This week’s challenge, taken from a blog comment, is about whether or not there can be real meaning in life if God doesn’t exist:
I personally don't understand why a relatively "local" sense of purpose (limited to the scope of what humanity can grasp) is deemed insufficient by theists. I don't understand why it has to be "all or nothing," why our precarious sense of "meaning" – infinitesimal against the magnitude of physical reality – must encompass the whole universe, or else we lack all meaning. That seems incoherent to me.
Can anything be called “meaningful” in a world without God? If not, why not? How would you answer this blog commenter? Give us your thoughts in the comments below, then Brett will post a video with his answer on Thursday.
Then I asked him, "Have you ever committed any moral crimes?"
"Yes," he said.
"So have I," I responded. "So now we have this difficult situation. We both believe those who commit moral crimes should be punished, and we both believe we've committed moral crimes. Do you know what I call that? Bad news."
I continued, "This is where Jesus comes in. We both know we're guilty, worthy of punishment. God offers a pardon on His terms: Jesus, because He has personally paid the penalty on our behalf. You can either take the pardon and go free, or leave it and pay for your own crimes yourself."
This approach gives an accurate sense of why the cross is important and why Jesus is actually necessary, showing God as merciful, not petty. The biblical message is not if you don't believe in Jesus you go to Hell. Rather the message is, "If you don't receive a pardon for your crimes, you'll be punished as you should be." The former approach confuses the doctor with the disease. If you refuse the doctor's medicine for your disease, the blame belongs to the disease, not the doctor. The obituary doesn't read, "Cause of Death: He didn't go to the doctor."
It's the disease—sin—that kills, not the lack of a doctor. Jesus is the only way because He is the only one that provides the cure for what ails us.
The Supreme Court will soon be ruling on whether or not the Constitution allows for defining marriage as one man and one woman. If you’re the kind of person who cares about treating people fairly and having just, principled laws, this is not the time to depend on feelings or vague ideas you’ve picked up in the culture about marriage. This is the time to think carefully. We can do better than “love is love.” Much is at stake, and you can’t know what is fair and just unless you first understand what marriage is and how society is affected by it.
To that end, I’ve collected posts (mainly from this blog), divided them into broad categories, and provided brief summary quotes for each. Even if you just read the quotes, you’ll get a basic understanding of the ideas involved. If you read the posts themselves, you’ll find even more links to pursue.
What this argument is really about ("only one question")
The term “marriage equality,” if it means “the right to marry whomever you want,” is simply not an accurate term for what same-sex marriage supporters are advocating—not if they favor any restrictions whatsoever (age, number of people, incest, etc.). The truth is that nearly everyone does favor a definition of marriage that has boundaries and thereby denies “marriage equality” to some category of couple (or group). [In other words, the question we need to answer is, what is marriage?]
If marriage is a particular thing, then everyone has a right to take part in that institution as it stands, regardless of their personal characteristics. But to be part of the institution, they must be part of the institution. They don’t have a right to change that institution into something different simply because they don’t want to be part of it the way it is.
Imagine a public park builds a tennis court so that people can come to play tennis. Nobody should be denied the right to play tennis games there. Period. It’s a public park, open to all. One day, a group of basketball players comes to the park, wanting to play a game, but they find they can’t play basketball on a tennis court. They immediately go to City Hall to complain: “Everyone has the right to competitive exercise with a ball on that court! We’re being denied our rights based on our status as basketball players!” Can you see the problem? The fact that they don’t want to play tennis doesn’t give them the right to demand that the government build a different court at the park. Their right isn’t to “competitive exercise with a ball” (tennis shares that in common with basketball, but it can’t be reduced to that), their right is to play tennis on that court, just like everybody else.
Please don’t take that illustration farther than it’s intended to go. I’m merely trying to show that rights aren’t being denied simply because a person (or group of people) doesn’t want to take part in something. The park promises the same thing to all. It doesn’t promise “competitive exercise with a ball,” it promises tennis. And tennis excludes basketball—not out of prejudice, but by nature. One could certainly argue over whether the park ought to change that court into something different, but as things stand, no rights are being violated. Neither justice nor equality demands that the park change its court to accommodate the desires of the basketball players to play a different game in that space. The same is true for marriage.
