Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rules of Engagement

When I flew jets in the military, one of the most important aspects of the briefing we received before any mission we flew was on what we called the Rules of Engagement (ROE). These rules included everything from how we would handle our return to friendly skies, after our excursions into "bad guy" territory, to the kinds of methods we would use to label unidentified aircraft as "friend-or-foe," to the maneuvers, headings, altitudes we would use to properly identify ourselves as being the "good guys," to the kinds of ways we were allowed to engage our opponents.

There are two reasons I bring this up. First, we were the ones who established ROE for operational, safety, and political reasons. ROE made mission planning simpler and more efficient. Because the ROE allowed us to know exactly what our teammates were going to do before they did it, we could literally plan and fly missions including hundreds of airplanes without ever speaking a word to one another on the radios. This was important not only to avoid communication jamming and confusion, but also because it would make those who were not complying with the ROE instantly recognizable as a threat. It also helped us avoid the political ramifications that would come with shooting at the wrong guys (good or bad) in the wrong place or at the wrong time. ROE, in other words, were limits we imposed on ourselves in order to ensure a professional, safe and effective deployment of our assets.

Secondly, ROE was a hindrance to us because of our opponents' ability to exploit our civilized engagement with them. This aspect of ROE is in play today maybe more than ever before. Like the guerrilla war tactics employed by the Viet Cong during the Viet Nam War, today's terrorists know our rules and how they can hide behind them. This is what allows terrorists to shoot at our troops from inside mosques, knowing that our ROE will not allow them to respond.

My point is that ROE are necessary restraints on our own operational freedom that we accept even though we know it allows our opponents to take advantage of us. So what does this have to do with apologetics?

As I listened to the Koukl-Shermer debate (transcript here), I realize that ROE is one of the most important points to remember any time you are engaged in a discussion with someone who holds to a naturalistic view of the world. And I am talking about two kinds of ROE.

The first is the general principle we derive from the 1 Peter 3:15 passage all apologists reference to defend the faith. Our apologetic does not just end with making the case; it also includes the admonition to make that case with "gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscious, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

These are ROE we impose on ourselves for good reason. Greg Koukl has mastered the art of the ambassador in this way. And I was also pleasantly surprised at Michael Shermer's cordiality. It made for a pleasant and helpful exchange that listeners could learn something from.

But there was also a second kind of ROE in play in this debate. It concerns ROE that come into play not just with the issue of morality that was being discussed here, but any time a Naturalist/Darwinist attempts to introduce scientific evidence into the discussion. Let's call it a presuppositional ROE.

There are two definitions of science at work in these types of discussions. One is the definition that we have all been taught since grade school. It is an operational definition that we have come to recognize as The Scientific Method. There is no need to repeat it here, but this definition is helpful in keeping scientific inquiry honest. It demands adherence to rigid guidelines that put boundaries on the ways in which we approach the scientific endeavor. Nothing about this needs to be controversial.

But there is also another definition of science at work. This one is not methodological. It is philosophical. This definition is imposed on the evidence and conclusions we are allowed to draw from that evidence. It is a demand that any explanation we deduce from our practice of the scientific method must, by definition, lead us to a naturalistic cause for whatever phenomenon we are studying.

But notice that this definition of science imposes limits on the conclusions we are allowed to draw before we examine the data. This is a definition that cannot be supported by the scientific method. It rests on a belief that only physical causes are valid because agent causation is not an acceptable solution to explain any natural event. It is Scientism: a belief that science is the only way to find answers to our questions, and it is a subset of the Naturalistic worldview.

This is the ROE that allows the Naturalist to claim that "science has disproved God" when science cannot, even in principle, do such a thing. These are the ROE that allow Darwinists to deride Intelligent Design as a "remade neo-creationism" that has no place in a scientific discussion.

The takeaway is that ROE are things we impose on ourselves for noble reasons. What we cannot allow is for an opponent to impose ROE on us for philosophical reasons that serve not to civilize the engagement, but to avoid having it altogether.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Church Dropout”

Tonight, Tuesday, January 19, 2010 promises to be an eye-opening event on American Family Radio ( when Frank Turek hosts a discussion with: Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Bill Dembski, Dr. Mike Adams.

Watch the trailer here: CrossExamined Blog » Blog Archive » “Church Dropout” Trailer for January 19th.

DVR "American Idol" and watch this instead. You won't regret it

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Religion = Worldview

In their debate on the Hugh Hewitt Show last month, Greg Koukl ('GK' below) and Michael Shermer ('MS' below) got into a discussion about the real-world ramifications of holding to atheism as opposed to Christianity. Greg defended the point of view that Christianity's objective morality -- an ethical system based in the character of God himself -- created societies that were more beneficial, altruistic, liberty-advancing, and safe than their atheistic alternatives.
[GK]: The 20th Century, which we just left, was the bloodiest century in the history of the world. And just a casual adding up of the numbers shows over 100 million that were dead at the hands of just three people – Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung. Now these people had a particular ideology at which atheism was its foundation. Because they didn’t believe in God, and there is a natural kinship here between worldviews and the actions that follow them, because they didn’t believe in God, it was the state that was the greater power. And if the state is the greatest power, and they were the state, then they had no one to answer to. And consequently, they were able to do these things that everyone views as an atrocity.

