I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll find out why atheists don’t trust other atheists, we’ll remember the summer of love and the cultural revolution 50 years later, and we will be reminded on the 50th anniversary of the song by the Beatles that love, when misunderstood, is actually not all you need.
It’s really important as Christians that we make arguments in the right way. So for example, we are often told that the argument is wrongly made that atheists can’t be moral, and, actually, that’s a legitimate criticism. We should not argue that atheists cannot be moral persons — that means in terms of corresponding with a conventional morality, doing what we consider as a society to be more right than more wrong, living as decent, upright human beings just in terms of the conventional morality — we should not argue that to be an atheist is to be immoral in that sense. But we ought to learn how to make the argument in the right way, and that is that atheism cannot support morality.
The distinction between those is really important because the second statement — the correct way of putting the argument — points to the fact that we’re talking about the fact that the worldview of atheism is insufficient to sustain any form of moral argument or long-term moral judgment. As a matter fact, it effectively undermines any possibility of objective morality in toto, but when it comes to that first argument, the wrong argument, saying that to be an atheist is to be immoral is to miss the point — a very important worldview analysis point — that most human beings lived quite inconsistent lives in terms of their worldview; they simply fail to live up with consistency.
That’s one of the things we’re concerned about in terms of The Briefing. We want to make certain that as Christians we are ever more consistently Christian in terms of applying the biblical worldview to our lives making sure that we are, in the words of Scripture, bringing everything captive to Christ — every thought, every issue every question. But, thankfully we should say, atheists do not always or even usually without the moral and worldview implications of their atheism. That’s a good thing, and we should note a recent rather spectacular set of research that tells us something about morality and atheism and the intuition of the fact that atheism cannot sustain morality. That has to do with the fact that as The Guardian of London said in its headline, “Atheists Tend to be Seen as Immoral.”
Now that’s the first part of the headline, that’s not all that surprising, but listen to the full headline, “Atheists Tend to be Seen as Immoral – Even by Other Atheists,” according to the study. The research is summarized by the French Press Agency in Paris and reported in The Guardian, we read, “Atheists are more easily suspected of evil deeds than Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists – even by fellow atheists, according to the authors of a new study. [Their findings suggest] that in an increasingly secular world,” says The Guardian, “many – including some atheists – still hold the view that people will do bad things unless they fear punishment from all-seeing gods.”
According to the journal, nature, human behavior, “the results of the study ‘show that across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct.’”
And it furthermore revealed, “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous.”
Now we’ve tried to make that distinction in the two arguments clear, but what’s also clear in this article is that atheists continue, at least in terms of a generalized category, to be held in moral suspension. Again that’s not really news. The big news is the fact that even atheists hold fellow atheists as atheists in terms of moral suspension. The research made its way across the Atlantic as reported in the New York Times, Benedict Carey wrote in the lead to their article, “Most people around the world, whether religious or not, presume that serial killers are more likely to be atheists than believers in any god, suggests a new study, which counters the common assumption that increasingly secular societies are equally tolerant of nonbelievers.”
The next words, “Avowed atheists exhibited the same bias.”
Will Gervais, one of the professors at the center the research, he’s a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, he said, “I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms. Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular,” he said, “people still seem to intuitively hold on to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard.”
Now once again I think that’s fairly easy to understand, but the big thing here in terms of worldview is the fact that what’s acknowledged here is what we often talk about on The Briefing, but doesn’t often make its way into the secular conversation. That is not just moral judgment, but moral intuition. Time and again the word intuition comes up in this article. I’ve often pointed out that most human beings, most of the time, make most moral decisions by means of moral intuition rather than conscious, intellectual calculation or consideration. That’s not to say that human beings, virtually all human beings, are incapable of that kind of intellectual activity, it is to say that most of us operate by intuition far more than we recognize, and what this article makes very clear is that there is an intuition, even amongst atheists, that indicates that there’s something morally suspect about atheists.
Now once again, looking at how we should frame the argument, it should not be so much about atheists as atheism. It is the worldview of atheism that actually is incapable of sustaining objective morality or long-term rightful moral judgment, and that’s because atheism by its very existence denies an objective source of morality. It denies the very existence of God, who would be the very source of objective moral judgment, and of the very sensibility about morality in the first place.
Similar headlines reporting the research appeared all over the media landscape. Jason Daley writing for Smithsonian Magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution ran a story with the headline, “Survey Finds Most People Are Biased Against Atheists, Including Atheists.”
The headline of the actual academic study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour is even more interesting. The headline
“Global Evidence of Extreme Intuitive Moral Prejudice Against Atheists.”
Now look at the words there; this is in an academic journal.
“Evidence of Extreme Intuitive Moral Prejudice.”
Of course the big question here is why is this so? Where does this intuition come from? We remind ourselves of the argument made by one of the researchers Will Gervais at the University of Kentucky who said that it must be rooted in, I’ll use his words, “the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms.”
But arguing against that is the fact that this particular pattern of moral intuition turns out to be continuing, at least in some form, even in relatively secular societies. I think that points to something even deeper, and that is that this intuition is based not only in entrenched, pro-religious norms, but in our consciousness as human beings, which after all, according to the biblical worldview, we believe cannot but testify both to the existence of God and to the reality of objective moral judgment. The fact is we know that we are known, we sense that we are watched, and we feel convicted by and accountable to moral judgments that do not come merely from our fellow human beings.
There’s a certain irony embedded in this story, of course, and a certain frustration evident as well. It has to be very frustrating to atheists that there continues to be a moral intuition that atheists are morally suspect found even among atheists. Of course the biblical worldview reminds us fundamentally that every single human being, just by being a thinking human being — and that would include every single atheist — actually knows truths that cannot be not known. And that’s based on more than intuition, but intuition inevitably follows.
Next, as the summer of 2017 winds to an end, we need to remember what took place in the summer 50 years ago — the so-called “summer of love.” And that was a major turning point in American society, Andrew Ferguson writing a cover story for the Weekly Standard reminds us from San Francisco, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to check out the trams at the airport. They’re done up in psychedelic colors. And over by the gates you can have your picture taken in a mock-up of an old VW bus like the hippies used to drive, also decorated psychedelically. Wearing flowers in your hair is strictly optional.”
Then he goes on to say, “When you get into the city proper, passing several psychedelic billboards, you’ll find it jumping with events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Having come to an end half a century ago, the Summer of Love,” he says, “is one of those events San Francisco has never quite got over, like the gold rush and those two earthquakes. The summer of 1967 is considered by people who like to consider such things to be the high-water mark of the hippies, the climax of the counterculture, the Camelot moment when all that was lovely and innocent about the sixties blossomed fleetingly from the potential to the actual.”
Well, Ferguson waxes quite prosaic there, as he thinks about the Summer of Love, but from a Christian worldview perspective what’s most important for us to recognize that we are living 50 years later with the cultural, moral, and philosophical legacy of the Summer of Love all around us. The attractions of San Francisco in the Summer of Love to the counterculture were all too evident. Zoë Corbyn, writing at The Chronicle of Higher Education, reminds us, “In the summer of 1967, tens of thousands of young people converged [in San Francisco drawn by sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and the promise of a new way to live.”
Now by the way, Corbyn is writing about the fact that, of course, a conference, an academic conference, on the Summer of Love was held over the summer in San Francisco. It was known as, “Revisiting the Summer of Love, Rethinking the Counterculture.”
But before we take a closer look at an academic conference, we need to go back 50 years and remind ourselves what the so-called Summer of Love was all about. It was a massive act of the counterculture, a moral revolution in the midst of the 1960s. At the center of it was the hippies and the hippies’ demand for a complete overthrow of conventional morality, the acceptance of alternative lifestyles, and of course, central to that lifestyle is not only rock ‘n roll but drugs. Drugs in general, marijuana is one of those drugs, but in the longest lasting legacy of the drug use of the counterculture, it was LSD, celebrated as a way to gain a psychedelic trip, a way to escape reality into a higher form of consciousness.
Most Americans, of course, don’t even remember the Summer of Love. Ferguson points out that it took place 50 years ago, well before 60 percent of the population of the United States was born. Infamous Harvard professor Timothy Leary, at the time a proponent of LSD use, invited young people to come to San Francisco to drop in and to drop out. But it also turns out that there was in 1967 in the Summer of Love what was declared to be not just a drop in, but what was defined as a human be-in. It was a recurrence of the utopian stream that often seems to pass through American culture, and it was explicitly hedonistic based upon free love, as it was claimed, and an overthrow of conventional sexual morality then, and specifically Christian sexual morality. Andrew Ferguson gets it exactly right when he tells us, “Historians of the Summer of Love keep [the] tradition alive. Most of them are [actually] evangelists,” he argues, “rather than historians.”
He said, “You will read that hippies ‘experimented with sexual liberation,’ as though,” he said, “they were dressed in lab coats like Masters and Johnson, when,” in his words, “all it really means is that they were having a lot of sex.”
Ferguson points out that when it was said that the hippies were, “exploring the frontiers of consciousness,” it meant that they were taking drugs and getting high. When they called for, “alternative commerce,” it actually meant that they were simply stealing. To say that the Summer of Love did not meet its expectations and promises is to state the obvious, that was stated pretty clearly by one of the Beatles George Harrison, who went there with his wife. He said, “I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs.”
In his cover story in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson makes the point, the very important point, that as we look at today’s moral landscape we need to recognize we can trace so much of it back to the hippies and to the Summer of Love in 1967. He says the obvious, “Without the hippies’ belief in free love, there’d be no gay marriage.”
He went on to say, “Many of the things that thrill a millennial heart sprouted in the Summer of Love. With no hippies, we’d have no hipsters. Think of it.”
Speaking of that academic conference marking the 50th anniversary in San Francisco, one of the academics cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed once again to the fact that the counterculture has become the dominant culture in so many ways, morally speaking. He said, “It has become the water to the fish, the air to the birds. We take it for granted. We move around in it, and we are not sure where it came from.”
So much of it came from San Francisco 1967 in the Summer of Love.
Speaking of some of the lighter and heavier elements of the inheritance from the Summer of Love, Zoë Corbyn goes back to the conference telling us, “[Amongst] the hippie hangovers that the scholars identify, some are obvious: yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices; vegetarianism and organic food; the return of midwifery … Others,” she says, “Others are more opaque: the liberalization of dress codes; changes in sexual mores,” she goes on to say, “the softening of attitudes toward marijuana ([that was] obscured, [she says,] by the 1980s war on drugs).”
