Monday, August 31, 2009

Philosophy & Ethics

Lesson 2: Philosophy & Ethics

What is the "cosmic cube" -- and can we live there? Dr. Tackett uses a box to illustrate the Naturalistic worldview that many in our culture embrace. The box consists of all matter, energy, space and time -- the physical universe -- and Naturalism demands that this "cosmic cube" is, in the late Carl Sagan's words, "all that is, and ever was, and ever will be." This week's discussion focuses on how such a philosophical point of view plays out, how it matches up with the Biblical worldview, and how our lives are affected by the implications of such a view of reality.

Philosophy

Philosophy is defined as the "love of wisdom." It is the practice of contemplating and reasoning our way to find the truth. Though many Christians shy away from such an endeavor, it is perfectly consistent with the Biblical worldview to engage in philosophy. In fact, we are told that we are to "contend for the faith" and "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" so that we will not be "taken captive through hollow and destructive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

Naturalism is one of them. If all reality only consists of the stuff in the box, there can be no such thing as purpose, spirit, soul, mind or meaning. Everything just "is." All effects are physical, or material, in nature. A necessary implication of this idea is that there can be no such thing as free will. All events in cosmic history are determined from the beginning when the first domino fell. The thoughts you think and the decisions you (think you) make, are nothing but the result of chemical reactions in the physical matter of your brain.

Obviously, each of these is antithetical to the claims of Christianity and the result is an extension of the "cosmic battle" in which we are all engaged.

Ethics

Most of us use the terms morality and ethics interchangeably. But, as R.C. Sproul points out, this is a mistake that plays right in to a non-Biblical view of right and wrong. Morality says what is. Ethics addresses what ought to be.

Our relativistic culture wants to say that society says what is right and wrong and that each of us, being products of the society they were brought up in, hold to our views because we have been programmed to think the way we do. Notice that this explanation may try to explain how we come to know what is right or wrong but it cannot in principle explain the existence (reality) of the concept of good itself. We can get an is from our culture but we cannot get an ought.

On the Christian worldview ethics, like truth, is a real thing that exists "out there" that we work to discover, not create.

This is not to say that a naturalistic thinker cannot be moral/ethical. Of course they can. Whether they realize it or not, they are also made in God's image and are subject to the same reality as everyone else. Maybe they are more ethical than me. But, in claiming to be moral/ethical, the materialist cannot explain the foundation of such a thing. They have to "smuggle in" Christian concepts to live their lives.

They do it all the time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Veritology

This past week, my home church started a 13-week in-depth course of study on the Christian worldview entitled, "The Truth Project." My posts over the next 13 weeks will be centered on addressing each of the topics we cover in the course and providing a forum to comment on, and answer questions about, the weekly discussion. I invite the participants and anyone else who is interested, to join me during the week to further delve into these issues.

I can't think of anything else more important to talk about.

Lesson 1: Veritology

The existence of truth is the foundational concept on which the rest of the program rests, so it is important that you understand what we mean by "truth." The illustration I used was this:

ICE CREAM truth ("Subjective Truth") is true for the subject. It is first person. It is private. It is something we prefer. This could better be described as opinion.

INSULIN truth ("Objective Truth") is dependent on the object. It is "out there." It is third person. It is public. It is something we discover.

Because truth itself is an objective reality, it is actually redundant to label it "objective" truth. Truth, by its very nature is objective. The reason we are forced to add the modifier "objective" in front of it is because of the cultural baggage that has been attached to the concept. I think it's ironic that if you do a Google search of the word "veritology," one of the hits you get is to the Urban Dictionary. There you will find that veritology (the study of truth) is "not defined yet."

That's the culture we live in -- a culture that thinks we have to wait for a definition of truth.

Definition: Truth is what corresponds to reality — it is the way the world actually is.

This is how our understanding of the truth must be judged. We all think we have the truth. But we must evaluate how our understanding of the truth matches up against the way the world actually is. This is the goal of The Truth Project and the strength of the Christian Worldview. The idea is that if Christianity is actually true, it will match up with the way we find the world and make more sense than any other way of looking at things. Living in accordance with that truth is reasonable and consistent. The "Cosmic Battle" begins when we deny that truth or try to order our lives in ways that are not in accordance with the way the world actually is.

