Friday, June 02, 2023

A Question that Christians Should Stop Asking Atheists


In December of 2016, atheist Jeffrey Jay Lowder debated Dr. Frank Turek on the question, "What Better Explains Reality: Naturalism or Theism?"1 During the Q and A period of the debate, two well-meaning Christians asked Lowder a question some like this2 - "If God does not exist, then why bother arguing about him?"  To his credit, Lowder admitted the question was a good one and freely confessed that while the naturalist could enjoy temporal purpose during their life here on earth,3 that on his view there is no ultimate purpose in the sense a theist believes.  However, I think Lowder's responses to the question ultimately demonstrate that it is isn't all that difficult for the atheist (or naturalist)4 to offer some reasonable replies.5

Lowder's responses were as follows:6

1. "I think the question is interesting intrinsically."

This seems very reasonable.  Even as an atheist, you need to fill you days with something.  Just because the atheist has no ultimate purpose, it does not follow from this that they cannot live for a temporal one.  This can involve interests such as family, friends and philosophy!

2. "It is important.  Whether you are a Christian, atheist or naturalist, it is important to know why you believe God does or does not exist."

Here, Lowder demonstrates his reverence for the "big questions" in life.  And I could not agree more.  The importance of how one answers the question, "Does God Exist?" cannot be understated.  

3. "I want to know if what I believe is right or wrong.  And if it is wrong, I want to adjust my beliefs accordingly."  

To me, this response is the strongest of those offered.  The atheist may not believe in God, but there are many who want to make sure their view is correct.  Therefore, debating and discussing whether or not God exists is a fruitful venture regardless of what view you hold, assuming your ultimate goal is to adjust your beliefs to that which is true.  To his credit, Dr. Turek did agree with Lowder here and even said, "Jeffrey might be opened to changing his mind.  He might come to believe God does exist and that there is ultimate purpose."  

The Christian should welcome this discussion and applaud atheists like Lowder who are willing to have it. 

4. "Respectful and intelligent dialogue between parties who disagree contributes to a healthy society." 

Remember that whether you are an atheist or a Christian, we all have to live together.  And I see no reason why an atheist would not want to contribute to the health of society, if for no other reason than to preserve their own living conditions and the living conditions of those they love.   

I think there are good questions to ask atheists, but I find the oft-repeated question highlighted in this post is just not all that difficult to answer from an atheist perspective.  

Courage and Godspeed,

1. You can find the debate (and my review) here.
2. I am paraphrasing the question here for clarity. 
3. A notion I hope no Christian would deny.
4. These terms were used somewhat interchangeably during the debate.  I realize they are not equivocal. 
5. I hope that if a believer does ask a question like the one being highlighted here that it is well-meaning and not an attempt at playing "gotcha." 
6. Again, his comments are paraphrased for clarity and I offer some brief commentary of my own.
7. For those who are interested in considering these questions more in-depth, checkout philosopher William Lane Craig's essay "The Absurdity of Life Without God" here.  

Related Posts

4 Reasons Why William Lane Craig and Jeffrey Jay Lowder of the Secular Outpost Should Debate the Existence of God

Debate Video: Jeff Lowder vs. Frank Turek- What Better Explains Reality: Naturalism or Theism?

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Monday, May 22, 2023

An Apologist's Prayer Based on Colossians 4:2-6

The following is a prayer I wrote based upon Colossians 4:2-6:

“Remind me to be quick to pray, with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Please give me opportunities to speak the truth about Christ to those who do not know Him. Teach me to proclaim this message as clearly as I should. Work in me so that I may live wisely among those who do not believe, so that I will make the most of each opportunity. Ensure that my conversations are gracious and attractive. And please provide me with the wisdom I will need to thoughtfully respond to each person.”

This prayer includes 3 of the main goals the apologist should be trying to achieve.  These include sharing the gospel clearly, offering thoughtful responses and doing so in a gracious and attractive manner.  

