Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why Evolution is True

Recently I re-posted a blog by Sean McDowell entitled An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

One reader left a comment on the blog recommending the book Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne in order to help non-scientists "understand the thousands of pieces of evidence for evolution." As it turns out, Sean had already reviewed this book as well. My thanks to him for allowing us to re-post it here.

(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell

  • “Evolution is a fact. And far from casting doubt on Darwinism, the evidence gathered by scientists over the past century and a half support it completely.”
  • “Today scientists have as much confidence in Darwinism as they do in the existence of atoms, or in microorganisms as the cause of infectious disease.”
  • “Evolution is far more than a scientific theory: it is a scientific fact…scientists need no more convincing.”

These quotes all come from Professor Jerry Coyne’s recent defense of Darwinian evolution entitled Why Evolution is True (Viking Publishing, 2009). Like most books that defend Darwinian evolution (if not all), the author acts as if the evidence for evolution is simply overwhelming and conclusive. From his perspective, it’s only scientific novices or cranks that believe in creationism or intelligent design (ID). And the future of science itself rests upon defending Darwinian evolution against its critics.

Whenever I picked up a book of this sort I used to wonder, “What new evidence has been found? What does the author know that I don’t?” In the back of my mind I used to wonder if the author had discovered some evidence that would genuinely support Darwin’s theory. Now, since I have been doing this for some time, my fears have abated. I have read enough books of this sort to realize that most of the arguments are simply recycled from previous works.

Evidence for Evolution

The evidence Coyne offers for evolution includes vestigial organs, embryological similarities, the fossil record, imperfect design, and the geographical distribution of species. With the exception of the last point, William Dembski and I respond to ALL of these points in our book Understanding Intelligent Design (Harvest House, 2009).

Let’s consider one example from Why Evolution is True. Coyne says, “It is a remarkable fact that while there are many living species, all of us—you, me, the elephant, and the potted cactus—share some fundamental traits. Among these are the biochemical pathways that we use to produce energy, our standard four-letter DNA code, and how that code is read and translated into proteins. This tells us that every species goes back to a single common ancestor, an ancestor who had these common traits and passed them on to it descendants.” There are two problems with this “evidence” that Professor Coyne conveniently ignores.

First, evidence for common descent is decidedly not evidence for Darwinian evolution. There are many proponents of ID who believe in common descent, but they doubt that Darwin’s mechanism (natural selection acting on random mutation) is a sufficient causal explanation for all the diversity and complexity within the biological world. Coyne needs to show that a blind material process can generate all the biological information that pervades the natural world. The only evidence he offers is finch-beak variation and bacterial resistance, which demonstrate minor genetic shuffling rather than the generation of novel information and structures.

Second, it is true that the arguments Professor Coyne makes here are consistent with Darwinian evolution. But here’s the problem he overlooks: these considerations are also consistent with intelligent design. Here’s why: If there is a common designer, then it should be no surprise that we find a common “fingerprint” over all nature. Since the evidence Coyne cites is consistent with BOTH Darwinian evolution and ID it cannot be used as evidence solely for one.

Just-So Stories

In the final section of the book Coyne criticizes evolutionary psychology for trying to explain all human behavior through a Darwinian lens. Evolutionary psychologists try to explain everything—including altruistic behavior and sexual preference—as adaptive results of natural selection acting on our ancestors. Coyne is strongly critical of evolutionary psychology, claiming that “Imaginative reconstructions of how things might have evolved are not science; they are stories” (228).

Ironically, though, Coyne offers many imaginative reconstructions in defense of biological evolution throughout the book. For example, he offers a “possible” scenario for the evolution of the eye (141) and a “feasible” explanation for the evolution of the blood-clotting system after admitting, “We don’t yet know for sure…”

Coyne says that evolutionary biologists don’t need to give detailed explanations of the evolution of biological features. Rather, they merely need to give a “feasible” explanation (138). This raises a troubling question: How can Coyne get away with offering merely “feasible” scenarios in evolutionary biology and yet criticize evolutionary psychology for not giving detailed explanations? One can’t have it both ways.

Evolution is a “how” not a “that”

I am amazed at how frequently Darwinists admit that there is debate about HOW life evolved but not THAT life evolved. Coyne puts it this way: “These mysteries about how we evolved should not distract us from the indisputable fact that we did evolve” (209). Once again, this raises a troubling question: If there is debate about the how of evolution, then what right do Darwinists have to claim that we evolved with such confidence (as we saw above)? Evolution is a theory specifically about how life developed. The significant debate (and lack of evidence) for the mechanism of evolution undermines the theory itself.

I’m tempted to close this article by claiming that the evidence for evolution is underwhelming, weak, disputable, and unconvincing. But that would be to use the very tactics I criticize in Coyne. So here’s my question: Why can’t we have a balanced, thoughtful, non fear-mongering discussion about the question of our origins? What are (many) Darwinists afraid of?

If you are looking for a recent book that encapsulates the case for Darwinian evolution, then Why Evolution is True is probably a good place to start. Just make sure you balance it out with a book such as Understanding Intelligent Design, or The Design of Life (by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells). Don’t let the confident statement above fool you—the case for Darwinian evolution is not closed.

