Tag Archives: Sean McDowell

Can atheists be moral? Sean McDowell and James Corbett debate

I got the audio for this debate from Apologetics 315, linked below.

Here is the MP3 file.

Sean’s case is similar to the one I make, but he only has 3 minimal requirements for morality.

First, he explains the difference between objective and subjective truth claims, and points out that statements of a moral nature are meaningless unless morality is objective. Then he states 3 things that are needed in order to ground objective morality.

  1. an objective moral standard
  2. free will
  3. objective moral value of humans

The question of the foundations of morality is without a doubt the easiest issue for beginning apologists to discuss with their neighbor. If you’re new, then you need to at least listen to his opening speech. He’s an excellent speaker, and his rebuttals are very, very smooth. The citations of atheist philosophers like Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, e.g. – to show that “religious” wars had nothing to do with religion, really hurt his opponent. He seems to cite prominent atheists like Thomas Nagel, Richard Taylor, Michael Shermer, etc., constantly in order to get support for his assertions. That took preparation. McDowell was very calm in this debate. It’s very hard to stay calm when someone is disagreeing with you in front of a crowd, but McDowell did a great job at that. He also seemed to be really prepared, because his rebuttals were crisp and concise.

For those of you who want to understand how these things work, listen to the debate. There is a period of cross-examination if you like that sort of thing. I do!

William Lane Craig asks: should Christians embrace postmodernism?

Here’s a short clip:

Dr. Craig thinks that Christianity does a lot better when it is commended to others using logic and evidence. He thinks that postmodernism undermines logic and evidence.

Sean McDowell has more on what this means for Christians:

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

Postmodernism and Apologetics

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19).

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

This is my experience as well. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended IVCF and the woman running it (Jill) was a feminist who pushed postmodernism and feminism hard. Every week brought another testimony emphasizing love and forgiveness while minimizing or denying theology, science, history and logic. She turned down all the efforts of the men to bring in professors to speak about the cosmological argument or the resurrection, etc.. It was testimonies and prayer walks and praise hymns every week. When I questioned the people she chose to give their testimonies (mostly women), I found that none had any reasons for thinking that what they were talking about really was true. As a consequence of that, they were soft on doctrine – regularly throwing out Bible verses that did “resonate” with their “intuitions”. The same thing happened to me again with Campus Crusade as a graduate student. Personal testimonies of changed lives, divorced from any search for truth, every week.

One girl in particular that I knew at that time named Kerry was fond of bashing the laws of logic and the use of evidence. When I questioned her about it, she cited the influence of a charismatic youth pastor named Drew. A little more probing revealed that she denied the reality of Hell, and was a universalist. She eventually married a friend of mine and to this day has never read a single book on apologetics all the way through. Her beliefs are very much focused on the here and now, making friends and feeling good about herself. She never shook the habit of dismissing any argument, no matter how well-supported, that contradicted her intuitions.

Can atheists be moral? Sean McDowell and James Corbett debate

I got the audio for this debate from Apologetics 315, linked below.

Here is the MP3 file.

Sean’s case is similar to the one I make, but he only has 3 minimal requirements for morality.

First, he explains the difference between objective and subjective truth claims, and points out that statements of a moral nature are meaningless unless morality is objective. Then he states 3 things that are needed in order to ground objective morality.

  1. an objective moral standard
  2. free will
  3. objective moral value of humans

The question of the foundations of morality is without a doubt the easiest issue for beginning apologists to discuss with their neighbor. If you’re new, then you need to at least listen to his opening speech. He’s an excellent speaker, and his rebuttals are very, very smooth. The citations of atheist philosophers like Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, e.g. – to show that “religious” wars had nothing to do with religion, really hurt his opponent. He seems to cite prominent atheists like Thomas Nagel, Richard Taylor, Michael Shermer, etc., constantly in order to get support for his assertions. That took preparation. McDowell was very calm in this debate. It’s very hard to stay calm when someone is disagreeing with you in front of a crowd, but McDowell did a great job at that. He also seemed to be really prepared, because his rebuttals were crisp and concise.

For those of you who want to understand how these things work, listen to the debate. There is a period of cross-examination if you like that sort of thing. I do!

