CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Ah . . . the Jesus Seminar. Given the bombastic, pseudo-intellectual tirades of such luminaries as Sam Harris, I was beginning to miss the annual pronouncements of disbelief in all things New Testament by this collection of radical scholars. Almost . . . .

Now, comes a story from Cinema Blend about a new movie that may be in the works: Christ, the Man. The director of this new epic? Paul Verhoeven, member of the Westar Institute, aka, The Jesus Seminar. Yes, the director of that NC-17 movie Showgirls, is considering taking the myth of the non-God Jesus being foisted upon the public by the Jesus Seminar and turning it into another movie.

The rumor comes from the frequently unreliable guys at WENN, so don’t believe it until someone else confirms it, but it is true that there has long been talk of Paul working on such a film. The working title once rumored for it was Christ, the Man, and apparently there’s now some movement on the whole thing again. The current incarnation is supposed tell Jesus’s story as if he’s not a god made man flesh but instead just a dude. Verhoeven plans to completely ignore all the superstitious mumbo jumbo surrounding him and focus on Big J as a guy navigating the complex political and social landscape of his time.

It seems that the boobs, guns, and gore director has an insatiable interest in the Christ figure. He’s a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who use historical methods to determine who Jesus was. One problem though. He’s afraid it’ll get him lynched.

He reportedly tells Empire Magazine, "My scriptwriter told me not to do the movie in the United States because they (Christians) might shoot me. It's not a joke at all. I took that very seriously. So I took his advice and decided to write a book about it first."

Well, Mr. Vehoeven (who has directed some pretty good movies at times such as Total Recall) doesn't have to worry about being shot by anyone associated with this site. Personally, I doubt he really needs to worry about being shot by any Christian if he makes this movie. That's just part of the "Christians are unthinking fanatics" erroneous view of Christianity that is held by the areligious people in this country (which is being promoted by such luminaries as Sam Harris). No, I think that virtually every Christian recognizes and supports his right to say whatever he wants to say regardless of how wrong. If he wants to make a bad movie misrepresenting Jesus (which is being preceded by a bad book misrepresenting Jesus) he has the right to do so (provided he can find people willing to fund this type of misrepresentation). But if he does make this movie and write this book then I do reserve the right to ridicule them on the basis that they are wrong, to refuse to spend our money to see them, to encourage other people to refuse to see it, and to encourage everyone to withhold buying products or services from anyone who supports the writing, filming and distribution of these works.

While I have used Jeff Downs' Theology Research pages as a matter of course over the past few years, I was not aware of the large assortment of apologetics audio files he has on his apologetics audio page. Consider the following that are just the first few audio files on that page:

Something Much Too Plain to Say (Critique of Michael Martin, etc.)
K. Scott Oliphint Click Here to listen. text version.

God Delusion Debate
David Quinn vs. Richard Dawkins Click Here to listen.

Is God a Delusion? Atheism and the Meaning of Life
Alister McGrath Click Here to listen.

Questions and Answers with Ravi Zacharias at University of Washington
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Who is Alvin Plantinga?
Apologetics.com Click Here to listen.

Apologetic Methodology
Mark Coppenger, Bruce Ware, Ted Cabal and Stephen Wellum Click Here to listen.

No Good Reason to Be an Atheist
Dustin Segers Click Here to listen.

There are at least 100 audio files on the page, and while some of them need to be ordered, many of them are free. I personally enjoyed listening to Is God a Delusion? Atheism and the Meaning of Life by Alister McGrath while I was working last night. It struck me that he was saying a lot of the same things I have been saying about Richard Dawkins' approach to religion. Really good stuff. I had to add it to the Christian CADRE Audio page. Take a look.

Recently, in reading up on this neo-atheist evangelist, I was introduced to his essay, Viruses of the Mind as an innovative work. In "Viruses", Dawkins writes that religious belief, as a meme, is akin to a computer virus thereby reducing the former (which in many people's minds is a high and lofty thing) to the level of the latter (which is acknowledged by virtually everyone to be something undesirable). This is Part II of my comments on that essay. For Part I, see here, for part II see here, and for part III see here.

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The Fourth Symptom: We Don't Do What We Should

4. The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths. He may be similarly violent in his disposition towards apostates (people who once held the faith but have renounced it); or towards heretics (people who espouse a different --- often, perhaps significantly, only very slightly different --- version of the faith). He may also feel hostile towards other modes of thought that are potentially inimical to his faith, such as the method of scientific reason which may function rather like a piece of anti-viral software.

This is a problem area for Christians, but not for Christianity. Christianity teaches us to love our enemies. It says if a man slaps your right cheek, you should turn to him your other. In other words, while the teachings of Jesus Christ says that belief in Jesus is the only way to the father and that other faiths are ultimately false, there is nothing in Christianity that would lead people to conclude that they are to attack and kill unbelievers or heretics.

Having said that, I recognize that Christians have, at times, engaged in such despicable activity. But that is not the fault of Christianity but a flaw in humanity. I am confident that if Dawkins were to get his way and the borderline people who profess trust in a religion but are mostly agnostic join him so that they represent the largest block of people, Dawkins' hateful statements about people of religion will help to spur more vile acts towards people of religion in a very short time than the combined evil acts of all people supposedly acting in the name of Christ over the past 2,000 years.

The Fifth and Sixth Symptoms: Stalemate

5. The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology. Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set? Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the one whose claims seemed most convincing? Almost certainly not. If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.

So what? Certainly, people born to atheist parents are extremely likely to be atheists when they grow up, aren't they? So, why is it that atheists aren't conditioned to believe atheism against all rationality?

6. If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follows a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological. To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one. But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent --- a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St. Paul. Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles. Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntington's Chorea.

So, when someone convinced Dawkins at some age -- contrary to the beliefs of his parents -- that God didn't exist, that wasn't a horizontal transmission by a "potent infective agent"? It is only such a horizontal transmission when what is being transmitted is religious? People often accuse Christians of "special pleading", but if this isn't special pleading, nothing is.

The problem with this whole line of thinking is that any faith, even the faith that God, a god or gods don't exist, is unable to be accepted as rational. All faiths, including his own non-faith, is simply the result of the "agents" to whom each of us have been exposed in the course of our lives.

Adopting this viewpoint means that we are incapable of coming to any knowledge, period. Christians believe what they believe because they were raised to believe it. Likewise, atheists believe what they believe because they were raised to believe it. Stalemete. There are people who change sides, but they don't do so out of reason. Rather, they do so only because they fall under the influence of a hyper-charismatic person who is able to reach beyond their intellect into the non-rational selves to draw them to the other side.

Oh, but wait . . . in Dawkins' view it is only the religious that is based on the non-rational. Atheists, when they leave religion, only do so because they're finally acting rationally. But that's begging the question by assuming that only the atheistic point of view is rational. That simply isn't the case. Why is it that Dawkins' faith in the non-existence of God rises to being strictly rational when all of the religious faiths of the world are the result of mind viruses? Because Dawkins, in the divinity of his own self, says so. But, of course, Dawkins only believes this because he is infected with the "atheism mind virus." Someone who is extremely charismatic reached past the religious mind virus in which he was raised and changed it to an atheism mind virus which has convinced him -- against all reason -- that it is atheism that is rational.

Do you see how this is a stalemate? Both sides can argue that it is the other side that is saying what it says because of a mind virus, and there is no way to prove them wrong in the Dawkins' framework. Let's stop the nonesense and recognize that the question isn't one of the accident of the place of birth; the question is whether the particular faith stands up when it is evaluated rationally. Christianity does so.

The Seventh Symptom: Don't Go There

7. The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love.

This is so simply absurd as to not deserve a response

A friend of mine just pointed out to me a publicized e-mail exchange between the obnoxious Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Dennis Prager, conservative Jewish radio talk show host, that has been published on the Internet. They can be found (starting with Sam Harris' opening e-mail) here. I haven't had the opportunity to read each of the e-mails, but after Harris' typical nonsense, Prager begins his discussion with a truly insightful comment.

There is one thing you and I agree on, Sam. You write that you are "quite sure that we need only use words like 'reason,' 'common sense,' 'evidence,' and 'intellectual honesty' to do the job."

I agree because I am certain that use of those wonderful vehicles to truth make the case for God, not for atheism.

Yet you and other atheists—as opposed to agnostics, who simply claim doubts about God—appropriate words like "reason" and "common sense" to maintain a position that is hardly the fruit of reason and common sense.

Is it really reason and common sense that lead atheists to their certitude that everything, all existence, came about by sheer chance? That there is therefore no God, no creator, no designer? Unlikely. Atheist certainty and religious certainty are both faith claims that transcend reason and common sense. But at least religious believers have the intellectual honesty to admit theirs is a faith claim.

