Breaking the silence to make an annoucement

Hey all,

It’s been a long time since I have posted here. I wanted to let you know I have created a site called “Is Jesus Alive?” which is meant to be an outreach tool and quick reference that you can use for sharing the gospel and the evidence for the resurrection.

Also, there is a blog on the site that you can read and subscribe to via email. While I’ve not been blogging about apologetics for a while, I feel that God is leading me to get back into it. My plan is to post at least twice a week.

The blog will be focused not just on how to defend the faith, but also how to be a well-rounded apologist. It’s not just about winning arguments, we want to please God in every arena of our lives and actually evangelize, not just excel at logical debate.

Thanks for the support and please check it out!

John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel

John Piper is one of the more outspoken critics of the so-called prosperity gospel, which is a pejorative term for what I think is a biblical, yet often misconstrued doctrine. In his view, the prosperity gospel is a different gospel, echoing the apostle Paul’s anathemas pronounced upon legalizing heretics. Along with Piper, I agree that ministers of the gospel that are twisting the scriptures for their own profiteering are deserving of serious censure; one need only to turn on certain Christian television shows to see such ridiculous and abominable practices. These are blemishes on the body that discredit the gospel and diminish God’s love and glory. But one should not lump all Christian ministers who teach that God is interested in blessing us materially as heretics.

Prosperity is a theme woven throughout the bible, from the biblical narrative of creation to the coming of the New Jerusalem. The writer of Proverbs unashamedly says that the blessing of the Lord makes one rich and he adds no sorrow with it. (Proverbs 10:22) Moses tells us that God would give his people power to get wealth, but warned them not to forget him when they were experiencing days of heaven upon the earth. (Deut. 8:18-21) The apostle Paul said that he desired that the Corinthians be made rich in every way for all generosity. (2 Cor. 9:8-11) Paul also mentions giving as one of the varieties of gifts in the body of Christ, and clearly one cannot excel in giving if that person has little wealth. (Rom. 12:8) These verses affirm the goodness of God’s creation, which includes material wealth as part of his blessing.

Piper raises a few scriptural arguments as defeaters of the prosperity message, but clearly the Bible cannot denounce prosperity and affirm it at the same time and remain a reliable revelation. So somewhere Piper’s arguments must have gone astray.

He refers to the story of the rich young ruler and Jesus words about the difficulty of those with riches to enter into the kingdom of God. This may be true, but if one is already in the kingdom and gains wealth through exercising godly traits such as diligence, honesty, wisdom and generosity would have any difficulty maintaining their place in the kingdom if their nature and character has already been formed in Jesus. Moreover, what of other rich men in the Bible that God praises for their generosity, hospitality and faith — such as Abraham, David or Joseph of Arimathea? I would also add that I don’t see how given Piper’s Calvinism anything could hinder God from saving whoever he chose for salvation. On Piper’s view, God’s grace is irresistible, so whether one is rich or poor if they are part of the elect, they will be saved regardless. But leaving that aside, the problem was not so much the young man’s riches but his heart. In the young ruler’s case, riches was a hindrance because of the condition of his heart. He valued wealth more than following Jesus. But if one already values loving Christ more than above all else, then for that person riches would be a tool to bless, not an idol to distract.

Piper goes on to quote 1 Timothy 6:9 and says that those who want to be rich are on par with the person who is suicidal or self-abusive, for Paul says to Timothy that those who “will be rich pierce themselves with many sorrows”. But Paul tells Timothy very clearly that the love of money is the root of all evil. There is nothing inherently evil about money itself. Money is an instrument, as a weapon is. There is nothing wrong with guns, it is murderous people with guns that cause problems. Likewise, there is nothing evil about money, it is money in the hands of covetous people that is harmful.

Piper continues by implying that the so-called prosperity gospel will not work in the poorer parts of the earth. But given that financial prosperity is relative from nation to nation or even state to state in America, what is wealth in one place is poverty in other place. So a villager in a third world country who has enough water to share with his neighbors would be considered prosperous. But a person in America who has taken for granted the luxury of running water yet is unable to afford to pay their bills would not really be considered prosperous in the biblical sense of being “all sufficient in all things and able to give into every good work.”

