Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Running and Relativism

I know, these two topics seem unrelated, but I'll try to explain.  First off I want to preface this entry with my intentions here.  Specifically, I am not here to proselytize you to any particular view.  In fact if anything, this is just a rant and a rather random observation.

As you may or may not know, I've been a barefoot/minimalist runner for about seven years and a runner in general for almost twenty years.  I'm not saying this to boast, but to give my background to show that I have an idea and know a bit about running.  I know, being a lifelong runner doesn't really make one an expert, but let's just leave it at, I know running and barefoot running.  I've been noticing a trend when people ask for advice about shoes and I recommend barefoot running.  They say something like "that's not for me," or "that might be fine for you" or something similar.  Anything seem familiar about those kinds of statements?  To me they sound just like things one might hear in a discussion about truth objective morality versus relativistic morality.  Is there really a right or wrong way to run?  I'd say there's no clear cut answer to that question, but one thing is certain, there is such a thing as a more natural way to run.

Does natural equal better?  I wouldn't say for certain, but I can say that millions of people all around the world spend millions of dollars (more than they really have to spend) to buy things that are "natural."  If you don't believe that check out Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, dōTERRA, Lemongrass Spa, Norwex, MovNat, and many many others!  All these retailers seek to capitalize on the overwhelming sense that most people have that natural = better.  All other things being equal (particularly price), wouldn't you pick the natural alternative over a chemical/synthetic/artificial option?  So, with regards to the question of barefoot/minimalist running/walking/living, tell me what would be more "natural."  I understand, we, especially in the West, fight an uphill battle against our nurture.  Many (probably almost everyone) since the 1980s have been indoctrinated into the idea that barefootedness is unsafe.  Like the mom in A Christmas Story, we're told not that, "you'll shoot your eye out," but that you'll cut your foot if you walk around barefoot.

I won't lie, there is a definite danger of cutting your foot, but I'll be honest, in my seven years (including a half-marathon) of barefootedness I've only cut my foot a handful of times and every time it hasn't been serious.  In fact the worst cut I ever got was when I was a teenager swimming barefoot and exploring an island in Michigan.  That one hurt (it was right on the arch) and seemed to last forever.  But, in reality the danger is minimal (pun intended)!  When you walk or run barefoot you're much more attentive than you are normally and your footfall is such that you don't drag your feet across the ground.  Even if you do step directly on a piece of glass you still probably won't cut your foot.

The key in all this is, I think, twofold indoctrination.  First, the whole it's dangerous thing, with glass and nails and rocks etc etc etc.  The second and I think more difficult portion of our indoctrination is the "I have low arches" or "I overpronate/supinate" or something similar.  Basically, and I blame shoe companies, we're taught from the moment we think about starting running, that everyone's foot and gait are totally different and each person needs a special shoe to deal with that difference.  While there is a real difference in how everyone walks/runs, and that can make a difference when it comes to speed or style/gait one runs with.  These differences do nothing to undermine the foundational truth that we are all fundamentally built the virtually same.  Obviously this excludes people born with deformities or various handicaps, I'm not saying there aren't abnormalities.  I'm saying that fundamentally humans are all born with the same basic bone and muscle structures.  If one has a "flat foot" or a "fallen arch" do you think that person was born with that or did that happen over time?  Does the person with flat feet have the same basic number of bones/joints/ligaments/tendons/muscles in his or her feet?  YES!  I'm not a medical professional and I haven't done direct research on why people have flat feet, but I can assure you no amount of flat-footedness will change whether or not that person can walk/run barefoot.  Whether you believe in God directly creating humans or evolution through natural unguided evolutionary process humans came to be what they are today, it doesn't matter.  Humans naturally are barefoot.

Let's bring this back around to the relativism issue.  People assume that these differences (which I feel are more the result of shoe company indoctrination) somehow preclude them from the truth that barefootedness is more natural.  If that one thing is true and true for everyone then why not follow the truth?  Perhaps people don't really want truth.  I know in all my discussions with atheists about things relating to God they definitely don't seem honest in their seeking of the truth.  I even recently read about Jerry Coyne's "conversion story" to atheism.  I think in both the shoe-wearing world and in the atheist world, sticking one's head in the sand to avoid the truth is much more comfortable than dealing with the truth.  It is more comfortable and easy to say, "well, that's true for you but not for me," than to really address one's views and look for the answers.  Is it more reasonable to believe this or that?

For more info about barefooting check out this book.  For more about how belief in God is more reasonable that atheism check out this book (there are many others but that is my main suggestion today).

It's kinda hard to see, but that's an octopus.  We found it on our last snorkeling outing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

On the Existential Argument for God

First, I'd like to point out that I very much dislike any existential argument, somewhat related to the argument from desire (for God or anything else).  They're very much appeals to the populous.  And, while there is a point to be made, I hope I make it as we go, I dislike appeals to popular opinion.  Just because a large group of people feel such-and-such does not say anything to the truth of that feeling.

As a bit of background: I was doing some searching for existential arguments when I happened upon this page from "Common Sense Atheism."  This article written by Luke Muehlhauser is a response to an article by Tawa Anderson on "Apologetics 315," and I decided to respond to both of them here.

The first of Tawa’s arguments for God and the one that I want to discuss here is "Can Man Live Without God? An Existential Argument from Human Religiosity.”  Luke points out: "Tawa notes that every ancient and medieval culture was highly religious, and that 'there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.'"  However, Luke has no (real) response.  He only scoffs, "Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you."  Will they?  This article and this article from the New York Post and this article from the Guardian, all tell very different stories about Scandinavian happiness than seems to be touted in the atheist blogosphere.  The basic points in those articles are that Scandinavians are actually among the saddest people in the world, it's the social norm there to conform and claim happiness and uniformity above all else.  Sure they might be among the best educated in the world, as Luke seems to fall into the confusion between causation and correlation as he blogs on this topic quite frequently.  Let's not assume that just because they're unhappy atheists that that is why they are highly educated or vice versa.  Perhaps education and atheism are only corollarily related.

After scoffing and wrongfully claiming that Scandinavians are happy atheists, Luke moves on to an appeal to the majority in the educated world: "Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you.  (More scoffing/emphasis added.)  Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you."  Again not really an argument just mocking scorn.  But, since he's gone there let's play the numbers, and if we're playing we might as well play big right?  On Luke's other post about the causes of atheism he references this statistic: "non-believers skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900 to 918 million in 2000, or 0.2% of world population in 1900 to 15.3% in 2000" from this source.  So, given approximately 10,000 years of recorded human history the largest percentage ever recorded was a measly 15.3%!?  I am not a mathematician (I'm a linguist), but even I can tell that the incredibly vast majority of human beings throughout the entirety of human history were definitely religious, at least in some fashion.  If anything this supposedly educated majority of people that are happy atheists is completely false given simple statistics.  Also, let's look at educated religious people.  This interesting article on "Examiner.com" counts some of the top IQs ever tested as being Christians or at least theists.  Maybe the test is skewed to allow for a religious person to score higher (that was sarcasm!)?

So let's go back to Luke's only critique so far, "The claim that 'there is … a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God' is empirically false."  Is it?  We've shown clearly that trillions of people throughout history have had a desire for the ultimate, the other-worldly, the infinite.  But, because there's been a jump in atheism in the past hundred years or so the claim that most people have a desire for God is "empirically false"?  Perhaps Luke is misunderstanding the definition of empirically false.  How is this argument "a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity"?  It's a verifiable claim from history that most people want to connect with God.  This verifiable fact implies that there is a hunger deep within humanity.  What are we to make of this hunger?  CS Lewis uses the analogy of one's hunger for food.  If an animal was born without the hunger for food, that organism would die within one generation.  Why are we still living with this desire if it's genetically disadvantageous to desire God, why is it still here?  If it's genetically disadvantageous to desire moral actions why do we still have those desires as well?  Luke's "critique" falls flat.