Nevertheless, I am not as certain about God as you are about no-God. When I look at the unjust world God created, I have questions, sometimes even doubts. But not atheists like you, Sam. No, they look at love and consciousness, at the grandeur of the universe, at the birth of a child, and they hear Bach’s music and conclude that all of this and everything else just came about by itself.

It is an understatement to say that I do not find that position intellectually compelling. And when held with certitude, it borders arrogance.

I love that response. I can't wait to read the whole thing.

Here is a very interesting article from The Toronto Star entitled The Chinese connection -- New discoveries from Asia suggest the Dead Sea Scrolls may not be as old as we think:

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been guarded for 60 years like crown jewels, the possessions of a scholarly elite who were challenged only in the past decade to bring the scrolls to the public. Now, there is accumulating and compelling evidence that these supposedly ancient texts are medieval at best and have a connection with China.

That connection is raising questions about the manuscripts' true dating, origin and possible authenticity.

The scrolls were first discovered in a cave in Jordan's Qumran region near the Dead Sea in 1947. By 1956, archaeologists and Arab treasure hunters found 10 more caves at Qumran that held mostly fragments of some 800 manuscripts, commonly thought to have been written between 200 BC and AD 25.

Soon after the scrolls' discovery, a scholarly debate broke out over whether the writings were indeed pre-Christian, with many respected scholars arguing that the texts were much more recent.

Today, a growing number of scholars doubt the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect at Qumran but think they actually originated elsewhere. No one, however, has pointed to Asia, where new information has turned up, including a possibly new scroll called the Moshe Leah Scroll from China.

According to the article, in 1983 Moshe Leah, a Jew living in Taiwan, published an article in an Israeli newspaper looking for correspondents. He claims, apparently, to be a descendent of some Jewish people who had been taken into captivity at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but who had headed east instead of back to Israel when the Israelites were permitted to return to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He claimed that his mother had some scrolls that were destroyed, but that he had photos of the two scrolls.

Of the photos, one was apparently clear enough to be deciphered. It turned out to be a portion of the book of Isaiah in Hebrew in the Chinese calligraphic style. Apparently, those engaging in deciphering the scroll based on the photograph said that there were Aramaic words mixed into the text. And here's where it gets interesting.

But interestingly, the Qumran Isaiah Scroll has no Aramaic in those chapters, indicating that the Moshe Leah Scroll was not a copy of a Qumran scroll.

Rabbi Emanual Silver, curator of the Hebrew section of the British Library, department of Oriental Manuscripts, saw the similarities, and Gabow says Silver wrote, "Anybody slightly acquainted with the Dead Sea Scrolls will notice at a glance the overall similarity of the hand that wrote the Moshe Leah Scrolls to that of certain documents of the Dead Sea caves, and anyone a little familiar with the Dead Sea texts will be struck by the resemblances in orthography."

Gabow wrote, "For the first time the Moshe Leah 'Isaiah Scroll' is associated with Dead Sea texts" because of the similar style of writing.

Neil Altman, the author of the article, has been in correspondence with Leo Gabow, former president of the Sino-Judaic Institute in California, who was able to send him additional information about the Moshe Leah Scroll. Gabow sent to Altman copies of the photos to be examined, and these photos were apparently in the newspaper but not reproduced in the Internet edition of the story. But what I think is more important is what Gabow also sent to Altman.

Gabow also sent me texts in Hebrew from China. In one, known as the Genesis Manuscript (1489-1679) from the Kaifeng Synagogue, the mems (Hebrew "m") were also like those in the Dead Sea's Isaiah Scroll and the Moshe Leah Scroll.

More important, Gabow enclosed a copy of the Khotan text, a business letter written on paper that came from Chinese Central Asia and had been dated from the 8th century. It had numerous Hebrew letters matching those in Dead Sea texts: the unique wishbone-shape gimels, diamond-shaped kophs, S-shaped nuns, giraffe-neck lameds and mems.

If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Christ's time and then buried in caves until the 20th century, how could the same script show up in China in the 8th century — or even later?

Interesting question. I am not a textual scholar and have never spent much time looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves (although I have read about them on several occasions). I am not certain of the legitimacy of this article, but merely bring it to everyone's attention who reads this blog because it does raise questions that are very interesting to those of us who are engaged in the debate about the truth of Christianity.

After all, is it possible that we have lost some proof of the accuracy of the Bible in the form of textual evidence of the substance of the Old Testament from the First Century B.C., but have now more evidence for the captivity of the Jews by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, their release from that captivity, and perhaps even what happened to some of the lost tribes of Israel? After all, consider the following from the article:

These paleographic details provide some solid evidence about the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating them not in antiquity but in the Middle Ages, at the earliest, explains the connection to medieval texts, as well as unusual things like the Chinese symbol for God in the Isaiah Scroll. University of Pennsylvania's Mair dated this character, which also appears in The Order of the Community, another Dead Sea Scroll, no earlier than AD 100 and perhaps 700 years or more later.

Donald Daniel Leslie, an Australian sinologist and leading expert in Kaifeng Jewry, agreed with Mair's dating and wrote in Points East that it's unlikely the Jews and the Chinese knew much, if anything, about each other before the time of Jesus. Leslie wrote that "there is no hint in Western sources of any knowledge of the Chinese language or writing until perhaps a thousand years later."

If there is no connection between the Jewish and the Chinese until 1000 A.D., and some of the evidence being used to refute the early dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls is from a Chinese letter with Hebrew writing from the 8th Century, then we have to ask where the knowledge of the Hebrew lettering came from. The evidence, based on the article, is that it came from the Jews who were released from Babylonian captivity.

That's intriguing.

Recently, in reading up on this neo-atheist evangelist, I was introduced to his essay, Viruses of the Mind as an innovative work. In "Viruses", Dawkins writes that religious belief, as a meme, is akin to a computer virus thereby reducing the former (which in many people's minds is a high and lofty thing) to the level of the latter (which is acknowledged by virtually everyone to be something undesirable). This is Part II of my comments on that essay. For Part I, see here and for part II see here/.

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The Second Symptom: Believing but not Seeing

2. Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based upon evidence. Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief (see below).

This suffers from the same problem as number one: it asserts that faith is not based on evidence which is a crock. But certainly, there is some grounds for his criticism as believers are encouraged to believe without seeing. But that is a far cry from believing despite compelling evidence to the contrary. When Jesus is speaking to Doubting Thomas in John, he is not critical of Thomas for doubting Jesus rising from the dead in a vacuum. Thomas has been with Jesus since almost the beginning of Jesus' ministry. He was witness to many of Jesus' teachings and miracles, and he was told by his companions that Jesus had risen from the dead. In other words, Thomas had a great deal of background evidence that prepared him in advance of the resurrection to expect that Jesus was much more than a mere man. Yet, despite this evidence that he had, he doubted. Hence, Jesus said "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed." This is not an exortation to believe without evidence, but merely a statement that most of us will not literally see Jesus with our eyes because He will ascend into heaven. Those who are able to believe without actually seeing Him will be blessed.

The Third Symptom: Accepting Mystery

3. A related symptom, which a faith-sufferer may also present, is the conviction that "mystery," per se, is a good thing. It is not a virtue to solve mysteries. Rather we should enjoy them, even revel in their insolubility.

This is a clear example of the is/ought fallacy. Certainly there are examples of mysteries in Christianity. Dawkins uses the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation and the wider doctrine of the Trinity as examples of places where Christians are expected to accept the mystery and somehow not seek to understand it. But that is simply wrong, again. The teaching of the Trinity is mysterious because most Christians have a difficult time understanding it. But that is not the same thing as saying we ought to revel in the insolubility of the mystery; rather, we need to recgonize that some things that have not been fully revealed and no amount of investigation, scientific or otherwise, can make them clearer than they are.

Put another way, I am always striving to gain a better understanding of the Trinity. I am personally not satisfied that the church or anyone in the church has been able to come to the best possible understanding of the Trinity by the use of the available tools: Scripture and reason. But at the same time, I recognize that reason can only work with the evidence provided, and virtually all evidence about the nature of God (especially the Trinity) can only come from God Himself in the form of His telling us about His nature. The church would not have come to the idea of the Trinity without the testimony about His nature revealed through Jesus, the Prophets and the Apostles, but what we know is certainly not comprehensive. Regardless of how many scientific tests I run or how long I sit and ponder the nature of the Trinity, I will only be able to come as close to understanding it as God has seen fit to tell us about His nature through His word. Thus, it is a mystery and will remain a mystery.

Does that mean that I should revel in the mystery? I don't think so. Should we be trying our best to better understand God and His nature based upon what has been disclosed by using our reason? Of course. But I do need to accept the fact that it will never be fully solvable until God chooses to disclose more about His nature. Until that time and to that extent, mystery is and will remain part of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Accepting that somethings are mysteries that are beyond our ability to understand them fully is not the same as saying that Christians ought to close his mind and accept mysteries without seeking to understand them.