Our objection to same-sex marriage is not about a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals. If we were saying that homosexuals were lesser people unworthy of rights, then one might have an argument for this being an example of bigotry. But the case we’re making isn’t about a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals (it’s not even about whether or not homosexuality is morally wrong); it’s about the difference between men and women.
[O]nly if marriage is defined as a conjugal union between sexually complementary spouses is there a reason for the monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence that marriage entails. When we remove the key component of sexual complementarity from the definition, none of these other aspects will logically hold. And weakening marriage in this way will cause much harm to our society.
The concept of marriage that “has always been” is one where the boundaries are principled because they’re conformed to the nature of reality—the complementary differences between men and women.
The reproductive system is the only bodily system that requires another person to complete it. The bringing together of two physically complementary persons completes this system, and that is the type of union that society has an interest in protecting because that act is the act that produces children (whether or not it does so in any particular case). If the union of a man and a woman didn't have the social consequences of creating a family by nature, marriage (the stabilization of that union by society) would never have existed.
Why define marriage as two people? Because two people complete the union that society has an interest in protecting.
Why define marriage as a man and a woman? Because those are the complementary persons whose union creates new life.
The traditional marriage advocate is arguing not from bigotry or even from tradition, but from principles of reality that remain unchanged despite anyone’s personal preferences.
Every state law will draw lines between what is a marriage and what isn’t a marriage. If those lines are to be drawn on principle, if those lines are to reflect the truth, we have to know what sort of relationship is marital, as contrasted with other forms of consenting adult relationships…. I’ll answer three questions: what is marriage, why does marriage matter for public policy, and what are the consequences of redefining marriage?
Consequences to do with children—both having them and caring for them (also applies to adoption). This is the area where studies are helpful. There are plenty of studies about what happens when a child doesn't have a mother or doesn't have a father. I tend to trust these more than studies that are specifically about children of same-sex parents because they aren't so politically charged. The biggest problem for children of same-sex parents is that they're denied what they need—a mother and a father, and we have plenty of evidence this causes problems.
Marriage can’t be separated from biological realities. And that’s why this upheaval won’t end when same-sex marriage is accepted—why Gessen’s ultimate goal is the end of marriage. I’m glad to hear her honesty about this.
Despite the current push to reject sexual complementarity as the basis of a family, our concept of family still involves children, and yet there’s no getting around the fact that in order for a child to exist (leaving aside cloning), a man and a woman must be involved. So what happens when a definitional change is forced onto naturally occurring institutions (both marriage and family)? That’s what the UK is finding out as it tries to create new laws to hold up a new definition. It’s turning out to be not as simple as they thought.
In the past when I’ve claimed that mothers and fathers are both necessary because they make unique, complementary contributions to the lives of their children (e.g., see “We Don’t Need ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ Anymore?”), some have expressed skepticism, asking for more evidence and a better description of the differences. In an article in The Atlantic, W. Bradford Wilcox explains what research is revealing on this subject.
In the end, the results of divorcing marriage and children from complementary biology will include unprecedented government intrusion, increasingly dubious technological practices, the viewing of children as commodities, serious legal complications, and the unethical use of women’s bodies. Indeed, these results are already underway.
Other unions do not complete the human reproductive system and create children, therefore monogamy and permanence are not central. Rather, what’s central is the sexual and emotional fulfillment of the participants, and who’s to say there’s one best way to accomplish that? Therefore, the radical activists seek “liberation”—the freedom to seek their own fulfillment however they see fit. No boundaries, no rules, no societal expectations. Each person acting as his own god, defining for himself what it means to be human.
Sometimes people cite polygamy as evidence that the definition of marriage has changed over time, proving it to be malleable according to the culture. But even in the case of polygamy, has there really been a change in the definition of marriage? While I could see someone today wanting to define marriage as one man and multiple women, I don't think that's how people viewed it in the past. That is, they didn't see their situation as one big marriage where everybody was married to everybody else. Rather, marriage was still simply one man and one woman. It's just that the man was allowed to have more than one marriage. We haven't changed the definition of marriage, we've only limited the number of concurrent marriages a person can have.
