Category Archives: Apologetics
In my last blog post I raised some problems with religious agnosticism. As a follow-up a friend asked how I would respond to the following:
How would you respond if the agnostic says, “Your objections don’t follow from my lack of belief. Just because I don’t think the evidence warrants belief in, say, unicorns, doesn’t mean I have an ‘anti-unicorn’ bias”?
My response is rather brief, but is still worth sharing for the purpose of clarification: Unicorns aren’t God, and God isn’t a unicorn.
Unicorns aren’t God. First, yes, of course. The agnostic certainly could say that. But that’s not the same as saying that it’s an adequate response to my objections. We need to remind this person that the metaphysical status of unicorns is not the same as the status of God as understood by Scripture. The religious claims called into question are the following:
- The biblical God has revealed himself to all people
- All people suppress their knowledge of God in unrighteousness
- The God of the Bible creates, upholds, and sustains all things
- The God of the Bible is only rational foundation of being, and his revelation (both in nature and in his written word the Bible) is the only rational foundation for knowledge.
These are very specific claims. Whether or not unicorns exist does not affect the very preconditions of intelligibility. To live one’s life as it these claims aren’t true is, biblically speaking, to deny these truth claims. To deny these truth claims is anti-Christian.
God isn’t a unicorn. Evidence for God is quite different from evidence for unicorns. The Christian God cannot be treated as simply another fact. Van Til writes:
We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments. (see his The Defense of the Faith)
The appropriate method of proof must depend on the nature of the thing being proved. God (“a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it ) cannot be discovered like so many cookies in a pantry….or unicorns in an enchanted forest.
You’ve likely experienced this. You speak to someone and it becomes apparent that you’re a Christian and they are not. Instantly you’re viewed as strange and maybe even backwoods in light of their enlightened secularism. Now, they probably won’t put themselves out there and say, “I don’t believe in God,” or “God doesn’t exist.” They live as atheists, but they prefer to identify as agnostics.
What is agnosticism? An agnostic is one who claims they don’t know about God’s existence, or the truth of any religious claims, whether true or false. Agnosticism can come with a religious veneer (“spiritual but not religious”), but is usually tied pretty close to a secularist and naturalistic worldview. For this type of person it is self-evident that religious claims, and usually specifically Christian claims, are absurd and Christians hold to magical or childish views of the universe. Christians can often feel frustrated speaking to folks like this because it is always they who are on the defense. The agnostic isn’t claiming anything, so it is believed. In fact their views are just natural. It’s simply what any rational person should hold.
The truth is agnosticism is in fact a view of the universe. It does reflect a worldview, and that worldview, whatever its stripe, is anti-Christian and should be shown to be so. But there are some important tactics we should remember when engaging these kind of agnostics. First, we ask clarifying questions, questions that agnostic may not have thought of themselves.
Ask, “What kind of agnostic are you?” There are essentially two kinds of agnostics, hard and soft. Hard agnostics believe that we cannot know religious truths. It is not within the ability of man to pierce through the veil of metaphysics. This is clarified when contrasting them with soft agnostics. A soft agnostic does not claim we cannot truth religious truths, only that they themselves have not come to know religious or metaphysical truths. Hard agnosticism is an epistemological claim about what is true for everyone. Soft agnosticism is merely a statement of where the person is at that moment.
Make the agnostic aware of this distinction. This distinction gets you out of the hot seat, stuck defensively answering all questions, turning the tables on any potential secularist superiority complex. Depending on their answer, we can move the conversation in an apologetic direction.
Hard agnostics. Hard agnostics are actually committed to truths about the nature of reality. They are married to views, whether self-consciously or not, of what is possible and impossible. For them, the religious cannot be known to be true, so whatever reality is like, we cannot know if God exists, whether he is Trinitarian, whether man is morally opposed to him, etc. etc. But this is in fact a denial that God is as the Bible portrays him. The Bible depicts God as a speaking God, a God who isn’t hidden. The Biblical God is one who is revealed in every fact of creation. To deny this by a universal appeal to mystery or ignorance does not change the fact that it is an anti-Christian bias.
To draw out the hard agnostic, ask questions. What about our knowledge makes them believe that we simply cannot know religious or metaphysical truths? In answering your questions, you will help draw out their actual beliefs. Don’t necessarily call them on their consistency (starting with an appeal to ignorance at first, only to divulge their beliefs upon questioning), at least not yet. If you’ve got them talking this is good enough.
Soft agnostics. Again, ask a question: When you admit ignorance about religious truth claims, are you open to seeking the truth? Would you say there’s a chance Christianity is in fact true, even if you don’t have certainty just yet? Again, draw them out. Hostility or aggression is a surefire way to kill dialogue. Ask them: When it comes to religious claims, you say you don’t know. Would you like to know?
On the other half, a person might self-identify as a soft agnostic, only to be revealed as a hard agnostic upon questioning. Again, ask questions. Once you shift the burden of proof back on to the agnostic by asking about the hard/soft agnostic question, you have placed them in the position they so often what you to be: The hot seat.
Always keep in mind that you aren’t the only one who needs to account for what you believe.
Both in my personal life and related to apologetics, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of hearing and listening to people. A mark of God-pleasing thinking is our willingness to cultivate Christian listening. This means non-aggressively hearing them and even welcoming their potential insights. Here I’d like to suggest some practical steps toward better listening. But first, unpack the Christian in Christian listening.
Why Christian Listening?
I call this the art of Christian listening for two reasons.
First, it is an art. Listening is a skill to be developed because it doesn’t come naturally. In fact, since we’re sinful creatures with the natural tendency toward intellectual and moral laziness, we’ll most likely struggle with this for the rest of our lives. That’s simply to say that listening well is part of our sanctification.
But there’s good news. The struggle can get easier. As we make the effort to apply ourselves in listening, we develop an internal sense of what we’re doing— even when we’re not conscious of it. This internalization of a skill is something with which artists are quite familiar. I’ve been cartooning since I was a child, and I couldn’t tell you what in the world I’m doing when I draw…I just draw. Shapes, lines, shadow, etc. These things are no second nature to me because I’ve developed a discipline by drawing for many, many years.
Secondly, this kind of listening is Christian because it is uniquely undergirded and supported by theological resources unique to the Christian worldview.