A couple of topics related to this idea are these:

1. CERTAINTY
is a property of persons; TRUTH is a property of propositions.

Example: Ptolemy was a 2nd century astronomer who posited that the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the Sun, Moon and stars revolved around it. Ptolemy was absolutely certain of his theory and it stood for nearly 15 centuries until Copernicus came along and theorized that the Sun was really at the center of our solar system. One hundred years later, Galileo proved Copernicus right. As it turned out, Copernicus' proposition was the truth -- Ptolemy's certainty was unfounded.

We cannot confuse the certainty that we (or anyone else) hold about a thing with its truth.

2. The relationship between truth/knowledge and faith is proportional, not inverse.

Our culture has led us to accept the notion that "faith" is blind acceptance of things we cannot prove or know. But this is not the Biblical definition of faith. Faith (Greek: pistis) is defined as conviction, or active trust. In other words, if Christianity is true, the more we find out about the world -- the more truth we obtain -- the more our conviction that we have placed our trust correctly will increase. This is the exact opposite of what the culture tells us about faith.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Style Over Substance

For those who watched the debate video I posted on my last entry, I want to offer an honest critique: When it comes to the substance of the debate, Frank Turek destroyed Hitchens by offering ample, strong, positive evidence for his case. Christopher Hitchens, on the other hand, was his usual dry, witty, sarcastic self. He offered little, if any, actual evidence for his case and most of what he did offer was either weak or irrelevant.

That said, and with the audience reaction and cultural conditioning of those who witnessed it in mind, my assessment is as follows:

Hitchens wins.

It pains me to type those words but I will do my best to explain ...

Remember that the topic being debated was "What Best Explains Reality: Theism or Atheism?" If you listened to the debate, you know that Frank Turek, talking in his "150 mph Jersey" delivery, was hard pressed to cram all the supporting facts and evidence into his opening presentation. Because of that delivery, his argument seemed rushed, and several of his points were swamped in the process. A little too much unfamiliar jargon found its way into the presentation and he was forced to skip or skim over some very important points.

Frank Turek offered an outline of his argument in the acronym C. O. S. M. O. S. that he said leads us to the conclusion that there must be a "spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, moral, personal, intelligent Creator." Turek's evidence ...
  • Cosmological Argument: states that, if the universe had a beginning, it must also have a beginner. Events cannot cause themselves to occur. There is ample evidence from: the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the expansion of the universe (discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929), the radiation afterglow from the Big Bang event (discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1978), the seeds of galactic formation in that radiation signature (discovered by COBE in 1992 and verified to 1 part in 100,000), and the unprecedented confirmation of Einstein's General Relativity Theory that has been produced over the last 80 years. Each of these confirms the fact that the universe (all matter, energy, space and time) came into existence at a single instant in the finite past -- and must therefore have been the effect of some powerful cause the resides outside the physical universe.
  • Order: The enormous fine-tuning we find in the laws of physics, chemistry etc. demonstrate a level of design that is unfathomable to consider and without which life would not be possible anywhere within the universe.
  • Specified Complexity is the aspect of the information content in DNA that makes it correspond exactly to what we know about messages and the work of intelligent agents.
  • Moral reality is not an explanation for why we think things are right or wrong, but the recognition that the existence of such a thing as good or evil, right or wrong, cannot be explained apart from the existence of a moral lawgiver who grounds that reality.
  • Objectivity in the laws of logic, mathematics and science. These are not things that can be avoided or bypassed. These are immaterial realities that we all recognize and are beholden to.
  • Solitary Life of Jesus of Nazareth and the worldwide impact that he had on generations of people defies explanation apart from the truth of his claims and the historicity of actions -- most notably his self-resurrection.
Each of these serves to undergird the case for theism -- which was the question up for debate. Note that Turek's greatest shortcoming was that the vast amount of information he had to support his case could not be crammed into his 20 minute opening remarks. In short, Turek suffered from an inability to shoehorn all the evidence he had into his allotted time, even though he greatly accelerated the speed of his delivery to do so.

