushing into a burning building to rescue her children. Is she acting out of motherly instinct to save her children? Is that why she is putting herself in danger for her children? According to the selfish-gene argument, no she is not. Fifty percent of a child's genes come from the mother. What may look like a mother acting selflessly to save her children, is actually a mother's genes acting selfishly to ensure their survival through the offspring. To us, such an action of bravery seems altruistic, but genetically the action is selfish.

Kin-selection is another label for selfish-gene morality. Kin-selection is also observed in nature. Animals of a same kind, e.g. prairie dogs, give warning calls to each other if a predator is nearby. The one giving the warning call is putting its life in danger. Why? Kin-selection tells us the one giving the warning call is not maximizing its individual change of survival, but the survival of its genes living on in the next generation. Helping one's kin is actually, genetically, helping oneself.

At this point, one realizes human beings don't only help their relatives, they also help strangers; what about that? Well, naturalists have an answer for that form of morality too, which is called "reciprocal altruism" and that simply means: you do something nice for me, I'll do something nice for you. This explains that what seems to be sacrifice, is actually selfishness. 

I've talked about the naturalist answers for morality elsewhere on this blog and have attempted to show why those arguments are wrong. You may remember me dubbing such answers as "low-end" morality and I'm sticking with that label because I think it's quite good at describing such moral actions. There is also "high-end" morality, which is morality that cannot be explained by kin-selection or reciprocal altruism. A man gives up his seat on the bus for an 80 year old woman who is not his grandma, she is a complete stranger, why does he do that? A woman gives blood at a blood drive. She does not know the blood is going to; it's a selfless action that has no naturalist answer. Dawkins, again in The Selfish Gene, writes that giving blood is "disinterested altruism." Altruism of this sort occurs on a regular basis, in everyday life all over the world. People volunteer their time to help the impoverished in third-world countries, those that cannot receive anything in return. Others sacrifice their lives to save strangers, such sacrifices cannot be reciprocated. 

Naturalists admit they are at a loss when it comes to high-end morality. James Rachels writes, "...a Darwinian may conclude that a successful defense of human dignity is most unlikely." Ernst Mayr writes, "Altruism toward strangers, is a behavior not supported by natural selection." There are more examples of naturalists stumped by high-end morality here. When at a loss for an answer, naturalists and atheists have explanations like the one given by atheist Michael Ruse in a column he wrote for the Guardian:
"God is dead, so why should I be good? The answer is that there are no grounds whatsoever for being good. There is no celestial headmaster who is going to give you six (or six billion, billion, billion) of the best if you are bad. Morality is flimflam.
[...]Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down.
[...]So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective.
[...]Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what’s to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense."
When morality cannot be explained naturally, one is left with feeling based morality that appears to be objective and binding by our genes, but it's actually an illusion so there is no objectivity to it. My question is why cooperate with it? What is stopping us from behaving like an ancient Roman? This still doesn't answer our question of how we came to know of high-end morality and how it's binding whether we acknowledge it or not. 

Michael Shermer, an evolutionist, gives his argument for the apparent objectivity of morality and why persons perform high moral actions. Shermer writes, "The best way to convince others that you are a moral person is not to fake being a moral person but actually to be a moral person." We act moral so we can gain reputation points with others, which will give us a higher status in society. Reputation is important for one's place in society, benefiting not only your image, but also there is a possibility for better mating prospects. So, again, the seemingly high-end morality is explained away as a disguise for the selfish gene. 

Dinesh D'Souza in his article for the Natural Review found a flaw in Shermer's argument. He writes:

"Machiavelli argues that “the man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.” A rich man who is habitually generous, Machiavelli remarks, will soon become a poor man. Much better, Machiavelli craftily counsels, to acquire the image of magnanimity while giving away as little as possible. In other words, it is preferable to seem virtuous than to actually be virtuous. “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” Machiavelli insists that the people who prosper most in the world are the ruthless people who employ virtue only occasionally and instrumentally for strategic gain. If Machiavelli is right, then under the rules of natural selection it is the moral pretenders, not the truly moral, who will prosper and multiply. And for empirical evidence Machiavelli could surely point to the successful connivers in our society and every other one." 

I agree with D'Souza's point, if I understand him correctly, that the truly moral will not prosper from such generous acts of selflessness. Only ruthless, selfish people who use virtue will gain from moral actions. Once again, high-end moral actions cannot be explained by arguments supported by natural selection. So, we can see that objective moral values and duties cannot be explained by naturalists, which brings me again to the question of how do such morally depraved persons recognize objective morality? 

