Tag Archives: Christianity

J. Warner Wallace: different answers to the question “why are you a Christian?”

This assault rifle is OK, but apologetics is better
LAPD homicide detective Jim Wallace examining an assault rifle

I sometimes think about the horrible experiences I had encountering “normal” Christians in American churches after having become a Christian on my own through reading the New Testament, reading apologetics, and watching William Lane Craig debates. I heard a lot of different reasons to be a Christian from the church Christians, and what struck me was 1) their reasons had nothing to do with objective truth, and 2) their reasons hadn’t prepared them to have serious conversations about Christianity with non-Christians.

Well, J. Warner Wallace recently posted an episode of his podcast about this, and I thought that this might be useful to people who (like me) were confused by what they found in the church.

Here is the video:

And he has a blog post about it, where he explains all the responses to the question “why are you a Christian?” which he got from the church – none of which were like his answer for why he became a Christian.

Here are some answers that were not like his answer:

I Didn’t Become a Christian Because I Was Raised in the Church
I didn’t come from a Christian family. I wasn’t raised in the church or by people who attended church regularly. While students often tell me this is the reason they’re Christians, this wasn’t the case for me.

I Didn’t Become a Christian Because My Friends Were Christians
I also didn’t know any Christians. I was never invited to church by anyone as a child, and although I knew Christians in my college years, none of these folks ever invited me to church either. My friends were all happy atheists. I didn’t become a Christian to be part of a club.

I Didn’t Become a Christian Because I Wanted to Know God
I can honestly say I had no interest in God growing up, while in college, or while a young married man. I felt no “hole” in my life, had no yearning for the transcendent, no sense something was missing. I was happy and content. I didn’t become a Christian to fulfill some need.

I Didn’t Become a Christian Because I Wanted to Go to Heaven
I was also comfortable with my own mortality. Sure it would be nice if we could all live forever, but that’s just not the way it is. Live life to the fullest, enjoy your friends and family while you have them, and stop whining. I didn’t become a Christian because I was afraid of dying.

I Didn’t Become a Christian Because I Needed to Change My Life
My life prior to becoming a Christian was great. I had a meaningful and fulfilling career, a beautiful family, an incredible wife, and lots of friends. I wasn’t struggling and looking for a solution. I didn’t become a Christian to stop beating my wife or to sober up.

I’m sure that all my readers know that Wallace is a homicide detective, and an evidentialist. He handles evidence and builds cases with evidence, and that’s how he approaches his worldview as well. So he didn’t answer any of those.

Wallace’s answer was different:

[…][A]lthough these reasons might motivate students to start their journey, I hope these aren’t the only reasons they’re still here. I’m not sure any of these motivations will suffice when push comes to shove, times get tough or students face the challenges of university life. In the end,truth matters more than anything else. I’m not looking for a useful delusion, a convenient social network, or an empty promise. I just want to know what’s true. I think the students I met in Montreal resonated with this approach to Christianity. They are already members of the Church, have friends in the group, understand the importance of a relationship with God and the promise of Heaven. Now they want to know if any of this stuff is true. It’s our job, as Christian Case Makers, to provide them with the answer.

I’m actually much harder on church Christians than he is, because I found that the more fideistic the Churchian, the less you could count on them to act like authentic Christians. I have never met an evidential apologist who was soft on moral questions or tough theology, for example. To me, if you have an evidentialist approach to Christianity, then you have no problem with things like a bodily resurrection of Jesus, with exclusive salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, with a literal eternal separation from God called Hell, and so on.

What about people in other religions? Well, if evidence is your first concern, then it doesn’t bother you that someone of a different religion won’t be saved. For example, I like my Mormon friends, but I know that they’re wrong in their belief in an eternal universe. When I present evidence to them for the beginning of the universe, they just tell me that science isn’t as important to them as the burning in the bosom, their family, their community, etc. Well, if those things are more important to you than knowing the truth about God as he really is, then I’m fine with whatever God decides to do with you when you eventually get old, die and face judgement.

