Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Way, A Truth, and A Life?

AP reports on a new study has just been released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that offers a bit support for the notion that religious "tolerance" in America is on the rise. When evangelical churchgoers were asked the following question ...
Question wording: Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR: many religions can lead to eternal life.
  • 36 percent said that their "religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life."
  • 57 percent said they believe "many religions can lead to eternal life."
  • Among Catholics, the numbers were 16 percent and 79 percent, respectively.
  • In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.
The higher percentage of inclusiveness among Catholics is expected. The Catholic Church teaches inclusivism (You can get to heaven if you do the right stuff, even if don't believe in Jesus). The higher overall percentage of folks who believe this is also not surprising considering our culture is rife with the promotion of pluralism (Everybody gets to heaven regardless of what they believe) as a remedy to avoid offending anyone's religious beliefs, no matter how nutty they are.

Another slant on this survey is that it is not very specific on what one's "religion" is. A fellow apologist points out that some may think "denomination" when you say "religion." In that case, the numbers are actually a little more encouraging to me. But sadly, the fact is that our culture trains us that to disagree is to be "intolerant." Nobody wants to be intolerant. (This is a subject for another post but most don't stop to think that, in order to be tolerant, it is a requirement that you disagree!). So we say things like, "All roads lead to heaven," or, "Faith is like climbing a mountain. We all may be climbing a different path but eventually we arrive at the same place."

Problem: That's not what the Bible teaches.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Risk Free?

The Times of London breathlessly reports on a new test for Down's Syndrome that can detect the genetic anomaly early and thus provide a "risk-free blood test." Sounds good. But for whom is the test really "risk-free"?

Think about it. What risk does a Down's baby pose to the mother beyond that of a "normal" pregnancy? Absolutely none. The risk being referred to here is to the baby who, without such a blood test, has previously been subjected to the dangers inherent in amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), both of which pose a physical risk to the pregnancy. So, given the newly found improvement in technology, the news sounds good. After all say the proponents:
It would have the positive effect of saving normal foetuses from invasive, and potentially dangerous procedures such as amniocentesis. This would also alleviate the stress of pregnant women going through prenatal testing.
But when it comes to the intersection of technology and human life, there is always more to the story. Consider why anyone is doing fetal testing for Down's in the first place. I offer this caution based on experience.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child in 1987, she was given a serum-based alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test that returned a borderline high result. This prompted what was then called a Level 2 Ultrasound to determine the source of the "abnormally" high reading. Being first-time, naive parents, and because we had not requested any of these tests, we never questioned the process because we assumed that this was standard operating procedure. Along the way we were told that our baby had a decent probability of being born with spinabifida, neurological disorders (to include brain malformation), Down's and several other scary outcomes. I will never forget the feeling of shock and confusion we both felt when the doctor, after going over the combined test results with us, leaned forward and asked, "So do you want to continue with the pregnancy or terminate?"

The second option had never occurred to us. We declined further testing and my wife refused to ever submit to an AFP test for any of our other 4 kids. Sadly some, given the same situation and alternatives, may have chosen to "terminate." In doing so, they would have "terminated" a perfectly normal, happy, healthy (and, I might add without bias, highly intelligent) child.

I don't share this story to promote my own moral superiority to anyone. At that point in my life I had not even bothered to consider the moral implications of the pro-life position, nor could I have possibly offered an intellectually defense of our decision beyond, "It just doesn't seem right to me." If anything I owe the steadfast wisdom of my wife the credit for that one. My only point is that these newly discovered "risk-free" tests are anything but risk free to the baby. They offer nothing but another means to rationalize the decision to abort.

