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More Dumb Tweets: Belief and Morality

Juan A. Raposo put up a fascinating tweet:

The implication being that theists are only moral because our belief in God keeps us moral.

So if not for that belief, we’d be vicious killing machines.  That thought misses a grand contradiction: Ask yourself, “What restrains the atheist from raping and pillaging?”  Belief that those things are wrong.

Is that belief fundamentally different from belief in God?

The atheist would say yes, but if he were consistent he’d be forced to admit that it differs very little.  After all, the Atheist Mantra is that there is “no evidence” for God and  God can’t be scientifically proven, right?

And that means that belief in God is worthless.  The underlying principle is a form of logical positivism, variously called empiricism or scientism.  It accepts only that which can be proven scientifically (scientism) or that which can be experienced by the senses (empiricism) as valid evidence.  Most atheists use this to disqualify evidence or argument that God exists.

The flip side is that morality can’t be scientifically proven, either.  So the belief that it is immoral to rape and pillage local towns is on the same grounds as God.  If one accepts the implied tenet that only that which can be scientifically proven is worth believing, then one cannot be consistent and also believe that raping and pillaging are morally wrong.  One has to prove that case.

So we both believe, without empirical evidence, that something restrains us from committing grievous harms against our fellow humans.  And that, by Raposo’s estimation, means neither of us are moral — but that’s the whole point of needing a Savior, isn’t it?

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Another Facebook Meme that Should be Destroyed

Wow.  Just wow.  So many things wrong with this graphic.  So many problems and inconsistencies of thought. . . .  So many half-truths and misrepresentations. . . .

Let’s just start left and travel right.  A word of warning — this is longer than my average blog post because it covers a variety of topics related to same-sex marriage.  It’s approaching 1800 words and I cut quite a bit of material out.  Be warned as you travel below the fold. . . . Read the rest of this entry

On Originality and Divine Revelation

Peter Breitbart’s short film A Madman or Something Worse is the latest in a line of criticisms of Jesus’ teachings to carry an unspoken, but integral, underlying assumption that divine revelation must somehow be original in order to truly be divine.

So, I would like to pose the following question: Why must something be original in order to be considered divine revelation?

This criticism isn’t unique to Breitbart.  When I mention a teaching of Jesus or the Bible, the skeptic counters that said teaching predates the Bible or Jesus by centuries.  I see this especially in connection to Jesus’ ethic of reciprocity, the so-called Golden Rule.  This little gem predated Jesus by quite a bit; centuries in fact.

The implication seems to be that if the Bible were truly God’s word, that it would be 100% original.  Or, that if Jesus were the Son of God, he’d say things that no mortal teacher had ever said.

So pointing out that things like the Golden Rule existed well before Jesus is somehow supposed to mean that Jesus isn’t divine.  Or that the Mosaic Law isn’t divinely inspired because similar legal strictures existed 500 or so years earlier in the Code of Hammurabi.

So what?

We humans are made in the image of God.  While every fiber of our being is tainted by sin, the fact of the matter is that we still retain part of this identity as God’s special creation.  And that means that it is possible for us to know morality when we see it, and that means that moral teachings might come from places other than the divinely inspired texts or the words of Jesus.  It is possible that some enlightened individuals, though not divinely inspired in the strictest sense of the term, may have found part of the divine truths by means other than a word from God.  Moreover, they might have discovered them before God revealed them in a divinely inspired teaching.

Given that humans are made in God’s image, this isn’t really unexpected.

Morality is absolute and objective.  Our knowledge of morality can change, but what is right is always right and what is wrong is always wrong.  Child sacrifice is just wrong, whether or not Canaanite society believed it was right and just.  The Holocaust was wrong, whether or not 1930s-1940s German society was overwhelmingly in favor of it.

Morality, therefore, is something that we discover as our knowledge increases; not something subjective that we put to a vote.  Being made in the image of God means that this morality is written on our hearts and that we can gain a greater understanding of it as time passes.  We can find a better path than even the morality on display right now.

And we probably will.

Two thousand years from now, an enlightened society will probably look at America 2011 and think that we are as backwards and as barbaric as we in America 2011 view the ancient Israelites and their Canaanite opposition.

