CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

1. The Pope's Call to Return to Christian Humanism

Catholic WorldNews, in an article entitled European universities play key role in reviving Christian humanism, reports that Pope Benedict XVI is calling on the universities to help revive Christian humanism in Europe -- a continent steeped in secular humanism.

Pope Benedict XVI met on Saturday, June 23, with a group of professors and administrators of European universities, and told them that they would play a critical role in helping European society through a "massive cultural shift."

Europe today, the Holy Father said, suffers from "a certain social instability and diffidence in the face of traditional values." He said that Europe, where Christian humanism developed, needs to recover from the effects of a newer trend in humanism that aspires to build a new culture separate from the old Christian foundation.

The great universities, the Pope said, were built on "the conviction that faith and reason are meant to cooperate in the search for truth, each respecting the nature and legitimate autonomy of the other, yet working together harmoniously and creatively to serve the fulfillment of the human person." That recognition needs to be revived today, he said.

Moreover, the Pope continued, universities can help to identify the authentic contribution that Christianity can offer to society. "Christianity," he said, "must not be relegated to the world of myth and emotion, but respected for its claim to shed light on the truth about man."

I have mixed feelings about this call from a Pope who I think is turning out to be one of the truly great Christian leaders. On the positive side, I think going to the universities, many of which were begun by various orders in the Roman Catholic Church, reveals a great deal of savvy by the Pope. If his goal, as he says in the last paragraph, is that Christianity should not be relegated to the world of myth and emotion, it is important that the universities be energized to stop teaching Christianity in that light. They should be leaders in standing up for the historicity of the New Testament and the truth of the Bible. I also agree that faith and reason should stand together. Historically, that was the case.

As I read the Pope's comments, it seems that his central call is that Christianity should be moved from the realm of "myth and emotion" to one that has authority to spread truth and wisdom. I don't see how any thinking Christian could disagree. The problem, however, arises because of the means that he has selected to accomplish this goal. He has stressed a return to Christian humanism.

Recently, I have been reading Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?, subtitled "The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture". He spends a great deal of time discussing humanism, including Christian humanism. If Schaeffer is correct, and I think he is on this point, then humanism is a self-defeating means to reach the end that Pope Benedict XVI seeks.

2. Schaeffer's Teaching on the Results of Humanism in the Church

Humanism has many different variations. There is secular humanism, religious humanism, Christian humanism, renaissance humanism, and several more varieties of humanism. But Schaeffer teaches that all of these forms of humanism have a common root: the exaltation of the ability of man to start with created things (i.e., particulars) and arrive at meaning and value. In How Should We Then Live?, Schaeffer teaches that humanism teaches that man, starting with man alone and man's own human wisdom, could arrive at meaning and value in the universe.

Returning to the roots of Christianity, Schaeffer demonstrates that the early church (while it was certainly not pure) did not teach any form of humanism. Rather, the early church understood that the Bible was the revealed word of God. As such, it contained truths about God from God (the transcendent, perfect, personal God) that explained who we are, who God is, and why we are here. IN other words, historic Christianity has taught that man was a created being who gained wisdom and value through God. God is the ultimate source of value and meaning.

Humanism, in contrast, teaches that value and meaning can be gained independent of God or revelation. As Schaeffer wrote, the reliance on human wisdom (which was an offshoot of St. Thomas Aquinas' adoption of an Aristotelian view of the world) resulted in philosophy gradually separating from revelation with the philosophers acting increasingly independent and autonomous. They began to look to pagan and classical thought as independent sources of value and meaning. In the church itself, the values derived from these independent sources began to infiltrate church doctrine which had serious negative repercussions.

This problem is often spoken as the nature-versus-grace problem. Beginning with man alone and only the individual things in the world (the particulars), the problem is how to find any ultimate and adequate meaning for the individual things. The most important individual thing for man is man himself. Without some ultimate meaning for a person (for me, an individual), what is the use of living and what will be the basis for morals, values and law? If one starts from individual acts rather than with an absolute, what gives any real certainty concerning what is right and what is wrong about an individual action? The nature-and-grace tension or problem can be pictured like this:

Grace, the higher: God the creator; heaven and heavenly things; the unseen and its influence on the earth; unity, or universals or absolutes which give existence and morals meaning.
-----------------------------------------
Nature, the lower: the created; earth and earthly things; the visible and what happens normally in the cause-and-effect universe; what man as man does on the earth; diversity, or individual things, the particulars; the individual acts of man.

Beginning from man alone, Renaissance humanism-and humanism ever since-has found no way to arrive at universals or absolutes which give meaning to existence and morals.

Schaeffer explains, however, that humanism gradually spread into the church. Ultimately, the humanism that focused on the created for meaning found its expression in the ideas of Christian philosophers like Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard. I have read much of Kierkegaard's work, and I am not certain that it is appropriate to attribute to him all of the differing (and sometimes negative) ideas that are traditionally thought to be part of his thinking. But, at minimum, his ideas led to a dichotomy in theology between the noumenal world and the phenomenal world. As Schaeffer puts it,

Kierkegaardianism did bring to full tide the notion that reason will always lead to pessimism. That is, one must try to find optimistic answers in regard to meaning and values on an "upper level" outside of reason. Through a "leap of faith" one must try to find meaning without reason.

Schaeffer continues to comment on the consequences of the humanism that had crept into Christianity and was reflected in the followers of Kierkegaard (and ultimately, a large portion of the Christian church):

Modern man is a man of dichotomy. By dichotomy we mean a total separation into two reciprocally exclusive orders, with no unity or relationship between them. The dichotomy here is the total separation between the area meaning and value, and the area of reason. Reason leading to despair must be kept totally separate from the blind optimism of non-reason. This makes a lower and an upper story, with the lower story of reason leading to pessimism and men trying to find optimism in an upper story devoid of reason. At this point the older rationalistic thinkers (with their optimistic hope of maintaining unity between the world of reason and that of meaning and values) were left behind. This is the mark of modern man.

Obviously, I have left out a great deal of the history and argument that Schaeffer uses to support these ideas. For those interested in seeing the basis for making these assertions and tying them together in this way I highly recommend reading How Should We Then Live?. But the point that Schaeffer makes repeatedly in his book is that when man begins with humanism -- the belief that man can gain values and meaning starting from man and not starting with revelation from God -- man has always failed. This is true in philosophy, art and Christian theology. In the case of the latter, when man starts with reasoning from particulars (which he himself is), man will ultimately arrive at the point of having to abandon hope in finding meaning absent a leap of faith into the area of non-reason.

3. The Loss of the Miraculous

Following Kierkegaard, theologians seemed to largely adopt the idea of the "leap of faith." Starting with only the created things as being within the realm of reason or rationality, theology began to follow a road that led to a view that only particulars and the laws of nature acting on them can be seen as real. The rest must be rejected as irrational.

One must understand that from the advent of Kierkegaardianism onward there has been a widespread concept of the dichotomy between reason and non-reason, with no interchange between them. The lower story are of reason is totally isolated from the optimistic area of non-reason. * * * There is no interchange, no osmosis between the parts. * * * "Downstairs" in the area of humanistic reason, man is a machine, man is meaningless. There are no values. And "upstairs" optimism about meaning and values is totally separated from reason. Reason has no place here at all; here reason is an outcast.

* * *

The concept of man beginning from himself now began to be expressed in theology and in theological language. Or we can say that these theologians accepted the presuppositions of rationalism. As the Renaissance had tried to synthesize Aristotle and Christianity and then Plato and Christianity, these men were attempting to synthesize the rationalism of the Enlightenment and Christianity. This attempt has often been called religious liberalism.

The rationalistic theological liberalism of the nineteenth century was embarrassed by and denied the supernatural, but still tried to hold on to the historic Jesus by winnowing out of the New Testament all the supernatural elements. * * *

This came to its climax with Albert Schweitzer's (1875-1965) book The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) in which he tried to hold on to the Jesus of history. * * * The Quest for the Historical Jesus (especially the conclusion of the second edition which was never translated into English) showed the impossibility of ridding the New Testament of the supernatural and yet keeping any historical Jesus. The rationalistic theologians could not separate the historic Jesus from the supernatural events connected with him. History and the supernatural were too interwoven in the New Testament. If one retained any of the historical Jesus, one had to keep some of the supernatural. If one got rid of all the supernatural, one had no historical Jesus.

In other words, because the basis of humanistic thought begins with man and created things (the particulars) and not revelation (universals), it inexorably leads to a separation of the natural from the supernatural (or extra-natural) where the former is thought to be real and the latter to be unreal. This type of thinking, it seems to me, must eventually abandon any concept of the Jesus described in the New Testament as a historic figure about whom the witnesses (the Gospels) are speaking truth. Jesus, then, becomes a mythical or spiritualized figure who has no place in reality. Certainly, the idea that one could rationally come to believe in God through the revelation of Jesus Christ becomes nonsense, and all of religion, including Christianity, becomes nothing more than a leap of faith into the irrational with any choice that gives meaning being equal to any other choice.