There is only one reason to undergo a prenatal test for Down's Syndrome and that is to do away with the child who fails the test. If you don't believe me, listen to the thoughts of a Times readers who offered their opinions on the matter:

The earlier this conditions is recognized the better, and if the parents decide the bundle of cells - for that is what it is before 16 weeks - isn't to their liking, it is their decision. End of debate. After sixteen weeks, when the foetus can be supported independently, that's different. ChrisY, Santa Cruz, US

Children with Down's suffer for their disability as do their parents and thus ideally should not be born ... As the purpose of civilisation is (hopefully) the prevention of suffering, I believe that a viable means to prevent disabled birth of any sort can only be a good thing. Haseeb, London, UK
Yes, there are those who are doing nothing but mentally preparing themselves for the challenges that would come with introducing a Down's Syndrome child into the world. I would not presume to question that motive. Unfortunately, I believe that those folks are in the minority. These tests are not much more than a seek and destroy mission for pro-abortionists. This will do nothing but increase the number of abortions performed by those who don't need any more prompting than they already have, and for those who may never have considered it otherwise.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Atheist Rebuttals (4)

On My (Qualified) Agreement With Sam Harris

To restate from the last post on this topic ...

Assertion: Sam Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter To A Christian Nation a few years later. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a "rigid" religious view. Rigid thinkers are dangerous in this world because they become too extreme.

Keep that idea in mind as you consider some points of agreement that Harris claims to share the hard-core "Christian right." In summary, Harris agrees that (p. 3-4) ...
  • If one of us is right, the other is wrong.
  • The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't.
  • Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
  • True Christians believe that all other faiths are mistaken and profoundly so.
For all the relativists out there I want to point out that Harris, like me, appears to believe in the existence of objective truth. That being the case, we each must admit that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. It has to be so. We cannot hold completely contradictory views and both be right.

In other words, in taking the opposite view of the nutty Christians, Sam Harris is actually admitting to hold some "hard-core" beliefs himself -- beliefs that are exactly contradictory, and just as rigidly held, as those of his Christian opponents. He demands that Christians are wrong, that the Bible is not the word of God, that Jesus in not the one true path to salvation etc. In short, Sam Harris has described himself as a rigid thinker who, according to his own allegations, must also be dangerous.

My only beef with Harris is that he holds Christians in contempt for having the audacity to think they are right about the way they see the world, while he is doing the exact same thing.

Bottom line -- Christianity may be true or false. We can debate the evidence (and we will). But whether it is true or not, the fact that Christians actually believe it to be true is not the problem. It is not a badge of honor to be wishy-washy. And it is not a prelude to oppression and violence to hold to concrete beliefs. It all depends on what those beliefs are, whether there is evidence to support them, and whether or not they comport with the way the world actually is. Harris cannot condemn religious belief until he first compares the nature of the religion, the worldview it creates, and the actions that result from its adherents.

Belief is not the problem. What matters is what one believes. That is what makes one dangerous. Those who actually practice Biblical Christianity should pose no threat to anyone. Conversely, following atheist ideas can be brutally dangerous to those with whom the atheist comes in contact. It goes both ways. But the simple act of actually believing something says nothing about whether or not it is true, or whether or not it is "dangerous."

This becomes important later when we consider the problems Harris has with our "Christian Nation."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

You Be The Judge On: "The Accuracy Of The Discourse"

A recent letter to the editor in USA Today compels me to comment. Though the context of the letter (and the issue which prompted the letter writer to submit it) is political, I will not address the political issues involved. What I will say is that the article that prompted the letter dealt with recent sermonizing by Michael Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright at Barack Obama's (former) 20-year home church -- Trinity United Church of Christ.

The letter writer defends the speeches made by these two pastors as being uncontroversial because many of us simply don't understand the context in which they were given. I'm sure most have heard excerpts from these speeches so I won't dwell on the content. I will let readers judge the content for themselves. But listen to the justification for these speeches as given by one who sees nothing particularly wrong with them:
During a sermon when the church minister ... is "in the spirit" -- an emotional state considered by the minister to be inspired by God -- his or her expressions about biblical men such as David or Moses or even in reference to the United States might shock [other] congregations. For [our] parishioners, the accuracy of the clergyman's discourse is secondary to the recognized reality conveyed by the emotion of the moment.
Got it?

The actual truth concerning what the preacher says from the pulpit is not as important as the emotion he/she conveys in delivering it.

