Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Can atheists be moral? Sean McDowell and James Corbett debate

I got the audio for this debate from Apologetics 315, linked below.

Here is the MP3 file.

Sean’s case is similar to the one I make, but he only has 3 minimal requirements for morality.

First, he explains the difference between objective and subjective truth claims, and points out that statements of a moral nature are meaningless unless morality is objective. Then he states 3 things that are needed in order to ground objective morality.

  1. an objective moral standard
  2. free will
  3. objective moral value of humans

The question of the foundations of morality is without a doubt the easiest issue for beginning apologists to discuss with their neighbor. If you’re new, then you need to at least listen to his opening speech. He’s an excellent speaker, and his rebuttals are very, very smooth. The citations of atheist philosophers like Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, e.g. – to show that “religious” wars had nothing to do with religion, really hurt his opponent. He seems to cite prominent atheists like Thomas Nagel, Richard Taylor, Michael Shermer, etc., constantly in order to get support for his assertions. That took preparation. McDowell was very calm in this debate. It’s very hard to stay calm when someone is disagreeing with you in front of a crowd, but McDowell did a great job at that. He also seemed to be really prepared, because his rebuttals were crisp and concise.

For those of you who want to understand how these things work, listen to the debate. There is a period of cross-examination if you like that sort of thing. I do!

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Walter Bradley: three scientific evidences that point to a designed universe

Dr. Walter L. Bradley

Dr. Walter L. Bradley

Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor.

Here’s a bio:

Walter Bradley (B.S., Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) is Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He comes to Baylor from Texas A&M University where he helped develop a nationally recognized program in polymeric composite materials. At Texas A&M, he served as director of the Polymer Technology Center for 10 years and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering, a department of 67 professors that was ranked as high as 12th nationally during his tenure. Bradley has authored over 150 refereed research publications including book chapters, articles in archival journals such as the Journal of Material Science, Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites, Mechanics of Time-Dependent Materials, Journal of Composites Technology and Research, Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Metals, Polymer Engineering and Science, and Journal of Materials Science, and refereed conference proceedings.

Dr. Bradley has secured over $5.0 million in research funding from NSF grants (15 yrs.), AFOSR (10 years), NASA grants (10 years), and DOE (3 years). He has also received research grants or contracts from many Fortune 500 companies, including Alcoa, Dow Chemical, DuPont, 3M, Shell, Exxon, Boeing, and Phillips.

He co-authored The Mystery of Life Origin: Reassessing Current Theories and has written 10 book chapters dealing with various faith science issues, a topic on which he speaks widely.

He has received 5 research awards at Texas A&M University and 1 national research award. He has also received two teaching awards. He is an Elected Fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the largest organization of Christians in Science and Technology in the world. He is President elect of the ASA and will serve his term in 2008.

You can read more about his recent research in this article from Science Daily.

Below, I analyze a lecture entitled “Is There Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer?”. Dr. Bradley explains how the progress of science has made the idea of a Creator and Designer of the universe more acceptable than ever before.

The MP3 file is here.

Evidence #1: The design of the universe

1. The correspondence of natural phenomena to mathematical law

  • All observations of physical phenomena in the universe, such as throwing a ball up in the air, are described by a few simple, elegant mathematical equations.

2. The fine-tuning of physical constants and rations between constants in order to provide a life-permitting universe

  • Life has certain minimal requirements; long-term stable source of energy, a large number of different chemical elements, an element that can serve as a hub for joining together other elements into compounds, etc.
  • In order to meet these minimal requirements, the physical constants, (such as the gravitational constant), and the ratios between physical constants, need to be withing a narrow range of values in order to support the minimal requirements for life of any kind.
  • Slight changes to any of the physical constants, or to the rations between the constants, will result in a universe inhospitable to life.
  • The range of possible ranges over 70 orders of magnitude.
  • Although each individual selection of constants and ratios is as unlikely as any other selection, the vast majority of these possibilities do not support the minimal requirements of life of any kind. (In the same way as any hand of 5 cards that is dealt is as likely as any other, but you are overwhelmingly likely NOT to get a royal flush. In our case, a royal flush is a life-permitting universe).