Kant and Paul would agree with naturalists that man in his state is self-serving, totally void of morality and not likely to help others. Where they differ, however, is in their view of morality. Paul argues that man is made in the image of God, which is where we get our sense of a binding morality in the world. Even the most morally depraved person knows of "good," of "justice," "mercy," etc., the knowledge doesn't of such virtues doesn't change the depraved person, but it doesn't eliminate the oughtness of morality either, which is the key to understanding objective morality. The objectiveness of morality doesn't mean everyone will acknowledge it and follow it. It exists whether we acknowledge it or not. We have morality engraved in our minds. Some call it the "voice within." Adam Smith called morality the "impartial spectator." Paul explained it as being made in the image of God, as I understand it. 

Since man is made in the image of God, we have a moral stamp on our minds/hearts, and we can recognize morality, but we don't always follow it, which explains our condition. We lie, cheat, murder, and a myriad of other unmoral things. Shouldn't our knowledge of morality help us be better human beings? It does for some folks. Objective morality keeps us in check. You can think of it as God being merciful even to those who won't put their faith in his Son for salvation. How is it merciful? Well, think for a moment if morality wasn't objective. Our state of life would be a lot different. What if you didn't have the impartial spectator that made you feel remorseful or regret? Or rather, what if you didn't have compassion? Or even love? The world would be a much darker place. Our moral stamp keeps us in check. It keeps us from being totally depraved, but doesn't keep us from being radically corrupted. 

Our knowledge of morality comes from God. The moral standard given to us by God is expressed in his moral law. It exists and is binding on us whether we acknowledge it or not. This is the best explanation for the objectivity of morality and our knowledge of it. If God does not exist, then moral values and duties wouldn't exist. So far, evolution and other moral arguments have not provided good answers for the objectivity of morality.

Morality goes against the laws of evolution. Our moral stamp tells us to do the opposite of what the laws of evolution have us to do. It goes against our selfish inclination. We are to be selfless when everything in us wants to be selfish. Listening to your impartial spectator usually will not profit you anything at all, but the conscience will be at peace. I'll finish this post with a quote from Dinesh D'Souza, "The whole point of morality is that you are doing what you ought to do, not what you are inclined to do or what is in your interest to do. Morality is described in the language of duty, and duty is something that we are obliged to do whether we want to or not, whether it benefits us or not."


1.Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) 

2. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd edition (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1909)

My other posts on morality here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Taking verses out of context

It's common for people to take a single verse from the Bible and make a doctrine out of it. Putting a number in front of the verse doesn't make it a stand-alone, end-all statement. Context is important. We don't take single lines out of other books and use them in such a fashion. I wouldn't understand my Information Technology textbooks if I read them like that. Why use the Bible that way?

Consider what Greg Koukl has to say on this issue.

"The numbers in front of the sentences give the illusion the verses stand alone in their meaning. They were not in the originals, though. Numbers were added hundreds of years later. Chapter and verse breaks sometimes pop up in unfortunate places, separating relevant material that should be grouped together.

First, ignore the verse numbers and try to get the big picture. Then begin to narrow your focus. It's not very hard or time consuming. It takes only a few moments and a little observation of the text. 

Begin with the broad context of the book. What type of literature is it history, poetry, proverb? What is the passage about in general? What idea is being developed?

Stand back from the verse and look for breaks in the narrative that identify major units of thought. Ask, "What in this paragraph or group of paragraphs gives any clue to the meaning of the verse?" 

There's a reason this little exercise is so important. Words have different meanings in different contexts (that's what makes puns work). When we consider a verse in isolation, one meaning may occur to us. But how do we know it's the right one? Help won't come from the dictionary. Dictionaries only complicate the issue, giving us more choices, not fewer. Help must come from somewhere else close by: the surrounding paragraph.
With the larger context now in view, you can narrow your focus and speculate on the meaning of the verse itself. Sum it up in your own words. 

Finally and this is critical see if your paraphrase makes sense when inserted in the passage. Does it dovetail naturally with the bigger picture?"

I found this video at STR place about reading passages in context. 

John Macarthur gives things to avoid while studying the Bible.

"Don't make a point at the cost of proper interpreta­tion . In other words, don't make the Bible say what you want it to say. That's like the preacher who proclaimed that women shouldn't wear their hair on top of their heads. His text was "Top Knot Come Down," supposedly from Matthew 24:17, which says, "Let him who is on the housetop not come down" (King James Version). Obviously that's not what the passage is about! Don't try to find verses to support a preconceived idea. I know if I try to make a sermon, I end up forcing the Bible to fit my sermon. But if I try to comprehend a passage, a message will flow out of the understanding that follows.