If you want to know where some of the problems with the culture, and with a church (in general) that tries its best to reflect that culture, begin you don't have to look much farther than this. When truth takes a back seat to emotional intensity, what basis to we have to judge anything? This is the danger in touting an emotion-driven "spirituality" that seems so popular today. No standards. No truth ... No problem. It rouses the crowds, who come back for more and more "emotional moments," and so it goes.

When you live in a postmodern culture; when you accept the consequences of moral relativism; and when you pander to a feelings-based, consumer-driven mindset -- this is what you get. The sad thing is that many (most?) of USA Today's readers probably think the letter writer was being quite profound.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Atheist Rebuttals (3)

On Sam Harris' Understanding of Condemnation to Hell

Assertion: In the introduction to his Letter To A Christian Nation, Harris is quick to differentiate between harmless, liberal/moderate Christians and "the religious right." Harris scolds the former if they should cover for the latter because, by doing so, liberal/moderates "give shelter to extremists of all faiths." That's the setup and it is important to remember in this discussion.

Remember that Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter a few years later. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a "rigid" religious view. Keep that idea in mind as you listen to the beginning of Harris' argument against the Christianity he despises ...

First, he points out that he agrees with the hard-core "Christian right" and acknowledges several of the points on which he does so. In summary, Harris agrees that (p. 3-4) ...
  • If one of us is right, the other is wrong.
  • The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't.
  • Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
  • True Christians believe that all other faiths are mistaken and profoundly so.
and finally,
  • If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell.
Response: Last point first. Harris incorrectly implies that we Christians look down on him and condemn him because he refuses to join the right club -- the Christian club that one must bear allegiance to in order to be saved. This is not the way I look at it. No one is relegated to "suffer the torments of hell" because he/she is not a Christian. They are so relegated because they have sinned against a perfectly holy and moral God. If such a person as God exists (and I believe there is ample reason to believe this to be true though I won't discuss that now), that person must be a perfect, sinless being. That is the definition of what we understand God to be.

If you commit even the smallest immoral act against such a perfectly good being, you are guilty of sin -- and you have, by your own actions, created an infinitely wide rift between yourself and that being -- an infinite separation that cannot be repaired by a finite being such as yourself. The standard against which you are judged is the perfect standard of a perfectly holy God. It is the standard against which we are all judged and have all been found sadly deficient. And that is why we all should be condemned to be eternally separated (the definition of hell) from that perfect being we call God.

Now, Sam Harris or any of the rest of us are free to dispute this idea and claim we do not deserve to be condemned to such an eternal state. We are free to argue our case on our own. The only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian admits this to be a futile endeavor. Instead, the Christian accepts the gift that Christ's life, death, and resurrection have promised to provide free of charge -- the promise of redemption for our collective guilt. That's it.

Yes there are arrogant, holier-than-thou Christians running around. This is unfortunate. But Christianity is not some exclusive club filled with people who look down their noses at all the lousy "sinners" out there and believe it is their God-ordained right to impose their religion on all those who may choose not to accept it. Quite the opposite. Christians actually believe they are lost without the undeserved grace of a loving, incarnate God.

Maybe I have been long-winded but I my point is that I think Sam Harris, by the way he words his critique, misunderstands the basic tenet of Christianity. Mr. Harris won't be "condemned to hell" because he's not in our club -- because he persists in his non-acceptance of the Christian religion. Mr. Harris, if he is condemned to hell, will be because he, like all the rest of us, has violated the moral perfection due a perfect God.

That said, let it be known that I agree with Sam Harris about the other point he makes. More on that next time ...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Evolution As Myth (Part 5 of 5)

The final Evolution as Mythology post is up (here). Please take the time to read it. This has been a fantastic series of articles by some serious experts and each is definitely worth taking the time to read. I will offer a quick summary here but that alone does not do this series of articles justice. This is the kind of information every serious Christian should have stored in the immediate access area of their brain. If you can remember nothing else, remember these three points:

Evolution is no different from any other myth
A myth may be true or false, but its principle characteristic is that it validates the thinking, practices, and ideals of a culture. Evolution explains our existence within the framework of our modern culture of naturalism, which has no need for a god. A myth cannot be proved, or disproved, with the technology of the culture; a myth requires faith.
In this case, it requires faith to buy into the unrepeatable requirement for abiogenesis, the elusive wishfulness that goes with panspermia (of any variety), or the baseless assertion of macro-Evolution is a "fact." Like any other myth, Evolution requires the true believer to suspend disbelief in order to accept it.