Examples of finely-tuned constants and ratios: (there are more examples in the lecture)

a) The strong force: (the force that binds nucleons (= protons and neutrons) together in nucleus, by means of meson exchange)

  • if the strong force constant were 2% stronger, there would be no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no hydrogen containing compounds. This is because the single proton in hydrogen would want to stick to something else so badly that there would be no hydrogen left!
  • if the strong force constant were 5% weaker, there would be no stable stars, few (if any) elements besides hydrogen. This is because you would NOT be able to build up the nuclei of the heavier elements, which contain more than 1 proton.
  • So, whether you adjust the strong force up or down, you lose stars than can serve as long-term sources of stable energy, or you lose chemical diversity, which is necessary to make beings that can perform the minimal requirements of living beings. (see below)

b) The conversion of beryllium to carbon, and carbon to oxygen

  • Life requires carbon in order to serve as the hub for complex molecules, but it also requires oxygen in order to create water.
  • Carbon is like the hub wheel in a tinker toy set: you can bind other elements together to more complicated molecules (e.g. – “carbon-based life), but the bonds are not so tight that they can’t be broken down again later to make something else.
  • The carbon resonance level is determined by two constants: the strong force and electromagnetic force.
  • If you mess with these forces even slightly, you either lose the carbon or the oxygen.

3. Fine-tuning to allow a habitable planet

  • A number of factors must be fine-tuned in order to have a planet that supports life
  • Initial estimates predicted abundant life in the universe, but revised estimates now predict that life is almost certainly unique in the galaxy, and probably unique in the universe.
  • Even though there are lots of stars in the universe, the odds are against any of them supporting complex life.
  • Here are just a few of the minimal requirements for habitability: must be a single star solar system, in order to support stable planetary orbits, the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to have liquid water at the surface, the planet must sufficient mass in order to retain an atmosphere, etc.

The best non-theistic response to this argument is to postulate a multiverse, but that is very speculative and there is no experimental evidence that supports it.

Evidence #2: The origin of the universe

1. The progress of science has shown that the entire physical universe came into being out of nothing (= “the big bang”). It also shows that the cause of this creation event is non-physical and non-temporal. The cause is supernatural.

  • Atheism prefers an eternal universe, to get around the problem of a Creator having to create the universe.
  • Discovery #1: Observations of galaxies moving away from one another confirms that the universe expanded from a single point.
  • Discovery #2: Measurements of the cosmic background radiation confirms that the universe exploding into being.
  • Discovery #3: Predictions of elemental abundances prove that the universe is not eternal.
  • Discovery #4:The atheism-friendly steady-state model and oscillating model were both falsified by the evidence.
  • And there were other discoveries as well, mentioned in the lecture.

The best non-theistic response to this argument is to postulate a hyper-universe outside of ours, but that is very speculative and there is no experimental evidence that supports it.

Evidence #3: The origin of life

1. The progress of science has shown that the simplest living organism contains huge amounts of biological information, similar to the Java code I write all day at work. This is a problem for atheists, because the sequence of instructions in a living system has to come together all at once, it cannot have evolved by mutation and selection – because there was no replication in place prior to the formation of that first living system!

  • Living systems must support certain minimum life functions: processing energy, storing information, and replicating.
  • There needs to be a certain amount of complexity in the living system that can perform these minimum functions.
  • But on atheism, the living system needs to be simple enough to form by accident in a pre-biotic soup, and in a reasonable amount of time.
  • The minimal functionality in a living system is a achieved by DNA, RNA and enzymes. DNA and RNA are composed of sequences of proteins, which are in turn composed of sequences of amino acids.

Consider the problems of building a chain of 100 amino acids

  • The amino acids must be left-handed only, but left and right kinds are equally abundant in nature. How do you sort out the right-handed ones?
  • The amino acids must be bound together using peptide bonds. How do you prevent other types of bonds?
  • Each link of the amino acid chain needs to be carefully chosen such that the completed chain with fold up into a protein. How do you choose the correct amino acid for each link from the pool of 20 different kinds found in living systems?
  • In every case, a human or other intelligence could solve these problems by doing what intelligent agents do best: making choices.
  • But who is there to make the choices on atheism?

The best current non-theistic response to this is to speculate that aliens may have seeded the Earth with life at some point in the past.