Richard Dawkins is releasing a book soon in defense of evolution called, “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.” Maybe this will finally be the conclusive evidence in favor of Darwin’s theory. I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Did God Send Saul An Evil Spirit?

One particular passage in the Old Testament that has bothered Christians and fueled critics is found in 1 Samuel 16:14-16:

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. Saul's servants then said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well." (1 Samuel 16:14-16)

What are we to make of this passage? Did God really send Saul an evil spirit?

Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard provide excellent insight into this passage in their book Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. This book serves as an excellent introduction to hermeneutics.(1) Regarding this passage, they state:

The report that God sent Saul an "evil spirit" (1 Sam 16:14-16, et al.) illustrates how easily we may read later information into our reading of the Old Testament. In the NT an "evil spirit" is a demon (e.g., Mk 1:26 par.), so we naturally assume that the same term identifies the tormentor of Saul as a demon. This assumption overlooks two points of background: to read the OT phrase as "an evil spirit from God" implies that God sends demons on people, a theological assumption unsupported by Scripture because it conflicts with the biblical teaching that God does not associate with "evil." In addition, it wrongly assumes that the OT has an awareness of the demonic world, which does not seem to be the case. Instead, we might better translate the Hebrew as "bad spirit" (i.e., "foul mood" or "depression"; cf Judg 9:23).(2)

In other words, when we engage in biblical interpretation, it is important not to read New Testament theology back into Old Testament passages. This can lead to mistaken interpretations of Scripture.

What these authors are pointing out is that the phrase "evil spirit" needs to be interpreted with the original author and audience in mind. In addition, any legitimate interpretation of this passage must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. The "evil spirit" which came upon Saul is not necessarily a demon but may more accurately be regarded as a foul or depressing mood, such as seems to be the case in Judges 9:23.

Is there anything else in the passage which supports this interpretation? Does this interpretation fit the larger context? I think so.

Notice what it says just a few verses later:

So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him (1 Sam 16:23).

Given this verse, which interpretation of "evil spirit" better fits the context? Does it make more sense to think that a demon would depart from Saul whenever David played the harp? Or, does it make more sense to think Saul's depressing and foul mood would leave whenever David played the harp?

In terms of theology, I have no reason to believe that demons are somehow annoyed by the sound of harps and forced to leave whenever they hear them. On the other hand, I think we all have personally experienced the power of music in being able to lift our spirits and bring us out of a depressing or foul mood.

Therefore, not only does this later interpretation fit the context of the passage as a whole but it also seems to do greater justice to the original author and audience, as well as our own personal reflection on the matter. In light of this interpretation, neither skeptics nor Christians should be troubled by the idea of God sending an "evil spirit" on to Saul.

(1) Biblical hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation.

(2) Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 12.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moral Grounding

(Stand to Reason) Greg Koukl

A common objection to God’s existence is the existence of evil. How could there be a God if there is so much evil in the world? My observation is that in order for that objection to gain any traction, there has got to be real evil or a violation of a real good. You can’t be a relativist and ask this question without being disingenuous. It’s intellectually dishonest if you don’t believe in objective morality to ask about the objective evil in the world. So if there’s a real problem of evil, there has to be real evil. In order for evil to be real, there’s got to be real good. That is foundational.

The objection makes use of a moral standard. If evil is real, then there’s a standard that allows us to identify what is good and what is evil. I think we have the standard built into us and that is why we can look at acts of injustice and immediately know that they are wrong. Our conscience has this ability. I refer to it in the Relativism book as “moral intuitions.” Moral intuition is a way of knowing that’s built into us that we can grasp something that’s true. The thing we grasp is not physical. We’re not looking at it with our eyes. We’re looking at it with a different faculty, but it’s still just as real. This is why people spontaneously react when they see examples of injustice and react, “That’s wrong.”

What makes it so? How is it that things like injustice or cruelty to people or animals are wrong?

We see an act of goodness and it moves us deeply. I think goodness is one of the things that touches us deeply when we watch films that are effective. There is something deep and morally good about an event, a look on the face, a gesture, something noble that happens and it moves us. Consequently, we are deeply touched and maybe even tempted to weep at that moment in the film because something real and truthful that is morally good has been awakened in our heart. So our awareness of objective morality expresses itself both in our awareness of evil and of good.

The grounding question is: Given that there is real evil and good, as well, why is the world the way it is? What properly accounts for this moral feature of the world?

If you are a materialist you cannot answer that question, you cannot explain how morality emerges from material things. There’s no adequate explanation for morality in a purely physical world.

When you reflect on the nature of morality, it has a certain incumbency to it, an oughtness to it. There is an obligation. It isn’t just descriptive, what people did do. It’s what we ought to do. So what best explains this? And obligations seem to be the kinds of things that are held between persons. Therefore, if we have moral laws it seems to suggest there must be a moral law maker, who is the adequate sovereign to make that kind of law obligatory on us.

The existence of objective morality that entails obligation on human beings seems to be best grounded, or accounted for, by the existence of another personal being who himself is the moral law maker and the appropriate sovereign to make such laws that make such demands upon us. That sounds to me a lot like what Christians mean when they say God.

