Sunday, January 30, 2011

A comparison with meaning

The following list will give general beliefs on various issues comparing Christianity (C) and Atheism (A).  This is not an argument for or against the existence of God.  It is also not an argument for Christianity.  The following is simply what each worldview perceives in general terms as the ultimate answer to some of the big questions of life.

The Beginning
A - No God created the universe.  The universe is either eternal or it created itself.  The universe was created by some unknown process.  The meaning: The universe is accidental and without purpose.
C - God created the universe.  God would represent a being that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial.  God would be an all powerful being who has the power to will the existence of the universe.  God is personal.  The meaning:  The universe was created by God and has a purpose.

A - Man evolved over time due to mutations and special selection (Darwinian evolution).  The meaning: Man is a biological accident with no ultimate purpose or meaning.
C - Man was uniquely created in the image of God (Imago Dei).  The meaning: Man has purpose and meaning in life.

Life development
A - Life developed slowly over time by way of Darwinian evolution.  The meaning: Survival of the fittest, natural selection and beneficial mutations are in charge of directing life.
C - Life may have evolved in a microevolutionary sense, but the different kinds of life appear suddenly by special creation of God.  Those who hold to a theistic evolutionary view would accept the slow process of Darwinian evolution. The meaning: Life development was purposeful and specially created by God.

A - There is no such thing as sin, because God does not exist.  The meaning: There is no ultimate meaning, because sin is an irrelevant word.
C - Sin is the result of man's rebellion against God.  Because of sin God and man are separated.  This separation caused a break in the relationship that existed in the beginning.  The meaning:  All are sinners (Romans 5:3) and deserve death or eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).  Sin is a serious problem for all humanity.  All humans need a savior to overcome the sin problem.

A - When a person dies that is the end of his/her existence.  The meaning:  Death is the final outcome of biological life.
C - Death is not the end of life.  Life will continue in an afterlife.  The meaning:  Biological death does not represent the end of life.

A - Life ends when a person dies.  Life only has meaning that you give to it while alive, but it has no ultimate meaning.  The meaning: The end of life means the end of your existence.
C - There is an afterlife.  Some will be with God in eternity, while others will be eternally separated from his presence.  The meaning:  For those who rebel against God there will be eternal weeping, but for those who choose to follow God there will be eternal bliss.

A - There are no such things as miracles, because miracles deal with the supernatural.  The meaning: No meaning, because miracles do not exist.
C - Miracles happen because God exists.  The validity of miracles can be investigated.  The meaning: God has intervened to preform acts that supersede natural law.

A - Science is seen as the chief purveyor of truth and knowledge.  The meaning:  Scientism is chief or only way by which knowledge is acquired.
C -Science is just one way by with we can perceive truth and acquire knowledge.  The meaning:  Science is limited to what we can know, but does represent an avenue in acquiring certain knowledge.

A - Most would say that Jesus was a real person and possibly a great leader, but certainly not the Son of God.  The meaning: Jesus was just another person who happened to live and die on planet earth.
C - Jesus came to earth from heaven to free those who accept him as a payment for the sin problem that man has.   The meaning:  Those who trust in Jesus will take care of the sin problem.  Jesus came to set us free.

The resurrection of Jesus
A - The resurrection of Jesus did not take place.  The resurrection of Jesus can be explained by way of myth, swoon, wrong grave, stolen body, hallucinations, or a variety of other natural arguments.  The meaning:  Jesus never rose from the dead, because resurrection is impossible.
C -  Jesus bodily rose from the dead and proved it through the known empty grave, his resurrection appearances, and the changed lives of those who witnessed him.  The resurrection is a historical fact that can be investigated. The meaning:  Resurrection is possible and those who place their faith in Jesus will be resurrected one day to live with God throughout eternity.

The Bible
A - A book of antiquity that may have some historical truth, but ultimately is a concoction of mythical tales about a mythical God.    The meaning:  People who believe in the Bible are deluded.
C - The Bible is the inspired word of God, it is God's message to mankind.  The meaning: The answers to life's questions were provided to all humanity in God's word.

A - Christianity is an invented religion.  Christianity possibly was stolen from other past religious beliefs with Paul being the leader of the Christian movement.  The meaning: Christianity, along with all religious beliefs are based upon false mythical concepts.
C - Christianity resulted due to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  All who place their faith in Jesus are Christians.  The meaning: Christianity is the only worldview that conforms to reality.

