Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for God | Influence Podcast


Publishers harvested a bumper crop of atheist book in 2006 and 2007. Letters to a Christian Nationby Sam Harris, The God Delusionby Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spellby Daniel C. Dennett, and God Is (Not) Greatby Christopher Hitchens come readily to mind, among many others. Each of these book claimed in one way or another that belief in God was intellectually deficient, a matter of faith rather than reason.

The philosophers who contributed to Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for Godbeg to differ. They think there are good reasons to believe that God exists. In Episode 155 of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Jerry L. Walls about good  arguments for God.

Walls is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University, as well as co-editor with Trent Dougherty of Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for God, which is published by Oxford University Press.

P.S. This is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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What Legalists and Atheists Cannot Understand: Grace


Over at The Gospel Coalition, Chris Castaldo reminds us that how we Christians see God impacts how others see our God:

The parable [of the prodigal son] ends there. Unlike the earlier stories, there is no explicit lesson from Jesus. We don’t know whether the formerly lost son’s big brother joins in the celebration, though it is clear that he should. The point, you see, is not bowing to some crabbed notion of fairness, but losing ourselves in God’s grand graciousness. Will the son forsake his pride and jealousy and become more like his gracious father? Will the Pharisees and scribes?

The question also applies to us, especially to those of us who are considered religious leaders, who faithfully serve and obey God. Have we entertained the same kinds of warped notions about God? Do we secretly feel that serving the Lord is duty that deserves some sort of reward? If so, are we dangerously close to a soul-stifling legalism? When a sinner repents after a lifetime of dissipation, are we happy about a new brother or sister in Christ, or are we unhappy that he or she “got away with it”?

In these stories, we learn that celebration is the natural response of heaven to a lost sinner being found. Do we feel the same way? I am reminded of a message by Tony Campolo, “The Kingdom of God Is a Party.” While the kingdom is surely more than that, it cannot be less.

Christopher Hitchens was wrong. God is no cosmic tyrant. To entertain this kind of slur even for a moment dishonors the Lord and contradicts the good news we have been sent to share. So as we persevere in doing the good and hard work of the kingdom, let us never forget that if we see our gracious God as he is, chances are that others will see him that way, too.

The World Wide Religious Web for Wednesday, January 4, 2012


REVIVAL WATCH: “Pentecostal Renewal Transforms Rwanda after Genocide.”

A MORMON TAKE ON BAPTISM IN THE SPIRIT: “Choose a life of constant refinement.”

LET’S HOPE NOT! OR HOPE SO? “The Next Billy Graham Might Be Drunk Right Now.”

CAN A FALSE TEACHING BE FALSIFIED? “Scientologists in feud over leader.” Because he has strayed from the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard…

ATHEIST REDUCTIONISTS, THAT IS: “Reductionists on Parade.” See also “Against Atheist Cant.”

WOULD YOU RATHER CLIMB A HILL OR TAKE A N.A.P.? “Atheists Face Uphill Climb With New Political Party.”

BECAUSE NOTHING RUINS SOMETHING LIKE POLITICS DOES: “Saving Happiness from Politics.” “Beyond a level of basic material needs, personal happiness is and will always be significantly personal and subjective. Attempting to provide it collectively through an assortment of entitlements is bound to fail. There is a thin line between facilitating the individual pursuit of happiness and prescribing it for all of us. That line marks the difference between a free society that maximizes the opportunity for prosperity and the chance of happiness and a compulsive system that reduces the possibility of both. We should therefore treat the happiness revival — in the academy, in politics, and elsewhere — with appropriate skepticism and concern.”

HOW WE COMMUNICATE AND FORM RELATIONSHIPS: “Two Trends Worth Watching in 2012.”

A FOUR-DAY-OLD YEAR ALREADY HAS MYTHS ABOUT IT? “Top 10 Myths About 2012.”

RATIONALIZE = RATIONAL LIES? “The Problem With Rationalizing the Bible.” “Miracles are articles of faith, for true believers today and for the Bible as well. Whether they actually happened or not is debatable. But to chalk them up to freak occurrences of nature is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature both of the Bible and of belief in it.”

LGBT AS A UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHT? “Hillary Clinton and the ‘Laws that Teach.’”