Those who look back wistfully on the Summer of Love as it was called, especially the hippies again, looking back, they describe it as a failed experiment because it was simply shut down by the prevailing culture. There’s more to the story, of course, and no one got that better than Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle who described the Summer of Love as, “a utopian movement,” that was in his words, very telling words, “undermined by the reality of the human species.”
Frankly, I couldn’t say it better.
But finally, even as we are thinking about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and all that took place in the summer of 1967, we also need to think about the impact of particular music in terms of the intersection of music and morality and worldview. Connected with that call for a new higher consciousness in the 1960s came secular proponents of a new secular morality and a new form of secular love, none more famous than the Beatles in 1967. In that very summer they released their song, “All You Need is Love.”
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney writing in the Financial Times reminds us, “Fifty years ago The Beatles debuted “All You Need Is Love” on television, in the same month that Israel went to war with neighbouring Arab states, China tested its first hydrogen bomb and almost 500,000 American troops were stationed in Vietnam. The foursome wore colourful outfits and played seated amid an entourage holding signs saying the song’s title in different languages. Paul McCartney had a flower behind his ear. John Lennon, the song’s writer, phrased his utopian lyrical message with circular logic: “All you need is love, love is all you need.”
On and on. In one most hilarious lines in this article we find out that another of The Beatles George Harrison, who heard the song first when John Lennon played it to his fellow band members said, “Well, it’s certainly repetitive.”
But beyond the repetition, what it really revealed was the fact that there were many Americans, certainly younger Americans, looking for some alternative message; a message that would undergird a reality they continued to define as love. This was the very love they declared to have freed in the sexual liberation of free love; it’s the very love they wanted to sing about and to be sung to about by the Beatles and others.
The big lesson of “All You Need Is Love” and the year 1967, looking back now 50 years, is that while it is true that love is one of the most powerful words in the English language, and Christians understand why, when that word is detached from all context and objective meaning, it turns out that love is not all you need.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to find out why atheist Richard Dawkins was disinvited from an event with a California radio station, why the Chinese Communist Party is so determined that communists be atheists, and why a group of retired New York State judges has formed itself as judges for love.
Richard Dawkins is back in the headlines again, this time from Berkeley, California, or sort of from Berkeley, California. Actually this headline comes from London, England from the Guardian. It tells us,
“Richard Dawkins event cancelled over his ‘abusive speech against Islam’”
Alison Flood reporting for the Guardian says,
“Berkeley’s KPFA Radio cancels appearance by evolutionary biologist after learning of his ‘hurtful speech’ against the religion – a charge the author contests.’”
Flood begins her article by telling us,
“Richard Dawkins has denied using ‘abusive speech against Islam’ after a California radio station cancelled a book event with the scientist, citing his comments on Islam, which it said had ‘offended and hurt … so many people’.”
Now who are we talking about here? Richard Dawkins is one of the best-selling scientific authors of all time. He might be the most famous single scientist in the world today. The only person who might come close to rivaling him in terms of that celebrity status might be Stephen Hawking also of Britain. Richard Dawkins is also the best-known atheist in the world today. He is perhaps the most vocal of the so-called new atheists who emerged in the 1990s and beyond. A vociferous opponent of theism, his biting critiques of theism and of Christianity have resounded throughout a great deal cultural conversation. Years ago I wrote a book entitled Atheism Remix seeking to address and to answer Richard Dawkins and his peers, but it’s really interesting that in this case Richard Dawkins isn’t in trouble whatsoever for his critique or biting comments about Christianity, but rather about Islam. And as you might expect, there’s a big story there.
The big story is also about a public radio station, KPFA. And as I said here in the beginning, we’re talking here about Berkeley, California. We’ve noted in recent weeks and months that Berkeley, California was the birthplace in the 1960s of the free speech movement. And yet Berkeley has been in headlines in more recent months not because of its advocacy for free speech but because of the left on that campus shutting down free speech. And now it’s Richard Dawkins who’s been shut down in terms of this public appearance on behalf of Berkeley’s very, very liberal public radio station. But why Richard Dawkins now? Well it comes down to what’s identified as hurtful language he used about Islam.
On its website the radio station said,
“While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins’s views much earlier. We also apologize to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation.”
Now before we even look at the speech let’s just consider the distinction there. Here you have a public radio station that says it emphatically supports serious free speech, but it does not support abusive speech. Well what exactly would abusive speech mean? Richard Dawkins has basically insulted the intelligence of anyone who believes in God. Richard Dawkins has made extremely caustic comments about Christianity, but only that against every theistic religion, including Islam. He’s been rather pointed in his critique of Islam. As the paper tells us,
“Dawkins, the author of anti-religious polemic The God Delusion, called the decision ‘truly astonishing’, and a ‘matter of personal sorrow’.”
When he lived at Berkeley for two years decades ago, he said,
“He had listened to KPFA ‘almost every day’.”
But he goes on to say, he has been liabled, abused by the station for being accused of hate speech against Islam. He says instead that his critique has been against Islamism against Islam. Now that’s not necessarily a case that holds up when you actually look at Dawkins’ statements because he’s identified Islam as the problem. But then he says this,
“I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticize Christianity but not Islam?”
Now that’s a really good question. Why is Richard Dawkins not de-platformed for criticizing Christianity, but rather for Islam. It is because of the very twisted understanding of sensibilities and the redefinition of speech and the protection of certain groups rather than others. In this case Christians are understood to be numerous and influential. Therefore, it’s fine to abuse Christians or Christianity but not to use the same kind of speech against Islam. And this is so selective and frankly, sadly so predictable on the part of the far left. This is a pattern we are seeing now over and over again. It’s also a denial of reality. Because to his credit, Richard Dawkins has been rather accurate and truthful in talking about many of the theological claims of Islam and the larger pattern in terms of Islam as a challenge to the West. At least Richard Dawkins understands, it is a challenge.
There’s another important issue for Christians. And that is this: we should not seek to de- platform persons who critique Christianity or belief in God. We shouldn’t in any way seek to de-platform even the most ardent atheist in making his or her case. Why? It’s not just because their freedom of religion is the same as our freedom of religion. It’s also because as Christians we do not fear nor run from the argument. As a matter of fact, it’s the Christian responsibility to answer the argument, to answer the opponent, to answer the critic of Christianity, not to try to silence that person. But as we pointed out that’s a crucial distinction between Islam, which is an honor religion, and Christianity, which is not. The story also sadly tells us how a radio station that’s supposed to be public radio can actually be an agent not of encouraging and allowing, facilitating conversation, but rather simply shutting it down.
Next while we’re dealing with atheism, let’s switch from the United States to China. A recent headline,
“China bans religion for communists”
Jamie Fullerton, reporting from Beijing for the Times of London, tells us,
“China’s estimated 85 million members of the Communist Party have been warned that they are not allowed to have religious beliefs, and that those who do will be punished.”
We are told that the,
“director of the state administration for religious affairs, said that religion undermined communism. Party members must be,”
In the words of the director,
“firm Marxist atheists, obey party rules and stick to the party’s faith”.
Now at the very least, we have to recognize that it is the director of the state of administration for religious affairs who at least understands what communism is, and he understands that communism is indeed undermined by Christianity. That’s the very argument that he’s making. It’s just even religion generically that undermines communism. Is that true? Well let’s just go back to the fact that communism didn’t emerge from a vacuum. It emerged most particularly in terms of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in terms of a commitment to what was known as dialectical materialism. That is a philosophy that denies the existence not only of God, religion you’ll remember they dismissed as the opiate of the peoples, but a philosophy that is based upon the fact that the material world is all that there is. You add to that hegelian dialecticism arguing that there is a dialectical pattern to history, and you end up with communism, and communism, of course, came with revolution. And that revolution came with state enforced atheism. That was true not only in China, but also in the Soviet Union in terms of the Bolshevik revolution and subsequent developments there.
But it also points to the fact that China, which has been modifying its communism in terms of its economics moving towards at least a qualified market economy, is still ideologically trying to remain steadfastly communist. It also tells us that there’s some insecurity there in China. The number of Christians has been growing exponentially in that country. And by the way, Christians aren’t the only religious group growing in China but by far the largest group. It is estimated that China might now be even at this time the largest Christian country on earth – that is the country with the largest number of Christians – but it certainly will be in very short order. It is known that there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. But evidently the communist party wants to make sure those numbers do not overlap, and thus you have the director of the administration for religious affairs saying that members of the Chinese Communist Party must remain steadfastly atheist or they’re going to be punished.
The reporter of the Times of London reminds us that state-sponsored, state-enforced atheism does have effects. When I was in the former East Germany just recently, what had been on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Christians there reminded me of the fact that the University of Chicago here in the United States had recently undertaken a study indicating that only 8% of the residents of the former East Germany believed in the personal God. That’s the legacy of state-enforced atheism there behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. But we are told in this article that China is already the most secular country in the world. 61% of the population describe themselves as atheists. That’s a huge number of people when you consider the vast population of China. But you’ll also notice the insecurity of the Communist Party, the insecurity of dialectical materialism, and the sense of threat that comes from Christianity in China today. And a sense of threat that comes all the way down to an official dictate handed down by the guardian of atheism for the Chinese Communist Party that has made its way all the way in the headlines in Western capitals.
One of the interesting aspects of this particular story is the fact that it points to the insecurity of atheism even when it comes with the coercive power of a government and in this case the Chinese Communist Party. That’s a massive political and social coercion power. But what we’re looking at here is the fact that atheism is always insecure because human beings are not born inclined toward atheism. Given the fact that they are made in the image of God, they are inclined towards a hunger to know the God who created them. That’s not going to go away in China. It’s not going to go away even as supposedly enforced within members of the Chinese Communist Party. Why? Because it simply won’t go away.
We shift back to the United States and a story about marriage. Marriage has been in the headlines all too often in recent months and years, but this one’s a little interesting. It comes virtually out of the blue telling us that in a secular age people still need some kind of formality and presence in terms of the person officiating at the wedding. We are to hold that in this secular age in a rather secular state in this case New York State, a group of retired judges and justices have formed Judges for Love in order to bring a certain stature amongst those who want a wedding, a secular wedding, but they still want some kind of majesty. Vivian Wang reporting for the New York Times tells us that,
“For a long time, people dreaded seeing Justice Alan D. Marrus. Justice Marrus spent 30 years on the New York State Supreme Court, so meeting him often meant something had gone terribly wrong.”
As Wang then reports,
“In his retirement, Justice Marrus has become one of five Judges for Love, a group of former New York Supreme Court justices who perform civil marriage ceremonies for couples who want more pomp and circumstance than is provided by a quick trip to City Hall.”
Justice Marrus said,
“I’m dealing with people now who want me to give them a life sentence.”