Here are some practical tips for becoming a better listener, supported by scripture. Nearly everyone will probably agree with these general guidelines, but only the Christian worldview provides us with a consistent theological foundation for these attitudes and actions. But before we jump into the positive, let’s address a major road block for Christian/ Non-Christian communication.
A Big Listening “Don’t”
A typical knee-jerk of many Christians is to dismiss all non-Christian thought as foolishness. This tendency usually stems from the biblical teaching (especially clear in 1 Cor. 1) that there’s a radical (from the Latin radix, meaning root) opposition between the deepest heart commitments of Christians and those of non-Christians. In principle, an absolute antithesis exists between the Christian worldview and all others. So, I can sympathize with the impulse behind the “knee-jerk reactions.” Christians take biblical passages such as 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5 seriously.
And this is true… but it’s not the whole story.
Reactionary positions do not reflect a robust understanding of God’s “common grace.” I plan on posting something about this very soon but for now we note that doctrine of common grace teaches us that though all people are sinners, God nevertheless prevents sin from making us as bad (or stupid) as we could be. Tim Keller nicely summarizes it by saying, “Because unbelievers are created in the image of God, they are far better than their wrong views should make them. But, Christians, because they are sinners, are far worse than their right views should make them.”
Non-Christians do utter truths, and frequently God grants them greater insights into his world than his children. It simply isn’t biblical to reject genuine insights from unbelievers. Nor is it good reasoning (it’s called the genetic fallacy, i.e. dismissing a view because of its origin). Arguments must be accepted or rejected based on their own merits, not their source. Referring to the insights, gifts, and skills that God graciously bestows upon unbelievers, John Calvin said:
If the Lord willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and the other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths.
Christian charity, sound scholarship, and winsome apologetics demand we closely and patiently evaluate non-Christian thought, both for the purposes of exposing its departure from Christ-centered principles as well as to gather from the Spirit’s gift of common grace.
So please, don’t just disagree with someone, look for their strong points, things you can agree with and build on. If you hear that Person X is wrong about something, look it up, listen to them, and even read some of their writing.
Show respect. The purpose of evangelism, and apologetics, and dialogue with others is not to have a shouting match. We all grant that much (I hope!). But too often apologists can come off as smug, not granting the unbeliever a fair hearing. But that very unbeliever is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), imbued with dignity and honor. Also, 1 Peter 3:15 commands us to be ready to not only to defend the faith, but also to be ready to do so with “gentleness and respect.” God commands that we respect even those that may potentially harm us (cf. vs. 14, 17). We do this to in order to “[keep] a clear conscience” that testifies to God’s wisdom (v. 16).
Sympathetically listen to other points of view. We’ve heard the criticism: Christian truth-claims breed dogmatism and arrogance. Is this true? Well, for some it certainly can be. Here’s another truth claim: arrogance does not grow in the soil of the genuine gospel of Christ. Arrogance grows in the absence of the gospel! According to the biblical vision of divine grace teaches us we’re not delivered because we’re wiser, more spiritual, or more ethical than others. We are Christians solely by grace, and not by our superior ethical life or intellect, we should expect others to frequently see things and know things we do not.
Follow the other person’s argument. Since we’re created in the image of God, we are rational beings. We have an uneasy relationship with the idea of believing things willy-nilly, devoid of some kind of reason. We need some rationale, some reason for committing ourselves to a worldview, cause, or ideology. In a real-life apologetic discussion do pay close attention to the other person’s rationale for their beliefs. Think through their major claims, minor claims, throw-away arguments (arguments that only “preach to the choir”), evidence, etc. Often others have not thought through these issues self-consciously. It’s our job to help them do so.
Assess claims. Now that you’ve heard and listened carefully to their points, assess them. Are they true? Are they false? Are they completely false, or is there some good to be built upon? What are the underlying assumptions of what they’re saying?
Ask questions. Doing this will both clear up anything that’s still fuzzy in your mind about what they said, as well as create an opportunity for the person you’re speaking to refine their beliefs in light of your questions and objections. All throughout the gospels, Jesus asks insightful questions both to make points and to clarify the positions held by others. We’d do well to follow His example.
When necessary, admit ignorance. It’s happened to all who try to seriously provide answers to skeptics. And it’s one of the hardest things an apologist can do (akin to a professional scholar saying, “I was wrong.”). These three words are difficult, but often times necessary, to say. Here they are: I don’t know.
These three simple words can signal either defeat or something else. I propose that ending a conversation at this point isn’t the death of apologetics, but can in fact be the birth of long term dialogue with a non-Christian friend. Here are a common of reasons that I think this is the case.
First, admitting ignorance reinforces a spirit of dialogue, rather than confrontation. After all, we aren’t gurus. We aren’t the source of truth, we only point the way. And often times, we need others to help us get there as well. Second, our knowledge of God, Scripture, etc., should be a natural development in the process of our sanctification. As we grow in our love and devotion toward God, so our knowledge of him and his ways will also grow. This growth in grace will not end in this lifetime, so neither is the process of learning. Lastly, admitting ignorance may serve to honor the fact that Christianity is lived by faith (a living trust in a personal God). Our trust in God isn’t an achievement unlocked only after solving all “riddles” and questions. The moment we reduce “true” faith to intellectual sophistication, we’ve sold the farm to the Gnostics (and that’s bad news).
We must reject truth divorced from charity. And we should embrace faith —trust in God’s word— working through love—taking the time to understand what others are saying (Gal. 5:6).
A few months ago Reformed pastor and theologian Jeffrey Johnson released his latest work, The Absurdity of Unbelief: A Worldview Apologetic of the Christian Faith. Jeff was kind enough to send me an early edition for an honest review. What I found was a wonderful introduction to worldview apologetics in general and presuppositional thinking more specifically. As I wrote in my published endorsement for the book:
A major strength of Jeffrey Johnson’s Absurdity of Unbelief is its step-by-step systematic approach. He explains what faith is (and is not), what factors drive us to adopt our beliefs, how to test them, fatal difficulties on all systems of thought not built on the foundation of Christ, grounds for holding to Christian theism, and a passionate call to faith in Jesus. Along the way he examines Christian and non-Christian thinkers and movements both ancient and contemporary, demonstrating that the principles underlying a biblical apologetic equally apply to all forms of unbelief. I plan on coming back to this book again and again.