I got some push-back on this particular point from a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy from Purdue when I spoke there recently. He said that just because you have standards it doesn’t mean you have a standard-maker. I said that that wasn’t my argument, that all standards require standard-makers. My argument is more precise than that. My argument is that moral standards, which are a peculiar kind of standard, require a moral maker or one that stands behind it and grounds it in some sense.

Let me give you an illustration that I think makes sense of how this grounding problem works. You can read a newspaper because the skills needed to read newspapers are things that we are capable of developing. So we have the ability to read the information. But what if you said that there are no authors to newspaper articles; there are no delivery boys; there are no editors; there are no headline writers. Those don’t exist. You acknowledge there are newspaper articles, but you deny that there needs to be an explanation for them.

Now that sounds very odd because when you consider the kinds of things that newspaper articles are. They seem to be the kinds of things that require authors. There are thoughts communicated, there are propositional statements that are functions of minds, not matter. No propositions are made of matter. They can be tokened with matter, like ink on a page, but the propositions themselves are not material. Newspaper articles represent the information and propositions, but you say that there is no mind needed for this. That strikes me as really odd.

Newspaper articles, if there are such things, require an explanation. They need grounding, a source. They suggest the existence of authors because that is an adequate explanation for newspapers. I think it’s a perfect parallel with morality. Morality is the kind of thing we also have discovered exists, and it seems to be the kind of thing that requires an author adequate to explain its existence.

So I’m within my epistemic rights to say someone like God is the grounding for morality.

By the way, a common response from atheists to the grounding question is to object that he could be just as moral without God as the theist. Atheists say this all the time. That’s like saying there doesn’t need to be any authors. How do you know? Because I can read really well. Well, the ability to read really well doesn’t have anything to do with the question of whether what you’re reading needs an author. And the ability to behave really well, be moral, and be aware of what moral guidelines doesn’t obviate the need for a moral lawmaker. Those are two separate issues.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell

One of the most stereotypes of intelligent design (ID) is that it is an evangelical Christian movement intent upon forcing religion into the classroom. The release of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Bradley Monton, Broadview Press, 2009) officially puts this claim to rest. Defenders of ID do include evangelical Christians, but also Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and now even atheists! University of Colorado philosophy professor Bradley Monton is ultimately not persuaded by the arguments of ID (which is why he’s an atheist), but he says that they do have some force, and they make him less certain of his atheism.

For those of you who have followed the ID movement, this should come as quite the surprise. Yes, an atheist actually defends the integrity and merits of ID! Monton argues that criticisms of ID—whether from atheists or theistic evolutionists—are largely unfounded, misplaced, and erroneous. Monton doesn’t so much defend the truth of ID, but he believes it is a reasonable, (somewhat) persuasive, and legitimate scientific project.

The best part of the book (from my perspective) is that Monton sees right through much of the rhetorical tactics commonly used by ID opponents. For example, critics frequently conflate ID with creationism so as to make it an easier target to defeat. Monton rightly observes that some ID arguments are not related to creationism at all and that such comparisons are “sloppy” (31). Critics also love to claim that ID makes no predictions and is not testable. According to Monton: “I would say that intelligent design proponents are making a prediction: they are claiming that, if one looks, one will find evidence that there is a designer” (72).

Monton also criticizes Judge Jones’ ruling against ID in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005). Darwinists have continued to herald this ruling as an overwhelming defeat for ID. However, says Monton, Judge Jones’ arguments were “fundamentally flawed.” In his attempt to discredit ID, Jones argued that it is not a legitimate science because (among other reasons) it postulates supernatural creation.

Surprisingly, Monton argues that postulating supernatural causation is actually compatible with science! He gives a fictional example of a pulsar that pulses out Morse code. The message claims to be God, and can answer any questions that scientists formulate in their heads. If such a thing happened, shouldn’t the “God” theory be a legitimate option? This is a highly unlikely scenario, but it shows that at least (in principle) science can explore supernatural causes, despite the ruling by Judge Jones.

Ultimately, says Monton, we shouldn’t get caught up debating whether or not ID is science. The most important question is whether or not the claims are true (73). Monton recognizes that proclamations against the scientific status of ID are largely meant to suppress debate so the actual truth-claims of ID can be avoided.

Professor Monton challenges both atheistic and theistic opponents of ID. For example, he critiques theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller (author of Only a Theory) who claims that intelligent design closes down scientific investigation. According to Monton: “While theistic scientists could choose to stop investigating the world, and be satisfied with the answer ‘God did it,’ they need not. What theistic scientists can do is investigate questions like: ‘What structure did God choose to give the world?’” (112). Miller’s claim that ID is anti-science “doesn’t hold up.”

Surprisingly, Monton agrees that intelligent design offers the best explanation for certain features of the universe. He admits that there are currently no naturalistic explanations for why the universe exists, for the nature of consciousness, and a detailed scenario for the origin of life. Yet rather than believing in design he says: “The truth of the matter is that there’s no explanation at all” (37). To avoid the conclusion that God exists, Monton is forced to accept that certain features of reality simply don’t have an explanation. Rather than offering an alternative explanation, Monton challenges the notion of explanation itself.