A - Some would deny the word is relevant, but most would agree that the sense of morality is the byproduct of Darwinian evolution.  The meaning:  There is no objective moral law in existence.  One or a community of individuals decides what is a virtue or vice.
C - Morals derive from the nature of God.  Moral right and wrong is not decided upon because God arbitrarily commands so or because they stand apart from God on their own, but the moral law stems from the nature of who God is.  The meaning:  An objective moral law exists, because God exists.

 A - Our sense of consciousness is a mystery at this point.  Our first person awareness and ability to reason is related to the inner workings of the brain.  The meaning:  Consciousness in the human species is a unique byproduct of Darwinian evolution.
C -We are conscious and have awareness because we were created in God's image.  The meaning:  We, among all the forms of life, are able to reason because we were created by God as rational beings.  The mind/consciousness is the result of an Ultimate Mind or God.

A - The universe/Life is a mystery as to how it all got started.  Everything has no ultimate purpose or meaning.  There is no God to save us.
C - Life is the special creation of a loving God who wants to have a relationship with his creation.  There is purpose and meaning in life and it can only be found in trusting one's life in the sacrificial death of Jesus - the Savior of the world. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

An atheist response to the big questions of life

I have never posted anything like this before, but will do so today.  A friend of a friend who is an atheist has decided to answer three questions that I posed for him.  The three questions revolve around origins, the resurrection, and morality.  I wanted to post this in order to stir debate.  I encourage all who would like to respond to do so.  My friend's friend runs a website called "The Atheist Revolutionary" and obviously views reality differently from myself.  I will copy the response from Mike below.  If you choose to post please keep your comments on topic and address one another in a respectful manner.  Thanks Mike for answering my questions, and I'm sure I'll respond when time permits.

This article follows from a personal FaceBook post I made to a friend and discusses three specific questions concerning an Atheist view on how the universe was created, thoughts on the resurection and the question of morality sans a or The God.

Pose I These Questions Three: Question the first... and so on.

by Michael Tippets

Let me first state that I have never done this before (I’ve wanted to, and have actively been working toward it as evidenced by the page you find yourself viewing now). But I am not (yet) an atheist apologist if the two words can be used in conjunction. I have not ever taken the time to put down my views on atheism or more directly the particular questions you posed Shelby (Shelby Cade). I am just a normal guy who likes to read a little bit who tends to critically view things, and I like a challenge. I’m happy to participate in your blog if you see fit, and I can assure you that I am a civilized individual and as such I am capable of keeping an argument reasonable even when the topic itself defies reason. So I’ve written the following answers to your questions in my standard way of writing as opposed to just talking to you. Hopefully it makes for an entertaining read since the subject matter will most likely have you chomping at the bit. But read it through, no skimming ;)

Kevin, our mutual friend, mine of 25 years, probably knows I was raised in the church, but not even remotely to what extent. While most people were sleeping in on Sunday I was up before the sun, showered and dressed in my Sunday best to either walk or bus to church. EVERY Sunday. Mind you; I did not just show up for Sunday services, I participated in the church from my earliest memories: I sang in youth and regular choirs, I ministered to my peers and just like Jesus I ministered to the adults who listened with rapt attention, I carried the torch both figuratively and literally as an acolyte, I held the lifeblood of the church in my hands as a giver and taker of communion and as an usher, I have not only attended but have been a full ‘jumped in’ member of churches ranging in size from 30 people to as many as 1,000 for a candlelight mass. I have attended regularly: Baptist, southern Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and even Catholic services in my life. My name is privileged to be on the register in the 100 year cornerstone time capsule at Trinity United Methodist. I've attended outward bound and a dozen different Christian and similar youth retreats, and I’ve even represented my God at an international bell ringers’ festival. I helped start the Turnabout program, a Christian run program to help street people here in Denver when I was 12. Long gone now. By the time I was 16 I knew more about the bible, and the church, than most people will ever know. And through all of it I can say without question that religion does not hold a monopoly on morality.

"How did the Universe come to be?"

I hate this question because it is always used as a circular trap. But here goes… Bang. Big one so I’m told. But how did the bang happen? What was before? Most people get the idea that it must have been nothing, particularly as the bible never really addresses the issue at the time of creation. But I don’t believe that this is the scientific view because in fact; nothing, from the human perspective, is an absence of everything but it is also understood to be a lack of cohesion of otherwise recognizable parts of a future something. Imagine a pile of Legos before you have assembled them. To the scientific mind this says that yes, there was this vastness, not a void. Within this vastness existed the things necessary to create a universe but they didn’t actually realize that potential within that vastness, not a void, until they collided, collapsed, expanded, went bang. That is how the universe was created.