But then the article tells us this is part and parcel of the modern redefinition of marriage. Wang writes,
“Clients, many of whom are about to enter same-sex, interfaith or nonreligious marriages, meet with a judge for a consultation. They discuss everything from the procedural — where should the judge stand? — to the playful: Could the judge please incorporate the song “Take On Me” by the Norwegian pop band A-ha into the vows? (That was a request from Halley and Todd Agnello,” we are told, “a couple he married in February). Judges for Love,” we are told, “promises a wedding with a degree of personalization that is not available the city clerk’s office, but also with a guarantee of legitimacy that can sometimes prove elusive.”
The New York Times report then tells us that only clergy and some public officials can perform legally binding marriages in the state. Now let’s just pause there for a moment. It tells us something that even in this very confused society, even in this very confused society, even in a very secular, indeed, culturally liberal state like New York State, people still long for the legitimacy – there’s the word— that is brought with a marriage license. And with the marriage license, they then want a marriage ceremony. This tells us a great deal. Even if we didn’t know anything in terms of the Christian worldview, we would know that human beings that are about to make a commitment to one another, long for social recognition, they long for stability, they long for ceremony, they long for something bigger than themselves, and they’re looking for witnesses to the occasion. Weddings are not by accident.
The Times also tells us that New York,
“State law prohibits sitting judges from accepting money for performing weddings”
That’s probably one of the reasons why they’re rather reluctant to do so. But there is no legal prohibition upon retired judges or Supreme Court justices from offering themselves as well officials for higher for weddings. Now I’ll just interject here, this seems a bit embarrassing, I would think, for someone who is retired justice of the New York State Supreme Court. It seems almost implausible that they have come up with a group they actually called Judges for Love. But they’re actually retired judges for higher. They’re there to do your wedding if you are secular, same-sex, or other nontraditional couple. Somehow you want a wedding, and you want it with all the trappings, you want someone in the front to be wearing a robe, and in this case you don’t want to clergyman because that would bring Christianity or for that matter historic Judaism, it would bring a moral frame of reference you don’t want at your wedding, so you reach out for a retired judge that seems to do.
The article ends with the retired justice’s wife saying,
“I can’t say that a judge presiding over a wedding will guarantee anything.” But she said, “it’s a nice thing for couples to see that the judges presiding over these marriages know the importance of the commitment.”
But what exactly is that commitment that the presence of the judge is supposed to remind of? It is a commitment to the lifelong covenant of marriage? That’s not really likely because these very judges are part of a judicial system that has made possible what’s called no-fault divorce. No, it’s more likely merely that this is what Peter Berger, the late sociologist called, a rumor of transcendence. In his book The Rumor of Angels, he discussed the fact that even in a secular society wants to continue with the trappings of transcendence and that becomes especially acute at ceremonies such as a wedding. There’s no shortage of irony in this story, but this is where Christians have to understand that we know that people are not just seeking a rumor of transcendence. They are actually, whether they know it or not, seeking the real thing.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
In 2012, the Mt. Vernon City Council received a complaint for opening the meeting with prayer. In an effort to satisfy everyone, the prayer took place two minutes before the meeting officially started but that ultimately caused uproar. Learn more about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
Back in 2012, as the Mt. Vernon City Council officially gaveled in their monthly meeting, someone offered a prayer.
That’s not terribly out of the ordinary. But, something was different this time.
This prayer took place at 7:28.
The meeting officially started at 7:30.
Everyone noticed the change.
You see the city council had received a complaint from a local atheist questioning and disparaging the practice. He even told the local press, “Having a prayer of any faith creates an atmosphere of exclusion.” In response, the council took the prayer off the agenda and moved it ahead two minutes, before official business began.
No one was satisfied.
To the atheist, it was still exclusionary. To the rest, it was one more capitulation of driving religion from the public square. The uproar was so great that the city council was compelled to pass a resolution restoring the prayer to the agenda.
Well, the whole thing was avoidable.
City councils have been opening their official business with prayer since our country’s beginning. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed this tradition, most recently explaining in Greece v. Galloway that legislative prayer is “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage.”
In other words, cities opening their meetings with prayer are part of who we are as a country.
To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.
First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.
(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central
and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
KEVIN HARRIS: Today you are going to hear apologetics in action in the New York Times. It is an interview with pastor Timothy Keller in the New York Times. We really think you are going to enjoy this article.
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Dr. Craig, we talked about Alvin Plantinga winning the Templeton Prize. He has commented on another prize winner, Timothy Keller, who won the Kuyper Prize, a similar prize, from Princeton. This prize was recently rescinded from Tim Keller because of his views on the ordination of women and issues like that. Alvin Plantinga released a statement that he disagreed with the removal of Tim Keller from this prize. What do you know about the Kuyper Prize? Is this something you heard of?
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: The award is named after the great Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was a committed Reformed or Calvinist theologian – as conservative and orthodox as you would want. It is the heritage of Princeton Theological Seminary that it comes out of this Reformed movement. Indeed it is the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. But unfortunately that denomination has moved far, far away from its moorings, and now this Abraham Kuyper award is something of an anomaly. Being awarded to Tim Keller who is perhaps the most important Reformed pastor in the United States and a conservative orthodox evangelical Christian is very appropriate. The Kuyper award ought to be given to a person like Tim Keller. That makes itsrescission especially ironic and disturbing – that a person like Tim Keller could not be given an award named after Abraham Kuyper by a Reformed seminary. It is just incredible. But unfortunately the Presbyterian Church (USA) conflicts with the Presbyterian Church in America over the ordination of women and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. So there were protests from Princeton Seminary alumni that Keller ought not to receive this award, and so they rescinded it under such pressure.
KEVIN HARRIS: Alvin Plantinga was one of those to protest among many. He said the reversal of this award “gives evidence of a policy unworthy of its history, of free academic debate, and diversity that characterizes this great institution.”
DR. CRAIG: Isn’t that odd that in the name of diversity, diversity is excluded. I find this so bizarre that in the name of diversity (like ordination of women or practicing homosexuals) one cuts out a person like Timothy Keller who represents the theology of Abraham Kuyper for whom the award is named. It is exclusivistic and a curtailment of diversity by doing this sort of thing.
KEVIN HARRIS: It really is. Diversity means every view but yours, apparently. [laughter] It has come to take a very weird contradictory definition. Even Nicholas Wolterstorff, who writes a lot for the New York Times, protested against the rescission of this. Nicholas Kristof did an interview in the New York Times with Timothy Keller. We ought to look at this because he asks him point-blank, “Am I a Christian, Pastor Tim Keller?” This is right in the New York Times from December 2016. Kristof begins:
What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? Can one be a Christian and yet doubt the virgin birth or the Resurrection? I put these questions to the Rev. Timothy Keller, an evangelical Christian pastor and best-selling author who is among the most prominent evangelical thinkers today. Our conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Tim, I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on. Since this is the Christmas season, let’s start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief, or can I mix and match?
Bill, if you would, go over Keller’s response here.
DR. CRAIG: I don’t think Keller responds directly to this question in the interview. Instead what he does is enunciate a general principle that one is not at liberty to pick and choose among religious beliefs and still claim to be an adherent to that religion. He gives a nice analogy. If he were a member of Greenpeace and decided that he didn’t think global warming was true, he would be asked to resign from that organization. There are certain things that are essential to one’s commitment. He thinks similarly that to be a Christian involves being committed to certain doctrinal positions, and if you don’t adhere to those you should just have the honesty to say that you are not a Christian rather than think that you can morph Christianity to become whatever you want it to be.
KEVIN HARRIS: He is pretty smart to say, Let’s take some of your most liberal organizations – like Greenpeace – that are the darling of even the left. People of all persuasions can appreciate Greenpeace but they are definitely one that the left appreciates. So he uses them as an example.
DR. CRAIG: Right. Rhetorically it is clever, isn’t it?
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, it really is. Kristof says,
And the Resurrection? Must it really be taken literally?
Tim Keller gives a response.
DR. CRAIG: What he points out is that Jesus’ teaching is not the main point. Jesus wasn’t just an ethical teacher. Rather, he came to save people through his death and resurrection from sin. Jesus’ death was seen by him as a sacrificial offering for sin that inaugurated a new covenant between God and man. Therefore the resurrection is essential to the Christian faith. I think that is why Paul could say that if there is no resurrection then we are of all men most to be pitied – Christianity is vain. Keller is strong on affirming the indispensability of the historical resurrection of Jesus to Christian faith.
KEVIN HARRIS: In fact, Barnes writing in Christian Century (I was going to tell you in this other article here) is praising Timothy Keller and saying he is “among the most influential Reformed leaders in the United States. His defenders point out that he is known for his conciliatory tone, mission focus, and apologetics . . .” Timothy Keller is really known for his apologetics. He is using them here in the New York Times.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, Keller’s bookThe Reason for God is among the most popular defenses of the Christian faith available to laypeople today. He has made an impact upon popular Christian apologetics.
KEVIN HARRIS: Kristof then pushes back. He says:
But let me push back. As you know better than I, the Scriptures themselves indicate that the Resurrection wasn’t so clear cut. Mary Magdalene didn’t initially recognize the risen Jesus, nor did some disciples, and the gospels are fuzzy about Jesus’ literal presence — especially Mark, the first gospel to be written. So if you take these passages as meaning that Jesus literally rose from the dead, why the fuzziness?
Bill, you could answer all these, and you do time and time again in your lectures and our podcasts. But Keller’s answer is right in line.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, Keller says,
I wouldn’t characterize the New Testament descriptions of the risen Jesus as fuzzy.
That is absolutely true. In the Gospel of Mark there is an empty tomb, Jesus is risen bodily and physically from the dead, and the resurrection appearances in Galilee are foreshadowed by Mark by saying that when they go to Galilee there they will see him. In the other Gospels they are noteworthy for their palpable, physical appearances of the risen Jesus. Keller has some things to say about this non-recognition motif that characterizes some of the resurrection appearance stories. I would be inclined to think that is a theological statement that is being made there. What the author is trying to communicate is that Jesus’ presence with the disciples is not going to be a return to the way in which they knew him during his earthly ministry and sojourn with them. Now Jesus is in a new mode of existence. He is risen from the dead, and they will not relate to him exactly as they use to when he was on Earth with them. I think that non-recognition motif probably serves to underline the “otherness,” so to speak, of the risen Lord. But there is nothing that would call into question the concreteness – the spatio-temporality – of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Keller then turns the tables. This is interesting again rhetorically. He goes from being on the defense to being on the offense by pointing out that the fact that the empty tomb narratives feature women as the principle discoverers and witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb is a mark in favor of their credibility and historicity because in a patriarchal culture like first century Palestine women would not have been invented as witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb. You would have had male disciples, like Peter and John, discover the empty tomb if these were not historical reports.