In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul says, "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God." The Greek word translated "peddling" is kapeleuo, which referred to selling something deceitfully in the marketplace--something that wasn't what it claimed to be. You must not force the Bible to illustrate your preconceived notions. Be careful not to interpret the Bible at the cost of its true meaning.

Avoid superficial Bible study . Unfortunately, some Bible studies consist of nothing more than person's saying, "I guess this verse means..." or "What does this verse mean to you?" Basically that's a pooling of ignorance--a lot of people sitting around telling what they don't know about the verse. To have a successful Bible study, someone has to study the passage beforehand to find out what it really means. Only then can you discuss it intelligently and apply it. Interpretation requires work. Don't take the easy way out and believe what everyone tells you the Bible says. Check the facts out yourself. Don't assume there are many interpretations of a biblical passage. There may be many applications, but there is only one true interpretation. God's Word is precise. It is not ambiguous. God has given us the ability to discover its meaning.

Don't spiritualize the text . The first sermon I ever preached was really bad. My text was, "The angel rolled the stone away" from Matthew 28. I entitled my sermon, "Rolling Away the Stones in Your Life." I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. Doubt, fear, and anger are all legitimate topics, but they have nothing to do with that verse! I call that "Little Bo Peep Preaching" because you don't need the Bible; you can use anything--even "Little Bo Peep."

Picture a preacher saying this: "Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep. All over the world people are lost. And can't tell where to find them. But they'll come home--ah, they'll come." Then you hear a tear-jerking story about sinners who came home "wagging their tails behind them!" Ridiculous? Yes, but unfortunately not too hard to imagine.

Many people tend to do that with the Old Testament. They turn it into a fairy tale with all kinds of hidden meanings--anything but what the text plainly states. Don't spiritualize the Bible. It deserves more respect."

Further reading

John Macarthur "How to Study Your Bible" 

William Lane Craig and James Crossley Resurrection Debate

Since I posted on the Craig and Ehrman debate on the resurrection of Jesus, I thought I would share a much better debate titled "Was Jesus bodily raised from the dead?" between William Lane Craig and James Crossley.

You can download the full mp3 here.

You can watch the video of the debate below.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman resurrection debate transcript and audio

Recently, a friend and I watched the debate on the resurrection of Jesus between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman. I am familiar with the Christian side of the argument, so I was hoping to hear a good rebuttal to those arguments and understand why the skeptic wouldn't find the conclusion to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus to be convincing. I didn't find any of that in this debate.

The debate is interesting because Bart didn't take the route I've heard skeptics take before, e.g., the eyewitnesses were hallucinating, instead he merely said that historians cannot have theological conclusions based on historical evidence. Even before Craig rebutted Bart's "point," I found his statement to be fallacious. Why? I found it fallacious because even though I'm not a historian, I can still draw the conclusion God raised Jesus from the dead based on the historical evidence for that conclusion; it simply doesn't follow that a historian cannot make that conclusion. Can one say it's historical? Not really, but you can make a conclusion based on the historical evidence that points to such a conclusion. Bart didn't make a good case in this debate. He was also overly emotional and would yell in attempt to make a "stronger" case, which only made me yawn. If one is going to yell in a debate, then all that shows me is the speaker knows his argument is weak so he has to beef it up with yelling and rhetoric.

The good thing about the debate is it shows how strong the case for the resurrection of Jesus is. I'm not into knock-down debates because I know there isn't going to be a good exchange of ideas (those are the debates I like), but if you aren't familiar with the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I suggest reading or listening to this debate. 

You can find the transcript and audio by clicking here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Do I have to be a Christian to be moral?

If there is one thing I wish atheist/agnostic debaters would learn it's this: the moral argument for God is not an argument saying one must be a Christian in order to be a moral person. A few weeks ago I watched the Bill Craig and Chris Hitchens debate. Craig goes over the moral argument and then in Hitchens' rebuttal, Hitchens goes on in some detail how he is not a Christian yet he is moral and how he wants someone to give him an example of something moral he can't do as an atheist. Why does ask that? Of course he can be an atheist and be a moral person. Craig's moral argument does not declare the moral superiority of Christians or people of other religions. 