Luke's prejudice is clear when he calls belief in God "lies" that we ought to leave behind.  Claiming that "meaning and morality and happiness ... is available without fear and superstition (again a sign of prejudice), that is when they leave childish (and again) and comforting notions about gods behind."  I'm genuinely confused here though.  In the very next paragraph Luke claims that religion "thrives on existential insecurity," but he just said that it's "childish and comforting."  How can it be both comforting and full of insecurity?  Again a weak critique here because it's internally inconsistent.  Supposedly religion is childish and comforting, yet it seeks to unsettle its adherents.  Apparently this one book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, is Luke's bible and much of his blogging apparently is founded on it.  It may have something interesting to say, but so far based on Luke's comments reflecting what it says, I'm not impressed.  That book claims that "Religion does not provide existential security – instead, it thrives on existential insecurity. It thrives on poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk."  And, that "the poorest nations in the world are the most religious," to which I wonder if this took into account the difference in wealth between Islamic countries and Christian or (post-Christian countries) or atheist nation-states like China.  Also, in a sense this is to be expected!  "When people live in a society that already provides them with [any] security ... [that has] stability and safety and education and health care ..." etc. etc. "then people don't need (or want) gods anymore."  (Quotes taken from the blog not from the book.)  Of course, if you lacked nothing in your life, would you want something more?  Oh wait that's the hallmark of the rich!  They become rich because they want more and more.  I found this interesting quote in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, (I do NOT recommend the book in general, this is merely a quote) "The change in purchasing power over the last half century in the wealthy nations carries the same message: real purchasing power has more than doubled in the United States, France, and Japan, but life satisfaction has changed not a whit."  Even Jesus taught this concept in Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25.  Why would one think that people with money and security would want God?  They already have security and all the "happiness" that money can buy, which if they're honest isn't really all that much.  Apply this on a societal scale and see a similar result.  If the government supplies all the money, food, health, lodging you could ever want why would you look to God for anything.  That worked so well in the Soviet Union (again with the sarcasm).  So what can we conclude from this?  Safety and security provided by the state quickly and quietly errodes religion (particularly the weak, liberal religions that seek to appease society rather than God).  Scandinavia is the poster child for this.  As the weak, socially watered-down church there stopped appealing to God it became less and less appealing to people as their physical needs were all met by the socialist state.

This last bit is obvious and the clearest indicator that Luke has no understanding of the argument being discussed: "Does my yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy suggest that I will be? Alas, no. Wishful thinking does not indicate truth."  That is not what the existential argument is saying whatsoever.  The argument does not say that wishing for God makes God exist.  It says, there is an overwhelming desire within humanity for the divine.  Therefore, there probably is something to that desire and the best explanation is that God put that desire in us.  The argument is not saying that wishful thinking makes it so.  Luke's critiques present a clearly flawed view and a deep misunderstanding of the argument in general.  As I said, I don't particularly like the existential argument(s) for God, but Luke Muehlhauser clearly doesn't understand them.  There is a big difference between not liking or thinking that an argument is ineffective and misunderstanding an argument and poorly critiquing it.

One last thing and this is more for my own edification than anything else.  I'd like to try to put the (correct) argument in a syllogism.

P1) The vast majority of humanity has had a desire for God
P2) People *generally* do not persist in desires that have no possibility of being fulfilled
C1) There *probably* is a God

From my recent trip to Korea

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Educational Responsibility

So I recently got into a rather heated discussion about this with a friend. The question I've devised, related to our discussion is this: Who is at fault when the student misunderstands the presented material?

This dicussion revolved around Sexual Assault Response and Prevention training that we are required to attend rather frequently. I won't give the full discussion but it went something like this:

Me: We were taught X in training.
Friend: No, that's not what the training says. I am and have been a trainer for that program for 3+ years.
Me: I know the most recent training was different but I've definitely been trained X in the past.
Fr: Well then you messed up. You're at fault for misunderstanding.

I COMPLETELY disagree. Then my friend said that I was shifting blame.

Before I go into why I disagree I want to make something crystal-clear. I DO NOT blame any teacher for students' bad grades. In most, or at least many, educational situations the concept, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink," applies. If the teacher teaches a list of 1,000 facts, and the student is responsible for regurgitating 100 of those facts on a test, when the student doesn't memorize the facts through thorough study, it is COMPLETELY the student's fault. The situation in question is different in many ways.

In situations wherein there is a reasonable chance of misunderstanding, or in situations wherein the teacher actually makes a mistake the responsibility falls mainly on the teacher to rectify the mistake. In the former, the teacher should not hold the student responsible, because it is up to the teacher to verify that everyone understands. Now, in this type of situation it's somewhat the student's fault. The student should engage in active learning. He/she should be actively asking questions to verify the message. In the situation in question someone DID ask questions and the teacher repeated/confirmed the message, X that I recall. In the latter situation, when the teacher legitimately makes a mistake, the student could still be at least somewhat at fault, but it is primarily--well, pretty much 99% the teacher's fault. The reason it could be somewhat on the student's shoulders is, in the course of reviewing/studying, the student should have found the truth and come to the teacher for clarification.

The training in question here was a perfect storm of failure. The trainer/teacher was an authority on the matter (well sort of) and when he/she made a mistake no one challenged the trainer with the truth. Hence I had the wrong information, and it falls on the trainer, not me. If you know me in person you'll know I don't have a problem saying, "I'm wrong," or ''I'm sorry."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Three

Based on my post back in December about trying to break my writer's block (obviously it didn't work), I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one and here for part two, this is the third point:

There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

This is a tough one to tackle in a whole blog entry because I totally agree.  Thomas Aquinas and others' "prime mover" argument for God really only gets to the first point of theism.  However, if just this initial part of the argument stands, at the very least atheism is false.

P1) All things that begin to exist have a cause for their existence
P2) The universe began to exist
C1) The universe has a cause

That is just the beginning of the argument.  That only gets to the point that there is some sort of God that created the universe.  That basic argument does not get us to the Christian God.  However, if we add these next few premises we can come to that conclusion:

P3) The cause for the material universe cannot be material itself
P4) The cause for the material universe cannot be with the scope of time
C2) The best description of such a Being is found within Christianity

Also, there is a long and complex argument for Christianity from historical facts:

P4) If Christ rose from the dead, He is God incarnate
P5) Christ rose from the dead (and there is historical evidence to support this)
C3) Christ, as revealed in the Bible is God (the God described above)

So there you have it; there is a gap between natural/general and revealed/special revelation, but it is not a huge gap and easy to cross.  Show me another religion that can claim anything near as powerful as the arguments for Christianity and I'll at least give it some thought.  Though I've done quite a bit of comparative religious studies and I've found other views wanting.

Denominational differences are another question altogether and doesn't belong in this particular discussion, so I'll leave that for another day.

Photo credit goes to my beautiful wife, Michelle Ronicker

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Freedom of Speech

Before I get started let me say "I'm sorry."  I know I probably don't really have regular readers, but if I do, I know I haven't posted regularly since December!  I've had writer's block and then I went on a business trip in January and started classes.  Now my classes are over and I'm going to try to get back into blogging more.

It may seem odd to you, what with a title like "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness," that I don't often blog about political ideas.  I know, sometimes I think I ought to change the name of my blog to reflect my thoughts, but in a sense I feel that regardless of my specific topic, it always falls under those liberties.  However, today I want to talk about something I've been thinking about for a couple days now, the freedom of speech.

As with all rights, I feel that this right also ends when it infringes on someone else's rights.  Some may claim that my position on abortion doesn't make sense in light of my position on the death penalty, but in the sense that one's right to life ends when it infringes on someone else's right to life it makes perfect sense (at least to me).  The freedom of speech though is a bit tougher concept though.  In a literal sense one's speech cannot ever really infringe on someone's right to life/speech/etc., unless you count someone simply yelling so loud that no one else is able to speak at all.  In the light of the Charlie Hebdo incident, this debate about the freedom of speech including the right to offend, and this debate about liberals stifling intellectual diversity on campus; I've had to rethink what it means to infringe on one's freedom of speech.  First, is hate speech a thing?  Does it exist and what does it look like?  Second, how can one infringe on another's right to speech with speech?  Can that ever happen? And third, are there other ways to infringe on freedom of speech and expression?  Can and does that happen?