I believe the heart of the issue is that Piper’s view of sovereignty is at odds with the prosperity message simply on the basis that if God wants someone to be rich, they’ll be rich. And if he wants them to be poor, they will be poor. Because on his view God’s will is never thwarted, God cannot possibly want every Christian to be rich, because there are many believers who God has chosen to be poor until the eschaton. But imagine a wealthy billionaire who had two sons. He provided for one son all that he needed, but for the other he refused help no matter how legitimate the other son’s needs were or how much he pleaded for help. And say that before either of the children were born this father purposed in his heart to care for one but withhold from the other. We would not call this father morally praiseworthy, we’d call him capricious and arbitrary at best.

1 Timothy 5:8 says that those who do not care for those in their own household are worse than an infidel. God’s good cannot be our evil; his commands are a reflection of his loving nature. He has revealed himself as our Father. That means he will not only train us and discipline us so that we may have good character but that he will also take care of us.

So I agree with Piper that those who are teaching prosperity in a deceptive and perverted manner are worthy of condemnation, I strongly disagree with him that wealth is evil or cannot be pursued by the godly believer. If such were the case, the person who aspires to be successful Christian entrepreneur like Samuel Truett Cathy (Chick Fil A), Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay cosmetics) or David Green (Hobby Lobby) is in sin, which is absurd.

We do well to remember that God’s creation is good, it is only our rebellious wills that are evil that turn money into a false god. Poverty is a man’s destruction (Proverbs 10:15) and should be met with resistance, and not acquiesced in as part of God’s mysterious sovereign plan. While we should shun covetousness and the idea that wealth is a sign of godliness, we should not allow the traditions of men to stagnate any person’s God-given desire to prosper financially, assuming their motives are pure.

The Test of Tebow

Tim Tebow

Image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

Lately there has been quite a stir on the internet about Tim Tebow, the professional football player that so many love to hate. Ever since he’s come into the spotlight a few years ago, I’ve honestly been surprised and made uncomfortable at some of the irrational hatred directed towards Tebow. A few weeks back, George Weigel voiced what I’ve often wondered:

No, Tim Tebow is a target of irrational hatred, not because he’s an iffy quarterback at the NFL level, or a creep personally, or an obnoxious, in-your-face, self-righteous proselytizer. He draws hatred because he is an unabashed Christian, whose calmness and decency in the face of his Christophobic detractors drives them crazy. Tim Tebow, in other words, is a prime example of why Christophobia—a neologism first coined by a world-class comparative constitutional law scholar, J.H.H. Weiler, himself an Orthodox Jew—is a serious cultural problem in these United States.

While I’ve thought this, I never wanted to express it out of fear of looking like a christian with a persecution complex. But hatred for Tebow because of his religious convictions is really out there, it’s not something that we can just dismiss. Take for instance this ugly, hate filled rant by Jeff Pearlman (who has written for Sports Illustrated and

Tim Tebow scares me, and judging from his father’s website, his upcoming Super Bowl ad and mounting knowledge of his way of life, he should scare you, too. Tim Tebow doesn’t play football merely for the joy of the game. He plays football because he wants to spread the word of Jesus Christ. But not merely spread it. He wants you to accept it and, if you don’t embrace it, he wants you to think again about embracing it. And, if you still don’t embrace it, he wants you to think again. And again. And again. If, in the end, you’re still not sold, you will burn in hell. This is not merely Tim Tebow’s opinion ”but he knows it, in his soul and heart and mind. Christians who accept Jesus will spend an eternity in bliss. Those who don’t are doomed.

Some call this faith.

I call it f***ing insanity.

I know, I know ”everyone has a right to believe what they want … faith is admirable … you’ve gotta respect his feelings. Well, bulls***.

I do not have to respect this sort of damaging craziness, where a group of people go to foreign, oft-Third World nations and convert the so-thought-of “savages” (ie: those who don’t know Christ).

Forgive the expletives and straw men. I suppose I can appreciate Pearlman’s honesty. Don’t misunderstand me, it would be absurd to say that everyone who hates Tebow hates him because he did a pro-life Super Bowl ad with Focus on the Family, or that he said he was going to save himself for marriage, or that he does missionary work and puts scriptures on his eye black.