Earlier in the week I was listening to the 2010 D'Souza and Ehrman debate. What does Bart Ehrman do? He goes into how atheists and agnostics are just as moral as Christians. Again, o.k.? Does that mean God doesn't exist? Not at all. That doesn't even mean Jehovah God doesn't exist. Giving stats on how some non-religious folks are just as moral as some religious folks doesn't undermine the moral argument for the existence of God, but it does show the objectivity of moral values and duties and we all know if objective moral values and duties exist, then God exists. 

The argument is about grounding morality in God, not grounding morality in Christians, which would be absurd. If I can understand the focus of the argument, surely you Hitchens and you Ehrman can understand it. Give up on the statement "atheists are just as moral as Christians" and the challenge for Hitchens; both prove nothing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Resources on slavery in the Bible

Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 posted 8 quick resources on slavery in the Bible. If you've never been to Apologetics 315, I highly recommend checking out the plethora of resources there: audio, video and text based resources on anything related to apologetics. Brian has audio (some video) for just about every major debate too.

Slavery in the Bible: 8 Quick Resources

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Questions on middle knowledge

Today, a friend asked me about my view on salvation. While looking up links explaining both sides of the view, I stumbled upon some stuff I hadn't read yet at Reasonable Faith's website. So, since I've been reading some more on middle knowledge, I thought I would share the links I found. I've already read a few of these, but plan on reading the rest when I have the time.


Questions on Middle Knowledge

Middle Knowledge and Free Will

Middle Knowledge and Christian Particularism

Misconceptions about Middle Knowledge

Middle Knowledge and Divine Election 

Middle Knowledge and Hell

Monday, June 13, 2011

An hour with Herman Cain video

In case you missed the hour with Herman Cain on Glenn Beck's show that aired 6/8/2011, you can watch the videos on youtube. I'll post part 1. The other parts should pop up when part 1 is over.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Slavery and the moral argument

This post has two aims. 1) to explain Israel's use of slavery and 2) to explain how anti-slavery laws are good evidence for objective morality. So, first things first, we'll look at slavery "back in the day" and antebellum slavery or slavery in the good ol' South. 

The objection
When some folks are discussing the Bible and its atrocities, slavery is usually brought up. The charge, "Well, what about slavery? If the moral code of the bible is SO GREAT, then why is slavery condoned?" I have to say, if slavery in Israel was anything like slavery in the South, with its slave trades and cruelties, then I would side with the objection against the bible. When we read about slavery in bible we cannot equate that form of slavery with the slavery implemented in the South. The two are not similar. Want to learn about Hebrew servanthood? Paul Copan will teach us. He writes in his article on slavery:

"We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this “slavery”) more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts — much like the indentured servitude during America’s founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free.

In most cases, servanthood was more like a live-in employee, temporarily embedded within the employer’s household. Even today, teams trade sports players to another team that has an owner, and these players belong to a franchise. This language hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled — like in the Old Testament.

Through failed crops or other disasters, debt tended to come to families, not just individuals. One could voluntarily enter into a contractual agreement (“sell” himself) to work in the household of another: “one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself” (Leviticus 25:47). A wife or children could be “sold” to help sustain the family through economically unbearable times — unless kinfolk “redeemed” them (payed their debt). They would be debt-servants for 6 years.4 A family might need to mortgage their land until the year of Jubilee every 50 years.

Note: In the Old Testament, outsiders did not impose servanthood as in the antebellum South.6 Masters could hire servants “from year to year” and were not to “rule over … [them] ruthlessly” (Leviticus 25:46,53). Rather than being excluded from Israelite society, servants were thoroughly embedded within Israelite homes.
The Old Testament prohibited unavoidable lifelong servanthood — unless someone loved his master and wanted to attach himself to him (Exodus 21:5). Masters were to grant their servants release every seventh year with all debts forgiven (Leviticus 25:35–43). A slave’s legal status was unique in the ancient Near East (ANE) — a dramatic improvement over ANE law codes: “Hebrew has no vocabulary of slavery, only of servanthood.”

An Israelite servant’s guaranteed eventual release within 7 years was a control or regulation to prevent the abuse and institutionalizing of such positions. The release-year reminded the Israelites that poverty-induced servanthood was not an ideal social arrangement. On the other hand, servanthood existed in Israel precisely because poverty existed: no poverty, no servants in Israel. And if servants lived in Israel, this was voluntary (typically poverty-induced) — not forced.