KEVIN HARRIS: He then mention N.T. Wright. I just want to tell you that I am reading The Resurrection of the Son of God right now. 800 pages by N. T. Wright. I am enjoying it immensely.
DR. CRAIG: What he points out here is that Wright’s book, again going on the offense, argues that it is very difficult to explain the origin of the Jesus movement in the middle of the first century apart from the facts of the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances of Jesus. If those are unhistorical – never happened – then where in the world did this Jesus movement come from? Wright argues, I think very convincingly, that apart from the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances there just isn’t any sufficient historical explanation for the origin of the Jesus movement in the middle of the first century.
KEVIN HARRIS: Kristof then asks:
So where does that leave people like me? Am I a Christian? A Jesus follower? A secular Christian? Can I be a Christian while doubting the Resurrection?
DR. CRAIG: This really is the bottom line, isn’t it? Here the interviewer is asking this very personal question, and Keller (to his credit) doesn’t back down. He says,
. . . if you don’t accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles’ Creed, I’d say you are on the outside of the boundary.
Which is a nice way of saying, “You are not a Christian.” Keller is very bold here with this interviewer. I think this is a good example of speaking the truth in love. It would be unloving to try to assure this non-Christian interviewer that he is really all right with God and that he is OK if he just lives a good life and believes as he does. That would be an unloving thing to do. Keller is quite right in offering this kind of tough love in saying if you deny these fundamental Christian beliefs then, in fact, you are not a Christian.
KEVIN HARRIS: This is the way it is done, Bill. It really is. This is the New York Times. Millions will read this. Just the way he says it is like you said – with a lot of grace and a lot of truth. He says,
I wouldn’t draw any conclusion about an individual without talking to him or her at length. But, in general, if you don’t accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles’ Creed, I’d say you are on the outside of the boundary.
I can just hear his very thoughtful, conciliatory tone here in saying, We need to talk individually, case by case, but Kristoff, no, you are not.
Kristof then says,
Tim, people sometimes say that the answer is faith. But, as a journalist, I’ve found skepticism useful. If I hear something that sounds superstitious, I want eyewitnesses and evidence. That’s the attitude we take toward Islam and Hinduism and Taoism, so why suspend skepticism in our own faith tradition?
DR. CRAIG: That is an odd question because nothing that Keller has said suggests that he does suspend skepticism in his own faith tradition. Not a skepticism that means you are not open to the evidence. I don’t think that kind of skepticism is justified and serves any useful purpose. That is just close-mindedness. But openness to follow the evidence where it leads, Keller would agree with that. It is odd that this interviewer would think that on Keller’s view the answer is some sort of criterionless faith. Nothing that Keller has said would suggest that. Again to his credit, Keller goes on to say,
We should require evidence and good reasoning . . . [for] our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition.
And, by implication, so should you, Mr. Kristof, for your own religious views. Are you suitably skeptical about your own religious views? Have you explored the evidence for them?
DR. CRAIG: There you go again with him kind of going on the offense. Pastor Keller says,
But I don’t want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren’t. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. For example, my faith is to some degree based on reasoning that the existence of God makes the most sense of what we see in nature, history and experience. Thomas Nagel recently wrote that the thoroughly materialistic view of nature can’t account for human consciousness, cognition and moral values.
DR. CRAIG: Keller is obviously a well-read man. He is quoting philosophers like Nagel and Alvin Plantinga in the course of this interview. He commendably represents, I think, the model of what a pastor ought to be and traditionally has been. In previous centuries, the pastor was usually the best educated man in the town and was one to whom you could go with your questions. He was well read and well educated. I think it has only been in the 20thcentury that we felt pastors need to be ignorant.
KEVIN HARRIS: Kristof says,
I’ll grudgingly concede your point: My belief in human rights and morality may be more about faith than logic. But is it really analogous to believe in things that seem consistent with science and modernity, like human rights, and those that seem inconsistent, like a virgin birth or resurrection?
DR. CRAIG: Did it strike you as odd about this question that he thinks that things like human rights and morality are consistent with science and modernity? I thought that was very odd. If you take a scientific naturalistic view of the world, you are not going to have a belief in human rights and morality. Ethical values can’t be found in a test tube. If you believe in human rights and morality you have immediately transcended the limits of science and have admitted that there are sources of truth and kinds of truth that are not scientifically accessible. To me it is stunning that this secular interviewer can think that his beliefs in human rights and morality are consistent with science but that Christian beliefs are not. Keller then goes on to say that there is nothing that is illogical or incompatible with science about belief in God or even belief in miracles. If God exists then it is trivial to say that miracles are possible because a God who has created and designed the entire universe could obviously intervene in the world to bring about things that the laws of nature operating on their own would be incapable of bringing about.
KEVIN HARRIS: Then Pastor Keller quotes Alvin Plantinga. You want to read that for us?
DR. CRAIG: Sure. He is talking here about how science may not be able to prove miracles because science only deals with repeatable, natural events. But he says, so what? He says,
Alvin Plantinga argued that to say that there must be a scientific cause for any apparently miraculous phenomenon is like insisting that your lost keys must be under the streetlight because that’s the only place you can see.
That is very well put. Just because science illumines a certain area of the world where we can see things by natural investigation doesn’t mean that there aren’t other areas of reality that are not illuminated by the scientific method. Ironically, again, the interviewer’s own worldview supports that because he believes in human rights and morality which will not be found within the spotlight illuminated by the scientific method.
KEVIN HARRIS: Tim Keller had just pointed this out earlier. He said,
Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being “covert Christians” because it required a leap of faith to hold to them.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah. The interviewer just doesn’t seem to get the point, does he?
KEVIN HARRIS: Kristof says,
Can I ask: Do you ever have doubts? Do most people of faith struggle at times over these kinds of questions?
DR. CRAIG: Yes. And Keller says,Yes, I do, and yes, they do. He quotes the book of Jude in verse 22 exhorts Christians to “be merciful to those who doubt.” Keller is not condemnatory of those who doubt. Then Keller goes on once again (he is so effective at this rhetorically) to turn the tables and say,
I would hope that secular skeptics would also question their own [faith].
He’s asking the interviewer, Are you doubting your own skeptical secular point of view? That is so well put and so appropriate. He says,
Secular people should be as open to questions and doubts about their positions as religious people.
KEVIN HARRIS: They end this with Kristof saying that he admires Christianity and its
amazing good work it inspires people to do around the world. But I’m troubled by the evangelical notion that people go to heaven only if they have a direct relationship with Jesus. Doesn’t that imply that billions of people — Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus — are consigned to hell because they grew up in non-Christian families around the world? That Gandhi is in hell?
DR. CRAIG: This is so typical of cultural Christianity. He admires the good works that Christians do in improving the social and economic lot of people in the world, but let’s not take too seriously these doctrinal issues about sin and forgiveness, heaven and hell. Again, Keller just will not back down. He repudiates the idea that Christianity is just about redeeming culture or improving the lot of human society. He says people are not saved by being good. He says that is not Christianity. You don’t come to know God by being good. It is bad people who are saved, but who come to admit their badness and to repent of it and receive Christ’s forgiveness and provision for their sins. He emphasizes that this is available to everyone that whosoever will may come, so it is up to us to find salvation through our own free decisions.
KEVIN HARRIS: I really like what he says here. He says,
You imply that really good people (e.g., Gandhi) should also be saved, not just Christians. The problem is that Christians do not believe anyone can be saved by being good. If you don’t come to God through faith in what Christ has done, you would be approaching on the basis of your own goodness. This would, ironically, actually be more exclusive and unfair, since so often those that we tend to think of as “bad” — the abusers, the haters, the feckless and selfish — have themselves often had abusive and brutal backgrounds. Christians believe that it is those who admit their weakness and need for a savior who get salvation.
Once again he is showing a contradiction in the view – in an attempt to be inclusive you are actually being exclusive.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, he is, isn’t he? Because he is saying that those who are good and who live good lives and upstanding lives may have advantaged upbringings that people who are rotten and bad haven’t had because they’ve been victims of poverty, abuse, oppression, and so forth. So these bad people get excluded by these cultural Christians like Kristof. Grace is open to everyone, good and bad alike.
KEVIN HARRIS: Jesus is for everyone. As we end up the podcast today, do you think Pastor Keller did a good job here?
DR. CRAIG: I do. I admire the man. I think he is well-informed, and he is very dialogical in directing a conversation so as to not be on the defensive but to gently turn the tables and to go on the offensive with his partner in conversation.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
KEVIN HARRIS: Well, Bill, they didn’t get Brad Pitt or George Clooney to portray you in the movie, but they got a great actor named Russ Blackwell who has been in a movie with Brad Pitt. Russ Blackwell portrayed you in the new movie The Case for Christ. I just want to get your impressions on this whole process: the fact that this book has become a movie, your impressions of the movie, the consultation that was requested of you for the making of the movie, and so on.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I was pleased that they got Russ Blackwell to play my part. He sported the dark beard and hair that I had back in the 70s and 80s. I thought that the portrayal was very flattering so I was pleased with that! [laughter] Lee Strobel did consult me in advance about the script – my scene that is to say. I was so glad that he did so because it was very evident that the scriptwriter had a very poor grasp of the evidence for the resurrection and what were the important points to emphasize. I had to really work with him in re-writing the supposed interview conducted with me by Lee Strobel to make sure it focused on the right points. The scriptwriter wanted to emphasize the guard at the tomb, the old “who stole the body” idea and how could they have gotten past the guard. I had to explain to them this just isn’t an issue in contemporary discussions of the empty tomb and to focus the interview on what I perceive to be the correct issues. Having said that, most of the script apparently wound up on the cutting room floor because it was in the end much, much shorter than the script that I had approved and worked on with the scriptwriter for that scene. But that is normal. That is to be expected. They always wind up cutting most of what they’ve filmed. The end result was, I thought, pretty decent.
KEVIN HARRIS: A lot goes into movie-making. You’ve got to know how to make it compelling. What to put in. What to leave out. It is not always chronologically accurate in order to maybe tell the story and some things like that.