For those interested in its content, I’ve also included the table of contents below.
For a limited time you can purchase the digital edition of The Absurdity of Unbelief for a mere $0.99! Don’t miss out on this work.
Several Days ago I hopped on to social media and posted the following to Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”:
This prompted a discussion with a gentleman I will refer to as “Nye Defender.” What resulted is what I believe is a helpful example of pro-life apologetics in action. My statements will appear in bold, when ND will appear in italics.
Nye Defender: Your point?
JT: I will not assume,, that you necessarily know of the recent video Mr. Nye posted claiming that those who claim that human life begins at conception “literally” have no idea what they are scientifically claiming. Placed in that context, the point above is clear. That human life begins at conception is an indisputable scientific and embryological fact. I have many such statements from a number of embryology textbooks to supplement this one if you are interested.
ND: Yes. I am quite aware of the video. He never said that am embryo was not the start of a human being. However, differentiating between the different stages of development is important. An embryo is a potential human being, but it is not yet one. These statements from these doctors do not refute anything Nye said in the video.
JT: An embryo is not a thing, it is a stage of development in the life of a thing, just as a toddler or teenager is not a thing but a stage of development. What is the thing? It is a human being. An embryo never “becomes” a human being. It is a human being at every level of development. It looks and acts just as any and every human being does at that stage. Also, please note that the quote I provided does address Nye’s claim in that fertilization begins a “human life,” not a potential human life.
ND: I never said it was a thing. An embryo is not a human being. It could not survive outside of the womb. This is why this is such a debate. There is much debate within the medical community and society as to what constitutes a human being. I support the idea that a human being does not exist until the stage of development where it could survive outside of the womb, generally the 3rd trimester. Until then, it is in various stages of development but is not fully a human being yet.
JT: Thank you for engaging in healthy discussion. It’s much more genuine, and less full of strawmen, than the words of Mr. Nye himself. You don’t strike me as an advocate of the “all pro-lifers are idiots” approach.
You touched upon a really important point when you write, “much debate within the medical community and society as to what constitutes a human being.” And your words highlight an important truth: the anthropological question of “What is a human?” is not a scientific question. It is in fact a philosophical/theological questions that presupposes a number of interrelated worldview questions. But that’s not to avoid the harder biological and scientific facts, but it is to acknowledge that other issues are at play.
And this is one of the things that I believe raises difficulties for your position. You stated, “I support the idea that a human being does not exist until the stage of development where it could survive outside of the womb, generally the 3rd trimester.” First, thank you for putting your cards on the table and making a concrete claim. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially compared to many abortion advocates who deny than human life begins at conception but refuse to say when it *does* start. Here is where I think the problem lies: defining human life in terms of viability 1) confuses biology with technology, and 2) proves too much.
I say that because viability, the ability for the fetus to survive outside of the mother’s body, is completely relative to technological advances in medicine. So the age of viability by that standard today would be different than the age of viability 30 years ago, and that would be different than 100 years before that, and therefore the answer to the question What is a human? Would keep changing. To make this point clear, it’s now strongly being argued that “Premature Babies May Survive at 22 Weeks if Treated” (see article attached).
[Incidently, this would also have the implication that you should considering opposing not only third trimester abortions, but also those in the second trimester (which lasts from week 13 to week 27).]
Another difficulty I would suggest you consider is that the viability of definition of human life proves too much. Why is that? Because newborn infants also cannot survive outside of the womb apart from outside sustenance. Would we be willing to deny their personhood based on that as well? If unborn babies inside the womb have no moral or legal standing based its ability to “survive” on their own outside of the womb, then neither should newborns babies outside of the womb.
My assumption is that you are *not* an advocate for infanticide.
ND: I don’t oppose anything when it is medically prudent for either the mother or the potential child. I support the right to choose. I do not believe the government, nor anyone else, has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. It should be up to her, the potential father (in some cases), and the doctor(s). I do not have the right to make a woman carry to term and give birth. The government does not have that right either. I do not advocate for people to undergo these procedures, but to have the right to make the decision that is best for them once presented with all necessary information.
JT: Just wanting to make sure I’m understanding you: Are you saying that you do not oppose infanticide?
ND: I did not say that. I did not even address that point because it is not relevant to the conversation. You are talking about killing a child who has been born already. That is a different argument from the discussion on abortion.
JT: Please help me understand the relevant moral distinction.
ND: We are not talking about the morals, because that is an entirely different debate. You asked about infanticide. It cannot be infanticide until the child is born. So, obviously I do not support the killing for a baby who has already been born. Once born, we should do everything we can to ensure its survival and health.
Again, I do not advocate for abortion. I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I support her right to make an informed decision for her own physical and mental health and that of her potential child. That is all I advocate for. It is not my place, your place, or anyone else’s, to make those decisions for someone else.
JT: Mr. _____ I’m not sure I understand what you mean to say when you say that the moral question of abortion is “an entirely different debate.” Civil laws are always a legislation of a moral perspective. Theft is illegal because it is deemed morally wrong, as is perjury, arson, and a host of illegal activities. And this is why, at the heart of the abortion debate is a moral issue. The true question is not one of “what a woman can or cannot do with her body.” That’s important, but handling that question is entirely dependent on another question, the primary question: What is the unborn? If the unborn is a human being, there is no moral justification for taking its life. If the unborn is not a human being, then no moral justification is necessary for abortion– just as there is no moral debate over the status of having one’s tooth pulled.
Much of what you have written already assumes your own position without defending it, thus begging the question. A woman is only free to do with her own body what she pleases if it is not used to bring harm to others. We must agree on this point. This is why it is illegal to strap a bomb on to our own bodies and walk into a crowded movie theater. Why? Because we would be using our bodies to harm others. I have provided you with biological evidence that what is growing in a mother’s womb is not her own body.
Abortion takes place within a woman’s body, not to a woman’s body, per se. The abortion happens to the body of the unborn as it is either burned with a saline solution, or ripped apart piece by piece out of the mother’s body. Unless we accept the absurd conclusion that each mother possesses 2 unique sets of DNA and generic make-up, we must acknowledge that the unborn is a unique, living, and distinct human person from the mother. If this is true, than the logic of the pro-life argument is valid. Again, a woman should have the (ethical) right to determine what is right for her own body in conjunction with her own doctor if and only if her body is not used to harm another person. If it is used in that way, she does not have the moral “right” to use it in that way.
