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A short lunchtime presentation to the RTS Charlotte students, followed by Q&A.
Neil Postman, writing three decades ago, in Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin Books, 1986):
In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action. Of course, in any communication environment, input (what one is informed about) always exceeds output (the possibilities of action based on information). But the situation created by telegraphy, and then exacerbated by later technologies, made the relationship between information and action both abstract and remote. For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.
You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha’is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them. You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into—what else?—another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing. (pp. 68-69)
Prior to the 1984 presidential elections, the two candidates confronted each other on television in what were called “debates.” These events were not in the least like the Lincoln-Douglas debates or anything else that goes by the name. Each candidate was given five minutes to address such questions as, What is (or would be) your policy in Central America? His opposite number was then given one minute for a rebuttal. In such circumstances, complexity, documentation and logic can play no role, and, indeed, on several occasions syntax itself was abandoned entirely. It is no matter. The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with “giving off” impressions, which is what television does best. Post-debate commentary largely avoided any evaluation of the candidates’ ideas, since there were none to evaluate. Instead, the debates were conceived as boxing matches, the relevant question being, Who KO’d whom? The answer was determined by the “style” of the men—how they looked, fixed their gaze, smiled, and delivered one-liners. In the second debate, President Reagan got off a swell one-liner when asked a question about his age. The following day, several newspapers indicated that Ron had KO’d Fritz with his joke. Thus, the leader of the free world is chosen by the people in the Age of Television. (p. 97)
How far things have come since 1986!
Good question! I offer my answer, over eight chapters and a couple of hundred pages, in the second volume of the recently launched Christian Focus series, The Big Ten: Critical Questions Answered. The new book — ingeniously titled Why Should I Believe Christianity? — is basically an introductory exposition and defense of the biblical Christian worldview, but with some distinctive features (on which, see below). In this post, I’ll summarize the content of the book for anyone who might be interested to read it or give it to a non-Christian friend.
Chapter 1 (“Why Believe?”) considers the general question, Why should I believe anything at all? Simply put: we should believe something if it’s true, and we generally determine whether something is true by way of reasons (which can take different forms). We should aim to have beliefs that are objectively true, rather than beliefs that are (say) comfortable, desirable, or fashionable. The chapter also briefly addresses the epistemological cul-de-sacs of relativism and skepticism.
Chapter 2 (“The Big Picture”) seeks to explain why Christianity should be evaluated as an entire worldview: as a comprehensive, integrated, self-contained, self-defining perspective on everything that exists and matters to us. I explain what a worldview is, why worldviews matter, why only one worldview can be true, and how we can apply four ‘tests’ for evaluating worldviews in order to identify that one true worldview.
Chapter 3 (“Christianity as a Worldview”) sets out a summary of the Christian worldview along familiar lines: God, creation, mankind, fall, revelation, salvation, and consummation (“the final chapter”). One of my aims here is to explain the biblical worldview in ‘ordinary’ language (as far as that’s possible!) and in a way that communicates the internal coherence of that worldview.
Chapter 4 (“God is There”) makes a case for the central tenet of the Christian worldview — the existence of the personal creator God of the Bible — based on six features of our everyday lives that we all take for granted: existence, values, morality, reason, mind, and science. I also suggest that while God’s existence can be demonstrated through reasoned arguments, such arguments aren’t necessary in order to know that God exists, because his existence is plainly evident from his creation (Romans 1:19-20).
Chapter 5 (“God is Not Silent”) contends that if a personal creator God exists then he would speak to us, and that God has in fact spoken to us through the prophetic scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. (You’ll have to get the book to find out how I make that argument!) Along the way I explain why, when it comes to divinely inspired scriptures, we should favor the Christian view over the alternative views of Judaism and Islam. I close out the chapter with an appeal to the ‘expert’ testimony of Jesus.
