Category Archives: Commentary

The drowning stranger illustration challenges atheistic morality

Learning about right and wrong, good and evil
Learning about right and wrong, good and evil

This is by Matt from Well Spent Journey blog.

Excerpt:

Here’s a thought experiment.

_____

Imagine that you’re a healthy, athletic, 20-year-old male. It’s the morning after a thunderstorm, and you’re standing on the banks of a flooded, violently churning river.

You notice an object floating downstream.

As it moves closer, you suddenly realize that this object is a person. The head breaks the surface, and you see a panic-stricken elderly woman gasping for air. You’ve never met her before, but vaguely recognize her as an impoverished widow from a neighboring village.

You look around for help, but there’s no one in sight. You have only seconds to decide whether or not to jump in after her – recognizing that doing so will put your own life in significant peril.

_____

Is it rational for you to risk your life to save this stranger? Is it morally good to do so?

For the Christian, both of these questions can be answered with an emphatic “yes”.

The Christian is called to emulate the example set forth by Jesus, who not only risked, but sacrificed his life for the sake of others. The Christian believes that the soul is eternal, and that one’s existence doesn’t come to an abrupt end with death.  Additionally, he can point to the examples of countless Christian martyrs who have willingly sacrificed their own lives.

For the secular humanist, the answers to these questions are much more subjective. When I previously asked 23 self-identifying atheists, “Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?” only 4 of them responded with an unqualified “yes”.

Biologically speaking, the young man in our scenario has nothing to gain by jumping after the drowning woman. Since she’s poor and elderly, there are no conceivable financial or reproductive advantages involved. Evolutionary biologists often speak of “benefit to the tribe” as a motivation for self-sacrifice…yet the young man’s community would certainly place greater practical value on his life than that of a widow from a neighboring village.

Secular humanists argue that people are capable of making ethical decisions without any deity to serve as Moral Lawgiver. On a day-to-day basis, this is undeniably true. We all have non-religious friends and neighbors who live extremely moral and admirable lives.

In the scenario above, however, secular ethics break down. The secular humanist might recognize, intuitively, that diving into the river is a morally good action. But he has no rational basis for saying so. The young man’s decision is between empathy for a stranger (on the one hand) and utilitarian self-interest & community-interest (on the other).

In the end, there can be no binding moral imperatives in the absence of a Moral Lawgiver. If the young man decides to sit back and watch the woman drown, the secular humanist cannot criticize him. He’s only acting rationally.

When I read this, I was of one of the questions from one of my earliest posts, where I list a dozen interview questions to ask atheists. His question is very much like one of my questions. You may like the others in my list, as well.

It seems to me that on atheism, the only answer you can give for why you would do the right thing is “because it makes me happy”. And as we see with abortion – 56 million unborn children dead – it very often doesn’t make atheists happy to save someone else’s life. Not if it means any infringement on their own happiness. Every time an atheist votes Democrat, they are voting to declare that people who get in their way should not be saved. And atheists (the “nones”, anyway) are one of the largest Democrat voting blocs. According to the 2012 Secular Census, 97% of secularists deny that unborn children have a right to life. And the 2013 Gallup poll found that “nones”, people with no religion, are most likely to be pro-abortion. (Note that “nones” are not necessarily atheists, they may have some beliefs, but they are not observant). It’s not rational to inconvenience yourself to save others on atheism. You have one life to live, be happy, survival of the fittest.

When talking with a non-Christian, make truth – not behavior – the main issue

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Pastor Matt posted about something that I think all Christian apologists believe, deep down. (H/T The Poached Egg)

He writes:

Typically, the church has defined loving one’s neighbor as in line with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and Christ’s teaching in passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, in which we are commanded to love the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, etc. as if they were Jesus himself. Of course all believers should do so whether by volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating money to ministries like World Help.

But there is more to loving one’s neighbor these days than caring for the poor, as important as that is.  Those of us who live in a first world western country now dwell in a post-Christian society.  Our neighbors are inundated with naturalism masquerading as good science and sound philosophy.  Non-Christians believe the faith is intellectually vacuous.

It shocks many people when those trained in apologetics point out that atheists cannot answer questions like, “How did the universe come into existence?” “Why is our planet so finely tuned for life despite all the odds against it?” “How did life begin?” “Why do humans have consciousness?” “How is there truth or right and wrong without God?” “Why did the disciples die horrible deaths as impoverished traveling peasants rather than deny the resurrection of Jesus?”, etc.

If we are to help bring our neighbors to saving faith, we must first destroy their false ideas of what Christianity is and is not.  That means we must preach the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:21), knock down specious views of the faith and present the truth of what we believe.