Again, when you say “I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body,” the burden of proof falls on you to disprove the biological distinction between the mother and the unborn. Simply saying that it’s her body does not establish the claim.
Please reconsider the following argument. If the premises are true, the conclusion necessarily must be true. 1) Murder is morally wrong, 2) abortion is murder), 3) Therefore abortion is morally wrong.
The first premise is just about universally agreed upon by religious and non-religious people (here we must make the moral distinction between murder and killing). The second premise is true if the abortion is the intentional destruction of a living and biologically distinct human being (which is supported by the evidence provided in the link attached). If that is the case, premise 3 must follow, “Therefore abortion is morally wrong.”
ND: None of your initial points connected to the morality. If you want to discuss that, then that should be the focus. Everything until now has been about the definitions and the development process. I do not consider abortion to be murder, especially in the first trimester when the embryo or fetus would never be able to survive on its own anyways. You are using the concept of post hoc, ergo propter hoc to make a connection between things that are not definitively connected. Abortion is not defined as murder, therefore you cannot say it is morally wrong. I am no longer participating in this discussion because you will never see my view and I will never agree with your view either. Suffice it to say, as I have said repeatedly now, neither you nor the government gets to force a woman to carry an unwanted child (especially in the case of a rape or incest) to term and then to give birth to that child.
JT: The moral and medical are bound together. As I’ve tried to communicate (whether successfully or unsuccessfully), if premise 2 is established (that abortion is the destruction of a biologically distinct human person), and premise 1 is accepted (a nearly universal moral axiom that I didn’t bother to defend), the conclusion follows.
You have emphasized that you do not believe that abortion is murder “when the embryo or fetus would never be able to survive on its own.” This is the “viability” argument that I addressed earlier in our discussion. Would you please consider responding to what I said there? Likewise, I fail to see how I committed the “post hoc” fallacy. You failed to even explain how this was committed (perhaps believing that it is self-evident?) Whether it is self-evident I will leave to others to decide.
Rape and incest are horrible, abominable crimes (though, in statistically proven data they make up approx. 1% of abortion cases), and violators should be prosecuted harshly. Nevertheless those horrible actions wherein the mother is violated should not be used to justify further violence to another innocent party. What is needed is love for the victim, love that is concretely shown in support, encouragement, and finances. Pro-lifers must “put their money where their mouth is.” But there is no widespread lack of this considering there are far more crisis pregnancy centers and advocacy groups than there are abortion clinics.
In the name of intellectual honesty, I hope you will acknowledge to yourself that you have not defended, supported, or argued in favor of your position. You have merely asserted it and assumed it. I do pray that perhaps you will at least reread what I’ve written and consider the arguments, even if you are not inclined to agree.
Thank you for engaging in a civil discussion.
ND: I will reread what you have written. However, under no circumstance do I believe that a woman should be forced to carry a child . That would be cruel to the woman, especially in the case of rape or incest. It is irrelevant that those cases only make up a small portion of abortions. The fact is that they cases do exist.
I do not understand how someone who was not a willing participant in the act of conception should be forced to spend the next 9 months of her life with the constant reminder of that event and putting her body through the pregnancy. How is that right? I just do not understand that stance. I suppose I never will because I cannot put myself in the place of a woman and understand what she is going through at that point. I will also never understand how anyone can believe that the government should have a right to tell a woman that she should have to carry a child that is not wanted. I just don’t get it. Whether you believe abortion is right or wrong, the fact is that no one should be making that decision for another person.
JT: And yet, laws in fact do, all the time and always, “tell people what to do.” But you haven’t responded to this. As I said, a woman’s rape is a horrible, demonic act of violation. But that act does not change the medical fact that her “desire” for the child (or lack thereof) does not make the unborn less human. If a mother of a newborn that resulted from rape decides to kill the baby because it reminds her of her violation, would that be permissible? No, it wouldn’t, and I’m confident most people would say because the baby is a human being. And I would agree- We shouldn’t kill humans. And so, as I noted earlier, the one essential question is this: Is the unborn a human?
All the other questions are important in various ways, but they can only be addressed and answered rightly if we get to the heart of that one central question.
Ok, so this can barely be counted as a meme. But it’s “meme enough” to warrant a response. Here we have a world-famous comedian defining the very essence of religion. Think about that for a moment. George Carlin is about to reveal something of the heart of what a religion is a does. Here is his evaluation:
Religion is like a pair of shoes… find one that works for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.
Taking a Closer Look. Like a meme, this has lots of meaning packed into a short quip. So, as we’ve done with the last two memes we’ve evaluated, let’s dissect this claim into its constituent parts
- Leading analogy: “Religion is like a pair of shoes…”
- Command based on pragmatic definition of religion: “…find one that works for you…”
- Command based on ethical evaluation: “…don’t make me wear your shoes.”
Each phrase helps to construct the implicit argument of this meme. First, there’s the analogy, religion is like a pair of shoes. That is to say, Carlin seems to believe that religion is like an interchangeable accessory. It’s not essential to our existence—the way a foot, or some essential part of the body itself is. But this analogy is made clearer in the second phrase. Carlin tells his listener to do something, so it’s a command: Find one that works for you. Here’s the logic. Since religion is like an interchangeable accessory, find one that fits your style. This approach to religion is built on a pragmatic definition of religion. On this view, religion isn’t about understanding the true nature of reality and properly aligning oneself with it. The pragmatic approach to religion says that the right religion for you is the one that works for you. Notice what I wrote twice there. The operative phrase in the pragmatic approach is “for you.” Of course, this naturally entails religious relativism.
The last part of these meme is the most problematic. We’ll look at it closer below, but for now we’ll examine it closer. Here Carlin closes (or, at least the meme does) with an ethical command: Don’t push your religion! Again, here’s the logic restated in the language I’ve been using throughout this discussion.