Chapter 6 (“God With Us”) focuses on the true identity of Jesus. Here I make a fairly traditional case for the deity of Christ, appealing primarily to his own testimony and that of his disciples, but also drawing on other confirming evidences. One feature of the argument is that it connects the incarnation with the other tenets of a Christian worldview, highlighting again its inner coherence. The chapter finishes by addressing a common objection, namely, that a divine incarnation is logically impossible and therefore can be dismissed regardless of the supposed evidence.
Chapter 7 (“Defying Death”) explains why Christians believe in the resurrection of Christ and how that essential article of the Christian faith fits into the broader biblical worldview. After dealing with some common objections to miracles, I argue that it’s reasonable to believe in the resurrection and unreasonable to accept any of the various naturalistic alternatives.
Chapter 8 (“What Now?”) ties together the various threads of argument in the preceding chapters and leaves the unbeliever with a challenge: If not Christianity, then what? There must be some worldview that corresponds to reality and makes sense of our experiences of the world. If it isn’t the Christian worldview, which worldview is it? There’s certainly a fence between Christianity and its competitors, but it isn’t one you can sit on.
The following is a guest post by Dan Johnson, associate professor of philosophy at Shawnee State University and co-editor of the recently published Calvinism and the Problem of Evil.
The Central Argument in Walls’ New Book Against Calvinism is Logically Invalid
The argument that lies at the heart of Jerry Walls’ recent book Does God Love Everyone? What’s Wrong With Calvinism is reproduced here:
- God truly loves all persons.
- Not all persons will be saved.
- Truly to love someone is to desire their well-being and to promote their true flourishing as much as one properly can.
- The well-being and true flourishing of all persons is to be found in a right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey him.
- God could give all persons “irresistible grace” and thereby determine all persons to freely accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.
- Therefore, all persons will be saved. (p. 30)
He points out that the argument results in a contradiction (between premise 2 and the conclusion, 6), though he could have just as easily removed premise 2 and just noted that the argument proves something Calvinists reject. He says that Arminians reject 5, but since 5 is an obvious implication of Calvinism and Calvinists also accept 2 and 4, Calvinists have to reject 1 or 3.
Walls treats this argument like it is a logically valid argument. He calls it a “logical argument,” and he thinks you need to deny one of the premises in order to avoid the conclusion of the argument: “Now Calvinists and Arminians generally agree that 2 is true and is clearly taught in Scripture. Therefore, both sides will deny the conclusion (number 6) that says “all persons will be saved.” But here is the question: which of the other premises will you reject if you deny that all are saved? Will you deny 1, or 3, or 4 or 5?” (p. 31) Only logically valid arguments – arguments where it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false – are such that you must deny a premise in order to avoid endorsing the conclusion of the argument. With invalid arguments it is possible for all the premises to be true while the conclusion remains false. So Walls must think this is a logically valid argument.
The novelty of the New Atheism lies not in the originality or rigor of its arguments against God and religion, but in the moral indignation of its advocates. Religious beliefs in general, and Christian doctrines in particular, are criticized not merely as false and irrational but as immoral and harmful. Richard Dawkins once characterized Roman Catholicism as “a disease of the mind which has a particular epidemiology similar to that of a virus.” Sam Harris has on numerous occasions expressed his concern that “fundamentalist Christianity” is hindering scientific and moral progress (which, in his mind, are much the same thing). The late Christopher Hitchens famously opined, with characteristic hyperbole, that “religion poisons everything.”
William Edgar begs to differ. In his latest book Does Christianity Really Work? (the first volume in the new Christian Focus apologetics series The Big Ten) Edgar argues that the teachings and practices of biblical Christianity have been an undeniable force for good in the world, despite the serious failings of those who have professed to be followers of Christ. Furthermore, the Christian faith offers the moral and spiritual resources to overcome every trial and temptation that the world can throw at us. Edgar highlights the significant role Christianity has played in peace-making efforts around the world, in social reform through the centuries, and in the development and provision of health care. He also reflects with pastoral wisdom on more ‘existential’ issues: the quandary of unanswered prayer, the problem of those who “fall away” from the faith, and the challenges presented by “besetting sins” such as pornography use and drug addiction.
