Category Archives: Polemics

Abortion debate: a secular case against legalized abortion

Unborn baby scheming about being only two months old
Unborn baby scheming about being only two months old

Note: this post has a twin! Its companion post on a secular case against gay marriage is here.

Now, you may think that the view that the unborn deserve protection during pregnancy is something that you either take on faith or not. But I want to explain how you can make a case for the right to life of the unborn, just by using reason and evidence.

To defend the pro-life position, I think you need to sustain 3 arguments:

  1. The unborn is a living being with human DNA, and is therefore human.
  2. There is no morally-relevant difference between an unborn baby, and one already born.
  3. None of the justifications given for terminating an unborn baby are morally adequate.

Now, the pro-abortion debater may object to point 1, perhaps by claiming that the unborn baby is either not living, or not human, or not distinct from the mother.

Defending point 1: Well, it is pretty obvious that the unborn child is not inanimate matter. It is definitely living and growing through all 9 months of pregnancy. (Click here for a video that shows what a baby looks like through all 9 months of pregnancy). Since it has human DNA, that makes it a human. And its DNA is different from either its mother or father, so it clearly not just a tissue growth of the father or the mother. More on this point at Christian Cadre, here. An unborn child cannot be the woman’s own body, because then the woman would have four arms, four legs, two heads, four eyes and two different DNA signatures. When you have two different human DNA signatures, you have two different humans.

Secondly, the pro-abortion debater may try to identify a characteristic of the unborn that is not yet present or developed while it is still in the womb, and then argue that because the unborn does not have that characteristic, it does not deserve the protection of the law.

Defending point 2: You need to show that the unborn are not different from the already-born in any meaningful way. The main differences between them are: size, level of development, environment and degree of dependence. Once these characteristics are identified, you can explain that none of these differences provide moral justification for terminating a life. For example, babies inside and outside the womb have the same value, because location does not change a human’s intrinsic value.

Additionally, the pro-abortion debater may try to identify a characteristic of the already-born that is not yet present or developed in the unborn, and then argue that because the unborn does not have that characteristic, that it does not deserve protection, (e.g. – sentience). Most of the these objections that you may encounter are refuted in this essay by Francis Beckwith. Usually these objections fall apart because they assume the thing they are trying to prove, namely, that the unborn deserves less protection than the already born.

Finally, the pro-abortion debater may conceded your points 1 and 2, and admit that the unborn is fully human. But they may then try to provide a moral justification for terminating the life of the unborn, regardless.

Defending point 3: I fully grant that it is sometimes justifiable to terminate an innocent human life, if there is a moral justification. Is there such a justification for abortion? One of the best known attempts to justify abortion is Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “violinist” argument. This argument is summarized by Paul Manata, one of the experts over at Triablogue:

Briefly, this argument goes like this: Say a world-famous violinist developed a fatal kidney ailment and the Society of Music Lovers found that only you had the right blood-type to help. So, they therefore have you kidnapped and then attach you to the violinist’s circulatory system so that your kidneys can be used to extract the poison from his. To unplug yourself from the violinist would be to kill him; therefore, pro-lifers would say a person has to stay attached against her will to the violinist for 9 months. Thompson says that it would be morally virtuous to stay plugged-in. But she asks, “Do you have to?” She appeals to our intuitions and answers, “No.”

Manata then goes on to defeat Thomson’s proposal here, with a short, memorable illustration, which I highly recommend that you check out. More info on how to respond to similar arguments is here.

Here is the best book for beginners on the pro-life view.

For those looking for advanced resources, Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, published the book Defending Life, with Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Dr. Walter Bradley lectures on scientific evidence for the creation and design of the universe

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This lecture is special to me, because I bought a VHS tape of it from Access Research Network just after I started working full-time, and watched it a million times. A lot of people come to their convictions about God’s existence because of parents or church or intuitions, but for me it’s all about the scientific evidence. This lecture changed my life. I wish more people taught their children about this evidence! This lecture was delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

About the speaker:

Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.

During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.

He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.

