Tag Archives: Stand to Reason

Reviews of Christopher Hitchens’ book

I saw this book review about Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great”, written by Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason.

The post is here. Here is an excerpt:

Let me say something that isn’t very pleasing to think about Religion isn’t false just because it’s cruel.  Even if every one of Hitchens’ accusations were accurate, they don’t disprove the truth of religion.  God might be a cruel being who does delight in manipulating man.  In that case, Hitchens’ claim that “religion poisons everything” might be true, but his real claim is that God doesn’t exist.  And that just doesn’t follow from every evil example of religion.

What standard of morality is Hitchens using to judge God and Christians as evil? If it is his personal preference, then who cares what he thinks. If it is the current fashion of the culture he is in in this time and place, who cares? That “standard” will change as time and place changes. It’s convention. But, if it is an objective moral standard that exists independently of what individuals and cultures think, then God exists to make that design for the way the world ought to be.

Next excerpt:

Hitchens says religion is evil, and he does mean evil and sin.  He freely uses moral language to pin the blame right where he believes it belongs, but he never explained how he, as a materialist, can use moral language and mean them as moral terms that all mankind are beholden to….

As I mentioned, Hitchens professes materialism, believes it’s proved.  He freely makes moral accusations against religion and religious people.  He freely admits contempt, and, given what he believes, that would be the proper response.  He accuses religion of sins and evil.  These are real, objective categories for him, not his personal sentiment.  He never explains how, as a materialist who believes in a world of only what science can explain and prove in the physical world, he can lay claim to morality.  He ignores the grounding problem, the explanatory power of a view of reality to account for the features in it.  Morality, the way Hitchens is using it, has no material explanation.  How does he account for the prescriptive, universal nature of morality, not merely descriptive?  His humanism won’t get him there because that can only offer a descriptive, contingent account – whatever is is morality.  On this major flaw alone, it’s justified to ignore anything Hitchens claims because his view of reality can’t lay claim to morality.

Melinda wants to know how Hitchens’ can help himself to the notion of rationality on a materialistic worldview. After all, if materialism is true, humans are pure matter. Everything humans do is causally determine by their genetic programming and sensory inputs. But that behavior is targeted towards survival and reproduction not reasoning about the external world.

She writes:

There’s more to the grounding problem, too.  Is rationality material?  He can’t even ground the rationality he sees as the crown of human progress.  If man is purely material, then he’s a machine programmed by nature, c-fibers firing, acting according to the laws hard-wired by his biology.  He lauds the “chainless mind,” free from religion.  Yet in his view of reality, man is chained by determinism with no escape.  There is no rationality because there is no option to behave, think, believe any way other than we do.  There’s no point in even trying to persuade religious people to believe and behave different since we’re also just acting the way we’re programmed to.  Indeed, even scientific inquiry that Hitchens offers as the hope of mankind is nonsense since only one conclusion is predetermined by our programming.

And it goes on from there. I’m looking forward to the (not yet planned) debate between Melinda Penner and Christopher Hitchens! Because I think she could kick his butt with half her brain tied behind her back.

If you want to get ready for the debate today between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, check out my analysis of the 11 arguments Hitchens made in his opening speech in his debate with Frank Turek. You can also watch or listen to a preview debate that was held in Dallas recently between Craig, Hitchens and some other people. Biola University is live-blogging the debate as well.

UPDATE: I was just chatting with Brian Auten of Apologetics 315, and he recommended this review of Hitchens’ book by Douglas Groothuis. This is a 28-minute audio clip.

Greg Koukl explains how to be a consistent moral relativist

The absolute easiest way to get into a good conversation with someone is to ask them what makes something right or wrong on their view. You have to be careful not to get into a fight about a particular moral issue, though, so you have to choose a clear-case example, not something controversial.

Just ask the person you want to engage two questions:

  1. Is it it wrong to treat people badly just because of their skin color?
  2. What makes it wrong?

Now, as I see it, there are only 3 possible answers to this question.

  1. I personally prefer not to do that – it is wrong for me.
  2. Our culture has evolved a set of customs that apply for us in this time and place, and that set of customs says that members of the society ought not to do that. It is wrong for us, here and now.
  3. Humans are designed to act in a certain way, and part of that design is that we ought not to do that. Acting in line with our design allows us to flourish, (Aristotle’s eudaimonia).

Response #1, is called “moral relativism”. Response #2 is called “cultural relativism”, and I will say a few words about that later. Response #3 is my view. I believe in a hierarchy of moral absolutes.

In this post, I wanted to go over a paper by Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason, in which he critiques moral relativism. His paper is called “Seven Things You Can’t Do as a Moral Relativist”. First, let’s see the list of sevent things.

  1. You can’t make moral judgments about other people’s moral choices
  2. You can’t complain about God allowing evil and suffering
  3. You can’t blame people or praise people for their moral choices
  4. You can’t claim that any situation is unfair or unjust
  5. You can’t improve your morality
  6. You can’t have meaningful discussions about morality
  7. You can’t promote the obligation to be tolerant

You’ll have to read the paper to see how he argues for these, but I wanted to say a brief word about number 1. I already blogged about 2 here.

1. Relativists can’t accuse others of wrong-doing

In moral relativism, what you ought to do is totally up to you. Morality is just like a lunch buffet – you pick what you like based on your personal preferences.

I remember one particular discussion I had with a non-Christian co-worker. Both she and her live-in boyfriend were moral relativists. They were fighting because she was angry about his not having (or wanting) a job, and he was angry because when he asked her for space, she immediately ran out and cheated on him.

What’s interesting is that both of these people chose the other in order to escape being judged themselves. I think this happens a lot in relationships today. Instead of choosing someone who has character and who takes the role of spouse and parent seriously, people choose someone ammoral, who doesn’t threaten their autonomy.

