Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Reflection

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Can God Make a Rock So Big He Cannot Lift It?

This is one of my favorite questions that comes up from time to time. Indeed, many atheists and skeptics have posed this question in an attempt to stump Christians and somehow disprove the omnipotence (and existence) of God. Maybe you've been there. What is so ironic about a question of this type is that rather than prove any sort of deficiency in the character or nature of God, this question actually shows a lack of clear thinking and logic on the part of the skeptic! In other words, the question itself is flawed and fallacious in several ways and, unfortunately, the person raising the question has not taken the time to truly think this problem through.

Problem #1: this question commits the fallacy known as a loaded question. Imagine if I were to ask you, "Have you stopped beating your spouse yet?" If you answer yes, that means you were beating your spouse but you have since stopped. And if you answer no, that means you're still beating them! Either way you answer the question, you automatically concede that you beat your spouse! This is a no win situation because the question itself starts with a false assumption and is therefore a "loaded" question. Likewise, the question "Can God make a rock so big He cannot lift it?" also starts with a false assumption, i.e., that God is not omnipotent. If you answer "Yes" to the question, that means that God is not omnipotent since He can make the rock but isn't powerful enough to lift it. But if you answer "No," that also means that God is not omnipotent since He couldn't make a rock so big He cannot lift it! In other words, the question itself is dishonest, a pseudo-question, since it begs the question by assuming God is not omnipotent.

Problem #2: this question commits a categorical fallacy. The question itself is incoherent and meaningless. Suppose I were to ask you, "What does the color blue smell like?" or "How much does the number seven weigh?" These are category mistakes because colors don't smell and numbers don't weigh anything. They are logical impossibilities. In the same manner, asking the question "Can God make a rock so big He cannot lift it?" is essentially to ask "Can God's power defeat His own power?" This is nonsensical and a category error since the question is being incorrectly applied. Greg Koukl has stated, "The question is nonsense because it treats God as if He were two instead of one. The phrase 'stronger than' can only be used when two subjects are in view...Since God is only one...it makes no sense to ask if He is stronger than Himself."

Problem #3: this question commits a straw man fallacy. The goal of the skeptic who asks this question is to somehow undermine the Christian concept of an omnipotent God. It is thought that if it can be shown there are some things God cannot do, this would prove that God could not be omnipotent and thus could not exist as Christians have traditionally portrayed Him. However, this line of reasoning is attacking a distorted concept of Biblical omnipotence and is therefore guilty of the straw man fallacy.

So what does it mean then that God is omnipotent? Omnipotence doesn't mean that God can do anything. There are actually quite a few things that God cannot do. He cannot make squared circles. He cannot make a one-ended stick. He cannot sin. He cannot improve His morality. So God is "limited" in a sense. But not one of these "limitations" has to do with power, rather, they are logical contradictions. Also, notice that His "limitations" are not due to any defects in His character or power but rather they are the result of His perfection and rational nature! As Norman Geisler has stated, "He is only 'limited' by His unlimited perfection." To say that God is omnipotent then is to say that God can do anything so long as it is logically possible and consistent with His nature. God's omnipotence does not mean that He can do what is impossible but only that He can do whatever is actually possible.

C.S. Lewis stated:
I know very well that if it is self-contradictory it is absolutely impossible...His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense...It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities...nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God (Problem of Pain, 18).

Monday, December 17, 2007

"But Jesus Never Said..."

"But Jesus never said ________" (you fill in the blank). Far too often, an appeal of this type is made in conversations in order to help support one's point of view. I have heard this line of reasoning most commonly invoked in regards to the debate over homosexuality. For instance, a homosexual advocate might say "Well you know, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality." And since Jesus never said anything about it, it is therefore concluded that there is nothing really wrong with the behavior. After all, if it was really bad, Jesus would have said something, wouldn't He? If only it were that easy.

First, it must be pointed out that this type of reasoning is fallacious. In logic this is referred to as an argument from silence. For example, suppose I were to say "Well, John never said he wasn't a psychopathic homicidal maniac...that must mean he really is one!" Notice that my "proof" that John is a serial killer comes from a total lack of support either way. I am attempting to make an argument from a lack of evidence. In the same manner, Jesus' lack of commentary on homosexuality proves nothing, which brings us to our second point.