4. Looking at the Model of Universals First

This "leap of faith" into irrationality to find meaning, however, is not the Biblical model. As 2 Timothy 3:14-17:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned {them,} and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

The Bible teaches that Christians (all people, actually) are to start with God's revelation as the source of our assurance. That revelation is found in the 66 books of the Bible. The Bible (which can be seen as part of the "universals" in the first dichotomy represented by Schaeffer, above) gives a basis for values and meaning. It answers the questions of who we are, who God is, and why we are here. It gives a basis for ethics and morals. It gives a solid foundation for living. In other words, it leads to exactly the opposite answers than the answers derived from humanism. Where humanism leads to meaninglessness and hopelessness, Biblical Christianity provides a basis for meaning and hope.

Let no one suggest, however, that the call to accept the truth of the Bible is a call to "blind faith" or irrationality. The Biblical approach doesn't call for the abandonment of the intellect in the slightest. In fact, the Biblical model calls on people to study both the universals (the things of God) and the particulars (the created things) with equal fervor.

The Bible is to be studied, and reason and intellect are to be used in understanding its teachings. "'Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the Lord" in Isaiah 1:18a. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," reports Proverbs 1:7a. These are just a few of the many, many verses that call on Christians to love knowledge of God and to seek to know the mind and heart of God more fully. The only way to get to know God's mind and heart is by a combination of the study of his Word and prayer. Yet, intellect is not restricted to the study of God's word. Rather, the intellect is to be used in the study of the whole world. As Schaeffer notes:

[T]he Bible tells us true things about people and about nature. It does not give men and women exhaustive truth about the world and the cosmos, but it does give truth about them. So one can know many true things about nature, especially why things exist and why they have the form they have. Yet, because the Bible does not give exhaustive truth about history and the cosmos, historians and scientists have a job to do, and their work is not meaningless. To be sure, there is a total break between God and his creation, that is, between God and created things; God is infinite -- and created things are finite. But man can know both truth about God and truth about the things of creation because in the Bible God has revealed himself and has given man the key to understanding God's world.


5. Pope Benedict's Call for Renewal of Christian Humanism

On the one hand, Pope Benedict's call may be a perfectly straightforward call to become better vessels for sharing the truth of God in a world that is increasingly humanistic in viewpoint. It may be a call to return to the place where intellect is more a part of being a disciple of Christ.

The problem is that Pope Benedict XVI was very specific in that society "needs to recover from the effects of a newer trend in humanism that aspires to build a new culture separate from the old Christian foundation." From the context, it seems to me that the "old Christian foundation" he references must be Christian humanism. Pope Benedict XVI is a very smart man and a well-educated man. I think he knew exactly what he was saying with his words.

Of course, if Schaeffer is right (and I think he is right), Christian humanism doesn't remove Christianity from the "world of myth and emotion." If Schaeffer is right, it was Christian humanism that led to the upper story being relegated to the area of irrationality in the first place. Thus, while I applaud the overall ideas by Pope Benedict XVI, I think that he is making a mistake in promoting Christian humanism which will defeat his goal of bringing Christianity out of the shadows of myth and emotion.

Over at the Dangerous Idea, Victor Reppert has posted on the issue of predestination and free will. More specifically, he has addressed the supposed “solution” some Calvinists offer to the sensitive charge that they deny the concept of free will. The proposed solution is known as compatibilism. He makes an interesting point and has, as usual, spawned a vigorous discussion in his comments.

Compatibilism basically “solves” the free-will/determinism conflict by redefining free will. Free will is commonly understood to mean the ability to choose between alternatives. But if all decisions are predestined, humans obviously do not have free will. Compatiblism says that free will is compatible with predestination so long as it is defined to mean the absence of external coercion. It matters not, in this view, that the internal forces (the nature of the person at issue) compels a certain outcome. So long as no one holds a gun to the head of the chooser the act is free.

As an initial matter, I am not ready to accept the notion that the man with a gun to his head has no free will. I think in most cases they still do, so long as they have the rational capacity to weigh the factors in the situation and choose a certain course of action. History is not without examples of people knowingly giving up their lives because they choose certain death to gain some other benefit; be it to preserve the lives of their fellow soldiers, to protect their family, pride and stubbornness. The choice could even be made under the false impression that the threat is unreal. Obviously, from a moral perspective, we understand that the element of coercion present with the express threat of force can mitigate the guilt that might usually apply to the conduct undertaken due to the threat of force. For example, a bank teller who hands over money to a robber is not guilty of theft. In other circumstances, such a threat is not an excuse. The law does not recognize a coercive exception for murder, for example.

In any event, the attempt to redefine free will to mean the absence of external coercion strikes me as unpersuasive special pleading. It is better to admit—if Calvinism be true—that free will is an illusion. Many modern naturalistic philosophers would agree with this. It may be bad public relations, but it also may be an accurate understanding of the place of the will within Calvinism.

One example that I think demonstrates the illusory nature of the kind of free will granted by compatibilism comes from Douglas Adam’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second book of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. The RAEU is literally a restaurant equipped with a time machine and a powerful force field that is situated in the future when the universe collapses in on itself and ends. Diners enjoy their dinner with a spectacular view of the end of the universe.

The hero, Arthur Dent, and company end up at the RAEU and are preparing to order dinner. Here is what happens:

He sat down.
The waiter approached.
'Would you like to see the menu?' he said, 'or would you like meet the Dish of the Day?'

'Huh?' said Ford.
'Huh?' said Arthur.
'Huh?' said Trillian.
'That's cool,' said Zaphod, 'we'll meet the meat.'

- snip -

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

'Good evening', it lowered and sat back heavily on its haunches, 'I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?'

It harrumphed and gurgled a bit, wriggled its hind quarters in to a more comfortable position and gazed peacefully at them.

Its gaze was met by looks of startled bewilderment from Arthur and Trillian, a resigned shrug from Ford Prefect and naked hunger from Zaphod Beeblebrox.

'Something off the shoulder perhaps?' suggested the animal, 'Braised in a white wine sauce?'

'Er, your shoulder?' said Arthur in a horrified whisper.

'But naturally my shoulder, sir,' mooed the animal contentedly,'nobody else's is mine to offer.'

Zaphod leapt to his feet and started prodding and feeling the animal's shoulder appreciatively.

'Or the rump is very good,' murmured the animal. 'I've been exercising it and eating plenty of grain, so there's a lot of good meat there.'

It gave a mellow grunt, gurgled again and started to chew the cud. It swallowed the cud again.

'Or a casserole of me perhaps?' it added.

'You mean this animal actually wants us to eat it?' whispered Trillian to Ford.

'Me?' said Ford, with a glazed look in his eyes, 'I don't mean anything.'

'That's absolutely horrible,' exclaimed Arthur, 'the most revolting thing I've ever heard.'

'What's the problem Earthman?' said Zaphod, now transferring his attention to the animal's enormous rump.

'I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing there inviting me to,' said Arthur, 'It's heartless.'

'Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten,' said Zaphod.

'That's not the point,' Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. 'Alright,' he said, 'maybe it is the point. I don't care, I'm not going to think about it now. I'll just ... er ... I think I'll just have a green salad,' he muttered.

'May I urge you to consider my liver?' asked the animal, 'it must be very rich and tender by now, I've been force-feeding myself for months.'

'A green salad,' said Arthur emphatically.

'A green salad?' said the animal, rolling his eyes disapprovingly at Arthur.

'Are you going to tell me,' said Arthur, 'that I shouldn't have green salad?'

'Well,' said the animal, 'I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point. Which is why it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am.'

It managed a very slight bow.

'Glass of water please,' said Arthur.

'Look,' said Zaphod, 'we want to eat, we don't want to make a meal of the issues. Four rare stakes please, and hurry. We haven't eaten in five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years.'

The animal staggered to its feet. It gave a mellow gurgle. 'A very wise choice, sir, if I may say so. Very good,' it said, 'I'll just nip off and shoot myself.'

He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur.

'Don't worry, sir,' he said, 'I'll be very humane.'

It waddled unhurriedly off to the kitchen.

Now, under a compatibilist view of free will, the Dish of the Day is freely choosing to become steaks. It is under no external pressure whatsoever. It sincerely desires to be eaten. It has no desire to be saved or spared. Its nature determines its choice. It lives only to become dinner. It chooses to become steaks and gleefully carries out his own demise, ever considerate to the feelings of the diners.