But now comes the trap, the infinite regress argument of; “well where did that stuff come from? “ And I will address that question thusly; we can argue this circularly back and forth all day when I throw back the requisite question, “where did God come from?” because he is subject to the infinite regress argument as well. But I’m not interested in playing that game so I’m going to keep it super simple and try to present a notion that doesn’t dismiss God but rather creates a plausible situation that does not REQUIRE God.

The creation story in Genesis as I remember is about God giving the earth form, and then he added day and night, followed up by plants and life on the earth. And somewhere in between the day, night, plant animal stuff, it is mentioned in passing that the heavens and waters are separated by the firmament on which said plants and animals would make their home. Depending on how you read the first two verses of Genesis, one might be lead to believe that the components for creation existed, at the very least, alongside God. Let me explain. Where some people read the beginning of the bible like this; Dear reader, God created the heavens and the earth and it was without form or void (after he created it) so then he went to work giving it such. But one could just as easily read the intro to the bible like this… Dear reader, God created the heavens and the earth. He took this stuff without form and meshed it all together and viola. Do you see the subtle difference?

Nobody can reasonably explain to me the existence of a God outside the laws of our universe except as a supernatural existence, not even Thomas with his five proofs. But my argument here does not ask you to believe anything more than the existence of the components necessary to create a universe as even the bible seemingly may suggest.

I’m going to answer your 3rd question next because I’m saving the important question of where morality is derived from for last.

"How do I explain the resurrection of Jesus and the spread of early Christianity?"

There are so many real reasons for a real Jesus figure and the cult that followed that it is hard to find a place to begin so I’m gonna pick a starting point and just try to make a quick hit on as many important notions as I can without turning this into a novel. Jesus is just a name, anyone could have it. So, a rose by any other name... And just as the name Jesus can be given to many individuals, so too can: the story of the virgin birth, the stars, the wise men, the stable, the life of teaching in the temple, the death, the resurrection, the empty tomb, the disciples, the battle of light vs dark, good vs evil, all of these had been told in as many as 30 different cultures for at least 3,000 years before Jesus is said to have existed. I’m not talking about just some vague references to a Solar Messiah (SUN of God) or 12 signs of the Zodiac (the 12 apostles). I’m talking: nearly every single aspect of the Jesus mythology existed pre Jesus. There’s almost nothing new under the SON. Sorry for the bad PUN. Just take any one of the previously motioned aspects and do research on the history of it, start with virgin birth (but that’s not important I’ve been told) Yet even the bible itself sets up the precedent for core belief of virgin or otherwise miraculous births (Isacc, John the Baptist, and Moses to name a few) as well as the resurrection of at least nine others including Elija and Lazarus before we ever get to it happening to Jesus.

So frankly the resurrection of Jesus is just old hat, been there done that as the kids used to say. It’s certainly nothing special in theory and given the ‘fact’ that it happens quite regularly in the religious world (over); it’s not real special in practice either. As Jesus hangs dying from the cross he cries out in such pain over having been forsaken and his dying breath causes the ground to shake, the veil of the temple to split in half, and the tombs to open unleashing the bodies of dead saints to roam the city streets and scare the people, not ghosts, raised bodies. "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,And came out of the graves after his resurrection , and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."

I highlighted the above two portions because every version of the bible seems to say basically the same thing; which in and of itself is something of a miracle. But if you read that passage again; where Matthew succeeds in failing to cause his interpreters to disagree, he masterfully succeeds in contradicting himself. Matthew very clearly states that the guards are watching this happen while Jesus is on the cross next to them after having just died, and at the same time calls Jesus resurrected? Should I refuse to argue this point because I’m told by the religious scholar that it doesn’t matter[1] while he evades the actual question? And that because Matthew doesn’t clarify, even though it is written inline, the events actually PROBABLY happened after every single one of the following events, even though it is written before them all? Evening falls, Joseph of Arimathaea goes to Pilate to ask for the body to prepare it, body is prepared and placed in the tomb, Joseph rolls the stone in place, the Pharisees ask Pilate to place a guard at the tomb, the Mary’s come to the tomb, earthquake again, guards die, angel shows the Mary’s that Jesus is missing, and finally on the road to tell the others the Mary’s run into a resurrected Jesus. A guy who two verses before is really very extremely and most clearly dead. You think that I’m wrong? Then just exactly whose body is Jesus resurrected in while his body is still hanging on the cross and yet to be subjected to all that was mentioned? Mel Gibson and another version of the Christian religion seem to think that Jesus spent the next three days in hell. Am I supposed to believe that too or instead? Well I can answer that one by reading the book too. No, it is not biblical, from what I can tell. Jesus’ own words contradict the notion of him going to hell when he clearly says to one of the others being crucified that he would be in heaven with Jesus on THAT day. For the record, Mathew does not tell that part of the story and leaves us to believe that both the thieves mocked him just as the people and the priests did.