DR. CRAIG:I think that is worth emphasizing because I’ve had a number of people come to me and say, “Tell me! What was it like having Lee Strobel come to you and interview you during this time?” What they don’t understand is that this is all a fictional artistic recreation. Lee didn’t go out and interview these people prior to becoming a Christian. When he wrote the bookThe Case for Christ he says in the preface to that book, I want to recreate the journey to Christ by going and interviewing scholars that will speak to these issues. So he came to our home in Atlanta. This was long after he had become a Christian. This was after I had participated in the big debate at Willow Creek that he and Mark Middleberg put on with Frank Zindler. So there was never prior to his becoming a Christian an interview between Lee and me, much less one that took place in Jerusalem as it does in the movie. This is all part of the artistic recreation. So although it is based on a true story, viewers should be careful not to think that this all literally happened.
KEVIN HARRIS: He was a rising star journalist with the Chicago Tribune. When he created the book, when he wrote the book, he wanted to apply his journalism skills to this process which he said he employed naturally when he was on this quest. In fact, that is how all of these books came about. It has been a very influential book.
DR. CRAIG:Oh my goodness, yes. Just millions of copies. I would be interested in asking Lee sometime, “What did you actually read during those days when you were searching for the truth about Christ and the resurrection? Given that you didn’t actually interview me or Gary Habermas or these other people, whom did you read or talk to?” I don’t know the answer to that but I am curious.
KEVIN HARRIS: There was a review in Christianity Today. It says, “In The Case for Christ, experience not evidence is the real clincher.” When we kind of looked over this article, this review from Christianity Today gave the movie a pretty good review.
KEVIN HARRIS: It just said that the part where all the apologetics came in and the interviews kind of bogged it down. I guess they wanted more of an emotional movie.
DR. CRAIG:Yeah. The reviewer makes a very interesting point. What is compelling about this movie is not its apologetics content. It is the struggle of Lee Strobel, the principal character, to save his marriage because his wife has converted to Christianity and this is tearing their relationship apart. So the viewer wants to see if he will be able to somehow get it together and save his marriage. In that respect,The Case for Christ is very much like the movie God’s Not Dead. What really drives that movie is also the relational, emotional parts of the movie such as the young man’s relationship with his girlfriend who won’t support him because of his stand for Christ. Again the apologetics content of that movie is almost trivial compared to the relational aspects. For that reason I thought God’s Not Dead is really a sort of chick-flick. It is all about relationships, not really about apologetics. The Case for Christ, I think, is not like that. But I do agree with the reviewer that what really does drive the film would be this more experiential, relational part and not the interviews that appear periodically throughout the movie. I thought what was especially compelling about the film was this subplot that goes through the film of that black young man who is unjustly accused of a crime. Lee, in the film, has tried and convicted him already in his newspaper column because Lee wasn’t willing to really follow the evidence where it led. This served as a kind of case in point symbolizing his attitude toward Christianity and the resurrection. Just as his did not give this young black man an open-minded chance to inquire into the evidence, he wasn’t giving Christianity the sort of open-minded opportunity to exonerate itself by the evidence. So I thought that kind of subplot, again, was one of the most compelling parts of the movie.
The question then, it seems to me, is how can a filmmaker work in apologetics content without it being lame or instructional or bogging down the movie? To read this Christianity Today reviewer, you would think that what the scriptwriter needed to do was simply eliminate all the apologetics content from the film. Just cut it and just have it be about Lee Strobel’s desire to save his marriage and about how he eventually comes to Christ and his relationship with Leslie is preserved. But to do that without explaining any of the arguments or evidence that led him to change his mind would seem very strange to me. So how do you put it together in the most compelling way? I think that is a question that Christian scriptwriters still need to work out.
KEVIN HARRIS: Absolutely. And how the director would portray this in a compelling way. Would he use flashbacks? Would he have some kind of a historic reenactment going on in the background as to what it might have looked like? Just anything. That is going to be up to a good director to make a good product. Lee apparently really wanted to get in the apologetics here to encourage believers – you need to know this stuff. And non-believers, you need to know this stuff.
DR. CRAIG:That is absolutely right. Lee has the heart of an evangelist. He wants non-believers to find the same life-changing truth that he himself found and has turned his life and Leslie’s life upside-down. To make a film about his life that didn’t include any of this sort of content, I am sure would just be unacceptable to Lee because he does want it to be a tool of persuasion, to challenge unbelievers, and, as you say, to strengthen believers in giving a reason for the hope that is in them.
KEVIN HARRIS: Speaking of unbelievers, this reviewer for Christianity Today said on page 3,
God’s Not Dead rightly received criticism for its simplistic portrayal of non-Christians, suggesting that Christianity’s empirical truth is so obvious that the only explanation for unbelief must be emotional dysfunction or willful ignorance. The Case for Christ avoids this pitfall by aligning the audience’s perspective and sympathy with an atheist protagonist: Strobel’s skepticism is complex, and is portrayed as such, at least to begin with.
He did say that is the drawback of a couple of other apologetics-based movies, which I am glad is happening. God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2.
DR. CRAIG:Absolutely. This is progress that is being made. We are, as Christians, learning the art of good filmmaking.
KEVIN HARRIS: It makes for a good movie that this professor would actually have some emotional baggage that comes out. I mean, OK, that is the movie. But I did notice on social media a lot of criticism of that – that it is all going to be emotional.
DR. CRAIG:I was glad that this reviewer foundThe Case for Christ to present a more realistic and compelling character. Maybe that is because it is based on Lee’s actual struggle.
KEVIN HARRIS: The reviewer in Christianity Today makes another good nod in this direction. He says,
It’s a relief, then, to find that Pure Flix’s The Case for Christ, released in theaters last week, makes an effort to shed the constraints of the “faith-based film” in favor of a more well-rounded vision.
That brings up a side issue that we will touch on briefly. Fox News reported in an article that a lot of Christian filmmakers are saying that the faith-based film label needs to go. It is too problematic. Unfortunately, the label kind of sticks. It sticks for The Case for Christ. It says,
Producer Mark Joseph . . . told Fox News the term is unnecessary.
“The term faith-based is an odd term to describe movies-or anything else,” he said. “For most Americans faith is a normal part of our lives so it’s only normal that faith is weaved into movies as it’s weaved into most of our lives.”
Just labeling something as a faith-based film can turn an audience off or cause you to prejudge it.
DR. CRAIG:What faith needs to be portrayed as is, as you say, a natural part of people’s lives, and these sorts of struggles with the big questions are common to humanity, especially to young people as they ask about the meaning of life and the meaning of existence and so forth. So it needs to be portrayed naturally, realistically, and not be preachy. That is the challenge, I think, in doing Christian films. How do you avoid coming across as preachy? I don’t think thatGod’s Not Dead succeeded in avoiding that pitfall, but it seems to me that The Case for Christ does a much better job in that regard
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, you were recently in Ireland, as we talked about in previous podcasts. You did a couple of debates there. We want to focus on a couple of things with your debate with Michael Nugent who just got the International Atheist of the Year award.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Did he? I was unaware of that.
KEVIN HARRIS: Atheist Ireland is what he heads up. A letter from Erin in Australia says,
Dr. Craig, I was hoping you might do a podcast on your recent debate with Michael Nugent in Ireland to review some of the points raised in the discussion. Among his points, Mr. Nugent offered twenty reasons why the Christian God seems implausible. It appears that you focus primarily on one – that of the plausibility of there being such a thing as a pure mind without a body. However, it seemed to me that several of his other points perhaps because they were not addressed individually may have appeared to present some challenge to the idea of a maximally great being as an intelligible concept in itself. I presented a number of his twenty reasons below.
He focuses on ten. Erin, we thank you for your letter from Australia. Why don’t we look at these ten. Also, what do you think about what he says here.
DR. CRAIG: Sure. Nugent has been criticized in social media for not offering substantial arguments in the debate. I think that is rather unfair. In fact, I think Michael Nugent came to this debate better prepared than the vast majority of my debate opponents do. I think he was very well coached. Unfortunately, what he did was adopt what high school debaters call a shotgun approach where you just spray as many objections as you possibly can hoping that some of them will get through. Can you imagine twenty reasons why the Christian God is implausible? The drawback of the shotgun approach is that none of the arguments is developed in any detail and hence they appear to be mere assertions or questions. But I do think it is worth talking about some of these.
KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. One of the first ones that Erin would like for you to address is, “if God is changeless then it cannot create anything because it would have to change in order to do so.”
DR. CRAIG:Well, I think that this fails to distinguish between being changeless and being unchangeable. What I’ve argued is that God without the universe is changeless but he is not unchangeable. I think at the moment of creation God does change in exerting his causal power to bring the universe into being.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number two: If this mind is perfect then it could not change anyway because then it would become more perfect which is impossible, or less perfect in which case it would no longer be perfect.
DR. CRAIG: What this argument fallaciously assumes is that if something changes it must change on the vertical scale of perfection – either more perfect or less perfect. It fails to realize that something could change horizontally so to speak. That is to say, it can remain supremely perfect but it can change in ways that neither improve nor harm it. So I would say that any changes in God such as knowing what time it is, for example, are simply trivial. They don’t make God either better or worse.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number three: If God is no longer changeless then it may have ceased to exist some time ago.
DR. CRAIG: That depends on whether you think that God is a metaphysically necessary being. Some of the arguments for God’s existence – like the Leibnizian argument from contingency or the moral argument – lead to the existence of a metaphysically necessary being in which case it is impossible for this being to cease to exist.
KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder if Nugent used “it” in the description here which is not entirely inappropriate – God is an entity and therefore an “it.” He is saying “it.”
DR. CRAIG: Right. One would normally use the personal pronoun because we are talking about the theistic or Christian concept of God.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number four: If it is all-perfect and all-good then it would have created a perfect universe. At a minimum a perfect universe would not contain suffering or evil. If the response is that even a perfect God can only do what is logically possible then it is logically possible to have a universe without suffering or evil.
DR. CRAIG: This issue was addressed fairly extensively in the debate. It is the problem of evil. What I pointed out is that it is not true that if God is all-perfect and all-good then he must create a perfect universe. That is a false assumption, I would say. On the one hand, it may be that a perfect universe is impossible. It is not feasible for God to create a world in which there are free moral agents who always do the right thing and never go wrong. Secondly, there can be cases in which God may permit suffering or evil in order to achieve some greater good. So it is just not true that in virtue of God’s perfection he has to create a world without suffering or evil. When Nugent says that it is logically possible to have a universe without suffering or evil, we can agree with that. This is logically possible. But it may not be feasible for God to create a world of free agents who always do the right thing. Yes, there are logically possible worlds like that but they may not be feasible for God. So he simply fails to reckon with this crucial distinction that philosophers make between what is logically possible and what is feasible for God.
KEVIN HARRIS: We can chase a real rabbit here on perfection because four of these deal with the concept of perfection and what is perfect. Philosophers often speculate on whether there is any such thing as perfect.
