Tag Archives: Christian Theism

Brian Auten interviews Dr. Norman Geisler

The nice thing about linking to Brian Auten is that he has the nice little summary all made up!

The MP3 file is here. (44 minutes)

Summary: (from Brian)

Today’s interview is with apologist Norman Geisler, Distinguished Professor of Apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary and author of over 70 books. He answers a variety of questions and topics: how he got into apologetics, his greatest influences on his own thinking, the change on the apologetics landscape in the past decades, his suggested required reading for all apologists, the kinds of arguments he has encountered and how they have affected him, advice for studying arguments, the growth of apologetics in the church, the top three topics to focus on, skills apologists should develop, pitfalls to avoid, areas that should be strengthened, the necessity of theology, what he feels the strongest argument is for God’s existence, learning from those who disagree, one’s prayer life and integrity, favorite illustrations, advice for studying in the field, and more.

A good interview with a prominent Christian apologist.

 

Ed Feser describes Peter Singer’s struggle with objective morality

From Ed Feser’s blog, a report on one of the most famous atheist utilitarians.

Excerpt:

The Guardian reportsthat Peter Singer is having second thoughts about some aspects of his moral philosophy.  In particular, he now has doubts about whether preference utilitarianism provides satisfactory moral advice about climate change.  (As the reporter puts it, “preference utilitarianism can provide good arguments not to worry about climate change, as well as arguments to do so.”)  Singer is also now open to the idea that moral value must be grounded in something objective; and though he is still not inclined to believe in God, he acknowledges that a theologically-oriented ethics has the advantage that it provides the only complete answer to the question why we should act morally.

This is progress, though it seems to me that Singer’s conception of moral objectivity is dubious.  Apparently he would ground our knowledge of objective moral truths in “intuition.”  As I have said before, this is bad methodology, at least from an Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law point of view as I understand it.  Moral intuitions track objective moral truth in only a very rough, general, and mutable way.  Practically they are useful – that is why nature put them into us – and they might provide a useful heuristic when philosophically investigating this or that specific moral question.  But intuition does not ground moral truth, it is not an infallible guide to moral truth, and it should never form the basis of a philosophical argument for a controversial moral position.

So Singer has finally become aware of the the difference between relative morality and objective morality, but he’s still not clear about moral epistemology and moral ontology, which comes up so often in William Lane Craig’s debates. Even if we know right and wrong through our moral intuitions, we still have to need a designer of the universe to say how it ought to be, if our intuitions are referring to a real design for the universe, and for us.

Well, still – at least Singer is making progress. But he’ll never be able to arrive at a rational conception of morality on atheism.

Can atheists make sense of morality?

Consider this excerpt from a recent article by Paul Copan.

Excerpt:

Jürgen Habermas is one of Europe’s most prominent philosophers today.  Another fact about Habermas: he’s a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  Yet he highlights the inescapable historical fact that the biblical faith has had a profound influence in shaping civilization.  Consider carefully his assessment:

“Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and a social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.  This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation.  To this day, there is no alternative to it.  And in light of current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage.  Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”

[…]This isn’t surprising.  Intrinsic human dignity and worth make sense if we have been made in God’s image rather than being mere molecules in motion.  Biblical theism has the metaphysical capital to sustain the concept of human rights.  Our law courts and legal system assume that humans don’t simply dance to the music of their DNA.  The criminal’s excuse (“Your honor, my genes made me do it”) flies in the face of what we all know of human nature and our presumption of moral responsibility.  Human value and moral agency make better sense if we have come from a supremely valuable being beyond nature.  We certainly have no rational justification to anticipate the emergence of intrinsic human dignity and worth if we are simply the products of mindless, deterministic, valueless material forces in a purposeless cosmos.

Another point that undercuts objective morality and human dignity given naturalism is that many naturalists themselves see the logical outcome of their own metaphysic.  Naturalism, they argue, simply lacks the metaphysical equipment to account for objective moral values.  Many naturalists admit that natural material processes without God cannot bring us to moral responsibility and human dignity and worth.  These features of reality—which we routinely assume—don’t square well with naturalism.  Here’s a sampling of key naturalists on this topic:

  • Friedrich Nietzsche: “Moral judgments agree with religious ones in believing in realities which are no realities….There are altogether no moral facts.”  Indeed, morality “has truth only if God is the truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.”[5]
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: “It [is] very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him.”[6]
  • Bertrand Russell believed that “the whole subject of ethics arises from the pressure of the community on the individual.”[7]
  • E. O. Wilson locates moral feeling in “the hypothalamus and the limbic system”; it is a “device of survival in social organisms.”[8]
  • Jonathan Glover considers morality a “human creation” and calls on humans to “re-create ethics.”[9]

We could add lots more leading naturalists—J.L. Mackie, James Rachels, Peter Singer, and the like; these acknowledge that nature can’t get us to objective moral values and human dignity.

Indeed, thoughtful atheists understand that there is no concept of “ought-to-do” in an accidental universe.