I mention this simply to make one overall point. Gibson aside, just exactly who and what am I supposed to believe with this confused and rambling narrative? Why is it that the witnesses who authored the accounts don’t even agree with themselves let alone each other? Which bible author gets it right? I challenge Christians to read the gospels again for the first time with an eye toward the differences instead of the similarities. They hardly agree on much beyond the fact that the man was called Jesus. I’m only slightly exaggerating.

I’m not an anthropologist so I would miss what may seem to others as obvious language or ideas in explaining how something like Christianity spreads but I’ll try to lay it out in short so we can move on to the last, best question.

How big was the world in Jesus’ time? In a real sense it was just as big as it is now but not as many people, and, who knows how they lived without it, no Fox News Channel. In a very real other sense, for exactly the same reasons, it was tiny. Most people knew nothing of the outside world and never ventured beyond the borders of their own town. Many, if not most people could not read and relied on the word of trusted learned others such as religious or political figures for the bulk of their hands off learning. And don’t forget the influence of mom, she was raised with even less knowledge than child was and is already (you’ll hate this word) indoctrinated with the current religious fad, or view if I’m trying to be nice about it. I today have science, archeology, anthropology, and hundreds of personal perspectives as actual so called scientific evidence, but the Christian will be presented that evidence and still choose the supernatural explanation of life in many if not most instances. So my point is that while pervasive, the rise of Christianity and subsequent influence requires nothing more than mans’ own nature. We don’t need Gods help to spread ideas, good or bad.

"Where does the sense of moral obligation come from?"

And at last we arrive at the most important question. Not the question of life the universe and everything. That’s right, 42. Rather, last is the question of morality: can, would, could, should man be a moral creature without a God to show him how to do it? Let’s weigh the evidence and see what we get.

First, Kevin, I want you to know that I did not purposely avoid the question of morality, the fact is I too am guilty of having skimmed Shelby’s post, but in my defense; my skim is better than most people’s full on attention, I simply just didn’t catch it to address it. So to continue… I think the specific question posed contains extraneous language and should be rephrased to exclude the word obligation. I see no reason to insist that we are obliged to morality (unless there is fire and brimstone to face for failure to oblige morality) But since it is there, I will address it. I think it is much more accurate to say we are almost selfishly given to morality. In the case of so called morality questions: life, death, fair treatment of others, that sort of thing, it is without question in our best interest to behave in a manner towards others which is likely to induce similar treatment to ourselves which obviously helps to ensure our own individual survival.

It seems to me that the best place to start looking for biblically derived morality is the moral code of the bible itself, at least the most glaring example of it, The Ten Commandments.

I. Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. Not about morality.

II. Thou Shalt Not Make Any Graven Image... Not about morality.

III. Thou Shalt Not Take The Lords Name In Vain. No moral issue there. Anyone see a pattern developing here (these are in order by the way)?

IV. Remember The Sabbath Day, Keep It Holy. Still all about God.

V. Honor Thy Mother & Thy Father. Ok, here we go half way in. Good idea here, but I didn’t need to be told this. We are born trusting those people anyway, and it follows naturally that one would honor, obey, believe, trust, those people until they give reason not to be treated thusly. I have always wondered if the argument is that, these people are infallible and should ALWAYS be trusted? Particularly since mommy and daddy are likely to be the first ones to tell me a fantastic tale about a bearded man who lives in the sky and who apparently really needs a loan (thank you Carlin) I’m just supposed to take it as read that it’s true?