Apologetics is not just an intellectual exercise for nerds like me or a debate to be won on college campuses but an increasing tool in loving our neighbors.  For if they do not understand the faith, they will likely not come to faith and that is what the God we love wants and how we must show love to our neighbors.  So, let’s study not just to win arguments but to love others.

That reminds me of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Our job is to beat up on false ideas and speculations.

Pastor Matt’s point is critical, I think. Just stop and think for a minute about your non-believing co-workers. Do they know that the universe began to exist? Do they know that the initial conditions and the cosmological constants have to be finely tuned to support things like galaxies, stars, planets and elements heavier than hydrogen? Do they know how much information is in a protein, and how many proteins would be needed to make the first living cell? Do they know what it takes to make a planet that can support life? What facts from the gospels and the Pauline letters pass the tests for historicity? What is the best explanation of those minimal facts?

These are the facts that we share when we discuss spiritual things with people. They are not Christian facts, they are public, testable facts. And yet, almost no one in the culture who is not already a believer is curious to find out these things on their own. But without the evidence, how are they supposed to take the first step towards a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? It’s not possible. This is a propositional faith, and we know it’s true by evidence. To share the evidence with someone so they can decide is as loving as sharing the evidence about retirement planning, or the evidence about nutrition, or the evidence about fitness and exercise, or the evidence about career planning. When you love someone, you tell them the facts, and then they decide. Evangelism is the same thing.

Here’s something from a recent post by J. Warner Wallace, where he talks about doing apologetics with people who have not yet decided whether God exists or not.

The Undecided

In many ways, this group holds the most promise. People who are undecided usually fall into two categories. Some have never really given the issue much thought. They’re neither for nor against; they’ve simply been living unaware. You may be the first person to introduce them to the issues you are trying to share. If so, remember the importance of a first impression. What you say or do will have an impact on the work of those who follow you. The second group of “undecideds” are people who have given the issue some thought, but are just beginning to make their decision. For this group of people, your defense of Christianity may very well be the deciding factor. The responsibility you and I have with the undecided is daunting, but it’s a privilege to play a small part in their decision.

OK, so I want to make a point about this. So often, I see Christian parents and leaders trying to focus on changing people’s behaviors, and not by giving them evidence. Instead of trying to convince them about what’s true, they tell them Bible verses, or maybe tell them they are going to Hell. But given what Matt and J. Warner said, I don’t want us to be focused on changing outward behavior. I want us to be focused on showing people what is true and showing our work – how we arrived at these true beliefs. You are doing Christianity wrong if you focus on getting behaviors from people by shaming them, overpowering them or scaring them.

So in my case, I’m not trying to get non-Christians to act like Christians when they have no reasons to be one. I’m trying to get them to settle on true beliefs – so that each of them and God can shake hands and be reconciled, responding to his drawing them of their own free will. Then, they can decide how they are going to act. And how they act might be even better than what we had in mind for them when all we wanted was for them to quit swearing and eat their vegetables. The Christian life is bigger than just making people do what we want them to do.

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Harvard University student discovers apologetics
Harvard University student discovers apologetics

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most people today are not interested in truth, because we just have this cultural preoccupation with having fun and feeling good and doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Most atheists I’ve met are like that, but some are more honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

A closer look at gender-reassignment surgery and psychological disorders

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

This article on The Public Discourse by Walt Heyer (H/T Katy), a form transgender woman, was tweeted to me multiple times, so I have to write something about it. It talks about the research on transgender people and the outcomes of gender-reassignment surgery.

Here is the part I thought captures the theme of the article:

Studies show that the majority of transgender people have other co-occurring, or comorbid, psychological disorders.

A 2014 study found 62.7% of patients diagnosed with gender dysphoria had at least one co-occurring disorder, and 33% were found to have major depressive disorders, which are linked to suicide ideation. Another 2014 study of four European countries found that almost 70% of participants showed one or more Axis I disorders, mainly affective (mood) disorders and anxiety.

In 2007, the Department of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, committed to a clinical review of the comorbid disorders of the last 10 patients interviewed at their Gender Identity Clinic. They found that “90% of these diverse patients had at least one other significant form of psychopathology . . . [including] problems of mood and anxiety regulation and adapting in the world. Two of the 10 have had persistent significant regrets about their previous transitions.”

Yet in the name of “civil rights,” laws are being passed at all levels of government to prevent transgender patients from receiving therapies to diagnose and treat co-occurring mental disorders.

The authors of the Case Western Reserve University study seemed to see this legal wave coming when they said:

This finding seems to be in marked contrast to the public, forensic, and professional rhetoric of many who care for transgendered adults . . . Emphasis on civil rights is not a substitute for the recognition and treatment of associated psychopathology. Gender identity specialists, unlike the media, need to be concerned about the majority of patients, not just the ones who are apparently functioning well in transition.