In order to have a robust notion of morality, you need five things:

  • beings with objective moral value
  • objective moral duties
  • free will, in order to make moral choices and be responsible for them
  • ultimate significance for your actions
  • proportional rewards/punishments for your actions

Atheism grounds none of these. Christian theism grounds all of them. So, moral behavior is not rational on atheism. What atheists do is look around at the customs and conventions in the time and place where they exist and they mimic their neighbors. If they can escape the consequences of being caught, or avoid being caught, then they rebel against the conventions of their neighbors. The motive for conforming and not conforming to these arbitrary conventions is the same – pleasure. Nothing is really right or wrong in an accidental universe. There is no way we ought to be, we just try to feel good, and complying (or not) with the arbitrary expectations of society in the time and place where we are is just another way we try to feel good.

Atheists think that moral prohibitions are like changing fashions or culinary preferences. In some societies, slavery was wrong. In others, it’s right. There is no REAL objective truth about whether slavery is right or wrong, on atheism. And that’s why you can see a lot of people who reject God killing unborn children today – which is actually WORSE than slavery. Everyone who is pro-abortion today would have been pro-slavery when slavery was still being practiced. That’s atheist morality. Do what makes you feel good, and use force to avoid being judged and punished by your peers. Survival of the fittest. There is no such thing as objective human rights on atheism, or the right to life.

More about utilitarianism

You can read more about the flaws of utilitarianism in this excellent article by J.P. Moreland.

Excerpt:

Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.

First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.

Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.

Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.

Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.

It would be nice to see Peter Singer in a debate with J.P. Moreland. Moreland could move him along in his thinking, I’m sure.

Brian Auten interviews Clay Jones on the problems of evil and suffering

More good stuff from Apologetics 315. (H/T Apologetics Junkie)

By the way, I notice that Brian is offering some FREE BOOKS to anyone who fills out a teeny, tiny little survey.

The MP3 file for the interview is here.

Topics:

  • about Clay Jones’ area of interest and publications
  • how did Clay become a Christian?
  • how did Clay get interested in the problem of evil?
  • what is the deductive (logical) problem of evil?
  • the popular version of it: why do bad things happen to good people?
  • what are some good books on the intellectual problem of evil?
  • what’s a good book for people who are struggling with suffering?
  • how can Christians defend against the problems of evil and suffering?
  • can God perform logical contradictions?
  • is God’s top priority for the world to make us have happy feelings?
  • what good reason is there for God to permit evil and suffering?
  • can God prohibit evil and still let us have free will?
  • can God prohibit evil and still prepare us for Heaven?
  • why do people even raise the objection from evil and suffering?
  • why do people find the slaughter of the Canaanites so troubling?
  • what kinds of sins were the Canaanites committing?
  • do people really understand how much God hates sin?
  • how much does suffering really matter on an eternal scale?
  • how can Christian apologists convince themselves that people really sin?
  • what is the “the banality of evil”? Are normal people capable of evil?

Two things that I got out of this lecture: 1) When people ask “why do bad things happen to good people?” you can ask them who is a good person? And ask them why they think that God would want “good people” to be happy in their own way instead of having a relationship with him. And 2) his advice that Christians should read about real evils like genocide and mass murder, to understand that ordinary people are capable of incredible cruelty, and capable of rationalizing it, too. It is very rare that anyone really stands up to their culture, like pro-lifers and pro-marriage people do today. It’s really hard to do! Especially when the bad guys make it harder to do the right thing.

John Lennox on the god-of-the-gaps and the progress of science

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is a charge made by naturalists against theists.

First, some introduction. Naturalists believe that every effect in the universe has a material cause. Theists believe that it is possible that God, who is not material, can cause effects in nature. Theists think that these effects are detectable because the creating/designing capabilities of material causes are insufficient to explain certain effects either deductively (creating out of nothing) or probabilistically because of the limits of time and space available for material processes to act within (biological information). The naturalist thinks that all effects in nature have physical causes, the theist things that some effects in nature are caused by non-material causes.

In the past, some effects in nature were thought to be caused by God but later were found to be the result of natural (material) processes, often through the scientific method. Because the trend has been to explain these “gaps” in our knowledge with material causes, the naturalist now assumes that every effect in nature will be found to have natural causes. Even discontinuities in nature that are real, like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of biological information, etc. are now assumed to have material causes, even though the progress of science has made these effects MORE DIFFICULT to explain with natural causes. The naturalist calls any attempt to attribute an effect in nature to a Creator/Designer a “god-of-the-gaps” fallacy, because the naturalist points to the past and asserts that a natural material cause will eventually be found for whatever gaps we have in nature.

But suppose a material explanation of every effect in nature could be found. Does that mean that there is no role for God anywhere?

Glenn Peoples writes:

Let’s imagine that the following is true: God does not intervene in the world. Once upon a time people who were more ignorant than we are thought that gods, angels, demons, spooks or spiritual forces lurked behind everything that we didn’t have a handy natural explanation for. But in fact, this is all god of the gaps reasoning, and God doesn’t intervene in nature at all. Never. There is a true natural account for everything that goes on in the universe that we know of.