Much more could be said about Seeking God in Science. It is certainly refreshing to read someone who desires to transcend the culture wars and to communicate his ideas in a respectful and generous tone. Supporters of ID can learn much from his style and substance, even if they ultimately disagree with his conclusions (as I do!). This is a watershed book in the history of ID, and is hopefully a sign of more to come.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Emerging vs. Emergent

Whenever the topic of the "emerging church" comes up in a conversation I always like to begin by distinguishing what could be called the "emerging church" from the "emergent church." Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason sums this up nicely:

At this point a critical distinction is necessary. I have been speaking in general terms about the emerging church, which is a broad and multifaceted group, culturally and theologically. Even so, two distinct streams seem to diverge. Scot McKnight, a friendly but thoughtful critic of the movement, distinguishes two major forces in the emerging church: a missional force and a postmodern force.

This difference, it seems to me, is one of method vs. message. The vast majority of those in the emerging church – as high as 90%, according to Kimball – are engaged in a cross-cultural, missional enterprise that aggressively seeks to contextualize the timeless message of the Gospel using methods more friendly to postmoderns.

This move alone has drawn fire from the old guard. In my opinion, much of this criticism has been shallow. Far too much blood is being spilt on inconsequentials: order of worship, style of preaching, type of music, seating arrangements, and the like.

Though these functions are biblical, no particular forms are mandated. Most of these objections are little more than vindication of the cultural status quo. We have much bigger fish to fry.

My own concerns are theological and philosophical, not cultural. My uneasiness with the movement is not with the emerging church in general, but with a subgroup on the vanguard that I fear is being seduced by a postmodern culture God intended them to transform, not be transformed by. This subgroup goes by the name “Emergent,” a proper noun identifying those following the lead of the Emergent Village.

Neither of these groups – the emerging church nor the Emergent Church – is a monolith, true enough. I appreciate that many are sensitive to broad generalizations that may not fit them. But singling out specific people on specific offenses also has its perils. Some writers are notoriously vague and equivocal in their language. Others seem to cry “foul” regardless of accuracy if they’ve been cited in criticism.

Therefore, rather than spotlighting personalities, I’ve chosen to focus on a handful of specific ideas where the meanderings of some Emergent thinkers give me pause.

In sum, this is how I would distinguish emerging from emergent:

The emerging church may be applied to a broad group of church leaders and ministries who seek to take the gospel message and contextualize it for our "postmodern" generation.

The emergent church, on the other hand, is a subgroup of individuals and organizations within the much broader emerging church movement who have accepted postmodernism as a philosophy and have sought to interpret and preach the gospel from within a postmodern worldview. They contextualize the gospel to a point where the actual content of the gospel is distorted. This results in heretical and aberrant theology, as well as a false gospel.

Here is the key: All emergent are emerging, but not all emerging are emergent (sort of like all Boston Celtics are basketball players but not all basketball players are Boston Celtics).

Most within the emerging church movement are orthodox in terms of theology. Their methods or forms may be different but they remain faithful to the content of the biblical gospel. It is those within the emergent church movement who give the rest a bad name.

Why is this important? A few reasons:

First, it is important for dialogue. When someone says they are part of an emerging church do not automatically assume this is a bad thing. This may simply mean they use candle lighting, sip coffee, and sit on sofas during their church service. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. These are simply different forms of the same function. Always ask the person what they believe personally and find out where they stand theologically and philosophically before bringing out the big apologetic guns. A person who says "I'm postmodern" may just like a certain style of architecture!

Second, it is important for discernment. Some Christians have not been careful to distinguish between emerging and emergent and have therefore lumped everyone together as heretics, regardless of their beliefs. For example, I have seen some Christians throw Dan Kimball and Dallas Willard into the same pile with Brian McLaren and Tony Jones. This is unfortunate. Even if you don't agree, for example, with Willard's view on spiritual formation, this is no reason to classify him with postmoderns who deny the objectivity of reality, truth, value, and reason. I think this reflects a lack of discernment and familiarity on the part of those Christians who fail to make these distinctions. We need to be able to distinguish essential Christian doctrine from secondary and even tertiary beliefs.

Third, it is important for doctrine. At the other end of the spectrum, some Christians are either ignorant or naive (or both) and have accepted everyone within the emerging church movement, no questions asked. I was recently told of a church leader saying there is nothing wrong with the teachings of a prominent emergent church leader and that it is safe for the youth to watch his videos and read his material. And at my Christian high school alma mater a video of this same individual was shown during chapel. The dangerousness of the emergent church is that it is a movement which has sprung up from within Christianity itself. Their books are sold on the same shelves and their teachings are commonly labeled "Christian." Church leaders must be ready to "exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).

So is the "emerging church" bad? That all depends.

Postmodernism as a philosophy is bad. It is a false, man-made, self-refuting worldview which should be rejected by all Christians. Therefore, any emerging church or church leader who holds to postmodernism should be rejected as well. Paul warned us of this type of philosophy when he said "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

In conclusion, there is nothing inherently wrong with a church movement which seeks to contextualize the gospel for our current generation. Rather, this is something we should actively engage in. We should be ready to "become all things to all men, so that [we] may by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). What we must never do is compromise truths of Scripture in an attempt to make Jesus or the gospel more palatable.