But, one could argue, the Dish of the Day is not free from external pressure because it has been genetically modified to make this choice. It has no choice because its nature was altered. The problem with this counter is that it is a defeater of the entire notion of compatibilism. Any reasonable conception of “nature” will have to allow for the prior influences that produced the nature.

Of course, this does not disprove predestination or demonstrate that we have free will. But I think Reppert is on to something when he argues that compatibilism fails to render both doctrines true.

Sir Issac Newton was one of the greatest scientists and quite possibly the smartest man to ever walk the planet. (I am not the only one to think such. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson said so in his lecture at the Beyond Belief Conference.) He was also seriously and devoutly Christian. This can be seen in the General Scolium of Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy where Newton commented:

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another.

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God παυτοκρατωρ, or Universal Ruler; for God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect . . . .

Now, it appears that some other writings by Newton have surfaced wherein he delves more deeply into matters related to Christianity. According to Newton Papers Reveal Apocalypse Calculation -- Documents Shed Light on Scientist's Religious Beliefs, Newton's private papers show that he affixed his very scientific mind to showing that the second coming would not be happening in the near future (for him), but the earliest it could happen would be 2060.

Three-century-old manuscripts by Isaac Newton calculating the exact date of the apocalypse, detailing the precise dimensions of the ancient temple in Jerusalem and interpreting passages of the Bible - exhibited this week for the first time - lay bare the little-known religious intensity of a man many consider history's greatest scientist.

Newton, who died 280 years ago, is known for laying much of the groundwork for modern physics, astronomy, math and optics. But in a new Jerusalem exhibit, he appears as a scholar of deep faith who also found time to write on Jewish law - even penning a few phrases in careful Hebrew letters - and combing the Old Testament's Book of Daniel for clues about the world's end.

The documents, purchased by a Jewish scholar at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1936, have been kept in safes at Israel's national library in Jerusalem since 1969. Available for decades only to a small number of scholars, they have never before been shown to the public.

In one manuscript from the early 1700s, Newton used the cryptic Book of Daniel to calculate the date for the Apocalypse, reaching the conclusion that the world would end no earlier than 2060.

"It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner," Newton wrote. However, he added, "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

I personally hope that someone will publish the texts of his writings and the basis for these calculations. Ordinarily, I would put aside writings like this because lots of people have tried to use the Books of Daniel and the Revelation of St. John to try to calculate the world's end. I am aware of none who have successfully done so. Newton, however, was a bit smarter than the average person. I would be interested to see his reasoning.

But I really like what the article said about Newton's faith and its relationship to science:

The Newton papers, Ben-Menahem said, also complicate the idea that science is diametrically opposed to religion. "These documents show a scientist guided by religious fervor, by a desire to see God's actions in the world," she said.

Exactly! Far from being opposed by science, religion is the brother of scientific endeavor. Granted, they are brothers that have seen a huge rift formed in their relationship due to the hijacking of science by people who believe in naturalism, materialism and positivism. These underlying philosophies are at loggerheads with Christianity because they start with the assumption that there is no such thing as a world beyond the natural and material world -- regardless of whether it can or cannot be measured by observation. To the followers of these philosophies any scientific theory that would point to or suggest that there exists an extra-natural world is discounted by today's scientific elite as engaging the work that is definitionally outside the realm of science. More likely, if one accepts that there may be such a extra-natural world out there in the course of working on science, that person is singled out as a nutcase.

Newton, however, was no nutcase. He was a devout Christian who understood that both science and religion were compatible. One can be a scientist -- a great scientist, even -- and have a deep and abiding faith in God. In fact, a right understanding of the relationship between science and nature will drive people who desire to know God more fully to seek to study the world that God has made.

Issac Newton understood this. I only pray that more of today's scientists come to that understanding.

(HT: Weekend Fisher)

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 of discovered non-rational ethics, can be found here.

This material is taken from the beginning of chapter 31, "the problem with the third explanation of ethics". (In this book I tend to decap my chapter titles. {g}) As usual, I begin my chapter by summarizing where the argument has gotten to; so, since it has been a few weeks since my previous entries, this will serve as a handy catch-up summary-restatement of the gist of the previous entries.

....... [excerpted material begins here]

In my previous chapter, I explained why my argument has now led me to consider questions of interpersonal relationships; what we call 'ethics'. Generally speaking, there are three branches of explanation for 'what happens' when we behave 'ethically'. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive--I myself think all three branches, put together, account for my own 'ethical' behaviors.

But the first two branches are necessarily exclusive of the third branch in this fashion: they essentially deny that truly ethical behavior is taking place. What those two general theories claim, is that what looks like 'ethical behavior' to us is not actually 'ethical' behavior.

In the first theory, we humans invent qualities in order to justify the actions of the individual. [Footnote: The actions may be taken to satisfy instinctive wantings, of course.] These invention-behaviors are actively rational (not reactively instinctive); but the coloring of 'ethics' is merely a useful mask worn, or a game played, by the participants: because otherwise there would in fact be no effective justification for the individual to claim rights over the group.

In the second theory, the behaviors are merely the automatic reactions we humans, as humans, have to our environment, whether macroscale (the social level) or microscale (the genetic level). Like the first theory, a sort of mask is placed over the 'real' source of the impulses so that the individual has some power of justification within the social group.

Both theories, in essence, deny (so far as they go) that an interpersonal relationship is taking place.

For the second theory, the relationships have nothing to do with people as persons (merely as animals of a particular species or social group). For the first theory, the fact that other people happen to be producing the situation to be actively exploited or defended against, is virtually a coincidence--in principle, they might as well be fish or volcanoes.

I will emphasize again, as I did in the previous chapter, that this does not mean the theories are false (unpalatable though they may be). Nor shall I be arguing: "These are some typical explanations produced by atheists and philosophical naturalists; whom I have already refuted (I think); therefore, they are false." I don't think such an argument would strictly work; it isn't impossible that God (supernaturalistic or otherwise) could and would allow such behaviors to take place. Nor do I think the mere fact that no one (to my knowledge) who proposes such explanations actually applies them to their own selves consistently, counts against these theories being true.

I will say this, however: it seems to me that any proposed explanation of an effect that requires us to essentially ignore the explanation in order to accomplish anything worthwhile, is not likely to be capable of covering all the facts.

Here is what I mean. In the previous chapter [actually in a previous entry], I discussed the fact that the centrifugal force does not really exist. It is an illusion, created by the centripetal force. For most people, this distinction is trivial: the centrifugal force can be described and used like a real force. Most children can be easily taught that if they whirl a pail of water on a string at a certain speed, the water will not fall out. It pools instead on one 'bottom' side of the pail. That is the 'centrifugal force'. The real force being applied, however, is the pulling of the string toward the whirling child, with the pail trying to pull away according to its momentum in a vector-direction at right angles to the pulling of the string. Engineers typically calculate their figures (in such situations) using this force instead, for it is the actual corrective force being applied to the inertial movement of the pail: the centripetal force.

But what if a teacher in a college class explained this to first-year engineering students, and then continued along this line: "Although the centripetal force is the real force creating the illusion of the centrifugal force, in order to accomplish anything useful we must ignore the real centripetal force and apply to the false centrifugal force instead. It isn't only that using calculations of the false centrifugal force takes us less time to do, than what we could accomplish using the centripetal force; it's that if we apply to the real centripetal force as justification for our mathematic conclusions, it cannot be self-consistently accepted as justification, and what we are trying to accomplish will fail."

If I was the student of such a teacher, the first thing that would occur to me is: "This sounds like total drivel!" My next conclusion would be a reasonable suspicion: "Perhaps the centrifugal force really exists, but this teacher wishes to deny its existence."

Now, the situation isn't quite that bad with regard to the first and second explanations of ethics--the explanations that say ethics aren't really ethical at bottom--because a person might 'know the truth' and use that knowledge to effectively get results. But the use of that knowledge to effectively get results still depends on flummoxing the other people involved; the ones who do treat ethics as being objectively ethical.

As long as I think that you are merely inventing your ethical behaviors (and that I am also merely inventing my own), you will find it impossible to convince me of anything on 'moral' grounds.

Similarly, if you expect me to accept that my feelings about justice are only the result of automatic reactions to my environment, then you will find me laughing at you when you ask me to accept that such-and-such should be done 'because people deserve to know the truth'. If our concepts of justice are only the result of genetically induced species bias, then it is only genetically induced species bias that prompts you to say 'people deserve' anything (including that you 'deserve' anything)!

Be that as it may: I repeat once more that such an observation on my part is no argument that such explanations are not true.


[Next up: so now I'm going to explain that accepting God's existence as Lord of our lives, etc. etc., solves all our problems, and so we should therefore believe God exists and trust Him as the source of objective ethics... right? ah... hm... noooooo, not quite... {g}]

[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.]

I have heard many times about the secularization of Europe. In our own blog, we have previously commented on the empty great cathedrals of Europe ("Europe's largest churches are often unused these days, reduced to monuments for tourists to admire"). Certainly, Europe has become greatly more secular and atheist than America. But, to at least one scholar, all is not lost for Christianity in Europe.

According to Philip Jenkins, a distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, the secularization of Europe is actually a blessing to the now smaller, leaner churches of Europe. In a story in Foreign Policy magazine entitled Europe’s Christian Comeback, Dr. Jenkins expresses the benefits being derived by the churches which, until recently, had been slowly sinking into a type of despair over loss of influence due to secularization:

Europe has long been a malarial swamp for any traditional or orthodox faith. Compared with the rest of the world, religious adherence in Europe is painfully weak. And it is easy to find evidence of the decay. Any traveler to the continent has seen Christianity’s abandoned and secularized churches, many now transformed into little more than museums. But this does not mean that European Christianity is nearing extinction. Rather, among the ruins of faith, European Christianity is adapting to a world in which its convinced adherents represent a small but vigorous minority.

In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf—smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than within European Catholicism, where new religious currents have become a potent force. Examples include movements such as the Focolare, the Emmanuel Community, and the Neocatechumenate Way, all of which are committed to a re-evangelization of Europe. These movements use charismatic styles of worship and devotion that would seem more at home in an American Pentecostal church, but at the same time they are thoroughly Catholic. Though most of these movements originated in Spain and Italy, they have subsequently spread throughout Europe and across the Catholic world. Their influence over the younger clergy and lay leaders who will shape the church in the next generation is surprisingly strong.

Similar trends are at work within the Protestant churches of Northern and Western Europe. The most active sections of the Church of England today are the evangelical and charismatic parishes that have, in effect, become megachurches in their own right. These parishes have been incredibly successful at reaching out to a secular society that no longer knows much of anything about the Christian faith. Holy Trinity Brompton, a megaparish in Knightsbridge, London, that is now one of Britain’s largest churches, is home to the amazingly popular “Alpha Course,” a means of recruiting potential converts through systems of informal networking aimed chiefly at young adults and professionals. As with the Catholic movements, the course works because it makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge: Everyone is assumed to be a new recruit in need of basic teaching. Nor does the recruitment technique assume that people live or work in traditional settings of family or employment. The Alpha Course is successfully geared for postmodern believers in a postindustrial economy.

Alongside these older Christian communities are hugely energetic immigrant congregations. On a typical Sunday, half of all churchgoers in London are African or Afro-Caribbean. Of Britain’s 10 largest megachurches, four are pastored by Africans. Paris has 250 ethnic Protestant churches, most of them black African. Similar trends are found in Germany. Booming Christian churches in Africa and Asia now focus much of their evangelical attention on Europe. Nigerian and Congolese ministers have been especially successful, but none more so than the Ukraine-based ministry of Nigerian evangelist Sunday Adelaja. He has opened more than 300 churches in 30 countries in the last 12 years and now claims 30,000 (mainly white) followers.

This trend is consistent with the history of Christianity in the West. At the end of the Medieval Age, for example (and with apologies to our Roman Catholic readers), I feel that the Roman Catholic Church became so cumbersome and imbued with humanism that it lost its focus on the God and the correct teachings of Christianity. It became bogged down in feeding itself and barely continued to serve God. The Reformation which followed was initially an effort to return the Roman Catholic Church to a more historic Christianity. While the reformers were led to break away because of differences that exist to this day, both the Roman Catholic Church and the new reformed churches ultimately benefited from the religious revival that followed.

In the broader picture, when the church has lost some of its faithfulness either due to philosophy or apathy, God seems to winnow out the church by some mechanism. The church then rebounds in a condition that constitutes a marked improvement over the prior situation. That appears to be what is happening here.

It should be noted (with a nod of admiration for our Roman Catholic readers) that Pope Benedict XVI expressed a willingness, perhaps even a desire, for a leaner Christian presence in Europe. In a blog entry entitled Pope Benedict XVI -- His Stand and the Remnant Church, we quoted an article about Pope Benedict in Time Magazine and noted:

"Benedict XVI's frequently stated positions appear to accept the inevitability of the decline of Church membership in the industrialized West, rather than to reach out to accommodate the concerns of those who might be drifting away from the Church." I read Pope Benedict's writings as suggesting that he was willing to allow that to happen. Basically, he said something to the effect of "we must stand for correct doctrine, and if that causes the church to shrink to a remnant and become almost invisible to the world, then that is the will of God."

But the shrinking was not seen as being necessarily a bad thing to Pope Benedict XVI. The Time Magazine article noted:

By that analysis, the Church would continue to shrink in the West under Benedict XVI, unless he turns out to be extremely gifted pastorally. But that would not necessarily bother him that much. He has previously indicated that he would be comfortable with an extremely small Church, preferring a small church of true believers to a larger one whose numbers are swelled by people he would not see as good Catholics. Benedict XVI has previously argued that it is not unhealthy for church to be a counter culture rather than a dominant player in secular Western society. He's willing to see it play the role of an oppositional minority to a cultural drift he sees at odds with Church teachings.

In my view, Pope Benedict XVI was (and is) right on target. It is better that the church be pruned to a remnant of the truly faithful so that it can grow back healthier, more Biblically and theologically sound, and more godly than before. If Dr. Jenkins is right, that regrowth is beginning.

(HT: CT Direct's LiveBlog)

More than a few apologists have noted that there is a tension between debunking explanations which appeal to sheer invention to account for stories of religious experience (perhaps in the service of some societal or political ambition) and those which accept that certain people have had what they thought were 'real' religious experiences but which try to nevertheless account for them pathologically, most often today using neuroscience. It seems that in skeptical circles the balance between the two is tipping more towards the invention end of the spectrum, and it is not hard to fathom why: human experience is notoriously tricky to judge as 'genuine' or 'false'. Even if there is confidence in naturalistic explanations of religious experiences, having to accept even the possibility that they are nonetheless genuine would probably put more of a burden of proof on the skeptic than she would like to bear. It seems much easier to explain away the Resurrection encounters, for example, as literary fictions drawn by imitation from other religious texts (and where did the encounters in those texts come from, one wonders?) than to try to explain naturalistically how two disciples in Emmaus broke bread with their risen Lord who then vanished from their sight.

In any case, Robin Lane Fox has some comments specifically on the Resurrection narratives which are worth pondering: "In the pagan world, visions of a person soon after death were not uncommon...Christians, however, advanced the extreme claim that the object of their visions had risen physically from the dead...These [resurrection] stories were very explicit and had no pagan counterpart." (pp.377-378) To be sure, Lane Fox accepts the possibility that they were deliberate fictions designed to counter skepticism that the apostles had just seen another ghost from the grave. Concerning Matthew's observation that even after the appearances some of the disciples doubted, he asks: "is this unexpected note of doubt historical, or was it contrived to answer the charge that the beholders had been convinced too easily?" (ibid.) It might be interesting to compare the charges levelled against the Christians which we find in the apologists and the pagan criticisms which have survived with the charges which the Gospel stories are supposed to be countering. If they match up well, we might have more reason for suspecting apologetic shaping of the narratives. But if the criticisms were largely different, what reason have we to assume that the Gospel stories are necessarily polemical?

In any case, with regard to an early Christian visionary text, the Shepherd of Hermas, Lane Fox makes some comments on the charge of literary invention of visionary experience: "Like Revelation, [Hermas'] writing has been studied for literary precedents, as if traditional details in small parts of his visions prove the inauthenticity of the entire work. Visions, however, are not 'fictitious' because they draw on their seer's own learning...The contrast between traditional imagery and 'original' truth is misplaced." (p.381) Later on he asks, "Can we really believe the sequence of these visions...? Each of his visions arose out of the onewhich he had seen before, but their connection is no argument against their reality...The book, the angels, the sensations of fear and trance are all traceable to apocalyptic texts, but...they do not explain the particular, personal quality of Hermas' visionary odyssey." (p.386)

This is not to say that Lane Fox believes that the Resurrection experiences or Hermas' visions were actually of the risen Lord and heaven respectively. In fact he would deny both, since he is an atheist. The point here is simply that he is uncomfortable with the tendency to ascribe to literary invention what is best explained in terms of personal experience, however the latter is accounted for (as he also shows with respect to stories in the Acts of the Apostles: "[a]lthough Acts' author has been given some odd disguises, none is odder than that of a man who knew fragments of Ovid and their Greek sources and distorted them to suit his picture of St. Paul." p.100, in reference to Acts 14:8-18). I would have to agree. I think there is something cowardly and even misanthropic about stamping 'invention' on any unusual experience which would otherwise be rather hard to explain (or explain away). I would even say this with reference to alleged religious experience which I find challenging, like Joseph Smith's visions of the Father and the Son or the angel Moroni. I would not call it 'invented' or Joseph Smith a liar unless I had darn good reason to (I may reject the veridicality of these experiences on other grounds, though, such as the conviction based on good historical and philosophical arguments that the mainstream Church is not in apostasy or that God was not once flesh and blood like we are).