Christianity may tell a great story and make big promises, but can it actually deliver the goods in practice? Does it really work? While honest about the failures of the Christian church and the realities of life in a broken world, Edgar’s book nevertheless offers a persuasive answer in the affirmative.
Dr. Edgar offers to all a Christianity of logic, truth and transcendence—an ultimate balm that will both heal and protect against the harsh realities of life. He does not hesitate to confront the difficult questions that challenge our faith in times of doubt while also giving his readers a vision of a society transformed by Christian leadership. — Al Sikes, Former Chairman, FCC, and author of Culture Leads Leaders Follow
From now on, when skeptics ask, ‘Where in the world has Christianity done any good,’ we have a powerful and convincing reply in my friend, William Edgar’s newest book. Bill debunks myths and blows the dust off of little known historical facts about the impact of the Gospel in a hurting world, giving the reader a solid grasp on the positive influence of Christian principles during the darkest of times. Best of all, Does Christianity Really Work? is a guide to us as we promote
peace, joy, and justice in our broken world. For our times and all times, I highly recommend this remarkable book. — Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni and Friends International Disability Center
William Edgar addresses one of the main questions that sceptics and seekers have about Christianity—does it actually work? Looking at some issues from a positive perspective (the good that Christianity has done, and continues to do) and others from a negative (the alleged harm it is supposed to have brought), Edgar gives reasoned, evidenced and clear answers. This is a good primer for the seeker or the sceptic. — David Robertson, Pastor, St Peter’s Free Church of Scotland, Dundee, and Trustee of SOLAS, Centre for Public Christianity
I’m delighted to announce the launch of a new apologetics series from Christian Focus Publications entitled The Big Ten: Critical Questions Answered. The goal of the series is to offer credible answers to some of the most pressing questions asked by skeptics and other non-Christians in the Western world. As the series title indicates, there are ten books planned in total, each addressing a different question. The series is being co-edited by yours truly and Greg Welty, associate professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. (On a personal note, it’s a privilege to work on this project with Dr. Welty, who is not only an outstanding Christian scholar but also a dear friend.)
The books are pitched at educated, thoughtful laypersons, providing answers to the title questions that are both intellectually robust and theologically orthodox, while avoiding (where possible) Christian jargon and technical philosophical discussions. Written in a conversational style, the books are addressed to unbelievers but will also prove (we hope) to be a useful and edifying resource for believers. Indeed, our desire is that Christians will read them and think, “These would be perfect to give to my non-Christian friends and colleagues who are asking those very questions.”
The first two books in the series have just been released: Does Christianity Really Work? by William Edgar, and my own contribution, Why Should I Believe Christianity? I plan to post separately about these two volumes over the next few days.
Our goal moving forward is to see two books published each year (although the usual caveats about “the best laid plans” apply here as they do anywhere else!).
Here are ten titles in the series, with the contracted authors:
- Does Christianity Really Work? (William Edgar)
- Why Should I Believe Christianity? (James N. Anderson)
- Why Is There Evil in the World (And So Much of It)? (Greg Welty)
- Hasn’t Science Shown That We Don’t Need God? (Alistair Donald)
- Is There Really Only One Way to God? (Daniel Strange)
- Why Do I Personally Experience Evil and Suffering? (Mark Talbot)
- Why Does the God of the Old Testament Seem So Violent and Hateful? (Richard P. Belcher, Jr.)
- Why Should I Trust the Bible? (TBD)
- How Could a Loving God Send Anyone to Hell? (TBD)
- If Christianity Is So Good, Why Are Christians So Bad? (TBD)
Our hope and prayer is that Christ will be glorified and his kingdom extended through this series of apologetics resources.