If you don’t think that’s true, relax. We’re imagining, OK? I don’t think that the above is true, since I’m one of those crazy people who thinks that at least some miracles have taken place. But let’s suppose that the above account were true. Here’s where things take a step off the cliff of logic. Take the above account, and then add the following statement: “Therefore, since God isn’t required to explain any phenomenon, we have no need of the God hypothesis at all, and we have as good as shown that he need not be thought to exist.” God, some have said, can now be treated as a redundant hypothesis that explains nothing at all. Nothing.

And then Glenn cites John Lennox:

Science has been spectacularly successful in probing the nature of the physical universe and elucidating the mechanisms by which the universe works. Scientific research has also led to the eradication of many horrific diseases, and raised hopes of eliminating many more. And scientific investigation has had another effect in a completely different direction: it has served to relieve a lot of people from superstitious fears. For instance, people need no longer think that an eclipse of the moon is caused by some frightful daemon, which they have to placate. For all of these and myriad other things we should be very grateful.

But in some quarters the very success of science has also led to the idea that, because we can understand the mechanisms of the universe without bringing in God, we can safely conclude that there was no God who designed and created the universe in the first place. However, such reasoning involves a common logical fallacy, which we can illustrate as follows.

Take a Ford motor car. It is conceivable that someone from a remote part of the world, who was seeing one for the first time and who knew nothing about modern engineering, might imagine that there is a god (Mr Ford) inside the engine, making it go. He might further imagine that when the engine ran sweetly it was because Mr Ford inside the engine liked him, and when it refused to go it was because Mr Ford did not like him. Of course, if he were subsequently to study engineering and take the engine to pieces, he would discover that there is no Mr Ford inside it. Neither would it take much intelligence for him to see that he did not need to introduce Mister Ford as an explanation for its working. His grasp of the impersonal principles of internal combustion would be altogether enough to explain how the engine works. So far, so good. But if he then decided that his understanding of the principles of how the engine works made it impossible to believe in the existence of Mr Ford who designed the engine in the first place, this would be patently false – in philosophical terminology he would be committing a category mistake. Had there never been a Mr Ford to design the mechanisms, none would exist for him to understand.

It is likewise a category mistake to suppose that our understanding of the impersonal principles according to which the universe works makes it either unnecessary or impossible to believe in the existence of a personal creator who designed, made, and upholds the universe. In other words, we should not confuse the mechanisms by which the universe works either with its cause or its upholder.

John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion, 2007), 43-44.

I’m with Glenn – I think that God is a real agent who exists in time subsequent to Creation just like you and I. He can cause effects in nature like you and I, the same way that you and I can – by using our immaterial minds to affect the natural world freely. But even if everything has a mechanistic explanation – which I don’t for a minute agree with – that still would not rule out an intelligence acting to bring the entire universe into being fine-tuned for complex life, with certain potentialities that would unfold over time.

Biology and physics professors debate whether Christianity is true

The new Unbelievable debate is up, and this time Justin found a fine Christian. A professor of nanotechnology who has enormous intellectual firepower and an incredible scientific background. The atheist is Lewis Wolpert, a very high-profile atheistic cell biologist in the UK, who debated William Lane Craig a while back.

The speakers:

Atheist scientist Lewis Wolpert debates believing scientist Russell Cowburn. Professor Lewis Wolpert is Emeritus Professor of Biology at University College London. Professor Russell Cowburn is Chair of Nanotechnology at Imperial College.

Cowburn is formerly of Cambridge University. Although he does concede evolution in the debate, yuck! That part where he concedes evolution is a little annoying. Still, he is a fine speaker, he radiates competence and confidence, and does a great job of explaining Christianity. I wish I could send him a Signature in the Cell. We have so much more evidence for intelligent design today, that there is no reason to make those concessions!

The MP3 file is here.

One funny thing occurs when Lewis Wolpert says that he gave up belief in God (as a Jew) when God wouldn’t help him to find his cricket bat. He also says that he has never heard of any evidence for God’s existence, which is odd since he debated Bill Craig.

If you listen to the whole thing, Justin also says that Wolpert will be back to debate William Dembski in January 2010 as part of a series on intelligent design. (Expelled is going to be released in the UK in 2010)

Wolpert’s case:

  • Religious belief exists because it provides an evolutionary advantage
  • There are so many different religions so Christianity cannot be correct
  • There haven’t been enough recent miracles

Cowburn’s case:

  • The kalam cosmological argument
  • The fine-tuning argument
  • The historicity of the resurrection

The full debate is available here at the web site of the church which hosted the debate. I note that it’s a independent evangelical Baptist church and I’m an independent evangelical Baptist, so yay! Just take a look at this church’s web page – it’s filled with debates! Now this is the church I would attend if I lived in London.