The Bible is the divinely-inspired and objective guidebook to finding this higher morality, but no one is claiming that it is the only source of morality or even the first source of any particular moral teaching.

Now, some folks do claim that the Bible is the source of certain teachings, like the Golden Rule, but they’re misinformed.  Since, however, there’s no reason (given that humans are made in the image of God) to believe that a teaching must be unique to the Bible or to Jesus to be true and divinely inspired, let’s just educate the misinformed person and move on.  Unless the skeptic is prepared to explain why a teaching must be unique in order to be divinely inspired.

Twitter and Shallow Reasoning

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion with two users (@LifesPoser and @JoeUnseen) about the existence of God.  As usual, they were crowing about how I need to prove that God exists before they’ll listen to me.

https://twitter.com/#!/LifesPoser/status/89019071726759937

So I responded with links to three YouTube videos from Dr. Roland Nash:

https://twitter.com/#!/tucholskic/status/89187665408299008

First of all, I doubt that these guys watched all of the videos.  The discussion centered around the first video, where Dr. Nash explains that we as humans take for granted a number of propositions that we are unable to prove.  Two such examples are the existence of an external world and the existence of other minds (known as solipsism; and one user even ridiculed my entire argument by saying that when the theist resorts to solipsism, that means he’s beat).

The shallow reasoning in question:

Not correct, not even a little bit.  Just because I’m experiencing the external world, I can’t call that evidence of the existence of the external world.  All such evidence–picking up a crayon off my basement floor, sitting in a chair, talking to my wife–is part of the very thing I’m trying to prove.

Consider trying to prove a murder in court.  We’re trying to prove that the act itself occurred.  We can’t see the act itself, only the evidence produced by the act.  Security footage (not the actual act, mind you, but a recording of it–the actual act happened in the past and is not accessible to us).  A knife with the defendant’s fingerprints on the handle and the victim’s blood on the blade.  Footprints matching the defendant’s shoes in blood fleeing the crime scene.  These things are incidental to the act itself, they exist as a record of the act.

With trying to prove the external world, everything that you can point to is part of the external world, not a record of its existence.  This is akin to my fellow theists saying that the Bible is God’s word because it says so.  You can’t do that; it’s begging the question.

There are equally plausible metaphysical explanations for an outside world.  Look at The Matrix.  You can’t prove that isn’t what’s happening right now.

So, what?

The take away point is that you are rational for believing in the existence of an external world.  Moreover, you are rational for believing that the people you encounter have minds.  And, you are rational for believing that there is a shared experience with that other person when we’re standing in the same room.  We see the same lamp.  We sit together at the same table.

You can’t prove it.  But, you’d be irrational to consider The Matrix scenario.  You’d be locked up if you came to believe that.  That’s how good The Matrix is at detecting and punishing dissent from it.  (Ooops!  Is that Agent Smith knocking at my door?)

So Alvin Plantinga argues that we are rational for believing in the existence of God without having to provide empirical evidence for it.  I’m not proving the existence of God any more than I’m proving the external world.  I’m providing rational reasons for my belief in God.  These I’ve detailed before:

  • The existence of something rather than nothing
  • Cosmology points to a universe with an absolute beginning, implying a transcendent cause (a cause cannot be part of the resulting effect)
  • Harmony of nature (look at the imbalances caused by transplanting non-indigenous species into a new environment or by the unnatural extinction of a member of that biosphere)
  • Complex structure of even inorganic matter
  • Appearance of design in biology is best explained by actual design
  • Existence of absolute morality (human sacrifice is always wrong, even if the Canaanites, Aztecs, and Mayans [among others] thought it was business as usual)
  • DNA is a living language, and languages don’t just “come together” one day
  • Conscious existence of humans with a free will

Multiple lines of reasoning (not really evidence or proof) coalesce to make the existence of God much more likely than not.  Each of those items by itself makes God very likely, but the cumulative case becomes much, much stronger.  Pretty tough to shake, in my own estimation.

