CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

John Loftus is one of the lead contributors to the anti-Christian blog, Debunking Christianity. He has commented here a number of times; most recently--ironically--on the issue of whether atheists can have a coherent philosophy of morality.

On May 22, 2007, he posted an entry attacking J.P. Holding. Nothing new here; Holding is enemy no. 1 for the online skeptics. Loftus began by linking to a blog by another atheist attacking Holding. Then, Loftus linked to another blog devoted to attacking Holding, in this manner:

I recently noticed another blog that apparently started up in March which is very critical of J.P. Holding, here. I personally do not like Holding, but I'm probably not going to waste my time on him, except to point out what others are saying about him....

When you go to the referenced anti-Holding blog, you see a picture of Holding and the title of the blog, "J.P. Holding." This in itself is deceptive as such pictures and titles usually identify the author of the blog at issue, rather than the subject. But it is also notable that the anti-Holding blog does not identify its own author (while criticizing Holding for using a pseudonym out of privacy concerns) and leaves the implication that the blog may just be hosted by someone impartial or even a Christian. This impression can be created by the discussion of Holding's purported lack of "theological credentials" and calls on "Christians themselves to denounce him" because he "is an embarrassment to Christianity."

The blog goes on to misleadingly frame the attack on Holding as the "consensus opinion about J.P. Holding." The source of this consensus opinion? Another atheist blogger hostile to Christianity. Other sources? Well-known impartial commentators such as Richard Carrier, a former editor-in-chief of the Secular Web, Early Doherty, the Jesus Myth hero of the left, etc., etc., etc. Any equal time for dissenting views? Nope. Not even a comments section for anyone to raise questions or voice disagreement.

But getting back to the author of the blog. Who could it be?

Well. It turns out that the author is John Loftus, who claimed at Debunking Christianity to have "just noticed" it and told his readers that it "apparently" started in March, feigning ignorance about its origins. He also distanced himself from the effort by saying he would not be wasting his own time attacking Holding except to point people towards anti-Holding resources--which he apparently had just done by linking to two such sites.

This was all uncovered by Holding himself. You can follow the thread here. Loftus admits that he was in fact the author of the anti-Holding blog but claims it was not "technically" a lie.

In my opinion, it was worse than a lie. Loftus knew he was deceiving his readers and crafted his blog post for just that purpose. The cleverness he apparently thinks he used to frame the description to give him "technical" deniability only confirms the intentional nature of the deception. When a blogger uses his own blog to deceive his readers to promote an agenda he claims distance from, he has lost credibility and the respect of his readers, assuming the audience is worthy of respect. There are many blogs out there and I am honored by those who make this one a part of their online reading. Our readers are not pawns in our personal, or even ideological, agendas. They--be they Christians or skeptics or undecided--deserve more than that. They deserve respect. Loftus has proven that he has a different view.

Another thing. I am mindful that I am only one contributor to this blog, as Loftus is one contributor to Debunking Christianity. Although we do not always agree with each other, we respect each other. I have no doubt about the integrity of of my co-bloggers and I trust I never do anything to make them doubt mine. If I did, my first concern would be how my actions impugned their reputation. For while no one should assume that co-bloggers always agree, they may rightfully assume that co-bloggers pick their fellows with care for character. By using a shared blog to promote his deception, Loftus raises questions about those who continue to blog with him--especially given the fact that he stands by his tactics. He has tarred them with his own deception and while they are not responsible for his actions, it cannot but touch their reputations as well.

Update: After claiming the right to "lie to liars" and to "deceive" his "enemies," Loftus has admitted that what he did was wrong. If you have followed my comments on his blog, you will see that this was my main point there; whether it was the policy of the Debunking Christianity blog (including Loftus' 10 or so co-bloggers), that it was justified for them to intentionally deceive their readers so long as the deception served their ideological agenda. This seemed Loftus' position in post after post. Yet neither he nor his co-bloggers--some defending him, some asking him to apologize--gave a straight answer to the question. However, given that Loftus has not just apologized, but admitted that what he did was wrong, I will take that as an implicit answer that it is not the policy of Debunking Christianity that intentional deception is a justifiable tool in their rhetorical box.

Hector Avalos has reflected recently on his membership in the Society of Biblical Literature and on biblical studies more generally. I cannot say that I am impressed with the maturity or the soundness of his views. In fact, I find myself disagreeing with him in just about everything he says. But it should be noted that this is not just because he is a secular humanist complaining (unjustly, I usually think) about the supposed dominance of faith-based scholarship in the academy. As a reflective Christian I welcome legitimate prophetic criticism which can help us believers remove the beam that is in our own eye when it comes to unwarranted assumptions, complacency or abuse of power. But I certainly don't think that Hector Avalos has given us such a critique.

Avalos charges that "The vast majority of SBL members are engaged in an elite leisure pursuit called "biblical studies," which is subsidized through churches, academic institutions, and taxpayers. Keeping biblical scholars employed, despite their irrelevance to anyone outside of faith communities, is the main mission of the SBL." Now it is certainly true that scholarship in any field can only thrive when the appropriate cultural mechanisms are in place, and this includes a substantial amount of leisure time on behalf of its practitioners. But Avalos seems to imply that this is something sinister, that it is both 'elitist' and 'leisurely', and this to me seems completely off base. Shall we bring the academic machine grinding to a halt because scholars don't move around as much as more 'manual' laborers? Avalos suggests that biblical scholars are irrelevant to anyone outside faith communities, as if to say that faith communities aren't worth sustaining or that the people who comprise these communities are second-rate people, or at any rate at least not very significant. Avalos seems to be ignoring that these 'faith communities' are not simply private groups of 25-30 people, but comprise hundreds of millions of believers all around the world. The suggestion that scholarship must be relevant only for those outside faith communities is ridiculous.

Avalos next outlines a bizarre theory of the social construction of value, according to which "Shakespeare's works, for example, have no intrinsic value, but they function as cultural capital insofar as 'knowing Shakespeare' helps provide entry into elite, educated society. The academic study of literature, in general, functions to maintain class distinctions rather than to help humanity in any practical manner."

Now it is certainly true that academia can be used to reinforce social hierarchies and that academic snobbery is a very bad thing. But I refuse to believe that Shakespeare only has value insofar as it provides entry into an elite academic club. Reading Shakespeare has been incredibly enriching for me personally. His language is a delight to read, especially out loud; he gives me a far greater range of expressiveness for romantic feelings, struggling with conscience, the perplexities of existence, etc. than I could ever come up with on my own. The suggestion that the great works of literature of the past only have value as it is culturally endowed for socio-political reasons is so far from the humanistic ideal of education that I can scarcely bring myself to speak civilly about it. Apparently Avalos' conception of helping humanity in a 'practical' manner excludes intellectual enrichment by way of acquaintance with great literature. We should all be working on the farms to produce more food and making more houses rather than studying literature and keeping humanistic culture alive.

But let's accept for the sake of argument that works of literature have no intrinsic value. This would make another of Avalos' objections completely meaningless. He complains that scholars and translators have focused their energies on the Bible as opposed to "thousands of other non-biblical texts of ancient cultures": "In archaeology, new inscriptions, even the most fragmentary and the barely comprehensible, are announced with great fanfare when there is a remote connection to the Bible. Meanwhile, thousands of more complete texts of other cultures still lie untranslated." But by his own admission there is nothing of intrinsic value in works of literature, so why should it matter that these other texts are ignored? If the Bible only retains its relevance and value becuase of the academic sanction of biblical scholars, how much more so would be the case with these other texts?

This leads into another bizarre complaint directed especially against the Society of Biblical Literature: that its members focus on the study of the Bible more than on other texts! He says that "Bibliolatry is what binds most members of the SBL together, be they conservative evangelicals or Marxist hermeneuticians." (see also his above comments on archeology) Aside from the dubious appropriation of the word 'bibliolatry' (which ironically was first used by biblical theologians who complained that inerrantists had substituted the Bible for the real, Living, Word of God), I can't believe he is levelling this protest against the Society of BIBLICAL Literature. Let's repeat again: BIBLICAL literature. You become a member of the SBL because you are interested in the BIBLE, not Mayan or Hindu or Afrikaans or other literature. How can he blame a professional society for focusing solely on its professed subject? That's like accusing the American Physical Society of 'physicolatry' because its members study physics and not some other subject!