I’m sure there are a ton of people who dislike him for the same reason they dislike Brett Favre. Call it media-fatigue syndrome. People simply get annoyed of hearing how “he wears his heart on his sleeve” and “he just knows how to win”. As a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I can sympathize. The fanbase falls in love with just about every undersized hustling scrub that dons the birds on the bat. (see Eckstein, David) I’ve come to loath the adjectives “scrappy”, “gritty” “little things” and “hustle” when they come out of people’s mouths.  Dealing with fans of those players makes me tired.

But can we just admit that some — like Jeff Pearlman and his merry band of followers for instance — despise Tim Tebow because he is an outspoken evangelical Christian? Or to put it more mildly, can’t we just confess that some fans would dislike Tebow just a bit less if he shared their same worldview? What if he was the same player, but was very outspoken about animal rights, or gay marriage, etc.? Sports tends to bring out our irrationality, but I’ve seen too much mockery, derision and just plain venom spewed in his direction for comfort.

I will grant that I believe that because Tebow is so outspoken about controversial issues does open himself to criticism. I think every person’s worldview is up for debate and should be tested on its logical consistency, correspondence to reality, explanatory scope and power, etc. But far too often this isn’t the case, rather we get the really bizarre and irrational disgust and disdain. Or often I see that “he should just keep his beliefs more private”, but these people are often not private about their own beliefs, like the belief that Christians or pro-lifers should keep their mouth shut.

For Christians, I think Tebow presents us with a challenge and an opportunity to discuss our faith, or the Christian perspective on the abortion issue and premarital sex. In case you haven’t noticed, here in ‘merica a lot of people pay attention to football, and many that don’t at least pretend to around the lunch table. And these people very likely have an opinion about Tebow.

If it comes up, I believe we should come right out and ask why it is that  they don’t like him. If they bring up some of his convictions, ask them what about his convictions they disagree with. Hopefully you’ve done your homework and obeyed 1 Peter 3:15, which says “but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

If you haven’t, well…get with it. There are a ton of places on the internet where Christians can begin to become equipped to make the case for Christianity and handle some of the toughest objections critics can raise. There’s really no excuse for Christians to not be able to offer reasons for their faith. Being the lightening rod that Tebow is, he’s given believers an open door to get into the game in the field of sharing our faith, if you can pardon the terrible pun. I believe that is pretty much what Tebow is going for.

Paul’s Conversion: Evidence for the Truth of Christianity

Conversion of St Paul

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“And here let me pause to say that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of St. Paul’s conversion as one of the evidences of Christianity. That he should have passed, by one flash of conviction, not only from darkness to light, but from one direction of life to the very opposite, is not only characteristic of the man, but evidential of the power and significance of Christianity. That the same man who, just before, was persecuting Christianity with the most violent hatred, should come all at once to believe in Him whose followers he had been seeking to destroy, and that in this faith he should become a “new creature”—what is this but a victory which Christianity owed to nothing but the spell of its own inherent power? Of all who have been converted to the faith of Christ, there is not one in whose case the Christian principle broke so immediately through everything opposed to it, and asserted so absolutely its triumphant superiority. Henceforth to Paul Christianity was summed up in the one word Christ.

And to what does he testify respecting Jesus? To almost every single primarily important fact respecting His Incarnation, Life, Sufferings, Betrayal, Last Supper, Trial, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Heavenly Exaltation. We complain that nearly two thousand years have passed away, and that the brightness of historical events is apt to fade, and even their very outline to be obliterated, as they sink into the “dark backward and abysm of time.” Well, but are we more keen-sighted, more hostile, more eager to disprove the evidence, than the consummate legalist, the admired rabbi, the commissioner of the Sanhedrin, the leading intellect in the schools—learned as Hillel, patriotic as Judas of Gaulon, burning with zeal for the Law as intense as that of Shammai?