YEP: “How Christians Ought to ‘Occupy’ Wall Street (and All Streets): “Christians therefore must occupy the world in their occupations, doing all their work as Christians, whatever it is, ‘whether in word or deed,’ as the Apostle Paul instructs, ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Col. 3:17 NIV). In this way the church finds its most significant and transformative cultural engagement through its affirmation of the daily work of Christians who already occupy Wall Street (and all streets).”

THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF CHARLES HODGE: “The Presbyterian Pope.”

FOR MANY REASONS: “Why Have We Seen a Drop in Crime?”

MEXICO HAS A GRAND WARLOCK? “Mexican Grand Warlock Predicts Obama Loss in 2012.”

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, June 13, 2011


“A Very Christian Atheist.” About George Orwell. I liked this quote from Orwell in particular:

…when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.

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Breaking Up with God: I Didn’t Lose My Faith, I Left It.” I’m interested in these kinds of stories because my doctoral research is going to focus on deconversion narratives. This paragraph caught my eye:

That there is more to God than most of us have been taught in church. That faith is an imaginative, constructive, ethical enterprise. That theology matters. That the way we think about God has a real effect on the earth and on other human beings. That we are the ones we have been waiting for. In the book I write, “This is my faith: a fragile hope in what humanity might be able to do when we stop looking for someone else to save us,” and I think that sentence sums up what the book is about.

Didn’t we just live through a century with that “fragile hope.” How did it work out?

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“How saying a blessing changed my secular family’s meals.” Well, if you’re going to be thankful, you need to be thankful to someone, right?

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“Dalai Lama: ‘I Am a Marxist, But Not a Leninist.’” If you’re a Marxist and a Buddhist, does that make you a Barxist? Or a Muddhist? Inquiring minds…

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Is Christian exclusivism bad? Part 1 of what promises to be an interesting two-part series.

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David Koresh Superstar? Uh, no thank you!

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“Arkansas atheists sue over bus ads on God-free lifestyle.” Of course they did.

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“Animal rights philosopher Peter Singer expands on why he is backing away from his famous philosophy.” Well, the “preference utilitarianism” part, anyway.

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“Inerrancy, Not So Arrogant.” In which Collin Hansen discusses what Jesus and Sarah Palin do not have in common.

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“How Not to Grow a Healthy Church.”

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Friday, May 6, 2011


CNN Poll: Majority in U.S. say bin Laden in hell. The rest have read Love Wins.

Jackson Lears critiques atheism, specifically Sam Harris, from the port-side of the political spectrum.

On Harris’s view of science:

To define science as the source of absolute truth, Harris must first ignore the messy realities of power in the world of Big Science. In his books there is no discussion of the involvement of scientists in the military-industrial complex or in the pharmacological pursuit of profit. Nor is any attention paid to the ways that chance, careerism and intellectual fashion can shape research: how they can skew data, promote the publication of some results and consign others to obscurity, channel financial support or choke it off. Rather than provide a thorough evaluation of evidence, Harris is given to sweeping, unsupported generalizations. His idea of an argument about religious fanaticism is to string together random citations from the Koran or the Bible. His books display a stunning ignorance of history, including the history of science. For a man supposedly committed to the rational defense of science, Harris is remarkably casual about putting a thumb on the scale in his arguments.

On Harris’s view of religion:

But Harris is not interested in religious experience. He displays an astonishing lack of knowledge or even curiosity about the actual content of religious belief or practice, announcing that “most religions have merely canonized a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement and passed them down to us as though they were primordial truths.” Unlike medicine, engineering or even politics, religion is “the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress.” Religion keeps us anchored in “a dark and barbarous past,” and what is generally called sacred “is not sacred for any reason other than that it was thought sacred yesterday.” Harris espouses the Enlightenment master narrative of progress, celebrating humans’ steady ascent from superstition to science; no other sort of knowledge, still less wisdom, will do.