Avalos has a slightly more nuanced discussion of the problem of the irrelevance of biblical worldviews. It must be admitted that when the Bible is studied in its proper cultural and historical context some of its imagery and ideas strike the modern reader as bizarre or even in some cases repulsive. Christian scholars have for the longest time used the principle of accomodation to account for the obvious fact that the Scriptures arose in a particular cultural and historical context, and we should not uncritically accept any and every cultural artifact from Biblical times as normative for faith today (i.e. Christians no longer abide by the regulations of the Temple cult). But the same if not more applies for the uncritical acceptance of modern cultural categories, as Peter Berger and others have stressed. C.S. Lewis had a great term for this phenomenon: chronological snobbery, the idea that newer is always better in the world of thought. Avalos apparently would dismiss out of hand the idea that the Bible should subject our own worldview to scrutiny rather than just the other way around. In so doing he submits to a radically timeless view of history in which we have nothing whatsoever to learn from the past. Put this way it is not surprising that he rejects the intrinsic value of Shakespeare, since the Bard is certainly very far away from us culturally, if perhaps not as far as the Bible.

There is certainly nothing wrong with his suggestion that more people should engage in 'practical' pursuits for the benefit of humanity. But the idea that this should happen at the EXPENSE of people entering academic work is completely off base. A modern civilization such as our own needs all kinds of specialists, including doctors, lawyers, scientists, businessmen, farmers and yes, academicians. I do not want to think about what would happen to civilization if people got the idea that only 'practical' pursuits are worth time and effort. A kind of Orwellian pragmatism would prevail, in which perhaps food and technology production would be at an all-time high and perhaps everyone would be fed and clothed, but there would be no intellectual culture to speak of, no free exchange of ideas, no enrichment through art, music or literature (they would have no intrinsic value anyway). I simply cannot bring myself to abandon the Renaissance ideal of education, which indeed involves learning 'for its own sake', not just what will make fields more productive or cars more efficient, although those pursuits definitely have their place.

In the end, I think that Avalos' commentary is a sad reminder of the state of disarray in the SECULAR academy, not the religious community. There is indeed a crisis of purpose in the modern academy, as academicians like George Marsden and C. John Sommerville have been arguing for a long time. But this is due to the postmodern rejection of truth and the suspicion of meta-narratives, not due to an excessive focus on faith-based perspectives. The Christian worldview has the 'cultural capital' to unite the pursuit of learning with real service to humanity, to say nothing of an immensely satisfying conception of "all truth as God's truth" which makes all fields of inquiry valid and significant. Compared to the great intellectual vision of the likes of Augustine and Aquinas of old, or more recently Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd, Hector Avalos' vision seems incredibly thin, excessively pragmatist and very uninspiring.

A while ago, Richard Burridge wrote one of the most influential books in New Testament studies in the last 30 years: What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Greco-Roman Biography. At the time Burridge began his study, the prevailing view of the genre of the Gospels was that they were sui generis -- of their own unique genre as pioneered by Mark. While Burridge was undertaking his study, some stirrings had arisen questioning the majority opinion (most notably by Charles H. Talbert and his books arguing that the Gospels were ancient biographies). As Burridge began his inquiry, he expected to refute the notion that the Gospels were akin to ancient biographies, but ended up confirming the dissenting view. So influential was Burridge's argument that the majority opinion has shifted and the view that the Gospels were written according to the genre of ancient, Greco-Roman biography is ascendant.

Burridge's work, however, is not easy reading. If someone is looking for the case for -- and significance of -- identifying the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies that is an easier read, I recommend Christopher Bryan's A Preface to Mark. Weighing in at 183 pages, the first half of the book discusses Mark's genre and the second focuses on its orality -- that it was meant to be read out loud in public performances. Bryan is openly indebted to Burridge, but condenses the argument and adds his own stamp on it. His knowledge of ancient literature is obvious and well used in support of his argument that Mark is a clear member of the genre of Greco-Roman biography.

One of my favorite parts of A Preface to Mark is the author's discussion of how genre idenfitication works by detecting characteristics common to the genre, but also those that may depart from the genre and why. It is not a simple matter of math, adding up all the elements and identifying the genre. This makes genre detection more art than science, though not unduly subjective. Bryan uses the example of High Noon, one of the classic Westerns, to good effect as an example of how genre detection may work. High Noon has obvious elements of a Western (geographic and temporal setting, outnumbered good guy versus bad guys), but is lacking others (such as a sidekick, bad or flawed character made good, or a noble saloon girl). It also has important elements of a Romance film, with an old flame competing for the affections of the sheriff with a new wife. Despite the missing elements and elements of other genres, there is no doubt that High Noon is a Western. It is not a Romance despite having clear elements typical of that Genre. Such an approach to the issue of genre, with a clearly anachronistic but helpful explanation, is most welcome. Indeed, I have many books and articles on genre, and Bryan's is one of the most helpful on how it genre identification should work.

I also benefited from the second part of the book, which explores characteristics of Mark that indicate it was meant to be read orally. I was not as convinced as with the first part on genre, though as a short commentary on Mark the blow-by-blow discussion of parts of Mark is well worth it. Unfortunately, Bryan seems to rely on more recent examples, such as Beowulf and old English tales, to make points about composition of written works intended for oral consumption; not just by the author reading out loud to himself or small groups, but to entire churches and large groups. Still, if one takes the case as made, Bryan's discussion is almost riveting as points as he explains how the oral performance of Mark would have involved the audience.

A very good book on two distinct topics.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine, originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The current topic is ethical grounding, and an analysis of problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation. The previous entry, which introduced the topic and provided distinctions of explanation for discussion, can be found here.

I am still in chapter 30, “an introduction of the question of ethics”.

This entry features several footnote comments, which I will include as bracketed notes in the text below.

....... [text excerpt begins here]

In the first class, ethics are proposed to be an invention of us humans. This is one way that ethics are proposed to be rational. [Footnote 329: But only so long as the underlying philosophy self-consistently affirms that we are capable of active reason.]

Notice I said an invention, not a discovery; a discovery would entail one of the other two options.

This proposal happens to be popular among atheistic naturalists, including (although not limited to, and not necessarily found among every variety of) secular humanists. I have already argued that atheism does not, of itself, self-consistently allow for human rationality. But I would be wrong to try to apply such a blow here. I will not argue that this type of explanation is accepted by such-and-such a philosophy, which I think I have already refuted, therefore this explanation is consequently refuted. On the contrary, I have already insisted (and I think even demonstrated) that a contention subordinate to philosophy 'A' might still be grounded by philosophy 'B'.

[Footnote 330: For instance, this first explanation might also be given by a pantheist or by some types of supernaturalistic theist (such as a nominal deist). I myself even can, and do, give it in a way!--which I will discuss later. I am only using a secular humanist as a convenient example, not because this explanation is intrinsically linked to secular humanism. Some secular humanists attempt to appeal to a discovered actually ethical standard of rational behavior; and still others attempt to appeal to a discovered standard of non-rational amoral behavior instead. Moreover, in practice, secular humanists are just as likely to combine all three kinds of appeal into a total case as I am! So all three attempts are represented among them; but these other two kinds will be covered later in their own categories.]

That being the case, for the moment I simply wish to examine this general class of 'explanation for ethics', as well as the other two afterwards, on their own terms.

The point--and the weakness--to a proposal of invented ethics, is that what we are describing and expressing by inventing these "ethical relationships" are not themselves, in fact, ethical relationships.

A proponent of invented ethics would probably grant, that due to ignorance of actual causes, and also due to traditional habits of expression, very many people might think that when they behave ethically they are referring to an objective standard that is itself "ethical". In much the same way, most people think there is a centrifugal force (which pushes you left in your car seat when you sharply whirl your car to the right), although in fact there is no such force--the centrifugal force turns out to be the outer show or reflection of the real force at work, which is centripetal (pulling in toward the center of the arc, not outward at a shallow angle). But the centrifugal pseudo-force can be mathematically described and even used as if it was a 'real' force; and so for most people (although not for engineers) the difference is mainly semantic.

But in the case of invented (not discovered) ethical systems, the difference is not only semantic: it means that whenever anyone behaves as if an objective ethical standard can be applied to, her attempt to apply such a justification can be explained away; thereby removing any justification she may have had for arguing that she (or someone else) ought to do something. Here are some examples:

'If we as Americans take seriously, as a principle, the idea that the American people should each shoulder their fair share of taxes, then the tax laws ought to be examined with an eye toward redistributing the current load, because under the current load about 60% of the tax income is provided by 1% of the American citizens.' -- 'You are only saying this, because you fall into that 1% bracket, and wish to pay less tax yourself.'