VI. Thou Shalt Not Kill. Come on, this one is a ‘no-brainer’ and I could let it go as being easily accepted at our core, but I instead choose to examine just a bit further to bring the lack of any real morality home. Let’s restate this one for what it really means. Thou Shalt, in general, under most circumstances, involving people like yourself and of your own tribe and belief, when not decreed by me (God) or one of my speakers (do you really need me to point out examples?), Not Kill.

VII. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. Fantastic, but is it a moral imperative? And whose morality is it? There are many cultures and religions where such things are not frowned on. In the bible ‘One Flesh’ has been used to describe the special relationship between man and wife, but it is also used by Paul to describe sex with a prostitute. Does the latter demean the former? Maybe? There are religions that allow you to make legal exceptions to this rule and further the rule is often historically applied more heavily to women and often just so men can use it as an excuse to sever the relationship in order to start fornicating with someone else.

VIII. Thou Shalt Not Steal. More good advice. I would even go so far as to call it a good moral code to live by. Just the notion of an Eye for an Eye tells us that this may be one to heed. But that is Hammurabi’s code, not Gods. Did we really need divine intervention to bring this point home?

IX. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor. I would argue here that while this is a great and moral approach to life; it’s been proven that often language like this meant literally the guy next door who is just like me. He is not from the other tribe; he is of my kind and therefore acceptable. It is perfectly fine and dandy in the bible and other religions to lie to anyone else. How moral indeed! This widely accepted fact of tribal superiority can unfortunately be applied to all the so called moral commandments.

X. Thou Shalt Not Covet... This is a weird one. There are a million reasons why this is good advice but as a commandment directing one toward morality it comes down as pretty Orwellian, something of a thought crime. An argument can be made that telling someone something is off limits, particularly a thought in their own head, can cause the individual to fixate on the forbidden to the point they are actually driven to partake in the taboo. That leaves me questioning the usefulness of pointing these things out as off limits. It seems almost as if God has purposely planted the seeds of our undoing just to sit back and see if we can navigate our way through the mines he’s left for us. That’s a game, rats in a maze for the master’s amusement and it just doesn’t fit with what the overall God of creation makes himself out to be. It is contrary to free will and reeks of man-ipulation and influence.

I could keep going but I’ve gone on long enough and all this typing is starting to catch up with me. I’ll just wrap this topic of morality up by leaving you with this idea. For every bible verse that describes an act of selflessness and morality there are two filled with hate and vitriol toward different minded, different looking, different sex peoples. Again I only exaggerate slightly.

I want to end by stating some points about atheism. Atheism is not synonymous with evil or tantamount to moral ambiguity. It is in fact very much the logical and natural answer to pretend good and false morality foisted upon us by ignorant predecessors and a religious establishment which tends to work more for its own survival than for that of its flock, all for questionable reasons of questionable origins. Atheists do not worship Gods of good or evil though because we deny God we are often directly associated with Satanists when in fact we laugh even louder at people who claim Satan as a God than we do at those who claim God. (Grow up Slayer) To the educated among us; Satan, the cartoon character in a red suit, is a late addition to the mythos and is clear evidence of a drive to enhance the God persona by giving our Super hero a Super villain to battle for over our souls. "And what about Stalin and Hitler?" A voice cries from the crowd as the house lights come on and the audience prepares to leave. "They were atheist." And so it would seem at least in the case of Stalin, Hitler’s religious convictions are arguable when he claimed up to the year of his death to be a good Catholic both in his words and the words of many of those who knew him best. But what of it? They are two of histories hundreds or thousands of world leaders many of which are personally responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths caused directly by their decree and their faith that God was on their side. No, religion holds no monopoly on morality.

[1]"And came out of the graves after his resurrection - The narrative of Matthew does not determine whether they came to life before Jesus rose, and remained in the tombs, or came to life after he died. The latter is probably the correct opinion. There is nothing said of the reason why they were raised. It is not improbable to suppose that it was, amid the other wonders attending the death of Jesus, to convince the Jews that he was the Messiah." –Albert Barnes

by Michael Tippets -Creator/Contributor

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The meaning of personhood

Note:  This article was copied from Greg Koukl's site "Stand to Reason."  It deals with the question of personhood and abortion.

When Is a Human Being Human?

Gregory Koukl

A simple response to give, next time someone tells you an unborn baby is a "human being but not a person." divider
A baby is fully human from conception. There's no question about it. Even to say that it's fully human is missing something. Jot this down. The law of identity: a thing is itself and not something else. What that means is that whatever a thing is it remains what it is for as long as it exists. Things don't change from one essential thing into another essential thing.