A truth-centered approach to life makes you indifferent to what people think of you. And that’s something that we could all use as Christians, especially those Christians who are more driven by feelings than by facts. A lot of people raised in the church drop out because they go somewhere (e.g. – college) where they are made to feel bad for being different. That’s not a problem for evidentialists. We like to be right. We don’t care what people who are wrong think about us. Christians should all read 1 Corinthians 4:1-4, and accept the fact that being truth-centered isn’t going to make you popular.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Are Christians responsible for making plans and making good decisions?

Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. In his post, Neil explains the Biblical model for making good decisions.

Excerpt:

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

He has a helpful picture posted as well:

This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)

Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.

Who is Rifleman Dodd?

A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.

Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:

It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.

I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.

There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.

We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person does whatever they feel like, completely disregarding the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends.

For a lot of people today, Christianity only comes into play after you’ve made a mistake and you’re feeling guilty. For example, suppose you decide to go to a party with your secular friends, then you drink too much, and you do something sexual that you shouldn’t have done. Or maybe you watched some prosperity gospel preacher on TV, then made irresponsible business decisions thinking that God would bail you out and make you rich, and you went bankrupt. Most people think Christianity is for this situation: you’re a Christian so that you don’t have to feel guilty about sin. And so that you can tell people that God forgives you, so that they can’t think anything bad about you, either. You sort of get your idea about what you should be doing in order to feel good from the culture, and God is just there to forgive it all when it blows up in your face.

But in my case, putting myself in a situation like that is not even possible. I’m more likely to try to plan to do something for God. Like, I might try to mentor a young Christian by sending them books. Or, I might try to teach a class in apologetics at my church. These are things that are for God, not for me. I’m not just being dragged along by the culture, and trying to find happiness by feeling good (e.g. – with alcohol) or being liked by non-Christians. And if my plans fail because the mentoree doesn’t grow up into anything, or nobody comes to my apologetics class, that’s when I go to God and say “I screwed up. but can I still be in your army?” And God always says yes to that. You don’t have to be the best player on the team for the Coach to like you. He already likes you.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that you can never lose your identity as a Christian by failing to do something for him that you planned to do. That’s what forgiveness is for. If you set out to do something for God’s glory, and you mess it all up, that’s OK. But I do think that, like Dodd, our ambition should not be about just making ourselves happy, or making non-Christians like us. We should be trying to make plans and carry them out for God.

That’s how I understand forgiveness. It’s not just something that’s there for you to use to fix your feelings when you’ve been irresponsible while seeking your own happiness in secular ways. It’s also there when you’re trying to do something good for God, and you fail. A lot of times in life you try your best, but you fail, and then you lose something that you really wanted. With God, when you try your best for his glory, and fail, you don’t lose your identity as a member of his team. I think that not losing your identity in Christ is even more important than not feeling guilty about selfish decision making.

So, have you got a plan to serve your General? Let’s focus more on what operations we’re planning for God than on being happy and being popular with non-Christians. Your life should not be all about you, with God just there to make your bad feelings go away. Your life should be about God’s goals and God’s interests.

Audio, video and summary of the William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris debate

Debate time! Here’s the video:

SUMMARY OF THE DEBATE

This debate summary is rated M for Moderately Snarky.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

Introduction:

  • Harris and Craig agree on objective morality
  • What is the foundation of morality?
  • What makes certain actions right or wrong?

Two claims

  1. if God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties
  2. if God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties

1) Theism grounds morality

Objective moral values

Theism provides sound foundation for objective moral values
– objective moral values are grounded in God
– God is the locus and paradigm of moral value
– God is, by nature, the standard for what is right and wrong

Objective moral duties

Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral duties
– God’s nature is expressed as commands for us
– God’s commands for us are not arbitrary
– they must be consistent with his own nature
– and they reflect his moral character
– the essence of morality in theism is to love God and also to love your neighbor

2) Atheism does not ground morality

Objective moral values

What is the basis for objective moral values on atheism?
– on atheism, human beings are accidental products of evolution
– on atheism, there is no reason to believe that human well-being is any more important than the well-being of any other animal
– Harris denies that the objective moral value is from Platonic forms
– Harris wants to ground moral values in nature
– but nature is morally neutral
– the “morality” of humans is just a set of evolved customs that help them to survive and reproduce
– this morality is just a set of conventions, it doesn’t refer to anything that has an objective existence
– quotes Michael Ruse: “morality is just an aid to survival, and any deeper meaning is illusory”
– if we were to rewind evolution and start it again, another set of conventions might have evolved
– to say that morality is about human well-being is to commit “speciesism”
– quotes Richard Dawkins: “there is no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference”

