Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good response to scientific arguments for theism?

I want to use this woman’s story to show how sensible atheists reach a belief in God.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

So, I want to point out the progression of her beliefs from atheist to deist to Christian. First, she listened to the scientific arguments for God’s existence, which took her to deism, which is a variety of theism where God just creates the universe and then doesn’t interfere with it after. Those arguments, the Big Bang and the cosmic fine-tuning, were enough for her to falsify atheism and prove some sort of theism. After that, she remained open to the evidence for Christian theism, and finally got there after looking at other evidence.

But this makes me think of how some of the atheists that I talk to do the exact opposite of what she did. I start off by explaining to them scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer. I explain the mainstream discoveries that confirm an origin of the universe (e.g. – light element abundance predictions and observations), and I cite specific examples of fine-tuning, (e.g. – the gravitational constant). I explain protein sequencing and folding, and calculate the probabilities of getting a protein by chance. I explain the sudden origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion, and show why naturalistic explanations fail. I talk about the fine-tuning needed to get galaxies, solar systems and planets to support life. But many of these atheists don’t become deists like the honest atheist in the story. Why not?

Well, the reason why not is because they interrupt the stream of scientific evidence coming out of my mouth and they start to ask me questions that have nothing to do with what we can know through science. See, evangelism is like building a house. You have to start with the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the electricity, etc., but you can’t know all the specific details about furniture and decorations at the beginning. But militant atheists don’t care that you are able to establish the foundations of Christian theism – they want to jump right to the very fine-grained details, and use that to justify not not building anything at all. Just as you are proving all the main planks of a theistic worldview with science, they start asking “am I going to Hell?” and telling you “God is immoral for killing Canaanite children”, etc. They want to stop the construction of the house by demanding that you build everything at once. But, it is much easier to accept miracles like the virgin birth if you have a God who created the universe first. The foundation comes first, it makes the later stuff easier to do.

So rather than adjust their worldview to the strong scientific evidence, and then leave the puzzling about Hell and Old Testament history for later, they want to refute the good scientific arguments with “Am I going to Hell?”. How does complaining about Hell and unanswered prayer a response to scientific evidence? It’s not! But I think that this does explain why atheists remain atheists in the face of all the scientific evidence against naturalism. They insulate their worldview from the progress of science by focusing on their emotional disappointment that they are not God and that God isn’t doing what they want him to do. That’s the real issue. Authority and autonomy. In my experience, they are usually not accountable to science, although there are, thank God, exceptions to that rule.

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Can Al Mohler evangelize his way out of a wet paper bag?

I am basing my answer the question in the title on many months of listening to his excellent “The Briefing” podcast.

And what I’ve learned from all this listening is that he is very skilled at identifying interesting problems and threats to the Christian worldview, but he rarely or never brings in evidence from outside the Bible so I can discuss these things with non-Christians. Why not? In my experience of listening to him on his podcast, he is not capable of opposing any of the things that he wrings his hands about in any way other than blaming “The Fall” and reminding his listeners what the Bible says. His notion of a “Christian worldview” really just means reading the Bible, and never linking it to science, economics, history, etc. Maybe he is afraid that too much learning about these other areas will crowd out the Bible verses out of his memory. I don’t know.

I still think it’s good to listen to his podcast, but he’s of no value in fixing anything he complains about, unless you’re already a Christian.

Here’s what a conversation with Al Mohler and the liberal supreme court judges would be like:

  • Al Mohler: So, I heard you guys voted to overturn the Defense of Marriage Amendment.
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: That’s right.
  • Al Mohler: Would you like to hear what the Bible says about that?
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: Actually, no.
  • Al Mohler: Are you sure?
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: Pretty sure.
  • Al Mohler (turns to the choir): See? We live in a Genesis 3 world!
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: What does that even mean?
  • Al Mohler: Oh! Oh! Oh! I know that one! It means -
  • Liberal SCOTUS: Is that from the Bible? Because if it is, I don’t want to hear it.
  • Al Mohler: Boooo!!!! Phooey!!!!

Al Mohler is a smart man, and very good to have around if you are evangelizing fundamentalist Christians. But with anyone else, he is not in a position to be convincing. The best he can do is wall Christianity off from non-Christianity, but in my opinion, he’s not able to persuasive to the part of culture that he just walled off. OK, that’s the end of my satire of Al Mohler.

Anyway, let’s take a look at this post from Think Apologetics blog, which explains more about this attitude. Note: Eric does not necessarily endorse my snarky satire of Al Mohler.