Second, Jesus didn't say a lot of things. He never said spousal abuse was wrong or that torturing toddlers is immoral. He never said it was wrong to intentionally trip a blind person or make fun of the hearing impaired. Are we to conclude from this that there is nothing wrong with these acts simply because "Jesus never said?" If the "Jesus never said" argument proves anything, it proves too much!

Finally, in regards to the homosexual debate, Jesus actually did say something! He just didn't say it in the Gospels. Jesus claimed to be the "I AM" of the Old Testament (John 8:58). And in the Old Testament, YHWH clearly makes His view of homosexuality known (Lev. 18:22). Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is inspired by God. Meaning that it is not just what Jesus said in the Gospels that we need to take heed to. And, by the way, if all Scripture is God-breathed, and Jesus is God, that means all of the words contained in the Bible are the words of Jesus (not just the words in red!) So, even the New Testament prohibitions against homosexual behavior (Romans 1) can be attributed to Christ.

So the next time someone responds to you by saying "But Jesus never said..." you might want to follow the example of Francis Beckwith when he quipped, "Jesus never said that you should only believe the things that Jesus said."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Are Evangelicals Over-Committed to the Bible?

J.P. Moreland, distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University, has been a mentor of mine for quite some time. Though I have not yet had the privilege of taking his metaphysics class, I think I probably own just about every lecture of his that has ever been recorded, along with all his books! Moreland recently delivered a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It." Needless to say, the title alone has stirred up controversy among Evangelical Christians and has resulted in several heated debates.

Now before you jump to conclusions, I encourage you to read the paper here in context. Most of the controversy surrounding the paper seems to be Moreland's use of the word "over-committed," though he clearly defines what he means by this in the paper itself. What is discouraging to see is the number of Christians who have attacked Moreland in an uncharitable manner. Unfortunately, rather than addressing Moreland's arguments, many have engaged in a number of philosophical fallacies and double-talk. Brett Kunkle, part of the Stand to Reason organization, gives an articulate and well-reasoned response which I highly encourage you to read here. You can also read what Dr. Moreland himself has said in response to his critics here.

I heartily agree with Brett Kunkle in that we should continue to "pray for Biola and godly professors like J.P. Moreland who have the courage to call out Evangelical abuses, yet with the gentleness and reverence others in our community so sorely lack."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Only One Question

Many people consider the topic of abortion to be a complex moral issue. Right to choose, right to life, privacy, safety, legality. With so many questions and concerns, who can decide what is morally good? This controversy, which at first appears to be a dilemma clouded with uncertainty, is resolved by discovering the answer to a single question: What is it?

Imagine yourself at home standing in front of the sink washing dishes. A small child, perhaps your son or daughter, walks up while your back is turned and asks, "Mommy/Daddy, can I kill this?" Before you answer, what is the first thing you must find out? You can never answer the question "Can I kill this?" unless you first answer a prior question: What is it?

And so it is with abortion.

Abortion kills something that is alive. The unborn is growing, metabolizing, and is reacting to stimuli. So what is it? What is the unborn? Is the unborn a valuable human being that has a right to life and protection under the law? If so, abortion is a moral evil since it has resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent human beings simply because they are in the way and cannot defend themselves. Or is the unborn simply a gelatinous cellular blob which can be readily discarded at the slightest whim? If so, just have the abortion! Why make excuses or attempt to give reasons of why you are morally justified in doing so? As Greg Koukl has stated so well, "If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate."

In the end, despite what pro-abortion choice advocates may say, abortion is not about choice, privacy, or rights. It is not about what a woman can and cannot do with her own body. The central concern and only issue that needs to be resolved is the status of the unborn. What is the unborn? Answer this and you have solved the abortion riddle.

For more information:

Saturday, December 8, 2007

You Cannot NOT Legislate Morality!

It is often heard in the public square that you cannot "legislate morality." By this, people usually mean that we should not attempt to use the law to enforce a moral point of view. So, for example, you might think abortion is morally wrong. But you have no right to attempt to legislate this moral point of view and, in the process, force your morality on others. Though it may sound appealing and tolerant, this thinking is flawed in several ways.

First, every law legislates a moral point of view. Can you think of one that doesn't? Laws against stealing legislate the moral point of view that it is wrong to steal. Laws against littering legislate the moral point of view that you ought not to litter. Even seat belts laws legislate the moral point of view that individuals ought to protect themselves. So the question is not "Can we legislate morality?" We can legislate morality and we do everyday. The question becomes "Whose morality are we going to legislate?" This brings us to our second point.