If you have not done so, check out this series of Solid Ground from Stand to Reason (note: you need an ambassador login to view past issues of solid ground. You may obtain a login for free at www.str.org)

Truth Is a Strange Sort of Fiction Part I
Truth Is a Strange Sort of Fiction Part II: Belief and Faith
Truth Is a Strange Sort of Fiction Part III: The Postmodern Turn
Truth Is a Strange Sort of Fiction Part IV: Postmodernism Self-Destructs
Truth Is a Strange Sort of Fiction Part V: Christianity and Postmodernism: The Emerging Church

Friday, August 14, 2009

Did God Condone Slavery?

(Stand to Reason) Amy Hall

Since God regulated slavery in the Old Testament, does this automatically mean that He approves of slavery? Just as some answer "yes" today, the Pharisees also jumped to a similarly wrong conclusion in Matthew 19 when they asked Jesus a question:

"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" And [Jesus] answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?...What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way."

Notice what happens here. The Pharisees come with a legal question about which regulations ought to govern divorce, and Jesus responds in a very unexpected way, saying there shouldn't be any divorce. The Pharisees are immediately confused. "But how could it be that there shouldn't be any divorce if God regulated it? Doesn't that mean He thinks it's hunky-dory as long as it's done right?"

Jesus makes it clear that this is not the case.

The Pharisees had missed something very important about law: there's a difference between what's legal and what's moral--between the practical need to deal with reality and the existence of an ideal. The Law was not meant to be an exhaustive list of everything moral and immoral. It functioned as every national set of laws functions--as reasonably enforceable rules to govern their society. And the Pharisees had made the mistake of focusing on merely staying within the regulations instead of going beyond them to seek the goodness of God's ideal.

As with divorce, the same was true for slavery. The rules regulating slavery were added "because the hardness of the hearts" of humanity had created a situation where slavery existed and served certain functions in their societies, "but it was not that way from the beginning." In the beginning, there was human dignity and equal value resulting from the fact that every single individual--young or old, rich or poor, royal or commoner--was made in the image of God. But after the Fall, the ideal society was out the window, and God had to deal with what was actually there.

Deeply ingrained cultural patterns don't change overnight, but must be redeemed over time. Slavery was intricately woven into the cultures of the day, so, as with divorce (neither being the situation God desired), God made rules to keep the evil of the practice to a minimum. For example, if you kidnapped someone and made him a slave, you were put to death. If a slave escaped from his master for whatever reason, you were not allowed to return him. If you harmed so much as a tooth of your slave, you had to let him go free--in other words, no person was allowed to keep a slave if he mistreated him or her. Slavery in Western countries would never even have gotten off the ground had these rules been followed; the first rule alone would have prevented it.

Regulating a bad situation is not a foreign concept to us. We see some people using this same principle today regarding abortion. They say it's too much a part of our society at the moment to enforce a complete ban, though abortion is immoral, so they support regulating certain things about it for now in order to reduce the evil of it (banning only partial-birth abortions, or third trimester abortions, or regulating the issues surrounding abortion, for example). That doesn't mean either that they think abortion is fine or that they intend for the situation to remain in that same state forever.

God regulated divorce, and yet He explicitly said He hates it, so the regulation of the practice did not mean He condoned it. Therefore, one cannot assume that God's regulation of slavery meant God condoned slavery.

All that said (and much more could be said), the question remains: If God opposed slavery and would need to redeem the culture from it slowly over a long period of time, why not just prevent it from ever existing in the first place? The same question could be asked of all suffering that results from human sin--why does God allow it? Since the Fall, suffering has served an important purpose in this world. God's highest goal for us is not our comfort, but our more intimate knowledge of, appreciation of, and love for Him. The existence of suffering around us has long been used by God to remind us of the ugliness of sin--a physical illustration of the fact that our hearts are far from God's perfection, and a reminder of our desperate need for Him and His mercy.

Slavery has served this same purpose. Freedom is God's ideal --the kind of freedom found in the Garden at the beginning before the Fall (that is, the freedom to follow God openly and completely, without hindrance). And God's rescuing the Israelites from slavery served for them (and for all generations) as a physical illustration of a spiritual truth. Because they understood the meaning of physical slavery, the invisible truth of their spiritual slavery to sin and their need for redemption could be made visible for all to see and understand. And because they knew God orchestrated their release from slavery, they knew not only that slavery--physical or spiritual--was not the ideal, but that He cared about their condition and desired to release them from it.

The existence of slavery in the world taught God's people both the condition of their own hearts and a crucial truth about their great, good God. This is why it was Christians in the 18th and 19th century who not only worked to see that others were freed from their spiritual slavery, but who also led the way in following God's desire to free others from physical slavery.

As with the other suffering of history, God did not prevent slavery from ever existing, though He could have. But this was neither random, senseless, nor in vain. Just as Joseph said of his own suffering as a slave that "[they] meant it for evil, but God meant it for good," slavery did not pass through this world without accomplishing a purpose even greater than the suffering.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

6 Facts Proving Abortion Is In The Health Care Legislation

(Americanprinciplesproject.org) Thomas Peters

The Family Research Council is in the cross-hairs of many organizations for arguing that abortion is part of health care legislation.

This morning Speaker Pelosi said "People must be allowed to learn the facts" about health care.