He quotes from this interview between two evangelical heavyweight New Testament critics:

[Ben] Witherington says:

You speak frequently about a change, even among the laity, in what I will call the mood of the culture when it comes to Christianity. What are the telltale signs in your mind? How do you see a book like this addressing that change, especially if we are now moving into a post-Christian, post-Biblical era in America?

[Craig] Blomberg says:

When I was working on my various educational degrees in the 1970s, we were still reeling as a culture from Vietnam, Watergate, Woodstock and a generation of young adults who were often very disenchanted with traditional authority, including religious authority. Yet they were truly open-minded. They were interested in exploring religious options other than Christianity but they were also very open to exploring the evidence for Christianity, especially when it was combined with an authentic, relevant Christian lifestyle. So mixed among other kinds of hippies were a large number of “Jesus people,” many of whom had come out of alternative lifestyles.

If you organized an event on a secular college or university campus with a winsome, compelling speaker and did a reasonably good job at publicizing it, there was a good chance you would draw a large crowd and that a significant minority of the non-Christians in the audience would take significant steps closer to becoming followers of Jesus if not make the commitment on that very day. And those who didn’t at least had some general knowledge, even before they came to the event, of the worldview they were for the time being, at least, choosing to reject.

Today we see the children of that generation as young adults on the same campuses with the same Christian organizations, with even more compelling speakers and evidence on which to draw, and yet in many instances it is extremely difficult to get a good crowd, if you do you are lucky if even a few unbelievers come, and luckier still if any of them are drawn toward the faith. But it is not as if any new evidence has emerged that we didn’t know about a generation ago to make the case for faith weaker. Instead, people have grown up with less awareness of biblical claims, with more prejudice against Christianity, with an eagerness to embrace the most outlandish charges against the Bible without even wanting to research them at all, which really shows that they are looking for reasons not to believe rather than engaging in serious inquiry.

Then Eric says this:

Did you notice that both Witherington and Blomberg acknowledge we are living in  a post-Christian, post-Biblical era in America? I wish the rest of the Church would wake up and stop just giving Christians more Bible verses and Bible sermons. I love the Bible. But as I have said elsewhere:

If pastors keep assuming that the average person in the culture thinks the Bible is authoritative, they are living in denial. This is not the 1950’s! When we as Christians assume everyone outside the four walls accepts our starting point, then we are kidding ourselves. I would love to see more pastors spend at least one month or more a year teaching  their congregants on the reliability and authority of the Bible.

For example, let’s say we have thousands of seminary students who graduate who are very skilled at exegeting the text. However, the problems is that the majority of these people (and teachers) start with a set of presuppositions that a fairly large part of our culture rejects. Here are our starting points:

1. God’s existence: God exists because the Bible says so.

2. Epistemology (the study of knowledge): God gives us knowledge of Himself by revelation. The Bible tells us this as well.

3.Miracles: Christianity is a revelatory religion. Without miracles (such as the resurrection) being both possible and actual, our faith is really not very unique. What about other miracle claims in other religions? There is an overall skepticism towards miracles in the West. How do we answer these issues?

4.History: Is history knowable? What historical method are we teaching our students? And as far as miracles, can history evaluate a miracle claim such as the resurrection?

5. Hermeneutics: Can we arrive at objective meaning in the text?

6. Ethics: Is the Bible a source of ethics for us? How would we explain this to the world around us.

If we continue to start with the Bible itself without Prolegomena, we will end up causing thousands of Christians to beg the question to those we minister to. To beg the question is to take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned. My advice for seminaries is to make it mandatory for all students to take a class on Prolegomena.

I love the Bible too. But I also know how to have a conversation with a non-Christian about science, economics, politics, etc. I know how to talk about the findings of mainstream science and how they point to a Creator and Designer without dismissing it all as the Devil’s handiwork. I know how to make a case for the pro-life view or for chastity or traditional marriage or the free-market system without requiring that my audience assume that the Bible is the inerrant word of God (which I think it is). We need to get to the point where we can have conversations about things with people who don’t go as far as we do on inerrancy. I think that when they see that we actually know what we are talking about in these other areas, that will open the door for them to listen to us on spiritual things, too.

Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

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.

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October 5th is Pulpit Freedom Sunday: is your church getting involved?

I listened to this podcast from the Alliance Defending Freedom  and this podcast from the Family Research Council on the weekend.  Both of them mentioned that something called Pulpit Freedom Sunday was happening this Sunday.

So I looked it up and found this online:

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. Pulpit Freedom Sunday encourages pastors to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to speak truth into every area of life from the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom also hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.

The web site is here. They are up to 3520 pastors now who are participating. My pastor did not participate last year. He is not very intelligent when it comes to apologetics and policy, so he probably doesn’t know what to say. Or maybe he just afraid, which I can understand more than not knowing what to say.