DR. CRAIG: That is a very good point. Perfect world – that is the idea of the best of all possible worlds. And it may be that there is no best of all possible worlds. Worlds just get better and better without end.
KEVIN HARRIS: If they are getting better then that implies a standard by which betterment can be gauged.
DR. CRAIG: I think that you can say that there are objective standards but that there isn’t any possible world that is the best possible world. They can just keep on improving.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number five: If God is perfect but we don’t understand how then why did God have to intervene in this perfect universe through miracles?
DR. CRAIG: I don’t think that it is true that we don’t understand what God’s perfection means. It refers to his moral perfection and holiness. But the reason for miracles is that they serve as signs to us of God’s existence and activity. When Jesus performed his dramatic miracles, these were signs to the people of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in his person. Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms were signs of divine activity and God’s being with him.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number six: The Euthyphro Dilemma remains and focusing on God’s nature does not resolve the problem. It is good for arbitrary reasons or it is good because it corresponds to independent standards of goodness.
DR. CRAIG: I think this objection makes no sense. If we think of the sound of a live orchestra, for example, as the standard for a hi-fidelity recording, it simply makes no sense to say, “But why is the sound of the live orchestra hi-fidelity?” That is what we mean by hi-fidelity. Similarly, God’s nature is the standard of goodness. I would say that God is necessarily good. God is the concept of a greatest conceivable being, and the greatest conceivable being would need to be morally perfect because it is better – it is greater – to be good rather than morally flawed.
KEVIN HARRIS: I am showing my age here, but I remember when my parents called their record player “the hi-fi.”
Number seven: All of the arguments for an all-good God can just as easily be used to support the idea of an all-evil God who gives us free will because it wants us to do evil voluntarily rather than force us to do evil.
DR. CRAIG: As I just indicated, I think the idea of an evil God with a capital-G is incoherent because God is the greatest conceivable being and therefore cannot be morally flawed. Such a being would not be the greatest conceivable being. There could be an evil god with a lowercase-g – some sort of finite being that is evil – but such a being would owe its existence and its being evil to the existence of God with a capital-G so that the existence of such a finite evil god would actually necessitate the existence of God in the full theistic sense.
KEVIN HARRIS: This is interesting. Number eight: If God is all-knowing then it knows the taste of strawberry yogurt. But if it doesn’t have a body or senses then how can it know the state of anything? If the response is that saying what it knows is the truth of the proposition then it is not all-knowing; it is less than all-knowing.
DR. CRAIG: This is the one objection, I think, that is interesting and substantiative. I would say two things about it. First, the way omniscience is traditionally defined is in terms of propositional knowledge. For any propositionp, if p then God knows that p and does not believe not-p. In other words, God knows all the facts there are. But how strawberry yogurt tastes is not propositional knowledge. It is non-propositional knowledge. It is how something tastes, not that strawberry yogurt tastes sweet or that it tastes good or something of that sort. All of the facts about strawberry yogurt are known to God. That is what is required for omniscience. It is not required that God possess all non-propositional knowledge because then God would have to know, for example, that he is Napoleon, which obviously he doesn’t. That is something Napoleon knows, and God knows that Napoleon is Napoleon, but God doesn’t believe that He is Napoleon. That is a form of non-propositional knowledge that God doesn’t and shouldn’t possess. That would be an imperfection, not a perfection. So I think the way omniscience is traditionally defined is in terms of having all propositional knowledge, and God can have that even if he doesn’t have the non-propositional knowledge of how strawberry yogurt tastes.
But the second point that I want to make, and this emerged in my Talbot class that I taught last January, is it clear that God doesn’t know how strawberry yogurt tastes? Think about it. When I am tasting strawberry yogurt, there is a certain mental state that I am in. Why can’t God simply put himself into that same mental state without having a body or taste buds? I don’t see any reason to think that he couldn’t. If there is a mental state associated with the taste of yogurt or the feeling of a rough surface or the sound of something, God can put himself into such a mental state and thereby have that mental experience even though he doesn’t have a body with eardrums and nerve endings and taste buds.
KEVIN HARRIS: This is a cool question at any rate. I’ve never heard the strawberry yogurt example. Is there something that is typically the example that you’ve heard?
DR. CRAIG: Sometimes I’ve heard it said, “Does God know how watermelon tastes?” The illustration is arbitrary. What you are thinking of here is some sort of non-propositional experience because God obviously knows all the truths about how watermelon tastes or yogurt tastes, but does he have this non-propositional knowledge? That is not required by omniscience as it is typically defined. So if God does have this kind of knowledge, it means that he is cognitively greater than being omniscient which is really interesting.
KEVIN HARRIS: What is it like to be a bat?
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, could God put himself in such a mental state?
KEVIN HARRIS: A famous essay.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number nine: If God is all-knowing, then God created free agents that God knows will do evil. If this God cared about humans on planet Earth then at a minimum it would have given us all the same information and the same moral messages.
DR. CRAIG: I don’t see any argument for that inference. God gives sufficient information for salvation to every human being that he creates because he loves every person and wants that person to come to know him and find eternal life. But that in no way implies that God has to give equal information to every person. Some people may enjoy more information than others. Indeed, some of the lost who reject God’s grace and love may receive more information than many of the saved.
KEVIN HARRIS: Wow. Yeah. You’ve said before that God may have good reasons to create persons and things. Just because this person is going to do evil does not have veto power over God’s purposes.
DR. CRAIG: Right. I think that is true. God gives us significant human freedom to rebel against him and his purposes, but he knows these choices and can work around them so as to achieve his ultimate ends even through these evil decisions.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number ten (the last one): If Christians believe that God is a pure bodiless mind and also that matter cannot come from nothing then the most rational theistic conclusion to come to is that God has spawned other pure bodiless minds and that matter itself is an illusion.
DR. CRAIG: God has created other pure bodiless minds such as angels and souls, but there is no reason to think that matter is therefore an illusion. I think that his confusion comes from the statement “matter cannot come from nothing.” What one means by that is that matter cannot come into being uncaused. There needs to be an efficient cause that brings matter into being. But what he is interpreting it to mean is that matter cannot come into being without a material cause. That is not evidently true. So long as there is an efficient cause for matter then that principle is not violated by God’s creating matter as well as minds without any material cause.
KEVIN HARRIS: How do you handle this shotgun approach in a debate? You are sitting here taking notes and you are going to go, OK, come on.
DR. CRAIG: Right. You realize you can’t deal with all of them. So what you do selectively – a good debater will pick those which he deems the most important, particularly those which would be the most important in the mind of the audience and will address those then just leave the others unaddressed. I think what I find is that audiences are very forgiving in this respect. They know that you can’t in your limited time address every point that has been brought up, especially when you have twenty objections that are raised. But if you carry those arguments which you do address, that gives the audience confidence that you also have good answers to those arguments that you simply didn’t have time to address.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG:Dr. Came has not yet engaged any of my positive reasons to believe that God exists. I would suggest that even if his arguments succeed in showing some improbability in God’s existence it is simply outweighed by the five arguments that I presented for God’s existence.
But do his arguments in fact show that it is improbable that God exists? Well, as I see it, he has two basic arguments: first one from the hiddenness of God, and secondly one from the evil in the world.
With respect to divine hiddenness, I think it is important to understand that God’s primary aim is to draw people into a saving love relationship with himself, not just to convince people that God exists. If that is all that God were interested in then he could certainly have made his existence more obvious. For example, he could have written “God exists” in the stars or planted a neon cross in the sky saying “Jesus saves.” But there is no guarantee at all that in such a world this sort of display would draw more people into a saving love relationship with God. In fact, it might even have the opposite effect. After a while people might begin to chafe under the brazen advertisements of their Creator and not to love him. The Bible says that God has provided sufficient evidence of his reality in nature and conscience, and by his Holy Spirit draws all persons to himself. As an omniscient being he knows what would be most effective in drawing people freely into a saving love relationship with himself. What the atheist would have to prove is that a clearer revelation of God’s existence would be more effective in drawing people freely into a saving love relationship than the way that God has in fact chosen. And that is pure speculation. Thus, there is simply no basis for thinking that divine hiddenness is an argument against God’s existence. I might note as well that this really isn’t an argument for atheism. It is an argument for universalism. It is to say that all persons should be saved. So even if you found the argument persuasive it doesn’t prove that God does not exist. It would just prove universalism is true.
What about the problem of evil? Does evil disprove God’s existence? I think Dr. Came admits that the logical version of the problem of evil is a failure. The atheist cannot prove that there is a logical incompatibility between the propositions “God exists” and “Evil exists.” In order to show this he would have to demonstrate that it is necessarily true that if God is all-powerful he can create just any world that he wants and if God is all-good then he would create a world without evil. Those propositions are not necessarily true. They lay a burden of proof on the atheist which no one has been able to sustain. In fact, as long as it is even possible that God would have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil in the world then it is possible that God and the evil in the world coexist. For this reason the logical version of the problem of evil has been widely recognized by theists and atheists alike as bankrupt. Peter van Inwagen, a prominent Christian philosopher, says, “It used to be held that evil was incompatible with the existence of God: that no possible world contained both God and evil. So far as I am able to tell, this thesis is no longer defended.”
So the question then is: does the evil in the world render God’s existence improbable if not impossible? Here I will simply defend the view that Dr. Came already sketched – that given our cognitive limitations, we are simply not in a position to say with any sort of confidence when some incidence of evil occurs that God probably doesn’t have a morally sufficient reason for permitting this. William Alston, in his article in Philosophical Perspectives, lists six such cognitive limitations which make it in principle impossible for us to make these kinds of probabilistic judgments. He says “it is in principle impossible for us to be justified in supposing that God does not have sufficient reasons for permitting E[vil] that are unknown to us.” Take, for example, the illustration of the historical ripple effect. God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting some evil to enter your life might not emerge until centuries from now, maybe in another country. When you think about the control of a provident God over the whole of human history who sees the end from the beginning you can see how hopeless it is for us finite historically limited observers to speculate upon whether or not God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting some incident of suffering to enter our lives. So Alston says,
The judgments required by the probabilistic argument from evil are of a very special and enormously ambitious type, and our cognitive capacities are not equal to this one. We are simply not in a position to justifiably assert that God would have no sufficient reason for permitting evil. And if that is right, the probabilistic argument from evil is in no better shape than the late lamented logical argument from evil. (William Alston, “The Inductive Problem of Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition,” Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Press, 1991) pp. 59, 61.)