He was not separated from the events, as we are, by centuries of time. He was not liable to be blinded, as we are, by the dazzling glamour of a victorious Christendom. He had mingled daily with men who had watched from Bethlehem to Golgotha the life of the Crucified,—not only with His simple-hearted followers, but with His learned and powerful enemies. He had talked with the priests who had consigned Him to the cross; he had put to death the followers who had wept beside His tomb. He had to face the unutterable horror which, to any orthodox Jew, was involved in the thought of a Messiah who “had hung upon a tree.”

He had heard again and again the proofs which satisfied an Annas and a Gamaliel that Jesus was a deceiver of the people. The events on which the Apostles relied, in proof of His divinity, had taken place in the full blaze of contemporary knowledge. He had not to deal with uncertainties of criticism or assaults on authenticity. He could question, not ancient documents, but living men; he could analyse, not fragmentary records, but existing evidence. He had thousands of means close at hand whereby to test the reality or unreality of the Resurrection in which, unto this time, he had so passionately and contemptuously disbelieved. In accepting this half-crushed and wholly execrated faith he had everything in the world to lose—he had nothing conceivable to gain; and yet, in spite of all—overwhelmed by a conviction which he felt to be irresistible—Saul, the Pharisee, became a witness of the Resurrection, a preacher of the Cross.”

-The life and work of St. Paul, Volume 1, By Frederic William Farrar pp 114-115

Can a Christian vote for a Mormon?

Governor Mitt Romney of MA

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Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has been put into the campaign spotlight once again. Per the NY Daily News:

The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas was introducing Perry to conservatives at the Values Voters Summit when he dissed Romney, saying that, as a Mormon, he isn’t really Christian and, thus, isn’t competent to run the country.

“I think Mitt Romney’s a good, moral man, but those of us who are born again followers of Christ should prefer a competent Christian,” Jeffress told the crowd in Tiffin, Iowa.

Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons.

“Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” Jeffress said. “Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

There are a lot of troubling things with this statement by Rev. Jeffress. To start with, the world “cult” is often thrown around loosely in Christian circles. If you define “cult” in the harsher sense as “a quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents” then I’m not quite sure Mormonism qualifies. If Jeffress means “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” then I think his criticism hits the mark. Mormons do have some rather weird beliefs that do not mesh with orthodox Christianity, such as the doctrine of divine progression, that God has a physical body and lives on the planet Kolob, etc. However, how this exactly is all relevant to Romney’s candidacy is a bit hard for me to follow. Mormonism might be theologically out to lunch in the sense that its teachings are unorthodox and its claims are based on fables, but it doesn’t follow that all of their beliefs and ethics are therefore untrue.

For example, if I understand the Mormon view of humanity correctly, God the father used to be a man on another planet. The father god progressed into Godhood by living after the laws of the God on that planet. He then came to this world with his wife (a goddess?), and that they had billions of spirit babies in heaven. These children include the entire human and angelic race on earth, from Jesus to Lucifer to me and to you. All of our memories of that pre-existent state in heaven are erased at our birth. Therefore, human life is a sacred gift and elective abortion is grounds for being dismissed from the church.

Now, that is an odd theological view of humankind, but nonetheless it serves as their basis for being pro-life, which I think is a correct ethical belief. Someone else who may have no faith at all might simply believe simply read an embryology textbook and find out that human development begins at fertilization and come to the same conclusion as the Mormon, that abortion is wrong. The point is that people can hold true beliefs that are derivative from that faith but can be defended as true separately of it, and that includes people whose faith we might think is pretty “out there”.

What is important is not how Mr. Romney derives his beliefs, but what his real beliefs actually are and how they are relevant to the presidency. As far as I can tell, Mormons like most theists (and even many non-theists) hold that human life is precious, that morality is objective and binding, that all have certain natural rights etc. One’s theological beliefs should not decide whether one is fit for the presidency, but their qualifications to actually do the job in question. I think that attacking a person’s credentials to be president based on their faith is wrong, and only serves to further the unfortunate stereotype that Christians are illogical bigots.

(In case any of you are wondering, I have no dog in this fight. I am undecided and probably will remain so up until the time of the primaries. I did not vote for Mr. Romney in 2008.)

Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?

The Thinker

Image by 4johnny5 via Flickr

The writers at tell us that those who are more intuitive are people who are more likely to have faith in God.

Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

The headline of the article reads that “belief in God boils down to a gut feeling”. I think some may read this article and walk away with the feeling that belief in God is therefore unjustified, or even irrational. To use an example, a football coach may decide to “go for it” on 4th and short based on a hunch and have it end up backfiring and costing his team valuable field position, or possibly even the game. The last thing fans want to hear from the coach is that he went with his gut. Intuition isn’t always the best justification for our beliefs.

But when considering the question of God’s existence, the answer is not like taking a math quiz or gambling field position in a football game. Some truths that are known intuitively are perfectly justified. Intuition could be defined as pure, untaught, inferential knowledge. In other words, some things are self-evident. Take for instance moral facts. Moral facts cannot be proven scientifically. You can describe what happens to a woman psychologically or physiologically when she is being raped by a man, but science cannot tell you why one ought not to rape a woman. That is something we infer based upon on our moral intuitions. We just know that some things are just plain wrong. Thomas Aquinas once wrote  “A truth can come into the mind in two ways, namely as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself is like a principle, and is perceived immediately by the mind….It is a firm and easy quality of mind which sees into principles.”

Moreover, if we continue to ask for justification for everything we can possibly know, we fall into an infinite regress. Greg Koukl states that..

If it’s always necessary to give a justification for everything we know, then knowledge would be impossible, because we could never answer an infinite series of questions. It’s clear, though, that we do know some things without having to go through the regress. Therefore, not every bit of knowledge requires justification based on prior steps of reasoning. Eventually you’re going to be pushed back to something foundational, something you seem to have a direct awareness of and for which you need no further evidence.

Furthermore, if God does exist and he wants to be known and he wants us to act a certain way towards him and our fellow-man, one way he can make himself known is through instilling in intuitions so that we respond in such a way he would like. We can then choose to stifle those intuitions, play dumb and demand an unreasonable amount of evidence – or we can choose to respond.

Finally, I would also say that being a more reflective person does not necessarily mean one will end up being an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary. As Francis Bacon famously quipped. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

When one seriously reflects on things such as what could be the first cause of the universe, or why the universe displays such exquisite design, or what is the basis for moral facts, or how the Christian faith originated, they will find that faith cannot only be grasped intuitively, but also intellectually.

Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a “Greater Good”?

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

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Shortly after 9/11, people were seeking answers about why God could allow such a terrible tragedy. Some Christians made some unfortunate comments,  attributing the tragedies to the judgment of an angry God. Others said that God had some mysterious purpose in allowing it to happen. We were told that somehow he was going to bring about a greater good through it. The “greater good theodicy” is a common Christian response in the attempt to undercut the atheistic argument from evil. But is this answer a good answer?

While I certainly don’t disagree that God can and does at times bring good out of evil, I’m convinced that the greater good theodicy is plagued with problems. First, let me define some terms. A theodicy is defined as “The vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.” The defender of the greater good theodicy wants to deny that there is such a thing as gratuitous evil. They would say that God allows only that evil into this world from which He can bring about a greater good or prevent a worse evil.

Gratuitous evil is basically defined as evil that does not serve a greater good or purpose. The greater good theodicist would claim every moral evil works together to serve the greater good. So where does the trouble lie for the greater good theodicy?

For starters, we have no way to show the skeptic that a greater good obtains. There is no evidence to support the claim. In the example of 9/11, one might respond that 9/11 led to a lot of positive changes in our nation’s awareness of terrorism and security, but how many lives lost exactly did it take to cause such changes to come about? Couldn’t it have been that many more people had been spared in order for such changes to take place? Furthermore, there is no objective criteria for measuring the good. How do we know how much good counterbalances a particular evil? We don’t.

The greater good theodicy also seems to undermine the doctrine of petitionary prayer. If God wants us to suffer from such things as terrorists attacks to bring some sort of good out it, why bother praying for such a thing as the protection and safety promised in the 91st Psalm, or asking him to heal those effected by the tragedy? The greater good theodicy also seems muddy the waters in alleviating the suffering of our neighbors around us. For if God has allowed certain evils for a greater good, why should we work to stop injustices when greater goods will ultimately come about if we simply allow them to happen?