An Aside on Dawkins' Misuse of Tertullian

I should add that he makes hay out of the idea that Tertullian, a great early Christian thinker, said "Certum est quia impossibile est" (It is certain because it is impossible) and "It is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd". This is simply a misquotation of what Tertullian said and meant. When I need to understand what an ancient author meant without having to read the entire collected works of that author, I find it useful to go to the experts. In the case of Tertullian, there is an expert resource available on the Internet.

According to De carne Christi (On the flesh of Christ) which can be found on the great website The Tertullian Project by Roger Pearse:

Tertullian is best known by a famous misquotation from ch. 5, verse 4: 'credo quia absurdum' -- 'I believe because it is absurd.' The usual implication is that Tertullian believed in Christianity because it was absurd. Tertullian thought nothing of the kind: see the quotes page for a passage on reason from De Paenitentia 1,2. See also the articles by Moffat and Sider, online below. The real quote, followed by a personal opinion on the meaning:

Crucifixus est dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est.
Et mortuus est dei filius; credibile prorsus est, quia ineptum est.
Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile.

The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly.
He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible. (Evans translation).

"The argument is whether or not it is real, or whether Christ was really just a phantasm. This latter view is justified by its author (Marcion) as being less impossible, dangerous or shameful. The context is not about 'reason', but 'wisdom', meaning worldly wisdom or convention, not logic.

"The set of three phrases -- God was crucified, but I'm not ashamed, precisely because it's shameful; God died, but it's not silly, precisely because its silly; God rose again, and it is certain because it's impossible -- starts from this idea of shame and the violation conventional expectations, and runs away from there. This means we have to ask whether all three phrases are not just saying the same thing in different words.

"If we say not, we must ask whether Tertullian is really introducing suddenly, for three words, a whole new idea proper to a quite different audience -- Moffat's a 'sudden intrusion of anti-rationalism' -- rather than summarising what went before? I wonder a bit whether we are misleading ourselves with 'impossibile' thinking in terms of physical impossibility rather than moral impossibility, as under discussion beforehand?

"The popular understanding of this phrase means we have three words related neither to the chapter before or after. That cannot be right. Both sides belong to the faith side, in fact. The argument as such is scriptural, as between two people disagreeing on a point of Christian belief, not as between believer and unbeliever. Indeed the non-Christian holds views considerably less 'rational' to a modern perspective, than otherwise -- that Christ was some form of semi-physical ghost, not a man, although he looked like one. So no argument for whether or not the resurrection happened, per se, is to be expected. Still less is any discussion of the truth of the Christian religion part of this, except as regards the argument with Marcion." (Roger Pearse)

So, in what I will accept as a well-meaning mistake, it is clear that Dawkins is wrong in his use of Tertullian as an example of Christian embracing of irrationality.

Recently, in reading up on this neo-atheist evangelist, I was introduced to his essay, Viruses of the Mind as an innovative work. In "Viruses", Dawkins writes that religious belief, as a meme, is akin to a computer virus thereby reducing the former (which in many people's minds is a high and lofty thing) to the level of the latter (which is acknowledged by virtually everyone to be something undesirable). This is Part II of my comments on that essay. For Part I, see here.

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In the crux of his argument, after assuming the truth of his virus/religion viewpoint (contrary to strong evidence), Dawkins speculates what doctors might identify as the symptoms of a person who suffers from a religious mind virus. He develops a list of seven supposed symptoms that would be evidenced by a faith sufferer. Of course, since he has decided that religion is an evil that needs to be stamped out, he only views those "symptoms" that are negative (at least, negative due to his inaccurate characterizations of religion).

Given his unrealistically negative viewpoint, what does Dawkins purport are the symptoms? What follows in this series are the symptoms he proposes, and my reasons that they don't apply to Christianity (many of the reasons I give for rejecting his view that Christianity has the virus status he claims are unique to Christianity, and I do not evaluate his "symptoms" as against other religious beliefs).

The First Symptom: Assurance

1. The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as "faith."

Well, there's the first problem. Christianity is different than most of the world's religions in the fact that it is built on evidence and reason. Sure, there is an element of faith involved, but it isn't the blind faith that Dawkins posits. Rather, Biblical faith, as so aptly stated in Hebrews 11, is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." This is more than blind faith. As Greg Koukl says in Faith and Facts:

We see the word "hope," we see the word "assurance," and we see the word "conviction"--that is, confidence. Now, what gives us confidence?

If you buy a lottery ticket, do you hope you'll win the lottery? Yes, of course you do. Do you have any assurance you'll win the lottery? Absolutely not. You have no way of knowing that your ticket is any better than the millions of other lottery tickets out there competing for the same pot.

But what if you had x-ray vision, and you could see through the gray scratch-off coating on the lottery tickets you buy at the supermarket? You'd know if you had a $100, $200 or a $1,000 winner, wouldn't you? In that case, would you merely hope you'd win? No, you'd have assurance , wouldn't you? You'd have assurance of those things you previously only hoped for. It would be hope with conviction, not a mere hoped, but a hope buttressed by facts and evidence.

That's why the Christian faith cares about the evidence, friends. For the biblical Christian, the facts matter. You can't have assurance for something you don't know you're going to get. You can only hope for it.

Everyone has faith in things unseen. Anything that we read in books, magazines or newspapers that we have not personally witnessed or tested that we believe to be true is a thing unseen that we have faith in. Any place that we have heard of but never personally seen is a place that we have faith in. This is especially true in historical matters. For example, I have assurance that the Declaration of Independence was written largely by Thomas Jefferson even though I wasn't there to see him write it. I have that assurance because I have read books with authority that support that claim.

Of course, Richard Dawkins rejects the Christian claim that is based on the same type of historical evidence. Why? Because he doesn't understand basic hermeneutics. Consider this statement from Chapter 7 of The God Delusion (obtained from here):

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong, in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognizable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians.

John Shelby Spong is his example of a Christian with "advanced" beliefs? That alone makes his views laughable. But consider that the New Testament text is none of the things that he claims that make the Bible "weird." As I have argued many times previously, much of the new testament is written by either eyewitnesses to Jesus or people who were their immediate disciples. Few doubt the Apostle Paul's authorship of most of the works attributed to him, and he claims that his views have been accepted by the other apostles (except where he, himself, identifies disagreements). While it cannot be "proven" that the apostle Matthew, eyewitness to Jesus, wrote Matthew; that John Mark, follower of the Apostle John, wrote Mark (based on the teachings of the Apostle John in Rome); Luke wrote Luke after interviewing people who were eyewitnesses to Jesus' and the Apostle John, eyewitness to Jesus, wrote John; a good case can be made for all of these authorships.

And what exactly do all five of these authors have in common? They speak of Jesus, the Son of God, who lived on earth in Palestine, taught with wisdom and authority, performed miracles, was crucified, died, was buried and self-volitionally rose again on the third day. But, of course, that's almost certainly Dawkins' real problem with the Christian claim of authority in the New Testament -- his restrictive view of reality cannot accept the claims made in the Scriptures.

So, his claim that "faith" doesn't "seem to owe anything to evidence or reason" is simply wrong, wrong, wrong. He doesn't understand the Bible or the Christian faith so he criticizes it unjustly.

Richard Dawkins, the heavy-handed author of The God Delusion, has made it his personal mission to decry the evils of religion in order to convince the rest of the world (many of whom find comfort and happinss in a true knowledge of God) that they are misguided fools. Like the worst of snake oil salesmen, Dawkins pedals his wares by pointing to the most flagrant abuses of religious belief, such as the late-Jim Jones, and encourages the offended populace that his tonic is the cure-all for what ails the world. Fortunately, while most people recognize that his cure is probably more injurious than helpful, many people are reading what he has to say as evidenced by the fact that his latest work is at number 7 on the New York Times Best Seller List for Non-Fiction (even though it is really fiction).

Recently, in reading up on this neo-atheist evangelist, I was introduced to his essay, Viruses of the Mind as an innovative work. In "Viruses", Dawkins writes that religious belief, as a meme, is akin to a computer virus thereby reducing the former (which in many people's minds is a high and lofty thing) to the level of the latter (which is acknowledged by virtually everyone to be something undesirable).

Of course, assuming that such a thing as a meme exists, it is simply a matter of Dawkins' own personal animosity towards religious belief that makes religion akin to a computer virus. You see, assuming that memes exist, the idea that this particular meme is harmful in the same way as a computer virus begs the question of whether it is actually harmful. He assumes it is based upon his own dark view of religion. Thus, even if I grant the existence of memes, I would argue that Dawkins is so completely and utterly blinded by his contempt of religion (as demonstrated all too often by the bombastic language he uses to criticize it) that he cannot see that religion is a good and useful thing (the very thing he later uses to explain why science is not a computer virus, too, despite the fact the science memes "might look superficially virus-like".) Of course, it's easy to equate disparate things if you either overlook their differences or misrepresent them so that the differences don't exist. As the result of his negative view of religion, that is precisely what Dawkins does in this essay.