Hitchens, on the other hand, felt no similar sense of urgency to prove his point -- probably because he didn't have one beyond the usual "religion and religious people are evil and do bad things; therefore, God does not exist." He rambled through a few notes, made a few sexual references (he is known for this) and generally treated his disdain for religion and religious people as an argument against the existence of God. He began his opening statement by declaring what he does not believe and what he could not know -- but failed to offer the least bit of evidence for what he did claim to know or believe. He spent most of his time explaining why he did not accept Turek's argument and why we "pattern seeking mammals" felt the need to believe in such a thing as 'god'.

In short, Hitchens repeatedly offered different critiques of Turek's case. He refused to give direct answers to direct questions during the Q&A section and he provided absolutely no evidence to support the idea that atheism was a better explanation of reality. None.

But ... Hitchens was funny. He had quick, hard hitting, one-liners in reply to Turek's comments during the back-and-forth portion of the debate. He had witty (but substance-free) answers to questions from the audience. Many of Turek's attempts at humor fell flat. One of the most telling and uncomfortable moments came (at 74:00 minutes) when Hitchens asked Turek, regarding the spread of Christianity, if it was due to the truth of Christianity itself or the fact that Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. "Which, in your view, contributed more to the spread of the faith?"

Turek (after an uncomfortable pause): "Uh ... The Holy Spirit."

Hitchens: "I rest my case."

While Turek's response was theologically correct, the impression it left was that his answer rested on a baseless appeal to a superstitious religion. The audience chuckled. Unfortunately, this is the kind of unsubstantial "argumentation" that works well in a culture that bases its beliefs in sound bites and video clips while, in many cases, refusing to follow a logical line of reasoning or offering positive evidence to support the ideas it claims to embrace. We love emotional appeals. We despise moral culpability. We like to laugh.

I believe Frank Turek offered not only the best explanation for reality, he was the only one who offered any such explanation in this debate. That said, you could tell by the audience reaction in several places that Hitchens won the crowd. This might be because of the nature of the audience (more hostile to theism than warm) but it is also because of the nature of the culture this audience represents. On that standard, Hitchens won.

But I, like Frank Turek, would rather be a winsome, respectable defender of justifiably truthful evidence than merely the guy who won the debate. If we can't have both, I would prefer the former.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Turek -v- Hitchens: Round 2

I have been swamped with significant family life events over the last few weeks so my posting frequency has been lacking. In an effort to get back in the swing of things, I offer you this debate between my colleague, Frank Turek, of CrossExamined.org and the infamous Christopher Hitchens on the topic: "What Best Explains Reality: Theism or Atheism." I think you will find it fascinating to watch and I will return to comment on it over the next few posts. Enjoy ...

Frank Turek vs. Christopher Hitchens: What Best Explains Reality: Theism or Atheism? from Andrew Ketchum on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Metamorphosis Gone Wild

For the benefit of those who may not know, the esteemed Congressman shown in the following video clip was my roommate for a semester, and company-mate for all of my 4 years, at the U.S. Naval Academy in the class of 1981. He was a good friend of mine. He was in my wedding. Now he refuses to talk to me or acknowledge my existence. At that time, he was an ultra-conservative Reagan Republican. He spent 20 years in the Navy (not 24 as he is fond of saying), in the end working as General Wesley Clark's Navy Liaison when Clark was Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Today, we get this:


Elected to represent the people of the 29th District of NY, Mr. Massa publicly and proudly tells them that he will vote against their wishes, no matter how vehemently they hold them, because he knows what's "going to help them." Apparently, these poor folks can't figure out such a thing for themselves. Eric Massa knows better. Do we need any further demonstration of the arrogance of our political class than this? Where do these people come from? On this one, I can offer some insight.