The problem of the origin of life is not a problem of chemistry, it is a problem of engineering. Every part of car functionality can be understood and described using the laws of physics and chemistry. But an intelligence is still needed in order to assemble the components into a system that has the minimal requirements for a functioning vehicle.

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What if you only had four minutes to defend Israel’s attack on the Canaanites?

Questioning the Bible by Jonathan Morrow

“Questioning the Bible” by Jonathan Morrow

Jonathan Morrow is giving you just four minutes to respond to a well-known challenge to belief in the Christian God.

Can you handle it?

If not, here is a podcast to help you get ready.

Description:

Is the God of the Old Testament violent and bloodthirsty? Did God really command genocide? Why did Israel attack the Canaanites? These are just a few of the tough questions I tackle in this episode of the think Christianly podcast. Learn how to respond to one of the most challenging and emotional objections to Christianity in under 10 minutes.

Summary:

  • quotes Richard Dawkins to set up the objection
  • response: does God have the authority to give and take life?
  • response: after the Fall, things in the world are not the way they are supposed to be
  • response: Old Testament commands for the Jews to judge other nations are specific to them in that time
  • response: “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are not accurate descriptions of the attack on Canaan
  • response: the attack on the Cannanites takes place in the context of redeeming the whole world

Here is the Christian Post article he was interviewed for, where he had to answer:

Jonathan Morrow, author of Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority, says readers are often perplexed by Old Testament scripture because “sometimes we just picture a God where anger and love can’t co-exist.” Yet he explains, “We all have seen people who have been taken advantage of and that makes us angry [because] we love them. So those emotions can co-exist.”

[…]Along that same line, Morrow clarifies that God’s instructions to the Israelite army in Deuteronomy 20 to destroy the people occupying the land of Canaan is “about judgment, not genocide.”

“The Bible teaches clearly that all people are sinful and in rebellion, kind of living in open rebellion against God, and God is just to judge anyone,” says Morrow. “But in this particular case with the Canaanites, there’s several things going on there, but one of those things was the wickedness of the people which was well documented – child sacrifices to Moloch and others, and bestiality and a lot wickedness.”

He says this judgment was necessary because “Israel’s national survival was crucial so that the Messiah – we would know Jesus as the Messiah – and God’s saving purposes of redemption to the world could one day be born because if the Messiah was supposed to come through the lineage of Israel and Israel co-mingled with this wicked people and was ultimately destroyed, that promise of hope and blessing to the whole world could not have been realized.”

[…]Morrow recognizes that Old Testament questions are particularly challenging. “We live in a sound bite culture and so this is one of those questions where it kind of gets thrown out for people, why does God command genocide, and that’s really easy to say and then it takes some time to respond to because there’s some context.”

Morrow says his sound bite answer is: “These passages are about judgment; they’re not about genocide.”

However, he encourages believers to find out the asker’s real interest in this question. “I would ask them, you know, it sounds like this is a pretty emotional question for you, why is that. Let them talk about it some so you can better understand because that’s the goal. We’re not just trying to win an argument; we’re trying to understand and help people.”

It the asker is after truth, Morrow advises Christians to “ask them … are you interested in kind of walking through and getting kind of messy about looking at the evidence for this because I’d love to share that with you, and sometimes they’ll go, ‘yeah, that’ll be great.'”

Other times, Morrow says, the asker is simply looking for “space and distance from God and this question allows them to put space between them and God.”

By the way, Morrow and McDowell’s basic apologetics book – “Is God Just a Human Invention?” – is my first pick when mentoring new people in apologetics.

UPDATE: J.W. Wartick has reviewed the 11 Questions book on his blog.

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Scott Klusendorf defends the pro-life view on the Unbelievable radio show

Here are the details:

The abortion debate reared its head again this summer after controversial tweets by Richard Dawkins made the news.

Justin hosts a discussion between Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network and Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Instititute. Mara believes women need to be decide whether to terminate a pregnancy, but Scott says that all depends on whether we are dealing with a human life in the womb.