Courage and Godspeed,

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Philosopher Paul Gould Considers Erik Wielenberg's "Brute Fact Atheism"


Although it may come as a surprise to some, many theists and atheists agree that objective moral facts exists.  That is to say that there are at least some objective moral truths that hold "independent of minds and speakers..."1  However, this raises the question asked by philosopher Paul Gould in his latest book A Good and True Story:

"...what best explains the reality of objective morality?  What grounds it or makes it true?"2

One explanation is that nothing grounds morality and that morality is just a brute fact.  Moral facts just exist and there is not explanation.  One popular version of this view is expressed by the Dr. Erik Wilenberg in his book Robust ethics.  In his work, Wilenberg argues that objective moral facts are abstract objects.  As Dr. Gould explains, abstract objects are "funny sorts of things:"3

"They exist just like more familiar concrete objects such as tables, chairs, and the like, but they do so outside space and time.  To endorse belief in these abstract things is to endorse Platonism, in honor of Plato and his theory of Eternal Forms.  Wielenberg defends what we might call a kind of of Platonic Atheism.  We could also call Wielenberg's view a kind of Brute Fact Atheism since moral facts are brute or unexplained.  According to Brute Fact or Platonic Atheism, then, there is the physical universe and an abstract realm of moral facts.  This view is a philosophically viable option.  As Wielenberg points out, explanations must stop somewhere, so why not with brute moral facts?"4

And while Gould concedes that Wielenberg's view is a "philosophically viable option," he ultimately rejects it as the best explanation for objective moral facts for 4 reasons.  Gould explains:

"First, it seems utterly mysterious how properties in the abstract realm - for example, being good, being evil, being right, being wrong - hook up to various things and actions in the physical world.  Why is it that my childhood act of stealing office supplies hooks up with the abstract property being wrong instead of being right?  The answer, at the end of the day, is that it just does.  Period.  But this makes Brute Fact Atheism less attractive than the alternatives, for now the amount of brute facts needed to make the theory work has multiplied.  Not only does it offer no explanation for the objective moral order; it also offers no explanation for how the moral and natural orders connect.

Second, Brute Fact Atheism can't explain the authority or obligatoriness of moral duties.  Why is it that we have an obligation to be honest?  What explains this 'oughtness"?  Obligations and duties attach, it seems, to persons, not things.  I'm not obligated to the chair I'm currently sitting on.  I don't owe it anything.  Suppose I'm thinking about jumping off a roof for fun and, in my infinite wisdom, consider landing on a chair to soften the impact.  Suppose too that if I jump, I'll likely break the chair (and suppose I see this likelihood).  As I consider this (foolish) action, an action I regularly contemplated as a kid, we might ask: Would I owe it to the chair to refrain from jumping?  No.  I'm not obligated to things.  I am, on the other hand, obligated to people.  I'm obligated to myself to not do stupid and unsafe things like jumping off roofs.  And I'm obligated - in this case to my wife and kids - to not put them in a position of needing to care for me when that leg breaks.  Obligations naturally attach to persons, not things.  In this way, theism - belief in a personal being worthy of worship - better accommodates the obligatoriness of moral duties by locating a proper ultimate source of moral authority.

Third, Brute Fact Atheism cannot account for the guilt we feel when we do wrong.  Suppose I had a magical ring that made me invisible.  Why be moral?...If I cheated, lied, even raped and murdered, no one would know it was me.  Yet I'd still feel guilty.  I'll bet you would too...If there is a moral law but no moral lawgiver, then why do I have this sense of guilt when I do wrong - even if no one can see what I do?  This need to rectify our moral failures is best explained if there are both a moral law and a moral lawgiver.

Finally, Brute Fact Atheism cannot account for why we have mental capacities that track moral truths.  If the grand, naturalistic, evolutionary story explains why we have the cognitive capacities that we have, then we have no good reason to trust what our mental lives tell us.  After all, evolution selects traits for survival, not truth.  Thus, we have no reason to think that our cognitive capacities are aimed at truth, and we have no reason to think that our moral beliefs track truth.  In other words, the fact that we do have moral knowledge is hard to explain given Brute Fact Atheism.  On the other hand, if God exists, we have good reasons to think that our cognitive faculties are in fact reliable for tracking moral truths; arguably, God wants us to know moral truths, and thus he ensured (through either natural or supernatural processes) that our cognitive faculties develop such that they are capable of tracking moral truths."5

For these reasons, Dr. Gould concludes "that Brute Fact Atheism doesn't best explain objective morality."6

To learn more about Dr. Gould and his latest book A Good and True Story, check out our interview with him on the Apologetics315 Podcast here.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Paul M. Gould, A Good and True Story, p. 94. 
2. Ibid, p. 94.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid; For those interested in seeing Dr. Wielenberg defend his view, check out this debate with Dr. William Lane Craig.
5. Ibid. 

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Article: Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God? by Peter S. Williams

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Sunday, May 07, 2023

What Did Josephus Say About James?