Massa retired from the Navy in 2001 after a battle with cancer and moved to Corning, NY to work for Corning Incorporated. After losing his job during Corning's downsizing, he was put in contact with Representative Duncan Hunter of San Diego, CA because of Hunter's relationship with Massa's father. This led to his working on Hunter's staff in his capacity as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He left that job (whether he was fired or resigned is hotly debated -- I give him the benefit of the doubt and accept his version of the story -- that he was fired) after a controversial meeting with his former boss, Wesley Clark.

When he left Hunter's staff, Massa became a political consultant and, soon thereafter, began a run for Congress in NY's 29th District against Republican incumbent Randy Kuhl. Massa lost the election in 2006 and immediately began his campaign for the 2008 election. During the runup to the election, Massa was proud of his alliances with the likes of Wesley Clark, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Elliot Spitzer and the gay community of Washington, DC. Each of these produced not only endorsements, but public praise and, most importantly, financial backing for his run for office. The centerpiece of his platform was his opposition to the Iraq War and a visceral hatred for President George W. Bush. As time went on and more liberal money came in, Massa's views moved further and further to the left. He rode the unpopularity of Bush to win the 2008 election by a narrow margin.

I will never forget the day I first witnessed Mr. Massa using the death of his former roommate and our mutual friend, Lieutenant David Nairn, to his political advantage during the campaign. Dave was among the 220 Marines who were murdered by terrorists when their barracks was bombed in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. Eric always told the story of how he found Dave's address book amidst the rubble of that building. But in a campaign blog during his run for Congress, the story was embellished into why Eric Massa "knows about war firsthand" because "he pulled the body of his dead roommate out of [that] rubble." Let's be clear -- Eric Massa has never been in close combat (though he was among the crew that lobbed 18" rounds into Beirut from his station aboard the USS New Jersey) and he never pulled anyone's body out of any rubble anywhere. He may attribute that embellishment to a staffer who wrote on his blog, but he was responsible for the content of that blog. If any issue should have caught his attention for correction, one would think that such a blatant misuse of a dead friend's memory ought to qualify.

I will never forget the day in January 2009, sitting in a hotel room watching C-SPAN, that I watched my former roommate and like-minded ally literally yell at the top of his lungs to cast his vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House in the 111th Congress. Pelosi is admittedly a collectivist and, like Mr. Massa (they are both Catholic), denounces the pro-life views of her church without a hint of regret (I wrote about Massa's take on embryonic stem cell research here: A Response to Mr. Massa: It's the Embryonic Part, Eric. He is also on record here of being in support of abortion on demand), yet he voted for her with great enthusiasm.

Regarding the issues, Eric Massa has dared to comment about, On The Issues reports the following:
  • Strongly favors a woman's "right" to abortion, though he says it should be "safe, legal and rare" (but if it's OK, why would we care if it's 'rare'?)
  • Strongly opposes privatizing Social Security (a socialist Ponzi scheme)
  • Strongly opposes school vouchers (for kids who can't afford decent schools on their own)
  • Strongly favors the idea that human activity is the "primary cause" of climate change (evidence please?)
I do not judge friendships by political affiliation. Never have, never will. But the fact is that my former friend began to ignore and shun me at the very moment I questioned some of his stands on the issues -- and his reasons for changing them. That's the point. Did this "evolution" occur because of a legitimate change of heart -- or because of the prideful elixir of the adulation of the anointed? How did the ultra-conservative Eric Massa become the "left liberal" (this is an On the Issues classification) Eric Massa? And why would the simple challenge to discuss these topics suddenly render a 30-year friendship invalid?

All I can surmise is that the adulation of man and the promise of money and power are alluring motivators to someone who begins to believe they are more "enlightened" than those they claim to serve. This video seems to suggest that this is the case here. For what it's worth, this tendency saddens me for my country -- and more painfully, for the man who used to call me his friend.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lifting the "Ban" -- Or Obfuscating the Truth?

Listen to this speech (the first 4 minutes should suffice) and then check out the timeline (below) of what REALLY happened. The deliberate deceit involved here is disgusting ...

If you pay attention to the news at all, you are probably convinced that stem cell research will eventually solve every medical challenge our society faces. The blind will see. The paralyzed will walk. Cancer will be cured. All this will be possible if the anti-science zealots in the pro-life wing of conservative politics would just get out of the way. President Obama repeats the mantra here.