Imagine There's No Heaven

While I am a fan of the Beatles, I am not a fan of John Lennon's post-Beatles effort to reduce the complexities of life to simple slogans like "give peace a chance." Of course, it would be very nice if the whole world would be willing to do just that, but it is very naive to think that they ever would. Why is that? Because the nature of man is such that there will always be people who don't share this vision and would kill people who stand in their way of riches and power. His vision, superfically enticing though it may be, is not in concert with reality. Lennon's view of religion was much the same way.

Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try,
No hell below us, above us only sky.
Imagine all the people, living for today . . . .

To John Lennon, the idea that there is no God and no heaven is seen as something worthwhile; to me, it is a thought too terrible to think. People living only for today is a good thing? Not in my world view. People, being short, nasty and brutish (to quote Hobbes) are not likely to do the right thing if they are only living for today. Religion is actually something that helps remind people that there is a higher power that expects responsible behavior. Yet, Lennon thought the world would somehow be better off without religion because he, like Dawkins, was apparently fixated on the dark side of religion and failed to note that religion -- especially Christianity -- has brought immeasureable amounts of good and happiness to the world.

Things Go Better With God

Religion isn't the evil that Dawkins claims. In an article entitled Good Faith: Things Go Better With God, Karl Zinsmeister points out an entire range of ways in which religious belief promotes the public good. As he states it, Societies are more prosperous and individuals more thriving where faith blooms. Here are some samples of how religious belief has been beneficial to society:

Research on 1,750 urban and rural high school students found that even after controlling for factors like parental control and support, students with no religious affiliation were vastly more likely to be underage drinkers.

The very lowest risk of divorce today, numerous studies show, is among couples who attend religious services together.

Statistics from the charitable clearinghouse Independent Sector show that among people who attend church weekly, 71 percent are volunteers of some sort, to the tune of 3.4 hours per week on average, and that they donate 3.8 percent of their income to others. The comparable figures for people who never attend church: 40 percent volunteer, giving an average of 1.6 hours per week, and 0.8 percent of their income goes to charity.

A major study done for the Girl Scouts of America found that religious youngsters are much likelier than the non-religious to avoid anti-social acts and to engage in altruistic activities. Rich kids who are religious and poor kids who are religious "have far more in common with each other" than religious and non-religious kids in the same socioeconomic group do, according to the study authors.

Dozens of academic studies show that even after adjustments are made for family influence, neighborhood, race, income, and other factors, religious commitment (particularly church attendance) clearly discourages delinquency among youth.

A study of Canadian college students found that those involved with Christian campus groups were significantly healthier, made less use of health care services, and scored significantly higher on measures of psychological balance, ability to handle stress, and avoidance of depression--despite being similar to fellow students in other ways.

Many of the greatest Western scientists--for example Alfred North Whitehead in his 1925 Lowell Lectures at Harvard--acknowledged that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science, and that non-Christian religious views stifled the scientific quest elsewhere. But this reality has been muffled and suppressed in recent generations.

My fellow blogger, Layman, has written two excellent articles that demonstrate convincingly that Christianity has been one of the driving forces behind the elimination of infanticide which was prevelant in the ancient, pagan world (Pagans, Christianity and Infanticide) and gave rise to a culture that was generous in charity towards those in need (Pagans, Christianity and Charity).

These facts, and there are many others, show that Christianity has had a major impact for the good on society. What about a world without Christianity? Would it somehow be a place where people live in harmony? I strongly doubt it. There is no promise or even a strong expectation that many of these good things would have occurred if Christianity and its morals, principals and world view had never existed. Has that thought occurred to Dawkins? Probably not. He simply assumes that his paper doll characterization of religion -- including Christian belief -- is enough to demonstrate that it's an evil that should be stamped out.

In part II, we will look at the symptoms of faith sufferers.

According to a newstory entitled "First volume of book by pope on Jesus to be published in spring", Pope Benedict XVI will be entering his viewpoint as a scholar into the question of whether the Biblical texts are historically sound. The article notes:

Pope Benedict XVI has put the finishing touches on the first volume of a work titled "Jesus of Nazareth" that will hit the bookstores in the spring, the Vatican has said.

The pope "has finished editing the first part of the book, entitled 'Jesus of Nazareth', and returned it a few days ago to the Vatican publishing service," the Vatican said in a statement.

* * *

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a written note to the media that the book "is not an encyclical, which means that it can be freely discussed and criticized."

Benedict has taken into account the most recent research on Jesus to explain how the historical person and the Jesus of the Christian faith are combined in the same figure, Lombardi said.

I expect that Pope Benedict's work will be a welcome addition to the discussion about the relationship between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith (who, in my view, are one and the same).

Thanksgiving in America would largely be a forgotten holiday if it weren't for the fact that most people have a four day weekend. Halloween had barely ended and the stores were already stocked with Christmas lights, trees, and reindeer. I couldn't go to the hardware store without hearing "Deck the Halls" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" floating down the aisles.

But Thanksgiving is actually a holiday that deserves more attention. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to give thanks to the Lord, and it is worthwhile to take advantage of a day that has been devoted to giving thanks to do just that. The Pilgrims certainly did at that first Thanksgiving, and a hymn which I have always associated with that first Thanksgiving is "Come Ye Thankful People Come." In fact, the song was not around in 1621, but was written in 1844.

When I was growing up, I knew "Come Ye Thankful People Come" by the name of "Harvest Home," and I loved the melody. Still, I never paid much attention to the words. But now that I'm older, I have discovered that the lyrics, written by Dr. Henry Alford, a noted hymnologist and Greek scholar, hold a deep level of meaning.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

Now, while I have always loved this song, I have never been clear on what exactly a "harvest home" is. I simply assumed that it was a phrase that meant the home of a farmer who had finished harvesting his fields. Boy, was I wrong.

Today, however, I discovered an on-line article entitled "The First Thanksgiving (1621) And, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" (1844)" which discusses the writing of this Thanksgiving hymn and the meaning of the verses. For example, it says of the phrase "harvest home"

The first verse is a true expression of God's safe provision and a call for man's thanksgiving. "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). It addresses the common theme of harvest festivals, called in England the Harvest Home, which is celebrated in English churches usually during the month of September. A thanksgiving service would be held in the church, where the bounty of the harvest is collected, displayed with the fall trappings of pumpkins and autumn leaves, and then dispensed to the needy. And, of course, unlike the humanist that is essentially grateful to only himself, a true Harvest Home celebration acknowledges the provision of God, as did the Pilgrims in 1621 and the ancient Hebrews in their Feast of Firstfruits in the spring on the first day after Passover at the time of the barley harvest.

With this knowledge, now consider again the first verse. It is a call to those who are thankful to God to come to the Harvest Home (the service of celebration) where they can give thanks to the maker who has provided for their needs. The bounty is then shared with the poor in a Biblically ordained act of distributive justice.

But with the second verse, the song changes. It still speaks of the harvest, but the focus is no longer on the harvest of wheat and other things grown to meet our earthly needs.

All the world is God's own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

As the article previously cited notes, "the last three verses deal with the theme of final harvest in the judgment of the world as paralleled in Christ's parables of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and the parable of the seed springing up without the sower knowing of it (Mark 4:26-29)." In other words, we are going to be God's harvest. Some of us will be the wholesome grain while others will be the tares which are to be cast out. The song, therefore, has taken a turn from being thankful for the provision of God and turns to a prayer that requests that we be among those who are harvested by God and shall be part of his Harvest Home.

The song continues

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

This is an image of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ that He foretold in the Olivet Discourse. And it is a call for Jesus to come soon and take those of us who are part of the harvest to His home in heaven. The continuing use of the language of the harvest is both beautiful, illustrative and Biblical.

I pray that each and every person here has a wonderful Thanksgiving and comes to the dinner table with a true heart of thanksgiving for all of the great and wonderful provisions that God has granted to us. Further, I pray that those who are not yet part of the great harvest to come will, before that great and terrible day, come to a true knowledge of the awesome majesty of the truths of God as relayed to man through Jesus Christ, God's one and only true Son.

Happy Thanksgiving!