The lecture: (63 minutes lecture, 25 minutes audience Q&A)

Summary slide:

This slide summarizes the content of the lecture
This slide summarizes the content of the lecture

Introduction:

  • At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that the progress of science was pointing away from an intelligent Creator and Designer, and towards naturalism
  • A stream of new discoveries has shifted the support of science towards theism, and away from naturalism
  • Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says that nature only has the appearance of design, but that if you look closer, naturalistic mechanisms can account for the appearance of design
  • When deciding between design and apparent design (“designoid”), it matters whether you think there is an intelligence there to do the designing

Evidence #1: The Big Bang:

  • an eternal “steady state” universe is more compatible with naturalism, but a created universe is more compatible with a Creator
  • In 1929, Hubble used telescopes to observe that the light from distant galaxies was redshifted. The further away galaxies were, the faster they were moving away. Therefore, space is expanding in all directions, suggesting an explosive origin of the universe
  • In 1965, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation matched a prediction of the Big Bang cosmology, and of the creation event
  • In 1992, the COBE space telescope allowed us to test four specific predictions of the Big Bang model, especially the predictions for light element abundances (hydrogen and helium), which matched the predictions of the creation model

Evidence #2: Simple mathematical structure of the physical laws

  • the simple mathematical structure of natural laws allows us to understand these laws, make discoveries, and engineer solutions to problems
  • early scientists saw the mathematical structure of the universe to mean that nature was designed by an intelligent to be understood
  • the fundamental equations of the laws of the universe can be easily written on one side of one sheet of paper
  • Eugene Wigner’s famous paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” makes the point that this simple structure is an unexpected gift that allows is to do science

Evidence #3: fine-tuning of the physical constants and quantities

  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stars that provide energy within specific ranges for long periods of time
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need planets with stable orbits that will not suffer from extreme temperature swings as it varies in distance from its star
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stable atomic structure
  • in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need to have chemical diversity and correct relative abundances of each element
  • organic life has minimum requirements: process energy, store information, replicate, and you can’t fulfill those functions if there is only one element, e.g. – hydrogen
  • the energy level from the photons from the sun have to match the energy levels of the different elements in order to drive the chemical bonding needed for life
  • These requirements for life of any imaginable type depend on the values of the constants and quantities. The constants and quantities cannot vary much from what they are, or the universe will lose the characteristics (above) that allow it to support complex life of any imaginable time
  • For example, ratio of strong force to electromagnetic force:
    – if 2% larger, then no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no compounds containing hydrogen, e.g. – water
    – if 5% smaller, no stable stars, heavy hydrogen would be unstable, few elements other than hydrogen

Evidence #4: initial conditions for habitability

  • Universe: expansion rate of the universe must be fast enough to avoid a re-collapse, but slow enough to allow matter to clump together and form stars and planets for complex life to live on
  • Planet: right distance from the star to get the right climate
  • Planet: right mass to retain the right atmosphere

Evidence #5: origin of life and information theory

  • It’s possible to explain every process in an automobile engine using plain old naturalistic mechanisms – no supernatural explanation is necessary to understand the processes
  • But the existence of engine itself: engineering all the parts has to be explained by the work of an intelligence
  • Similarly, we can understand how living systems work, but the existence of the living systems requires an intelligence
  • Even the simplest living system has to perform minimal function: capture energy, store information and replicate
  • Living systems are composed of objects like proteins that are composed of sequences of components complex such that the order of the components gives the overall structure function
  • Developing the components for a simple living cell is very improbable – even given the large number of galaxies, stars and planets in the universe, it is unlikely that complex, embodied life would exist anywhere in the universe

Evidence #6: more initial conditions for habitability

  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be away from the center of the galaxy, because the explosions from dying stars, and excessive radiation will kill life
  • Location within the galaxy: you need to be close enough to the center in order catch the heavy elements you need for life from the explosions of other stars
  • Location within the galaxy: the best location is between two arms of  a spiral galaxy, where you can get the heavy elements you need from dying stars, but without being hit with explosions and harmful radiation
  • Star mass: determines rate at which the sun burns, determines the energy level of photons that are used to drive chemical bonding reactions, determines the length of time the star will be stable
  • Star mass: star mass must be the correct value in order to allow liquid water on the planet’s surface, while still preserving stable orbit

I wish there was more curiosity about science in churches, and young Christians understood how critical science is for grounding the rationality of the Christian worldview. We need to be training up more scientists who think about the big questions, like Dr. Walter Bradley.

What should Christians bring up when discussing truth with Muslims?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

I have some experience dicussing Islam because my mother’s side of the family is all Muslim. My go-to argument has always been to confront them about the Qur’an’s claim that Jesus did not die of crucifixion. But I noticed a different argument from Laura Powell, who knows far more about this topic than I do. Do you think her approach is the best one?

She writes about it over at Gospel-Centered Discipleship:

The crux of the argument is this: The Qur’an affirms the inspiration, authority, and preservation of the New Testament Gospels;[2] yet the Qur’an also contradicts the Gospels on major theological and historical points. Therefore, the Qur’an cannot be reliable.

According to the Qur’an, the Gospel is the trustworthy, reliable revelation of God given as a guidance for mankind (Qur’an 3:3-4). These Scriptures from God were available and trustworthy when the Qur’an was revealed in the 7th century A.D., and those who had access to them were repeatedly told to obey them, judge by them, submit to their teaching, and stand fast upon them. In other words, according to the Qur’an, the Gospels are the inspired and authoritative words of God.

