Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Poll: More people believe in an afterlife than believe in God

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this study from the Institute of Education at the University of London.


More people may believe in an afterlife than believe in God, according to a nation-wide survey of Britons born in 1970.

Almost half – 49 per cent – of those surveyed earlier this year by the Institute of Education, University of London believe that there is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ life after death. Only 31 per cent have said that they believe in God, either without doubts (13 per cent) or with some doubts (18 per cent).

Researchers at the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies are canvassing more than 9,000 members of the 1970 British Cohort Study. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is following a group of people born in England, Scotland and Wales in spring 1970. It collects detailed information on many aspects of people’s lives including health, wellbeing, and financial circumstances. The latest survey, at age 42, is being carried out between May and December.

While members of the 1970 cohort have been asked about religion at earlier points in their lives, the current survey is the first to make the important distinction between religious upbringing, affiliation, practice and belief.

An analysis of the first 2,197 responses shows that 32 per cent of interviewees were not brought up in any particular religion, and an equal number said they were raised in the Church of England. Fourteen per cent said they grew up as Christian (no denomination) and ten per cent as Roman Catholic.

However, when asked if they currently see themselves as belonging to a particular religion, 47 per cent said no, followed by 21 per cent who said the Church of England. Fifteen per cent felt they were Christian (no denomination) and seven per cent said they were Roman Catholic.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents reported never or rarely attending religious services, followed by 16 per cent who attend services less than once a month. Seven per cent attend services once a week or more.

I’m pretty sure that you need to have a God there if there is an afterlife, because if there is no God, then there is no grounding for souls that can survive the death of the body. I think that what’s going on here is that people like the idea of having an afterlife, but they don’t like the idea of being accountable to God. That’s why they hold two mutually incompatible beliefs.

I think that this study tells us a very important thing about how people view religion. Somehow, people have gotten the mistaken impression that religion is like choosing what to eat or what to wear. You choose what you like. You choose what makes your family and friends like you. But imagine if doctors, engineers and scientists operated like that. It strikes me as psychotic to choose a religion based on your feelings. Religion, at the minimum, is a set of propositions about the way the world is. To believe in a religion is to accept it as true, and to take on the epistemic and moral obligations – to know true things and to do right things. To anyone who denies that religion is like any other form of knowledge, then you need to prove that. In my own religion, we have testable claims that can be evaluated using the methods of logic, history and science.

You know this study reminds me of a formative experience I had when I was younger. I remember talking to a project manager when I was a brand new software engineer, and her telling me that she had grown up Baptist but it was “too strict” so she became an atheist. Also, God had allowed her to fall off her bicycle when she was young and she chipped her teeth. So she knew there couldn’t possibly be a loving God. But anyway, she asked me if I believed in souls for animals. I surveyed a few philosophers and concluded with J.P. Moreland’s view, that animals don’t have souls. She said that her dog was going to Heaven when she died. I told her, look I would like it if my cockatiel went to Heaven (he is was about 8 then, and is 24 now) but I have to accept what is true. She looked at me like I was crazy to say such a mean thing. I will never forget that conversation. Back then, I had limited exposure to church and didn’t realize that most Christians are exactly like her. We really need to stop with the postmodern, relativism, universalism and get back to reason and evidence.

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William Lane Craig asks: should Christians embrace postmodernism?

Here’s a short clip:

Dr. Craig thinks that Christianity does a lot better when it is commended to others using logic and evidence. He thinks that postmodernism undermines logic and evidence.

Sean McDowell has more on what this means for Christians:

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

Postmodernism and Apologetics

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19).