Tonight: Stand to Reason’s 20th anniversary conference will be live-streamed

From the Biola Apologetics Events page. Note that all of the times below are Pacific Time zone.

Description:

Join us as we celebrate 20 years of Stand to Reason and clear thinking Christianity. The event kicks off Friday night with stimulating apologetics lectures and a celebration! Join us for the full conference on Saturday featuring lectures from the Stand to Reason speakers and friends. Can’t make it to Biola? This event will be available via live stream online.

Conference Schedule:

Friday Night, May 10 (7:00 – 9:30 pm)

6:15 pm – Doors Opens
7:00 – 8:05 pm – Lectures from J.P. Moreland, Sean McDowell, Mary Jo Sharp, and Craig Hazen
8:05 – 8:25 pm – Break
8:15 – 9:30 pm – Panel featuring Stand to Reason’s Speakers Greg Koukl, Brett Kunkle, Alan Shlemon, and J. Warner Wallace
9:30 pm – Cake & Book Signing in the Courtyard

Saturday, May 11 (9:00 am – 12:30 pm)

8:00 am – Registration Opens
8:30 am – Doors Opens
9:00 – 9:50 am – Session 1: “Who’s Waiting for Your Kids?”
Lecture by Stand to Reason’s Brett Kunkle
9:50 – 10:00 am – Break
10:00 – 10:40 am – Session 2: “Compromise Is Not an Option”
Lecture by Stand to Reason’s Alan Shlemon
10:40 – 10:50 am – Break
10:50 – 11:30 am – Session 3: “Cold-case Christianity”
Lecture by Stand to Reason’s J. Warner Wallace
11:30 – 11:40 am – Break
11:40 am – 12:30 pm – Session 4: “Still Standing”
Lecture by Stand to Reason’s Greg Koukl

Conference Location:

Sutherland Auditorium
Biola University
13800 Biola Avenue
La Mirada, CA 90639
View Map

If you are in the South California area, you can attend in person. Otherwise, you can watch it online.

If Sean McDowell explains the fine-tuning argument, anyone can understand it

Combination Lock
Combination Lock

Sean McDowell wrote a blog post that has a very simple illustration to show what the fine-tuning argument is about, and then he supplies one of the best known illustrations: the strong force.

Here’s the simple illustration:

I grew up in the mountain town of Julian, California. I have always enjoyed walking the mountain trails and hiking in the woods. I have introduced my young children to exploring the forests.

Let’s assume I’m out hiking with my son Scottie. About two hours into our hike Scottie says, “Dad, I’m getting tired. And I’m thirsty.” Right then we catch sight of what looks like a structure through the trees. As we approach, we see a picture-perfect cabin in the middle of the woods. The door has been left wide open.

Scottie and I make our way into the cabin. To our amazement my favorite music is playing. Scottie’s favorite Wii video game appears on the TV screen. We see a sign on the refrigerator that says, Favorite Drinks Inside. Scottie runs over, opens the refrigerator, and takes out a Sierra Mist. “Can you believe this, Dad?” he blurts out just before guzzling down his drink. This would all be just too amazing, right?

What would you conclude by all this? Could these circumstances have come about by sheer chance? It would seem that someone had to have known we were coming and designed the cabin, the music, game, and drinks with us in mind.

While this fantastic cabin discovery is just a story, the reality is that Planet Earth is even more amazing and fantastic. As with the cabin illustration, it is as if someone carefully prepared our world exactly with us in mind. Certain laws of nature rest within very narrowly defined parameters that allow humans to exist here.

You can click through for the strong force point, which is one of the oldest and best-recognized instances of cosmic fine-tuning. The thing to note is that fine-tuning doesn’t just mean fine-tuning for humans. It means that unless these constants and quantities are set exactly right, then there will be no life of any kind.

The strong force example he introduces has to be fine-tuned in order to have chemical diversity – elements that include hydrogen, but also other elements other than hydrogen. You cannot make any kind of life out of only hydrogen. And you cannot make life without hydrogen. Any kind of life needs water. And water has to be made with hydrogen. So, in order to have life, you need some hydrogen, but you have to have more than just hydrogen because you need other elements, too. The production of hydrogen depends on the fine-tuning of the strong  force.