- Statement of the essence of religion: Religion is a non-essential accessory to adorn individual preference
- Religious relativism stated: Individual preferences are not rooted in objective reality and differ from person to person
- Ethical assertion based on religious relativism. Therefore, it is wrong to force a person to abandon their personal preferences regarding a matter that is essentially an accessory to adorn individuality (religion)
Response. Rarely does a relativist explicitly condemn another position, not if they want to be consistent. You see once you start telling people what to do and what to believe you’ve smuggled ethical and religious absolutes back into the discussion. Whenever you say “you ought to…” or “You ought not to …” you are assuming a standard. If it’s a relative standard the person isn’t obligated to change their behavior in conformity to it. If it is an absolute ethic standard for religious belief it’s self-refuting.
But there’s something else that needs to be pointed out. Normally when someone says something like this the goal is to shame the person who 1) believes passionately, and 2) commends their faith to others. It should go without saying that these guns are normally pointed at religiously conservative Christians. How dare the small-minded Christian push their religion on someone else? So the reasoning of this meme is employed to take the moral high ground and promote (postmodern) tolerance. But there’s a crippling problem here: Commenting faith in Jesus to others (evangelism) is part of the Christian faith (see. Matt. 28). Evangelism is not a tangential aspect of Christian practice. For those that believe that Jesus is God himself and the master of their lives, evangelism is a command that shapes their actions. What Carlin is really saying is Christians ought not to practice their religion. You can be a Christian so long as you don’t believe (that what Jesus says directs your life) and behave (go and tell others about him) as a Christian.
And what does this boil down to? Carlin does the very thing he tells others not to do. He is “imposing” his own secular worldview on others. He’s cramming our feet into his shoes.
This meme raises an interesting point: Is a punishment of eternal duration for a crime of finite length just? Of course, as noted before, memes make their points by sarcasm and cheekiness. But it’s a great question. In fact, I chose this meme because it’s so helpful as a springboard to other related and deeper issues.
The challenge. First, let’s think about the challenge embedded in this meme. Eternal punishment for crimes of a finite length: Doesn’t that just strike you as wrong? It’s fairly transparent that the meme’s creator is claiming radically irresponsible sentencing on the part of the biblical God. If an infinite punishment for a finite crime strikes us—fractured and fallible mortals that we are— as overwhelming disproportionate, why can’t God see that? Or, better stated (and this is likely the true sentiment behind the charge of disproportionality), should we really take seriously the threats of a God created by an ancient war-mongering people? After all, so it is believed, their misshapen logic of punishment is so transparent to us enlightened modern people.
The implicit logic of our meme builds from the true insight that any claim that implies an absurdity is itself an absurdity. To put things a little more formally:
- X implies Y
- Y is false
- Therefore X is false
Now let’s plug in the premises.
- The Christian doctrine of eternal punishment implies an infinite punishment for finite crimes
- Infinite punishment for finite crimes is absurd
- Therefore, the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment is absurd
Probing a bit deeper. The meme itself (due to its brevity) does not specify whether eternal judgment is immoral or immoral-and-therefore-impossible. It’s likely that for most people who raise this kind of objection it’s the latter; this “absurd” logic renders the biblical warning of eternal judgment immoral and therefore can legitimately be ignored. Of course, that doesn’t follow logically. Even if Christians were to concede that the logic of “eternal punishment for finite crimes” were twisted and immoral (which we do not), that in itself doesn’t mean that God isn’t going to apply that standard come Judgment Day. Immoral things happen all the time and wishing they wouldn’t cannot change that sad fact. The meme’s creator (and those that share it’s objection) likely wouldn’t quite put things that way, but we need to help them see that this is where their assumptions take them.
The scales of judgment. In truth, we cannot address the fairness of the biblical logic of judgment from the position of a hostile worldview. And that’s because the biblical logic really makes sense only from within the larger structure and story it’s telling. To paraphrase John Piper, God is the only being for whom self-centeredness is not idolatry. To quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” God is worthy of our devotion, allegiance, and love. Why? Because he is the fullness for which we were created. Our ultimate joy is found in union with him and not in lesser (though good) things like family, friendships, careers, etc.
So what this mean for our meme? The punishment must fit the crime. The crime’s duration is irrelevant. It is the severity of the crime that establishes the severity of the punishment. We commit our sin during a finite time, but it is of infinite severity. John Piper put this so well:
What is sin? It is the glory of God not honored. The holiness of God not reverenced. The greatness of God not admired. The power of God not praised. The truth of God not sought. The wisdom of God not esteemed. The beauty of God not treasured. The goodness of God not savored. The faithfulness of God not trusted. The commandments of God not obeyed. The justice of God not respected. The wrath of God not feared. The grace of God not cherished. The presence of God not prized. The person of God not loved. That is sin.
As stated above, this duration of the crime committed makes no difference in evaluating the crime’s severity. As a counterexample: It could easily take less than a few minutes for an evil despot with nuclear capabilities to walk down the hall to his office and order a nuclear strike against innocent citizens of another nation. Here the time to accomplish his goal would be quite short, but the fallout (both literal and moral) would be enormous.
God’s judgment is just. The punishment does fit the crime. But we must trust his assessment of the crime and not our own. Naturally this perspective is strange and offensive to non-Christians. This change in perspective requires more than a little rearranging; it requires conversion—a new heart.
In this meme we have what appears to be an Eskimo fishing while speaking to an unseen Christian priest/missionary. The Eskimo asks whether those who are ignorant of God’s righteous character and our moral rebellion against him would, in light of that very ignorance, be held accountable. The priest/missionary replies “No, not if you did not know.” The Eskimo’s response is the key to understanding the single point of the meme, “Then why did you tell me?” According to the rationale of the meme’s creator, Christians appear to hold to 3 contradictory beliefs: a) Those who reject the message of sin and the forgiveness provided by the cross-work of Jesus are eternally damned (i.e. go to hell), b) it is the Christian’s job to tell as many people as possible the message of sin and the forgiveness provided by the cross-work of Jesus. Finally, c) Christians are to spread this message because they love their fellow man. Can you grasp why this would be seen as a problem? If not, I’ll expand those 3 points a bit to clarify:
- Ignorance of the gospel message preserves a person from being held accountable for sin (i.e. they will not be judged for rejecting a message they’ve never heard of)
- Believing the gospel and placing one’s personal faith in Jesus is required to be saved from the coming wrath of God.
- It is better for people to be saved from the coming wrath of God than to experience it.
- Christians claim to love people when they spread the gospel of Jesus (evangelize).