So, hate speech, what is it?  Should the government regulate/restrict it?  What about decency?  Should the government regulate that?  Wikipedia has two definitions that are quite significantly different: "[O]utside the law, speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation."  That definition is way too broad, it's basically saying, hate speech is any bigoted communication.  Is saying that you dislike someone because of X characteristic wrong?  That seems clearly covered in free speech.  If you want free speech you have to be willing to sometimes be offended.  Offensive speech is not and should not be defined and enforced by law.  It's a slippery slope to over-censorship.  The second definition is better: "In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by certain characteristics." (emphasis added)  If I say, "So-and-So (S&S) is a jerk."  I'm not using hate speech!  That, by itself is not hate speech.  If I say, "S&S is a jerk and you ought to hate S&S too, S&S did this, that, and the other (all true), so you need to get on board with hating S&S.  If you don't hate S&S you're wrong.  S&S is evil incarnate, etc. etc."  That seems pretty clear cut to me, that is hate speech.  I'm encouraging and even shaming you into hating or treating S&S in a particularly bad way.  Notice what I didn't include there.  If I say S&S is doing some sin, like homosexuality or stealing etc.  That is not hate speech.  Perhaps it borders on indecent speech, as in, I don't walk up to people every day and confront them in their sin.  In fact if you do, you're not following the Bible's guidelines on that, as Christians are supposed to confront other Christians on their sins, not non-Christians.  That's not to say that sermons and evangelists ought not talk about the doctrines around sin, it's just that evangelism in a sense doesn't really need to tell people that they're sinners.  Romans 1:18, 19 makes it clear that people, really, deep down know when they sin.  It may be offensive to some of you, but really think about what you've done in your life and I'm sure you'll see that every time you've done something that is wrong, deep down you knew it was so and felt remorse for doing it.  (This does not necessarily include psychopaths, that's an issue for another discuss/time.)

So, hate speech is when someone incites or tries to incite hatred and mistreatment of a person or group of people.  Saying someone has sinned is not hatred.  Indeed if you think about the message of the Gospel, it's one of the most loving things a person can do.  But I digress.  The next (and arguably more important) question is, "Should the government regulate/enforce hate speech laws?"  Before I get started on this, don't say, "you can't legislate morality."  That's complete crap.  All legislation, even seemingly unrelated legislative acts, are a form of legislating morality.  So, in a sense I'd be perfectly happy with legislated speech, but in another sense that scares me quite a bit.  If you listen to second debate I mentioned above, about liberals stifling intellectual freedom on campus, you'll hear arguments that on campuses all around the U.S. liberals are trampling on the freedom of speech.  That's one of my fears on this issue.  I know that rights, once given up to the government, will never be gotten back.  And, if the government is going to restrict free speech, it will most likely err on the side of liberal ideals.  There should be at least some limitation on speech, hate speech should certainly be treated as different than free speech.  I certainly don't have a problem with the right to free speech including a certain amount of offensive speech, but there should be a limit.  I don't want the government to draw that line though.  If people would have more self restraint, we wouldn't need government intervention.

Let's look at infringements on free speech.  As I often repeat, one's rights end where they infringe on another's rights, but that's much more nuanced when it comes to speech.  In a very literal sense there's not really a way to use one's speech to restrict someone else's free speech (excluding the already mentioned possibility of using a super megaphone).  However, there is a way of using one's speech to minimize or marginalize someone to the point that they are not able to speak freely.  Say for example, people call me a bigot or intolerant so much that I'm no longer respected (not that I'm really all that respected).  Those people can use their freedom to speak their mind (even in an offensive way), to the extreme point that restricts my freedom to express my opinions.  This is obviously more nebulous than murder, assault, etc., but the point is still there you can use free speech to limit someone else's freedom of speech.  However, the same comments all apply with regards to litigation.  It would be a terrible idea for the government to try to limit free speech in order to limit this type of abuse of the freedom.  It is too nuanced to be dealt with by legislation, and the right to free speech includes some amount of the right to offend.  No matter what position one takes, we must all be prepared to accept the idea that someone will probably say something that will offend us.  Offense is a regular part of freedom to express oneself.

There are other, more obvious ways people, especially those in positions of power, can limit other's freedom of speech.  As the debate mentioned above and some of the research conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education indicates, liberal administrators on college campuses all around the U.S. are doing just that.  They are using their positions of influence to restrict or limit various groups' freedom of speech.  The vast majority of academics are decidedly liberal, and in many cases they are using their positions of authority to limit conservatives' freedom of speech.  That's a scary thought.  If free speech is restricted, it will be on the side of liberals, and against conservatives.  I am a conservative, well, sort of.  Regardless, I hope the government keeps its nose out of free speech.  However, with free speech, comes a price tag ... be prepared to be offended, and that's okay.  Free speech, will mean that someone will eventually step on your toes, and that's okay.

Image source here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

How to Fight ... Gracefully

First let me give some background.  My friend and editor of the CAA Newsletter EQUIPPED+Glen Richmond recommended that I blog about online debating in light of a rather heated, yet civil discussion that has been taking place on my Facebook page for a few days now.  And since sleep is overrated, I've decided to at least start writing about it.  If you'd like to read the full conversation check it out here, though I'm no longer following the conversation I might respond to further comments.

The first rule of fight club is probably the hardest.

#1 - Be polite!

This one is particularly tough.  People are smarter (sometimes) than you might think.  If you disguise your disdain for someone as a person, you'll probably fail.  Dawkins attempts this in his book The God Delusion with disastrous effects.  If, I'm assuming this is true, his goal in that book was to get people to rethink their beliefs in God, he completely failed because he unsuccessfully attempts to hide his disregard/disdain for that type of person.  This one is also quite difficult because it's not a common rule for discussions online.  Many a YouTube video comment stream has fallen into multiple people slinging so many insults that people who aren't even involved in the discussion are disgusted.

I tried my best to be polite throughout both the online discussion that triggered this entry and the two discussions I've had recently in real life.  As much as it might seem impossible, tolerance is certainly possible.  However, don't make the mistake of applying a modernist view of the word "tolerance."  To be polite you do not have to agree that the opposition is right and a mutually contradictory view is also right.  Tolerance doesn't mean what people think it means.  Today tolerance is used to mean, "treat all views as true."  What it really means, "treat all people respectfully, regardless of their views."  I think Ravi Zacharias, who is a model of great tolerance, has some great points about this and I suggest you listen to/read his stuff to get a sense of what it means to be tolerant.  This is important because one's view of tolerance can shape the whole debate.  If your opposing side wants you to be more tolerant and accept their view as true they need to prove that their true is correct.  Because, remember you can be tolerant without accepting their view.  When modern debaters ask for tolerance (especially from conservatives) what they're really asking for is approval.  You do not need to approve of someone's position to be tolerant, but in all this you must still maintain politeness!

#2 - Be gracious

This one is also tough.  Indeed depending on your personality this one may be more difficult than the first rule.  What do I mean by gracious though?  Well, at the risk of sounding condescending let me put it like this.  You may be an experience intellectual who has debated on national stages about your particular area of expertise (that's not me!), but your "opponent" may be a high school dropout with an axe to grind after reading some internet news article, or you both may be somewhere in between.  The point, if you don't get it already, is to be gracious to the opponent's argument(s).  Maybe they phrase the argument in an odd way, maybe they ignore too many suppressed premises.  Maybe they don't know what any of the typical terms in debates are at all.  Then again they may have taken the Coursera class Think Again: How to Reason and Argue and frame their argument intentionally ignoring certain premises.  The issue is not that you need to engage your opponent(s) and go in for the kill, the point is getting to the real arguments and dealing with them, not with your opponent's inability to frame his/her views well.