We don't have separate bathrooms for white people and black people. We do have separate bathrooms for men and women. This is because men and women are different in ways that are significant enough for society to acknowledge and take into account when those differences are relevant. And while differences in race are not relevant to marriage, differences in sex are relevant to creating and raising children. The important thing to note here is that the government is merely acknowledging an already-existing institution (one based on biological realities) when it recognizes male–female marriage. The public effect of the male–female union is unique, and therefore, the government is uniquely interested in it.
Today is the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and a good time to report on a recent poll that tried to get beyond the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels people claim for themselves to determine their specific views about abortion. From Kate Scanlon at The Daily Signal:
According to the poll, 47 percent of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, and 49 percent as pro-choice.
But it’s not that simple – Americans’ views on abortion are “complex.”
When respondents were offered “additional options,” a “good deal of common ground is revealed” between the two sides.
Eighty-four percent of respondents support some form of “significant restrictions” on abortion; such as limiting legal abortions to the first trimester of pregnancy, only allowing abortion in cases involving rape, incest or risk of maternal death – or not at all.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents who identified as “pro-choice” supported the same restrictions.
Only nine percent support legal abortion “at any time” during all nine months of pregnancy, and only 17 percent of those who identified as “pro-choice” support legal abortion throughout an entire pregnancy.
Please don’t miss this: Only 9% of Americans support unrestricted abortion. 84% support “significant restrictions.” Eighty-four percent. Never assume you know what a person thinks about abortion just because she says she’s “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Always ask specific questions and work from there.
Our laws aren’t just out of step with our people, they’re out of step with the world. Only seven countries in the world have laws as extreme as ours, allowing elective abortions after 20 weeks. We share that “honor” with China and North Korea.
Here are a few more posts to read and pass around today:
Our Kindle Deals page is one of the best resources for deep discounts on Christian apologetics and other related books. Books on topics such as evangelism, discipleship, Christian worldview, theology, philosophy, church history, Bible study and more. The page currently lists over 200 titles and is updated daily. All titles are $5.99 or less although the majority of them are $2.99 or less.
If you like reading Kindle books, you should bookmark his deal page and check back from time to time, or follow his @Kindle4Christ Twitter account. (You don’t need a Kindle! Get a free reading app for your computer, tablet, or smart phone.)
Tim Challies has also collected 80 Kindle deals on a Word document. He has some great finds in there, as well (it isn’t focused on apologetics, although there are a few in there). I don’t know if he plans to keep adding to it, but for now they seem to be up to date.
This coming Monday night (January 19), in select theaters across the country, there will be a one-time showing of a documentary exploring the evidence for the Exodus. Joe Carter reviewed Patterns of Evidence for the Gospel Coalition, saying:
The film won’t convince any Biblical minimalists, and even many Bible believers will remain skeptical. But the documentary itself is quite an achievement and worthy of consideration.
Mahoney’s “pattern of evidence” suggests the events of Exodus likely did not occur in the Egypt’s New Kingdom under Pharaoh Ramesses II. Instead, Mahoney makes the case that the modern view of the chronology of Egyptian history is off by about 200 years. Once that gap is corrected, the evidence (scarce though it may be) lines up more closely with the Biblical account….
[D]espite being made for a niche audience, Patterns is one of the most well-crafted documentaries released in years. Audiences have become so accustomed to seeing low production values in “Christian” films that it’s rather shocking to see a work of such high quality. Mahoney is a filmmaker of such considerable skill that it’s almost worth watching his film simply to admire the craftsmanship.
Mahoney also shows how to present a particular point of view—even a contrarian one—in a way that is fair-minded and compelling. He allows skeptics almost equal time to explain why they disagree, and though he is convinced of his findings, he never oversells the evidence. He trusts the audience enough to let us judge for ourselves what to make of the “patterns.”
Read the rest of his review here. It sounds like the documentary argues for the earlier 1446 BC date for the Exodus (the position I hold). I heard some of the evidence for that date while I was in the apologetics program at Biola, and it was definitely intriguing.
You can search for theaters and order tickets here. The pre-show starts at 6:30, the documentary at 7:00, then they’ll show a half hour panel discussion (with Eric Metaxas, Dennis Prager, and others) afterward.