With attacks on Christianity and religion in general escalating over recent months, it was only a matter of time before Time Magazine entered the fray and did a cover story about the question of whether "religion [can] stand up to the progress of science". And so, in an article entitled "God v. Science" (available on the Internet for a limited time), examines this issue from through a discussion between the bombastic Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

I want to recommend the overview of the article by CADRE contributor The Dawn Treader who has taken the time to record some rather insightful observations about the article in two posts entitled Collins vs. Dawkins, Part I and Collins v. Dawkins, Conclusion. Consider this bit of analysis:

Dawkins claimed that the acceptance of the possibility of miracles destroys scientific investigation. This is a silly argument and fails the sniff test. The great scientific minds down through the ages have been possessed by those who have accepted the possibility of miracles ... and science flourished. There are many scientists today, in fact, who accept the possibility of miracles and aggressively investigate the natural world and make discoveries. Collins' significant accomplishments are an argument against this faux argument. Dawkins has offered up a softball with this argument ... we need to slam it out of the park.

The Dawn Treader is right, as usual. The greatest scientific discoveries prior to the 20th Century were virtually all by Christians who were investigating God's creation. Throughout history, Christians have studied the creation because they considered that part of the general revelation of God. It is an absolute fantasy that religious people have neither the inclination or motivation to seek natural causes for events. No Christian that I know (and none that I have ever read) argue that scientific investigation seeking natural causes of things is wrong. What is viewed as wrongful is allowing people with naturalistic philosophical worldviews like scientism or evolutionism to somehow be considered the only valid voices concerning the study of our universe.

Read the article then read The Dawn Treader's evaluation. I'm sure he'd welcome questions about his critique on his blog.

Uskon ja ajattelun puolesta - För tro och tänkande has linked to a list of resources that critique the inane ramblings of Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion. Several of the links give excellent arguments against Dawkins on several fronts, but I really enjoyed both Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? and Calling Dawkins' Bluff by Peter Williams. Mr. Williams briefly goes through the arguments that Dawkins presents against various arguments for the existence of God and shows exactly how vacuous they really are.

For example, consider the following from Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

However, Dawkins' attack upon the historical reliability of the Bible, which draws upon scholars like agnostic Bart Ehrman (who follows Hume's discredited proposal that miracle claims cannot in principle be supported by evidence[9]), is full of demonstrably false and misleading claims. Indeed, Dawkins' critique constitutes a 'greatest hits' of the sort of thing I expect to hear from students who have uncritically lapped up philosophically outdated sceptical treatments of Scripture that confirm their prejudices.[10] Plenty of contemporary scholars reject Dawkins' opinions concerning the reliability of the Bible on evidential grounds.

I would say that it's amazing that the sort of drivel being spilled out by Dawkins' receives the uncritical praise it has received in most secular circles, but I have come to expect it. You want to be a best selling author? Write something critical of religion. It doesn't matter how childish, unthinking or passè it is -- there are people who will lap it up and heap praise on you. Very sad.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today entitled "By Process of Intimidation" about an ACLU and American's United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) joint lawsuit against a school in West Virginia that had a portrait of Jesus hanging outside of the principal's office for the last 37 years. As the article points out, the attack on the portrait of Jesus was a bit one-sided since apparently there are also "a two-foot statue and a portrait of Buddha that remain displayed in two classrooms in the school" which were not part of the lawsuit and therefore apparently unobjectionable. But I suspect any type of investigation of the suits filed by organizations like these would reveal that the vast majority of their suits seek to remove Christian symbols with only a few lawsuits seeking to remove other religious symbols.

But what I found most interesting was the discussion of how the ACLU and AUSCS threatened the school with a charge of excessive attorney fees that the school would have to pay if they didn't surrender its position. According to the article:

In federal lawsuits against state officials that allege violations of constitutional rights, defendants are required to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees if they lose the suit. In this case, Americans United explicitly warned the Bridgeport school board that, if it lost the case, it would be paying over a substantial amount of money to its own lawyers and those of the ACLU. Thus there is a strong—and unjustly one-sided—financial incentive on the part of many public institutions to cave in to the demands of groups such as the ACLU and Americans United and settle such suits.

I wrote about this problem on September 28 in a blog entry entitled "No More Attorney Fees For Establishment Clause Lawsuits" where I said:

The ACLU is an organization that works to prevent violations of people's civil rights. The ACLU is well-funded and is capable of pursuing lawsuits in a way that is outside the financial ability of the ordinary citizen. The ACLU also has a track record of pursuing litigation that fits into its more liberal-minded view of the Establishment Clause -- a view that is not shared by many people in the population. When the ACLU enters into the scene, the situation changes. Instead of the city or state being the better funded of the two parties to the litigation, suddenly the plaintiff is the better funded -- especially against smaller towns and townships which don't have huge budgets set aside for fighting such lawsuits. The result is that many cities or towns have to settle with the ACLU rather than fight the litigation because the governing body of the city or town knows that if it loses (regardless of how remote the chances) it will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in attorney fees that the ACLU attorneys were able to bill for prosecuting the litigation.

What is the size of the school district in West Virginia? Well, according to the WSJ article, the lawsuit concerned the town of Bridgeport, W.Va., which has a total population of 7,300. Which do you suppose is better-backed financially?

Personally, I think this is another example of the ACLU using strongarm tactics to force its agenda on smaller communities. This tactic of the ACLU is little better than a gang tactic to get its way using the fear of financial ruin. The ACLU ought to be ashamed -- but, of course, it is way beyond shame.

This morning, I saw two articles in the paper about exciting new treatments using stem cells. The first is entitled "Stem cells help dogs with dystrophy". According to the article:

In promising new research, stem cells worked remarkably well at easing symptoms of muscular dystrophy in dogs, an experiment that experts call a significant step toward treating people.

"It's a great breakthrough for all of us working on stem cells for muscular dystrophy," said researcher Johnny Huard of the University of Pittsburgh, who wasn't involved in the work.

The second article is entitled "Scientists grow heart valves from stem cells" talks about using stem cells from amniotic fluid to grow replacement heart valves.

Scientists for the first time have grown human heart valves using stem cells from the fluid that cushions babies in the womb - a revolutionary approach that may be used to repair defective hearts in the future.

The idea is to create these new valves in the lab while the pregnancy progresses and have them ready to implant in a baby with heart defects after birth.

The Swiss experiment follows successes at growing bladders and blood vessels and suggests that people may one day be able to grow their own replacement heart parts - in some cases before they are born. And it is one of several radical tissue engineering advances that could lead to homegrown heart valves for infants and adults that are more durable and effective than artificial or cadaver valves.

"This may open a whole new therapy concept to the treatment of congenital heart defects," said Simon Hoerstrup, a University of Zurich scientist who led the work. It was presented yesterday at an American Heart Association meeting.

Both of these articles are excellent news for people who suffer from either muscular dystrophy or heart valve problems. It says a great deal about the skill, knowledge and dedication of the scientists who are working diligently to try to find new medical treatements for problems that have long plagued humanity. With additional time and effort the stem cell research in these cases may present treatments. But here's what equally important to note: in neither of these articles were embryonic stem cells used in the treatments. In the muscular dystrophy story, the article notes:

The study was published online Wednesday by the journal Nature. It used stem cells taken from the affected dogs or other dogs, rather than from embryos. For human use, the idea of using such "adult" stem cells from humans would avoid the controversial method of destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells.

The heart valve story, meanwhile, reports that the process is done as follows:

Amniotic fluid was obtained through a needle inserted into the womb during amniocentesis, a common prenatal test.

Fetal stem cells were isolated from the fluid, cultured in a lab dish, then placed on a mold shaped like a small pen and made of biodegradable plastic. It took only four to six weeks to grow each of the 12 valves created in the experiment.

Fetal stem cells from amniotic fluid are not embryonic stem cells, and no human being is killed in the process of the treatment. According to an article about this type of research in ScienceDaily from 2003 entitled Scientists Find Potential Stem Cells In Amniotic Fluid A New Source?

Research by Austrian geneticists has raised the possibility that stem cells[1] could be isolated from amniotic fluid the protective 'bath water' that surrounds the unborn baby.

Geneticist Professor Markus Hengstschläger and his team at the University of Vienna have isolated a subgroup of cells from amniotic fluid that express a protein called Oct-4 known to be a key marker for human pluripotent stem cells.

Reporting the findings today (Monday 30 June) in Europe's leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction[2], Professor Hengstschläger stressed that the investigation was at an early stage. A lot more work had to be done to verify the finding, and tests were now under way to establish in which direction the cells could be differentiated. However, preliminary experiments have already provided evidence that they can be differentiated into nerve cells.

If, after extensive research these stem cells do prove to have similar potential to embryonic stem cells, ultimately it could reduce the need to use human embryos as a source, thus easing the tensions in this ethically controversial area.

Thus, once again treatments are being developed that seem to circumvent the need to use embryonic stem cells. The muscular dystrophy treatment seems to strongly suggest that the adult stem cells would serve the same purpose as embryonic stem cells are hoped to serve in this area. The heart valve treatment seems to show that one of the proposed alternatives to the use of embryonic stem cells, fetal stem cells extracted from amniotic fluid, will serve the role that embryonic stem cells were slated by the press to play.

