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Monthly Archives: June 2011

More on Traditional Marriage: Classic Francis Beckwith

When the mayor of San Francisco was passing out marriage licenses for gay couples in defiance of state law in 2004, philosopher Francis Beckwith suggested a better way to handle it than the legal remedy which was sought:

I believe, however, that given present circumstances that the best strategy is to take the mayor at his word and employ “street theatre” in a provocative way in order to force the other side to defend their marital nihilism in all its glory. Here’s the plan: Have about 50 folks go to San Francisco city hall and request marriage licenses, but not for gay marriages, rather, for other sorts of “unions” that are also forbidden by the state: three bisexuals from two genders, one person who wants to marry himself (and have him accuse the mayor of “numberism,” the prejudice that marriage must include more than one person), two married couples who want a temporary “wife-swap lease,” a couple consisting of two brothers, two sisters, or a brother and a sister, an adult mother and son, and a man who wants to add a second wife and a first husband in order to have a “marital ensemble,” etc., etc. Let’s see if the mayor will give these people “marriage” licenses. If not, why not? If not, then the jig is up and the mayor actually has to explain the grounds on which he will not give licenses to these folks. But what could those grounds be? That it would break the law? That marriage has a nature, a purpose, that is not the result of social construction or state fiat? If so, then what is it and why? (source)

Beckwith goes on that article to state that marriage isn’t a social construction, but an institution with precise meaning and confers a specific benefit to society.

. . . [O]nce marriage is defined merely as a contract between consenting adults rather than as an institution grounded in our natures as men and women, recognized and honored by the wider community, then marriage simply does not exist. According to the mayor of San Francisco, marriage is not something we enter; it is something we create or undo by our willfulness. It is not part of the order and nature of things that we honor and preserve by subjecting ourselves to its moral grandeur; rather, it is like the colors of traffic signals, diplomatic immunity, or the dollar amount of parking fines, arbitrary rules created by governments in order to facilitate safe travel, economic transactions, international relations, state funding, and/or public peace.

Marriage is a covenantal institution recognizing that men and women need each other to survive and flourish.  We’re two sides of the same coin.  If men can marry men, and women can marry women, why not the other institutions that Beckwith suggests, above?  No, marriage has a meaning and a purpose grounded in something greater than just state law.  It is grounded in our own nature, which must have both genders present to see its fulfillment.  Which means that folks like myself who, according to detractors, “deny” gays the “right” to marry are not denying them anything–they never had this “right” in the first place.  You can’t deny a man something that isn’t his to begin with.

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My 3-year Old Thinks Deeper than Some Atheists

It sounds crazy, but I think my three-year old daughter actually thinks more deeply than the average atheist.  She understands a distinction in the divine essence that many atheists fail to see.

I, and other apologists like me, out-of-hand reject statements like, “You’re an atheist to literally thousands of gods.  I’m only an atheist to one more god than you!”  I’ve discussed some reasons here.  One of the most compelling reasons to reject such a statement is the very ontology of the gods under discussion.

Polytheism usually starts with two gods, a male and a female.  The male generally represents Heaven or the Sky, while the female represents Earth.  Immediately, we see that these beings are tied to a material reality, with what Dungeons & Dragons supplements (such as Deities and Demigods) refer to as a “portfolio.”  The portfolio is the area of supreme power for that deity.

Sky and Earth then have children, which become the initial gods of the pantheon.  In Greek mythology, these children are Cronus and Rhea.  Cronus then usurps Sky’s (Uranus) power and becomes king of the entire universe.  This represents another common element of polytheism–the supreme god, always dwelling in or characterized by the Sky, is defeated or rendered impotent.

Cronus and Rhea then gave birth to Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera.  None of these gods are the causal agent of the force they control.  Zeus controls thunder, and his lightning bolt was fashioned to harness the already extant power.  Same with the remaining siblings: Poseidon controls the water, Hades shepherds departed souls, Demeter manages the seasons, Hestia the household, and Hera blesses marriage.

The universe, when discussed, is usually already there.  It is never “created” by any god, and the gods master extant powers rather than creating them.  Further, the gods are always seen as finite, as having a definite beginning and it always seems possible that they could have an end, in either death or imprisonment.

Contrast that with God, the transcendent creator of the universe.  There was nothing before God, and there will be nothing after God.  He is eternal, and exists on the pure necessity of his own nature.  All that we see, he spoke into being.  Light through the darkness, material from immaterial, land out of water, vegetation on the land, fish in the sea, then creatures on the land.  He commanded it all into existence; he didn’t harness what already existed.