'If we as Americans take seriously, as a principle, the idea that the American people should be free to express their beliefs about religion, then we should have parity in the schools so that our children can learn tolerance and charity for other people, and can express their beliefs without fear of ostracization.' -- 'You are only saying this, because you are a non-Christian whose child is attending a school where the children and teachers are (apparently) 99% Christian.'

These are two thorny ethical claims. But the proponent of invented ethics avoids the thorns altogether: they are not actually ethical claims (as far as she is concerned), even if they seem to be ethical in quality; and therefore (as a quite reasonable tautology) there can be no moral justification or moral imperative for even discussing the questions, much more for attempting a reformatory action.

You may have noticed, by the way, that such a theory about the origin and subsequent weight of ethical behavior--that such descriptions mask a ruthlessly practical series of rational actions--tends to evaporate the moment the shoe is on the other foot! This kind of secular humanist will argue just as strenuously as any person who proposes the reality of human-independent objective ethics, that the requirement for her child to be exposed to a theistic belief clause in a pledge of national allegiance simply is not fair; and she will expect her audience to perceive and understand the principles, and will castigate the school publicly (to great critical applause in the press) if the school refuses to change its policy of using that phrase.

In her theory of social dynamics, ethics are a socially acceptable and useful mask for the principle that 'power justifies action'; in her own social practice, she is very likely to stridently declare that the power of a group is not (more specifically should not be) the ground for the actions they take.

None of this, by the way, is an argument that this kind of secular humanist is incorrect about her theory of invented ethics. The fact that a given secular humanist does not actually treat ethics, in practical situations, according to how she thinks the ethics are accounted for, is nothing to the point; it is merely an interesting (and sometimes very amusing!) practical problem with the proposal that ethics are only a human invention.

This type of explanation does have some very plausible arguments behind it; and its proponent can very self-consistently admit (before or after she herself tries to treat the ethical appeals as if they were really what they seemed to be) that she is only treating ethical questions as if they were really what they seemed to be--that she has to do this because it's the only way to get things accomplished.

She can even say, that although it may seem to you she is being self-consciously treacherous and deceitful to apply for justification to a notion she herself believes is merely invented (and thus purely arbitrary except with respect to the power of the groups who back the notions in question), in point of fact she is not being treacherous or deceitful: for those are themselves ethical judgments of her actions, which judgments (she says) are not actually ethical themselves but merely are actions you are taking to ensure society doesn't break down by her inefficient use of her knowledge of the actual underlying causes (for instance).

If you pointed out to her that in your opinion her actions in manipulating the illusion do threaten to subvert or undermine the power status quo, she would probably agree with you. But, so what? She wants something done, and so will play the game of ethical justification in any way she can, to get it done.

She might at first agree with you, that at least a working and stable society should not be subverted and undermined; but after thinking about the implications of the "should not" (once it becomes explicit) she would probably clarify herself: it is simply in her self-interest--for the moment--that the current stable society shall stay the way it is. When her self-interest changes so that in her estimation her gain for herself is greater by subverting or undermining the current stability, then given the opportunity and ability this is what she will (very rationally!) choose to do.

She might suggest that her own self-gratification is not the primary, or only, scale by which she rationally judges which actions to take; she may say that she could be working for her children's gratification, or for the gratification of (one of) her distinct social groups. But if you ask her why she would work to gratify her social group, then if she honestly and self-consistently sticks to her own theory, she will say it is to her advantage (even if merely for her own enjoyment) to gratify that social group. If you ask her why she would work for her children, then she would say because it satisfies her to work for her children. If you ask her whether she would do anything for the children if it did not satisfy her... well, I don't know what she would say, other than no. If she said yes, she would not be self-consistent with her own theory of ethical behavior, and would then be applying--really applying, not merely for show--to another explanation for ethics (perhaps the second one, which I will get to in a moment).

If you claimed that you cannot trust her, because of this standard she has of judging which actions to take, she would quite sensibly correct you: you can trust her to act in the way she perceives to be in her own best interest. Or if she has slipped by accident into thinking that a human-independent scale of behavior justification does exist, you can trust her to follow that illusion as long as she is under the illusion; whether you notice this slip and choose to take advantage of her or not, is your affair. She would of course prefer you didn't take advantage of her; and to protect herself and to ensure that social force is brought to bear against you if you try to take advantage of her, she will choose to put her defense in whatever terms of ethics the power-group she wishes to manipulate is currently using.

Interestingly, for her self-gratification to be maximized, it is to her advantage (whether she realizes it or not) for most people to remain confused (as she sees it) about the reality of what ethical behaviors actually are; because if everyone behaved as she did, then they would pay no attention to any appeals she makes in the language of ethics!

So in such a world: if it offended her for her child to be required by a school to participate in a pledge of allegiance that included "in God we trust", then she could tell them she was offended, and they would probably recognize it as a fact, but the child would still have to obey the rules and participate in some fashion, or suffer the consequences. If she threatened to sue them, in order to bring social force against them, she would have no grounds upon which to base her claim except the raw fact that she does not want her child to (effectively) learn to pray to Someone she doesn't think exists. There would be no laws about this to appeal to (in such a hypothetical world); there is no reason why a majority should make exceptions for an individual's self-gratification, unless the individual has the power to draft (and ensure enforcement of) the laws, in which case appealing to the law would be a waste of time anyway--it would be better to merely apply the effective power directly to the problem! [Footnote 331: If this description sounds like any number of supposedly 'democratic' tyrants in our world's history, it is hardly by coincidence...]

Still, 'invented ethics' can (at least in theory, and even in practice in some ways) be a self-consistent claim. True, the proponent of the theory won't come out and explain exactly what she is doing when she appeals to fairness or rights, while she is making the appeal; but that is only because she knows nothing would get accomplished if she explained what she was really doing. The duplicity involved does not mean her theory is false. [Footnote 332: Before I continue to the next category, let me remind you that this notion is not restricted merely to secular humanists and/or other atheists/agnostics. It can also be applied by people who believe God exists and is amoral. And there are other ways to accept this theory, too, as I will show later.]

[Next up: an introduction to the second class of ethical explanation.]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: In relation to a discussion I was having with Paul (last name currently unknown) on a topic begun by Chris Price (aka “Layman”) down in a post here, I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine, originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The current topic is ethical grounding, and an analysis of problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation. (Meanwhile, BK has begun his own discussion of the discussion, so to speak, here.)

Please keep in mind that I am discussing these things in light of something like 510 manuscript pages of previous analysis already. Which I may decide to inflict on the journal (in a hopefully somewhat more abbreviated form), at a later date, if I am sufficiently provoked. Be warned--be very awarned. {g}

(More seriously, I only mean that I am aware that a bunch of other topics really need to be discussed first. I haven't written this without considering them, but I can only be mentioning them sporadically. I am not, however, kidding about the 510 previous manuscript pages, which anyone familiar with my journal prolixity should at least find plausible as a claim. {s})

I am beginning in the first chapter of Section Four (chapter 30 of the book). The Section Title is “Ethics and the Third Person” (though I am a little doubtful I will reach a discussion of the ‘third person’ in this series of posts). The chapter title is “an introduction of the question of ethics”. In order to move things along, I am skipping past about 1-1/2 pages of catchup summary.

....... [beginning text excerpt]

I am willing to believe that you (my reader) can act. It is a raw charity on my part. It is, perhaps, the most basic of personal relationships: I am willing to allow that you are a person, too.

Personal relationships involve active choices on our parts. Therefore, although these relationships can be analyzed (to a certain extent) along the lines of automatically necessary cause/effect relationships, the raw choices introduce a special sort of indeterminacy in our descriptions of the relationships involved. We express this (in English) with an equally special group of words: 'should' and 'ought', which (for my present purpose) are more or less interchangeable. 'Should', however, is a word connected to the English word 'shall' which often has more to do with causes and effects than with the special indeterminacy of personal relationship logic.

For example, if there are twelve apples in a box, and if I take two apples from the box, and if no other changes happen to the apples in the box (or 'all other things being equal', which is an important and usually unstated necessity for statements of this type), then there shall be ten apples remaining in the box. This is a description of a causal necessity.

On the other hand, if you personally have put the apples in the box, and if I have not received your permission to take the apples, then I ought (or should) not take two of the apples. There is no guarantee I will not.

Whether I take them or not, the physical relationship can be described according to mathematic necessity. But a different type of relationship is described in my understanding that I ought not to take the apples from you; even though the relationship is still judged using logical analysis.

The logic of coherent interpersonal relationships, is called 'ethics'.