Now, I know it’s fashionable among atheists to say that I bear 100% of the burden of proof since I’m the “prosecution” making the positive claim (“The defendant committed the crime, your honor!”).  But that’s just American imperialism.  Other justice systems make the defendant bear the burden of proof (“I did not commit the crime, your honor!”).  Given all this, I’d say the atheist (at minimum) has at least one burden of proof, though he’s not going to like hearing me say it.

He owes me reasons why non-belief is rational.  Note that I’m not asking him to prove a negative.  I’m asking for what I just gave here–multiple lines of evidence and argument that make the nonexistence of God more likely than not.  Given the usual squawking about theistic burden of proof, I’m not holding my breath for these reasons.

 

I HATE Cutesy Christian Slogans

Not that long ago, I was driving by a local church and the marquee, appallingly, told passers-by to pray for whatever they wanted, and God would provide it for them. It said this in a cutsey, easy-to-remember slogan. Ironically, I can’t remember the slogan. I had meant not only to blog about it, but to send the pastor a protest letter explaining why that was a bad slogan, and why such propaganda may draw people in for the short term but is very damaging for the long term.

The primary reason for this is simple: what is the pastor of that church going to tell someone who didn’t get what they prayed for? The congregant was “lured” into this church with the promise that God affirmatively answers all prayers, which any student of Bible and/or common sense can tell you is not the case. Any answer given by the pastor is damaging at this point.

If the pastor fesses up to the truth, which is that God will occasionally say “No,” given that God is an agent with a plan of his own that comes before the individual desires of his worshipers rather than an impersonal, wish-granting force, then it appears as though the church is using half-truths to fill pews and get tithe money for its own ends.

If the pastor says that the congregant doesn’t have enough faith in God, that raises the question of how much faith one really needs to receive effective answers to prayer. The congregant immediately concludes he doesn’t have enough faith, wonders what he can do to get more faith, and feels like a failure as a Christian. All the congregant needs to do now is pick up a copy of The God Delusion and guess what happens next.

But I never got around to either the post or the letter. What reminded me is a blog post from No Forbidden Questions about a Christian meme that has been making its way around the e-mail circuit, which is pictured to the right. As with all cutesy Christian slogans, I hate this graphic. It only tells a half-truth.

NFQ says this makes it seem as though unbelievers experience these things regularly, while believers are immune to it. Or, as commenter Andrew puts it, “The grass is always browner on the other side of our beliefs.” Read the rest of this entry

Nail on the Head

Guest blogging for J.P. Holding, apologist Nick Peters hit the nail on the head with a recent review of Valerie Tarico’s book Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light (Oracle Institute Press LLC, 2010). Peters tells us:

Towards the end, she [Tarico] seems to say that she does not believe in any deity, but the terminology is ambiguous. I see Tarico as simply wanting to have the beliefs that come naturally with a theistic worldview, such as objective morality and reliability of reason, without having that extra annoying baggage (to her) that comes with it, such as God. (source)

I happen to think that this sums up what most atheists think of theistic worldviews. There is no reason to think that free will exists, objective morality, or that our brains are even validly processing information unless you ground all of that in something. Yet, the atheist just kind of shrugs, affirms that it all works without ever giving a reason, and goes on. “It just does” is good enough for them, I guess.

They want to make the same assumptions that a God-centered worldview can make, but without the annoyance of actually submitting to God. Doesn’t work that way, guys. Sorry.

The Bondage of the Will

Read the entire article here.

Michelangelo's painting of the sin of Adam and...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s obvious from looking at the current state of the world that the human condition is broken. Wars, invasions, suicide bombers using women and children. The mayor of one the largest cities in the country is facing charges ranging from perjury to obstruction of justice–all while his city is crumbling economically around him. What is going on in the world today? Is this all we have to look forward to? More of the same?

Left to our own devices, we humans sin. The effects of sin are all around us, and can be seen daily simply by picking up a newspaper, watching the news on TV, or reading the RSS newsfeeds. Why the propensity to sin?

Mankind simply has it in his heart to sin. God has a perfect plan for our lives, and we can only have it by perfect obedience to his Law. Not the Mosaic Law, mind you, but the Law of God that is written in the hearts of all mankind, that which we instinctively know is right and wrong morally. The Mosaic Law is often points to the standard, but it is far from the standard. We know the standard. Read the rest of this entry