On Harris’s confusions about ethics:

Harris’s version of scientific ethics does not allow for complexity. In The Moral Landscape, he describes his philosophical position as a blend of moral realism (“moral claims can really be true or false”) and consequentialism (“the rightness of an act depends on how it impacts the well-being of conscious creatures”). He does not explain why he has abandoned the intentionalism he espoused in The End of Faith. Nor does he spell out how his newfound consequentialism can allow him to maintain his justification of collateral damage (which surely “impacts the well-being of conscious creatures”), or how his new view differs from the pragmatism he had previously condemned. Pragmatism, the argument that ideas become true or false as their impact on the world unfolds, is nothing if not consequentialist.

And on Harris’s fundamental reductionism:

There is a fundamental reductionist confusion here: the same biological origin does not constitute the same cultural or moral significance. In fact, one could argue, Harris shows that the brain cannot distinguish between facts and values, and that the elusive process of moral reasoning is not reducible to the results of neuroimaging. All we are seeing, here and elsewhere, is that “brain activity” increases or decreases in certain regions of the brain during certain kinds of experiences—a finding so vague as to be meaningless. Yet Harris presses forward to a grandiose and unwarranted conclusion: if the fact-value distinction “does not exist as a matter of human cognition”—that is, measurable brain activity—then science can one day answer the “most pressing questions of human existence”: Why do we suffer? How can we be happy? And is it possible to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Interesting.

Stoicism: The Army’s newly invented faith?

Why the National Day of Prayer endures. Because we need economic miracles to cover the distance between what government spends and what it makes? That’s my answer.

Random thoughts on theodicy and psychics. My favorite line about psychics: “Only in America, I guess, do fake practitioners of false phenomena worry about the authenticity of their professional work.”

Howard Kainz offers a Catholic explanation of how Jesus had brothers if his mother was a perpetual virgin. Color me unconvinced.

Christ wasn’t a communist. No duh! But he wasn’t a capitalist either.

Hebrew baby names still tops in 2010, but Jews constitute only 1–2% of the American population. Two explanations: (1) The biblical tradition continues to influence American culture. (2) Hebrews have cool baby names.

Using History to Mold Ideas on the Right: An article about David Barton, WallBuilders, and the quest of the historical Christian nation. UPDATE: Over at GetReligion.org–an indispensable blog about religion stories in the news–Sarah Pulliam Bailey has some questions about this article.

A two-part series on the Christian redemption of the “dismal science”: Part 1 and Part 2.

What We Believe about God and Idols (1 Corinthians 8:4–6)


What we know influences how we live.

For example, I know that my father’s side of the family has a history of heart disease. I also know that my weight, diet, and exercise regime will either exacerbate whatever genetic predisposition I have toward heart disease or alleviate it. So, I choose to lose weight, eat healthy, and exercise regularly.

What I know influences how I live.

The interplay between knowledge and behavior takes center stage in 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, where Paul argues with the Corinthians about food sacrificed to idols. To a significant degree, Paul agrees with the Corinthians’ theology—what they believe about God. He disagrees with their ethics—how they live based on their theology.

We’ll look at theology today and leave ethics for later installments in this series of devotionals.

In 1 Corinthians 8:4–6, Paul writes:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

These verses make three claims that are foundational to Christianity.

First, God exists. He possesses an objective reality that idols lack. He is the origin of the world (“from whom”), the purpose of the world (“for whom”), and the redemption of the world—the means by which the world achieves its purpose (“through whom”).

Second, idolatry is delusional, yet prevalent and powerful. From a Christian perspective, “an idol is nothing at all in the world.” It is objectively unreal. It is merely a subjective reality, a figment of the imagination. Not surprisingly, then, there are as many idols as there are people with imaginations. Unfortunately, however, these people deify and serve their own imaginations.

Third, whether you believe in God or idols matters. Imagine two men dying of thirst in the desert. The first man sees a stand of trees in the west and urges the second man to move in that direction. The second man sees a shining lake in the east and urges his friend to move in that direction. If they have only enough strength to go one way or another, surely it is important for them to know whether they are moving toward an oasis or a mirage.

In recent years, so-called “New Atheists” have criticized religion generally and Christianity particularly. I’m not particularly disturbed by their arguments. After all, as a Christian, I don’t believe in many of the same gods they don’t believe in. Then again, if idolatry is the deification and service of the self and its imaginations, then atheism is simply another form of idolatry. And I don’t believe in that god either.