Qur’an 5:47 says, “And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed—then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.”

Furthermore, Qur’an 5:68 states, “Say, ‘O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord’” (see also 6:114; 3:3-4).

What I like about her argument is that she’s just taking the words of the Qur’an seriously, and asking the Muslims who claim to believe it what’s going on here. Why say that the gospels are unreliable today, when the Qur’an said that the gospels were reliable, yesterday.

My argument about the death of Jesus requires us to ask Muslims “where is the non-Muslim historian who thinks that Jesus did not die?” There isn’t one.

But my argument requires that the Muslim know something about historical scholarship, to know what non-Muslim historians think.Laura’s argument has wider appeal, because it doesn’t require that the Muslim have any knowledge about history – only knowledge about what their own holy book says.

She concludes with this:

What we see here is that the Qur’an teaches the inspiration, authority, and preservation of the Gospels. The Qur’an was intended as an Arabic version of the message of truth found in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, but this presents a huge problem for Muslims because the Qur’an contradicts the Christian Scriptures on essential doctrines. Most notably, the Qur’an teaches that Jesus was not God incarnate, he did not die on a cross, and he was not raised from the dead (Qur’an 4:157; 5:116).

Here’s the dilemma for Muslims: If the Gospels are not trustworthy, then the Qur’an is false because it teaches that the Gospels are the inspired, perfectly preserved, authoritative words of God. But if the Gospels are trustworthy, then the Qur’an is false because it teaches contradictory, mutually exclusive facts about key issues. Either way, the Qur’an is false.

This, of course, is a huge problem for Muslims. The validity of Islam rests upon the reliability of the Qur’an, just as Christianity rests upon the truth of the divinity, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If the Qur’an is unreliable, then Islam is a false religion.

I like that she’s comfortable having disagreements with people. That’s not very common in the church today, in my experience.

By the way, this is the same Laura who wrote that really good article about how she found a better way to discuss her Christian worldview when she moved on from sharing her testimony. I blogged about it here.

Why would a woman want to participate in the hook-up culture?

Do young women understand how to get to a stable marriage?
Do young women understand how to get to a stable marriage?

Note: in this article, when I refer to women, I mean young, unmarried women who have been influenced by feminism. I do not mean all women, and especially not married women.

My good friend Tom sent me this article from the ultra left-wing Vanity Fair. Tom is a veteran of the brutal New York City dating scene.

The article is contains sex and bad language. Reader discretion is advised.

Excerpt:

It’s a balmy night in Manhattan’s financial district, and at a sports bar called Stout, everyone is Tindering. The tables are filled with young women and men who’ve been chasing money and deals on Wall Street all day, and now they’re out looking for hookups. Everyone is drinking, peering into their screens and swiping on the faces of strangers they may have sex with later that evening.

Tinder is a hook-up app that people use to find people to have sex with, based solely on their photograph.

The article says this:

“Romance is completely dead, and it’s the girls’ fault,” says Alex, 25, a New Yorker who works in the film industry. “They act like all they want is to have sex with you and then they yell at you for not wanting to have a relationship. How are you gonna feel romantic about a girl like that? Oh, and by the way? I met you on Tinder.

“Women do exactly the same things guys do,” said Matt, 26, who works in a New York art gallery. “I’ve had girls sleep with me off OkCupid and then just ghost me”—that is, disappear, in a digital sense, not returning texts. “They play the game the exact same way. They have a bunch of people going at the same time—they’re fielding their options. They’re always looking for somebody better, who has a better job or more money.” A few young women admitted to me that they use dating apps as a way to get free meals. “I call it Tinder food stamps,” one said.

Even the emphasis on looks inherent in a dating game based on swiping on photos is something men complain women are just as guilty of buying into. “They say in their profiles, ‘No shirtless pictures,’ but that’s bulls**t,” says Nick, the same as above. “The day I switched to a shirtless picture with my tattoos, immediately, within a few minutes, I had, like, 15 matches.”

And if women aren’t interested in being treated as sexual objects, why do they self-objectify in their profile pictures? some men ask. “There’s a lot of girls who are just like, Check me out, I’m hot, I’m wearing a bikini,” says Jason…

Men talk about the nudes they receive from women. They show off the nudes. “T*t pics and booty pics,” said Austin, 22, a college student in Indiana. “My phone is full of ‘em.”

Although the article, and the women who are interviewed, try to pass themselves off as victims, it’s very clear that they are full participants in this hook-up culture. It’s “fun” for them to be free and independent – no responsibilities, expectations or obligations from a relationship. They want fun right now, without the leadership of a husband, or the demands of small children.