One of the best ways to be ungracious is to focus on the minutiae, e.g. grammar/spelling/punctuation among other things.  If you're unwilling or unable to look past those kinds foibles you ought not debate either in person, but particularly online.  Nothing kills your witness and credibility faster than pointing out someone's misuse of punctuation or grammar.  Sure, you may be right, and there may be times when you need to clarify something, but you need to do so graciously and be able to look through the "mistakes" and understand the real arguments and deal with them, not the grammatical mistakes.

#3 - READ!

Though the first two were probably the most difficult to do, this one is easy to do, yet incredibly important.  First, read every, single, reply.  Every, single, time.  If you don't read what your opponent has written, you're being neither gracious nor polite.  In fact, you ought to read your opponent's writings twice especially if he/she is not particularly competent, or if he/she is beyond your level of understanding.  If you don't really understand a particular sub-point your opponent brings up, ask!  Do not just proceed as if you understand!  You probably will make a terrible mistake in your arguments and end up both losing the argument (if there's even such a thing) and looking like an idiot in the process.  Also, every internet argument will most likely include one or both sides providing links to support the arguments being made.  Do not ignore these posts.  Read each link with an open mind, searching for the argument(s) being presented and weighing those statements just as you would in the discussion forum.  Then, after you've read and reread, attempt to comment one what the person is trying to say.  Keep the conversation focused (see rule #5).  (I almost forgot to mention the one exception here.  If someone posts a link to a whole book, you do not have to read the whole book to be able to comment.  There is a reasonable limit to the amount of reading you have to do in order to respond, you draw your own line then be gracious in responding even consider reading books with which you will not agree.)

#4 - Eschew Obfuscation

I've always loved that joke!  Eschew: deliberately avoid using; abstain from.  Obfuscation: obscuring of intended meaning willfully ambiguous or harder to understand (often with the connotation that one is using longer/larger/lesser known words to do so).  It may be difficult, and I imagine some people read my stuff and assume that I don't follow my own advice.  Perhaps.  But if I do confuse people it certainly isn't intentional.  I like to be clear, and I generally try to use "clarity of language" to borrow a line from "The Giver" (movie).  In debate/discussion and in philosophy in general it is important to convey one's thoughts as clearly as possible.  That doesn't mean that you shouldn't use technical language, just that you ought to explain your thoughts in a way that your audience will understand your point.  If you confuse your opponent you haven't "won" the debate, you've merely irritated him/her to the point that he/she has given up, or soon will give up on the discussion.

#5 - Stay focused

As I'm writing this, I've come to realize that I've said that each different rule is the hardest.  Unfortunately, this one also falls into that category!  Haha.  Well, tell me.  How many discussions online have you been involved in that actually stayed on topic?  Now, I understand a bit of a tangent.  (If you know me in person, I'm sure you've experienced my ADD-like conversational style.)  However, when you're discussing ... say ... abortion online, don't get sidetracked into discussions about war or the death penalty.  That's not to say you should ignore those tangental discussions, just politely bring the discussion back to the primary topic.  Obviously those (and other) topics could be related to the topic at hand, but if you want the discussion to proceed try to keep it on track.  This one is more difficult if the discussion is taking place on someone else's page, because it's not your page and you cannot really control the flow of conversation.  If it is your page, then you can use any number of methods to control the conversation.  I typically delete completely unrelated comments; I also delete completely emotional attacks or completely insensitive and rude comments.  When it's your own page, you can control the flow much differently/better than when it's not your own forum.

Before I close this entry, I need to apologize.  I had this entry started months ago as a response to an online conversation I had, and since then I've had at least one other discussion on Facebook that went, more or less, the way I wanted it to go.  Then after some incredibly unsavory discussions, I decided to forgo Facebook for Lent.  I won't be back on Facebook until after Lent so I won't be engaging in the types of discussions addressed here for some time.  I do not really recommend Facebook as a forum for discussion, but it's a decent option because it's wide open and there is more openness with a wide range of interlocutors.  God bless you in your discussions.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash Part 2

This is the second of a two-part review of Dr. Ronal Nash’s Is Jesus the Only Savior? (“Inclusivism”).  This review was much better than the first half (in my opinion).


Before delving into the arguments for or against inclusivism, Dr. Nash gives an introduction to the concept.  First off, it is important to understand that the topic has nothing to do with tolerance, in the sense that people ought to not mistreat those that believe things that are false.  The inclusivism in question here is soteriological in nature.  It is an answer to the question, “What about those that have never heard the Gospel?”  According to Dr. Nash, inclusivists would say, “devout believers in other religions will be saved, but only on the basis of Christ’s atoning work.” (emphasis added)  Dr. Nash also quotes Dr. John Sanders, “[T]he work of Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation (no one would be saved without it) but not epistemologically necessary (one need not be aware of the work in order to benefit from it).”  As part of defining inclusivism Dr. Nash presents what he calls the starting point for the ideas of inclusivism: the “particularity axiom” and the “universality axiom.”  Dr. Nash references Dr. Clark Pinnock as insisting that Jesus Christ’s lordship is non-negotiable, Christ as the particular Lord of all and savior of all.  Dr. Nash references Dr. Sanders with regards to the universality axiom, referencing 1 Tim. 2:4, “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” and Tit. 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.”  As Dr. Nash’s introduction of inclusivism continues, he discusses the growth of this view within evangelical circles, its widespread acceptance within Roman Catholicism, inclusivism and its relation to non-Christian religions, and finally a comparison of inclusivism and universalism.  This section seems a bit out of place, with the exception of the comparison to universalism, this series of sections would have been better suited as a separate chapter, but Dr. Nash brings all these ideas together in the conclusion which also serves to introduce the next two chapters.

Dr. Nash continues this discussion of inclusivism with the next two crucial sections.  Chapter eight focuses on the theological ideas presented in inclusivism and chapter nine on the relationship between inclusivism and the Bible.  Dr. Nash admits that in reality the biblical discussion concerning inclusivism and the theological discussion are closely related, but in order to present the ideas in a more logical progression he breaks them up into separate chapters.  The first, and possibly the most important, theological issue Dr. Nash mentions is the idea of “general” or “natural” revelation.  Defined by Dr. Bruce Demarest in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “The divine disclosure to all persons at all times and in all places by which humans come to know that God is and what he is like.  While not imparting truths necessary for salvation …” (emphasis added).  Dr. Nash seems to do Dr. Pinnock a disservice aiming at what he sees as an inconsistency in the inclusivist position when it comes to evangelicalism.  Dr. Nash seems to set his sights, in this chapter at least, on the argument in inclusivism that says one need not know about the particulars of Jesus’ work and person to be saved.  However, in a sense, Dr. Nash does not seem to address the main thrust of the inclusivist’s argument, which revolves around the question, “What must one know to be saved?”  It seems that Dr. Nash does not completely address the question of what salvation means to prior to the work of Christ.  The argument Dr. Nash seems to offer against the inclusivists with regards to “holy pagans,” seems to be an argument from silence.  The Scripture does not say that Melchizedek, Job, Jethro, etc. ever participated in the sacrifices of the Old Testament Hebrews.  If faith, evidenced through obedience, in the one true God is all that is required for salvation (Heb. 11).  Why would that not  to Old Testament heroes Deuteronomy?  Is not God the same in all times for all people?  It does not seem that Dr. Nash responds to this particular argument very thoroughly.

Another particularly weak point in this chapter is in Dr. Nash’s critique of the inclusivist’s use of God’s love for all as an important argument for the universal availability of salvation.  Dr. Nash claims that Dr. Pinnock’s argument: “If God really loves the whole world and desires everyone to be saved, it follows logically that everyone must have access to salvation,” is both counter to other Arminian theological points and is logically fallacious.  Dr. Pinnock’s argument may run counter to Arminian theology, but that seems a non sequitur.  The goal is to find the truth, not necessarily that which is in agreement with a particular theological view.  Also, Dr. Nash does not clarify what logical fallacy Dr. Pinnock’s argument commits.  The argument seems perfectly logical: P1) A loving God that wants all to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9) P2) God can establish a logical system wherein salvation is available to all C) God would make salvation available to all.  It seems that Dr. Nash’s phrasing of Dr. Pinnock’s argument is not very clear and dismisses quite a few suppressed premises that could completely change the argument’s effectiveness.

