Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Are atheists paying attention to the weightiest demands of the moral law?

J. Warner Wallace looks at what Jesus says the most important commandment is, and then asks whether atheists can be justified morally if Jesus is right.

He writes:

I was an atheist for the first thirty-five years of my life. While I was a committed (and often aggressive) non-believer, most people who knew me would probably have described me as a “nice guy”. My behavior wasn’t all that different than many of my Christian friends. I worked with many other atheist police officers. We were often suspicious of the Christians in our midst and the people we arrested who claimed to be Christians. Even as atheists we were familiar with Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” My partner, Tim, used to say, “If there is a good God and a good Heaven, I think I will be there when it’s all over. I’m a good person. I try to ‘do the right thing’. I’m not a bad guy; I put bad people in jail. So I’m not worried about it.” Tim held a “works based” moral worldview and he was sure his good deeds would earn him a spot in Heaven if he was wrong about the existence of God. But Tim (and I) were unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching in its full context, and now, years later as a Christian, I’ve come to understand why the first part of the “Greatest Command” is even more important than the second.

When approached by a skeptic, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandments of God in the following way:

Matthew 22:35-40
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Most unbelievers recognize the value of the second half of this command (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) but deny the value of the first part (“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”) There’s a reason, however, why Jesus listed these two commands in this specific order. The first command (loving God) is the “great and foremost commandment” because it is required to achieve the second command (loving others). You can’t truly do the right thing unless you understand the relationship between these two commands:

Read the rest at Cold Case Christianity.

I’ve made the same point here many times, but I have never been an atheist and I don’t make the point in the same winsome way that Wallace does.

I think his post is worth sending along to any atheists you may know who think themselves justified. I think it is a mistake for people to derive their own version of morality based on the time and place where they are, and then think that picking and choosing the parts they like will justify them with God. Remember, a recent survey of atheists found that 97% of them favor abortion rights. I think this is consistent with the atheist view that there are no human rights, including a right to life. Moreover, in my experience, I have found that most atheists have no problem with the government stomping all over the consciences of Christians when it comes to things like gay rights. It’s important to show them that there is a standard independent of their personal opinions, justifications and rationalizations.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , ,

Statistics on whether atheists are more moral than religious people

Well, let’s take a look at the numbers with this article by Arthur Brooks, published by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Excerpt:

How do religious and secular people vary in their charitable behavior? To answer this, I turn to data collected expressly to explore patterns in American civic life. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) was undertaken in 2000 by researchers at universities throughout the United States and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. The data consist of nearly 30,000 observations drawn from 50 communities across the United States and ask individuals about their “civic behavior,” including their giving and volunteering during the year preceding the survey.

From these data, I have constructed two measures of religious participation. First, the group I refer to as “religious” are the respondents that report attending religious services every week or more often. This is 33 percent of the sample. Second, the group I call “secular” report attending religious services less than a few times per year or explicitly say they have no religion. These people are 26 percent of the sample (implying that those who practice their religion occasionally make up 41 percent of the sample). The SCCBS asked respondents whether and how much they gave and volunteered to “religious causes” or “non-religious charities” over the previous 12 months. Across the whole population, 81 percent gave, while 57 percent volunteered.

The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions.

Socioeconomically, the religious and secular groups are similar in some ways and different in others. For example, there is little difference between the groups in income (both have average household incomes around $49,000) or education level (20 percent of each group holds a college degree). On the other hand, the secular group is disproportionately male (49 percent to 32 percent), unmarried (58 percent to 40 percent), and young (42 to 49 years old, on average). In addition, the SCCBS data show that religion and secularism break down on ideological lines: Religious people are 38 percentage points more likely to say they are conservative than to say they are liberal (57 percent to 19 percent). In contrast, secular people are 13 points more likely to say they are liberal than to say they are conservative (42 percent to 29 percent).

It is possible, of course, that the charity differences between secular and religious people are due to these nonreligious socioeconomic differences. To investigate this possibility, I used a statistical procedure called probit regression to examine the role of religious practice in isolation from all other relevant demographic characteristics: political beliefs, income (and hence, indirectly, the tax incentives for giving), education level, gender, age, race, marital status, and area of residence. The data show that if two people — one religious and the other secular — are identical in every other way, the secular person is 23 percentage points less likely to give than the religious person and 26 points less likely to volunteer.