[MS]: It isn’t numbers that’s important. It’s what your capable of doing. And religious beliefs and political ideologies are no different as belief systems driving behavior that’s moral or immoral. People kill in the name of religion just as much as they do in the name of a political ideology.

Shermer's response here would be comical if it weren't so hauntingly false. It's interesting that, after being confronted with the real world consequences of the atheistic view of the world (100 million dead at the hands of just three men), he declares the numbers "unimportant."

Yeah, unless you happen to be part of the "unimportant" statistic.

It's interesting because his "new atheist" counterparts continually make assertions along the line of: "religion is the single greatest source of evil in the world."

The fact is that the opposite is true.

And please note that Koukl ties belief systems to the actions that follow from them. This isn't rocket science and Shermer knows it. He admits as much in the excerpt below:

[MS]: Nobody kills or dies in the name of atheism, because there’s nothing to kill or die for. People kill and die for causes, for ideologies, for beliefs. And communism is a faux religion. It is exactly like a religion, a set of tenets that people adhere to, and then we’re going to go out and change people’s minds, or impose our views on them and so on. That’s what social groups do, whether they’re political, ideological, economic, religious, whatever.

And that’s what communism is. And it’s nothing more than that. Nobody killed in the name of that ...

... if Dawkins and Hitchens and so on were promoting some kind of a political agenda hooked to the atheism, whereby you’re supposed to go out and do this or do that, then yes, I’d think you have a point, and I’d be concerned about it.

Though the wording is a little convoluted, the greater point that Shermer is trying to make is that religion is a belief system. In a similar way, political ideology is also a belief system. These, therefore, are dangerous. Atheism on the other hand, is a separate kind of thing ...
[MS]: There’s no, like, central set of tenets that we adhere to or believe in, or anything like that as you would a Republican or conservative, or something like that, or a Christian or a Jew or whatever. We don’t have anything like that, because there is nothing. It’s just simply we just don’t believe.
I'm wondering if Shermer really believes that he doesn't believe in anything?

What he fails to comprehend is that a religion is nothing more than a system by which one understands and responds to the world. It is a worldview -- and everyone has one! Michael Shermer's worldview is informed by a belief that God does not exist. That is his religion. Saying that he does not believe God exists is not a way of escaping the fact that he holds to a systematic view of the world. It is just that he has tried to construct his understanding of ethics and values on the non-existence of God. And that was Koukl's point.
[MS]: ... I’m in favor of any ideology that gives more people more freedom and liberty and individual power, whether that’s religious or nonreligious ... And that has been the trend for the last five hundred years, that I attribute to the general secular idea, from the Enlightenment, that people have value in and of themselves, and I think religion has fostered, after the fact, sort of just slightly behind the wave, reinforcing those good, human values, and attenuating the bad ones.

... I think religion is good when it does good, it’s bad when it does bad. In general, I’m in favor of anything that leads to greater freedom, greater liberty, greater autonomy for more people in more places ...
From everything I've heard, Michael Shermer is a terrific guy. I have no reason to doubt that assessment. But from what I've seen in his debates (and what he said here), I believe him to be a terrific guy precisely because he has borrowed his ethical system from the Christianity he has rejected. That's great. But what he cannot do is pretend he doesn't believe in anything. What he cannot do is deny that the atheistic butchers in history also have a worldview.

Greg Koukl's point seemed to get lost in the barrage of words. Those who embrace atheism may not perpetrate their evil deeds in the name of atheism itself. But their atheistic view of the world has ramifications. Their atheistic view of the world includes a belief that no being of any more moral consequence than the one they see in the bathroom mirror every morning is watching what they do.

In a system like that, it is easy to engage in promotion of the self to a deified status. And when that happens, everything goes straight to the hell your worldview claims doesn't exist.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Subjective Objectivity

I just finished listening to the radio debate Hugh Hewitt hosted between Christian apologist Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason, and atheist author/editor Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine. I believe a recording of the event will be available soon on CD or mp3 format, but if you just can't wait, a transcript of the debate is on-line (here).

The back and forth between the two was polite but their differences could not have been more stark. Shermer, though he attempted to paint his view of morality in objective colors, actually believes in a Darwinistic view of morality that is subjective to the core. Once you recognize this, his smuggling of objective values into his explanation is blatantly obvious.