That doesn't seem like antebellum slavery at all. If you read the bible's entire treatment of slavery, "masters" were commanded to treat their servants as persons and not property. Notice also, that servants were hired not forced to be servants. This is radically different from the treatment of slaves in the South. The comparison of Israel's slavery to antebellum slavery is a false one. Paul Copan goes on to write a section titled "Three Remarkable Provisions in Israel."

"1. Anti-Harm Laws: One marked improvement of Israel’s laws over other ANE law codes is the release of injured servants (Exodus 21:26,27). When an employer (“master”) accidentally gouged out the eye or knocked out the tooth of his male or female servant/employee, he/she was to go free. God did not allow physical abuse of servants. If an employer’s disciplining his servant resulted in immediate death, that employer (“master”) was to be put to death for murder (Exodus 21:20) — unlike other ANE codes.10 In fact, Babylon’s Hammurabi’s Code permitted the master to cut off his disobedient slave’s ear (¶282). Typically in ANE law codes, masters — not slaves — were merely financially compensated. The Mosaic Law, however, held masters to legal account for their treatment of their own servants — not simply another person’s servants. 

2. Anti-Kidnapping Laws: Another unique feature of the Mosaic Law is its condemnation of kidnapping a person to sell as a slave — an act punishable by death (Exodus 21:16; cp. Deuteronomy 24:7). Kidnapping, of course, is how slavery in the antebellum South could get off the ground. 

3. Anti-Return Laws: Unlike the antebellum South, Israel was to offer safe harbor to foreign runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15,16) — a marked contrast to the Southern states’ Fugitive Slave Law. Hammurabi’s Code demanded the death penalty for those helping runaway slaves (¶16). In other less-severe cases — in the Lipit-Ishtar (¶12), Eshunna (¶49-50), and Hittite laws (¶24) — fines were exacted for sheltering fugitive slaves. Some claim that this is an improvement. Well, sort of. In these “improved” scenarios, the slave was still just property; the ANE extradition arrangements still required that the slave be returned his master. And not only this, the slave was going back to the harsh conditions that prompted him to run away in the first place.11 Even upgraded laws in first millennium BC Babylon included compensation to the owner (or perhaps something more severe) for harboring a runaway slave. Yet the returned slaves themselves were disfigured, including slitting ears and branding.12 This isn’t the kind of improvement to publicize too widely. 

Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright observes: “No other ancient near Eastern law has been found that holds a master to account for the treatment of his own slaves (as distinct from injury done to the slave of another master), and the otherwise universal law regarding runaway slaves was that they must be sent back, with severe penalties for those who failed to comply.”13

If the South had followed these three clear laws from Exodus and Deuteronomy, slavery would have been a nonissue. What’s more, Israel’s treatment of servants (“slaves”) was unparalleled in the ANE."

Human Rights

There's another part of the accuser's objection to slavery I want to examine. The accuser sees something wrong with slavery, e.g., it's cruel to human beings and that human beings shouldn't be treated as slaves. Well, if human beings shouldn't be treated that way, then that really says something about humans, doesn't it? Why should we not be treated as someone's slave? Because it's cruel and inhumane? What makes it cruel and inhumane? The fact that we have inalienable rights is what makes slavery cruel and inhumane. Where do those rights come from? Not from government. These rights can't be taken or given to us by government; it merely acknowledges the rights of human beings. 

Our rights are transcendent rights given to us by God. Objective morality (morality that exists whether persons acknowledge it or not) flows from God's nature and is expressed to us in His commandments to us. Our rights come from God. Our rights cannot come from a physical quality in us. Physical qualities do not give us inalienable rights endowed to us. As Greg Koukl wrote in an article, "human beings are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights, and the endowment is not related to any physical thing in itself--any particular physical thing. We are endowed in a metaphysical way that is not related to our physical characteristics, but it is related to our humanness." 

If you're a materialist, you cannot argue that our rights are inalienable and can't be taken away because rights are not material. There is no morality because morality is not material. The best a materialist or naturalist can come up with for the apparent objectivity of morality is a morality based on survival of the fittest and we know that theory doesn't work; nor does the other option, relativism, work. 

I think the cruelty shown by antebellum slavery screams the truthfulness of the existence of objective moral values and duties. Given naturalism, slavery would not be cruel, it would not be evil because on naturalism human beings are not special, human beings do not have inalienable rights; we are just evolved primates and enslavement of some evolved primates for the selfish benefit of another evolved primate would not be wrong. In fact, on naturalism, slavery would be a good sign of survival of the fittest. It's possible I'm wrong, but I would think slavery would be just fine on a naturalistic worldview. What do you think?