This is not to say that concocting of tall tales does not happen or that such stories are not later embellished or that it is always easy to tell the difference between real lived experience and derivative invention. But I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to those who say they have had such experience, if otherwise I know them to be trustworthy (I would be more than a little suspicious of someone who claimed to have seen an angel with a personal message for me and then said, "Now all I need is your credit card number"). And I certainly do so with respect to the Resurrection narratives, which as far as I can tell are some of the most compelling accounts of religious experience there are, and well able to support the believing trust placed in them by the sincere Christian.

An Episcopalian priest claims to be a devout Muslim and Christian. She conducts services on Sunday and attends Muslim services on Friday, complete with headscarf. Any problem from her bishop about adopting a religion that denies the deity of Christ? Nope. Her bishop "finds the interfaith possibilities exciting."

When you read on in the article you find she denies the Trinity and Jesus' divinity. So she is not a Christian afterall, just a priest in the Episcopal Church.

I also like how the author of the article and the priest try and leave the impression that the Christian faith is a white person's faith by noting how white is the Episcopal Church. The Christian faith is actually much more diverse than the Muslim faith, in the United States and abroad.

I am presently reading through Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?, subtitled "The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture". In this book, Schaeffer examines the way in which cultural worldviews have led to the rise and decline of various civilizations. The second chapter tackles the Middle Ages and the lessons about world views to be learned from that history. In addition to the book, Schaeffer has also produced a video series by the same name.

While I find the book very interesting, he has made a statement which I think may lead to some confusion about the views of St. Thomas Aquinas. Specifically, Schaeffer says:

Aquinas's contributions to Western thought is, of course, much richer than we can discuss here, but his view of man demands our attention. Aquinas held that man had revolted against God and thus had fallen, but Aquinas had an incomplete view of the Fall. He thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view the will was fallen or corrupted but the intellect was not affected. Thus, people could rely on their own human wisdom, and this meant that people were free to mix the teachings of the Bible with the teaching of the non-Christian philosophers.

* * * As a result of this emphasis, philosophy was gradually separated from revelation--from the Bible--and philosophers began to act in an increasingly independent, autonomous manner.

Somehow, this statement has led to the assumption that Aquinas taught that man could arrive at an independent understanding of God absent the revelation of scripture.

We have to be very careful about what Schaeffer actually said in his book, and what Aquinas actually wrote. Both are being mischaracterized here. First, Schaeffer doesn't say that Aquinas was claiming that true knowledge of God could be aquired through reason alone without revelation. Instead, he is saying that Aquinas's view of the non-fallen intellect gave license to philosophers to opine about God without having to resort to Biblical passages for their evidence. Reason alone could lead them to reach some conclusions about God. Hence, Aquinas used the thoughts of Aristotle and Cicero and others to establish truths about God even though these men weren't Christian and had no knowledge of the Bible.

But what Schaeffer doesn't say and what Aquinas didn't teach was that revelation was not necessary to reach a true, accurate and complete picture about God. In the very first Article in his work, Summa Theologicae, Aquinas examined the question of "Whether it is necessary to have another doctrine besides philosophical disciplines." His answer: yes. Specifically, as translated here, Aquinas said:

It must be said that, besides the philosophical disciplines which are investigated by human reason, another doctrine based on revelation was necessary for human well-being. Such is true, in the first place, because man is ordered by God to a certain end which exceeds the grasp of reason. As Isaiah says, "Eye has not seen, God, without you, what you have prepared for those who love you" (lsa. 64:4). The end must be fore known to man, however, since he must order his intentions and actions to that end. Thus it was necessary to human well-being that certain things exceeding human reason be made known to man through divine revelation.

Even in the case of those things which can be investigated by human reason, it was necessary for man to be instructed by divine revelation. The truth concerning God, if left to human reason alone, would have appeared only to a few, and only after a long search, and even then mixed with many errors; yet all of man's well-being, which is in God, depends on knowledge of this truth. Thus, in order that this well-being should become known to men more commonly and more securely, it was necessary that they be instructed by divine revelation.

Thus it was necessary that, besides the philosophical doctrines which can be investigated by reason, there be a sacred doctrine known through revelation.

Thus, to the extent that some may intrepret Schaeffer to claim that man Aristotle taught that man could arrive at a true, accurate and complete knowledge of God without reference to the scriptures, unless Schaeffer expanded his teachings elsewhere to make such a claim, I think that it is a misunderstanding of what Scheaffer had to say. It certainly isn't what Aquinas taught.

One of the law blogs I follow is SOTUSBlog. It is the blog for following the procedural developments and decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). So, whatever their ideological bent, the team at SCOTUSBlog certainly knows what is going on.

Which is why I found their latest post so interesting. According to them, the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the SCOTUS have resulted in a significant shift to the right: "In almost all of the meaningful cases decided thus far – measured by their effect going forward – the conservatives prevailed."

The pivotal vote in many cases, as expected, was cast by Justice Kennedy. Although in terms of raw numbers Kennedy has split pretty equally between the Right and Left, SCOTUSBlog believes that on the significant, precedent setting cases, he has gone Right. Moreover, the reading of dissenting opinions from the bench by some liberal Justices is taken as evidence of a high degree of frustration. SCOTUSBlog also expect Justice Kennedy to cast the deciding vote to the Right in upcoming criminal law and, notably, a religious freedom case.

Barna Research Group in Ventura, CA, has just published the results of a poll that showed several differences between atheists and agnostics, on the one hand, and Christians, on the other. A report on the poll can be found in an article published in Church Executive entitled Study sizes up gaps between Christians, atheists and agnostics. Here are some of the more interesting results.

Most atheists and agnostics (56 percent) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. Two-thirds of active-faith Americans (63 percent) perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Atheists and agnostics were found to be largely more disengaged in many areas of life than believers. They are less likely to be registered to vote (78 percent) than active-faith Americans (89 percent); to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20 percent vs. 30 percent); to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41 percent vs. 68 percent); and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41 percent vs. 61 percent).

Additionally, when the no-faith group does donate to charitable causes, their donation amount pales in comparison to those active in faith. In 2006, atheists and agnostics donated just $200 while believers contributed $1,500. The amount is still two times higher among believers when subtracting church-based giving.

The no-faith group is also more likely to be focused on living a comfortable, balanced lifestyle (12 percent) while only 4 percent of Christians say the same. And no-faith adults are also more focused on acquiring wealth (10 percent) than believers (2 percent). One-quarter of Christians identified their faith as the primary focus of their life.

Still, one-quarter of atheists and agnostics said "deeply spiritual" accurately describes them and three-quarters of them said they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life.

When it came to being "at peace," however, researchers saw a significant gap with 67 percent of no-faith adults saying they felt "at peace" compared to 90 percent of believers. Atheists and agnostics are also less likely to say they are convinced they are right about things in life (38 percent vs. 55 percent) and more likely to feel stressed out (37 percent vs. 26 percent).

I largely leave it to the reader to decide the significance of these numbers. However, given the on-going debate that have been taking place on these pages regarding the relationship between morality and God's existence, I do find it telling that atheists and agnostics are significantly less likely to donate time or talents to charitable work. Caring for the poor, sick and unwanted is part of the Christian ethic to "love your neighbor as yourself", and doing this especially for the poor is consistent with Jesus' that that what we do for the least of our neighbors we do for God. Atheists and agnostics, having no such motivation or direction, appear to be falling away from this important work. Coincidence? I think not.

Recently, I visited 21st Century Christian Philosopher who has written an interesting piece rebutting part of Michael Martin's Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God entitled Contingent Necessity.

The portion of Martin's argument that 21st Century Christian Philosopher rebuts is Martin's argument against the existence of God based on Logic. Here is Martin's argument:

Some Christian philosophers have made the incredible argument that logic, science and morality presuppose the truth of the Christian world view because logic, science and morality depend on the truth of this world view [1]. Advocates call this argument the Transcendental Argument for Existence of God and I will call it TAG for short. In what follows I will not attempt to refute TAG directly. Rather I will show how one can argue exactly the opposite conclusion, namely, that logic, science and morality presuppose the falsehood of the Christian world view or at least the falsehood of the interpretation of his world view presupposed by TAG. I will call this argument the Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God or TANG for short.