- Rejection of this gospel of Jesus will—upon its rejection— lead these ignorant/innocent people to experience the coming wrath of God.
- Therefore, the act that Christians claim to do out of love (evangelize) is the very act that condemns people who would have been better off if Christians simply left them alone.
As you can now see, the whole dilemma is rooted in point 1, and it’s this point that I think Christians should reject. People are not condemned to hell because they reject the gospel, per se. They are not judged for what they do not know. Instead, they are judged for what they do know, and according to Paul they know quite a lot. According to Romans 1:18-32, all people, since they are created in the image of God and live in God’s created world, know that (the true) God exists, that he is unlike his creation, that he expects us to live righteously, and that all who violate his moral law are rightly deserving of judgment. Yes, that’s a lot to know intuitively, but that’s what Paul says!
And this isn’t a slip of the pen on Paul’s part. In Ephesians 2 Paul describes the state of Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians prior to hearing and believing the gospel:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:11-13 ESV)
Paul says the opposite of the assumption behind point 1. These Gentiles, apart from the saving message of Jesus, were left in their ignorance, yes. But did this mean they were already saved? No, apart from faith in Jesus, they had “no hope” and were “without God.”
To wrap up, we should ask where Paul got this crazy idea. I would argue that it’s part of the initial revelation Paul received when Jesus called him as an apostle. In recalling his conversation to Jesus the Messiah of Israel to King Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul says:
And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’…I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. (Acts 26:15-20 ESV)
So Christians like the priest/missionary in our meme above are mistaken and can confuse those to whom they preach the message of Jesus. Whether or not a person has ever heard of the message of Jesus—and this is true of both Jew and non-Jew— we have all violated God’s moral will for our lives and it is this disobedience and spiritual rebellion for which we will be justly judged.
I’m planning on writing a short series of posts on the new phenomenon known as the theology meme. The meme is, as defined by Google, “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Memes are often crafted to communicate a single point in a punchy way, so naturally they most appeal to young people.
Sure, there are fair criticisms on the use of memes in online dialogue, I get that. But the simple truth is that they’re going to be around for a while. So let’s use them to sharpen our thinking.
What is a Christian meme? The picture to your right is a simple example. Where are they going with this? Well, the point of view of the meme’s creator should be obvious. He/she is used to attacks against Christianity coming from your standard college hippie-liberal. And the single point being made? The criticisms of bible-abuse they level against conservative Christians are in fact mirrored in their own arguments. They do exactly what they hate in others.
So in the coming days I’ll trying to post some memes and briefly respond to them. Next up we’ll thinking through the meme blow.
As I’ve noted on past occasions, the Reformed apologist and theologian Cornelius Van Til is often represented as a fideist, one that rejects rational and historical evidences for the truth of Christianity. This error has turned away a fair number of apologetics students from taking his work seriously. It’s made him a boogey man of sorts. While it’s true that historical apologetics was neither a strong suite nor a topic of emphasis in Van Til’s work, his statements on the subject are anything but obscure.
Historical apologetics is absolutely necessary and indispensable to point out that Christ arose from the grave, etc. But as long as historical apologetics works on a supposedly neutral basis, it defeats its own purpose. For in that case it virtually grants the validity of the meta- physical assumptions of the unbeliever. So in this case a pragmatist may accept the resurrection of Christ as a fact without accepting the conclusion that Christ is the Son of God. And on his assumptions he is not illogical in doing so. On the contrary, if his basic metaphysical assumption to the effect that all reality is subject to chance is right, he is only consistent if he refuses to conclude from the fact of Christ’s resurrection that he is divine in the orthodox sense of the term. Now, though he is wrong in his metaphysical assumption, and though, rightly interpreted, the resurrection of Christ assuredly proves the divinity of Christ, we must attack the unbeliever in his philosophy of fact, as well as on the question of the actuality of the facts themselves. For on his own metaphysical assumptions, the resurrection of Christ would not prove his divinity at all.
In addition to showing that Christ actually arose from the grave and that the facts recorded in the Scripture are as they are recorded as being, insofar as this can be ascertained by historical research, we must show that the philosophy of fact as held to by Christian the- ism is the only philosophy that can account for the facts. And these two things must be done in conjunction with one another. Historical apologetics becomes genuinely fruitful only if it is conjoined with philosophical apologetics. And the two together will have to begin with Scripture, and argue that unless what Scripture says about itself and all things else of which it speaks is true, nothing is true. Unless God as an absolutely self-conscious person exists, no facts have any meaning. This holds not only for the resurrection of Christ, but for any other fact as well.
-Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 242-243
As always, Van Til is concerned that evidence not be presented as if it were neutral. But this concern doesn’t lead him to reject historical apologetics altogether. Where there are attacks on particular historical claims of the Bible the apologist is charged to take up that cause and defend the faith. We are to demonstrate that objections against Christianity fail. Van Til affirms this strongly. But we shouldn’t stop there. We need to show not only that the objection fails, but also that the worldview assumptions underlying the objection destroy the very possibility of knowledge.
One of the most helpful works in Christian apologetics on the market is Nathan Busenitz’s Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence That Confirm the Christian Faith. In this work he tackles reasons to believe in God, the Bible, and Jesus. The strength of his work is its brevity, or as John Frame puts it in his endorsement, it is both “comprehensive and concise.” Busenitz demonstrates that we can present a compelling case for Christianity without have to present technical, and highly philosophical, arguments (though, of course, I certainly believe there’s a place for that).
Early on in the book Busenitz spells out his approach to presenting evidence for the faith within the Bible’s own framework of thought. I think he’s right on the money. In his introduction he says:
Once we have developed each reason from Scripture, we can then show how extra- Biblical evidence corresponds with, and thereby attests to, what the Bible claims. To be clear, this external evidence does not establish the truthfulness of the Christian faith. If Christianity is true, it is because there really is a God, and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son and in His Word. Nonetheless, external evidence does corroborate the claims of Christianity. Because the God of the Bible is also the God of creation, time, and truth (cf. Psalm 19:1–6; Acts 17:26–28; John 17:17)—the facts of science, history, and logic will necessarily correspond to what the Bible reveals.