People say, what if you became a cat? It's impossible for you to become a cat because a cat is a different essential substance. If you became a cat, one could ask the question, what is it about the cat that is the same as what you were? There is nothing about a cat that is remotely human, and there is nothing about a human that is remotely cat. Even the soul of a cat is a different kind of soul than a human soul so you could never become a cat. You would be destroyed and some cat created in your place or maybe molded from your physical molecules, but that wouldn't make you the cat.

Things don't change their essential nature. What they change is their properties. They get bigger, smaller, different color hair, they change their textures, they grow appendages. But what they are doesn't change. You were five or six pounds at one point in your life, now you're much larger. Just because you're bigger doesn't mean you're more of a human. There's more of your physical body, but you are not more of yourself. You are still the same self that you were -- human. You are fully human when you're conceived; you're fully human when you're born; you're fully human when you're twenty times the size you were when you were born. Your properties changed; your essential character didn't. The nature of your humanness doesn't change.

Now, when a being is brought into being, that being stays itself forever until it's destroyed. It doesn't become more human because humanness is not a quantitative kind of thing. If that were the case we'd have to say that people who don't have certain characteristics or have less of those characteristics than others are less human. If humanness was self-consciousness, for example, then those who are more highly in tune with themselves are more human, and those who are less in touch with themselves are less human. If it was intelligence, then those who are more intelligent are more human and worthy of more rights, and those who are less intelligent are less human and not worthy of the same kind of respect.

What we're talking about are the changes in attributes or, technically speaking, properties. We're not talking about changes of the nature. So when the new human being comes into existence at conception (by the way that is an unarguable scientific reality, it is not open to debate anymore) that being remains itself until it's extinguished from existence. The being that comes into existence from the joining of two human beings is also a human being. It's the Law of Biogenesis that everything recreates according to its own kind. It is not possible for two human beings to produce an offspring that is not of the same kind, that is non-human. The humanness is a fact from the point of conception. It is fully human. There is no gradation in that regard. There are merely gradations of development.

That point is conceded by the more sophisticated philosophers arguing for choice on the abortion issue. You will find a lot of people who aren't sophisticated who use this and quite a lot of other bad arguments. What they have tried to do is make a distinction between humanness and personhood but you run into the same problem.

How do I know that the unborn is a person from conception? Because it's a human from conception. Human beings are personal type beings. Personhood is a quality that inheres the very nature of a human. It is not a property that is developed later on. A human is a personal kind of being. There are other personal beings, by the way. Angels, for example. Or God, theoretically, if He creates and has personal attributes. The attributes don't make Him personal, they just allow us to identify Him as the personal being that He is. So there may be other beings that are personal, but there are no human beings that aren't personal because all human beings are personal beings. So personhood is the larger category, humanness is the smaller category. I know personhood starts at conception because it is a characteristic that inheres the nature.

Now, someone might not be willing to accept all that philosophy and you may not be able to articulate it well. That's okay. Here's a simple way out. When somebody says it's a human being but not a person, you ask them what's the difference? It's a fair question because they're apparently offering you a rationale why it's okay to take the life of another innocent human being who can't defend itself but is in the way. So you say, if you're argument based on personhood is so weighty that it can justify taking the life of an innocent human being, then it seems reasonable that you have a very clear fix on what a person is if it's not the same as being human.

Now, 99 times out of a hundred you won't get an answer because they've never thought it though. This is a rhetorical throwaway. It's a way of ending the discussion. It's a way of putting their point of view in your face and shutting you up. So you just toss it right back to them. What's the difference? Sometimes you will get someone who tries to set up some criteria for personhood. There are two additional responses to a list of attributes for personhood. Ask, where did you get the list? If the list is merely arbitrary then why don't you make up a list too? A person is someone who has white skin. If they argue with you, then you can ask them how they justify their list but disallow your list.