Feminist writer Hanna Rosin says that this hook-up culture is great:

Some, like Atlantic writer Hanna Rosin, see hookup culture as a boon: “The hookup culture is … bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence.”

The Vanity Fair author comments:

“Short-term mating strategies” seem to work for plenty of women too; some don’t want to be in committed relationships, either, particularly those in their 20s who are focusing on their education and launching careers.

Previously, I quoted a feminist professor writing in the New York Times. She also thought that it was great that women were hooking up with hot guys for fun, but staying focused on their educations and careers.

Here’s Amanda to explain it:

“There is no dating. There’s no relationships,” says Amanda… “They’re rare. You can have a fling that could last like seven, eight months and you could never actually call someone your ‘boyfriend.’ [Hooking up] is a lot easier. No one gets hurt—well, not on the surface.”

Who doesn’t want to have sex? Well, me for one. At least, not till I’m married.

Amanda later explains that she doesn’t want to care, because caring would mean that she “somehow missed the whole memo about third-wave feminism”. She has to be independent – able to dismiss responsibilities, expectations and obligations in order to pursue happiness with education, career, travel and promiscuity.

I know Christian women who think they are fundamentalists who have this exact same attitude. They think that relationships are somehow compatible with doing whatever they want to do – that doing whatever makes them happy each and every moment will somehow turn into life-long married love.

Why don’t women reject the men who use them like kleenexes? Why is the man’s appearance so much more important than his suitability for the marriage roles of husband and father? Well, feminism tells women that gender distinctions are “sexist”, that chivalry is “sexist”, that chastity is “repressive” because it blocks having recreational sex, that marriage is boring and must be delayed, and that having lots of sexual experience makes you more attractive. They measure men by how the man makes them feel and whether he will be impressive physically to their peers. They aren’t looking for a man who can perform tradional male roles like protector or provider or moral and spiritual leader – because male leadership is “sexist”.

As always, should you, as a young Christian man of some means, desire to get married, then I recommend using my checklist to validate your candidate. I know a lot of women who married without any intention of being a wife and mother. Sometimes, they marry just because their friends are all getting married. If you as a man do not check this woman’s reasons for marrying, you may find yourself legally bound to someone who “settled” for you. And who has no intention of respecting you or educating your children.

The authors of the gospels of Mark and Luke knew eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus

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

Were the authors of the gospels of Mark and Luke connected to eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus? Well, it turns out that there are good reasons to think that Mark was linked to the eyewitness Peter, and Luke was linked to Paul, who had a post-mortem appearance of Jesus in 1 Cor 15:8, and who met with Peter and James in Galatians 1 and again in Galatians 2.

There is a list of evidence for Peter’s influence on Mark on the Cold Case Christianity blog.

Here’s my favorite one from the list:

Peter’s Embarrassments Have Been Omitted

There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence,including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts. See Cold-Case Christianity for a more detailed explanation).

It makes me laugh to imagine Peter looking over Mark’s shoulder and saying “no, don’t put that in it” and “no, don’t tell them I did that”. Funny! But also very good evidence. The rest of Wallace’s list makes it even more clear.

And what about the gospel of Luke? Well, did you know that the author of Luke’s gospel knew Paul? If you read it carefully, you’ll see that Luke switches from describing history from an “I” perspective to describing things from a “we” perspective in the book of Acts (which he also wrote). Who is the “we” he is talking about?

Here’s famous Christian scholar William Lane Craig to explain:

Now who was this author we call Luke? He was clearly not an eyewitness to Jesus’s life. But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural: “we set sail from Troas to Samothrace,” “we remained in Philippi some days,” “as we were going to the place of prayer,” etc. The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities. In chapter 21 he accompanies Paul back to Palestine and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was in fact in first hand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry in Jerusalem.

[…]There is no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life while in Jerusalem. Who were some of these eyewitnesses? Perhaps we can get some clue by subtracting from the Gospel of Luke everything found in the other gospels and seeing what is peculiar to Luke. What you discover is that many of Luke’s peculiar narratives are connected to women who followed Jesus: people like Joanna and Susanna, and significantly, Mary, Jesus’s mother.

Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. The book of Acts overlaps significantly with secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable.

This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. [5] Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right.

I know a lot of people (like my Dad) read the Bible devotionally, looking for feelings or trying to “get right with God” so they get blessings. But I think it’s helpful to look at things from an evidential point of view – how am I going to make a case for this? When you look at things from that perspective, the Bible gets a whole lot more interesting. And you can talk about it with non-Christians when you know about these interesting details.