Not everyone is happy with this. The IRS is investigating churches (not Democrat-favoring churches, of course) for speaking about specific issues.

Here’s an article on that.

Excerpt:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has agreed to investigate the political activity of churches after reaching a settlement with an atheist legal group. But a court has yet to decide whether or not to close the case.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the IRS jointly asked a Wisconsin federal court last week to dismiss a 2012 lawsuit, FFRF v. Koskinen. The FFRF had alleged that the IRS failed to have a policy in place for investigating political activity at tax-exempt churches and religious organizations, nor did the agency enforce its 501(c)(3) codes against electioneering.

Meanwhile, more than 1,600 churches have deliberately broken the existing law since 2008, endorsing political candidates from their pulpits during Pulpit Freedom Sunday events organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The next “showdown” will be October 5.

“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in a press release.

However, the case has not yet been closed. Father Patrick Malone of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had been granted permission to interveneon the side of the IRS, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (which represents Malone) has asked the court to dismiss the case but “with prejudice.” In other words, Becket argues the FFRF should not be able to sue the IRS again on this particular issue, while the FFRF argues that it should be able to do so.

Regardless of the court’s final decision, the IRS won’t be free to investigate churches until a moratorium related to the agency’s controversial scrutiny of tea party organizations is lifted after a congressional investigation closes.

CT has noted how the six-year run of Pulpit Freedom Sunday has tried to provoke the IRS into (ironically) punishing pastors as a means to reexamine the rights of pastors to promote politicians from the pulpit. The initiative even gained an unexpected allylast year in Sen. Charles Grassley and the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations (CAPRO).

Meanwhile, LifeWay Research has found that only 10 percent of Protestant pastors believe pastors should endorse political candidates (while noting that is a different question from should the IRS ban the practice.)

The IRS has not released the language of the settlement, and ADF is concerned about how secretive the church investigations will be—if they indeed happen. ADF has issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in pursuit of the documents surrounding the settlement between the FFRF and the IRS.

“This is one of the major problems with the IRS,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with ADF. “They are secretive, which breeds mistrust and leads to problems in knowing just how they will enforce and interpret the law.”

Becket has also requested information on documents the FFRF and the IRS are not making available, including: “all documents relating to any investigation or determination by a high-ranking IRS official, in writing, of the acts and circumstances, including potential violations of the electioneering restrictions, that led to the high-ranking official to reasonably believe that a church or religious organization may have violated the requirements for tax exemption under 501(c)(3).”

Stanley says ADF’s strategy—helping churches realize how government is censoring what they say—will not change. If the IRS does monitor electioneering more closely, he hopes the issue will end in a lawsuit.

“The Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional,” said Stanley. “If the IRS begins enforcing it again against churches, Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit.”

ADF has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday for six years, with 1,621 church and religious leaders participating in 2012 (2013 dropped to nearly 1,100 participants). But until now, the IRS has all but ignored ADF’s attempts to bring the issue to a head. According to Stanley, the IRS does not want to challenge the Johnson Amendment—which bans tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates—in court.

I think it’s interesting that the FFRF is not so much interested in debating whether atheism is true as they in shutting down theists who seek to live consistently with their beliefs by using the power of big government. I think that’s pretty par for the course though, if you look through 20th century history. That’s what atheist regimes have done, so we should expect individual atheists to do that as well.

I don’t recommend to the atheists at FFRF that they intimidate Christians, though, as Jesus seems to think that limiting the practice and free expression of Christian convictions is a bad idea.

Read Matthew 18:1-7:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,

3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;

6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

I think that we Christians need to take positions that are in accord with what God’s Word says, and we need to be ready to defend our positions in public using public arguments and public evidence – especially scientific research – that will be persuasive to non-Christians who do not accept the Bible. That’s the only way to stop the cultural decline caused by the secular left.

The best introductory book on the interface between Christianity and politics is “Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late“, co-authored by Jay Wesley Richards. The Kindle edition is $9.99. Richards’ Ph.D is from Princeton University.

The best comprehensive book is “Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture” by Wayne Grudem. The Kindle edition of that one is $4.99. Grudem’s is from Cambridge University. First-rate Christian scholarship on practical Christianity.

And you can listen to Grudem delivering Sunday school training at his church on every single chapter of that book right here. All free, and no ads. Be sure and scroll through all the previous years to get all the topics! Ethics, social policy, fiscal policy, foreign policy and more!

For more information on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, check out this web site.

If you want to hear about things like this, then subscribe to the FRC podcasts and the ADF podcast.

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Brian Auten interviews Dr. Angus Menuge on philosophy of mind

Click here for the interview. It’s up at Apologetics 315!