What does Harris say:
– Harris redefines the word “good” to mean the well-being of humans
– Harris “solves” the problem of moral value by just asserting that HUMAN well-being is the good
– Harris isn’t talking about what is good and evil
– Harris only talks about what is conducive to human “flourishing”

Objective moral duties

What is the basis of objective moral duties on atheism?
– first, natural science tells us only what is, not what ought to be
– quotes Jerry Fodor: “science cannot tell us that we have a moral obligation to take actions to increase human flourishing”
– on the naturalistic worldview, humans are animals – and there are no OBJECTIVE moral duties
– where do moral obligations come from on atheism?
– they are just conventions that are ingrained into us by social evolution
– as human societies evolve, certain actions are unfashionable
– people who act “immorally” against their society’s conventions are just being unfashionable
– bad actions like rape and murder happen all the time in the animal kingdom
– second, Harris believes that there is no free will – all human actions are causally determined
– if there is no free will, then there is no moral responsibility
– no one is responsible for the things they do, on atheism
– on atheism, humans have no control over the actions they take, and cannot make moral choices, or be morally responsible

Conclusion:
– Harris and I mostly agree on practical ethics, but only theists have a foundation for objective moral values and duties

Dr. Harris’ opening speech:

God is not needed to ground moral values and moral duties

  • Good means maximizing human well-being for the largest number of people
  • Religion is not necessary for a “universal” morality
  • Religion is a bad foundation for “universal” morality

Facts and values:

  • Moral values are the products of human evolution
  • E.g. – Sexual jealousy is the result of biological evolution
  • And then these ideas of right and wrong are enshrined in cultural institutions like marriage
  • Religious people insert God in to explain values, when evolution is the real explanation

Moral disagreements:

  • I personal don’t agree with the ethics of the God of Abraham
  • I have no basis for an objective moral standard, but the God of Abraham fails to meet my personal preferences
  • Dr. Craig lies when he quotes me, half his quotes are of other people I quoted, not me
  • But I’m not going to say which quote he lied about

Goodness is what makes you feel happy:

  • Questions of right and wrong depend upon brains
  • Brains are natural entities
  • Science can measure well-being in brain states
  • States of affairs in which the majority of brains have high well-being

I’m a good person because I don’t like the Taliban:

  • The Taliban is bad because the majority of their brains don’t have high well-being
  • I think throwing battery acid in women’s faces is bad
  • The Taliban thinks that throwing battery acid in women’s faces is good
  • What determines right and wrong is brain states of well-being

Insults against religion = Dr. Craig:

  • religion / Dr. Craig doesn’t value evidence
  • religion / Dr. Craig doesn’t value logic
  • religion / Dr. Craig doesn’t value intellectual honesty

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal:

1) Theism is a good foundation for moral values and duties

Harris says:
– Craig thinks that if God doesn’t exist, then good and evil would have no meaning

Craig says:
– But Craig says that he is not saying that God is required for moral semantics
– He is addressing the question of the ontological grounding

Harris says:
– The God of the Bible is mean

Craig says:
– divine command theory doesn’t require that the Bible be the set of commands
– in any case, the old testament passages can be defended in Paul Copan’s book

Harris says:
– Religion isn’t needed for universal morality

Craig says:
– the issue isn’t universality, because the Nazis could have won, and put in a universal morality
– the issue is if they had won, would there be any standard to condemn them

Harris says:
– Good and evil are related to the number of brain states of well-being

Craig says:
– Harris uses good and evil in non-moral ways
– Harris isn’t talking about moral good and moral evil
– Harris is talking about pleasure and misery
– Harris is equating moral good and moral evil with feelings of pleasure and feelings of misery
– Harris claims that the property of being good is identical with human flourishing
– it is possible that the continuum of human well-being is not identical with the moral landscape
– in order for them to be identical, there cannot be this possibility or it fails the law of identity
– you could have psychopaths with happy brain states that represent a peak in the moral landscape