Here Busenitz adds the helpful footnote:
This is not to say that science, history, or human reason should be considered of greater or equal authority to the Scriptures. Rather, we are noting that when the Bible is rightly interpreted, and when the facts of science, history, or logic are fully known, the two will not be in contradiction to each other. Rather, the general revelation of the world around us testifies to the truthfulness of the special revelation found in Scripture (cf. Psalm 19:1–11).
So the presentation of evidences “corroborate,” “confirm” and “testify” to the truth already provided in Scripture. They do not act as an independent source of authority. Returning to his line of thought:
Such evidence therefore provides wonderful confirmation for believers, because it bears witness to both the reliability of Scripture and the authenticity of Jesus Christ.
We’ll end with Busenitz’s comments on the relationship of evidence and the role of the Holy Spirit in providing the certainty of Christian conviction.
… Nonetheless, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately makes the truth of Christianity certain in the hearts of believers (1 Corinthians 2:10–15). He gives us absolute confidence in both God’s Word and God’s Son—assuring us of our salvation and our heavenly hope (Romans 8:14–17)… But when a person becomes a Christian, the ‘assurance’ or ‘certainty’ becomes a reality. Christianity from a ‘morally certain’ standpoint becomes as undeniable as one’s own existence.” For Christians, then, the reasons surveyed in this book only confirm what they already know to be true.
With this approach to evidences, couching them in the Bible’s own “philosophy of fact” (to use Van Til’s term), I would encourage all who are interested in apologetics to pick up this book.
Apologetics, like any other Christian activity, must be undertaken first as an act of love to God. In particular, we must be sure not to compromise God’s mission, God’s law, God’s message, or God’s love in our zeal.
First, we must not compromise God’s mission. We must not re- strict it so that it becomes narrower than God wants it to be: not merely “souls” being “saved,” or “minds” being “changed,” but whole people being adopted into God’s family and cooperating with him in the global work of redemption.
Second, we must not compromise God’s law. We must not manipulate or deceive, and particularly not use the “bait-and-switch” tactics that show up occasionally among evangelicals, and particularly in work with students: “Come and find out how to have great sex!” “Come to this talk and your grades will go up!” We must not use fear tactics, or success tactics, or any other tactics that are not congruent with the message we are offering and the Lord we serve.
Third, we must not compromise God’s message. Throughout the history of the church, well-meaning apologists have trimmed the gospel to make it fit a little easier with the presuppositions and preferences of the audience. Christianity seems too Semitic and not classically sophisticated? Let’s make it look and sound like Platonism, as some of the earliest apologists tried to do, or like Aristotelianism, as some medievals undertook to make it. Too much mystery in Christian theology? Let’s render Christianity Not Mysterious, as John Toland wrote in 1696. Too many references to the superstitious and supernatural? Let’s edit the New Testament to make Jesus look more enlightened and sophisticated, as Thomas Jefferson did (at least twice) literally with scissors and paste. Too much ancient strangeness and especially Jewish elements? Let’s follow the lead of modern liberal theology and strictly separate the New Testament’s “essential” message from its old-fashioned husk.
No, the gospel will appear foolish to sophisticates in every society. Too much editing of the message to suit the categories and interests of our neighbors can result in our merely echoing them, rather than giving them the gift of something wonderful they don’t already have. Apologetics must always maintain fidelity first to the sacred tradition.
Fourth, we must not compromise God’s love. Apologetics must always look like God’s love at work. People should be able to tell we love God and that we speak and act in the name of God’s love. Any apologetics that falls short of this standard falls badly short of the glory of God.
-John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics, 140-141.
There are really only two worldviews. John Frame helps us see the contrast:
If the world is basically impersonal, it is a pretty dark, dreary, and hopeless place. Happiness, justice, love, beauty might spring up for a while, but they are cosmic accidents of no ultimate importance. Finally they will be consumed in various cosmic explosions, and nothing will remain to remember them. Ultimately they are meaningless. If the world is basically personal, the situation is different: personal values like happiness, justice, love, and beauty are wrapped up in the very core of the universe. They are what nature and history is all about. In time, it will be the matter of the world that will be burned up, to be replaced by a new heaven and earth wherein dwells righteousness.
Contrast this with the view of highly regarded atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards)
This leaves us with a choice to make.
So: is the world basically personal, or basically impersonal? One would think that either hypothesis is at least worth considering at the outset of the discussion. But do the secularists give equal attention to both? Do they consider equally the evidence for both? My sense of it is that they routinely assume that the universe is impersonal, and they do not give any serious consideration to the other possibility. Consider Darwinian evolution, Marxist economics, Freudian psychology. Did Darwin, Marx, or Freud consider the evidence for the existence of God and conclude objectively that God did not exist? Certainly not. They assumed that God did not exist, and they went on from there to develop impersonalist explanations of life, history, economics.
Why? Because impersonalism and autonomy go together. If God exists, then autonomy is at an end; we must bow the knees of the mind. But if God doesn’t exist, then we are on our own, free. We can set our own standards, believe what we want to believe. So to assume autonomy, the secularist also assumes an impersonal universe. (John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God,)
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In all of our discussions about proofs for the existence of God and the truth of Scripture, let’s never forget this all-inportant point:
The best proof of the Bible is what happens when you read it. For when you read Scripture, with trust and faith, something wonderful happens. God himself draws near. Imagine! He condescends to speak to us within the covers of a book. Quite amazing, really. And it’s not as if he gives us the book and then goes away. No: when you read this book in faith, you enter into a very personal relationship with God. In 1 Thess. 1:5, Paul says that the gospel came to the Thessalonians “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” The Gospel is words, but it is never just words. When you hear this message in faith, something very wonderful, very supernatural is taking place. When the words go into your mind, the Holy Spirit speaks them to the heart. When the risen Christ opened the Scriptures to the disciples after his Resurrection, they marvelled how their hearts burned within them as Jesus taught them the Scriptures. The Bible is not only the place where God has spoken; it is the place where he still speaks– with power and assurance, causing our hearts to burn with in us because of how wonderful it is.
-John M. Frame, “How to Believe in God in the 2000s“
Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the greatest apologist of them all!
We’ve looked at the transcendental necessity of God to ground the truths of logic so now let’s turn to laws of morality.