I think the most difficult problem of the greater good theodicy is it seems to make evil necessary; for without the evil it follows that certain goods cannot obtain. This means that ultimately God is planning the evil to bring certain good about. If evil isn’t necessary, then we’re back to the question about why God allowed the evil in the first place. I also think the greater good theodicy also commits God to a moral philosophy of consequentialism, which means that God would then be determining the correctness of a certain cause by the goodness of the outcome. An example of this was the terrible U.S. bombings of Japan. The Truman administration and its defenders justified that atomic bombs being dropped on Japan would’ve saved more lives than an military invasion ever would. Of course, God would be in a place to know these things, but then others lives must be sacrificed to bring about a greater good. It certainly isn’t good for those who suffer an untimely demise. Moreover, we see in scripture God condemns that we do evil to bring certain goods about. (see Romans 3:8, 6:1)

When faced with questions about tragedies of a similar nature, Jesus did not appeal to such reasoning.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Because we live in a fallen world in which the curse is a very real, pointless evil is possible and God is justified in allowing it. But for those who are Christians are given authority over the evil around us, as well as the Holy Spirit, who can supernaturally warn them of danger if they are attentive. (see Luke 10:19, Romans 5:12-17, James 4:7, John 16:13, Acts 20:23)

We must all be ready to meet our Creator, to whom we all must give an account of our lives. Jesus put the focus on the condition of our hearts and the brevity of our lives. God unequivocally condemns evil, and he came to redeem us from evil if we freely choose to receive him. Instead of looking for some greater good to come from atrocities such as 9/11, we should be looking to spread the mercy and love of God to those hurting around us.

(I’m particularly indebted to Dr. Bruce Little’s insights on the problem of evil for much of the content on this post.)

Apologetics Bloggers Alliance collaboration for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 (Various theological views are represented. Bear in mind that linkage doesn’t equal full agreement)

Isn’t it arrogant and immoral for Christians to evangelize?

Are Christian missionaries doing something wrong by trying to share their faith with others? I mean, they have to believe that they have some elite status with God. After all, they think that their faith has given some sort of audience with God, and those who do not hold to their particular view are mistaken and are failing to embrace something that is extremely important. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be handing you that tract or knocking on your front door on Saturday morning when you’re trying to watch College Gameday. For them to push their beliefs on someone has to be the apex of spiritually snobbery, no?

So what is the young and eager missionary to do, other than look for a new line of work? Well, she or he could stop believing that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” altogether, or they could just be agnostic about it, refusing to believe one way or the other. For the Bible-believing Christian, neither option is appealing.

If the missionary chooses the former, he’s still being exclusive, because now he’s saying Christians are wrong and what he believes is right. If he chooses the latter and decides to withhold judgment, it’s just a tacit way of saying that his status is privileged. After all, if people were smart as he was, they’d follow his lead. So really there is no neutral ground to be found. The criticism that there cannot be only one way to God is a double-edged sword. In saying that the missionary is arrogant and immoral, the religious pluralist wants you to adopt their view that there can’t be only one way to God. But then by their own criteria, they are arrogant and immoral. Therefore, I don’t think the arrogance charge sticks.

You really think you're better than me, don't you?!

Moreover, it could be that the missionary has done their due diligence in looking at other religions and worldviews and concluded that the Christian worldview has the most explanatory power and scope. Furthermore, they may have had an life-changing encounter of God’s love through Christ and want to share that with others.

Think about it: This might be a crude illustration, but if you recently had car troubles and found a good, honest and affordable mechanic, wouldn’t you tell someone about this mechanic in the proper circumstance? Think about what the Christian believes, (or at least most do, I think): The Christian believes that they found the answers to the meaning, value and existence and that anyone can do likewise, not by merely adopting a moral code or repeating a creed, but by knowing Jesus as Lord. They believe they God can be personally experienced now and want to help lead others in enjoying that same experience.

Can they be blamed for wanting to share this with others? I fail to see how.

On Jerry Coyne and godless morality

Jerry Coyne at "Noorfest", Duke Univ...