In fact, as I have noted before, there are three things that need to be kept in mind about stem cell research whenever this issue is discussed.

1. As far as I know, no one has a problem with stem cell research in general. It's only embryonic stem cell research that is ethically problematic. Stem cell research using adult stem cells, fetal stem cells from amniotic fluid or one of the other alternative sources of stem cells are largely seen as completely unobjectionable.

2. Embryonic stem cell research, at minimum, offers ethical challenges. If the opponents of embryonic stem cell research (of which I am one) are correct, the only way to get the embryonic stem cells is to kill a human being. Sure, the human being is only in its embryonic stage of development, but it is scientifically and ontologically speaking a human being. Thus, it seems that if other alternatives can be developed, they should, at minimum, be explored fully before undertaking this type of research which every fair-minded individual should recognize causes serious ethical concerns in the eyes of many people.

3. While the research into embryonic stem cells is admittedly in its infancy, there have been absolutely no treatments developed using embryonic stem cells. Moreover, such treatments are years away with no promise of every actually arising. I recall that my fellow blogger, Layman, once analogized the search for cures with embryonic stem cells to the search for the fountain of youth, and he was right. Meanwhile, many treatments using stem cells from non-embryonic sources that serve the same function that embryonic stem cells are hoped to provide are popping up every few weeks. Thus, as research develops it appears more and more like embryonic stem cell treatments are phantoms while the real progress can be found in the non-controversial research into adult stem cells and embryonic stem cell alternatives.

So, I have to ask: what is the obsession with embryonic stem cells? Why are we pushing so hard to put money into this single line of morally questionable research? I don't know, but I have a couple of suspicions.

First, when I was in college, one of my professors told me that when you are talking politics to always follow the money. So, who is receiving the lion's share of the billions of dollars being funneled into embryonic stem cell research? Well, in California, the people behind Proposition 71 where the people voted to fund this type of research were apparently the people who most benefited. According to Rich Deem at in an essay entitled "Arguments Against Proposition 71: The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative" at the excellent Evidence for God from Science website (footnotes omitted):

Individuals and special interest groups (from real estate and biotechnology companies) that stand to gain financially from Proposition 71 have contributed large sums of cash to the campaign. Robert Klein, president of real-estate development company Klein Financial, has since donated more than $1,000,000. Joseph Lacob, John Doerr, Joe Lacob and Brook Byers, partners with the firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (which funds several healthcare and biotech-related companies), contributed $500,000, $974,649, $500,017 and $460,000, respectively. William Unger of Mayfield Venture Capital (which also funds biotech companies) contributed $50,000, according to campaign finance records. George Rathmann, co-founder of Amgen and is now chairman of biotechnology company Nuvelo, has contributed $50,000. William Rutter, co-founder and chairman of Chiron, contributed $50,000. Another biotechnology executive, Gilead Science vice president James Rooney, has contributed $10,000.

Unbelievably, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative provides up to 300 million dollars for real estate development and facilities construction. In, fact "four real estate specialists" are called for in the initiative. This provision is virtually unheard of in funding of medical research grants. Established investigators already have research laboratories. These facilities are provided by the institution (usually provided by a university or biotech company). In the case of universities, these buildings are usually funded through donations. Therefore, any scientist worthy of funding for medical research already has a research lab. This provision of the initiative will probably be lining somebody's pockets, instead of funding medical research.

Second, I have to believe that the pro-abortion crowd has some hand in this somewhere. After all, the same arguments are being made that embryos are not human beings and their sacrifice is no big deal in both the abortion and embryonic stem cell arenas. If the proponents of embryonic stem cell research are able to convince the people to back this research, abortion-rights advocates can piggy-back on their victories to argue that the people don't see embryos as human beings worthy of protection. Certainly, the two are often tied together in discussions, and it seems pretty obvious that the loosening of restrictions on either are done only where people see the embryo as less than human.

Are there other reasons for this obsession that I'm missing?

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

After my last post on Natural Law Thinkers in the 16th and 17th Century, I decided to add the entire Acton Institute audio pages to the CADRE Apologetics Audio page. Here is what was added:

Acton Institute -- A selection of recent radio broadcasts from the Acton Institute which organizes seminars aimed at educating religious leaders of all denominations, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers in economics principles, and in the connection that can exist between virtue and economic thinking. The Acton Institute also maintains an audio lecture page largely related to lectures on Christianity and economics.

Some of the titles available as of today's date include:

"Evangelical Response to Global Warming"
by Jay W. Richards
Mornings with Scott & Larri, (2006-09-27)

"On Pope Benedict XIV's 'Provocation' of Islam"
by Robert A. Sirico
Keeping Current with Kur, (2006-09-18)

"Interview on Euthanasia"
by Samuel J. Gregg
Morning Air, (2006-07-27)

"The Da Vinci Code Debate"
by Robert A. Sirico
The Laura Ingraham Show, (2006-05-08)

The Acton Institute also maintains several articles both on its blog and elsewhere which can be found here. Some of the titles available as of today's date include:

"Defending the Weak and the Idol of Equality"

People unfamiliar with Catholic social teaching may be surprised to learn that the church has consistently condemned socialism. The Catholic Church has never embraced 'equality' the way socialism has. The church is not indifferent to the poor. Rather, the church proposes an alternative principle for helping them. Instead of 'make everyone equal' as a guiding premise, the church proposes 'defend the weak' as the appropriate posture toward the poor. These approaches have different factual foundations and distinct policy implications, especially with regard to society's most basic institution, the family.

"The Idolatry of Political Christianity"

On this eve of the mid-term elections in the United States, it's worthwhile to reflect a bit on the impetus in North American evangelical Christianity to emphasize the importance of politics. Indeed, it is apparent that the term "evangelical" is quickly coming to have primarily political significance, rather than theological or ecclesiastical, such that Time magazine could include two Roman Catholics (Richard John Neuhaus and Rick Santorum) among its list of the 25 most influential "evangelicals" in America.

"What is Truth!"

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Andrew Sullivan on the radio last week about Sullivan's book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. Discussing the value of various figures throughout history as moral heroes, Sullivan speaks of "the great question that Pilate asked, what is truth? The truth is not quite as easy and as simple as we sometimes think it is. And the truth about everything, the meaning of the whole universe, is something that is, by definition, very hard for humans to grasp. I mean, God, if God exists, must, by definition, be unknowable to us."

"Wealth, Envy, and Happiness"

One of the most common substitutes for God is money, which is in part why Jesus warns us against this specific temptation. The prophet Ezekiel describes the voracious appetite of the wicked foe: "He is as greedy as the grave / and like death is never satisfied." But greed is not a vice simply of our foes or enemies; we are all tempted by this natively human sin.

"Changing Culture, Not Politics, Changes Human Behavior"

Welfare reform is not a partisan issue. In the end there is clearly a moral component in such reform. Ten years is enough time to demonstrate that the reform has worked but there is still much to be done, both to continue the gains of the reform and, more importantly, to raise the ability of our society to care for its weakest members in ways that promote both personal responsibility and communities of compassion.

"Natural Law and the Fiduciary Duties of Business Managers"

Recent business scandals have focused attention on failures of corporate governance involving serious breaches of traditional legal and ethical standards on the part of those who manage corporate affairs. This article argues that the legal standards applicable to managerial behavior are traceable to deeply rooted moral standards that are the basis of the 'fiduciary principle'; that the fiduciary principle is a principle of natural law that has been incorporated into the Anglo-American legal tradition; and that this principle underlies the duties of good faith, loyalty, and care that apply to corporate directors and officers. The fiduciary duties of corporate managers run to shareholders and not to creditors, employees, and other 'stakeholders.' This article further argues that corporate directors cannot eliminate their fiduciary obligation by contract. Enforcement by the courts of longstanding fiduciary standards of conduct is a better solution to problems of corporate governance than increased government regulation.

Is knowledge of right and wrong written on the human heart? Do people know God from the world around them? Does natural knowledge contribute to Christian doctrine?

Stephen J. Grabill, Ph.D., Research Scholar in Theology and Executive Editor, Journal of Markets & Morality, and author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, has written an article touching on these questions (which questions are more fully addressed in his book) entitled Natural Law and the Protestant Moral Tradition about four ways in which natural law is important to the doctrines of the church. These are:

(1) none of the confessional documents of the magisterial Reformation rejected the doctrine of natural law;

(2) natural law played a significant role in the three uses of law articulated by the Reformers;

(3) the Reformers did not play special revelation off against general revelation, as tends to happen today, both were considered legitimate forms of revelation that served distinct roles in theology; and

(4) the Reformers felt no tension in affirming a strong doctrine of original sin, on the one hand, and natural law, on the other.

The article is short, and he provides some background for these points in the paper. If you have the time, there is also an audio/MP3 of a lecture he gave based on this paper in which he begins by reading the paper with a few comments, and then continues with a great deal of additional information (which is undoubtedly contained in his book) in a lecture that can be found here.

Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has written a new book which will probably make his materialist-only colleagues squirm. Entitled God's Universe, Professor Gingerich, according to the press release,

. . . argues that an individual can be both a creative scientist and a believer in divine design--that indeed the very motivation for scientific research can derive from a desire to trace God's handiwork. The scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems much the same as does his atheistic colleague across the hall. Both are likely to view the astonishing adaptations in nature with a sense of surprise, wonder, and mystery.

According to the Los Angeles Times book review

Taking the Bible seriously does not have to mean interpreting it literally. Indeed, Gingerich deplores this approach to Scripture. He notes the inconsistency of the biblical literalists in accepting the fruits of science while rejecting the principles on which these achievements depend. "Folks who take in stride the modern technology of cell phones, laser scanners, airplanes, and atomic bombs," he writes, "nevertheless show reluctance to accept the implications of the science that lies behind these awesome inventions" — specifically, the long age of the universe required to produce the necessary materials: uranium, silicon and other complex atomic elements.

Gingerich is clearly no advocate for the "Intelligent Design" movement. Yet he does not find naturalistic materialism a plausible explanation for how things have come to be as they are. To him, as a scientist, the universe suggests something other than blind chance or pure luck. He writes that he believes in intelligent design (lowercase) and in a God who works with natural laws. He notes correctly that materialism is itself a metaphysical presupposition and not (as too many of its proponents suggest) a scientific fact. By shoving materialism down our throats and insisting that the discoveries of science admit of no other interpretation, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins "single-handedly makes more converts to Intelligent Design" than any of its leading theorists.

I think that the book looks very interesting. From the book review, it appears that Dr. Gingerich is a "theistic evolutionist" who is able to look at the universe and see the handiwork of God (even if he is not willing to go so far as some of his colleagues who see that handiwork in the fact that the simplest cell does not seem to be able to arise purely naturalistically in the way described by Darwinists). I look forward to reading what he has to say.

In today's Albuquerque Journal, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe wrote a clear explanation of the Roman Catholic Church's stand on the issue of embryonic stem cell research entitled Church Believes in Cures That Don't Sacrifice Life. I think that this is one of the clearest statements I have seen as to why many Christians oppose embryonic stem cell research. Here is part of what Archbishop Sheehan had to say:

Even a small embryo is a human being. We all started out as embryonic stem cells. To harvest embryonic stem cells— even to help human life— is wrong because it kills the embryo. It means in effect using tiny human body parts for scientific purposes.

The end does not justify the means.

We know that the genetic package is really complete when conception takes place and sonar pictures of the living infant in the womb clearly show human life as it grows and develops.

Human-life issues are the bedrock of our faith. Respect for life is central to Catholicism, and thus we defend every life where it is threatened— from conception to natural death. We are committed to a consistent ethic of life. Hence, we oppose abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia and capital punishment. As a religious leader I have a serious obligation to share this teaching with others. I am aware that some will not agree.

Some will say that human embryos are in frozen storage and ultimately will be discarded anyway so why is it wrong to try and get some good out of them? Well, in the end we will all die anyway, but that gives no one the right to kill us.

These embryos will not die because they are inherently unable to survive, but rather because others are choosing to hand them over for destructive research instead of letting them implant in their mother's womb. The idea of experimenting on human beings because they may die anyway also imposes a grave threat to convicted prisoners, terminally ill patients and others.

The article by Archbishop Sheehan is short (I think I have published about half of it), and I encourage everyone to take the time to read through and ponder what he has to say. I know that I found it 99% in agreement with my own thoughts.

Las Cruces, New Mexico, has been sued by one of the enlightened to remove the crosses that have been part of the city logo for many, many years. Never mind that the name "Las Cruces" is Spanish for "The Crosses", the mere presence of the crosses on the seal was enough to apparently trouble Paul Weinbaum, Olivia Weinbaum and Martin Boyd so thoroughly that they felt a need to foist their collective viewpoint on the rest of the city by bringing a lawsuit against Las Cruces to have the crosses removed (but, of course, such a suit doesn't change the offense since he still lives in a city named "the Crosses" -- I guess that was the planned follow-up suit).

In a fit of common sense, the judge has now thrown out the lawsuit:

A judge has rejected an effort to prohibit the city of Las Cruces from using Christian crosses on its logos or vehicles.

U-S District Judge Robert Brack yesterday dismissed the lawsuit filed by Paul Weinbaum of Las Cruces, his daughter Olivia Weinbaum and Martin Boyd.

Of course, Mr. Weinbaum says he'll appeal. Let's hope that the New Mexico court of appeals shows the same common sense as Judge Brack.

I have not read Sam Harris' book Letter to a Christian Nation, but what I read from him in interviews tells me that there's little point to doing so. Based upon his interviews, he is simply a modern, lesser version of Thomas Paine whose own book The Age of Reason has made him a champion among skeptics, but whose work is rightfully dismissed by Christians. Still, because he is getting some press, I thought it worthwhile to link to some resources that do respond to Mr. Harris' work.

First, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason responds to the major claim of Harris' earlier book, The End of Faith by challenging the idea that Christianity has had some pernicious effect on society in his radio program of September 24, 2006. The discussion takes place between approximately the 40 and 50 minute marks.

A bit more thorough, if not more flippant, response can be found with J.P. Holding's Tektonics in his Letter to a Maladjusted Misotheist.

William F. Vallicella, Ph.D., The Maverick Philosopher, has written a critique of Sam Harris' earlier work, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason in a piece entitled Is Religion the Problem? His assessment? "His book is not very good judged by professional standards, but it did make quite a splash."

Chris Lehman of Reason Magazine Online gives a rather entertaining but scathing review of Harris' End of Faith in an article entitled Among the Non-Believers -- The tedium of dogmatic atheism. An extremely amusing line by Mr. Lehman, who says towards the end that he is "far from a believer", is: "Harris' stolid--dare one say dogmatic?--failure to see anything in contemporary religion other than the exclusive, world-conquering fantasizing of monotheism at its worst keeps his book mired squarely in a painfully anachronistic atheist's bill of indictments, cribbed in most particulars from the heyday of Enlightenment skepticism."

Two Christian bloggers have also undertaken the task of responding more systematically to Mr. Harris' claims in Letter to a Christian Nation by way of a series of separate blog entries. The first are being published on The Wittenberg Door by the Catechizer. His first post on the topic is dated November 2, 2006, and entitled Letter to a Christian Nation. The second blog is the cleverly named Blog and Mablog by Douglas Wilson. His first post is dated November 9, 2006, and entitled But I Am The Pastor Guy, and the second post is dated November 10, 2006, and entitled A Trout in the Punchbowl.

Anyone know of any other good reviews of Mr. Harris' swill?

I was driving to work today, and I saw a very . . . um, quaint bumper sticker. I was fairly certain before I read it that it would be counter to one of my beliefs because it was on the back of a car with a large number of bumper stickers. It has long been an observation of mine that skeptics and Democrats are the two groups most likely to load down their car with bumper stickers. I wasn't disappointed. This particular bumper sticker had words to this effect: "Keep Your Prayer Out Of My Schools; I'll Keep Thought Out Of Your Church."

Needless to say, I was rolling on the floor laughing. After all, I can't imagine anything more clever than that. (Please note the dripping sarcasm.)

But, of course, this is simply a perpetuation of the straw man characterization of Christianity that it is not an intellectual pursuit. The old catch phrase is that Chrsitianity is a matter of faith, not facts. In one respect, I understand the attitude because too often in Christian churches people are told to just believe or just have faith without providing any intellectual meat to support such belief/faith. This approach to faith is also a fairly recent phenomenon since prior to the 20th Century, it was Christianity and the Christians who were the leaders in virtually all intellectual endeavors in both the Americas and Europe. It was in the early 1900s that the Christian church took on a rather anti-intellectual viewpoint of its own faith, and today's Christians are having to reap what its forefathers have sown.

But thankfully this trend is showing signs of reversing. In addition to the fine thoughtful works by such intellectual luminaries in the Christian church as Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland and others too numererous to identify in this short piece, it appears that Christianity as an intellectual pursuit is beginning to gain some steam in the Ivy League Universities.

According to an article in the Yale Herald entitled "Do Christian students have a prayer in the classroom?", the number of students interested in pursuing the study of religion not as an anthropological view but as an intellectual pursuit in and of itself is increasing.

Had I matriculated in 1999, academics might have spurred me into agnosticism; in 2003, though, a nascent network of students and faculty existed to convince me that my belief was worth preserving, even at Yale. And though I didn’t know it at the time, I had entered college amidst a groundswell of post-9/11 academic religious interest. That resurgence coincided with a rapidly growing community of Ivy-League Christians who take their cues from the few professors they know to be believers. As a result Christianity—once the pariah of modern intellectualism—is slowly reinventing itself as a viable academic perspective on campus.