There have been a very large number of attempts to explain what ethics are, what they are not, and how and why we think in terms of 'ought' and 'should'. Perhaps the most basic topic of the existence of ethics involves the question of what 'actually' happens when we behave 'ethically'.

Are ethics a set of rational behaviors we invented? Or, is an ethical behavior something that happens to us irrationally which we explain and account for later if possible? Or, are we discovering and putting into practice objectively self-consistent principles that retain their quality of 'ethicalness' above and beyond our own existence as a species?

Let me point out that all three of these general explanations of ethics entail that we perceive ethics subjectively. But the first two types of explanation involve an ethical grounding which is itself subjective, although in two different ways. The third class proposes that what we are subjectively perceiving is nevertheless itself an objectively real ethical relationship.

Put another way: the first two types of explanation propose that the pool we perceive in front of us is a facade, whether it is one we painted, or whether it is heat shimmering on asphalt or sand so that it looks like water. The third explanation proposes that the pool we perceive in front of us is a pool, although how much of the pool we are seeing is another question. (Are we seeing it through trees? Are we seeing deep into the water, or only the surface? Are we seeing the streams or the rain or any other source for the pool?)

There are difficulties, and strengths, for each of the three general explanation proposals. I will mention here, however, reporting ahead a bit, that the three proposals, while describing mutually distinctive event types, need _not_ be mutually exclusive as a total accounting for our ethical behaviors. All three types of event might, in theory, be happening--depending on what the characteristics of actual reality are. Whether all or any of the three can serve as proper ethical grounding or not, is a different question, which must be considered as well in regard to each of them.

[Next, the character and the implications of the first proposal...]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

As I was reading through the discussion that is taking place between Paul and Jason Pratt in the post by Layman, below, entitled A Future of Atheistic Morality?, a few thoughts occurred to me that I wanted to run past the assembled readers. Paul, in writing in response to Jason, said:

If you're looking for atheistic morality to provide a grounding or foundation that is as secure as, say, mathematics or logic, or provides the surety of an absolute morality, it won't happen. Evolutionary morality is a scientific hypothesis of what is, not what should be (it's not a contradiction that this is a theory about morality, which is a code that says what should be).

We may at times let rationality rule, or at other times allow our natural feelings to rule. We are probably more rational when we seek to impose our morality *within* our own group that is assumed to share our morality, as a matter of consistency (if you're for freedom, as an American, then you should favor specific policy X), and more likely to let what seems to be our natural feelings hold sway, against rationality, when we direct our moral judgments *outside* of our group (take, say, female genital mutilation in certain other cultures).

It is undoubtedly true that atheistic morality cannot provide "the surety of an absolute morality". It has long been the position of those who argue for the existence of God that without a god there is no such thing as absolute morality. Yet, to most people, the idea that morality can change from culture to culture seems absurd. Of course, there are some differences in morality between cultures on a superficial level, but no one would believe that it could ever be seen as acceptable for one culture to view certain larger evils, such as murder, as moral.

But that's the problem. After all, if there is no absolute standard for morality, then morality becomes subjective. Thus, whatever any particular culture defines as morality in its cultural norm becomes the acceptable morality for that culture. This doesn't just include little actions of societal niceties, but includes variations on the bigger actions that most people would take for granted as either being moral or immoral. Thus, in some cultures the ethic may be that murder is morally laudable and if morality has no absolute standard then those of us outside that culture have no basis for arguing that such activities are always immoral for all human beings in all cultures at all times. (Of course, someone could make that argument, but they would really be arguing nonsensically because the reality would be that there is no standard of morality that applies to all human beings in all cultures at all times.)

One could argue that as the world gets more interconnected, morality will increasingly be judged by the "world" culture. Thus, for example, in some ancient cultures child sacrifice was considered morally acceptable. Looking back 500 or more years, some might argue that we have no right to judge that culture's morality. Today, however, where the world is so interconnected, the only relevant "culture" would be the "world" culture. As a whole, our world would agree that child sacrifice is no longer acceptable and so while we cannot go back and judge other earlier cultures by our more evolved ethical standards it is perfectly acceptable to judge other cultures today on the basis of world opinion.

This all sounds nice and good until you consider two things: first, the idea that ethics always evolve assumes improvement. Yet, evolution means only change over time. There is no basis for determining whether the change in ethics is an improvement or not. In fact, it remains possible that the ethics that "evolve" are actually less ethical (as I would argue it is in the case of the broadly applied right to an abortion). Naturally, there is no way to make the determination of whether a particular change in morality is an improvement because there would be no absolute ethical standard by which to judge the change. Thus, if there is no God and no absolute standard morality, if someone were to say that we have a higher standard of morality because we no longer believe in slavery or child sacrifice, such a statement would be meaningless because there is no way to determine if abolishing slavery and child sacrifice is really a good or bad thing. All we know is that a change has occurred that will be seen as either good or bad in the future, but we don't know which. In fact, all we are really saying is "I dislike slavery", but that doesn't mean that abolishing slavery is (or can ever be seen as) an improvement over promoting slavery.

Second, what happens if the world standards for morality take a turn that we, in today's world, would see as a step back? Suppose, for instance, that the world once again begins to find slavery to be a morally acceptable practice. What if fifty-one percent of the world suddenly finds that we have been wrong in abolishing this practice? Does that suddenly mean that we have been wrong in finding slavery immoral? Does it mean that slavery then becomes moral? Is arguing that it is immoral a meaningless argument since world opinion has determined that it is moral?

What if the world suddenly finds that female genital mutilation or forced sex slavery is acceptable? You think that such viewpoints could never gain broad appeal? History suggests that cultural opinion on subjects of morality can change over time -- sometimes relatively short periods of time. Forty years ago it is doubtful that anyone would have forseen that in a mere forty years homosexuality would be seen by many as the moral equivalent of hetersexuality and opposition to homosexuality would be seen as bigoted.

These changes in opinion happen over time, but they do happen. When the world opinion shifts to support the idea that sending children into a marketplace strapped with a bomb to kill unarmed civilians for political purposes is moral, how will you argue that it is immoral? Cultural opinion? Sorry, the world evolved past that . . . .

Dr. Jeffrey Zweerink, one of the bloggers for Today's Reasons to Believe the blogging arm of Dr. Hugh Ross' Reasons to Believe, has undertaken the task of tackling some of the arguments and implications arising from the multiverse theory for the origin of our universe. The first in the series of posts on the subjects is entitled Multiverse Musings -- Introduction, and more parts will follow in which Dr. Zweerink examines the four main models comprising the multiverse theory.

In the Introduction, Dr. Zweerink notes:

My intent is to lay out what I believe to be the most exciting, difficult to understand, and apologetically impactful issues in a clear and concise way. While I believe there are significant issues in multiverse models (described in coming articles), they are not inherently antibiblical. While it certainly affects the advancement of various arguments, the multiverse concept dramatically expands our view of reality and, I will argue, ultimately strengthens the case for the God of the Bible as Creator.

I look forward to reading his thoughts.

A new, short (less than 10 minutes) video is available on YouTube entitled 5 Reasons God Exists. It does a pretty nice job of touching upon five of the classic arguments for the existence of God. It serves as a nice introduction to the cosmological, teleological and other arguments that have been used for many centuries to support such beliefs.

Before any skeptics write telling about how the video doesn't answer objections A, B, C, D, etc., it should be noted that this is a very short overview of these five classic arguments. It is not intended to be an exhaustive overview and analysis of each of the arguments. I expect that any video that would seek to exhaustively cover and analyze any one of these five arguments would need to be at least two hours in length to do a reasonably good job. Moreover, raising objections about the arguments made in this video doesn't mean that the objections haven't been countered elsewhere as every objection I have ever encountered to these arguments has been.

Still, I certainly think that this is a pretty good introduction to these arguments for the sake of starting conversations about God's existence.

When it comes to scientific theories related to origins, the authors and proponents for such theories with any common sense are reluctant to make absolute assertions. There is a reason for that: most informed authors recognize that, in the area of origins, there is little that is proven. Most of the answers to the questions of origins are based on extrapolations from evidence that can be found. These extrapolations are often quite reasonable, and I am willing to consider them in that vein.

The problem arises when you go beyond those in the know to the less-informed individual who wants to take the extrapolation of the informed person and turn it into an absolute. For example, remember "Lucy"? No, not Lucy Van Pelt of Peanuts fame (pictured above right). Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis and so-called ancestor linking apes and humans. Her picture is on the left, below.