Read the articles referenced

Slavery, Abortion, and Inalienable Rights by Greg Koukl

More info:
Slavery in the Bible: 8 Quick Resources

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Habitat loss and species extinction

[h/t Matt Ridley Wall Street Journal]

"A recent paper in the journal Nature has found habitat loss as cause of species extinction to be happening less than half as fast as usually expected," Ridley writes in his opening sentence. The study concluded that while a larger patch of habitat does have more species in it, a shrinking habitat will not lead to a proportional rate of species loss. That's interesting. If habitat loss isn't doing the damage, then what is doing the damage? 

Ridley writes:

"In nearly all such cases, the damage was done not by habitat loss but by the introduction of predators, competitors or parasites: monkeys and pigs in Mauritius, rats and other birds in Hawaii, Nile perch in Lake Victoria. The species-extinction crisis on islands peaked around 1900, but it continues today. In the Galapagos and other places, newly arrived animals are driving endemic species to the brink.

By contrast—and so long as you count Australia as an island, because its rash of extinctions was caused mostly by introduced aliens—the rate at which continents are losing species is remarkably slow, despite huge changes in habitat wrought by human beings. According to the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 122 bird species and 58 mammals have gone extinct in the last 500 years. But of these, the independent scholar Willis Eschenbach has concluded, only six birds and three mammals were on continents—out of 8,971 and 4,428 continental species, respectively. None was exclusively a forest dweller, and none was extinguished exclusively by habitat loss.

Europe got through the 20th century without losing a single species of bird. (The Faroese pied raven was at most a subspecies.) The last European breeding bird to die out altogether was the great auk—an island species—in the 1840s. In a drastic and unusual case of habitat destruction, an underwater volcano off Iceland finally did in the flightless bird, after centuries of human persecution. The eruption sank the great auk's last breeding colony, an island called Geirfuglasker. A forlorn few pairs subsequently tried breeding on the much less suitable island of Eldey, but they were killed by a collector of rare birds." 

Read more by clicking here

Have you heard of Chrome OS?

Web applications are the future, whether techs like me like it or not (I like things I own to be somewhat tangible, e.g., I still like to have CDs and DVDs) and the good question is: Why not embrace the future? That's what Google is doing. Google is basing an operating system around their web browser. Cool, huh? I think so. The OS will boot up in an "instant-on" way like tablet PCs. All of the applications will not be installed locally on the computer, rather you'll have shortcuts for your applications (they'll be on the web). 

This concept is very interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works in the field. Chrome OS is not out yet, however, I'll leave you with some links to check out.

This link will take you to a page with instructions on how to beta test Chrome OS and provide you with a link to download the beta version. Click here.

Click here to read more on Chrome OS and Chromebooks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

House rejects debt limit increase

[h/t Mark]

House rejects bill to raise the debt limit. Is our country now doomed to have an economic collapse if something isn't done by August 2? Of course not. When your credit card company rejects raising your spending limit, what do you do? You stop spending and pay off some of your debt. 

Excerpt from Fox News:

"House Republicans dealt defeat to their own proposal for a $2.4 trillion increase in the nation's debt limit Tuesday, a political gambit designed to reinforce a demand for spending cuts to accompany any increase in government borrowing.
The vote was lopsided, with just 97 in favor of the measure and 318 against.
House Democrats accused the GOP of political demagoguery, while the Obama administration maneuvered to avoid taking sides -- or giving offense to majority Republicans.

The debate was brief, occasionally impassioned and set a standard of sorts for public theater, particularly at a time when private negotiations continue among the administration and key lawmakers on the deficit cuts Republicans have demanded.

The bill "will and must fail," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the House Ways and Means Committee chairman who noted he had helped write the very measure he was criticizing.
I consider defeating an unconditional increase to be a success, because it sends a clear and critical message that the Congress has finally recognized we must immediately begin to rein in America's affection for deficit spending," he said.

But Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., accused Republicans of a "ploy so egregious that (they) have had to spend the last week pleading with Wall Street not to take it seriously and risk our economic recovery."

He and other Democrats added that Republicans were attempting to draw attention away from their controversial plan to turn Medicare into a program in which seniors purchase private insurance coverage.

The proceedings occurred roughly two months before the date Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said the debt limit must be raised. If no action is taken by Aug. 2, he has warned, the government could default on its obligations and risk turmoil that might plunge the nation into another recession or even an economic depression."

Read more by clicking here. 

Check out this debate on "Will Not Raising the Debt Ceiling Lead to Armageddon?" click here