This concept is weighty, but not so much that Ashleigh couldn’t grasp it, and she’s only three!  The atheists I deal with are much older than that, yet seem unable to grasp this concept.

How do I know Ashleigh gets it?  Because the other day, I hear her declare to my son, Gabriel, and anyone else in earshot, that she was the “god of weather.”  I told her that she shouldn’t claim to be God, as that is very wrong indeed.

She replied, “I’m not God, daddy.  I’m only god of weather!”

Indicating she understands the fundamental difference between claiming to be the ultimate creator, and a powerful entity with a limited portfolio (such as “weather”).  Maybe I’m reading too much into her comment, but it seems to me that she gets a truth that escapes our atheist friends who make the “I’m an atheist to one more god” claim.  Maybe she’ll follow in my footsteps into Christian apologetics.

On Traditional Marriage: Where Charlie Went Wrong

Martin over The Atheist Experience chided a recent caller going by Charlie the Atheist Homophobe:

When he called Tracie and me two weeks ago, the burden of his argument was that the word homophobia has a colloquial meaning that has changed and evolved from its dictionary definition, so as to incorporate such things as “disgust” rather than strictly “irrational fear” (the meaning of “phobia” in a nutshell). Charlie was supportive of this evolution of homophobia’s meaning, of course. (source)

Then, Martin points out that it is inconsistent not to be supportive of the same evolution for marriage:

While homophobia gets to expand its meaning to include a variety of emotional states, marriage does not get to expand its meaning to include a variety of relationship commitments, including same-sex couples (even though the almighty dictionary says it can). And Charlie’s whole justification for opposing any expansion of marriage‘s definition is an appeal to tradition and consensus, the very things he thinks should be ignored in the case of homophobia.

It’s a pure double standard, of the sort that people who are smart enough to know better often hold, so as to convince themselves that an intellectually and morally offensive point of view is in fact intellectually and morally justified. But as Russell said, if the guy isn’t actually out to impinge on anyone’s rights, then his word games are just so much noise.

Martin is absolutely right.  But, the essence of Charlie’s arguments hold, provided that he would have been more careful about phrasing himself. Read the rest of this entry

Are Christians Superior to Atheists? (via Twitter)

This discussion started with a simple tweet from about.com writer Austin Cline, and quickly spiraled out of control from there into a shouting match of personal insult.  I’m happy to say, that none of that was from me; I really tried to keep to the issues this time (though as commenter Doc can attest, I don’t always):

So, I replied:

https://twitter.com/#!/tucholskic/status/84369235840741376

This is in keeping with a controversial YouTube video by Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor where he said that atheists are less than human, but I thought perhaps he might have meant atheists haven’t embraced the fullness of their humanity. Read the rest of this entry

Obsessing Over a Cool Feature

WordPress has added the ability to reprint tweets in a really cool way.  Some readers have probably noted that I have done that with Monica’s tweets when I wish to highlight something that was said on Twitter.

Since I absolutely love this feature, and I said two things on Twitter that I would like to reiterate here, I will now use this feature shamelessly:

http://twitter.com/tucholskic/statuses/84154570019831808

And:

http://twitter.com/tucholskic/statuses/84159934605967360

Bask in my pithy wisdom.  And, follow me on Twitter.  I’ll follow you back, and I’ll love you forever.  Well, at least I’ll follow you back!

Comment Round-up! (part 2)

The second part where I reply to Doc’s comments is much shorter.  Only two comments remain, and they aren’t as long as the previous.

Context: Doc echoes some sentiments from Alex in my much-derided post on methodological naturalism vs. metaphysical naturalism.  Alex had previously stated:

the implications for just how loud and clear your god’s message in the bible really is, needing an army of theologians to explain and ponder and postulate and theorize and channel and project and often just make up stuff in order to make sense of the bible

Now, to Doc’s comment:

Exactly this. What kind of God would rely on an ancient text that he knows (if he is truly omniscient) will be doubted, misinterpreted, and only followed properly by a fraction of believers (since only one religion, or none, would be right; whichever one follows his exact message exactly as he intended) and argued for centuries by people who clai to know the truth and disagree among each other on the message’s details?

This would either be a sadistic god (sending to hell all those who innocently believe in a different interpretation of his message) or an incompetent god (relying on an unsuccessful game plan if he wants to keep believers).

Of course, the easy answer is that it’s all BS.

Nope.  It’s not BS.  But I hardly think that disagreement on exact interpretations qualifies all of Christianity as BS.  Scientists often disagree and debate, sometimes for decades.  Does that mean science is BS?