Now, I recognize that it isn't the scientists who are proclaiming Lucy as the missing link. They have been very careful about not saying that anything is the "missing link" between humans and apes. Rather, they say that she is an "ancestor or close relative of modern humans." But that doesn't stop others from recognizing that the word "ancestor" implies that she is part of the evolutionary branch that directly leads to humanity -- evolutionarily speaking. After all, if my grandfather is my ancestor then my grandfather is farther down the family tree, right? Hence, if "Lucy" is an ancestor of humanity, then she is father down the family tree, but she it is the same tree. Others pick up on this information and run with it proclaiming that proof has been found that humanity descended from apes and Lucy, as an ancestor provides proof of that assertion.

Take, for example, Wikipedia's entry on Australopithecus afarensis:

Australopithecus afarensis is an extinct hominid which lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. In common with the younger Australopithecus africanus, A. afarensis was slenderly built. It is widely believed that A. afarensis is the ancestor of the genus Homo, which includes the modern human species, Homo sapiens.

Science Daily, in a report about the discovery of Australopithecus anamensis which is supposedly the evolutionary link to Australopithecus afarensis entitled Hominid Fossils From Ethiopia Link Ape-men To More Distant Human Ancestors (note the use of the term "ape-men") reported "New fossils discovered in the Afar desert of eastern Ethiopia are a missing link between our ape-man ancestors some 3.5 million years ago and more primitive hominids a million years older, according to an international team led by the University of California, Berkeley, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico." simply lists Lucy as the Number 10 top missing link.

Well, now comes news that Lucy shouldn't be in the top ten because she is probably not a link to humans at all. According to Israeli researchers: 'Lucy' is not direct ancestor of humans:

Tel Aviv University anthropologists say they have disproven the theory that "Lucy" - the world-famous 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton found in Ethiopia 33 years ago - is the last ancestor common to humans and another branch of the great apes family known as the "Robust hominids."

The specific structure found in Lucy also appears in a species called Australopithecus robustus. Prof. Yoel Rak and colleagues at the Sackler School of Medicine's department of anatomy and anthropology wrote, "The presence of the morphology in both the latter and Australopithecus afarensis and its absence in modern humans cast doubt on the role of [Lucy] as a common ancestor."

* * *

Rak and colleagues studied 146 mature primate bone specimens, including those from modern humans, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans and found that the "ramus element" of the mandible connecting the lower jaw to the skull is like that of the robust forms, therefore eliminating the possibility that Lucy and her kind are Man's direct ancestors. They should therefore, the Israeli researchers said, "be placed as the beginning of the branch that evolved in parallel to ours."

I think it's clear that even if the purveyors of Darwinism were being careful in their words about Lucy being the missing link, and even if they were being careful in recognizing that nothing is certain, their language and approach assumed that Lucy was part of the chain of evolution that ultimately led to homo sapiens. Of course they didn't say "this is certainly the missing link". They aren't stupid. But it is apparent that they thought they had found a missing link in the evolutionary tree.

Of course, this doesn't mean that such an evolutionary link won't be found. It certainly remains possible. However, what this should alert careful readers to do is to view these claims more skeptically. Just because some scientist discovers a skeleton that "appears to be an ancestor or close relative of modern humans" doesn't mean that it is a direct evolutionary ancestor. Careful scientists won't jump to such broad language, and popularists who are seeking to make the case for Darwinism more available to the public should heed a modified version of the old adage, fools rush in where scientists fear to tread.

Nicholas Perrin has authored a new study on the Gospel of Thomas, entitled Thomas, the Other Gospel, that "tells the story of the gospel from its discovery to its current reception among academics and in more popular circles. It provides a clear, comprehensive, non-technical guide through the scholarly maze of issues surrounding the Coptic text." Michael Bird has helpfully posted some excerpts of Perrin's conclusions on his blog. From Bird's post and the description on Amazon (U.K.), here are the highlights:

First, the Gospel of Thomas was not even written in Greek, but is a Syriac document.

Second, the Gospel of Thomas is not particularly early, having been written in the latter part of the second century.

Third, the primary source of material used by the author of the Gospel of Thomas was Tatian's Diatessaron (a mid-to-late second century document), but "also undoubtedly drew on his memory of a number of oral and written traditions."

Fourth, although it cannot be ruled out, it is unlikely that the Gospel of Thomas, with its 140-year distance from Jesus, preserves any unique sayings of Jesus.

It is often argued that theism provides a basis for a coherent system of morality, whereas atheism offers no such guidance and indeed suggests that there can be no such thing as morality traditionally understood. It is just as often responded that atheists are moral people too and there is no evidence that conversion to atheism leads people into gross immorality or crime.

True enough, but that is not really the point. The issue is not, as I put it in my article Is it Possible to be Good Without God?, whether an atheist can be a good person, but whether goodness and evil are concepts sustainable in an atheistic milieu.

However, if atheists are just as moral, if not more so, than self-identified Christians, is this a distinction without a difference? Does it matter that the atheist's morality system may not be coherent so long as he acts morally?

Such thinking is shortsighted. Today's atheists have the benefit of 1500 years of Christian morality. This morality has affected all, not just strict Christian adherents. It has shaped an entire society's norms and expectations. The real question is not whether an atheist raised with morals framed by Christian influence will be moral, but what society will look like after generations of atheist triumph.

This issue was ably addressed by a recent article in Biblical Worldview Magazine, "Why Atheists Are Theocrats," by Gary DeMar. Here is how DeMar puts it:

If atheists get their way, they will be running the world in terms of some ultimate principle. At the moment, atheists have the benefit of a vibrant Christian worldview where they can borrow moral plugs like compassion and kindness to keep their hole-filled materialist boat afloat. Given time, future generations of atheists will logically throw off these moral precepts that at one time had been mined from "ancient literature." Consistency will lead these newly empowered atheists to conclude that "kindness" is a superstitious remnant of an ancient book-led religion that once proposed that immaterial entities exist. Science will show that there is no way to account for these religion-defined virtues given naturalistic assumptions.... When atheists no longer have Christianity to borrow from, from what bank will they draw their moral capital?

I'd just like to post some excerpts from Craig Keener's excellent two-volume commentary on the Gospel of John, on the subject of miracles in the Gospels and their relationship to miracles which (apparently) still happen today:

"It is impossible to examine the historical question of miracles without being explicit concerning presuppositions informing much traditional historiography in the Gospels. If one assumes a priori that neutrality in the historical quest demands that one must not find data that could favor the truth claims of any particular religious movement or movements, one potentially subordinates the objectivity of one's method to desired conclusions...In its rightful reaction to medieval dogma, later Enlightenment rationalism itself eventually transgressed the bounds of both reason and empirical data, excluding even the hypothesis of divine intervention from consideration in explaining the data of even the best attested miracle claims. Is there not something culturally elitist about dismissing from the briefest consideration the credibility of traditions stemming from most cultures and eras in history, based on a presupposition for which those who hold it rarely seek to offer evidence? Granted, many individual claims (especially those far removed from the eyewitnesses) are inauthentic, but does critical thinking always favor an all-or-nothing mentality on other matters?"

But lest Keener's own challenge to the prevailing anti-supernatural skepticism in the West should be equally a priori as the skepticism itself, he goes on:

"As a former atheist who has personally witnessed, occasionally experienced, and is regularly exposed to reliable testimonies of instantaneous supernatural phenomena within circles where such phenomena typically occur (including instantaneous, visible healings in response to prayer), often through my work in Africa or among Pentecostals, I confess my own skepticism toward the prevailing anti-miraculous skepticism of Western culture. My wife, an African with a Ph.D in history from the University of Paris, also offers a substantial collection of testimonies...My affirmation that arguable supernatural phenomena are possible need not affirm that all supernatural phenomena derive from the same source, nor does it deny fraudulent or psychosomatic claims to miracles, nor that some might provide different interpretations of the same claims (though I might regard them as less plausible)."

(Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A commentary, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrikson Publishers, 2003, vol.1, pp.264, 267)

Especially important, I think, is his comment about the possibility that an objective examination of the evidence might actually favor the religious truth claims of one movement or religion over another. Far too often it is simply assumed that such a verdict is the misleading product of apologetics, or conversely from atheist circles we hear without any justification whatsoever that the evidence for the truth claims of all the various religions is exactly equivalent and, therefore, favors none of them. In this context some comments by William J. Abraham, which I posted on an earlier post, are appropriate:

"What we have, and what we must eventually get to in our deliberations, are very specific claims and counter-claims about particular claims to divine revelation that deploy appropriate sorts of epistemic considerations at the relevant points in the exchange. It is misleading to try to win the day by constructing make-believe scenarios that work off the general epistemic practices deployed in real-life cases. Thus, in response to a particular claim to divine revelation, we can easily invent a parallel but empty case that mirrors it at every step. We simply take the claim and invent an imaginary competing claim that mimics the grounds or arguments cited...Over against such abstract possiblities we need particular claims, worked up with specific phenomenological experiences, outlining a determinate message from God in either word or deed, coupled with accompanying phenomena, and pressed home with the relevant historical narrative. We need more than armchair possibilities and thought experiments; we need actual claims advanced in some detail and with some care...Proponents of divine revelation need to advance in some detail the particular claims they think are secured, the relevant epistemic considerations they deem appropriate, the precise arguments they think straighten their case, and the way they propose to handle standard defeaters and objections...Thus it is up to Moslems to advance the claims of Mohammed; it is up to Mormons to argue the case for Joseph Smith...Indeed, it is the mark of a serious theological tradition derived from divine revelation to own up to this responsibility and explain itself in public...Let each tradition speak for itself and say its piece. In turn, let critics be free to develop whatever objections they deem relevant". (William J. Abraham, Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, pp.151-153)

Atheists often glibly argue that "everyone's a skeptic with respect to other religions...atheistic skeptics just take it one step further". As it goes, this is fine, but the reasons for skepticism are not at all similar. For example, I do not reject the truth claims of Mormonism because they have supernatural elements, because I accept the existence of the supernatural. I do not reject Muslim truth claims because of Islamic fundamentalism. I do not even think that sincere adherents of other traditions are deluded, as Sam Harris would insist that I must. Wrong, yes, but that does not imply delusion or general irrationality. The atheist skeptic, on the other hand, is obliged to believe these things. For such a skeptic there is no transcendent reality to be wrong about (the Chrisian might say that the Muslim does respond to God, but in a 'refracted' or inadequate way). In fact, I find religious skepticism (i.e. skepticism based on adherence to another religious tradition) to be much more noble and generous than atheist skepticism, because atheist skepticism cannot help but debunk and tear down religion in all its truth claims, whereas believers can affirm that adherents of other traditions are indeed responding to real Divine reality.

In doing some research, I came across a webpage entitled U.S. Abortion Deaths Compared to U.S. War Deaths. As the title suggests, it compares the total number of people killed in the various wars with the number of people killed in abortions since 1973. The comparison is put on a chart where a little man (like the one pictured at right) represents 10,000 people killed.

While I am aware that some would dispute that the people killed in abortion are "people", for those of us who recognize that the entity killed is a living human being who should be entitled to all of the same rights and privileges as full grown adults from the moment of conception, the chart's comparision really drives home the point of how horrendously large the numbers of people killed has been.

Addendum: For a related post on the numbers related to abortion, see Abortion by the Numbers.

A collection of addresses, lectures, sermons and articles (largely PDF format) by Alister McGrath is now available on-line here. Among the titles available are the following:

  • A response to A.C. Grayling's criticisms of religious belief: An article for Good Friday, published in The Daily Telegraph (London), 6 April 2007.

  • A dialogue on religion between Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath at the Oxford Literary Festival, Friday 23 March 2007, introduced and moderated by Joan Bakewell.

  • “The questions science cannot answer: The ideological fanaticism of Richard Dawkins’s attack on belief is unreasonable to religion - and science”. Published in The Times (London), 10 February 2007. Note that the title is due to the editors, not the author.

  • "Atheist Interpreters of Darwin: Richard Dawkins on the God Delusion." A lecture given at the Darwin Festival, Shrewsbury, on 7 February, 2007.

  • "Dawkins God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life." A lecture given at the University of Southampton on 9 November 2006.

  • "Deluded about God? Responding to Richard Dawkins' God Delusion." A talk given at an Open Forum at the City Church, San Francisco, on Sunday 22 October 2006.

A few days ago, I wrote an essay calling on all Christian bloggers to speak out against child sexual abuse by persons in authority in the church as well as the efforts to cover up incidents and protect the perpetrators. At this point, no other Christan blogger (of which I am aware) has published their own statement against protecting pedophiles, but I remain confident that the great majority of the church membership despises such activity. I will return, from time to time, to this call to the Christian body of bloggers to join with their own statements.

As horrendous as child sexual abuse by pastors or Sunday School teachers may be, I have just read a report that I found much more outrageous -- the enabling of Child Sexual Abuse by an organization that is praised by most non-Christians and which is seen in many circles as anti-Christian: Planned Parenthood.

The first news I received about this came from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. According to his report, a case in Ohio is revealing what may be a practice in Planned Parenthood clinics of enabling child sexual abuse.

A story out of Mason, Ohio paints a horrifying picture of just how far Planned Parenthood may be willing to go to attract young abortion clients. In what prosecutors are calling "one of the worst cases of child abuse" in Warren County, a local man has been sentenced to five years in prison--one for each year he molested and raped his own daughter. The abuse could have been prevented, or at the very least, cut short, the girl's attorney says, had Planned Parenthood intervened when the young girl reported her dad at the clinic where she was forced to undergo an abortion. Rather than help the hurting child, lawyer Brian Hurley alleges, Planned Parenthood preyed on the girl's vulnerability and refused to intervene as the law requires. Instead, clinic workers performed the procedure and sent her back with a supply of birth control where her tormentor continued sexually assaulting her for another year and a half. In 2006, the girl was so terrified that her dad would also abuse her sister that she shared her story with a high school official, who, unlike Planned Parenthood, contacted police. Tragically, her situation may not be an isolated one; many others are made possible by the government's funding of Planned Parenthood. Similar allegations have been raised in Indiana and Kansas. In the Sunflower State, former state attorney general Phill Kline has obtained abortion clinic records that appear to show a long trail of criminal neglect. Hurley thinks stonewalling on such cases will not work, "If we ever do get a look at all the records, it will [Planned Parenthood] set up a system to prevent reporting abuse. Some people roll their eyes when you bring up abortion. Nobody rolls their eyes about abuse." Planned Parenthood officials in Ohio deny they have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about statutory rape.

The article where FRC obtained its information came from an article by Peter Bronson in the local paper, the Zanesville Times Recorder, entitled Planned Parenthood Looked the Other Way, Mason Rape Victim Says.

Apparently, as the article notes, this is not an isolated incident. World News Daily published an article by Bob Unruh dated May 12, 2007 entitled 'Pedophile protection racket' still going strong. According to Mr. Unruh,

"Local research has shown that two 11-year-old females have had abortions at this facility, and [the cases] have not been reported [to authorities] as required by [the Michigan Child Protection Law of 1975]," according to a statement released at a news conference in front of a Michigan Planned Parenthood business by Ann Norton of Operation Red Sea and others.

* * *

[Ohio Lawyer Brian] Hurley also said he represents another victim, who was assaulted by her soccer coach at age 14, and taken to Planned Parenthood for an abortion. She identified herself with a junior-high school ID and the 21-year-old coach paid with a credit card and driver's license, but still there was no report.

Planned Parenthood officials there, too, have battled against releasing records that could reveal cases of assaults on children.

"My guess is that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that is why Planned Parenthood will do anything to prevent us from seeing its records," Hurley said.

And at UCLA, student reporter Lila Rose has written about posing as a 15-year-old and going to a Santa Monica Planned Parenthood. She "explained" that her boyfriend was 23.

"Planned Parenthood staff informed Rose that this constituted statutory rape and then encouraged her to 'figure out a birth-date that works,' to obtain the abortion and avoid getting the man in trouble with the police," according to a report.

"The Planned Parenthood staff assured Rose that if she said she was 16 or older, they wouldn't have to report the rape," said the report.

Now, I recognize that many on the left don't find either FRC or World Net Daily to be reliable sources of information. They view them much the same way as I view Mother Jones Magazine -- an unreliable rag which will bend facts to meet a political agenda. But the article in the Zanesville Times Recorder should concern everyone. If this is proven to be true, then the question arises whether this is an isolated incident or is it, as Child claims, a widespread practice of turning "a blind eye to child rape" so that Planned Parenthood can "sell more abortions, more birth control products and more treatments for sexually transmitted diseases"?

If these allegations are true, then the practices of Planned Parenthood are so outrageous as to be beyond comparison. Just as I called on Christians to take a stand against child sexual abuse in the church, I call on all readers, Christian and non-Christian alike, to demand that Planned Parenthood cooperate with the investigators in these cases. If this is an isolated incident, then I would hope that Planned Parenthood would want to cooperate in establishing that fact. If, however, this is a widespread practice, then it behooves Planned Parenthood to coooperate so that it can learn that as well so that it can clean up its own house.