Harris says:
– If we have a moral duty to do anything, we have a duty to avoid feeling miserable”

Craig:
– moral obligations arise when there is an authority who can issue binding commands
– on atheism, there is no authority who can issue binding commands
– without free will, morality makes no sense since there is no free will
– no free will means no moral duties, and no moral responsibilities

Dr. Harris’ first rebuttal:

I don’t like Hell and I don’t like suffering and I don’t like Christians:

  • There is no evidence that Hell exists
  • Think of the parents of the children of people who die in tsunamis
  • If God allows people to suffer, then he doesn’t exist, because God’s job is to make us not suffer
  • God can’t exist, because some people are born in the wrong culture, and never hear about Jesus
  • Some people pray to the Monkey God, why don’t they go to heaven?
  • What about the people in the Lord of the Rings, are they going to Hell?
  • What about people who repent just before being executed, are they going to heaven?
  • God is cruel and unjust because he lets innocent people suffer
  • God is worse than a psychopath
  • People who believe in God are evil
  • People who believe in God are narcissists
  • God commanded stuff that I don’t like, so he’s evil
  • Suppose God were evil – then people would have to do evil things
  • Religious people think that saying Latin phrases turn pancakes into the body of Elvis Presley
  • The evidence for God is actually not very good, if you avoid read any Christian scholars
  • Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice
  • The people who wrote the Bible were really stupid
  • Christians are psychopaths

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal:

Sam Harris cannot make any judgments about moral values and moral duties on atheism
On atheism, there is no foundation for making objective moral judgments

Harris didn’t respond to anything Craig said

Harris says that Christians only believe in God to avoid Hell

Red herrings:

Craig says that people who become Christians do it because God is the good
Christians don’t pursue a relationship with God for fire insurance

The problem of evil
– not relevant to the debate topic

The problem of the unevangelized
– not relevant to the debate topic

Evil actually proves that God exists
– if evil exists, then there is an objective moral standard
– if there is an objective moral standard, then God exists

Harris has no foundation for saying that Christian beliefs are morally bad
Harris has no basis for making moral judgments

Harris’ remark that theists are psychopathic
– Harris’ remark is as stupid as it is insulting

Harris says that the Old Testament promoted
– first, there was no slavery in the Old Testament it was indentured servitude
– second, that’s not relevant to the debate topic

Harris mentions the Taliban
– but the response to the Taliban is not to say that God doesn’t exist
– the response to the Taliban is to say that they have the wrong God
– the real God never commanded them to do those things

Dr. Harris’ second rebuttal:

I’m a scientist, Craig is stupid, I’ve meditated with wise yogis and lamas, I don’t like the Taliban:

  • When I make a scientific case for morality, I didn’t really mean that it was scientific
  • You just have to assume that misery is morally evil, and happiness is morally good, even if that can’t be proved scientifically
  • I’m a scientist
  • Science is great
  • Dr. Craig is stupid
  • Dr. Craig is not a scientist
  • Science is better than religion
  • You can ground an objective standard of morality and objective moral duties and moral responsibility on arbitrary brain states of accidentally evolved biologically determined monkeys
  • Dr. Craig’s question for me about my unproven assumptions is a stupid question
  • I prayed to the Monkey God in a cave and he told me about objective morality
  • I have spent a lot of time studying meditation with wise yogis and lamas
  • I consider some people to be spiritual Jesus
  • I can imagine that Jesus was very spiritual and charismatic
  • We don’t have to use logic and reason to debate about morality, we can meditate on the Monkey God
  • i don’t like the Taliban

Dr. Craig’s third rebuttal:

Harris didn’t reply to anything I said

Harris admitted that psychopaths can occupy the peaks of the moral landscape
So on Harris’ view, you can commit unspeakable acts of cruelty and still have a brain state with well-being

Dr. Harris’ third rebuttal:

Dr. Craig is a Muslim, Dr. Craig is the Taliban, Dr. Craig is a Muslim Taliban Muslim Jihadi:

  • How many of you in the audience are Muslims
  • Muslims think that non-Muslims are going to Hell
  • Christianity and Islam are identical
  • Dr. Craig is a Muslim!
  • Dr. Craig is the Taliban!
  • Dr. Craig wants to jihad me!