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Earlier this month,  Jerry Coyne wrote an op-ed piece for the USA Today called “As atheists know, you can be good without God”. Coyne is an outspoken evolutionary scientist and an atheist. Coyne tries to prove that theists do not have the moral high ground, and to that end I agree with him in some sense. Atheists, of course, can be moral too. But I will argue that he has no basis for thinking that this morality is grounded in anything factual given his atheism.

Jerry seems to share in some of the fundamental misunderstandings that many atheists have when it comes to the moral argument for God’s existence. First, he brings out our old friend the Euthyphro Dilemma. I’ve written here recently that the Euthyphro Dilemma is really a false dilemma, but Coyne throws in a new wrinkle when he brings up that God not only can command us to do evil, but that He has! Coyne cites several examples of what modern Westerners would view as the more abhorrent commands of the Old Testament. Genocide! slavery! stoning! Oh, my!

Forgive me for being flippant, because I think these are valid concerns that should be thoughtfully answered.  The “abhorrent commands” objections take me beyond the scope of my point of this post, but I do recommend you to these helpful posts on Old Testament Ethics by Matthew Flannagan:

Mr. Coyne says that morality is not grounded in God but rather based upon evolution and our own reasoning.

So where does morality come from, if not from God? Two places: evolution and secular reasoning. Despite the notion that beasts behave bestially, scientists studying our primate relatives, such as chimpanzees, see evolutionary rudiments of morality: behaviors that look for all the world like altruism, sympathy, moral disapproval, sharing — even notions of fairness. This is exactly what we’d expect if human morality, like many other behaviors, is built partly on the genes of our ancestors.

First let me say that I do think atheists, theists, pantheists and pastafarians alike can recognize moral facts. Human beings recognize that being kind is morally right, and that burning down orphanages for fun is morally wrong. But are these moral facts simply natural facts? If moral facts are simply natural facts, I would argue that they simply descriptive but not prescriptive. Altruism, sympathy, moral disapproval, sharing and the notion of fairness is how the world happens to be, but if the atheist is correct and we’re all here by a massive string of cosmic flukes and not for a real purpose, then there is no way things are supposed to be.  The difficulty for Mr. Coyne and atheists like him is saying this is how it ought to be.

When a male duck forcibly mates with a female duck, that is the way nature is, but we don’t say that the duck is doing something it is morally wrong. When we see hyenas eating a young gazelle alive chunk-by-chunk (forgive me if you’re eating while reading this), that is the way nature is, but we don’t see it as morally wrong, it’s just nature functioning as nature does. Unless an atheist is committed to some sort of moral platonism, then for them natural facts are the only kind of facts. They apply to the duck, the hyena and the human being. When humans are nice or when humans are not so nice (think child abusers, rapists, terrorists, serial killers and the lot) we’re just merely describing what is, but it says nothing about what ought to be. Was it necessary that human beings evolved with this sense of morality?  Charles Darwin didn’t seem to think so. In his book, The Descent of Man, he says:

…[if] men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.

Michael Ruse, an atheistic philosopher at Florida State says:

The position of the modern evolutionist . . . is that humans have an awareness of morality . . . because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth . . . . Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves . . . . Nevertheless, . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory . . . .

So there is nothing objective about morality on the evolutionary account, they’re just illusions “fobbed on us by our genes”.  But if God exists, then he provides the necessary foundation for moral duty. And if God designed us with a certain end in mind, he can make human beings in His image with the ability to recognize and discover what is right and wrong.

While Jerry is right that all of us can recognize the difference between right and wrong, naturalism provides no foundation for moral duty; rather it’s just telling us how it is. Telling us how it ought to be is rather meaningless on naturalism because there is no telos to the universe on their view. They can continue to do right because that’s what they prefer, but it’s hard to see how morality would be objective on atheism. I think it makes sense to say that if moral facts exist, then atheism is very unlikely to be true, to put it modestly. I don’t think Coyne wants to say moral facts do not exist, but atheist philosophers like Michael Ruse (as well as J.L. Mackie, Nietzsche and others) are at least consistent in denying that moral facts exist in a godless world. Coyne tries to stick the theist in a dilemma, but I think at the end of the day he’s the one finding himself in a pickle when it comes to plausibly explaining  moral facts in purely naturalistic terms.