From Hitchens' flat world by Father Raymond J. De Souza as published in the National Post:

God is not Great -- lavishly excerpted in the National Post these last four days (the final instalment appearing on the opposite page) -- has lots of arguments like that. Isn't it silly for religious believers to bring themselves before God in certain places when God could see them wherever they are? And why do we need to tell an omniscient God what we need? And what if different believers pray for mutually contradictory things? And didn't you know about inconsistencies in sacred texts? And -- this example must be included because Hitchens is mightily annoyed that religion seeks to restrain the sexual appetite -- why would God create human beings with their hands close to their genitals if he didn't intend for them vigorous onanistic exertions, of which all religions take a dim view? You see, such puzzles can only be solved by realizing that the whole putrid mess is pure fabrication by fraudsters playing upon mankind's "infantile" need for consolations in a harsh world.

Hitchens writes as though he has read deeply in the history of religious thought, but if so he managed to do it without engaging what he has found there. He breezily dismisses the long examination of the great questions of divine power and human freedom, divine foreknowledge and human uncertainty, divine inspiration and human agency, human nature and the natural law, as insuperable problems that must either be ignored or shielded from the penetrating reason of clever people like Christopher Hitchens.

I'm sorry, was that an ad hominem attack? Hard to resist after reading what is, essentially, a book-length example of same. Hitchens' approach is to romp through history, using his cutting literary style to spoof and mock all the absurdities he finds in the world of religion. If Hitchens met a local vicar with bad breath, religion is to blame for halitosis. It's a fun game, but not really an argument. Hitchens claims that "religion poisons everything" -- including the aftermath of his beloved Iraq War, which was going swimmingly until the mullahs screwed it up--as though without religion history would be free of people doing beastly things.

Despite Hitchens entertaining style, his book quickly becomes tedious. If you are the sort of person who thinks it very clever to respond to, say, an argument defending the role of religious believers in a pluralistic society by shouting, "What about the Crusades?", you will be nodding along with Hitchens in emphatic agreement. If you find such ad historiam arguments tedious, you will be simply nodding off.

Page after page, Hitchens piles one outrage upon another. So convinced is he of the rightness of his conclusion -- "religion poisons everything" -- that he does not blanch from the most breathtaking rearrangements of the facts and terms of debate. With an apparently straight face he excuses the evils of secular regimes, by blaming the Catholic Church for Nazism and classifying North Korea's communist regime as a religious cult. If anti-clerical fascists and atheistic autocrats fall into the camp of religion, then the reader can only wonder why Hitchens doesn't blame the priests for inclement weather.

Presuppositional apologetics does not get a whole lot of attention on Cadre Comments or anywhere else for that matter.

Rather than explain what it is, I would refer you to a debate being carried by Christianity Today between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens. Part one is here. Part two is here.

Here is the money paragraph written by Wilson (the Christian) to Hitchens (the atheist):

"Among many other reasons, Christianity is good for the world because it makes hypocrisy a coherent concept. The Christian faith certainly condemns hypocrisy as such, but because there is a fixed standard, this makes it possible for sinners to fail to meet it or for flaming hypocrites to pretend that they are meeting it when they have no intention of doing so. Now my question for you is this: Is there such a thing as atheist hypocrisy? When another atheist makes different ethical choices than you do (as Stalin and Mao certainly did), is there an overarching common standard for all atheists that you are obeying and which they are not obeying? If so, what is that standard and what book did it come from? Why is it binding on them if they differ with you? And if there is not a common objective standard which binds all atheists, then would it not appear that the supernatural is necessary in order to have a standard of morality that can be reasonably articulated and defended?"

Follow this debate as it unfolds. There is much to learn.

Christianity Today has a portion of its regularly updated weblog devoted to a new Frontline documentary on Mormonism. Apparently it has gotten quite favorable reviews, except for the usual strident insistence on behalf of some church members that nobody EVER gets Mormonism right. But one comment in particular stands out from one of the media reviews:

"The documentary, narrated by David Ogden Stiers, also suggests that the Mormon religion, simply by virtue of its recent origins, is subject to greater scrutiny than other faiths. The ancient religions were established at a time of imprecise science and murky record-keeping. While there might be contradictory scientific evidence, it isn't strong enough to shake the faith of most adherents.

Smith, however, is a relatively contemporary figure. In addition to official church accounts, there is no shortage of articles, diaries and journals to confirm or dispute his words and deeds. While the real motives of Moses and Jesus, seen through the gauze of centuries, are assumed to be pure, no such filter exists to protect Smith from steely-eyed scrutiny."

It is certainly true that we have many more contemporary sources for the emergence of Mormonism than we do for Judaism, Christianity or Islam. But I would question the relevance of 'imprecise science' for the scrutiny of the faith-claims of a religion like Christianity, or Mormonism for that matter. What 'contradictory scientific evidence' could this commentator be referring to? For Christianity I assume it would be an account of Jesus' life which differs dramatically in what it claims that Jesus did (or didn't do) or said (or didn't say), or the discovery of the 'Jesus family tomb'. But we have no such evidence. To be sure, some people will automatically pounce and talk about the apocryphal Gospels, but these were written much later than the canonical Gospels and in most cases seem to be dependent on them. And it is not true that Christianity received less scrutiny in its early days than Mormonism. If the Gospels and Acts reflect apologetic interests at all (something surely not even the most liberal scholar would doubt), we can get a pretty good picture of what kinds of counter-claims were being put forward in response to the emergence of Christianity: that Jesus was a magician in league with the Devil, that he was illegitimate, that he was a political instigator and trouble-maker, that his disciples stole his body in order to claim he was resurrected, that they had little learning and were just commoners, etc. Not to mention the pagan critiques of the 2nd Century, including Celsus, Lucian, Galen and others.

But more to the point, we still have no universally agreed-upon way of adjudicating supernatural claims. All the contemporary scrutiny applied to Joseph Smith could not disprove his alleged visions. Similarly even if we had many more contemporary records for Jesus and early Christianity, unless they were in radical contradiction to the claims of the Gospels, Acts, Paul and the other epistles, we probably still could not prove or disprove the disciples' claims to have experienced the risen Jesus. So outside scrutiny in and of itself does not have much relevance for assessing the truth claims of Christianity or any other religion.

Please be aware that due to what appears to be a failure in an automatic pay feature, the site has been taken over by someone completely unrelated to the CADRE who has put up his own material to sell. This person is not part of the CADRE and we have nothing to do with what he is selling (general Christian merchandise of some type). But he was like a vulture who swooped in and took over the domain the very day that our rights to it expired.

The CADRE site will be reappearing soon under a new domain. We will announce the move here once it is completed. In the meantime, we encourage no one to visit the old site.

After a short break, Bede is back and blogging again at Bede's Journal, discussing theories of the mind and consciousness.

Recently, I have been hanging around a blog called Deep Thoughts that is run by a skeptic. He has recently been posting a number of entries about Christians (especially pastors) who have been accused of, been charged with, or admitted to committing child sexual abuse. My feeling was that he was trying to paint Christianity in a false light by making it appear that pedophilia was running rampant in the Christian church but nowhere else. So, I commented (with a couple of typos corrected):

Pedophilia is not limited to priests and pastors. All types of people have committed pedophilia from a position of authority from day-care workers to youth sport coaches. The crime is horrible and should be neither accepted, covered-up nor tolerated.

The fact that you are focusing on pastors and priests who have done so but not others simply mirrors a viewpoint that is being hoisted on the world that Christians are worse than others in this area. That's not true.

Also, it should be noted that the vast majority of Christians are loving to children and would not think of commiting such a heinous action. Christian organizations and professionals provide counseling services for children (Christian and non-Christian) who have been abused and adults who were abused as children. The vast, vast majority of Christians care very deeply about this problem.

There is no excuse for child sexual abuse whether from a pastor, a teacher, a coach, a babysitter or any other person with authority over kids. But the entire field needs to be examined -- not just focus on pastors who have gone bad.

The author of the blog responded (typos uncorrected so that I don't misrepresent what he said):

"…simply mirrors a viewpoint that is being hoisted on the world that Christians are worse than others in this area" This is not why I cover clergy abuse. As an atheist, I am constantly told that I am immoral, that without god it is impossible to be moral. I track clergy abuse under the heading "Hypocrisy Watch" to show my detractors that being a Christian does not make one moral. Instead, I show that what one does with ones life is the define factor. Being a Christian has nothing more to do with being "moral" than the war in Iraq has to do with fighting terrorism.