The second problem with all of those lists is they always disqualify people who are clearly and undeniably human persons. They say self-awareness is a criteria. Then what about people who are in comas? Are they not persons? Some extreme people will say that, by the way. If they aren't persons then they have no rights and we can justify doing all sorts of things to them. Some will say self-awareness is a criteria. A child a couple months old can't distinguish between himself and his surroundings so they would not be persons. Some people like James Rachels will say that they aren't a person and we can kill infants. You'll also have a problem with the personhood list in that you'll have humans who are clearly persons who are disqualified by the list, but you'll have other beings which qualify, like chimpanzees and gorillas. Those are the problems with the lists.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Guns, babies, and life

With the recent tragedy in Arizona there has been much discussion around guns and gun control.  The other day while watching the news, I noticed a congresswoman saying that gun control should be seriously looked at because guns can take innocent lives.  Everyone realizes exactly what she means, but it made me question what I think is the most important part of her statement - lives.  What is considered to be valued life?  I think, no one would deny that life is precious and needs to protected, but who is a person or at what point does one become a person?

According to ethicist/philosopher Peter Singer a baby does not become a person until some 30 days after birth.  For this reason on Singer's view, the destruction of life prior to this point is not morally wrong.  Singer states, "Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” [1]  There are others that share similar beliefs to Singer, such as Michael Tooley.  Tooley agrees with Singer that personhood cannot be established unless that life form is conscious of its own awareness.  Because of this definition of personhood, they "possess[es] a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.” [2]  Again, on this view the taking of life is justified up until that creature becomes aware of itself.  Philosopher Jeffrey Reiman echos this belief in personhood by saying, "there will be permissible exceptions to the rule against killing infants that will not apply to the rule against killing adults and children." [3]  Clearly, each philosopher believes that in order for a moral crime to take place, personhood must first be reached.  The two questions that need to be addressed are, what is a person, and is the question of life irrelevant when compared to personhood?

Inconsistencies surface when examining the definition of personhood of the three  aforementioned philosophers.  First, adulthood is considered a person, because one has a sense of self-awareness.  What about individuals in a comatose state or having amnesia, are we justified in killing them because they no longer are self-aware?  Some would argue that they had self-awareness and therefore should be spared.  But, isn't there argument saying that life does not matter unless someone is self aware?  Don't all human beings have the potential of self-awareness at conception?  Singer and the others are disingenuous when they claim that life is unimportant because a creature lacks self-awareness, because the potential for self-awareness happens at conception.  Conception is the origin of life development and personhood.  Second, Singer's view is self refuting because of his belief in animal rights.  At what point do animals become self-aware on Singer's view?  Why should animals have rights in the first place?  If Singer is a proponent of animal rights, where do these rights derive from?  Singer's views are inconsistent and indefensible when addressing the question of life.

The congresswoman who expressed concern over gun control protecting life needs to address the life question first, as opposed to focusing on guns.  When does life start and why is it important?  Our founding fathers stated that all Americans have the right to life, but what exactly does this mean?  If life starts at conception, then abortion is the killing of innocent life.  Roe Vs. Wade gave the right for women to choose abortion, but it did not address the question of when life starts.  Gun control doesn't matter until the question of life is addressed first.  Are we interested in life or choice?  Until, our culture addresses the question of when life occurs, we will continue to destroy the potential personhood of the aborted fetuses.

[1]  Singer, Peter, Practical Ethics, p. 122-123
[2]  Tooley, Michael, Abortion and Infanticide in Rights and Wrongs of Abortion, p. 57
[3]  Reiman, Jeffrey, Critical Moral Liberalism, p. 121

  • A good article about Peter Singer's ethical stance.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is Truth?

What is truth?  Is it objective or relative?  How do you know if your definition of truth is truthful or simply an opinion? What say you?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unjustified belief

Skepticism/atheism often makes outlandish comparisons between the Christian belief of resurrection and known myths.  Many times the belief in the resurrection are likened to ridiculous concepts such as little green men and Santa Clause.  The problem that these individual have revolves around miracles.  The atheist denies the supernatural and discounts all miracles a priori.  Why would an individuals lump Christianity with myth and fairy tales?

Who knows the motivation for such strange comparisons.  Much of it deals with the skeptic having a naturalistic point of view.  Naturalism would rule out miracles and the resurrection is certainly one of the biggest reported miracles of all times.  However, another reason for not wanting to serious look at the possibility of the Christian message deals with lifestyle choices.  One of the big complaints against Christianity is the supposed lifestyle restrictions of its worldview.  Some try to discount the Christian message only because it contridicts their particular lifestyle.  But, can the Christian worldview be discounted by claiming the myth card or because a person simply does not like its teachings?  What can justify in a reasonable manner an individual's beliefs?