I believe in a Real Right and a Real Wrong. Now we turn to the issue of objective morality or ethics (I’m using them interchangeably here). Have you ever wondered whether our outrage at the evil in this world is an expression of personal distaste? Whether the recent Virginia Tech shootings were objectively evil? I ask this because I’m of the view that without the God of the Christian faith (i.e. the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments) the underpinnings of ethics are destroyed, and the moral motions that we feel every day of our lives are rendered non-sensical.
Now here’s an important note to take into consideration. I’m not saying that only Christians are moral people. On the flip side, neither am I saying that all non-Christians are horrible, evil people. What I’m talking about here is what are the fundamental foundations our assumption about reality that underlie our beliefs about morality, right and wrong. Richard Dawkins may very well be a nicer, kinder, and more law abidding citizen than I am. That’s not in question. The question is whether, on a worldview that rejects the existence of God, are those basic pillars that support our common everyday assumptions about ethics there? I don’t think that they are. Without the infinite-personal God of the Bible, how do we define good and evil, right and wrong? I’m convinced that we can boil down the matter to only left two alternatives: either 1) an individual subjectivist response, and 2) a collective subjectivist response. For the sake of handling the various possible replies, I have distinguished the alternatives. However, as we will soon see, both alternatives reduce to subjectivism and skepticism.
Individual subjectivist responses. This is the view that a given acts our behavior is good or bad because I have chosen it. If I commit myself to a given path, it is good. If I am made to do something I chose not to do, it’s bad. If the non-Christian claims moral justification (that which makes a good acts good, and a bad act bad) is found in what one chooses to do, we are left with no standard whatsoever by which we can condemn the worst types of behavior. Pedophilia, rape, incest, bestiality, and murder, are all morally acceptable. Why? Because for those that commit such acts, they were the products of active volition. This view can be quickly be placed to one side.
Collective subjectivist responses. The term “collective subjectivist” may strike some as paradoxical at best and oxymoronic at worst, yet such a title is fitting for “society says” moral relativism. According to this position, morality is, in a weak sense, objective in that the individual is not free to create moral norms from scratch. They are to live within the ethical structure of societal consensus. Such an ethical standard is collective. Yet, on the other hand, it nevertheless remains a subjectivist position on meta-ethics (i.e. on how we philosophically justify or provide warrant for the system we’re espousing). What makes the collective approach ultimately subjectivist and indeed relativist is that each society determines it’s own moral norms, and accordingly, one culture (or sub-culture) cannot condemn the actions of another. The problems for this approach are equally evident. If indeed no supra-cultural definition of evil (or good) exists, how can two or more cultures or sub-cultures with different standards of ethics be compared? Consistently applied, the collectivist subjectivist model prohibits us form labeling the crimes committed at Auschwitz evil. In fact, it becomes even more problematic because not all German citizens would have approved of the war crimes and genocide of the Nazis. So, what we are left with is at least two moral sub-cultures in WWII Germany, those that would call the Nazi actions evil, and those who participated in those actions and condoned them. But any system that strips us of the ability to make moral distinctions is highly counter-intuitive. A paradigm that seeks to explain our “moral motions” must respect the moral outrage we feel at events such as the holocaust. Moreover, we do instinctively know right and wrong in most cases. We can proclaim moral relativism from the rooftops all day, that is, until someone steals our belongings, or hurts our family members. Suddenly we feel that it’s not something that we simply dislike, but rather that it is something that’s truly wrong! Then we become moral absolutists.
Lastly, if we reduce we moral claims to preference claims then we would have to radically change the way we commonly speak. Instead of saying “The terrorists who flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings were wrong, and it was an evil act!”, we would have to replace it with, “I personally do not think that the Terrorists attack on Sept.11th was expedient, and it did not accord with my subjective tastes, but I could be wrong. I don’t want to “impose” my morality on anyone!” I feel my point has been made.
The Christian Response. Lastly, allow me to touch upon why I believe that the Christian God is the best bet for explaining the our ‘moral motions.’ When we find our selves taken with a belief that person X should not have committed Y act, what we’re saying is that person X is morally obligated to have done the right and good thing. In the case of murder, we’re saying that person X ought to have a respect for innocent human life, and ought it a word that implies obligation. But, we do not have obligations to mere material things. I have no obligations not to throw a stone across a beach. The stone demands no such loyalty. But both obligations and loyalty can be pledged to a person. Personal relationships imply certain obligations and can demand loyalty. But what about ultimate moral obligations? Moral obligations are, after all, hierarchical. My loyalty to my brother places certain obligations in my path, but my relationship to my mother demands an even higher level or loyalty. But my mother cannot simply ask me to rob a store. If she did, I would have to tell her that I couldn’t because it would break the law and would (in principal) cause civil unrest. But what if my government told me that I am obligated by my citizenship to randomly kill any person living in my immediate community that was not born in America? What should I do then? I would appeal to a higher standard of obligation. But what higher standard is there? Maybe one could say the ‘world community’, but that only pushes the question back one step.
Ultimately, who’s my greatest loyalty to? If i’m correct to say that obligations and loyalty only make sense in the context of personal relationships, then ultimate loyalty is due to an Ultimate Personal, or, as I’ve said above, a Personal Absolute. But Christianity is the only religion in which the greatest thing in existence (the ultimate metaphysical reality) is a Personal Absolute. In other philosophies, religions, and myths, you have absolutes that are not personal (like Plato’s form of The Good, Hegel’s Geist, Brahma is Hinduism, etc.), or you’ll find personal gods or principles that aren’t absolute (the Greek Pantheon, the god of Mormonism, thetans in Scientenology, etc.) Only in the Bible do you find a God, the final reality, that is both person and absolute/ultimate. This in my mind is strong evidence for the Christian conception of God as the best explanation for ultimate, objective, universally binding ethics.
Conclusion. Now this is my reason for rejecting an empiricism model of epistemology. It cannot account for the metaphysical assumptions that underlie the scientific method, and it cannot account for the existence of universal, immaterial absolutes, such as numbers, laws of logic, and universally binding principles of ethics. While on a Christian worldview all such things make perfect sense, and in fact can be explained (at least at the beginners level) to a child in Sunday School. One may not agree with the answers posited by Christianity, but they have to admit that Christians do have answers to these philosophical issues. Thanks so much for listening to this (rather extended) letter. Also, please forgive me for the great length of time it has taken to complete it. My prayer is that we can both understand the position of the other person fairly, and see where we’re coming from.
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