Details:

Today’s interview is with Dr. Angus Menuge, Professor of Philosophy  at Concordia University, and author of Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science. He talks about his background and work, the philosophy of mind, what reason (or reasoning) is, what materialism is as a worldview, things excluded from a materialistic worldview, methodological naturalism and materialism, accounting for free will, materialistic accounts of reason, the epistemological argument from reason, the ontological argument from reason, finding the best explanation for reason, problems with methodological naturalism, implications of materialism, practical application of the argument from reason, advice for apologists, the International Academy of Apologetics, and more.

If what Dr. Menuge says in this interview is true, and I think it is, then a person who believes in materialism can neither ground free will nor rationality! So atheism wouldn’t really be freethought so much as it would be… un-free… non-thought.

In case people don’t want to listen to the podcast, then I’ve got some things for you to read below.

The ontological argument from reason

Dr. Menuge presented a paper at the real Evangelical Philosophical Society conference for students and professors of philosophy, and you can download the paper here in Word format. (here’s a PDF version I made)

Here is the introduction to the paper that Dr. Menuge read at the EPS conference:

The argument from reason is really a family of arguments to show that reasoning is incompatible with naturalism. Here, naturalism is understood as the idea that foundationally, there are only physical objects, properties and relations, and anything else reduces to, supervenes on, or emerges from that. For our purposes, one of the most important claims of naturalism is that all causation is passive, automatic, event causation (an earthquake automatically causes a tidal wave; the tidal wave responds passively): there are no agent causes, where something does not happen automatically but only because the agent exerts his active power by choosing to do it. The most famous version of the argument from reason is epistemological: if naturalism were true, we could not be justified in believing it. Today, I want to focus on the ontological argument from reason, which asserts that there cannot be reasoning in a naturalistic world, because reasoning requires libertarian free will, and this in turn requires a unified, enduring self with active power.

The two most promising ways out of this argument are: (1) Compatibilism—even in a deterministic, naturalistic world, humans are capable of free acts of reason if their minds are responsive to rational causes; (2) Libertarian Naturalism—a self with libertarian free will emerges from the brain. I argue that neither of these moves works, and so, unless someone has a better idea, the ontological argument from reason stands.

The paper is 11 pages long, and it is helpful for those of you looking for some good discussion of one of the issues in the area of philosophy of mind.

You may also be interested in Alvin Plantinga’s epistemological argument from reason, which is related to this argument. It shows that even to have the ability to think, you have to have a certain anthropology and you have to have mental faculties that are designed for reason, not survival.

Methodological naturalism

Dr. Menuge also wrote an article entitled “Is methodological materialism good for science?”.

Intro:

Should science by governed by methodological materialism? That is, should scientists assume that only undirected causes can figure in their theories and explanations? If the answer to these questions is yes, then there can be no such thing as teleological science or intelligent design. But is methodological materialism a defensible approach to science, or might it prevent scientists from discovering important truths about the natural world? In my contribution to The Waning of Materialism (Oxford University Press, 2010), edited by Robert Koons and George Bealer, I consider twelve of the most common arguments in favor of methodological materialism and show that none of them is convincing.

Of these arguments, perhaps the most prevalent is the “God of the gaps” charge, according to which invoking something other than a material cause is an argument from ignorance which, like a bad script writer, cites a deus ex machina to save our account from difficulty. Not only materialists, but also many Christian thinkers, like Francis Collins, worry that appeal to intelligent design commits the God of the gaps fallacy.

As I argue, however, not only is an inference to an intelligent cause not the same as an inference to the supernatural, it is a mistake to assume that all gap arguments are bad, or that only theists make them. If a gap argument is based solely on ignorance of what might explain some phenomenon, then indeed it is a bad argument. But there are many good gap arguments which are made both by scientific materialists and proponents of intelligent design.

So how do you make an argument like that?

As Stephen Meyer has argued in his Signature in the Cell, intelligent design argues in just the same way, claiming not merely that the material categories of chance and necessity (singly or in combination) are unable to explain the complex specified information in DNA, but also that in our experience, intelligent agents are the only known causes of such information. The argument is based on what we know about causal powers, not on what we do not know about them.

Since the inference is based on known causal powers, we learn that the cause is intelligent, but only further assumptions or data can tell us whether that intelligence is immanent in nature or supernatural. It is a serious mistake to confuse intelligent design with theistic science, and the argument that since some proponents of design believe that the designer is God, that is what they are claiming can be inferred from the data, is a sophomoric intensional fallacy.

If you think this is interesting, then do have a listen to the podcast. Dr. Menuge is not an ordinary academic – he is very direct. He calls materialism “a catastrophe” in the podcast!

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