In order for a belief to be justified there needs to be sufficient evidence that points in the direction of the belief.  For example, when someone makes the charge that little green men stole the body of Jesus, this would represent a position that could not be justified by anyone, for we have no evidence for this or that little green men even exist.  Charges made against Christianity need to be substantiated.  The reason no one realistically believes in Santa Clause making trips around the world in a single night is because we have no evidence to support that belief.  As far as an individual discounting Christianity because it interferes with their lifestyle, this is nothing more than attacking a straw man.

When looking at the evidence for or against the resurrection, the entire body of evidence needs to be addressed.  What do we know from history concerning the Christian movement?  Who was Jesus and what did people believe about him?  What happened to his body after being hung on a cross?  When did reports of his resurrection surface?  All these questions and more are important in trying to construct the truthfulness or falsity of Christianity.  As Paul said, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Cor. 15:14)."  The whole of Christianity rests on the miraculous story of Jesus resurrection.

Justified belief looks at all the evidence to construct the most likely story of truth.  When examining the resurrection, the one justified belief that has stood the test of time is that Jesus bodily rose from the dead.  Many other beliefs have been put forth to explain the empty tomb (such as the New Testament as mythical documents or various hallucination theories), but all have come up short in one way or another of not corresponding with all the known evidence.  When individuals equate Christianity with little green men and the like they are only resting within the  easy chair of an unjustified belief.

  • A video dealing with unjustified belief.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Apologetics - a deeper meaning

No one debates the definition of apologetics.  Apologetics come from the Greek, apologia, meaning to give a reasoned defense for Christianity. The classic verse used in referring to apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15.  The English translation given (in the 1 Peter verse) is usually "defense" or "reason", both of which are good translations for the Greek, apologia.  If the major word that is referenced is the word defense, does this represent all we need to know concerning apologetics?  I believe that apologetics is more comprehensive than most  individuals are willing to admit.

In order to get a comprehensive view of apologetics, the classic text of Acts 17 needs to be examined.  There are three realizations to apologetics that the Church needs to grasp.  Each of these realities relates to a more robust and accurate view of what apologetics is all about.  The three realizations to apologetics that are often left out are critical for the Church to understand today.  These three include:

1.  Being able to argue in the correct manner - Most who hear the word argue instantly think of raised voices and veins popping out of the neck.  The proper way to argue in some ways has been lost.  Many, even in the Church, believe that arguing or debating is to be shunned.  Paul had a different view to arguing.  To argue means to articulate a view in order to defend or promote the worldview that an individual holds.  Paul states, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4)."  In this passage, Paul promotes arguments for truth.  In Acts 17, Paul was disturbed at all the idols of Athens and felt compelled to form an argument for truth (Acts 17:16-17).  As Paul argued, he did so in a calm manner that related the truth to those he was engaged with.  Again, referring back to 1 Peter 3:15, the way to argue is to be done in a spirit of "gentleness and respect."  Being able to argue in the correct manner is critical for the Church to understand and it is unfortunate that some in the Church don't realize the harm that can be caused by not heading the advise of Peter.

2.  Apologetics is for the entire Christian community -  What is meant by apologetics for the entire Christian community?  Unfortunately, today many in the Church view apologetics as relegated only to the scholarly.  Many feel that the Pastor or other lay leaders are to be solely responsible for articulating apologetic arguments.  This way of thinking is not what what God's word promotes.  Referring back again to 1 Peter 3:15, Peter tells all Christians to be ready to give a defense.  In some ways the Church is weak because it has not realized the importance of apologetics in today's culture.  Sure, Paul was a scholar, but Peter makes it clear that the entire Church needs to be responsible for being able to articulate the Christian worldview.  What this means is that the Church needs to take its Christian responsibilities seriously.  The prophet Hosea stated that God's people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).  If the Church continues to push its responsibility on a select few, it too will slowly be weakened due to its lack of Godly knowledge and its inability to argue for the Christian worldview.  All Christians are to be apologetic ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20)  Apologetic responsibility is for all who wear the name of Christ.

3.  Apologetics is for the promotion of Christianity - When Paul was disturbed at the number of idols in Athens, he began to relate to people the truth of idol worship.  Paul then defended and promoted the resurrected Christ.  Apologetics does not stop at defense, but it tries to convince others of the truth concerning Jesus.  Apologetics, properly understood is evangelical.  Apologetics is not just limited to defense, but it also includes going on the offense for the good news of Jesus (Acts 17:29-34).