Here is an example: Shermer is asked to explain the source of what he says has become our group morality. He denies that he is a relativist, but offers the following to help us understand what he means ...
What I’m talking about is tapping into the good part of our nature, the fact that in addition to that xenophobic tribalism we have, we also have this other side that almost never gets discussed in evolutionary…even in evolutionary circles, you’ll still hear evolutionary biologists talking about, in a way that Huxley did, and Herbert Spencer did in Darwin’s own time, that we have to somehow struggle mightily against our genes to overcome that nasty tendency we have to want to rape, kill, pillage and destroy. Well no, actually, we have this whole other side that’s just as genetically programmed into our nature. And the point of culture – education, politics, economics and so on, is to tap into the better angels of our nature as Lincoln said.
So, in order to explain how we have come to differentiate between what is good and what is bad, Shermer claims that we have evolved in the struggle against our "nasty tendencies" by "tapping into the good part of our nature."

Do you see it?

The topic of debate is the origin of good and bad -- but Shermer uses the prior existence of good as the standard by which "natural selection" leads us to decide what is good. He is assuming what he is trying to prove.

To me, this is one of the most difficult topics to discuss with those hold to the views of Michael Shermer. They demand that evolution creates ethics by a purely naturalistic process -- a process which is, by definition, subjective and therefore relativistic. But they then insist that they hold to an objectively real system of ethics. The only positive thing at work here is that Shermer at least acknowledges that he cannot deny the existence of objective morality. He affirms that it is out there but still insists on a relativistic way to get to it.

Most of the Naturalistic types deny that objective reality even exists at all. But, when they can't live their lives that way, they smuggle in objective morality when it is convenient to do so. The frustrating aspect of that view is that they either cannot, or will not, admit that is what they are doing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Messianic Hacker

"For years, I played golf with an invisible handicap.
Invisible to everyone but me."
~ Tiger Woods in an ad for TLC Laser Eye Centers

If the wording of that advertisement isn't thick with irony, I'm not sure what is. Tiger thought Lasik eye surgery had cured his handicap. But he had a bigger, more debilitating, handicap than we knew -- a hideously deficient lack of moral character. Though Tiger knew all about it, it was invisible to the public that admired him. Now the whole world sees it with crystal clarity.

I am not here to judge or condemn Tiger Woods. The apostle Paul tells us that we Christians should not expect those outside the faith to live up to ethical standards they have not accepted. But that doesn't mean they don't know any better. Paul also points out that God-denying "men are without excuse ... their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools ... they exchanged the truth of God for a lie." (Romans 1).

My only point is to show that, in Tiger's case, we have a textbook example of the ways in which the human inclination toward depravity can be ignited and accelerated by a worldly, vacuous philosophy based in an ethic that is not grounded in the character of God.

Bad ideas lead to bad consequences.

In 1996, the year Tiger pounced on the world of professional golf, Sports Illustrated labeled him Sportsman of the Year and praised him as The Chosen One who "was raised to believe that his destiny is not only to be the greatest golfer ever but also to change the world."

That is a lot of pressure to put on a 20 year-old kid. But that Messianic view of Tiger's human potential did not begin in 1996. It started many years earlier in the mind of his father, Earl, who his wife Kultida later described as someone who "... couldn't relax ... [was always] searching for something, always searching, never satisfied. I think because both his parents died when he was young, and he didn't have Mom and Dad to make him warm. Sometimes he stayed awake till three or four in the morning, just thinking."

Shortly after Tiger's birth, Earl enrolled himself in "EST - The New Life-Changing Philosophy that Makes You the Boss," an intensive self-discovery and self-actualizing program. Tiger's father also used techniques he learned in Erhard Seminars Training (EST) to condition his son. The result, Tiger Woods once said, is that, "I'm the toughest golfer mentally."

Tough indeed. But the mental toughness was not just an optimism founded on the practice of envisioning positive outcomes. It was a human-centered mindset based in a growing religious Humanism ...
... a part of the Human Potential Movement which "took as its premise the belief that through the development of 'human potential,' humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment. As a corollary, those who begin to unleash this assumed potential often find themselves directing their actions within society towards assisting others to release their potential. Adherents believe that the net effect of individuals cultivating their potential will bring about positive social change at large.
Tiger wasn't just a really positive guy. His father had taught him that his own "self actualization" should be his primary focus, that he was the director of his own destiny and the center of his own universe. The problem with this view is that it denies what we see to be true about the world -- a proper anthropology that recognizes the inescapably sinful nature of man. In doing so, it also rids itself of any need for a transcendent God. It is a worldview that makes each of us into our own version of a god with no one else to answer to -- a god like Tiger Woods.

We should pray for the redemption of Tiger Woods and for his reconciliation with the wife and children he betrayed. I hope that Tiger comes to the realization that he is not the center of the universe and that The Real Messiah demands his worship. But if nothing else, the downfall of Tiger Woods serves as further confirmation for all of us that every bit of misery and chaos we bring upon ourselves has its source in a perversion of our proper relationship to the Creator.

Our purpose is not to win in the world. Our purpose is to join the Threesome that has overcome it.