Honestly, I’ve always struggled to understand how giving to charity could be rational, on atheism. If you are only alive for 80 years, and the purpose of your life is to be happy, then the only reason I can think of to give anything away to anyone is because it makes you feel happier or more respected or something. Maybe because you like thinking of yourself as moral, or maybe because you want to be seen as moral, or maybe because you want a tax deduction, or maybe something else. But if this is the only life you are ever going to have, and people are just collections of atoms, then why care about what anyone is doing? We’re all just accidents anyway, on atheism, and we’re going to die out eventually. There are no objective moral duties – we are accidents on the atheist view. One set of atoms giving some atoms to another set of atoms, and then in the end all the atoms get scattered: who cares?

Look:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

They may live better than that for whatever whim, but goodness is not rational within their worldview. And we want to be rational about morality, because as the numbers show, having a reason to be good makes a big difference in whether actually do good. As opposed to just claiming to be good. Anyone can say anything, but their rational beliefs are the rails on which they run their lives.

Here’s something interesting I found about the leaders of the two political parties in this country.

Excerpt:

In 2009, the Obamas gave 5.9 percent of their income to charity, about the same as they gave in 2006 and 2007. In the eight years before he became president, Obama gave an average of 3.5 percent of his income to charity, upping that to 6.5 percent in 2008.

The Obamas’ charitable giving is equally divided between “hope” and “change.”

George W. Bush gave away more than 10 percent of his income each year he was president, as he did before becoming president.

Thus, in 2005, Obama gave about the same dollar amount to charity as President George Bush did, on an income of $1.7 million — more than twice as much as President Bush’s $735,180. Again in 2006, Bush gave more to charity than Obama on an income one-third smaller than Obama’s.

In the decade before Joe Biden became vice president, the Bidens gave a total — all 10 years combined — of $3,690 to charity, or 0.2 percent of their income. They gave in a decade what most Americans in their tax bracket give in an average year, or about one row of hair plugs.

Of course, even in Biden’s stingiest years, he gave more to charity than Sen. John Kerry did in 1995, which was a big fat goose egg. Kerry did, however, spend half a million dollars on a 17th-century Dutch seascape painting that year, as Peter Schweizer reports in his 2008 book, “Makers and Takers.”

To be fair, 1995 was an off-year for Kerry’s charitable giving. The year before, he gave $2,039 to charity, and the year before that a staggering $175.

He also dropped a $5 bill in the Salvation Army pail and almost didn’t ask for change.

In 1998, Al Gore gave $353 to charity — about a day’s take for a lemonade stand in his neighborhood. That was 10 percent of the national average for charitable giving by people in the $100,000-$200,000 income bracket. Gore was at the very top of that bracket, with an income of $197,729.

When Sen. Ted Kennedy released his tax returns to run for president in the ’70s, they showed that Kennedy gave a bare 1 percent of his income to charity — or, as Schweizer says, “about as much as Kennedy claimed as a write-off on his 50-foot sailing sloop Curragh.” (Cash tips to bartenders and cocktail waitresses are not considered charitable donations.)

The Democratic base gives to charity as their betters do. At the same income, a single mother on welfare is seven times less likely to give to charity than a working poor family that attends religious services.

In 2006 and 2007, John McCain, who files separately from his rich wife, gave 27.3 percent and 28.6 percent of his income to charity.

In 2005, Vice President Cheney gave 77 percent of his income to charity. He also shot a lawyer in the face, which I think should count for something.

In a single year, Schweizer reports, Rush Limbaugh “gave $109,716 to ‘various individuals in need of assistance mainly due to family illnesses,’ $52,898 to ‘children’s case management organizations,’ including ‘various programs to benefit families in need,’ $35,100 for ‘Alzheimer’s community care — day care for families in need,’ and $40,951 for air conditioning units and heaters delivered to troops in Iraq.”

The Democrats are the non-religious party, the Republicans are the religious party. The Democrats are also the talking party, as you can see, and the Republicans are the doing party.

By the way, Arthur Brooks eventually turned this research into a book called “Who Really Cares?“, and it’s a good response to atheists when they tell you that they can be moral without God. If it doesn’t make sense to be moral, then atheists aren’t going to do it. You can read more about that book here.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious to people?

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

In this argument, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

More of Michael Murray’s work

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here. The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. I should mention that I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded.

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Is there any evidence of God’s existence?

Yes, just watch this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig. It contains 5 reasons why God exists and 3 reasons why it matters.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig offers marriage advice

This post is a 3 in one: one lecture, one question and answer, and another lecture – all on different topics.

First, I’ve got a lecture from the Reasonable Faith web site.

Dr. William Lane Craig is the top living Christian apologist and debater in the world today, and has 2 Masters degrees and 2 Ph.Ds. He also has scores of academic publications including books from Oxford University Press, etc.