Well, Family Research Council provides six facts about abortion in health care:

1. The House bill specifically includes it. The Capps amendment explicitly allows abortion coverage in the public health plan and subsidizes health plans that cover abortion. (Passed 30-28 in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, July 30)

2. Senate Democrats admit it. "[The health care bill] would include, uh, it would include, uh, Planned, uh, Parenthood clinics." (Sen. Barbara Mikulski, July 9, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions-HELP-Committee meeting-Planned Parenthood is the No. 1 U.S. abortion chain.)

3. Senate Democrats refused to ban it. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "Madam Chairman, would you be willing to put some language in [about] not including abortion services? Then I think you would have more support."Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.): "...No, I would not, uh, be willing to do that at this time." (July 9, Senate HELP Committee meeting)
4. The mainstream media confirms it. ("Government insurance would allow coverage for abortion," Associated Press, August 5, 2009).
5. The Obama administration includes it in its definition of reproductive health care. "Reproductive health care includes access to abortion." (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 19)

6. Every amendment to exclude it from health care legislation was defeated by the liberal sponsors. The following is a list of pro-life amendments that would have prevented abortion funding or prohibited abortion mandates for covered services. (For vote tallies and details, see our complete list at www.frc.org here)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why Christians Should Value Philosophy Part 2 of 3

(Reasons.org) Kenneth Samples

During the Middle Ages theology was hailed as the "Queen of the Sciences." Consequently, medieval Christian thinkers described philosophy as a "handmaiden" to theology.

The Importance of Philosophy for Christians

  1. Philosophy Promotes Critical Thinking

In part one of this series I presented the first reason for Christians to value philosophy. It is the best discipline for preparing a person to think critically. Logic, after all, is defined as the science of "correct thinking" and logic is one of the major branches of philosophical inquiry.

  1. Philosophical Implications in Christian Doctrine

Believers should study philosophy because Christian doctrine contains many philosophical implications. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity involves one "essence" (being) but three "subsistences" (persons). Both of these critical terms (used to describe the triune nature of God) are philosophical in nature.

The same is true for the doctrine of the Incarnation (God coming in the flesh), where Jesus Christ is understood as being one "Who" (a distinct and unified person) but two "Whats" (possessing both a divine and a human "essence"). Again this essential Christian doctrine is loaded with subtle philosophical meaning and implications. Analysis of Christian theology also extends to God's being and characteristics. God's attributes–whether incommunicable (independent qualities) or communicable (shared qualities with humankind)–involve the philosophical categories of time, space, and knowledge.

In describing philosophy as the handmaiden to theology, medieval scholars asserted that philosophy (or reason overall) serves to explain and help defend the truths of historic Christianity. Reason isn't supposed to function in a magisterial way (like a magistrate judging God's revealed truth). Rather it is to fulfill a critical ministerial function (like a minister serving God's written Word) in the overall study of theology. This close connection between philosophy and theology is evidenced in a subset of the formal study of theology known as "philosophical theology."

Through the ages, Christian theology has viewed reason as God's good gift to humanity–a result of being made in the image of God (imago Dei, Genesis 1:26-27). Christian truth can never be exhaustively comprehended by finite human beings, but through the imago Dei God ensures that his creatures can trace his intelligible truths. Thus, both mystery and knowledge accompany a creature's relationship with God Almighty.

However, the consensus of theology is also that truth and revelation never damage reason itself. The minds of sinners can be negatively impacted by humanity's fallenness, but the laws of logic and the principles of argumentation remain undefiled.

In history, philosophy has (at times) been used to critique and attack the truth of Christianity. However, it is also true that believers have appealed to philosophy to explain and defend the truth of the faith.

For more about philosophy and its benefits to the Christian, see A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. For two excellent books on the subject of philosophical theology, see God and Reason by Ed L. Miller and Our Idea of God by Thomas V. Morris.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Care Versus Control

(Townhall.com) Thomas Sowell

As someone who was once rushed to a hospital in the middle of the night, because of taking a medication that millions of people take every day without the slightest problem, I have a special horror of life and death medical decisions being made by bureaucrats in Washington, about patients they have never laid eyes on.

On another occasion, I was told by a doctor that I would have died if I had not gotten to him in time, after an allergic reaction to eating one of the most healthful foods around. On still another occasion, I was treated with a medication that causes many people big problems and was urged to come back to the hospital immediately if I had a really bad reaction. But I had no reaction at all, went home, felt fine and slept soundly through the night.

My point is that everybody is different. Millions of children eat peanut butter sandwiches every day but some children can die from eating peanut butter. Some vaccines and medications that save many lives can also kill some people.

Are decisions made by doctors who have treated the same patient for years to be over-ruled by bureaucrats sitting in front of computer screens in Washington, following guidelines drawn up with the idea of "bringing down the cost of medical care"?

The idea is even more absurd than the idea that you can add millions of people to a government medical care plan without increasing the costs. It is also more dangerous.

What is both dangerous and mindless is rushing a massive new medical care scheme through Congress so fast that members of Congress do not even have time to read it before voting on it. Legislation that is far less sweeping in its effects can get months of hearings before Congressional committees, followed by debates in the Senate and the House of Representatives, with all sorts of people voicing their views in the media and in letters to Congress, while ads from people on both sides of the issue appear in newspapers and on television.