Dr. Came has a very interesting response to this consideration in his opening speech. He points out that there are four different possibilities that an event might have through the ripple effect it sends through history. It could make the evil worse. It could be morally neutral. It could have an outweighing good. He concludes from that that therefore the probability of its having an outweighing good is only one-fourth. That’s logically fallacious. That argument violates probability theory. Consider a bag of marbles and you don’t know the color of the marbles in the bag. You might think, “Well, if I pick a marble from the bag there is a fifty percent chance that it is red and a fifty percent chance it is not red. So the chance of picking a red marble is fifty percent.” That is obviously fallacious because it could be blue marbles in the bag, or green marbles in the bag. You simply cannot make any sort of probability estimate based upon that kind of blind calculation. Similarly here, there is no reason to think that the probability of the outweighing good is one-fourth, or twenty-five percent. This is particularly true if the world is under the providential control of an omnipotent and loving God who orders the universe so that evils have outweighing goods. It is not a matter of random chance. The hypothesis of theism is that God is in control of human history and so orders the world so that he has morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur.
When we see an incident of evil in our lives, we have no idea of what its impact will be upon the world. Those probabilities are simply inscrutable, and therefore you cannot say either way whether that evil has an outweighing good or makes things worse. If that is the case then the atheist’s argument from evil fails because remember he has the burden of proof to show that it is improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting that evil. He has not been able to shoulder that burden of proof. He is making probability judgments that are way beyond our capacity to make with any confidence.
Finally, the third point I wanted to make in this regard is that evil actually proves God’s existence. Yes, I think there is a good argument for God from evil. It goes like this:
While on a superficial level evil might seem to call into question God’s existence, on a deeper philosophical level evil actually proves God’s existence because in the absence of God nothing would be good or evil as such.
Therefore I am not persuaded that the arguments from the evil in the world are at all compelling. Evil in the world is not logically incompatible with God’s existence, and we are not in any position to say with any sort of confidence that the evils in the world are improbable with respect to God’s existence.
When we consider then the good arguments that we do have for God’s existence, I think it becomes quite probable that God does exist and that therefore theism remains the more plausible and probable worldview.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: You will recall that in my opening speech I said I would be defending two major contentions in tonight’s debate. First that there are good reasons to think that God exists, and secondly there are not comparably good reasons to think that atheism is true.
In his opening speech, Mr. Nugent presented at least five atheistic arguments.
Number one, he said there is no evidence that a mind might exist without a body. I have two points of response. First, we are acquainted with ourselves as immaterial persons. Reductive materialism doesn’t work because mental properties are not identical with physical properties. For example, the brain is not jubilant or sad. Epiphenomenalism – that is, the view that the physical brain has mental properties – is incompatible with self-identity over time, intentional states (thinking about things), freedom of the will, and mental causation. So it seems to me that the best view of ourselves is some sort of dualist-interactionism. We are free agents who cause effects in our body. We are immaterial selves. But secondly, I’ve given arguments in my opening speech for the existence of a transcendent, personal creator and designer of the universe and source of objective moral values. Those arguments require that there be a transcendent, immaterial mind. So that demonstrates the existence of such a thing.
Number two – he says that if God is changeless then it would be impossible for him to interact with the world. I agree with that and the changelessness of God is not an article of the Christian faith. I, myself, don’t believe in God’s changelessness.
Number three – he said if God is omniscient it precludes human freedom. I spent seven years studying the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human freedom. The argument for theological fatalism is simply logically fallacious. To say that “necessarily because God foreknows X, X will happen” and that “God foreknows X” therefore “necessarily X will happen” commits a fallacy in modal logic. So if he is going to defend fatalism, he needs to show us how his reasoning doesn’t commit that logical error.
Fourth – he says what about all the evil in the world? Isn’t that inconsistent with God’s existence? Not at all. The atheist has an enormous burden of proof to show that it is logically impossible that God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil and suffering in the world, and no atheist has ever been able to carry that burden of proof. For that reason the logical problem of evil is today recognized as bankrupt by both theists and atheists alike. Paul Draper, a prominent atheist philosopher, says,
“Logical arguments from evil are a dying (dead?) breed. . . . even an omnipotent and omniscient being might be forced to allow E[vil] for the sake of obtaining some important good.”
So the atheist has not been able to sustain the burden of proof showing the logical impossibility of the coexistence of God and evil.
Finally, Mr. Nugent says that God’s existence is less probable given certain facts in the world such as the vastness of the universe, the rarity of human life, the suffering in life, and so on. I simply disagree with that probability assessment. But even if I were to concede that these facts would be more probable on atheism than on theism, it doesn’t follow logically from that that atheism is therefore more probable than theism. That represents a logical leap that ignores crucial factors and how probabilities are calculated. If the prior probability of theism is high (that is to say, if there are good arguments for God’s existence) then any improbabilities alleged by Mr. Nugent are simply swamped. So the question is: are there good arguments for theism? Well, that takes us back to my first contention where I present five reasons on behalf of God’s existence.
First, the origin of the universe. All that Mr. Nugent said in response to this argument is that scientists don’t know what there was before the universe. Well, science doesn’t deal in certainties, but scientists do have a pretty good idea of what there was before the Big Bang, namely, nothing! There wasn’t anything prior to the Big Bang because the Big Bang represents the origin of space and time themselves. Moreover, the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past show that the universe had an absolute beginning. Thus we have good grounds for thinking that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since something cannot come out of nothing there must therefore be a transcendent cause of the universe, and you will remember Professor Swinburne’s argument as to why this is plausibly a personal creator.
Number two – a life-permitting universe. Here Mr. Nugent says that life could exist without fine-tuning. Well, yes, if you believe in the existence of God you could have a miraculous creation of life. But the point is that in any universe governed by our laws of nature life cannot exist without the fine-tuning of these constants and quantities. He needs to explain to us if he denies design as the best explanation what is the best explanation for why these constants and quantities all fall into this infinitesimal life-permitting range. Chance? The multiverse? Physical necessity? None of those explanations are as good as design.
Thirdly, the moral argument for God’s existence. Here Mr. Nugent, I think, is deeply inconsistent. On the one hand he says morality is evolved because we are social animals. Now, if he uses that in his argument to say that there are no objective moral values, that is a textbook example of the genetic fallacy which is trying to invalidate a point of view by showing how someone came to hold that point of view. He needs to show that in holding to his atheism that he would be consistent in saying that there are objective values. He responds, The Euthyphro Dilemma shows that God cannot be the source of moral values and duties. Not at all! The Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma. God’s nature is what Plato called The Good and it expresses itself to us in the form of divine commands which constitute our moral duties. It makes no sense to ask what if God’s nature were different because these are essential properties of God – he is essentially loving, kind, fair, compassionate, and so forth. Therefore our moral duties are constituted by his commandments, and those are not arbitrary but rooted in the essential nature of God himself.
Mr. Nugent then responds that God could be evil. Not if this moral argument is correct. Evil is a privation of goodness. Evil has no positive ontological status. It is the absence of goodness. So even if there were an evil supernatural being, there must still exist a higher God – a higher good God – which this lesser being fails to live up to, fails to approximate the standards of the absolute standard of goodness. So you can’t say that the ultimate explanatory source of morality is evil rather than good.
Mr. Nugent says, Killing animals is an injustice. What is odd about this is it is precisely his atheism that justifies this sort of behavior toward animals. Listen to what Joel Marks, a naturalist, says. He says,
. . . if there was one thing I knew in this entire universe, it was that some things are morally wrong. It is wrong to toss male chicks, alive and conscious, into a meat grinder, as happens in the egg industry. It is wrong to scorn homosexuals and deny them civil rights. It is wrong to massacre people in death camps. . . . I knew in my soul, with all of my conviction . . . that they were wrong, wrong, wrong. . . .
But suddenly I knew it no more. I was not merely skeptical or agnostic about it; I had come to believe, and do still, that these things are not wrong.
. . . I used to think that animal agriculture was wrong. Now I will call a spade a spade and declare simply that I very much dislike it and want it to stop.
. . . I am simply no longer in the business of trying to derive an ought from an is.
The point is that without God to serve as the absolute standard of good and evil, right and wrong, you are lost in moral relativism, and you are landed precisely in the sort of injustice that Mr. Nugent recoils from.
In fact, when he condemns God for commanding things like the Israeli army to expel the Canaanites from the land, in order to condemn God for that there must exist some objective standard of right and wrong, good and evil, because on his view there really isn’t anything the matter with genocide. Steven Pinker of Harvard University asks,
“if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, [like Mr. Nugent believes] . . . how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong . . . rather than just distasteful to us?”
You can’t. And that is what Joel Marks came to see. They are not really wrong on a naturalistic view. They are just distasteful.
What then is the problem with the Old Testament command? The problem would have to be that there is some inconsistency between God’s being all-good and his issuing that command. But I have shown and argued that there is no such inconsistency. I show this in Question of the Week #16 on our website, and no one has yet tried to refute that demonstration. If Mr. Nugent wants to do more than make emotional appeals and rhetorical ploys, he needs to come to grips with that argument.
We’ve heard nothing about the resurrection of Jesus for which we have solid historical information.
As for the experience of God, I would deny that the Islamic God is true because there are good defeaters of Islam – good rational objections to it. But I do not think – and we have not heard – comparable objections to Christian theism that would make me think that my Christian experience is delusory.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. We are going to continue with highlights from Dr. Craig’s Ireland tour when he had a debate with the atheist Daniel Came; that will be on the next podcast. We’ll see you then on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s pick up where we left off last time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We’ve been looking at a list of what Mike Manea says are some flawed foundations that show up whenever we get into debates with our atheist friends. He’s listed a bunch of these. We’ll pick it up at number 5.
5) Naturalism in science
I think Mike is talking about methodological naturalism here. He says,
I mentioned above that science works under an assumption of naturalism. What this means is that science has a built in bias toward naturalism and against god and the supernatural. Professional atheist debaters will be aware of this but we must be careful since they could still use this fact to play on the ignorance of the audience.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: He is talking there about a methodological naturalism. Not that science is committed to metaphysical naturalism – the unreality of God and the supernatural – but that rather when you work as a scientist you assume a methodology that you will only seek natural causes. I don’t know whether science presupposes methodological naturalism. I think that is probably up to the individual scientist whether he does that. Certainly intelligent design theorists don’t presuppose methodological naturalism, and yet I think they are doing science. So it is not clear to me that this is inherent to the scientific enterprise. But in any case, even if it is, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use scientific evidence to establish a premise in an argument – a premise which is religiously neutral – but goes to support a theistic conclusion. For example, a methodologically naturalistic science can support the proposition or premise that the universe began to exist or that the fine-tuning of the universe is not due to physical necessity. Those are purely natural conclusions, and so a science committed to methodological naturalism can support those premises. Yet those premises can be significant in an argument for a conclusion having theistic significance.