In Can We Trust the Gospels?, Peter J. Williams takes a look at outside sources and their writings about the early Christian movement. Below is an excerpt from the opening chapter (pgs. 33-35) where he comments on Josephus’ writings regarding James, the half brother of Jesus-

"However, the reference in Josephus is also rather different from references in Tacitus and Pliny. Those two classical writers give evidence for how far and how fast Christianity spread. Josephus, however, lets us see that even after Christianity had been going for several decades, there were still family members involved in the movement of Jesus’s followers. This is interesting because, to have such a role, James would have had to believe, or at least pretend to believe, that his crucified brother was the promised Jewish deliverer, the Messiah, since that is what the name Christ means. Moreover, James’s death for his faith makes it far more natural to assume his sincerity and that he genuinely believed his brother to be the Messiah. Certain things follow from this. A brother, even a younger brother, is usually knowledgeable about the lives of other members of his family. For instance, James would most likely have grown up hearing about where his brother Jesus was born, something of his ancestry, and whether his parents presented Joseph as the biological father to Jesus. If James was both a family member and sincere in believing his brother to be the Messiah, his leadership of the church in Jerusalem would probably not have provided an environment in which major new teachings were easily accepted.

Matthew and Luke, which are normally dated to the first century, testify to the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, the town the Old Testament prophet Micah had said would be the place from which the future ruler of Israel would arise (Micah 5:2). All four Gospels attest to the belief that Jesus was descended from David.16 Skeptical readers of the New Testament might naturally assume that these beliefs arose through exaggerations over time as word of Jesus as Messiah spread. The problem with this is finding a context in which such embellishments could spread.

It is actually most natural to assume that in the first thirty or so years of Christianity, more than one sincere member of the family of Jesus held a key role in the early church. According to 1 Corinthians 9:5 (written ca. AD 56) not just one brother, but “the brothers” of Jesus traveled with their wives, spreading the Christian message. This suggests a situation in which the sprouting of novel beliefs about the family origins of Jesus would have been hard. But is it then likely that such beliefs arose after AD 62, when James had died? The problem with supposing that novel beliefs arose later is that, by then, Christianity had spread so far and so fast that it would have been difficult to introduce innovations. For a start, anyone wanting to spread a new doctrine would have had to travel widely to advance the belief, and would also have had to overcome resistance as he sought to displace the established belief.

Take, for instance, the idea that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. If we ignore for the moment the remarkable nature of the claims that an individual who was descended from the founder of Israel’s great royal dynasty was born of a virgin in the town from which a prophet had predicted a future ruler would arise, the most straightforward view of the documentary evidence would be that these beliefs were in place from when Christianity first started spreading. If a non-miraculous but otherwise similar set of beliefs was attested in documents as close to the events as were the Gospels and among people as widespread as were early Christians, few people would have any difficulty in believing these facts to be true. This would especially be the case if sincere family members were around for the opening decades of the spread of the message."

16. In John 7:42, the belief that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and descended from David is conveyed using irony. For possible material evidence that some people at the time of the New Testament claimed that they could trace their genealogy back to David, see Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae, vol. 1, Jerusalem, Part 1: 1–704, ed. Hannah M. Cotton, Leah Di Segni, Werner Eck, Benjamin Isaac, Alla Kushnir-Stein, Haggai Misgav, Jonathan Price, Israel Roll, and Ada Yardeni (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010), 88–90.

You can read the Truthbomb book preview here.

God Bless,

Monday, April 10, 2023

How Could Solomon have so Many Wives When God Condemns Polygamy (1 Kings 11:1)?


In 1 Kings 11:3 we learn that Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.  But elsewhere the Bible warns against having multiple wives (Deut. 17:7) and commands against violating the principle of monogamy (1 Cor. 7:2).   How can this be?  Is this simply an example of a so-called Bible contradiction?  I don't think so.  

In there assessable book Bringing Your Faith to Work, Randy Douglass and the late Norman Geisler explain:

"Monogamy is God's standard for the human race, and God punished those who practiced polygamy (Gen. 2:21-25; 1 Kings 11:1-13).  God prohibited a multiplicity of wives (Deut. 17:17).  Paul said each person should have only one spouse (1 Cor. 7:2).  God only permitted, not commanded, polygamy, as he did divorce, not because it was his desire, but because of the hardness of men's hearts (Deut. 24:1; Matt. 19:8).  Every polygamist in the Bible, including David (1 Chron. 14:3) and Solomon, paid dearly for their sins."1

So, when the skeptic claims that the Bible encourages polygamy, they are simply mistaken.  Remember, just because the Bible describes a certain act, it does not mean it is prescribing that act. 

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Norman L. Geisler and Randy Douglass, Bringing Your Faith to Work, p. 167.

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