The book Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, edited by David Alexander and Daniel Johnson, and to which I contributed the essay “Calvinism and the First Sin,” has finally been published. Go here for more details. For some reason the table of contents isn’t provided on the publisher’s website, so here it is:
- Introduction (David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson)
- Calvinism and the Problem of Evil: A Map of the Territory (Daniel M. Johnson)
- Molinist Gunslingers: God and the Authorship of Sin (Greg Welty)
- Theological Determinism and the “Authoring Sin” Objection (Heath White)
- Not the Author of Evil: A Question of Providence, Not a Problem for Calvinism (James E. Bruce)
- Orthodoxy, Theological Determinism, and the Problem of Evil (David E. Alexander)
- Discrimination: Aspects of God’s Causal Activity (Paul Helm)
- On Grace and Free Will (Hugh J. McCann)
- The First Sin: A Dilemma for Christian Determinists (Alexander R. Pruss)
- Calvinism and the First Sin (James N. Anderson)
- A Compatibicalvinist Demonstrative-Goods Defense (Christopher R. Green)
- Calvinism and the Problem of Hell (Matthew J. Hart)
- Calvinism, Self-Attestation, and Apathy Toward Arguments From Evil (Anthony Bryson)
I haven’t read all of the other contributors’ essays yet, but the two I have read, by Dan Johnson and Greg Welty, are excellent. (Welty’s essay in particular is a real doozie.)
For a further taster, check out the Google Books preview.
Atheism and Amoralism
On April 1, 2010, ethicist Joel Marks sat at his computer and wrote a confession to the readers of his column “Moral Moments” which had been a regular feature in the magazine Philosophy Now for a decade. His confession was not that he had done something immoral. No, his confession was that he could not have done anything immoral, at any time, because it turns out that there really is no such thing as morality. Or so he had come to conclude. The author of “Moral Moments” had come out of the closet as an ‘amoralist’. As he puts it in the first part of his “Amoral Manifesto”:
[T]his philosopher has long been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely, that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t.
Marks immediately proceeds to explain the reasoning behind his “shocking epiphany” (bold added):
The long and the short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality. I call the premise of this argument ‘hard atheism’ because it is analogous to a thesis in philosophy known as ‘hard determinism.’ The latter holds that if metaphysical determinism is true, then there is no such thing as free will. Thus, a ‘soft determinist’ believes that, even if your reading of this column right now has followed by causal necessity from the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago, you can still meaningfully be said to have freely chosen to read it. Analogously, a ‘soft atheist’ would hold that one could be an atheist and still believe in morality. And indeed, the whole crop of ‘New Atheists’ … are softies of this kind. So was I, until I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.
You get the point: the New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, are “soft atheists” because they deny God yet still want to affirm moral realism. The problem is that their position isn’t a coherent, stable one, because it seeks to affirm some phenomenon — in this case, objective moral norms — while denying the one metaphysical framework that could plausibly account for that phenomenon. Marks summarizes how he reasoned his way from “soft atheism” to “hard atheism”:
Why do I now accept hard atheism? I was struck by salient parallels between religion and morality, especially that both avail themselves of imperatives or commands, which are intended to apply universally. In the case of religion, and most obviously theism, these commands emanate from a Commander; “and this all people call God,” as Aquinas might have put it. The problem with theism is of course the shaky grounds for believing in God. But the problem with morality, I now maintain, is that it is in even worse shape than religion in this regard; for if there were a God, His issuing commands would make some kind of sense. But if there is no God, as of course atheists assert, then what sense could be made of there being commands of this sort? In sum, while theists take the obvious existence of moral commands to be a kind of proof of the existence of a Commander, i.e., God, I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality.
In some respects, Marks’ confession shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, theists have been making the same kind of argument — no God, no morality — for aeons. Moreover, a number of influential atheists have already “made the good confession”: Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, J. L. Mackie, and (more recently) Alex Rosenberg.
So I’m not going to dwell here on what I think should be reasonably evident to those who reflect on the metaphysical foundations of morality. Instead, I want to focus on some comments Marks makes in the second part of his “Amoral Manifesto” which, while tangential to his concerns, I find to be quite revealing and hugely significant. For what Marks hints at in these later remarks is that a consistent atheist ought to be not only an amoralist who denies objective moral norms but also an arationalist who denies objective rational norms.