The MP3 file is here. (14.5 Mb, about 41 minutes)

Topics:

  • the stresses of ministry on marriages
  • the Christian position on divorce
  • balancing marriage with academic pursuits
  • the importance of marrying the right person
  • Dr. Craig’s politically incorrect advice for choosing a spouse
  • Advice for men: Marry someone who believes in you and who supports you in your calling
  • Advice for women: Be the kind of person who can commit to being a helper and supporter
  • Advice for men: Beware of the career woman who will put their career over supporting you in your calling
  • Advice for women: Be careful about marrying if you think that your goals are more important than your husband’s goals
  • Advice: Don’t try to find the right person for you but instead focus on learning about marriage and preparing for marriage
  • Advice: Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, love and peace
  • Advice: God intends for sex to be within the bounds of marriage, so you need to guard yourself against unchastity
  • Advice for men: be careful what images and movies you see with the goal of keeping your chastity
  • Advice: your highest responsibility after your relationship with God is your spouse, and your studies are third
  • Advice: it’s better to drop classes or give up your graduate studies entirely rather than destroy your marriage
  • Advice for women: understand that you have to work at the marriage in order to help your man finish his studies
  • Advice: set aside a period of the day for communicating and bonding with your spouse
  • Advice: cultivate the ability to talk with your spouse on a personal level, and maintain eye contact
  • Advice for men: do not break eye contact with your wife, and also hold her hand when communicating
  • Advice: do not be embarrassed to seek out a marriage counselor, but make it a good counselor
  • Advice:  don’t just be doing stuff for your mate, but also be vulnerable and transparent with your mate
  • How your relationship with your wife helps you with your relationship with God
  • How do you handle the rebellion of children without being overbearing and authoritarian?

There is a period of Q&A at the end. There is another piece of advice that comes out in the Q&A for women: take an interest in your spouse’s work even if you don’t care about it, and ask him about it every day and try to understand it. Go to the man’s workplace and see what he does. Go to his presentations. Get involved in the man’s ministry and help him in practical ways. Another piece of advice is to not paper over the differences – it’s good to argue, because it means that problems are being confronted and worked through. Husbands should have a good male friend to talk to, and wives should have a good female friend to talk to.

I like how Dr. Craig has thought about how to have a successful marriage, how to choose the right woman, and how to love his wife. I like how he calls out men on the chastity thing. I think that chastity is more important for men than for women, because it’s the men who take the lead in choosing and pursuing the right woman for their plan.

Secondly, here is my previous post on Dr. Craig’s advice for married couples, where he gives 5 points of advice for married couples.

Here are the main pieces of advice Dr. Craig gives:

  1. Resolve that there will be no divorce
  2. Delay having children
  3. Confront problems honestly
  4. Seek marital counseling
  5. Take steps to build intimacy in your relationship

And here’s the controversial one (#2):

2. Delay having children. The first years of marriage are difficult enough on their own without introducing the complication of children. Once children come, the wife’s attention is necessarily diverted, and huge stresses come upon you both. Spend the first several years of marriage getting to know each other, working through your issues, having fun together, and enjoying that intimate love relationship between just the two of you. Jan and I waited ten years before having our first child Charity, which allowed me the finish graduate school, get our feet on the ground financially, establish some roots, and enjoy and build our love relationship until we were really ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood. The qualifier here is that if the wife desperately wants children now, then the husband should accede to her wish to become a mother, rather than withhold that from her. Her verdict should be decisive. But if you both can agree to wait, things will probably be much easier.

Third and finally, here is a previous post on Dr. Craig’s advice for choosing a good spouse, with illustrations from his own marriage.

For example, Bill’s first story about Jan occurs early after their marriage while he is working on his first Masters degree at Trinity:

And it was also at that time that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, “look! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!”

And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, “Yeah! Go for it!” And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.

If you want to hear another Christian husband talk about how his wife supports him, listen to this lecture called “Giants in the Land” with Dr. Walter Bradley. It’s actually my favorite lecture. I also really like his testimony lecture. If you’re looking for guidance, these are some of the people I would recommend.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday night movie: Saboteur (1942)

Here’s tonight’s movie:

IMDB mean rating: [7.3/10]

IMDB median rating: [7/10]

Description:

Aircraft factory worker Barry Kane is accused of starting a fire at a Glendale, California airplane plant during World War II, an act of sabotage that killed his friend Mason. Kane believes the real culprit is a man named Fry who handed him a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline during the fire. When the investigators find no one named “Fry” on the list of plant workers, they assume Kane is guilty.

This one is directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Happy Friday!

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

RSS Intelligent Design podcast

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Evolution News

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,504,652 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,155 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,155 other followers

%d bloggers like this: