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Category Archives: Apologetics

“Might Makes Right” and Christian Ethics

Does might make right? The question is one of ethics: who gets to say, in an ultimate sense, what is right and what is wrong? By what standard are we to know what is right?

People advocate a variety of answers to these questions. For some, what brings pleasure is the standard for what is right. For others, the measure is pragmatic: what works is what is right. Yet others insist that ethics are determined by whomever is strongest; this is the claim that might makes right.

The notion that might makes right is objectionable to most folks because it makes morality relative in a way that we find unacceptable. Typically, a single counterexample exposes the problem: if Hitler’s forces had prevailed in the Second World War, most insist that Hitler’s values would nonetheless be correctly judged corrupt and reprehensible. And his values would be no less worthy of contempt if, having conquered the world, he would have reigned without challenge until the end of the age.

The twist in the discussion came for me when I was told about a skeptic who suggested that the Christian position is equivalent to the claim that might makes right. And this objection seems plausible: the Bible clearly presents God as uniquely mighty, and as the one who will judge the living and the dead (Rev 20:11-15). He blesses those who do what he has commanded, and he condemns, for all eternity and in great torment, all those who will not do what he has dictated. Isn’t God simply the most egregious example of might making right? And if so, and if it is false that might makes right, shouldn’t a rational person object to the Christian message?

Now, as a Christian, I have to confess my belief in God the Father Almighty. The Bible says that “our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115:3). Denying the mightiness of God is no option for the Christian. That said, Scripture does not teach that God arbitrarily dictates what is right and wrong. Rather, moral standards are determined by God’s own unchanging character. In other words, it is not God’s mere mightiness that permits him to say what is right, but the fact that his character is wholly good.

But I think there’s an even more interesting reply to this objection. Suppose that Hitler does win, and does reign unchallenged until the universe ends. And further suppose that there is no justice awaiting him after his death. In that kind of universe, wasn’t he right? He won, didn’t he? But few of us would want to concede this point.

It seems to me that if we want to deny that mere might makes right, we must believe that the right must not only be mighty, but almighty. Otherwise, there is no justice in the universe, and there is no value in holding to the right. Without ultimate justice in the universe, then might really does equal right. The only safeguard against might making right is the existence of a right that ultimately overcomes all that is not right.

Now, those who object to Christianity will find the remaining truth (that God is still almighty) no less comfortable. For the if the right remains constant despite the objections of even the mighty, it will be the case that, in the end of things, we will stand before the Judge who never fails to do justice.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Apologetics, Newspaper Article

 

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Newspaper column 2

My introductory article made clear my intent to focus on biblical answers to common questions. I closed by asking, “Why should we believe something just because the Bible says so?” This is a supremely important question: if there’s no good reason to believe the Bible, talking about biblical answers to questions is rather pointless.

Here’s one possible answer to the question of the Bible’s trustworthiness: “I believe that the Bible is completely authoritative simply because it is God’s Word, and it commands my allegiance and submission.” A different answer would be something like this: “I think that the Bible is trustworthy because it agrees with the conclusions of science and history and archeology and ethics, and therefore merits my allegiance.”

The first answer sounds terribly circular, doesn’t it? The second, by contrast, seems more rational and well-considered. But when talking about the Bible, we’re asking questions about our ultimate authority, and discussions about our ultimate authorities work differently than normal questions.

You see, most disputes are resolved by referring to some kind of shared authority. “I saw it with my own eyes!” “I read it online.” “The state law says….” “My horoscope promises….” These claims are appeals to authority: if you and I both accept a given source of authority as trustworthy (your sense experience, for instance, or my encyclopedia), our dispute can be settled by consulting that authority.

But suppose I reject a source of authority that you accept. I ask you why I should believe that a horoscope is a valid and trustworthy source of knowledge about the events of the coming day, and you respond, “Look, it says right here in the horoscope, ‘Completely valid and trustworthy.’“ I look at you, unimpressed.

But isn’t this the same thing I’d be doing if I said, “Look, the Bible is trustworthy; it says so right here in the Bible”? It may seem so; however, if I’m making the claim that the Bible is the ultimate authority, what alternative do I have?

Consider this parallel situation: a person says, “I don’t accept anything by authority; I have to test it myself.” A person who says this is claiming to be his own ultimate authority. If I were to ask him, “What makes you think that you’re entitled to such a lofty position?”, he’d either have to appeal to his own authority (a circular argument) or else appeal to some other source of authority, which undercuts his claim of being the ultimate authority.

The point here is that all claims of ultimate authority must, in the final analysis, be circular. What happens when two (or more) claims of ultimate authority collide? For instance, the Bible claims ultimate authority, but so do people who don’t believe the Bible. We’ll need at least another article to address that question.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Apologetics, Newspaper Article

 

A necessary lie

As one interested in apologetics, I regularly keep tabs on any number of atheist blogs. One of the most interesting belongs to Hemant Mehta (writer of I Sold My Soul on eBay). In one of his most recent posts, he takes Nicholas Kristof to task; Kristof had argued that atheists need to respect the ability of religion to advance social good. Mehta replied:

No one ever argued religion wasn’t powerful…. But the “New Atheists” are right that religion is harmful and irrational. More importantly, religious beliefs are untrue. There’s no credible evidence Jesus rose from the dead, people go to heaven and hell, that your prayers get answered, or that God talks to you.

Religion may give you hope, but that hope rests on you accepting a lie. I, and many other atheists, don’t want to live that way.

Here’s the rich irony of Mehta’s position: I suspect that (to whatever degree he’s consistent with his own beliefs) he would insist that life has no meaning other than that which we create for it. In other words, for the atheist, all the hope and meaning that anyone has in this life “rests on you accepting a lie”; Mehta cannot exempt himself from his own criticism.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Apologetics

 

Apologetics and Tim Tebow

Just an observation: if “and Tim Tebow just keeps winning football games” functions as a crux of your defense of Christianity, you’re doing it wrong.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Apologetics, Society

 

On the appearance of age

Pete Enns (formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary) has begun a series of blog posts aimed squarely at the young earth creationism advocated by Al Mohler

My aim is not to cross swords with Mohler, put him in his place, go after him, score points, misrepresent, or any of the other types of tactics that tend to be employed when people disagree on the internet.

Those tactics are both tedious and sub-Christian, and I continue to be amazed at how easily theological watchdogs fail to watch their own theologies by their belligerent denunciations and mockeries of those who don’t interpret the Bible the way they do, thinking the Gospel is at stake at every turn.

Having said that, let me state clearly that I believe Mohler is dead wrong at virtually every turn in how he approaches the difficult subject of biblical Christianity and evolution. I also believe he is free to think as he choses and live with the consequences, and I am not writing to convince him otherwise.

I am writing, rather, for the sake of those who are living with the consequences of what Mohler says they must believe–those who feel trapped in Mohler’s either/or rhetoric, that to question a literal interpretation of Scripture concerning creation puts one on the path to apostasy.

In his most recent post, Enns targets the creationist claim that, while the earth is only 6,000 years old (or thereabouts), it appears to be much older. In Enns’s evaluation, this allows YECs to “accept the observations of science while rejecting the interpretation of those observations by scientists.” Enns offers two complaints about the claim of apparent age, neither of which are impressive.

The second claim is this:

“Apparent age” is an arbitrary claim that makes the “facts fit the theory.”

It is surely obvious that the theory of “apparent age” is generated to make the observations of science fit Mohler’s literal reading of Genesis. Unless one were precommitted to a literal reading of Genesis, one would never think of making this sort of claim.

Enns’s claim here is dubious for two reasons.