If this new medical scheme is so wonderful, why can't it stand the light of day or a little time to think about it?

The obvious answer is that the administration doesn't want us to know what it is all about or else we would not go along with it. Far better to say that we can't wait, that things are just too urgent. This tactic worked with whizzing the "stimulus" package through Congress, even though the stimulus package itself has not worked.

Any serious discussion of government-run medical care would have to look at other countries where there is government-run medical care. As someone who has done some research on this for my book "Applied Economics," I can tell you that the actual consequences of government-controlled medical care is not a pretty picture, however inspiring the rhetoric that accompanies it.

Thirty thousand Canadians are passing up free medical care at home to go to some other country where they have to pay for it. People don't do that without a reason.

But Canadians are better off than people in some other countries with government-controlled medical care, because they have the United States right next door, in case their medical problems get too serious to rely on their own system.

But where are Americans to turn if we become like Canada? Where are we to go when we need better medical treatment than Washington bureaucrats will let us have? Mexico? The Caribbean?

Many people do not understand that it is not just a question of whether government bureaucrats will agree to pay for particular medical treatments. The same government-control mindset that decides what should and should not be paid for can also decide that the medical technology or pharmaceutical drugs that they control should not be for sale to those who are willing to pay their own money.

Right now, medications or treatments that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration are medications or treatments that you are not allowed to buy with your own money, no matter how desperate your medical condition, and no matter how many years these medications or treatments may have been used without dire effects in other countries.

The crucial word is not "care" but "control."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dawkins' Delusion

(Reasonablefaith.org) William Lane Craig

Richard Dawkins has emerged as the enfant terrible of the movement known as the New Atheism. His best-selling book The God Delusion has become the literary centerpiece of that movement. In it Dawkins aims to show that belief in God is a delusion, that is to say, "a false belief or impression," or worse, "a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence."1 On pages 157-8 of his book, Dawkins summarizes what he calls "the central argument of my book." Note it well. If this argument fails, then Dawkins' book is hollow at its core. And, in fact, the argument is embarrassingly weak.

It goes as follows:

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

5. We don't have an equivalent explanation for physics.

6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

This argument is jarring because the atheistic conclusion that "Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist" seems to come suddenly out of left field. You don't need to be a philosopher to realize that that conclusion doesn't follow from the six previous statements.

Indeed, if we take these six statements as premises of an argument intended to logically imply the conclusion "Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist," then the argument is patently invalid. No logical rules of inference would permit you to draw this conclusion from the six premises.

A more charitable interpretation would be to take these six statements, not as premises, but as summary statements of six steps in Dawkins' cumulative argument for his conclusion that God does not exist. But even on this charitable construal, the conclusion "Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist" simply doesn't follow from these six steps, even if we concede that each of them is true and justified. The only delusion demonstrated here is Dawkins' conviction that this is "a very serious argument against God's existence."2

So what does follow from the six steps of Dawkins' argument? At most, all that follows is that we should not infer God's existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe. But that conclusion is quite compatible with God's existence and even with our justifiably believing in God's existence. Maybe we should believe in God on the basis of the cosmological argument or the ontological argument or the moral argument. Maybe our belief in God isn't based on arguments at all but is grounded in religious experience or in divine revelation. Maybe God wants us to believe in him simply by faith. The point is that rejecting design arguments for God's existence does nothing to prove that God does not exist or even that belief in God is unjustified. Indeed, many Christian theologians have rejected arguments for the existence of God without thereby committing themselves to atheism.

So Dawkins' argument for atheism is a failure even if we concede, for the sake of argument, all its steps. But, in fact, several of these steps are plausibly false in any case. Take just step (3), for example. Dawkins' claim here is that one is not justified in inferring design as the best explanation of the complex order of the universe because then a new problem arises: Who designed the designer?

This objection is flawed on at least two counts.

First, in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there.

In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn't be able to explain the designer.

Second, Dawkins thinks that in the case of a divine designer of the universe, the designer is just as complex as the thing to be explained, so that no explanatory advance is made. This objection raises all sorts of questions about the role played by simplicity in assessing competing explanations—for example, how simplicity is to be weighted in comparison with other criteria like explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and so forth. If a less simple hypothesis exceeds its rivals in explanatory scope and power, for example, then it may well be the preferred explanation, despite the sacrifice in simplicity.

But leave those questions aside. Dawkins' fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is an entity comparable in complexity to the universe. As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable physical quantities and constants (mentioned in the fifth step of Dawkins' argument),3 a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas (it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus), but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind's ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity.4 Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that's worth.

Other steps in Dawkins' argument are also problematic; but I think enough has been said to show that his argument does nothing to undermine a design inference based on the universe's complexity, not to speak of its serving as a justification of atheism.

Several years ago my atheist colleague Quentin Smith unceremoniously crowned Stephen Hawking's argument against God in A Brief History of Time as "the worst atheistic argument in the history of Western thought."5 With the advent of The God Delusion the time has come, I think, to relieve Hawking of this weighty crown and to recognize Richard Dawkins' accession to the throne.