MP3 of this show: http://cdnapi.kaltura.com/p/618072/sp/61807200/playManifest/entryId/1_ggc953xi/flavorId/1_vto2eisb/protocol/http/format/url/a.mp3?clientTag=feed:1_jlj47tkv

My snarky paraphrase of the debate (not exact):

  • Speaker introductions
  • Klusendorf: no justification for abortion is necessary if the unborn are not human
  • Klusendorf: we need to address the issue “what is the unborn?” Are the unborn human?
  • Klusendorf: SLED: size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency
  • Klusendorf: None of these things affect the value of a human being
  • Klusendorf: Even if we don’t KNOW whether the unborn is human
  • Mara: I’m not going to debate when life begins
  • Mara: Women know when life begins by feelings
  • Mara: The moral decision is “whether I can take care of this child?”
  • Brierley: When is an unborn being human?
  • Mara: I refuse to debate that – the real question is whether women want their babies or not
  • Mara: Forced pregnancy is not OK
  • Brierley: Could your justification for abortion (not wanting to care for a child) work through all 9 months?
  • Mara: Late term abortions are rare, so I don’t have to answer that question
  • Mara: Abortion should be OK through all 9 months of pregnancy because women cannot be restricted
  • Mara: Some women are poor, they need to be able to kill expensive babies at any time
  • Klusendorf: although she says she won’t debate the unborn, she does take a position
  • Klusendorf: she assumes the unborn is not human, because she says that insufficient funds is justification for abortion
  • Klusendorf: no one argues that you can kill a two year old because they cost money, because she thinks they are human
  • Klusendorf: she is begging the question by assuming the unborn are not human, but that is the issue we must resolve
  • Klusendorf: I am pro-choice on many other things, e.g. women choosing their own husbands, religion, etc.
  • Klusendorf: Some choices are wrong – Mara might be right, but she needs to make the case for the unborn not being human
  • Brierley: What is your reason for thinking that an unborn child is different from a 2-year old?
  • Mara: An unborn child is not the same as a 2-year old, in my personal opinion
  • Mara: I am not a debater, so I don’t have to provide reasoning for my assertion, I just feel it
  • Mara: Not everybody agrees with Scott, they don’t have to have a rational argument, they just need to feel differently
  • Mara: From my experience, when a woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, then she should be able to not be pregnant
  • Mara: Women shouldn’t be punished with a baby that she doesn’t want, even if she chooses to have recreational sex
  • Brierley: What do you think of women who think the unborn is human and do it anyway?
  • Klusendorf: It’s interesting that they never kill their toddlers for those reasons
  • Klusendorf: I layed out scientific and philosophical reasons for the humanity of the unborn
  • Klusendorf: Her response was “but some people disagree with you”
  • Klusendorf: People disagreed about whether slavery was wrong, or whether women should be able to vote
  • Klusendorf: that doesn’t mean there is no right answer – the right answer depends on the arguments
  • Klusendorf: if absence of agreement makes a view false, then it makes HER pro-choice view false as well
  • Klusendorf: she did make an argument for the unborn child having no rights because of the location
  • Klusendorf: she needs to explain to us why location matters – what about location confers value
  • Mara: I’m not going to let Scott frame my debate for me!!!
  • Mara: women get pregnant and they don’t want their babies! should we put them in jail!!!!
  • Klusendorf: I didn’t just give my opinion, I had science and philosophy, the issue is “what is the unborn?”
  • Mara: philosophical and scientific debates are unimportant, I am an expert in real women’s lives
  • Klusendorf: Which women? Women in the womb or only those outside the womb?
  • Mara: Only those outside the womb
  • Klusendorf: Only those outside the womb?
  • Mara: Women living outside the womb have a right to kill women inside the womb – women have bodily autonomy
  • Klusendorf: then does a pregnant woman with nausea have a right to take a drug for it that will harm her unborn child?
  • Mara: Unborn children are only valuable if they are wanted, unborn children only deserve protection if they are wanted
  • Mara: There are restrictions on abortion – you can’t get an abortion through all nine months in the US
  • Mara: There is a 24-week limit in the UK as well
  • Klusendorf: There are no restrictions on abortion that conflict with “a woman’s health” because Supreme Court said
  • Mara: where are these late term abortion clinics?
  • Klusendorf: (he names two)
  • Mara: that’s not enough!!! we need more! where is there one in Pennsylvania?
  • Klusendorf: well, there used to be Gosnell’s clinic in Pennsylvania, and you could even get an infanticide there….
  • Brierley: What about Dawkins’ view that it is moral to abort Down’s Syndrome babies?
  • Klusendorf: he is ignoring the scientific case and philosophical case for the pro-life
  • Klusendorf: the pro-life view is a true basis for human equality

