Ethics: The Reality Of Objective Good

Evil Proves God

“Ethics” sits at the base of our diagram for a reason: If you have any intention of training yourself or others to defend the truth of Christianity, this topic is the most likely source of skepticism, disillusionment, debate, and objection you will ever encounter. Why is there evil in the world if God is so good? How could a good God allow all this pain and suffering? Who are you to say what’s right and wrong?

You will confront this issue in various forms but, no matter how it is presented to you, there are two main points that you should always keep in mind as you attempt to address them.

  1. Complaints about evil assume that there is actual evil in the world.
  2. Every worldview needs to be able to explain it.

It is vitally important that you always keep these two points tied together because every complaint you will ever hear used to argue against God’s existence, or to justify some moral point of view other than the theistic one, violates one of them. The goal (as always) is to show that theism is the most reasonable explanation for the existence of evil in the world and for our ethical solutions to our moral dilemmas.

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The Cries That Bind

Why Doubt Puts Us In Good Company

Twenty years ago, on August 31, 1997, Princess Diana died in a tragic crash in Paris in a car with her boyfriend while her husband and two children waited for her in London. Five days later, Mother Teresa of Calcutta died due to complications that apparently developed after a decades-long battle with heart disease that worsened with her contracting malaria the year prior. Over the next three months Princess Diana graced the covers of the major news magazines Newsweek and others at least nine times. The world grieved. Her story led the evening news every night and her funeral was broadcast live to millions. Sir Elton John even re-wrote a song for her.

Meanwhile, Mother Teresa barely warranted mention in the news tsunami that left her swamped behind the flash and glitz of the princess. This said more about our cultural values than Mother Teresa ever could have said herself.

But this week that changed. Suddenly, Mother Teresa is newsworthy … the lead story no less … cover material. This week Mother Teresa has even supplanted the backwash tsunami of the ten-year remembrance of Diana’s death. But it is not the ten-year remembrance of Mother Teresa that the press has found so marketable. It is not even a belated appreciation for her 60 years of work with the poor and dying in India.

No, what is so tantalizingly important about her now is that she had a “crisis of faith” that has recently been revealed in letters which she had specifically requested not be made public, but rather destroyed. (Funny how the press’s commitment to its sources’ privacy changes from time to time — especially when they can scoop a story like this one). The hook, you see, is that Mother Teresa, a world-renown icon of religious commitment, sometimes questioned her faith.

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Meet J. Warner Wallace

Christian Case-Maker

If you haven’t heard of J. Warner (Jim) Wallace, do yourself a favor and bookmark his website: Cold Case Christianity. It is a fantastic resource, and Jim is a fantastic apologist whose clarity and attitude should inspire us all to “bloom where we’re planted” as defenders of our Christian convictions. Jim is a retired cold-case detective from the Los Angeles police department who has been featured on several segments of NBC’s Dateline for solving murder cases many years after others gave up on them. Jim used to be a self-described “obstinate atheist” who looked at Christianity as a myth and Christian believers as intellectually weak fools.

Then he applied his cold-case detective skills to a study of the Christian faith. The result is that Jim has developed an engaging, unique approach to Christian apologetics.

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Thinking About The “New Atheists”

Engaging The Belief Police

[This is a re-post from several years ago that I think is still completely relevant today]

Two books on the NY Times Best Seller list share a common thesis — that religion in general, and Christianity specifically, is not just wrong, or off-base, or a subject worth debating — but that it is evil, deluded, dangerous, and the righteous target of the thinking man’s scorn. Sam Harris’, “Letter To A Christian Nation,” (# 31 on the list) and Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” (# 14 and on the list for 24 weeks) don’t just want to appeal to their atheistic brethren, but want to question the sanity of religious belief itself and suggest that we would all be more safe if religion were forcibly banished from the public square.