Evolution is not falsifiable

... and therefore disqualifies itself as a scientific theory.
For a theory to be considered scientific, it must be possible to devise a controlled test such that a negative result proves the theory false. But no such test exists for evolution because it is based on unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime random occurrences that can therefore “explain” anything.
By definition, Evolution cannot predict future results and its theorists use circular reasoning to morph it into anything they need it to be. Want it to be gradualistic? Ignore the actual fossil evidence and demand that a vast majority of the fossil evidence must have been destroyed. Want it to attempt to explain the fossil evidence? Adopt punctuated equilibrium even if doing so requires Evolution to act exactly opposite the way the actual theory is proposed. Indeed, the only way the actual scientific evidence supports Evolution is if one assumes the theory is true before he/she evaluates the evidence in question.

View Evolution as a Religion
... some scientists are beginning to view Darwinism in the same way others view religion. After all, it has a prophet (Charles Darwin), a priesthood, and a secret body of knowledge. Science historian Marjorie Grene says, "It is as a religion of science that Darwinism chiefly held, and holds, men’s minds… . Darwinian theory has itself become an orthodoxy preached by its adherents with religious fervor, and doubted, they feel, only by a few muddlers imperfect in scientific faith."
This is a point that we must hammer home again and again. While the "new atheists" and their ilk demean the religious faithful as an army of mind-numbed regurgitators of thoughtless dogma; they are in fact, practicing the same kind of religion under a different name. It is ironic that those who doubt Darwinism are the only ones who seem capable of engaging their minds enough to recognize its flaws.

Many scientists rightly tire of arguing with thoughtless Christians who reject science as a godless enterprise in which the "Pure In Faith" have no reason to engage. It is a sad truth that too many Christians choose that view. But for those who have no fear of any aspect of God's revelation to man, science is an exciting looking glass that lets us peer into the order and intricacy of the Creator's beautiful mind. It reveals his character and the depth of love he must have for us to create so elaborate a place for us to live and discover him. There is no justification for avoiding a discovery like that. We kid ourselves if we deny it; just as the Evolutionists kid themselves in constructing the elaborate myth they need to remove the Creator from view.

Evolution may be man-made myth. But, as C. S. Lewis said, Christianity is the myth come true.

Monday, June 2, 2008

New Atheist Rebuttals (2)

Assertion: Dawkins offers into evidence (The God Delusion, pp.16-17) further proof of his assertion that the faithful are unthinking by quoting a letter written to Albert Einstein by the president of a historical society in New Jersey that “so damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind, it is worth reading twice:”

Response: I fully agree with Dawkins’ critique of the letter in question! When the writer claims that “everyone knows religion is based on Faith, not knowledge,” then goes on to describe how he never admits his religious doubts for fear of “…disturb[ing] and damag[ing] the life and hopes of some fellow human being…,” I am on Dawkins’ side when he says that the letter “drips with intellectual and moral cowardice”(17). It does. The letter writer admits that he is not pursuing the truth. He is pursuing a self-serving piousness that I also believe is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Although the letter writer may represent a large portion of the faith community, he does not represent those who vehemently deny that religion is based on blind faith and not on knowledge.

He does not represent me.

Though the letter writer rolls over and plays dead regarding the reality of the epistemological basis for faith, I do not. He does not represent those who believe that faith is a trust that can comes from knowledge based on evidence. Once again, Mr. Dawkins is cherry-picking his opponents. Doing so relegates him to the same intellectually and morally vacuous position as those he so condescendingly condemns.