What I wanted Scott to ask was whether sex-selection abortions were OK with her. Since her reasoning is “if it’s unwanted, it has no rights”, then that would mean sex-selection abortions are just fine. That’s what a UK abortion expert recently argued. And I also posted recently about how sex-selection abortions are not prosecuted in the UK. If you’re looking for a war on women, there it is.

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William Lane Craig’s secret weapon is his amazing wife Jan

I want to draw your attention to a talk on “Vision in Life” given by Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is the ablest defender of the Christian faith operating today. He has done formal academic debates with all of the best known atheists on major university campuses in front of thousands of university students.

It turns out that he owes a lot of his success to his amazing wife Jan.

The MP3 file is here. (32 minutes)

This talk was Dr. Craig’s chapel address to Biola University students.

About 11 minutes into the talk, Bill describes what happened after he finished his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton:

And so I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 2 years, and was assigned to Northern Illinois University. And that was where I met my wife Jan. She was a graduate of the University of North Dakota where she had come to faith in Christ. And she had a similar vision for her life of evangelism and discipleship.

And as we worked at NIU together, she with gals and I with the guys, leading students to Christ and discipling them to walk with the Lord, we fell in love. And we decided that we would be more effective if we joined forces and became a team.

So their reason for getting together was because they thought that they would be more effective in evangelism and discipleship if they worked as a team.

It is at this point in the talk where Bill begins to explain just how Jan molded him into the lean, mean debating machine that travels the world striking terror into the hearts of atheists.

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.

In an article on his web site, he talks about how Jan encouraged him to do his first Ph.D:

As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”

But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”

What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

And in the same article, he explains how Jan encouraged him to get his second Ph.D:

As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.

I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

Both of these Ph.D experiences are also described in the talk. And the talk concludes as follows:

I am so thankful to be married to a woman who is tremendously resourceful, tremendously talented and energetic, who could have pursued an independent career in any number of areas, but instead, she has chose to wed her aspirations to mine, and to make it her goal to make me the most effective person I can be, for Christ. And she has been like my right arm in ministry over these many years. And it is a tremendous privilege to be a team with a person like that.

And you young men, I would encourage you, if you marry, to find a gal who shares your vision, not some independent vision, but who is interested in aligning herself with you, and pursuing together a common vision and goal that will draw you [together], so that you will avoid the growing separateness that so often creeps into marriages.

And now you know the rest of Bill’s story. The person you marry will have an enormous influence on the impact you will have for Christ and his Kingdom. It is up to you to decide whether that influence is going to be positive or negative, by deciding if you will marry, and if you do marry, by deciding whom you will marry.

I have a popular post that has a lot of questions to ask a woman to make sure that she has the knowledge required to be a wife and mother, but I think in the context of this talk, I should highlight a few other questions that are more about her personality instead of her knowledge.

  • Does she think that the purpose of the relationship is to serve God or to serve herself?
  • Does she enjoy taking on the helper role, or does she ignore the man’s need for help?
  • Is she able provide alternatives when decisions have to be made?
  • Is she comfortable letting a man lead by letting him making decisions?
  • Is she good at being calm, persuasive and reasonable during disagreements?
  • Is she able to control her emotions, and separate facts from feelings?
  • Does she respect what her man has been able to achieve in the normal male roles? (Provider, etc.)
  • Is she the man’s “cheerleader”? Does she praise and encourage him privately and publicly?
  • Does she see her man as an engine for serving God? Does she have a plan to help him perform better?
  • Does she show her man that she is interested in teaching and mentoring others to grow?
  • Does she take an interest in growing her man spiritually? (Men are often more practical than spiritual)

You may also be interested in this talk given by William Lane Craig, entitled “Healthy Relationships” (National Faculty Leadership Conf. 2008) (audio here) In that talk, he offers advice to Christians who want to have a marriage that is consistent with their Christian faith.

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