* * *

How might TANG proceed? Consider logic. Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. However, according to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. But if something is created by or is dependent on God, it is not necessary--it is contingent on God. And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary. Moreover, if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them. Thus, God could make the law of noncontradiction false; in other words, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time. But this is absurd. How could God arrange matters so that New Zealand is south of China and that New Zealand is not south of it? So, one must conclude that logic is not dependent on God, and, insofar as the Christian world view assumes that logic so dependent, it is false.


Restated in syllogistic form, Martin argues:

L1. Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true.

L2. According to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God.

L3. If something is created by or is dependent on God, it is not necessary — it is contingent on God.

L4. If principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary.

L5. If principles of logic are contingent on God, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time. But this is absurd. How could God arrange matters so that New Zealand is south of China and that New Zealand is not south of it?

L6. Hence logic is not dependent on God, and, insofar as the Christian world view assumes that logic so dependent, it is false.

21st Century Christian Philosopher (21-CCP) raises a couple of interesting responses to Martin's argument based on the distinction between necessary and contingent:

I also believe that Martin misconstrued the TAG argument (Transcendental Argument for God) in this case. TAG-gers argue that Logic is necessary for the orderly world. So in seeing this, God brought Logic into being for this purpose. To then argue that Logic is then contingent upon God’s design and so not necessary for what he intends, misses part of the framework.

To one sense, to view God as “perfect” means that we accept that all His steps were “necessary” to “work to the good”. To then say, that they were “contingent” upon God’s intent, and thus not necessary, likely throws an equivocation in there somewhere.

However, I can go further in examining Martin vs. the Anthropic Principle. I can say that only in a world where Logic divides a proposition from its contradiction would it be enough of a thing to remark that it acts in such a way. Because were it not to act in this way, in the local condition, we could not say that it definitely does not act the other way as well. Thus we would not see the face of Logic as non-contradictory, but as incoherent mixture.

Of course this makes no sense, but only in a world where the forces combine to make sense can we observe what makes no sense. Without that pre-condition, we’re in a world that makes no sense, and regard proposition that both make sense and do not make sense.

If Logic is in fact contingent, I wonder how it was that Martin saw Logic as necessary at all. The world just does not produce “necessary Logic”.

Overall, I like 21-CCP's response. Certainly, there may be questions about the usage of the terms necessary and contingent in the original TAG. If, as 21-CCP proposes, the proponents of the TAG argue that God created Logic because it was necessary for an orderly world, then it seems to follow that Logic could be both contingent (being something created by God and not necessarily existing) and necessary (at least from our human perspective). I also like the fact that 21-CCP looks at the argument from the perspective of what the world would be like if the laws of Logic were not in place. However, I think that Martin's argument is wrong on an even more fundamental level. Specifically, I believe L5 is wrong in that it does not follow that if Logic is dependent on God that God could "arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true".

First, it seems axiomatic that God did not create Logic in the sense that He decided that He should create rules of thinking that would govern the universe. If God exists and is the source of everything, Logic must be part of His being. To see why, consider what would happen if the principles of Logic were not in existence in some sense until God "created them" in some way. If that were true, then those principles of Logic would not apply to God -- including the Law of Non-contradiction -- at least until God created them. Then it would be the case that prior to the creation of Logic God could exist and not exist at the same time and in the same way. It would also be the case that God could be good and not good at the same time and in the same way. While this would certainly resolve many apologetic issues (both atheists and theists would be correct about God's existence and his goodness, or lack thereof), it would seem to be a completely intolerable situation even for God. Thus, it seems clear that some form of Logic must has existed either independent of or as part of God and that it is not something that God created at a later time.

Arguments can be made on both sides about whether Logic exists independent of God or as a part of God's character. If the former, then the principles of Logic exist independent of God and God doesn't create them. If the latter, then Logic would flow from God in the same way that Christians posit that goodness is part of God's character and flows from God. If goodness flows from God it allows God to be the source of goodness while at the same time not leaving God free to define goodness arbitrarily such that God could have arbitrarily called murder or lying good instead of evil. In other words, God is good because goodness is part of what He is. When God tells us what is good, we can be sure it is actually good and not arbitrarily created rules of goodness because goodness flows from God's character.

By the same token, if Logic is part of God's character, it doesn't exist independent of God. At the same time, because it is part of God's character, God wouldn't create the principles of Logic arbitrarily. Instead, the principles of Logic would flow forth from his person such that the Law of Non-contradiction, for example, would have to be the case and God could not make it otherwise without violating his own character.

What's important to note in either case of the source of Logic is that the principles of Logic are not arbitrary. Either they exist independent of God (meaning God didn't create them) or they exist as part and parcel of God's character. In the latter case, the principles of Logic are dependent on God, but they are not "created" as such. However, because they are part and parcel of God's character, the principles of Logic are dependent upon God and support the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God.

Martin's argument argues that if the principles of Logic are dependent on God (which they have to be if they are part and parcel of God's character) then they are contingent. I agree, but only in part. If the principles of Logic are part of God's character, then if God's character were different the principles of Logic could have been different, too. But as my example demonstrated earlier, it is difficult to see how they could have been substantially different. It is especially hard to fathom how the Law of Non-contradiction could have been different since it effects even God's existence. So, assuming the principles of Logic flow from God's character (which is axiomatic to the argument that Martin is trying to rebut with his TANG), while I agree it's theoretically possible that the principles of Logic are contingent and could have been different in some minor ways, it appears unlikely that they could be different in any significant way.

Granting L1 through L4 for the sake of argument only, L5 fails because it assumes that God is free to make the rules of Logic whatever He desires. Recall that L5 states:

If principles of logic are contingent on God, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time.

This seems to me to be a reasonable argument if one accepts the assumption that God could have arbitrarily made the principles of Logic whatever He liked. However, since I think serious reasons exist to doubt that God could have arbitrarily created Logic to be whatever he liked, and since an alternative explanation exists in theism (specifically Christianity) that explains how Logic could flow from God as part of His nature and therefore those principles must be dependent upon God while not being arbitrarily created by God, it seems to me that the portion of Martin's Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God which argues against God's existence on the basis of Logic fails.

I recently heard a caller on a talk show challenge the hosts' contention that religion is an indispensable part of morality and law. In response to the hosts' reference to the Ten Commandments, she argued that the Code of Hammurabi preceded the Ten Commandments. Implicit in her point was--apparently--the notion that the Code of Hammurabi was an example of secular morality.

It is true that the Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest known sets of written laws. It does predate Moses. Dating from 1760 BC, the Code of Hammurabi was set forth by King Hammurabi, of Babylon. It lists 282 laws, including specified punishments for each, on 12 tablets. The code was carved into an eight-foot tall stone monument and kept on public display.

But is it an example of secular morality? Not hardly.

On the stone monument itself, near the top, was a carved portrayal of Hammurabi receiving authority to administer the law from Shamash. The prologue to the code makes this explicit in writing, stating that, "Anu and Bel [Babylonian gods] called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind." The Code also claims that Hammurabi was sent by another Babylonian god to "to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land."

The epilogue reinforces this understanding of the Code's justification. Referring again to Hammurabi it states, "A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land." Then near the end:

The great gods have called me, I am the salvation-bearing shepherd, whose staff is straight, the good shadow that is spread over my city; on my breast I cherish the inhabitants of the land of Sumer and Akkad; in my shelter I have let them repose in peace; in my deep wisdom have I enclosed them. That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans, I have in Babylon the city where Anu and Bel raise high their head, in E-Sagil, the Temple, whose foundations stand firm as heaven and earth, in order to declare justice in the land, to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries, set up these my precious words, written upon my memorial stone, before the image of me, as king of righteousness.

Thus, the source of the Code of Hammurabi--and therefore its justification--was thought to be no more secular than Moses' reception of the Ten Commandments from Jehovah. There is a significant distinction, in my opinion, in that Hammurabi claimed the right to make the law whereas Moses claimed to have been given the Ten Commandments themselves, but the ultimate claimed source of authority was religious.

I've been reading Robin Lane Fox's "Pagans and Christians". It's reputation as a classic in the history of religion in late antiquity is well deserved, a brilliant, impeccably researched monograph. And he definitely blows out of the water some of the common skeptical cliches about Christian 'borrowing' from pagan religion. For example:


"The cult of saints and worship at the graves of the dead have been seen as a pagan legacy, as have the Christian shrines of healing and smaller details of Christian practice, dancing, feasting and the use of spells and divination...However, almost all of this continuity is spurious. Many of its details were set in Christian contexts which changed their meaning entirely. Other details merely belonged in contexts which nobody wished to make Christian. They were part of a 'neutral technology of life'..." (p.22)

Specific comments are more interesting. Just to give two examples, Lane Fox refers to Epicrates, who lived around 100 A.D. and who believed that he saw his dead son frequently in "dreams, signs and other appearances." The conclusion Lane Fox draws from this and other evidence is that "Throughout antiquity, pagans believed that the spirit of a dead man might be visible beyond the grave: posthumous 'appearance' were no novelty." (pp.142-143)

This might at first sight count against the uniqueness of the Resurrection appearances, but actually it is an argument in favor of uniqueness, because of the phenomenology and language used to describe the above experiences. They are APPEARANCES of someone known to be dead. They happened reliably if not, perhaps, very frequently, but they did not give rise to the claim that somebody had been raised from the dead. More importantly, they did not produce radical transformations in worldview and political allegiance. Here a second comment is relevant, about 'visitations' from the gods in the pagan world:

"Art and the long centuries of literature had combined with myth and general setting of its stories to contain these visions in harmless traditional forms. Their beneficiaries took no stand against authority and did not claim to kow better than their civic leaders in the matter of pleasing the gods. The divine dreams of Artemidorus and his friends sounded no call for reform or orthodoxy and took no interest in history." (p.165)

The early Christian experiences of the risen Jesus certainly did not fit the category of 'harmless traditional forms'. They prompted the apostle Peter to insist that "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) and the apostle Paul and his converts to call Jesus 'Lord' instead of the emperor and describe His coming in terms reserved for an imperial visit. These features set the Christian resurrection appearances apart from pagan counterparts. Of course, it would not be wise to press these dissimilarities too much, as a social scientist or historian would undoubtedly want to account for the transforming nature of the resurrection experiences in similar, if not identical sociological terms, perhaps against the background of prophetic Judaism. But these differences are important just the same, and in fact the picture of vibrancy and vigor which Lane Fox paints of the pagan religion of late antiquity makes it all the more remarkable that a single, obscure religious option among others in an intensely pluralistic, 'live-and-let-live' religious world managed to become the dominant religion of the empire in just a few centuries.

In a recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Mark D. Roberts on the Hugh Hewitt show (which can be heard here for a limited time), Hitchens makes what he apparently thinks to be an unanswerable challenge to Mark D. Roberts. Here’s what he said:

Here’s my challenge * * * : You have to name a moral action taken or a moral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer. I have yet to find anyone who can answer me that.

Really? How about this one: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind". (Luke 10:27a) I have yet to meet a non-believer who has, in fact, loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, nor have I met an atheist that would take or utter that as an action that he would consider moral.

Next challenge?

Note: the name of this post has been changed (6/11) due to an error in identifying Christopher Hitchens' brother, Peter, as the one making the challenge. My fault.

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 of rationally invented ethics, 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.


....... [excerpted text follows]

In the second class of explanation, ethical behaviors are proposed to be irrational responses on our part to non-rational stimuli from our environment.

We may assign mistaken explanations to these behaviors later; or we may properly explain them later as irrational behaviors (assuming this proposal is correct) and discover as many links of cause and effect as we can. But the behaviors themselves are automatic reactions and counterreactions between our condition and the condition of the environment.

This does not mean they are unhelpful--on the contrary, the existence of these behaviors is usually explained precisely by their usefulness. Proponents of biological evolution thereby tend to explain at least some of what we call 'ethical' behaviors as results of evolutionary development. Proponents of philosophical evolutionism, on the other hand, tend to explain these behaviors entirely as a result of evolutionary development.

Let me clarify that last point: I happen to think that gradualistic biological evolution is a pretty good scientific theory which, although it still has some serious problems, has been refined to the point where it explains at least some natural processes rather effectively (especially insofar as natural selection goes). To that extent, I am willing to agree that some of the behaviors linked to ethics are produced by effects that are results of evolutionary development.

But I also think there are elements of ethical behaviors--indeed, the only parts that can accurately be called 'ethical', as I hope to show later--which are not accounted for by the reactions and counterreactions of non-sentient natural process. The results of the reactions and counterreactions are data upon which I think we are called to actively judge, and not the only data, either; although in a pinch these instincts can also serve as a basic guideline when we have nothing else to go on. [Footnote: Plus the instincts themselves often serve well for our survival and for other results we might otherwise rationally agree with.]

For instance, everyone of any philosophical stripe agrees that we humans, as individuals, usually have a very useful instinct that compels us to jump away from sudden loud noises; and virtually no one will call such a behavior a rationally conscious choice (although by ignorance or miseducation or forgetfulness they may call it an action rather than a reaction). Also, almost everyone will admit that some behaviors are rationally conscious choices and not instinct, although they may disagree about how those behaviors arose--and, in the case of the few people who disavow any behavior but raw instinct, their own ability to distinguish the two states (even to disavow the second state) argues that they must have some standard of measurement by which they are conceiving (or at least transliterating, for if they have nothing but instincts they themselves cannot be rationally conceiving) the concept of 'rational action'.

At any rate, I can be a theist and propose the existence of an objectively ethical reality that we perceive and relate to, while at the same time allowing for the existence of some related behaviors (functioning like shadows or useful substitutes for the actual ethicality) that have grown (or have 'been grown'!) within us through the process of biological evolutionary development (leaving aside any technical difficulties with this theory as being irrelevant for my current discussion.)

But a philosophical evolutionismist (who of course also accepts a biological evolutionary theory) is committed, as a philosophical evolutionismist (and not as, say, a creationistic theist) to the proposal that biological evolutionary theory completely accounts (at least in principle, whether or not the full process has been uncovered) for what we call our ethical behaviors. [Footnote: please see first comment below, for this longer footnote.] The instincts encoded in our genes by mega-millennia of mutation and natural selection, produce (under this proposal) every behavior we call 'ethical'. We may (easily) believe the behaviors to be something other than our unreflective response to environmental stimulus; or we may upon later reflection understand what the reality of our ethical perceptions 'really' are--either way, our experience of 'perceiving ethical principles in personal relationships' is, like the first class of explanation, a sort of gloss, a perception for convenience of use and expression, over what is really happening instead.

A well-known philosophical evolutionismist can thus explain to his readers that his love for his brother, or his feeling that he should love his brother, is actually a psychological impulse implanted into him by the replication of a very successful genetic code, to which he efficiently and automatically responds.

The strength of this class of proposal, is that it depends on events which almost everyone agrees are 'rawly objective', so to speak: brute existent facts, physical ones in this case, entirely capable (at least in principle) of either being quantified or at least being followed in quantifiable terms. The 'cause' of ethics is, under this theory, objectively discoverable, beyond the special kind of 'objective reality' which obtains in the case of intentional invention. The cause is something beyond ourselves and our willful self-assertions.

The weakness, however, is the same as the one underlying the theory of merely 'invented' ethics: what has been discovered to objectively exist, under this theory, is not in fact 'ethical' at all.

The theory carries a further weakness as well; one not shared by the 'merely invented ethics' theory: the behaviors we describe as 'ethical' turn out not to be rational.

In the 'invented ethics' explanation, the behaviors (or some of them) are recognized to be actions: rational, conscious, intentive. But the only actions related to this second class of explanation of ethics, are (presumably) the rational explanations themselves showing that ethical behavior is at bottom irrational.

This might not seem like a very important weakness; until (once again) a self-reflexive system check is run on the behaviors the proponent himself is advocating. The well-known popularizer I mentioned earlier may accept and even stridently propose that ethical behaviors arise purely as a result of impulses (themselves non-rational) produced by aggregated genetic reactions. This same fellow, however, will turn around a few pages later and castigate the abuse of, say, Australian aborigines by settlers; or he will loudly declare that people deserve to know the truth, and ethically denounce groups who (he says) promote ignorance among the people.

But if his theory about the actual source of ethical behavior is true, then these remarks from him are almost comically silly: the equivalent of passing genetic gas! He exhibited them, not because people really deserve to know the truth, but because his genetic structure was wired in such a way as to produce the effect.

The same goes for any other explanation that ethical behaviors are ultimately the result of merely automatic response. Cultural pressures, for instance, are sometimes brought into play as catch-all explanations for 'ethical' behaviors. But the behaviors are still rendered ultimately non-ethical by such explanations; and thus their justification force is rendered null and void.

Here are the two previous examples again, redrafted:

'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 to redistributing the current load, because under the current load about 60% of the tax income is provided by 1% of the American citizens.' -- 'You're only saying that because, as a member of the 1% group, you have been sufficiently psychologically reactive to the cumulative social pressure inherent in protecting the status of that group.'