Probably one of the worst sections of the whole book falls in this chapter (chapter eight).  Dr. Nash turns his critique not towards the ideas of inclusivism, rather towards Arminianism, and a misrepresented form of the Arminian position at that!  Dr. Nash lumps Dr. Pinnock’s view of God’s sovereign foreknowledge in with Arminianism, though Dr. Pinnock’s book calls it “process theism” and in many circles the rather new term “Open Theism” has recently gain some prominence.  It sounds as if Dr. Nash’s argument in this section is something like this: P1) Dr. Pinnock’s (and other Open Theists’) view of God is incorrect C) Inclusivism is incorrect.  That may not be the best way to phrase the argument presented in the text, but with the phrasing and tone of this section that is how Dr. Nash’s arguments sound.  The characterization of the Arminian view of salvation is also poorly represented in this section.  It is not that salvation is “ultimately up to that person” it is more in response to the Calvinist view of irresistible grace, saying that each person has the ability to reject or accept salvation.  The Arminian position does not emphasize mankind’s will over God’s will, more it does not view God as forcing, even against their will, people into salvation.  Also, there are many other philosophical and theological positions that reconcile God’s sovereign foreknowledge with free will namely, Molinism.  None of the different views of sovereignty and free will necessarily directly relate to the inclusivist position.  Even the Calvinist position can be made to fit an inclusivist view.  For example: God through His abundant grace provides irresistible grace to the elect not based on any conditions (unconditional election), therefore God could elect any number of people that have never heard the name of Jesus for salvation.  If one’s soteriological position relies solely on the unconditional election of whomever God wills, one cannot question whom God elects.  To summarize this section (chapter eight), Dr. Nash aims his critique in many odd directions and never truly hits home with the inclusivist’s position.

Now in chapter nine Dr. Nash turns his critique more directly towards the biblical passages used in support of inclusivism.  The first clear issue with this section is in this quote, “Morally and spiritually [Cornelius of Acts 10] was in precisely the same condition as any faithful and believing Jew of that time who had not yet encountered Jesus.  We could go so far as to say that his relationship to Yahweh was similar to that of an Old Testament believer.”  There are several issues here.  First off, the text does not directly say but rather implies, that Cornelius and his household was not circumcised, which was (and still is) a religious requirement (Gen. 17:9-14; Ex. 12:48) of Judaism.  Apparently Cornelius was not circumcised, so none of the Old Testament sacrifices should have applied and he had apparently not acted on his faith in wholeheartedly following Abraham and his descendants in obedience to the Lord.  So, he would not be in the same moral and spiritual situation as Old Testament believers.  Again, the whole argument of inclusivism does not necessarily rest on this one text, despite Dr. Nash’s clear assertion as such.  This chapter, both the verses taken in defense of inclusivism and those taken against, seem tantamount to cherry-picking or prooftexting.  Dr. Nash presents an argument against the usage of the words “all men” and “world” to defend inclusivism in various texts (1 Tim. 2:3-4; Tit. 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; and 1 Jn 2:2).  The same type of criticism can and has been levied against the verses Dr Nash gives in defense of exclusivism.  To his credit Dr. Nash does mention in a footnote that there is more to this argument than will fit in the context of this section of this one book, but it seems as if he proceeds with critiquing inclusivism as if that point has been won.  To illustrate the ineffectiveness of this type of prooftexting here is a counterexample using Rom. 10:9.  “[I]f you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” though Dr. Nash gives Dr. Sanders’ argument that this does not exclude the possibility of being saved without confessing “Jesus as Lord,” one can take an even more basic track to derail this prooftext.  What about a person who is unable to speak?  Since that person is incapable of confessing anything with his or her mouth, is that person not able to be saved?  Clearly, this verse is not as exclusive as some might want to make it.  Though this chapter is rather effective as an argument because of its reliance on the Scripture, it runs contrary to good biblical study to take one (or even ten) verses out of their context, quote them, and claim that they support a certain position.

In the penultimate chapter Dr. Nash takes on two important points relating to some inclusivist opinions.  The first is the concept of postmortem evangelism; the second is various concepts of Hell.  On the topic of postmortem evangelism Dr. Nash discusses the importance of 1 Pet. 3:18 - 4:6, though it seems unnecessary to carry the reference out to 1 Pet. 4.  It seems clear from 1 Pet. 3:19, that in some sense Jesus preached to spirits in prison.  The Roman Catholic catechism and the Apostles’ creed both speak to this concept, and Dr. Nash seems to overemphasize the break between chapters three and four in 1 Peter, when in the original there was no break.  It does not seem to be as big an exegetical leap as Dr. Nash seems to say to claim that 1 Pet. 4:6 is referencing the same situation as 1 Pet. 3:19.  Also, Dr. Nash seems to dismiss without explanation why Jn. 5:25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  Does not matter in the discussion of postmortem evangelism.  It requires one to translate “dead” to mean spiritually dead, to which the text does not necessarily lend itself.  The last section of this chapter Dr. Nash devotes to a short discussion of Hell and the various implications for the exclusivist’s position.  Primarily the issue is, that if the exclusivist’s position is true, then billions of people who have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus will be, indeed are right now, burning in intense eternal torment in Hell.  Both the annihilationist view and the segregated levels of hellish torment stand in favor of the exclusivist’s argument.  If Hell is non-literal, or if the souls of the non-elect are annihilated some time after death, the exclusivist position is no longer so difficult.  The un-evangelized are not tormented for eternity just because they happened to be born thousands of miles from where Christianity had reached, they are simply destroyed.  Dr. Nash does not employ this type of argument (perhaps because he has a literal view of Hell), but it might have served to strengthen this section of his work.

In the final chapter of this text Dr. Nash presents some basic reasons why he is not an inclusivist.  He starts with an important statement that many dogmatists of all types would do well to consider.  That is, one should be willing to honestly answer that one cannot fully know what salvation means to those that have never heard.  An interesting note here though, Dr. Nash says we cannot know what names will be in the Lamb’s book of life mentioned in Rev 20:12ff, but he neglects to address this small line: “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life …” (emphasis added).  What are these other books that are opened here?  One pastor in this area claims that this is a possible reference to books that have the names of those that are not in the Lamb’s book of life, but are nonetheless saved.  Dr. Nash is right in saying that inclusivism can be dangerously close to pluralism, but it does not have to be.  One can square inclusivism with theology, philosophy, and biblical texts.  The arguments may not be strong, but Dr. Nash would do well to take his own comments to heart about the details of salvation referencing Deut. 29:29, God has not directly or overtly declared His plans concerning those that have not heard, neither the inclusivist nor the exclusivist should claim to know otherwise.

Personal Conclusion

In general the arguments in this section of Dr. Nash’s work are clearly not as powerful nor as pointed as in the first section (against pluralism).  Honestly, this topic is quite difficult, and this critique could have continued for many more pages.  Time and space are limited however, and this critique needs to come to a close.  One passage from CS Lewis’ classic children’s book series came to mind in defense of inclusivism.  In the Last Battle the characters pass through a figurative death into Aslan’s country (the Christ figure).  One such character was a young enemy soldier who had a passionate desire to meet his idea of God (Tash in the story), and after finding himself in Heaven face to face with Jesus worships Him, and says that he does not belong there.  When that character, Emeth, is telling his story later he speaks of the words of Aslan: “For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said [Aslan], unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”  Obviously, one cannot hold CS Lewis to speak for God in such terms, but it is an interesting argument nonetheless.