KEVIN HARRIS: I think number six here is along these same lines. He says,
6) Naturalistic assumptions confirmed
Atheists will often say that the success of the scientific method confirms the naturalistic assumptions of science. Except that it doesn’t. Supernaturalism or belief in god in no way implies that everything in nature has to function through supernatural means causing the scientific method to fail often.
DR. CRAIG:Right. You can’t use science to support an epistemology of scientism which says that science is our only source of knowledge and truth. So I think he is quite right in challenging that assumption.
7) Death by lack of methodology
In the article by Barbara Forrest mentioned above she makes a very important point. She states that while we do have a methodology for studying the natural, we have no methodology for studying the supernatural and this in itself should be sufficient reason to dismiss it.
DR. CRAIG: It seems to me that that is presupposing the scientism that we’ve already rejected. I would say that the task of philosophy and metaphysics is to examine all of reality whether natural or supernatural. Therefore one is not hamstrung by the limits of scientism thinking that science is our only source of knowledge and truth.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number eight – boy we could go to town on this one!
8) Define ‘god’ and the ‘supernatural.’
Another problem that often comes up in these debates is that atheists use faulty definitions of the supernatural. . . .
When it comes to God it is often an anthropomorphic being of some kind with a long beard – your buddy in the sky, your sky buddy, your invisible friend, and things like that. Defining what supernatural means and defining God could go a long way in getting rid of that.
DR. CRAIG: He suggests defining God for purposes of debate as “an intelligent being that is not confined to our material universe but has the capacity to create such an universe.” That seems to me to be an acceptable concept of a kind of generic God.
KEVIN HARRIS: Supernatural – that has fallen on hard times. That just conjures up every haunted house TV show you’ve ever seen and things like that. Supernatural just doesn’t have the philosophical ring to it that it should in popular culture.
DR. CRAIG: Right, whereas here he means by supernatural “any phenomenon which has its basis in entities and processes that transcend the spatiotemporal realm of impersonal matter and energy described by modern science.” That is, again I think, an acceptable and neutral definition.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s go to number eleven, just to skip down.
11) Tackle one point at a time
I’ve heard this often. Our atheist friends say, You are giving me the Gish Gallup. You list all these things that Duane Gish, the creationist, did in his debates when he was alive. He would throw out so many things that there is no way you are ever going to answer them. 50,000 things! [laughter] He says a good example of this is if somebody throws 15 alleged Bible contradictions, just pick the best 10 and we’ll discuss those rather than try to spend hours on a trail.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. I agree that in a debate situation you want to limit yourself to a limited number of arguments. I typically present five arguments in support of theism which involve multiple premises that can then be discussed. But you do want to have a limited number of things to argue about to keep the debate under control. Where I would disagree with him here, though, is what in the world is he arguing about Bible contradictions for? I thought this was supposed to be a debate with an atheist over whether or not God exists and then whether or not Christian theism is true. He is allowing the atheist debater to make him pursue red herrings rather than stick to the debate topic. That is a fundamental failure of debate strategy.
KEVIN HARRIS: You have to smell those red herrings coming!
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, a red herring, you’ll remember, is a smelly fish that is dragged across the path of the bloodhounds to distract them into chasing after the fish rather than their real quarry. Similarly, to bring up Bible contradictions in a debate over the existence of God is just such a red herring.
KEVIN HARRIS: I want to wrap up today with number thirteen because this really kind of jolted me. I realized that it is true. He says (our atheist friends aren’t going to like this at all),
13) Atheism as a cult
Whether someone belongs to an organized cult or not, there is such a thing as a cult-mindset. Cult-minded people are especially difficult to reason with and this for specific reasons:
For the life of me, it never occurred to me that what can be characterized in a cult mindset is actually what I see from Internet atheists – every one of those. This gets away from debating the atheist into kind of a one-on-one conversation. Right? If you are having a dialogue with someone and they are just hardened in their presumptions and in their worldview, stuck in their worldview this way, you – what? – got some work to do to dig that out?
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, it may be that in the case of trying to win someone in a cult that what will be more effective is becoming a genuine friend of that person, showing that person real love and concern, and not rejecting them simply because they won’t accept your Christian worldview. It may be that personal touch that will help to extract them from that cult with which they identify and form their sense of self-identity and worth.
KEVIN HARRIS: I’m glad that Mike has the concern and has taken the time to interact with people online and represent his faith.
DR. CRAIG: That is right. We desperately need folks who are willing to be salt and light in the world of the Internet and contending for the Christian faith.
Sometimes the debate is over before it begins! Dr. Craig examines common mistakes we make when debating
KEVIN HARRIS: Hey! Glad you made it to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. It’s Kevin Harris. We’ve got a two-part podcast we are beginning today. Do you ever get into online debates on atheism versus theism or the Christian faith? I think it is pretty safe to assume that most regular listeners to this podcast get into debates online quite often. And I am not saying it is something you should definitely do because it can be very frustrating, people can be very abusive, and it can take up a lot of your time. However, most Christians would probably agree that the opportunities for ministry online are beyond enormous. So what are some common foundations and assumptions that tend to come up constantly in theological or philosophical debates both online and face-to-face? A listener sent me an article by Mike Manea who is a Christian and has been debating online for years. He has identified common features and common pitfalls present in these dialogues. I personally find that he is real accurate on this. Recently Dr. Craig and I got together so I could get his take on this article in which Mike identifies what he thinks are some flawed foundational reasoning that skews the atheist’s entire philosophical platform.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: This is presented by Mike as a manual for debating atheists. So what he is going to be giving us here are some guidelines for effectively debating atheists.
KEVIN HARRIS: One of their foundational reasons goes as follows,
1) Since the theist is the one making a claim (that god exists) the burden of proof is entirely on him to support that claim. If the theist cannot meet this burden then he is wrong and atheism is the only rational position.
We’ve talked about that but I bet I run into that forty times a day; not to exaggerate but that is always . . . You have the burden of proof if you are a theist.
DR. CRAIG: That’s wrong to think that there are differential burdens of proof between theists and atheists. The burden of proof in a debate situation lies upon the person who is defending a proposition or a claim. So if you are defending the proposition “God exists” then you have the burden of proof. On the other hand, if you are defending the proposition “God does not exist” then you also have a burden of proof to prove that proposition. The only case in a debate situation in which the negative team would not have a burden of proof to bear would be when the proposition is stated entirely in the affirmative: “Resolved that God exists.” In that case the atheist is correct – the burden of proof would be entirely on the theist. But if the debate question is worded in the form of an interrogative sentence like “Does God exist?” then if the atheist is prepared to answer “no” then he has to offer arguments and evidence in support of the proposition that God does not exist.
KEVIN HARRIS: In that sense we would share the burden of proof.
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: Number two, one of our favorite phrases,
2) The claim that a god exists is an extraordinary claim and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
You have been running into that for a long time.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, and it sounds so common-sensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false. If you look at the probability calculus in the way the probability of certain hypotheses are calculated, it is simply not true that an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence in order for it to be the most probable hypothesis. This claim is just demonstrably false.
3) The only trustworthy and therefore the only acceptable form of evidence is scientific evidence.
DR. CRAIG: That statement is self-defeating because that is a statement which itself cannot be scientifically proven and therefore no one should believe it if you are a scientist epistemologist – somebody who believes that science is our only source of knowledge. This kind of naive scientism or verificationism is really self-defeating.
KEVIN HARRIS: Mike says,
(The atheist already knows that no theist is ever going to meet this burden and is therefore fully convinced that his atheism is justified making further discussion futile.)
DR. CRAIG: Maybe what one should do is challenge these three assumptions so as to make further discussion profitable. If you can show the atheist that he hasn’t been able to give good reasons to accept these assumptions then perhaps one could make some progress.
KEVIN HARRIS: Here are some preliminary suggestions that he has when interacting with an atheist.
1) Break the debate into two parts: (a) Does ‘a’ god exists and, (b) Can this god be the God of Christianity.
DR. CRAIG:Right. That is the division traditionally between natural theology, which argues for a kind of generic theism, and Christian evidences which would be evidence for a Christian monotheism. This is the approach that I’ve taken in my apologetics, which is the classical model for apologetics.
2) Agree on what constitutes acceptable evidence and start with a blank slate.
I’ve found myself doing this from time to time. I’ll be debating someone and they would say, oh yeah? Give me some evidence for God! They will type that back at me in the chat room or wherever, and I’ll usually ask, What do you consider as good evidence before I spend my time sending you some?
DR. CRAIG: That’s fair. I think the idea of starting with a blank slate is quite wrong. None of us starts with a blank slate. We are going to begin with things like the laws of logic, for example, and the reliability of our senses in conveying to us facts about the external world and so forth. So don’t think that you start with a kind of Cartesian doubt or blank slate. But it is good to find common ground with your conversation partner so that you are arguing on the basis of facts that you both accept.
KEVIN HARRIS: So common ground is what we are looking for?
DR. CRAIG: Yeah.
3) Establish burden of proof.
I think that he is saying here that you need to point out what you just pointed out about what constitutes burden of proof, what burden of proof means, and what sharing the burden of proof means.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. As we say in a debate situation, the person who is defending the proposition has the burden of proof to provide arguments and evidence in support of that proposition.
KEVIN HARRIS: That holds for a debate but even in just kind of a friendly discussion. If you are trying to get at some truth you have to sometimes point that out.
DR. CRAIG: This is a manual for debating, and so that is why I said in the debate context. If I am in a personal conversation with you, in one sense I don’t have any burden to prove anything to you! Who gives me that burden? I can just share with you what I believe as a Christian and you might not have any good reason to believe in it, but it is not as though there is any kind of a burden that is upon me.
4) No default position.
I run into this a lot. And that is that naturalism or atheism is the default. So you’ve got to do the work to get me away from the default.
DR. CRAIG: Right. This is really making the same point that we’ve already talked about. The person who defends a proposition like “God does not exist” has a burden of proof to support that. I don’t think that means there is no default position. The default position would be someone who doesn’t assert anything – the agnostic – who says,I don’t know whether God exists. I don’t know whether God does not exist. He doesn’t make any assertion, and therefore he doesn’t have any burden to bear because he makes no assertion. But that wouldn’t be a very interesting debate, probably, unless the debates were formulated entirely so as to put the burden of proof on the theist.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Let’s pick it up right there next time for part two. We are going to get into some more flawed thinking that often comes up, in particular when it comes to science and naturalism and the supernatural. We’ll see you then on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.