This view of religion is nothing new to Dawkins who, blasting the intolerance of Creationists in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” claimed that …

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

With an incredibly ironic inability to see the intolerance of those two ideas existing in parallel, Dawkins denies any respect to those who happen to disagree with him — and instead offers them nothing but contempt. Disgusted by the proselytizing of religious folk, he engages in a little proselytizing of his own when, on the fifth page of his most recent book he claims that, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

For all the bluster these two claim about their own “healthy” and “vigorous” minds as compared to the mental midgets who oppose them, it is a little too convenient that they fail to even mention the significant input to science and philosophy that has been contributed by theists throughout history. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that most of the greatest scientific minds — Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler — were all devout men who studied the physical universe because they believed it was ordered and a reflection of the mind of God. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the great philosophers throughout history — Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, C.S. Lewis — who were not only Christian theists, but that began as atheists and reasoned their way to faith. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that the Bible itself challenges us to “test everything” and that the scientific revolution began with Christian scientists who did just that.

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Two Knockdown Arguments For God

In a conversation about how we reason to the idea of God as Creator, a student once asked me a great question that I thought others might also find worth thinking about. His question was this:

I have always been curious and bothered by the fact that whenever I ask where God came from I have been given the answer, “He was just always there,” and assume we have won the argument. But that answer doesn’t sit well with me. It seems like a copout. When atheists and scientists are confronted on what came before the ‘Big Bang,’ they’ll respond that it was just matter and energy. If we then ask, “Well then where did the matter and energy come from?” the scientists will respond, “Well they are just there.”

How can we say that the answer, “the matter and energy were always there,” isn’t a suitable answer if we say the same thing about our God? It just doesn’t make very much sense to me. Please offer any insight you might have on this subject. It has been bothering me for a long time.

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The Key To Less Stressful Decision Making

How To Avoid 'God Will Hunting'

It is not uncommon to hear fellow Christians, as they ponder a difficult life decision, agonizing out loud about their sincere desire to “find God’s will for their life.” Their consternation is understandable, especially in an environment where “seeking God’s will” has become the standard method of decision making within the Christian culture. The process can be confusing and terrifying. After all, what if they make the wrong choice by picking the wrong place to live, the wrong job, or, most dauntingly, the wrong spouse? If they marry the wrong person that means that their spouse should have married someone else who in turn also married the wrong person – and the string of wrongly chosen spouses soon multiplies exponentially. Something must be awry in a view that allows the possibility that one wrong decision could lead to consequences of such catastrophic, ungodly proportions. How do we prevent the calamity and avoid the uncertainty? Is decision making really supposed to be this daunting?

Making decisions is hard enough. We certainly do not need to add to it the burden of evaluating our options against a false understanding of whether or not we have properly uncovered the Divine Plan. The simple fact is that any of us can assess our alignment to God’s Will with clear assurance. To understand why this is so, we need only evaluate this commonly accepted way of thinking against a biblical understanding of the nature of God’s will.

“If there really is a perfect will of God we are meant to discover, in which we will find tremendous freedom and fulfillment, why does it seem that everyone looking for God’s will is in such bondage and confusion?”
~ Kevin DeYoungJust Do Something

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Abraham And Easter

Those of us who share the conviction that Christianity is actually true, believe that a reset button got pushed on the first Easter Sunday when the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. No argument about that here.

But, as a result of that mindset, many Christians seem to take that view to mean that the Old Testament was therefore rendered invalid, overridden, or somehow not applicable to how we understand our faith. Beyond citing the creation story or the 10 Commandments once in a while, we seem to have disconnected the Old Testament from the New. But doing so strips the overarching story of the relationship between God and man of much of its meaning. The history we see in the Bible has always been leading somewhere. It’s all about the same God. It’s all one story — and it’s a rich story that gets even richer when you take the time to see the unmistakeable connection between Old and New.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the life and mission of Abraham and the covenants God made with him that foreshadowed everything that would happen thousands of years later. In the story of Abraham we see all there is to understand about The Plan God put in place from the very beginning to save humanity. In Genesis 12:3 we get the biggy — “… all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

All the peoples.

The nation of Israel was a “chosen people” only insofar as from that nation, and from the House of David within that nation, would come the Messiah for all the peoples. Israel was never meant to be the only nation God would save. It was simply the nation through which He would make a way to save Israel and everyone else.