God is goodness personified, and while the Bible clearly states that no one measures up to God’s holy standard (Rom. 3:23 and others), Lewis is saying that one cannot do good in service of the Devil.  And vice versa, one cannot do evil truly in the service of God.  It may seem like the Bible teaches that unbelievers cannot do good at all, but that is primary from a Calvinist view of total depravity which seems to take the depravity of sin beyond what the Bible actually teaches.  Personal experience teaches, that though unbelievers are often sinful and often exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25), it does not necessarily follow that an unbeliever cannot at least try to act in accordance with their conscience and the prompting conviction of the Holy Spirit of their sin.  It seems that though Dr. Nash references various theological points against inclusivism and various biblical references against the idea, he does not defeat it nearly as completely as he seems to think.  This shortcoming is particularly clear in the concluding chapter when Dr. Nash directs his criticism to the inclusivist’s rationale for missions.  Interestingly, the same critique can and is levied against strict Calvinist views.  If God has already chosen whom He has elected to be saved, what point is there in evangelism?  As if our human efforts in evangelism somehow effected the will of God in whom He has already elected for salvation.  The question may also apply to the inclusivist, but it seems much easier to answer.

Another important issue that Dr. Nash does not seem to take into account at all throughout this second half of his book.  When one is investigating these claims, one must be careful to not let one’s feelings influence one’s conclusions on both sides of the discussion.  Though the inclusivist’s claims are much easier to swallow emotionally, that does not have any bearing on the truth of that claim, and vice versa, despite one’s strong feelings toward a particular theological system, those feelings do not make one right.  It seems that Dr. Nash is rather passionate about Calvinism (or at the least against his idea of Arminianism), which seems to cloud his assessment of Drs. Pinnock and Sanders’ Open Theism.  One other very important thing to keep in mind in this discussion.  These arguments (specifically inclusivism, as pluralism is not Christianity and pluralists need to be evangelized) must be held only within the Christian family.  When it comes to apologetics and evangelism, one should not claim to know for certain one way or another when it comes to the details of soteriological ideas (with some exceptions).  Imagine an exclusivist giving a message at a funeral for a person who had never heard of Jesus giving a message to the deceased’s family that their family member was most certainly in Hell suffering for eternity!  Within Christian circles it is important to discuss these types of theological differences, but when one brings the Gospel, though it is offensive in itself, to the unsaved one must lay aside one’s theological opinions and simply preach Christ’s work.


  1. "Catechism of the Catholic Church - Christ Descended into Hell." Catechism of the Catholic Church - Christ Descended into Hell. Accessed March 6, 2015. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a5p1.htm.
  2. Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2010, 188.
  3. Lockman Foundation (La Habra Calif.). New American Standard Bible. La Habra, Calif.,: Foundation Press Publications, 1977.
  4. Nash, Ronald H. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994, 104.
  5. Ibid. Quoting from: Sanders, John, No Other Name Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992, 131.
  6. Ibid, Quoting from: Pinnock, Clark H. A Wideness in God’s Mercy, 130.
  7. Slick, Matt. "What Is Open Theism?" CARM. Accessed March 6, 2015. https://carm.org/what-is-open-theism.
  8. “Revelation, General." In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, by B. Demarest. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2001.

Book Review: Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash Part 1

This is a book review I wrote for my recent theology class.  I highly recommend the book Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash

Dr. Nash attempts to present the three main views of salvation in relation to christology, starting with the pluralism made popular by John Hick in the last forty years.  Nash is particularly well suited for this critique as an author and philosophy professor.  Though this text covers the three main views: pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism this analysis will only cover the first section (chapters one through six) on pluralism.  It is important to understand the different positions before launching into a discussion about the opponents to exclusivism, so Nash starts out introducing the three views and Hick himself.  He gives a short biography of Hick’s regression from orthodox Christianity to his current view, which should not be called Christian at all.  In this introductory portion Nash also gives a short defense of exclusivism from biblical authority, the New Testament, and theological considerations.  However, as this book is mostly about the two opponents to exclusivism not much is said in defense of that view when compared to the amount of time spent analyzing the alternative views.

There is an important step that Nash points out in Hick’s fall from orthodoxy.  That is, the rejection of the authority of the Scriptures.  Once he rejected the authority of the Bible, Hick had no reason to hold on to any exclusive claims of Christianity.1  The Bible is not God’s message to mankind about His attributes per se, more like the writings of a group of men who, over the years, wrote about their methods for connecting to the Ultimate/Real.  This also leads to a non-orthodox/heretical christology, as Hick treats Jesus like just another man, who happened to be in close contact with the Ultimate/Real.  Jesus may have done some miraculous things as part of His connection with the Ultimate, but He certainly is not God incarnate.  Hick particularly rejects the fourth gospel as something like a sermon about this ordinary man who was in contact with the Ultimate.  In all this rejection of the Scriptures Hick does some outlandish mental gymnastics to try to make his point without contradicting himself.

Nash uses chapters two and three to cover two different stages of Hick’s pluralism starting from about 1970 to 1980 for the first stage and the 1980s for the second stage.  This first stage of Hick’s attempt at building a pluralistic view Nash calls, “a dismal failure.”  That is not to say that the second stage is any better, just that in this first stage Hick has not really thought through some of the things he claims.  One particular critique that Hick seemed to have totally missed during this phase was the clear contradiction of an unknowable god, and yet describing that god as loving and kind etc.  It should have been obvious to Hick that if god is unknowable, saying anything about god is contradictory, and yet his move to pluralism was somewhat founded on the idea that a loving god would not condemn people who could not have heard of him.  There are numerous other problems with Hick’s pluralism in this stage, not the least of which is a hubris in calling his movement a “Copernican Revolution.”  While it may be true that Hick has come up with some novel ideas that does not mean that he has discovered some truth that was previously misunderstood.  Moving in a certain direction is not always “progress.”  As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”  Hick’s “progressive” view is not progressive as it is on the wrong road and is no longer Christianity at all.

The second stage of Hick’s revolution in pluralism is not really much better.  It seems that Hick started off with a strong orthodox Christian view, then after an emotional appeal seemed to cause him to reject the exclusive views of the Bible, he tries to start a revolution.  After the abysmal failure in the 70s Hick’s newer version is even farther from traditional Christianity and more enigmatic than ever.  Hick’s views sound like New Age/Buddhism sprinkled with Kantian philosophy.  Hick’s concept of salvation has moved beyond anything even remotely Christian, to a version of enlightenment and self-actualization.  Though it is not just Hick’s soteriology that has changed; he has also rejected any traditional view of God.  Instead of the personal God of orthodox Christianity Hick now embraces a more pantheistic view of the “Ultimate-Universal-Real.”

Nash explores probably the most important problem in Hick’s exclusivism, that is the contradictory nature of claiming multiple truths.  Nash pointed out in the introduction that exclusivism is not truly unique to Christianity and there are serious problems with anyone that says that contradictory exclusive claims are actually both true.  Hick’s pluralism is simultaneously offensive to Christianity as well as every other religion.  If Christianity is true, then other religions must be false.  Hick’s pluralism runs into all sorts of logical problems, because the laws of logic dictate that two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same way at the same time.  Hick does an even bigger disservice to religion as a whole by relegating all religious claims to a form of mythological “truth.”  All religions are myths and misunderstandings or partial understandings of the Ultimate as it is hidden behind a veil of Kantian logic that says we cannot experience the Ultimate/Real as it actually is.  Not only has Hick repudiated the exclusivity of Christianity but of every other religion as well.  The mental gymnastics required to discard the authority of the Christian Bible are nothing compared to the backflips Hick and other pluralists have to do to get around the logical contradictions of calling all religious truths, true, despite their direct contradiction to one another.

As has already been mentioned, Hick has a very low view of Scripture, not just that it forms the foundation of the Christian faith, but particularly so because it maintains the deep exclusivity in the Person of Jesus Christ.  As such, Hick has to fight against the orthodox belief that Jesus is God incarnate.  In order to repudiate the historical view of Christ as God, Hick attacks the incarnation as a myth.  Though he puts a spin on it to get around the fact that the original authors of the Bible obviously did not write it as a myth, saying that the historical claims are myths that seem to be real to the original authors.  Hick denies the resurrection, despite the strong claims in the Bible.  He even goes so far as to claim that even if Jesus resurrected from the dead, that would not prove that He was God.  In order to get around Lewis’ liar, lunatic, Lord trilemma, Hick, not wanting to destroy the reputation of Jesus by calling him a lunatic, and refusing to call Him Lord, calls Jesus in a sense … confused.  This makes absolutely no sense in light of Scripture.  Saying Jesus was some kind of man in close contact with the Ultimate, is a complete denial of both the Gospel of John and the Bible as a whole.  Hick fails in so many ways, but in this he is clearly lacking in his ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth.  The fact that Jesus called Himself God is abundantly clear in the Scriptures, not just the Gospel of John, in actuality Hick has gotten nowhere in his attempts to circumnavigate the liar, lunatic, Lord trilemma.