"The vast, vast majority of Christians care very deeply about this problem.", you cannot tell this form within the world of blogging. The vast majority of these cases are ignored by Christians if the lack of blog traffic can be taken as an indicator. I think your point is a "feel good" error.

While I disagree with most of what the author of the blog said, I do think it's a valid criticism that Christian bloggers have not been very outspoken about child sexual abuse by those in authority in the church. I am sure there are reasons for this relative silence. On this blog, for instance, where we focus on issues of apologetics, the abuse of children by members of the clergy would not ordinarily be an issue that we would discuss. For my own part, I thought it would be painfully obvious to anyone involved that Christians (being largely seen as sexual prudes due to the Biblical teaching that we remain sexually pure) neither approve nor accept child sexual abuse.

Apparently, I was wrong on this point. Apparently, people who are skeptics are looking to the church to speak out more loudly on this issue and understand our relative silence as some type of tacit approval of the child sexual abuse being committed (on rare occasions in comparison to the total number of Christians) by clergy or other Christians. It appears that some people may see this as a reason to find Christianity untrue.

So, I want to state uncategorically that Christians should unite to drive any trace of child sexual abuse out of the church. Pastors who engage in such practice should be stripped of their authority and sent to jail. We should stand up and demand that such activity not be covered up by others in the church. Child sexual abuse is immoral, contrary to the teaching of the Bible, and unacceptable in any civilized world. Covering up such practices communicates the message to unbelievers that the church actually approves of child sexual abuse and that it doesn't truly love the children of the church.

However, in doing so, we must continue to stand by our principles that we should love one another. We should forgive. Thus, if the abuser is truly repentent we should not turn our back on him/her. We should help him and love him. However, while we should always welcome a person who has sinned into the church because (1) we are all sinners and (2) God's love extends to everyone no matter how heinous of a crime that person has committed, a person who has abused their office by abusing children should not be allowed to pastor or work with children in the church ever again. Does this mean they are excluded from doing work for the church? No. There are many other ministries that don't involve children, and if the person wants to work in those areas (after having paid the penalty for his/her crime) then that person should be welcomed to volunteer in that area -- but not as a pastor. It would be irresponsible for the church to have people who have so badly abused their offices and hurt children to be given the opportunity and position to do so again. If the person is truly repentent and desiring to lead a more Godly life, they should willingly accept that sacrifice since it keeps them away from further temptation.

I call on all other Christian bloggers to make their own statement against child sexual abuse in the church. You don't have to agree totally with my stance, but I do hope that the Christian bloggers will take their own stands and speak out loudly and clearly that we, as Christian bloggers and members of the body of Christ, find child sexual abuse to be unconscionable and the continued employment of pedophiles as pastors to be inconsistent with the directives of the Bible.

If you read this and blog, I ask you to link back to this blog through the comments section. Challenge other Christians who read your blog to write their own blog and link back to you. By this means, I am hopeful that we can develop a web of links that show that Christian bloggers have taken a stand against child sexual abuse -- especially, child sexual abuse in the church by pastors or others in positions of authority.

In his recent bestseller Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris writes the following about what atheism is:

“Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, ‘atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist’. We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” (p.51)

These words are quite surprising from someone who claims to be trained in philosophy and neuroscience. What he is claiming here in effect is that atheism, as "an admission of the obvious" and "nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs" represents that coveted 'view from nowhere' that Thomas Nagel despaired of ever finding. Atheism is presented as an ahistorical, nearly transcendent vantage point from which the truth about the world and ourselves seems obvious. He has no sense of the ways in which atheism is just as culturally and historically conditioned as religious belief is.

It may be that part of the reason for this is that traditionally the study of religion has focused entirely on 'explaining' the phenomenon of belief in God or spirits or the afterlife. The great theorists of the past two centuries such as Freud, Marx, Feuerbach and Durkheim took the superiority of their own liberal Western perspective for granted and assumed that what must be explained sociohistorically is not why people don't believe in God but why they do.

In spite of this deficiency there has certainly been a lot of sociohistorical analysis of atheism, the details of which make many atheists squirm, as demonstrated by the many hostile reviews on of Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism. Another important study is found in cognitive psychologist Justin Barrett's Why would anyone believe in God? in which he demonstrates the extent to which atheists have to work hard at keeping their mental barriers up against any possible intrusion of religious belief, just as modern theists are accused of doing against any possible intrusion of doubt. Peter Berger's work in the sociology of religion should also be mentioned (such as The Heretical Imperative, The Social Construction of Reality), with his important discussion of the social legitimation of belief systems. It is easy to see why Sam Harris can take his viewpoint for granted in a modern, pluralistic society like our own, but it does not advance his claim to be right one little bit.

To be sure, there are thoughtful atheists who have taken these things into account, and the recent Cambridge Companion to Atheism edited by Michael Martin has several entries on the sociology and history of atheism. But it is clear that much work still needs to be done to make atheists see what is truly obvious: that scientific 'psychologizing' can be applied just as much to them as to religious believers. has an interesting article by Frank Pastore entitled Why Atheism Fails: The Four Big Bangs where he examines four areas where atheists must exercise a great amount of faith in naturalism because evidence is lacking. Pastore, a radio host on Los Angeles Christian station KKLA, asserts that atheists have no answers about origins in four fundamental areas:

1) What is the origin of the universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? How do you get matter and energy from nothingness? How do you get a rock out of nothing?

2) What is the origin of life? How do you get life from non-life? How do you go from a rock to a tree?

3) What is the origin of mind? How does a living thing become a self-conscious being? How do you go from a tree, to an animal, to a human?

4) What is the origin of good and evil? How does an amoral being become morally aware?

Atheists respond to all these types of questions with essentially the same style answer. "We know God doesn’t exist. Therefore, since we’re here, though, it had to have happened this way. Thus, like the universe itself, life, mind, and morality all 'just popped' into existence out of nothingness."

Later he adds some thoughts on the ways that skeptics argue about such things. He notes that skeptics take the following approach:

But, above all, avoid being cornered and forced to answer the questions of origins. Throw out lots of words that people can’t understand. Talk over them. Blind them with science. Talk about the details of the leaves on the trees but don’t allow them to bring it back to "Why the forest at all?" Assert the fact/value distinction. Claim that only science deals with knowledge. Drop in some postmodern gobbledygook. Distract them with how science deals with the "what, where, how and when" and not the "who and the why." Especially avoid people who have had training in the philosophy of science – they’re dangerous because they see through us and know who we are – they don’t see the shimmering lab coats that everyone else sees. They don’t see any clothes at all.

Since the pre-Socratics, atheists have been intellectual parasites living off the host of Western Civilization. Able to construct so very little of their own that is either true, good, or beautiful, they live on the borrowed capital of their believing intellectual parents. Atheists have been asserting the same basic mechanistic worldview, and with roughly the same success, for centuries. They sell books and win converts from time to time, sure, especially among those gullible enough to buy the "just popped" thesis. Don’t be gullible.

Now, I won't go so far as to say that the skeptics don't have answers. They have answers, but are they good answers? I don't think so. Or, at least, it is clear that the answers that are proposed to these four fundamental areas are metaphysical and not scientific.

For example, start with question 1: "What is the origin of the universe?" The Big Bang? Sure, I accept that. It fits quite nicely with the idea of a creator. However, I see the Big Bang as the mechanism and not the ultimate cause of the creation of the universe. What is the skeptics' cause for the Big Bang? Well, Stephen Hawking has a theory about dimensions curling in on themselves. Others believe in some sort of cosmic pool bubbling out universes and we just happened to be in this one. I am sure there are many, many more. But what all these theories of origins for the universe have in common is that they are ultimately guesses. Granted, they are intelligent, informed guesses. These people have reason to believe what they are asserting based upon theoretical physics. But from there, they make their leap of faith -- a leap that their theories are correct. They have no way of testing their theories. They cannot use the scientific method to determine if they are right. They need to have faith.

Naturalism is a philosophical foundation through which one can come to an understanding the world as certainly as theism is a philosophical foundation through which one can come to an understanding the world. Both have their basis of knowledge. (It should be noted that Christianity provides two avenues of knowledge: science and special revelation. Christians accept the idea that science can tell us a great deal about the world since the physical world is real in Christian thought. Naturalism, however, rejects the idea of special revelation and is therefore limited to one avenue of knowledge.) Both require acceptance of things that cannot be seen. Both have a grand metaphysical story. The question will ultimately be which is the more believable.

Do skeptics believe that? Do they think that their grand metaphysical story is somehow more proven than the Christian grand metaphysical story? If they do, they are fooling themselves.

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