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

This is my experience as well. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended IVCF and the woman running it (Jill) was a feminist who pushed postmodernism and feminism hard. Every week brought another testimony emphasizing love and forgiveness while minimizing or denying theology, science, history and logic. She turned down all the efforts of the men to bring in professors to speak about the cosmological argument or the resurrection, etc.. It was testimonies and prayer walks and praise hymns every week. When I questioned the people she chose to give their testimonies (mostly women), I found that none had any reasons for thinking that what they were talking about really was true. As a consequence of that, they were soft on doctrine – regularly throwing out Bible verses that did “resonate” with their “intuitions”. The same thing happened to me again with Campus Crusade as a graduate student. Personal testimonies of changed lives, divorced from any search for truth, every week.

One girl in particular that I knew at that time named Kerry was fond of bashing the laws of logic and the use of evidence. When I questioned her about it, she cited the influence of a charismatic youth pastor named Drew. A little more probing revealed that she denied the reality of Hell, and was a universalist. She eventually married a friend of mine and to this day has never read a single book on apologetics all the way through. Her beliefs are very much focused on the here and now, making friends and feeling good about herself. She never shook the habit of dismissing any argument, no matter how well-supported, that contradicted her intuitions.

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Can atheists distinguish between right and wrong actions?

Take a look at two atheists who try to affirm that morality is simultaneously objective and subjective.

Atheists deny that there is any design for the universe – they think there is no Designer. That means there is no way that the universe ought to be, objectively speaking. I.e. – when there were no humans around, there was no way the universe ought to have been. When humans appear, they evolve arbitrary customs and conventions in order to live together more peaceably. These are not real in any sense – they are just aids to survival and group cohesion. Different groups in different times and places evolve different rules, and no set of rules is any better than any other, because there is no way we ought to be. We call this atheistic/evolutionary form of morality “moral relativism”. It stands in contrast with the theistic view of morality, which is called “moral objectivism”.

In their view, slavery is not really right or wrong, it’s just a matter of opinion decided by majority rule in different social groups living in different places and times. Some groups in certain places and times think it’s right, and some groups in some places and times think it’s wrong. In our view (theism), God creates the universe, and he designs it to be a certain way. There is a certain way we ought to be. So if God thinks slavery is wrong, then it really is wrong, and his opinion of right and wrong becomes a duty for us.

What’s wrong with moral relativism?

I found this list of the seven flaws of moral relativism at the Australian site Faith Interface.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Moral relativists can’t accuse others of wrongdoing.
  2. Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil.
  3. Relativists can’t place blame or accept praise.
  4. Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice.
  5. Relativists can’t improve their morality.
  6. Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions.
  7. Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance.

Here’s my favorite flaw of relativism (#6):

Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions. What’s there to talk about? If morals are entirely relative and all views are equal, then no way of thinking is better than another. No moral position can be judged as adequate or deficient, unreasonable, acceptable, or even barbaric. If ethical disputes make sense only when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. For this reason, it is rare to meet a rational and consistent relativist, as most are quick to impose their own moral rules like “It’s wrong to push your own morality on others”. This puts relativists in an untenable position – if they speak up about moral issues, they surrender their relativism; if they do not speak up, they surrender their humanity. If the notion of moral discourse makes sense intuitively, then moral relativism is false.

I sometimes get a lot of flack from atheists who complain that I don’t let them make any moral statements without asking first them to ground morality on their worldview. And that’s because on atheism morality IS NOT rationally grounded, so they can’t answer. In an accidental universe, you can only describe people’s personal preferences or social customs, that vary by time and place. It’s all arbitrary – like having discussions about what food is best or what clothing is best. The answer is always going to be “it depends”. It depends on the person who is speaking because it’s a subjective claim, not an objective claim. There is no objective way we ought to behave, on atheism. What atheists are really talking about when they say that something is right or that something is wrong is that in our group, we have evolved these beliefs that this behavior is good or this behavior is bad – we have these group preferences.

The horror of atheism, then, is that they reduce murder and slaver to being matters of opinion. And these majority opinions are arbitrary and can be different in different times and places. When you are talking to an atheist, you are talking to a person who literally thinks that the decision to rape or not rape is the same as the decision to drive on the left side of the road or the right side of the road. In both cases, it’s just something that groups decide one way or another arbitrarily, depending on how they evolved in different places and at different times.