Nope, and neither is theology.  At the end of the day, God’s grace alone saves you, which is actuated by your faith.  The denomination of Christianity matters little, I think.  Knowledge of the person of Jesus may not even be necessary, so long as you make that step in faith with enough knowledge of God (and that is easier to come by then you guys like to think; see Rom 1:19-20, 10:5-21).

C. Michael Patton has some thoughts on that topic as well.

A few comments down, he makes the following statement:

You make a charge and then back off from it when I call you out on it.

You KNOW I was focusing on how you said, ” Evolutionists, the honest ones, admit that evolution only explains what happens to life when it’s already here. ”

You are implying here that Evolution is used as a way to cover up the question of the origin of life, and the *honest* ones will “admit” that it doesn’t.

This is loaded language, and by backing off of it and saying, “Oh I was just saying that evolution does not explain the origin of life, that’s all!” Is being purposely dishonest.

I used the “gravity” example to illustrate that it’s not “admitting” something. It’s not claiming it to begin with. Nobody “admits” that evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life in the same way nobody “admits” that evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life; they don’t need to, because that’s not what evolution is about. You plainly did not see the analogy I was making and replied with the snarky, “Um, good for them?” Because it went right over your head.

And during this retreat from the loaded statement you made, you actually have the nerve to try to play it off like *I’m* the one who lacked understanding of what you were saying.

No wonder you people are less respected every day.

One potential explanation for the origin of life is that it was gradually assembled from single molecules, then diatoms, then … etc.  Eventually, an entire cell (a bacterium, most likely) was the result.  These cells eventually began to specialize, and thus formed more complex organisms.  This gradual assembly of life from molecule up to a cell, and then diversifying from there is an extrapolation of evolutionary theory.

Now, this explanation for the origin of life probably isn’t a very good one.  But, the fact remains that some scientists regard evolution as capable of explaining the origin of life.  However, most do not.  So I will admit my use of “admit” wasn’t the best choice, since that particular theory isn’t in wide acceptance among evolutionary scientists.  However, I was not wrong to imply that evolutionary theory could attempt to explain the origin of life.

That concludes us for now.  I have some great posts in the draft stage, so don’t go too far!

Comment Round-up! (part 1)

I’ve decided to respond to all comments from the user styled “Doc” in this post because I’ve taken so long to get to answering them that my 30 day window is drastically narrow.  With this, Doc has another 30 days to reply (should he choose to do that).

First up, my post on fallacious arguments for homosexuality, here’s Doc’s reply to my previous comment:

“Since we’re on this topic, let me ask you a question that I promised myself I would ask the next idiot that said homosexuality is okay because animals do it: ”

I didn’t say that. I asked you if “done in nature” is your definition of “natural.” If it is, then “It’s unnatural” doesn’t hold up, since it is done in nature. Of course, like a typical theist, you twist that into, “If animals do X, it’s okay for humans to do X,” because you’re a theist, and logic is hard.

So, no answer forthcoming.

“There’s no broad definition of natural that’s going to work for everything.

No, you can’t run away from your own charge. You say homosexuality is wrong because it’s unnatural. In order to make this claim, you must define what you mean by unnatural.

It’s true, though: there isn’t a broad definition that’s going to work for everything.  As I apply below, common sense is going to have to apply.  Unfortunately, I gave an answer that a utilitarian would be proud of, and I think that school of thought is totally bogus.  Which means that we’re going to have to refine things a bit. Read the rest of this entry

Comment Backlog – And Some News

So, I have a HUGE comment backlog.  It appears as though my post on naturalism got a bunch of atheists’ panties in a bunch, and they crawled out of the woodwork to reply on my ignorance of science.  I expected to be called ignorant of science; whenever a Christian criticizes science he’s called ignorant (even Christians with relevant PhDs in the fields of evolutionary biology, organic chemistry, and philosophy of science).  Obviously, I have no relevant science degrees; I just used to get good grades in science-related classes in high school and I read a bunch of extra books back in those days when I actually had “free time.”  So I knew if those other Christians are “ignorant,” then I was going to get it 10 times worse.

What I didn’t expect was the sheer amount of commenting that was done.  While I expect most of it will be typical comment-and-run tactics since Twitter was what generated all the traffic (give atheists on Twitter more than 140 characers in reply and they usually run scared), I’m still going to address the comments.  Either I will learn something about science, or school my commenters on philosophy.

Ideally, since I like dialogue on this site, both will happen.  However, I would like to point out that, per the title of the post, the primary focus of that post was philosophy.  The comments I’ve scanned are talking all about science.  Which indicates that, likely, at least some of the commenters noticed that I was Christian and my writing touched briefly on science, so they automatically decided to comment that I was ignorant.  Because Christians are always ignorant of science, don’t you know?

Now, where would atheists get the impression that Christians are ignorant?  I have no idea.  All of the Christians in the media limelight are always top-notch, with an encyclopedic knowledge of American history.  None of us ever say anything stupid.  So, c’mon, atheists!  Give us our due, here!

Anyway, I will get to the comment backlog starting tomorrow.  I will reply on here, but not Twitter.  Sorry, Twitterheads.

Additionally, I’ve noticed that no one ever visits my Articles page.  So, as a result, I’ve pulled it down and will redistribute revised versions to other websites that offer free articles for e-zines.  At least maybe then they will get read.

All right, on to bed with me.

Question from a Christian About Law and Grace

A member of the Christian Apologetics Alliance recently asked:

Question: In the old testament God outlines an entire list of dos and do nots for the Jews to follow. Among them is dietary regulation (Kosher food=♥).

In the New Testament Christ says,”until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Does that include dietary restrictions? Paul suggests in 1 Corintians 8, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. ” And Christ Himself says, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’

So my question is thus, if Christ said that not a letter of the law would be removed until heaven and earth disappear and everything is accomplished but says also that what we eat doesn’t necessarily matter because it can’t make us unclean, is he contradicting Himself since in Leviticus 11 God dictates what Israelites were and weren’t suppose to eat?

I’ve heard this objection from 1000 different atheists, worded exactly the way this girl just framed it.  What most people fail to take away from Matthew 5:17-20 is one little snippet in v. 18, which qualifies the otherwise sweeping statement of nothing in the Law will pass away “until all is fulfilled.”  So, what is the fulfillment of the Law?  Christ himself.

Christ fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law, so that means that we don’t have to.  We now live by faith, not by works of Law.  Which means the short answer to this inquiry is, “No, we’re not held to dietary restrictions.”

The long answer is a matter of context. Read the rest of this entry

More Philosophical Ignorance

Knowledge of all types takes time and effort to understand.  More than that, it helps to take a moment to study epistemology to understand why we believe what we believe.

And if people had a basic understanding of epistemology, then stuff like this could be avoided:

I’ve discussed Monica’s ignorance before (on both tweets and longer posts 1 | 2| 3).  We have some more ignorance right here, and more proof that it is not substance that brings you followers and friends.  Having good traffic ratings, subscribers, fans, friends, and followers is a reflection of marketing skill.

Now, on with the real point of this post: Monica fails to make two important distinctions, and that is why her tweet fails.  The first distinction is between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.  This is a mistake most atheists make.  The second is a distinction between what science is best equipped to answer, and what metaphysics is best equipped to answer.  Of course, making the first mistake means that she won’t even consider metaphysics as a way to answer anything, so the second mistake is inevitable.

Methodological naturalism means the scientist carries a presumption that an effect will have a cause within the system it appears.  For example, if I win the  lottery, I assume that I was just the lucky recipient of a fortunate combination of statistical laws and probability–someone had to win, right?  I don’t assume that God granted me the money, though (to qualify) I would seek his will in what I did with the money.  Others, however, don’t make the same assumptions.

Metaphysical naturalism is a bit contradictory.  The metaphysical naturalist doesn’t believe in anything outside the system.  In other words, the system is all that there is, so all causes by definition will be found in the system.  Metaphysical naturalism is contradictory because it denies metaphysics, while remaining a valid metaphysical position.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can see why this is so ignorant.  The subjects Monica mentions provide real knowledge on how something occurs.  Evolution demonstrates how life changes over the years.  Astronomy provides insight into the motion of stars and planets.

None of these, however, provide an answer to why these things occur.  Evolutionists, the honest ones, admit that evolution only explains what happens to life when it’s already here.  It never speculates on an origin.

Astronomy can chart a star’s motion through the sky and provide us with an understanding of the size of the universe and our general location in it, but it can’t tell us where any of it came from.

That brings us to the second, and related mistake.  Science answers how, which is why the scientist must necessarily be a methodological naturalist.  A metaphysical naturalist precludes even asking why something is, because there is no why by definition.  The first scientists were Christians, and were not scientists despite being Christians as is so often claimed.  They were scientists because they were Christians–they wanted to figure out how the world worked, figuring (correctly) that religion has already established why.  Indeed, only theology is capable of establishing why.