Chapter five of this book has been all about Hick’s pluralistic views and the rejection of the uniqueness and authority of Christian doctrines, as such it is the most interesting chapter so far, which is also why this analysis has been focusing on that chapter more than the others.  Another method Hick applies to rejecting Jesus’ status as God incarnate is to claim that the Church made up the idea long after Jesus had died.  Using bits of historical, form, and redaction criticism, Hick claims that the New Testament has been altered by the Church over the centuries to say what the leaders of the Church wanted it to say, not what Jesus actually claimed.  Hick follows with the majority of liberal scholars in assuming, despite evidence to the contrary, that the early Church, long after Jesus’ death, made Him into a god.  This denial of Jesus’ divinity is not new, many apostates/heretics over the centuries have made similar claims.  What this view leads to is not difficult to see either, that is, the rejection of the uniqueness of the Christian faith.  Jesus is unique, not that He is God incarnate, but that He is the only founder of the Christian faith.  Christianity itself is unique, not in the claim that it is the only true path to God, but that it is the only religion called “Christianity.”  Neither Jesus nor Christianity are unique in absoluteness or authority.

Not only does Hick cast off the traditional truth statements about the divinity of Jesus Christ, he rejects good New Testament scholarship that supports the traditional doctrines with textual criticism.  Hick uses a type of historical skepticism in claiming that we cannot really know anything about Jesus historically because it all happened about two centuries ago.  Apparently Hick is either ignorant of or consciously dogmatic in rejecting literally thousands of years of Christian scholasticism that has deeply analyzed both the texts of the New Testament and the historical context and confirmed the orthodox theology and the trustworthiness of the documents that form the New Testament.  The rather outmoded style of form-criticism is just one of the views that Hick somewhat espouses in rejecting the authority of the Scriptures.  Form critics have tried to insist, despite many statements to the contrary, the New Testament was largely just practical teachings of the Church’s view of Jesus.  The Gospel has nothing to do with actual eyewitness testimony, they are little more than collected ancient sermons which the Church approved and collected.  The redaction criticism is not much different in its conclusion, it just uses different phrasing to conclude that the New Testament writers were not writing as they witnessed, rather they simply collected, sorted, and inserted their views in the New Testament when it suited them.

In the most ironic twist, Hick levies the rules of logic against the Christian Theology of Kenosis, claiming that Christianity violates the laws of logic in claiming that Jesus is both God and man at the same time in the same way.  Hick should understand these foundational theologies, but has apparently cast them off completely.  He should understand the differences between essential and nonessential properties.  He should understand the idea that being fully man does not entail a logical contradiction with being fully God.  Though the theology of the Trinity is somewhat mysterious, it certainly does not entail any logical contradictions.

By way of summary Nash discussed the often misunderstood idea of tolerance.  Much like Ravi Zacharias teaches, Nash points out that tolerance does not mean a plurality of truth.  It does not mean that all statements, whether contradictory or not, are to be treated as true.  Nash divides tolerance into two sections, moral tolerance and a form of relativism.  The former says that regardless of a person’s views or opinions one must treat all people the same morally.  The latter is much more strict in that one must never criticize any view as being wrong, ever.  The conundrum being self-defeating; is the converse view that one can criticize other views as wrong, wrong itself?

Personal Conclusions Regarding Pluralism

It seems that Nash could be more critical of Hick’s pluralism.  He seems to gloss over some of the obvious contradictions in the pluralist view.  First off, Hick still seems to claim to be a Christian.  But, if we analyze what Hick teaches we see that he really does not believe the Bible to be authoritative in any way.  It is merely a collection of writings over thousands of years about how people have sought the Ultimate.  It really is not, as it so clearly claims to be, a record of God’s various interactions with mankind as well as His special revelation of Himself to the world through the Incarnate Christ.  Even the term “Christian” cannot apply to Hick as it means “little Christ,” or “follower of Christ.”  Hick does not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah sent into the world to save us, so how can he claim the title “Christian,” if he is not a follower of Christ?  Nash does point that out in the chapter six concluding remarks on pluralism, but it could have been made more clear throughout the text.  Just claiming to be one, does not make Hick a Christian.  His teaching and various apostasies have made it clear that he no longer follows Christ.

Another point that Nash brings up but does not emphasize enough is the importance of a high view of Scripture.  Without Scripture as a guide for truth, Hick has been floundering about in the sea of philosophies, gaining only a semblance of a foothold in the quicksand of Buddhism/New Age spiritualism and Kantian philosophy.  After rejecting the authority of Scripture Hick has gone down a terrible path of complete uncertainty to the point where there is no such thing as religious truth in Hick’s views.  It is of utmost importance to maintain a firm grasp on the truth of the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, which is applicable to all cultures throughout time.  Probably the weakest and yet strongest argument against exclusivism is in the geographic and cultural validity of the Christian message.  It is a weak argument in that, clearly truth is not determined by location.  The truth that God came to earth as the God-man, Jesus Christ, does not change if you are living in a different area of the world.  However, it is a strong emotional argument in that; how can God condemn to Hell people merely because they were born in a different area and have not heard of Jesus.

So far, the only clear conclusion that a Christian can come to, is that Hick’s pluralism cannot be accepted.  To accept pluralism is to not be a Christian at all.  Or at least, to be an mentally deluded, illogical person who claims to follow someone in whom they do not truly believe.  It will be interesting to see how Nash deals with inclusivism in the next section of the text.  Pluralism must be rejected but it seems that some form of inclusivism can still fall within orthodox Christian views.


  1. "A Pluralist View." In Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Stanley Gundry, Dennis Okholm, and Timothy Phillips, by John Hick, pg. 33. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996.
  2. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Pub., 2002.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Two

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block, I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one, this is the second point:

Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

First off, let's discuss definitions of various terms here.  I'm not claiming that these are the best or dictionary definitions, but it seems these are commonly agreed upon definitions.  If you disagree with these definitions I'd be open to hearing alternatives.

Science -- the methodical study of the physical/natural universe.
Radically altered -- completely changed.
Universe -- the totality of physically existent things.
Grapple with the implications -- consider and think about with relation to meaning.
Prescientific beliefs -- (honestly I'm not certain here, but I assume) metaphysical statements.
Truth -- that which best coherently explains and correlates with reality.

Given these definitions I find it curious why this would even be a problem.  Science deals with the physical nature of the universe, religion/Christianity deals with the metaphysical and sources of what it means to exist.  I think the original assumption is that science has somehow proven that God doesn't exist or at least that God doesn't need to exist.  I do not agree with the concept of NOMA, (Non-Overlapping MAgesteria) but in a sense the two are on a one-way street.  Science is concerned with what is happening or from what cause something happens, but it is limited to physical universe.  Science cannot get to a deeper meaning of existence.  Science cannot give why there is anything at all instead of nothingness.  Maybe, but honestly I'm not holding my breath, science will someday give us how the universe came into existence, but even then it still doesn't say why.  To try to apply purely scientific views to morality, consciousness, deeper meaning etc. only leads to disastrous results.  Pure logic says that one must torture the innocent if it will bring about something good.  Applying mathematic principles to life leads to devastating consequences.  As portrayed in the popular movie, Watchmen the hero/villain Adrian Veidt is perfectly justified in killing millions in order to potentially save billions of people.  Also, in V for Vendetta the government is perfectly justified at rounding up innocent people to do scientific experiments on them.  As I insinuated before any number of thought experiments seem to easily slip into absurdity.  Say you somehow could save one person by the torture of another, innocent, unrelated person.  Under strict utility, you have to weigh things that are totally unrelated to their value as human beings.  In a strict utilitarian view the idea of inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness) is foreign.  You do not have a right to life if somehow your death brings about some good.