All Christians should be able to draw out the moral relativism of atheists and challenge them on it, because once they are forced to affirm objective morality, they have to affirm God as the moral lawgiver. Take some time and read the linked article, then ask your atheistic friends to justify their talk about right and wrong. What do they mean by right and wrong? Why would they sacrifice their own self-interest in order to do “right”? Is the only reason that atheists have to be “good” far of being caught and punished by their group for breaking these arbitrary rules that vary by place and time? Do atheists only do the “right” thing when others are watching?

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Women becoming less committed to Christian orthodoxy

From the Christian Post, survey findings from George Barna.


Pollster and researcher George Barna released a report on religious changes in America this week revealing some surprising results. Barna concludes that women have experienced a significant spiritual change in the past two decades.

Women today are attending church and Sunday school less, reading the Bible less, and consider their faith less important in their lives, according to the new survey.

The Barna report also shows that over the last two decades women have become less likely to hold traditional views of God as the all-knowing creator and ruler of the universe. Women today are less likely to see the devil as a real person, considering him more a “symbol of evil.”

“Women used to put men to shame in terms of their orthodoxy of belief and the breadth and consistency of their religious behavior. No more; the religious gender gap has substantially closed,” said George Barna in his report.

“We can posit that while tens of millions of Americans seem to be wrestling with their faith – what to believe and how to experience and express it – women have been more radically redefining their faith than men in the past two decades.”

Does anyone have a hypothesis to explain this? Is it because Christianity is no longer viewed by the majority of people as “nice”? Are women dropping out because of the social pressure to not make truth claims or moral judgments?

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Should you shut down religious debates to make people feel better?

This is from Wes at Reason to Stand.


Easter Sunday I participated in a lively discussion with a group of atheists on the topic of the resurrection. It was all kicked off by a friend who posted “Happy Zombie Jesus Day!”

And while the exchange with the non-Christians on the thread went pretty well, I was dumbfounded when the following was posted:

Dan can not prove the absence of God any more than believers can absolutely prove the existence of God. This is why it is called Faith (or lack of). So at the end of the day we should either celebrate either the second coming or the Easter Bunny bringing candy, whichever works for us individually, and move on. My position on the subject is my position, it neither grows stronger or weaker if I get someone else’s input. Actually, someone passionately challenging my position may only serve to strengthen my resolve. So for many Dan may actually be working to further solidify their faith. For others his comments may strike a chord of familiarity. At the end of the day those that believed in the second coming still will and those that think a pink bunny actually brings candy… well, they still will too. So, whatever you celebrate today, enjoy the fact that Winter is over and Summer is around the corner!

On the surface this may seem like a simple plea of “why don’t we all just get along?” But I suspected something else, so I posted this by way of reply:

George, your position sounds rather anti-intellectual to me and decidedly post modern. Facts matter and our discovery of them is absolutely paramount. If I am holding on to false beliefs I would certainly like to know and the best way for me to go about doing that is to regularly expose myself and my positions to others who hold differing opinions. Sure, that exchange may strengthen my resolve, Dan knows I appreciate his help in making me a better Christian, but it may also cause me to abandon false beliefs. The worst thing we could do, however, is to think that our persuit of truth is of no importance or to think that encouraging others to examine their positions does not enrich all of us (how’s that for self-interest Dan?).

To this George responded:

Wes, enjoy the debate. I hope you find what you are looking for.

I am open to debate things that can be proven, debating things that can’t are largely mental masturbation. So I go with my beliefs on those, and you are welcome to respect those or not. Whatever your choice, I am fine with it. Not a factor here.

Read the rest of the post, and tell me what you think.

I thought I would post this since I am running a little late this morning, and then I’ll update the post with my comments in the next few minutes.

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