  1. As a claim (it is hardly an argument), it is simplicity itself to turn the same argument back on Enns. Thus: “It is surely obvious that the theory of ‘theistic evolution (of whatever sort)’ is generated to make the text of Scripture fit Enns’s understanding of the observations of science. Unless one were precommitted to the infallibility of scientific claims, one would never think of advocating this understanding of the text of Genesis.” Both Enns’s claim and my inversion of same are irrelevant as to the truth of the appearance of age claim. It may well be the case that Enns’s motives for holding his position are skewed, or that Mohler’s evidentiary basis for holding his position is invalid; even if true, these statements have no impact on whether Enns’s or Mohler’s positions are true.
  2. My advocacy of appearance of age in creation is decidedly more a priori than it is a posteriori; that is to say, I would be an advocate of the notion of the appearance of age with or without consultation of scientific evidence. Everything that God created in the Garden appeared to be x numbers of years old; creation was mature. The principle of appearance of age is thus embraced without reference to scientific evidence; the extent of the appearance of age can be informed by scientific experimentation. Thus, Enns’s notion that Mohler (or other advocates of YEC and AoA) is driven to advocate appearance of age merely as a convenient way to account for the scientific data is mistaken.
 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Apologetics

 

Apologetics and the Kingdom

In the day of the coming Kingdom, it will not be necessary to write endless volumes on Christian “evidences” and “apologetics.” Debates on the existence of God will become absurd and obsolete, suited only to be classed with arguments over the existence of sunlight.

Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 176.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Apologetics

 

Possible non-existences

With respect to this matter of non-existence, it would seem then that four theoretical possibilities are open. There may be those (a) who think it reasonable to doubt the existence of God but unreasonable to think of the non-existence of the universe. There may be those (b) who think it possible to think intelligibly of the non-existence of both God and the universe. There may be those (c) who think it impossible to think intelligibly of the non-existence of either the universe or of God. Finally, there may be those (d) who think it possible to think intelligibly of the nonexistence of the universe but impossible to think intelligibly of the nonexistence of God.

Of these various possibilities it will at once be observed that the acceptance of any of the first three positions puts one on the antitheistic side of the argument. Only the last position is consistent with theism. But it will also be observed that in many instances any one of the first three positions is taken for granted at the beginning of an argument without awareness of the fact that those holding the position have therewith foreclosed to themselves the possibility of arriving at a theistic conclusion. In other words, any one of these three positions is thought to be consistent with the application of a strictly empirical method of research which, it is thought, may lead to any conclusion whatsoever.

Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Apologetics, From my reading

 

A self-supporting island floating on a shoreless sea

But what does it mean to show us what the metaphysical traits of “being” really are, when, admittedly, nothing can be said about these traits? And are we not supposed to be done with metaphysical traits and with a “being” of which no one can say anything? It were better if Wittgenstein had included science as well as metaphysics when he said, “Wovon man nicht kann sprechen, daruber soll man schweigen.” Modern science has imposed silence upon God but in doing so, it was compelled to impose silence on itself. Modern science boldly asks for a criterion of meaning when one speaks to him of Christ. He assumes that he himself has a criterion, a principle of verification and of falsification, by which he can establish for himself a self-supporting island floating on a shoreless sea. But when he is asked to show his criterion as it functions in experience, every fact is indeterminate, lost in darkness; no one can identify a single fact, and all logic is like a sun that is always behind the clouds.

Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Apologetics, From my reading

 

Craig vs. Harris

If you’re at all interested in the question of God’s existence, I commend to you the listening of this debate. Craig does great work here, especially given the limits of the debate topic.

Particularly interesting, from my perspective, is Harris’s attempt to deny a distinction between facts and values. His intent is to contend that science can speak to values, because no scientific endeavor is free of value judgments. I’m inclined to think that he’s right, but with with consequences that he doesn’t wish to acknowledge. Rather than giving science autonomy in the realm of morals, I think the abolishment of a fact-value distinction shows that science is itself a value-laden enterprise, and that such values are, given scientism, epistemically unjustified. Science, given a scientific worldview, is without foundation.

Anyway, go listen to the debate.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Apologetics

 

Logic and Existence

Seeking a bit of input here. Consider the following scale of possible claims:

    1. God does not exist.
    2. It is irrational to believe that God exists.
    3. You are within your rational rights to believe in God.
    4. Rationality demands belief in God.
    5. God exists.

Which of those claims do you think we can prove? And, my bigger question: is there any gap between claims 4 and 5 (or between 1 and 2, for that matter)? In other words, if you prove 4, have you proved 5? If you haven’t, why not?

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Apologetics