'If we as Americans take seriously, as a principle, the idea that the American people should be free to express their religious beliefs, 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 that because you are a mother perceiving a threat of some sort to your child, and you have been wired genetically to reactively respond in a manner which you perceive as resulting in "protecting" your child.'

These explanations might be quite true, concerning particular cases of fact. I am even willing to grant that such explanations do cover some of the facts of my own behavior (for instance).

But when they are proposed to cover all the existence of what we call 'ethical behaviors', then the quality of what we call 'ethics' has been explained away to something that is not really 'ethics'. After this, there can be no (self-consistent) return to any kind of truly ethical justification. A mere physical fact is, in itself, no rational justification for doing something; except maybe in a purely self-centered way.

'That man is going to die.'
Yes, you're right. So what?
'If you don't help him, I will kill you.'
Okay.

The man's condition in itself has no rational weight to my decision; the threat to my own well-being is what I end up responding to (either by action or reaction).

[Footnote: In this example, whether the response should be considered the pragmatism of an invented ethical system, or a mere reaction to environmental stimulus, is not evident. It could be either one. The point is that to the extent reasoning is involved in the responsive result, the coherency of a interpersonal relationship is not the rational aim.]

Such theories of 'ethics' thus end by denying, at bottom, actual interpersonal relationships; either by denying the relationships are personal (merely non-rationally physical instead), or by denying the 'inter-' part of 'interpersonal' (it's all about me instead).

Once again: none of this means that these two theories are false. No one, even among their own proponents, consistently applies them (especially to themselves), perhaps; but this doesn't mean they are false--only that it is easy to be ignorant of the problems, or easier not to think about them. The theories are internally self-consistent as far as they go.


[Next up: an introduction to the third class of ethics]

[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.]

Today's Christianity Today has an interview with Richard Baukham, author of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, entitled They Really Saw Him. Set up in a Q&A format, the article has some interesting insights into his book.

What it the importance of "testimony" for interpreting the New Testament?

I think it helps us to understand what sort of history we have in the Gospels. Most history rests mostly on testimony. In other words, it entails believing what witnesses say. We can assess whether we think witnesses are trustworthy, and we may be able to check parts of what they say by other evidence. But in the end we have to trust them. We can't independently verify everything they say. If we could, we wouldn't need witnesses.

It's the same with witnesses in court. Testimony asks to be trusted, and it's not irrational to do so. We do so all the time. Now in the case of the Gospels, I think we have exactly the kind of testimony that historians in the ancient world valued: the eyewitness testimony of involved participants who could speak of the meaning of events they had experienced from the inside. This kind of testimony is naturally not that of the disinterested passerby who happened to notice something. That wouldn't tell us much worth knowing about Jesus. That the witnesses were insiders, that they were deeply affected by the events, is part of the value of their witness for us.

In the book, I discuss testimonies of the Holocaust as a modern example of an event we would have no real conception of without the testimony of survivors. In a very different way, the Gospels are about exceptionally significant events, history-making events. In the testimony of those who lived through them, history and interpretation are inextricable. But this, in fact, brings us much closer to the reality of the events than any attempt to strip away the interpretation and recover some supposedly mere facts about Jesus.

Your reliance on personal names and characters—particularly those who were impacted personally by Jesus—is extensive. Has New Testament scholarship not made use of this data in the past?

Actually, not much attention has been paid to names in the Gospels. Even with a subject as intensively studied as the Gospels, it is possible to notice things people haven't thought much about, because we all employ ways of reading the Gospels that incline us to notice certain kinds of things. Also, we now have a huge amount of extra-biblical evidence (3,000 individually named Palestinian Jews in the New Testament period) that has only recently become easily accessible in a single database. This resource enables us to verify the authenticity of personal names and how they are used in the Gospels.

The article continues with more fascinating information. This is a fine interview and I encourage reading it in full.

New research has revealed results that may be great news in the on-going struggle to protect the unborn from being destroyed in the name of science for the benefits of others. In an article published in Channel NewsAsia entitled Progress in cloned stem cells could defuse ethics storm: studies, scientists report using mouse skin cells to create cells that serve the same function for mice as embryonic stem cells would serve. According to the article:

Doctors on Thursday will report lab techniques that, they hope, will ease an ethical row clouding the eagerly-sought goal of cloned embryonic stem cells.

In one study, US scientists say they reprogrammed normal tissue cells in mice to mimic the properties of embryonic stem cells, an advance that could lead to breakthrough treatments for chronic and terminal diseases in humans.

"Our reprogrammed cells were virtually indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells," said Kathrin Plath, researcher at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles.

"We were rather surprised at how well this reprogramming worked," she said.

If replicated in humans, the method would eliminate the need to harvest human embryos to generate stem cells. The Catholic Church and other Christian activists fiercely oppose using human embryos for research.

And because the cells originate from the recipient, tissue rejection would no longer be a concern, said the study published in the inaugural issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

This is new research, but in some respects it is nothing new. There are many types of possible alternatives to embryonic stem cells that are constantly being discovered. In January 2007, it was discovered that stem cells found in amniotic fluid may possibly produce the same type of advantages that embryonic stem cells are hoped (not promised) to produce without killing any embryos in the process. In November 2006, it was reported that "virus-mediated delivery of the gene encoding an enzyme called PC 1/3 improved the glucose-stimulated insulin secretion of pancreatic islet cells" meaning that what appears to be a successful alternative to embryonic stem cells had been developed for treating patients with Type I diabetes. In October 2006, it was reported that delivery of "adult neural stem/progenitor cells along with a myelin-derived peptide into the spinal fluid of mice and found that they promoted the functional recovery of the spinal cord after injury". In other words, another possible embryonic stem cell alternative had been discovered. I could keep going.

The alternatives to embryonic stem cells keep cropping up. It is, of course, true that these alternatives are all still in the testing stage and further testing may establish that none of them may offer to fulfill the potential that embryonic stem cells are supposed to offer. But that is part of the problem. People see the shortcomings of the alternatives because the alternatives are reported as needing further research, but interestingly embryonic stem cells are not reported in the same way. Here's an example from the same news as reported by Malcolm Ritter of the Associated Press as it appears in my morning newspaper:

In a leap forward for stem cell research, three independent teams of scientists reported Wednesday that they have produced the equivalent of embryonic stem cells in mice using skin cells without the controversial destruction of embryos.

If the same could be done with human skin cells -- a big if -- the procedure could lead to breakthrough medical treatments without the contentious ethical and political debates surrounding the use of the embryos.

The last paragraph is subtle, but by noting that there is a "big if" involved, it communicates quite clearly that there is no clear data that demonstrates that the same procedure could be worked on human skin cells to create the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. But did you catch that the medical treatments that embryonic stem cells are supposed to provide are equally unproven? If you didn't, it's understandable. The "big if" language highlights the unproven nature of the latest research when applied to humans, but no such language accompanies the statement that these procedure "could lead to breakthrough medical treatments".

The truth is that there is no promise that embryonic stem cells will provide any treatments at all -- only an informed hope. To be accurate, the second paragraph should read: "If the same could be done with human skin cells -- a big if -- the procedure could lead to breakthrough medical treatments -- another big if -- without the contentious ethical and political debates surrounding the killing of human embryos which is required to obtain embryonic stem cells."

Of course, the findings will not change opinions in the halls of Congress where the House of Representatives is again seeking to put another bill in front of President Bush which will free up federal funds to further embryonic stem cell research. Given the alternatives that are cropping up that appear to offer sane and ethically undisturbing ways to obtain the same types of cells for doing research, why does Congress feel it necessary to press forward with the killing of unborn human beings to engage in scientific research?

An article by Rick Weiss of the Washington Post entitled Mouse stem cells created without destroying embryos provides the justification:

The findings generated tumult on Capitol Hill, where the House is set to vote today on a bill that would loosen President Bush’s 2001 restrictions on the use of human embryos in stem cell research. The Senate has already passed the bill, which Bush has threatened to veto.

Acutely aware that their new work could undermine the bill, scientists cautioned that their success with mouse cells does not guarantee quick success with human cells. They called for legislators to pass the bill, which would give federally funded researchers access to embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics.

So, the scientists want funding. Is that the bottom line? It seems like an awfully callous reason to end the lives of human beings. They don't want the embryos to go to waste because they will be destroyed anyway? That argument would appear to justify killing comatose patients whose organs could be harvested for transplants.

It simply seems to me that if alternatives are being developed to embryonic stem cell research that may offer the equivalent to the benefits that are hoped (but not promised) to be obtained from killing embryos for their stem cells but which don't require the killing of anyone or anything to accomplish what appears to be the same purpose, civilized people should support waiting to see if the new research can produce stem cells in humans that can be used for the same research without the ethically wrong killing of human beings.

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