As one who went through the surgery, I wholeheartedly agree. Politics doesn’t mix well with science. When politics forces itself on medicine, patients are the ones who suffer.

Let’s connect the dots. Transgender people report attempting suicide at a staggering rate—above 40%. According to Suicide.org, 90% of all suicides are the result of untreated mental disorders. Over 60% (and possibly up to 90% as shown at Case Western) of transgender people have comorbid psychiatric disorders, which often go wholly untreated.

Could treating the underlying psychiatric disorders prevent transgender suicides? I think the answer is a resounding “yes.”

The evidence is staring us in the face. Tragically high numbers of transgender people attempt suicide. Suicide is the result of untreated mental disorders. A majority of transgender people suffer from untreated comorbid disorders—yet against all reason, laws are being enacted to prevent their treatment.

The article looks at different research and different scholars to make the case that just granting the people gender-reassignment surgery without trying to see what else might need fixing first is a mistake. A mistake that often results in suicides. We are not helping people who need help when we just take their desires at face value, without asking other questions.

Articles on The Public Discourse tend to be long and detailed, but this one is a must-read, because the topic is timely, and we should all have some sort of response ready when this topic comes up.

Ryan T. Anderson lectures on marriage and why it matters

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
What is marriage, and what is the essential public purpose of marriage?

Here’s the lecture:

About the speaker:

Ryan T. Anderson researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty as the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. He also focuses on justice and moral principles in economic thought, health care and education, and has expertise in bioethics and natural law theory.

Anderson, who joined the leading Washington think tank’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in 2012, also is the editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, N.J.

Anderson’s recent work at Heritage focuses on the constitutional questions surrounding same-sex “marriage.” He is the co-author with Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis of the acclaimed book “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense” (Encounter Books, December 2012).

The lecture starts at 7:20 in. The lecture ends at 49:35. There are 32 minutes of Q&A.

Introduction:

  • When talking about marriage in public, we should talk about philosophy, sociology and public policy
  • Gay marriage proponents need to be pressed to define what marriage is, on their view
  • Every definition of marriage is going to include some relationships, and exclude others
  • It’s meaningless to portray one side as nice and the other mean
  • Typically, marriage redefiners view marriage as a more intense emotional relationship
  • Marriage redefiners should be challenged in three ways:
  • 1) Does the redefined version of marriage have a public policy reason to prefer only two people?
  • 2) Does the redefined version of marriage have a reason to prefer permanence?
  • 3) Does the redefined version of marriage have a reason to prefer sexual exclusivity?
  • Also, if marriage is just about romance, then why is the state getting involved in recognizing it?
  • The talk: 1) What marriage is, 2) Why marriage matters, 3) What are the consequences of redefining marriage?

What marriage is:

  • Marriage unites spouses – hearts, minds and bodies
  • Marriage unites spouses to perform a good: creating a human being and raising that human being
  • Marriage is a commitment: permanent and exclusive
  • Male and female natures are distinct and complementary

The public purpose of marriage:

  • to attach men and women to each other
  • to attach mothers and fathers to their children
  • there is no such thing as parenting, there is only mothering and fathering
  • the evidence shows that children benefit from mothering and fathering
  • boys who grow up without fathers are more likely to commit crimes
  • girls who grow up without fathers are more likely to have sex earlier
  • Children benefit from having a mother and a father
  • can’t say that fathers are essential for children if we support gay marriage, which makes fathers optional
  • without marriage: child poverty increases, crime increases, social mobility decreases, welfare spending increases
  • when government encourages marriage, then government has less do to – stays smaller, spends less
  • if we promote marriage as an idea, we are not excluding gay relationships or even partner benefits
  • finally, gay marriage has shown itself to be hostile to religious liberty

Consequences redefining marriage:

  • it undermines the norm in public like that kids deserve a mom and a dad – moms and dads are interchangeable
  • it changes the institution of marriage away from the needs of children, and towards the needs of adults
  • it undermines the norm of permanence
  • we learned what happens when marriage is redefined before: with no-fault divorce
  • no-fault divorce: after this became law, divorce rates doubled – the law changed society
  • gay marriage would teach society that mothers and fathers are optional when raising children
  • if marriage is what people with intense feelings do, then how can you rationally limit marriage to only two people?
  • if marriage is what people with intense feelings do, then if other people cause intense feelings, there’s no fidelity
  • if marriage is what people with intense feelings do, then if the feelings go away, there is no permanence
  • the public policy consequences to undermining the norms of exclusivity and permanence = fatherless children and fragmented families
  • a final consequences is the decline and elimination of religious liberty – e.g. – adoption agencies closing, businesses being sued

We’re doing very well on abortion, but we need to get better at knowing how to discuss marriage. If you’re looking for something short to read, click here. If you want to read a long paper that his book is based on.

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