If you’re in Southern California, you should know about the AMP Conference coming up on February 20-21 in Anaheim. From their website:
AMP aims to amplify the voices of Christians sharing their faith with the world. Too often those voices remain silent out of uncertainty and doubt. By bringing together leaders in Christian apologetics, AMP hopes to cultivate in all believers an awareness of issues key to today’s outreach efforts. This year’s theme, Equip to Evangelize, is designed to prepare Christians to use apologetics tools in their evangelism and to become confident witnesses to a skeptical world. AMP 2015 is a two-day apologetics conference, hosted by Eastside Christian Church. The conference will feature 10 speakers, all leaders in their respective fields as well as committed evangelical Christians, ready to share their wisdom and experiences in spreading the Good News.
It looks like they'll have an interesting range of topics, including “The Resurrection Meets Skepticism” (Gary Habermas), “Why I Believe God Exists: Evidences from a Biochemist” (Fuz Rana), “Beauty, Love, and Human Longing” (Kenneth Samples), “How to Engage in Science-Faith Conversation” (Jeff Zweerink), and “A Son from a Stone: A Muslim’s Journey to Christ” (Abdu Murray). You can see the full list of speakers here and the schedule with their topics here.
Register here (use promo code "STR" to get $10 off), and if you come, be sure to find me and say hi!
Over a year ago, I heard something on James White’s podcast that I’ve been thinking about off and on ever since. It’s a clip of Yusuf Ismail, a Muslim, from a debate he did with a Christian, and it gives some insight into how Muslims view God and the Christian gospel. Dr. White explains in the podcast:
I think this is one of the best insights into the Muslim mind that is trying to interpret the gospel of Jesus Christ within a context that has no room for a suffering Messiah, has no room for the gospel message. This, to me, is a clear illustration of how…Mohammed never understood the very central aspect of the message of the gospel. He never understood it.
This was Yusuf Ismail’s objection to the gospel:
The idea, or the concept, of Jesus being God or being divine has raised for Muslims a number of issues pertaining to the theological mistrust. If Jesus is God, and God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross—and as John had suggested earlier on, it was the idea of God incarnate, coming down to earth, humiliating Himself, in a manner of speaking, and being crushed by his enemies, in a manner of speaking—now, if that’s the idea of God, if God allows Himself to be edged out of the world onto the cross, then our understanding of God is fundamentally a God who is weak and totally powerless in the world. He helps us, not through His omnipotence, not through His almightiness, but rather through His weakness and suffering.
We forget how entirely unexpected and shocking the humility and servanthood of Jesus is—how foreign it is to human expectations of God, and in this case, to Muslim expectations. Transcendence, power, judgment, and victory, they expect. But humility? Self-sacrificial grace? These seem obviously incompatible with deity to Yusuf Ismail.
But this is Christianity: God accomplished His purpose through the weakness, suffering, humiliation, and even death of Jesus, the divine second person of the Trinity. And even more shockingly, Jesus did this for people who were the cause of His suffering, and humiliation, and death. Because of this, it’s not by accident that Christians who live in gratefulness and awe of this don’t seek revenge on those who mock them and their God. We’re told in Philippians 2:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Yes, God will accomplish perfect justice in the end. Justice is good, and we rest in that. But the most honored act of all time, for which Jesus was highly exalted by the Father, was not avenging His Name, but dying for those who disgraced it. He didn’t dismiss justice, but instead He upheld it by bearing it on His own shoulders. This central act of Christianity burrowed into our understanding of the virtuous life and slowly infiltrated all of Western culture—so much so that we in the West now take for granted the beauty of patient, gracious, self-sacrificial humility over an immediate exercise of punitive power. We forget that not every culture has seen this as desirable. It’s an echo of Christ, not something men naturally reason to on their own.
As with any ideal, neither individual Christians nor societies shaped by Christianity have always lived up to this. But the astounding truth is that our knowledge of Christ created this cultural ideal where it didn’t exist before.
This challenge comes from the first item in the Pro-Choice Action Network’s article refuting “some common misconceptions about abortion”:
Human life begins at conception. There is no scientific consensus as to when human life begins. It is a matter of philosophic opinion or religious belief. Human life is a continuum—sperm and eggs are also alive, and represent potential human beings, but virtually all sperm and eggs are wasted. Also, two-thirds of human conceptions are spontaneously aborted by nature.
What mistakes are made here? How would you argue that we can objectively know when a new human being comes into existence? Answer this challenge in the comments below, and then we’ll hear Alan’s answer on Thursday.