* * *

My decision to continue believing in a living God—despite Nietzsche's pronouncements to the contrary—was largely due to the efforts of a faith community which, after an era of marginalization by the secular establishment, is exploding on Ivy League campuses. Moreover, Yale appears to be leading the pack with respect to this trend. According to statistics cited by the Christian Post, an online Christian news outlet, membership in fellowships such as Campus Crusade for Christ has, over the past 20 years, increased by 163 percent at Brown, 500 percent at Harvard—and 700 percent at Yale. Such growth stems from many factors—most notably, the influx of Asian-American students, many with deeply Christian roots in Korea and China, as well as the fact that evangelicals have climbed the socioeconomic ladder over the past 30 years, a trend which has empowered them to pay the high cost of an Ivy League education.

The Christian population explosion has coincided with an unprecedented revival of intellectual interest in religion after decades of indifference. While there were only six seniors majoring in religious studies at Yale as recently as 1999, that number has since ballooned to 30. After a recent internal curriculum review, Harvard, traditionally known for being more secular than Yale, is considering requiring a course in religion towards the undergraduate degree.

Along with virtually every other professor interviewed, Philosophy Professor John Hare, whose "Philosophy of Religion" class routinely reaches maximum capacity, cited the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as a trigger for this seismic shift in attitude. "It's clear now how much is at stake for our world with regard to these religious questions," Hare said. The secularist concept that faith and reason are mutually exclusive certainly seems to be on the way out. "Back in the '80s, and even into the early '90s, people would regularly come up to me and ask why we were teaching religion in university," said Carlos Eire, chair of the religious studies department. "No one asks that any more."

The article goes on and raises a lot of interesting questions and insights into the life of Christian students in a still atheist dominated arena, and I encourage everyone to read it. But I do want to add that I wholeheartedly agree with the closing advice to Christians.

"The most important thing we can do [as Christian students] is to not fall into stereotypes," said Ellen Ray, CC '09, a DS veteran. "We have to show that we can approach things with an open mind." In that respect, the Christian and secular scholar may have more in common than either might think.

About three months ago (wow, how time flies), I was writing a series about Richard Carrier's attempted rebuttal of J.P. Moreland's argument on Morality found in his book Scaling the Secular City. (Carrier's original essay can be found here and the first part of this series can be found here, the second part can be found here, and the third part can be found here.) I took the position that Moreland’s argument on Morality was unscathed by Carrier’s rebuttal. In the process, we discussed whether there was any humanistic alternative basis for morality. One reader, Bruce, made what I considered to be one of the better arguments for a basis for humanistic morality that I have seen, and I promised him I would give it a response. Well, three months have passed and I thought I had better do it before I completely forget.

Here is what Bruce wrote:

Secular humanists have still another reason to be moral, which I personally take to be the most compelling in my own life, and it should be no less compelling to Christians. We naturally hate those who lie, cheat, murder, and steal; we hate those who are intolerant or insolent or malevolent in some way. This is simply a natural emotion arising from the human constitution. After all, such people represent a threat to our own survival and well being, as well as to that of our family, friends, and all those whom we care about, and this includes not just people, but ideals and institutions. But this hatred is felt not merely for those who threaten us or our loved ones -- it is felt for anyone who embodies malevolence. For we react this way even to fictional characters who can never harm anyone in the real world. The very idea of villainy is repugnant to us. Even the real villains among us try to paint themselves as heroes, more I believe to deceive themselves than to deceive others. People who actually want to be evil, as opposed to those who are evil but want to believe they are good, are not only rare, they can also be called monsters, for whom no argument of any kind could ever persuade them to become truly good -- even if God himself rebuked them. In the very same manner, we love those who are benevolent, honest, or otherwise virtuous -- fictional or not.
Because of this natural moral sentiment, whether inborn or learned (or both), whenever we act like those we hate, we will be faced with a psychological dilemma. We will be forced, on some level of our being, to hate ourselves. Even if we try to take steps to hide from this fact, as I believe most villains in the world do, we cannot avoid deeper psychological ramifications. Self-hatred, self-defeating hypocrisy, perpetual dissatisfaction with the world and ourselves, even outright madness will creep upon us, as history and personal experience shows. And once we have seen the truth about ourselves, even the option to hide from it no longer exists. Our self-loathing will then become direct and profound. It is those who have achieved this state of mind who truly know what it means to ask others how they can sleep at night, or how they can live with themselves, after doing something personally loathsome.

I certainly appreciate the time and thought Bruce must have put into your system of morality, and there is a certain surface appeal to this viewpoint. Thus, I want to write this as a sort of open letter to Bruce explaining my reason for disagreeing with his position.

Bruce,

You and I agree that lying, cheating, murdering stealing, intolerance and malevolence are wrong, and this instinctive agreement gives credibility to your viewpoint. (I’m not so sure that insolence rises to the same level, but I am certainly happy that you believe it’s wrong to be impertinent.) The fact that we share these beliefs show that while we disagree on many things, we both agree that intentionally harming those with whom we disagree by word or deed is immoral. That’s good.

However, to say that we’re in agreement on the end result of your system is not the same as saying that we’re in agreement as to how you got there. It is similar to the fact that we both know that the dinosaurs went extinct many millions of years ago, and speculating about the cause of their extinction. If you believe the extinction was caused by a meteor impact, and I believe it was caused by global cooling unrelated to such an impact, then the fact that we are in agreement to the fact that things ended doesn’t mean we’re equally correct in explaining how we arrived at that end. In your case, I am not sure that you have done anything more than engage in circular reasoning.

Here, in a nutshell is your reasoning: we hate people who act immorally because we recognize it as wrong. What is the basis for this recognition? You attribute as either “inborn or learned (or both).”In other words, you never give any type of basis for this recognition -- it just exists. But that’s the problem.

You see, we both agree that it’s wrong to lie, cheat, steal, murder, etc. But your effort simply examines and accepts it as a given. Where did it come from? At first, you justify your identification of these things as immoral by saying that it risks both you and your family's survival and well-being (not just the people themselves, but ideas and institutions). But then you (rightly) abandon this reasoning by saying it goes deeper to a natural repugnance of malevolence. Of course, “malevolent” is a loaded word -- in its ordinary understanding it means "evil". Evil is not a neutral word. Evil assumes that there is such a thing as good and evil, and that is not readily apparent if the universe is not created within some universal moral framework. So, when you say we hate those who embody malevolence, such a statement seems to me to be a major case of begging the question.

In effect you are pointing to the symptoms, but ignoring the disease. I can point to a person with a stuffy nose and a sore throat and conclude that they have a cold without having any understanding as to what causes a cold. That is what you have done. You say that we hate villains, and that we will not sleep at night when we do things that are loathsome, but that doesn’t go to the heart of the question raised by the argument from morality -- why are these things loathsome or villainesque?

Christianity poses a reason for these feelings: there is a God who, as part of his perfectly good character, epitomizes morality. He created mankind and put His law into our hearts in such a way that even those who deny Him and His existence recognize when they are acting contrary to His good and perfect will. Thus, we feel bad inside when we act immorally because we know that we have violated the will of a good and perfect God (even while we may deny that such a good and perfect God exists).

Your attempt, on the other hand, suffers from the same problem as every other humanistic attempt to identify a basis for morality that I have seen -- it acknowledges what Christianity acknowledges (the intuitive knowledge of right and wrong) but fails to give any basis for why that feeling exists. It isn’t merely learned otherwise morality is relative to what a person is taught. In such cases, it is impossible for someone to claim that any other society did something immoral because they were simply acting according to the morality of that society. The very idea that society decides what is moral seems a little awkward to me given the number of things that societies have largely accepted as moral. Child sacrifice was seen as moral in some cultures. Cannibalism has been seen as moral. Prostitution has been seen as moral. Hatred of others has been seen as moral. Feeding people to the lions for entertainment has been seen as moral. And these were not individual cases. They are practices that have been repeatedly accepted time and time again throughout history. Thus, on what basis do you say that your morality in these areas is better than theirs?

Morality, to be what you describe, has to be inborn, but that is where humanistic explanations break down. There is no evolutionary basis that can explain the rise of an absolute morality that is written on our hearts.

I want to encourage you and anyone who reads this to consider more deeply why we consider certain things to be immoral over time. Why can we look back on societies that engaged in child sacrifice or didn’t punish rape or the institution of slavery in the Southern United States and call them immoral in an ultimate sense if there is no ultimate morality? Even the arguments that people have been throwing at me concerning the annihilation of the Amalekites in the book of 1 Samuel cannot be seen as somehow morally repugnant unless there is first an acknowledgement that there is some type of universal morality that the Israelites violated! So, what is the basis for your morality that is both absolute and timeless?

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