The way He would do it was through a covenant relationship like nothing anyone had ever imagined before. It would be a covenant of law and love that was both conditional and unconditional simultaneously. If that sounds weird, it is. It is “weird” because the God who fashioned it is like no other God and the way in which He offered to save mankind was unlike what any other god could offer. He demonstrated it to Abraham in Genesis 15 when God showed Abraham the meaning of Easter.*

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Fast Food

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about his own personal tradition of fasting during the Lenten season leading up to the celebration of Easter. He said that the impact the experience had on him the first year he attempted it was powerful and had led him to continue the practice every year since. He didn’t tell me what he meant by “powerful” but he challenged me to give it a try.

Coincidentally, I had been considering doing exactly that, though on a much smaller scale than he suggested. My friend had researched the issue and found that the original practice of the monks who instituted Lenten fasting was to fast every day except Sunday for the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. The monks apparently believed that Sunday, being a day of rest, should also include resting from the practice of fasting. So, though he was not in any way Catholic, my friend had decided to do the same thing. He suggested that instead of going directly to a full-blown fast, I should wean my way into it by eating only fruits and vegetables for the first week. He told me this on the day before Lent began.

The next morning (after breakfast), I decided that instead of just teaching and talking about the spiritual disciplines (you will find a good summary of what they are in a blog series by Ken Boa here: Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I might actually try putting them into practice. And so, almost on a whim, I vowed to give it a shot. I had no idea what I had signed up for.

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Mind Boggling Silence

There are two basic views (and some sub-categories of each) about how to understand the relationship between the brain and the mind. The first, physicalismsays that the mind is nothing more than an extension of the brain. The second, dualism, says that the mind and brain are different things altogether.

Physicalism insists that there is no difference between the mind and the brain — that the “mind” is simply a way to refer to the results of chemical processes that go on in the neural network controlled by the gray matter between your ears.

“According to strict physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties and events … The physical substance called the brain has physical properties such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition and so forth … when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely particular physical events — events where certain C-fibers are firing or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system.”*

Since thoughts and feelings are nothing but physical events that result from electrical impulses between neural cells, we can actually connect electrodes to the brain, stimulate it in different ways, and observe which area of the brain “lights up.” We can manipulate that area of the brain with surgery or chemicals and thereby alter behavior, or at least understand what made you act the way you did when you felt sad, or angry, or happy, or attracted to a mate.

Once we know where our different behaviors and inclinations reside, we are well on our way to solving all the mysteries of the origin and operation of imagination, concepts, thoughts, instincts, and morality. Since these are nothing but different kinds of chemical reactions, and “free will” is really nothing but an illusion about the responses the chemicals in your brain have to various inputs from physical events that preceded the actions you take, neuroscientists like will soon be able to explain and control each of them.

You are your brain and your brain is a computer made of meat.

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In A “Perfect” World

We recently had a great discussion with some good friends whose first grade son is just becoming exposed to the differences between the Old Earth (OE) and Young Earth (YE) Creationism. This is not an easy topic to confront with a first grader, but parents must be prepared and equipped to face it. Talking about it reminded me of one of my favorite books so I thought I’d try to summarize a thorny issue.

At its core, the OE/YE debate is about how we view the relationship between science and theology. There is a methodical way to think about that relationship that I have discussed elsewhere but here I’d like to address an internal, theological aspect of the OE/YE debate: “Death before the Fall” of Adam and Eve. I want to say that even though I hold a different view, I greatly respect the YE stridency on this topic because it is vitally important. It strikes at the heart of the entire plan of salvation.

At the center of this issue is the answer to the question about what God meant when He declared His creation “very good” in Genesis 1:31. On the YE view, there is no room for interpretation of this phrase. YE proponents insist that the OE view violates a central doctrine of the Christian faith. They reason that if there was already death in the world God created, that would negate the very reason that Christ died on the cross. As I said, I have great empathy for their concern here.

These are serious issues and they deserve to be answered. I applaud and accept the challenge of the YE side on this because I fully understand their reluctance to accept the obvious OE implication that if the Earth had been around for a few billion years before Adam and Eve showed up, there would have been a whole lot of “death before the fall.” If the YE view is correct about the meaning of “very good” and the implications of death before the fall, the OE view would necessarily be false. We need to be very clear, and very careful, about how we approach this issue.

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