So, the study of the physical universe has greatly altered our lives including how and what are able to do, but it has had no impact on the meaning of life.  Just consider what I'm doing right now.  I'm typing out my thoughts on a laptop computer that is able to connect wirelessly at great speed to the largest collections of facts ever compiled.  It can process information at a speed faster than what used to take up several rooms of computing devices.  This isn't even all that amazing of a machine either.  Even small electronic devices can carry thousands of books.  We can nearly instantaneously communicate visually even at great distances.  We've landed on the moon.  We've sent probes deep into outer space.  But, all of this wonderful progress doesn't bring any deeper meaning or better moral value (whatever that may mean).

So far I've been bringing out the point that science doesn't bring meaning or really better people, only better convenience to living.  But what about the implication that religion is trying to control or denigrate science and scientific progress?  Why is this such a common theme?  I've actually written about this a couple times here and here.  Science actually only makes sense in the context of belief in God.  If everything is the result of random chance (under a strict materialist view), why would one expect any semblance of order to nature?  How can we perform scientific tests without first assuming that things won't randomly change?  Materialists won't admit it, but the consistency in nature is a presupposition smuggled in from the Christian/theistic view of the universe.  These "prescientific" beliefs actually guide science to be better, not just by giving science moral guidelines within which to work (think Nazi science experiments), but by giving it a foundation from which to spring.  If everything is random, then the scientific method itself will never work, because there's no reason why we should expect our testing and hypothesizing to be consistent in a framework of randomness.  Science, in the proper context is not lessened by believing that God created (creates) the natural universe, it a deepened understanding of the creator.  Indeed science is a form of worship, studying to know the Creator better by studying the creation.

Truth ... As Pilate so famously asked of Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), presumably not knowing that Jesus had already given the answer, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6)."  If you're trying to get to the truth of things, there is only one source of truth revealed to humanity in various ways.  Science certainly is a wonderful study and can teach us much about God, but God has also revealed much of Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:18).  There is no reason to expect science to "find God," or truth about God, but I'd say the reason some scientists can't find God is they are looking at the trees and missing the forest.  Big Bang theory also points to a creator.  The awesome intricacies of biological life, particularly the information found in genes, also points to God.  Also, based on a video I watched recently about quantum theory it seems that one of the conclusions we can come to is that quantum mechanics actually indicates that God is the reason for the universe.  So, science has proven God, just not in the way dogmatic materialist scientists will accept.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number One

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block here's number one:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

I've talked about this before and I don't really want a rehash of the same thoughts.  But, I want to revisit this idea to flesh-out how this really matters (or rather, how it doesn't).  What are the supposed extraordinary claims that the theist is supposedly making?  I can't speak for all the atheists who argue about this, but I assume that most of them are calling miracles "extraordinary claims."  Now, let's look at this.  Are miracles extraordinary claims?  Well, yes.  Of course they are, by definition a miracle is something extraordinary, but they're really only unexpected if there's no God.  If one takes a materialistic approach to philosophy, then a miracle cannot occur.  However, there's an important point missing from this whole conversation about miracles.  The very existence of anything whatsoever is a miracle in itself.  It's an ongoing miracle of creation.  I know, some theologians will balk at this, as the Genesis account implies that God is no longer creating.  Gen 2:1 says that the heavens and earth were completed and that God had "completed His work."  So, where do I come off saying that existence itself is a miracle?  Well, Col 1:17 Paul talks about how, in Christ all things hold together.  In this paradigm a miracle is not surprising at all.  Hebrews 1:3 has an even more active phrasing about how God holds everything together by His power.  So, the God who holds everything together can, by His mere willpower, suspend, cancel, or defy His own control over the entire universe.  Miracles are not nature behaving wrong or differently than it normally does or should.  It's God doing His will contrary to what we think or what we expect.

Also, as I commented before, which is a bigger miracle: A) The universe, for no reason with no cause exists, or B) God made the universe out of nothing?  Again, toss aside materialism for a minute.  If you a priori take materialism to be true then of course the theistic answer sounds extraordinary.  But at face-value the A) choice is obviously much more extraordinary.  I have seen arguments, most notably from Hawking, that attempt to use science to say that because of the laws of physics the universe must exist.  I don't even pretend to understand his scientific arguments, but have read some interesting things online that summarize Hawking and other prominent scientists' claims, and I've got to say, "I'm not buying it."  First off, every time I hear these types of arguments I hear a redefining of the word "nothing."  Now I understand that in certain contexts nothing can mean different things.  For example, one might ask, "What's up with you lately?"  To which you might answer, "Oh, nothing."  Does that mean the same as deGrasse Tyson's use of "nothing" which apparently means some type of quantum field in flux?  Obviously not.  But, these are the types of things I see when I discuss the beginnings of the universe with a materialist.  There was something (called nothing) and it exploded and became something else.  I pointed at Big Bang cosmology as an argument for God with an atheist one time and after going around and around, this interlocutor ended up admitting that the Big Band was true, but we don't know what happened before the Big Bang.  It's funny though, this particular atheist refused to accept that it might have been God. Basically reduced to saying, "We don't know and likely will never know what caused the Big Bang, but I refuse to accept that it could have been God."  If you give me a just-so story and make all your pieces fit together by inventing facts and theories that have never been shown to work in reality and only really work in some outrageous mathematical formula, all of which you cannot explain in terms that any regular person could follow or would accept, I have every right to dismiss your claim as extraordinary.  I have a saying I've been using for a while now (not sure if I've used it in my blogging before, if so I apologize for repeating myself), "Any claim made without evidence, can be dismissed without argument."  These are indeed extraordinary claims, but for sure the more extraordinary is the one that defies definition, explanation, and reason.

Lastly, I want to comment on the final part of the statement, "the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist."  Now, I know I'm only an amateur philosopher, but my knee-jerk reaction is, "So what?"  I, as a theist, have no qualms with making a case.  In general, yes, I'm making a claim.  (I don't think we can completely let off the atheist, but the point still stands, I'm making a truth-claim.)  My claim is fairly simple to prove though, "I believe, with good reason, that God exists."  Throw that one out there and see if anyone can disprove it ... notice some important points before you attack it.  First, "I believe," with this important qualifier, no one, can ever prove my claim incorrect unless that person somehow has mind-reading capabilities, which apparently doesn't exist outside God.  One might attack the second portion, "with good reason."  Well, let's look into various reasons/arguments. There are so many!  I've already mentioned the cosmological argument.  Then there's various design/fine-tuning arguments.  There's the moral argument made popular by CS Lewis in his masterwork Mere Christianity.  And, there are many others, some based on evidence and some on philosophy.  But clearly, there are plenty of "good reasons" to believe.  If you don't accept my claim, then not only are you calling me an idiot who hasn't examined these arguments, but you're making the claim that the millions of other Christians throughout history have all done the same thing.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't typically think an appeal to authority is a particularly compelling argument.  However, if the authority to whom I'm appealing is sprinkled with such intellectual greats as Plato/Socrates, Aquinas, Newton, and even many of the top ten highest measured IQ test scorers who are at the very least theists, some clearly Christians, I'm justified in making such an appeal.  So, tell me again how you, Mr. Internet Atheist, know that only stupid, backwoods, country-bumkin, redneck, low-brow, Bible-thumpers believe in God.

Sorry for the abundance of sarcasm, but it seems that Mr. Internet Atheist is getting to me.  He's been drinking the Dawkins koolaid and doesn't really have anything new to add to the conversation.  I am by no means creative or worthy to be called an innovator in this discussion, but at least I admit that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.  I don't know very much, but I do know that I exist and that I have good reasons to believe what I believe.

Screenshot from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/finetuning