George W. Bush in particular thwarted all advancement in scientific research because he placed his anti-scientific, Neanderthal faith ahead of the more reasonable desires of those who wanted to find cures. Thoughtful depictions like the one at right were offered to make the point. But there's just a minor problem with all this. It is complete nonsense

Over the last several weeks I have been working on a booklet that I hope will be published in the near future -- a short guide to defending the pro-life view. In doing the research for the section of the booklet on embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), some of the legal/political meanderings became so muddled I decided to put them in the form of a chronological chart just to make things easier to follow. Though these were all things I was vaguely aware of, seeing how the issue has played out was stunning to behold so I thought I would share the facts here:
  • 1996 Congress passes, and President Clinton signs, a rider to an appropriations bill, titled the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which makes it illegal for the federal government to fund research that destroys human embryos. This rider has been re-approved by Congress and signed by the President in office every year since then.

  • 1998 President Clinton signs an Executive Order (EO) enforcing the ban on federal funding for ESCR that destroys human embryos. He bases his decision to do so on the restrictions created by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.
  • 2000 After six years of taking a position against taxpayer funding of the destructive research, and on his way out of office, President Clinton flip-flops and announces his support for new federal guidelines that would allow taxpayer funding of embryo-destructive research. This apparent set up for the incoming Gore administration backfires when Gore loses the election.
  • 2001 -- August 9th: President Bush signs an Executive Order meant to compromise on the restrictions that had previously been placed on ESCR. This order continues the restrictions put in place by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment but allows an exception for more than $200 million in federal funding for 21 existing stem cell “lines” that had previously been created (through IVF). Thus, President Bush becomes the first president to allow federal funding of ESCR.
At this point, federal funding for ESCR is restricted to these 21 lines.

It is not “banned.”

There is not, and there has never been, a ban on privately funded research.
  • 2007 -- June 20th: President Bush issues Executive Order 13435, which requires the government to fund research into alternative methods of obtaining pluripotent stem cells -- methods like Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPSC) -- that do not require the destruction of embryos but instead "induce" regular adult skin cells to act like pluripotent cells.
  • 2008 “Scientific researchers hail the development of IPSCs as the biggest scientific breakthrough of the year.”
  • 2009 -- March 9th: President Obama rescinds Bush’s August 9, 2001 EO with his own EO entitled, “Removing Barriers To Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells.” The revocation of Bush’s EO is heralded as “lifting the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).” (this is the event found in the video offered above)

  • This EO simultaneously revokes Bush EO # 13435 which has provided federal funding of successful IPSC research. This aspect of the order is not mentioned at the press conference.
  • 2009 -- March 11th: President Obama signs and renews the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which continues the ban on federal funding for ESCR that Obama claims to have lifted 2 days earlier. No announcement is made and no press conference is called.
Whatever one’s politics, it is hard to deny the purposeful deceit and tactical shenanigans that have gone on with respect to ESCR. During his speech, Mr. Obama claimed to want to honor both the scientific promises of stem cell research and the ethical issues of those who hold them. He did neither.

He refuses to ever acknowledge a difference between stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research. The effects of his policies have been:
  • Creating cloned embryos with the purpose of letting the created person live is illegal and outlawed.
  • Creating cloned embryos for the purpose of tearing them apart for research purposes is approved.
  • Though he claims to have "lifted the ban of the last 8 years" (a direct shot at Bush), two days later he knowingly and quietly re-signs the amendment that overrides his own Executive Order.
  • He claims to approve of "promising research" yet touts the very kind of research that has led to exactly ZERO cures (ESCR) and actually undermines research with adult cells that has, up to this point, shown 73 successful therapies.
And, most importantly ...
  • He claims to seek compromise with those who have ethical reservations about ESCR but (again quietly and underhandedly) removes federal funding for IPSC that does exactly that and never mentions it.
All this to reiterate what I've said before. When it comes to pro-life issues, President Obama is a moral coward who will not even be honest about the very policies he supports.