Only later do they realize that marriage and parenting requires moral knowledge! I think that they each hope that they will later be able to change the other person into someone they are not. Which is probably why a lot of marriages break up. I just don’t see how it’s possible to get married without the ability to appeal to objective moral standards when disputes arise.

One of my best friends is married to a woman who I think is a really great wife and mother. A number of times I have disagreed with her about various topics, like firearms or masculinity. She goes away and reads a bunch of things and then comes back with a more thoughtful view. I think this is very important in a marriage. She’s changed my mind a few times as well.

(She spends her free night answering apologetics questions for seekers at her church)

A quick point about cultural relativism

Regarding cultural relativism, there a number of problems with it, some of which are described here. What constitutes a society? Who defines the moral consensus? What about the reformer’s dilemma? Why should I care what the herd thinks? Why should I sacrifice my own autonomy when the herd won’t catch me? Etc.

Also, I want to point out the 7-part series on morality and atheism that Tough Questions Answered put together a while back. I blogged about it here. Here’s another post with some debate about the rationality of moral rules and moral behavior on atheism. And then there was that debate with the postmodern moral relativist against Peter Williams.

Greg Koukl expains the right way to handle an angry, aggressive atheist

Greg Koukl is one of the scholars who got me started in apologetics. I can still remember, (and I know my old friends Andrew, Kerry, and Jose can, too!), over 10 years ago, when we used to sit around in my basement listening to Greg Koukl’s radio show over the internet. At the time, streaming audio was quite new. Well, he taught us all how to be ambassadors for Christ. (See 2 Cor 5:9-21)

I got his recent “Solid Ground” newsletter (free registration required), for January/February 2009, and the topic was on dealing with angry, aggressive atheists. This is a topic of real value for me. Not only do I have to face these belligerent atheists in my office (Yes, Gerry, I mean you!), but I also face them online at the Richard Dawkins forum, and face to face in my own family and friends!

Let’s start with the question “what is a steamroller?”:

The defining characteristic of a “steamroller” is that he constantly interrupts, rolling over you with the force of his personality. Steamrollers are not usually interested in answers. They are interested in winning through intimidation.

Greg breaks down the techniques for handling steamrollers in 3 steps.

Step 1: Stop Him.

Your first move when you find yourself in a conversation with a steamroller is a genial request for courtesy. Momentarily put the discussion on “pause.” Ask to continue making your point uninterrupted.

One of the ways you can do that is using body language. You can raise your hand in the stop motion to emphasize your verbal attempt to pause the conversation so that you can finish responding. Ask for a specific amount of time to make your point, and make sure that you him to agree that you will get that time to respond! But the most important thing is to not lose your temper.

Be careful not to let annoyance or hostility creep into your voice. That would be a mistake, especially with this kind of person. Don’t let a steamroller get under your skin. Being defensive and belligerent always looks weak. Instead, stay focused on the issues, not on the attitude. Talk calmly and try to look confident.

…don’t take unfair advantage of the time you buy with this little negotiation. Make your point, then ask, “Does that make sense to you?” This invites him back into the conversation. Give him the courtesy of offering you a reply without interruption.

I hear J.P. Moreland saying “Does that make sense to you?” all the time in his lectures, and now I’ve started doing it too! And so should you! But what if “stopping him” doesn’t work? Then we go on to step 2.

Step 2: Shame Him.

Suppose the steamroller interrupts you again during your negotiation response time. You want to gently draw attention to the fact that he is being rude and intimidating in the conversation. Again, the goal is not to show the slightest discomfort, but always to act with confidence.

Phase two of the Steamroller tactic is to shame him for his bad manners while maintaining your integrity. Stay on topic and don’t follow any “rabbit trails” he may voice.

That point about not taking on any new questions until you finish answering the first one is vital. You see this all the time on the Richard Dawkins forum. Every time you make a point about the progress of science, they start complaining about how cruel God is. (Note that atheists can’t even judge God without assuming an absolute moral standard, which only a designer of the universe can ground!)

Below is example of how to do step 2:

“Can I ask you a quick question? Do you really want a response from me? At first I thought you did, but when you continue to interrupt I get the impression all you want is an audience. If so, just let me know and I’ll listen. But if you want an answer, you’ll have to give me time to respond. Tell me what you want. I need to know before I can continue.” Wait for an answer.

Part of becoming a good ambassador is knowing how to guage your opponent, and how much force you should use. Practice, practice! But suppose even step 2 doesn’t work. What should we do now?

Step 3: Leave Him.

The most difficult thing to do is to break off a defense, especially when there are people around listening in or even participating. Usually you do this when the person is moving the wrong way on the aggression scale. Greg cites a number of Bible verses to show that the Bible does support this kind of strategic withdrawal from an engagement that is going the wrong way.


The article concludes with some very useful points. First, you don’t have to win every debate. Just make your point and then let the Holy Spirit handle it from there. It is a mistake to think that you can change people’s minds just by talking to them at more and more. Mind changing usually happens much later, as the person weights both sides of the issues. So don’t rush, and remember, God values free will.

Second, always give an aggressive challenger the last word. This is the policy on my blog, where I get one rebuttal to a commenter, and then they get the last word. So far, I haven’t had to violate this in 5 weeks of blogging.

And let me just reiterate – do not lose your cool. A lot of arguing relates to your attitude under fire, especially for beginners who judge debates not on the evidence, but on appearances. You need to spend time studying in advance in order to get this confidence, and I do mean studying both sides in debates. Under fire, the confidence you’ve gained through study, especially the study of debates, is more effective than your words.