Second, everyone is trying to legislate a moral point of view. Let us again look at the abortion issue. Those who are pro-life believe the unborn are valuable human beings who deserve to be protected under the law. Pro-lifers are attempting to legislate their moral point of view that abortion is wrong since it takes the life of an innocent human being. Pro-abortion choice advocates are attempting to legislate their moral point of view that women ought to have the right to choose whether or not they want an abortion. Both sides have a point of view and both sides want their view legislated. Once again, the question is "Whose morality are we going to legislate?"

Third, not only do we legislate morality, but we should. Imagine what would happen to our criminal justice system if morality was not legislated. The murderer and rapist would simply have to be let free. After all, we wouldn't want to force our moral point of view on them that murder and rape are wrong. The truth is, the law is in place to restrain evil and compel good. Good laws are good because they are based on good morals. We should legislate morality because, to put it bluntly, some people are simply morally handicapped and unable to make sensible ethical decisions.

Finally, the often repeated mantra "You shouldn't force your morality on others," commonly appealed to in discussions regarding the legislation of morality, ends up being a self-refuting statement. The person who says "Don't force your morality" is forcing their morality. They are forcing their moral point of view that it is wrong to force moral points of view. It is as if they were to say "Don't force your morality on me like I'm doing to you right now!"

So whose morality should we legislate? Simple: Ours. We should legislate according to the common moral law made aware to all of us through intuition and reason. This does not mean that every apparent ethical dilemma has an immediate and obvious solution. What it means is that recognizing the existence of an objective moral law is the first step if meaningful dialogue is going to take place. Questions regarding moral issues require thoughtful and intelligent answers, not empty slogans intended to stop discussion before it starts. So let's do away with the nonsense and stick with rational discourse.

Recommended Reading:
Legislating Morality by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek

Life Is Like Monopoly

The following illustration was taken from J.P. Moreland.

Imagine I invite you over to my house one night to play a game of monopoly. On this particular night however, I explain to you that the rules are going to be a little bit different. The monopoly board is in front of us, there is a refrigerator in the kitchen, a television in the living room, some coins in front of us, and a handful of jacks. Now when it's your turn, you can do anything you want, just let me know when you are finished.

On your first turn, you line the monopoly board with hotels and think this spells the beginning of my demise. You say to me, "Okay, your turn." I take my arm and swipe it across the board, knocking all of your hotels off. I then go to the kitchen, open the refrigerator, make myself a sandwich, and say, "Okay, your turn." You say to yourself, "I'm going to try this one more time." So you take all the hotels once again and line the monopoly board and say, "Your turn." This time I turn the monopoly board upside down, flip a couple coins, watch some television, and say, "Your turn." Now if you were faced with this type of situation, it wouldn't take you long to realize that if the game as a whole has no purpose, the individual moves within the game have no value or meaning. The only way your moves within the game of monopoly have meaning is if you discover the purpose of the game and you align yourself with that purpose.

And so it is with life.

Like the game of monopoly, the only way our lives have any ultimate value or meaning is if life has purpose behind it. And the only way life can have purpose behind it is if God exists and there is life after death. Think about it. Let us suppose that there is no God and that atheism is true. What does this mean? It means that we as human beings are simply Johnny-come-lately biological accidents on an insignificant speck of dust we call earth which is hurtling through empty space in a meaningless and random universe that will eventually die a cold heat death. In reality, we are really no more significant then a swarm of mosquitoes. In a universe where there is no God and no afterlife, our actions are meaningless and serve no final end because ultimately each one of us, along with everyone we influence, will die and enter oblivion. In this kind of universe, the mention of morality is an incoherent babbling and hence there is no difference between living the life of a saint or a sociopath, no difference between a Mother Theresa and a Hitler.

IF there is no God.

But, if God does exist, and there is life after death, then suddenly the universe and our individual actions take on meaning because there is ultimate purpose to life. Our actions not only make a difference in this life but also in the life to come. Meaning, value, purpose, and reason, can only exist within a theistic worldview. The absence of these in an atheistic worldview is what philosopher William Lane Craig frequently refers to as "The absurdity of life without God."

What is the purpose of life? It is not happiness, nor pleasure, nor power, nor fame. The purpose of life is to know God and make God known. But ultimate value and meaning does not simply come from knowing the purpose, but in aligning oneself with that purpose. And this means aligning ourselves with Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent…and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice" (John 17:3, 18:37).