1 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 5.

2 Ibid., 157. Indeed, he fancies himself to have offered a "devastating" and "unrebuttable refutation" of God's existence.

3 Otherwise known as the fine-tuning of the universe for life. The optimism expressed in step (6) of Dawkins' argument with respect to finding a physical explanation for the cosmic fine-tuning is really quite baseless and represents little more than the faith of a naturalist. For discussion of the design argument from the fine-tuning of nature's constants and quantities, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 157-79.

4 His confusion is evident when he complains, "A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. . . . Worse (from the point of view of simplicity), other corners of God's giant consciousness are simultaneously preoccupied with the doings and emotions and prayers of every single human being—and whatever intelligent aliens there might be on other planets in this and 100 billion other galaxies" (God Delusion, 149). This conflates God with what God is thinking about. To say that God, as an immaterial entity, is extraordinarily simple is not to endorse Aquinas' doctrine that God is logically simple (rejected by Dawkins on 150). God may have diverse properties without having the sort of complexity Dawkins is talking about, namely "heterogeneity of parts" (ibid., 150).

5 Quentin Smith, "The Wave Function of a Godless Universe," in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 322.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Christians Should Value Philosophy Part 1 of 3

(Reasons.org) Kenneth Samples

Someone in antiquity said, "Philosophy bakes no bread."

This famous assertion raises concerns about philosophy's practical relevance and value. I remember my father's quizzical look when I informed him that I was studying the subject in college.

My father grew up during the Great Depression, worked hard as a West Virginia coal miner, and served his country as combat soldier in the Second World War. These tough experiences shaped in him a very pragmatic view of life. At first he questioned my choice to study a discipline that seemed abstract and speculative (not to mention a field that doesn't pay all that well). However, being part of an American infantry division that had liberated a Nazi concentration camp, my dad knew that ideas (and especially ideologies) mattered and had inevitable consequences. He, therefore, came to approve of my academic studies.

What is Philosophy?

In his excellent primer, Questions That Matter, Ed Miller defines philosophy as "the attempt to think rationally and critically about the most important questions." Traditional philosophy has been interpreted as the pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and truth. Philosophers are primarily interested in the following six areas:

  • Metaphysics: The study of the ultimate nature, structure, and characteristics of reality.
  • Epistemology: The study of the origin, nature, limits, and validity of knowledge.
  • Ethics: The study of the origin, nature, meaning, and criteria of moral goodness.
  • Value Theory: The study of what people generally value (other than moral values) and why.
  • Aesthetics: The study of beauty and how people respond to it (taste).
  • Logic: The study of the principles of correct reasoning and argumentation.

While few philosophers become financially wealthy (and the job market can be competitive), there are very good reasons to value the study of philosophy, especially for Christians.

The Importance of Philosophy for Believers

  1. Philosophy Promotes Critical Thinking

Being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) means that human beings have unique intellectual abilities. And the Bible teaches that followers of Christ should use the gift of their mind in their love and service to God (Matthew 22:37). Furthermore, intellectual virtues such as discernment, reflection, testing, analysis, and renewal of the mind are biblical imperatives (Acts 17:11; Roman 12:2; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Colossians 2:8; 1Thessalonians 5:21).

The study of philosophy, like no other discipline, exposes a person to the important areas of critical thinking and the principles of argumentation. Thinking clearly, carefully, and reflectively are the benefits of studying logic–one of the critical fields of philosophy.

Pursuing the "life of the mind" to the glory of God is an important component in the Christian's overall devotion. And the study of philosophy can uniquely serve to prepare the believer for intellectual engagement.

Look for further discussion on the importance of philosophy next week.

For more about philosophy and its benefits to the Christian, see A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is Dogmatic Agnosticism Logically Self-Defeating?

(Reasons.org) Kenneth Samples

The word agnosticism literally means “no-knowledge-ism”. The skeptical position held by agnostics usually comes in two distinct forms: soft and hard. Soft or flexible agnosticism simply claims to have an absence of knowledge as to whether God exists (thus reserving judgment). Hard or dogmatic agnosticism makes a stronger claim asserting that “no one” can know whether God exists.

This hard type of agnosticism appears to suffer from the same problems that atheism does in terms of verifying its bold claim. To embrace a hard form of agnosticism would mean that a person would have to either (1) know that knowledge of God is logically impossible, or (2) be an expert on all the possible ways one could come to know about God. Yet neither of these positions seems logically justifiable in nature.

Plus, the dogmatic form of agnosticism is actually self-defeating (at the same time affirming and denying the identical claim) for the position simultaneously asserts that one doesn’t know if God exists and yet knows enough about God to assert that no one can know that God exists. Hard agnostics, in effect, claim to have knowledge about a topic that they claim is not possible to know anything about. In his book No Doubt About It, Christian philosopher Winfried Corduan notes the following: “Thus agnosticism pivots on a contradiction by having to maintain that at one and the same time it is both possible and impossible to know something about God.”

Hard agnosticism asserts the self-destructing claim that “one knows enough about God in order to affirm that nothing can be known about God.”1 Thus, the extreme claims of skepticism first affirm what they ultimately deny.
  1. For a critical evaluation of agnosticism, see Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (pages 13-27).