This July, I’ll be leading a group of high school students and leaders from Grace Fellowship Church on a brand new experience. We’re calling it the Worldview Road Trip, and it’s designed to equip students to think Christianly about every single area of life. One topic we plan to cover is economics. We want students to know the central components of a Christian worldview and how they inform our views on poverty, money, the economy, free markets, and more. As we’ve been creating an outline for this training session, I’ve identified several key theological issues that are especially relevant to this topic:
The Image of God
Fallen Human Nature
The Nature of Marriage and Family
Self-governance and Personal Responsibility
The Role of the Family
The Role of the Church
And here are the key questions regarding economics that emerge from our theological reflections:
How does the Imago Dei inform our view of human activity? Why is man a creator, not merely consumer?
How does fallen human nature inform our views about economics, markets, and human interaction in these arenas? How do various economic systems take into account, or ignore, our sinful and selfish nature? How might a free-market economy hold human nature in check and create accountability?
What is “sphere sovereignty,” and how does this idea emerge in Scripture (e.g., Paul telling us that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” in 2 Thess. 3:10)? Who is primarily responsible for taking care of us?
Is there a distinction between self-interest and selfishness? How does appropriate self-interest inform our economic views?
What should our approach be to the poor? How does our view of human nature inform our approach? How are free markets effective tools in fighting poverty in the world?
How does God’s design for the family protect people from poverty (e.g., looking at how single parenting greatly increases chances of poverty and how married men with children are the most productive members of society)?
What is man’s fundamental problem and need according to Scripture? How do we prioritize issues like poverty in light of the primacy of the Gospel (e.g., do people need wealth or Jesus more? Are we focusing more on social justice issues or the cross of Christ?)
How would you answer these questions? We will equip students to see how the Christian worldview has tremendous insight into these topics. If you haven’t given this much thought, let me pass along some of the great resources we’re using to prepare this training session. You may find them helpful as you too think Christianly about all of life.
French ex-atheist Guillaume Bignon has an article in Premiere Christianity explaining why he thinks the evil perpetrated against his country last week points to the existence of God:
The only option for French atheists (among whose ranks I used to count myself), is to maintain that there isn’t really any such thing as evil. When one denies the existence of God as a transcendent creator of the universe who ordains how humans ought to live their lives, one is left only with conflicting opinions about what individuals like and dislike. If there is no God then there is no objective truth about the good and the bad….
[I]n reality, to be a consistent atheist one must affirm that the Islamic terrorists in Paris didn’t do anything 'wrong', as such. They only acted out of line with our personal preferences, (and in line with theirs). If there's no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, that's all we are left with.
Maybe that way of reasoning about good and evil strikes you as crazy. 'Of course the terrorists were wrong and their acts were evil' the atheist says. I agree, which is why I think the reality of the evil we just witnessed makes atheism so implausible….
But of course, maintaining the existence of God in the face of such evil isn’t without its difficulties. If he exists and is perfectly good, why didn’t God prevent this evil? …
Hearts are heavy, and thinking objectively is difficult when it hurts. But ultimately, as the French face this seemingly purposeless evil, one side must deny that it’s evil, and the other must deny that it’s purposeless.
As a former-atheist-turned-Christian-theologian there’s no hiding which option I favour.
Bignon fleshes out these arguments a bit more in the full article. Read the rest here. And if you’re interested in hearing how a French atheist became a Christian, Greg talks about it here (starting at 9:28), or you can read about it here. It’s a great story!
A while back, I met with a local pastor to talk about apologetics—the defense of the Christian faith. During our friendly discussion, we got on to the subject of the nature of truth, at which time I made a case for the correspondence theory of truth.
This particular pastor subscribed to a postmodern view of truth—that there is no objective truth and that truth is a social construction based on linguistic practices.
While making my case, I referred to the laws of logic, and specifically, to the law of non-contradiction. The pastor immediately denied the law of non-contradiction. I was completely taken aback and could not believe what I was hearing. It was bad enough that I had to argue for truth, but now I found myself arguing for something as foundational as the laws of logic.
For those who don't know, the law of non-contradiction states that A and not-A (where A is a proposition) cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. For example, my car cannot be parked in my driveway and not parked in my driveway at the same time and in the same sense. This just seems so obviously true, and yet this notion was being rejected.
This pastor was convinced that the law of non-contradiction is just a Western convention. Furthermore, he indicated to me that he believes that Western “Either-Or” logic is too arrogant, dogmatic, and exclusive. He prefers to use the Eastern “Both-And” system of logic. Fortunately for me, this conversation that I found myself in was beginning to sound a lot like a story I heard Ravi Zacharias tell during one of his keynote addresses. You can listen to the story in the video below. (If you're in a rush, you can start listening at the 2:25 minute mark.)
During my conversation with this pastor, I asked the very same question that Dr. Ravi Zacharias asked the American philosophy professor in his story. I asked, “Are you saying that it’s either the Eastern ‘Both-And’ system or nothing else?” He didn't catch it the first time, and simply responded, “Yes!” The question was worth repeating, but this time I put emphasis on two significant words.
I asked, “Are you saying that it’s either the Eastern ‘Both-And’ system or nothing else?” That's when you could see the light bulb go on. A simple smile let me know that he got it!
The “Either-Or” logic is impossible to avoid. Ironically, this person needed the law of non-contradiction to try to prove the “Both-And” system. The very fact that he disagreed with me communicated that he really did believe in the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction isn’t just a Western convention. In fact, it’s not a convention at all. The laws of logic aren’t invented; they’re discovered. They are facts about reality—the way the world really is.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this challenge would have caught me off guard if it wasn't for this video by Dr. Zacharias. This short YouTube clip changed everything. Don't ever underestimate the power of a 10-minute YouTube video or a podcast. You just never know when God is going to use what you’ve learned for his glory!
Does the Modal Ontological Argument prove the existence of God? It at least demonstrates that God’s existence, if possible, would be necessary. So the only way God couldn’t exist is if his existence was impossible. This means there is no 50-50 chance of God existing, no 10% or 90% either. Either God cannot exist or he must exist. The probability of God’s existence is 0% or 100%.
The existence of a necessary being is not contingent on anything else. Therefore, there can’t be one set of circumstances that would cause Him to exist in one kind of reality but another set of circumstances that wouldn’t, such that He would exist in some possible worlds but not in others. A necessary being can’t have a “somewhat probable” chance of existing in a particular world, because He exists by necessity; and the different possible circumstances one could imagine existing around Him have no effect on whether or not He exists, because He’s not contingent on any of them.
For this reason, if a necessary being is possible in any conceivable world, then He would exist in every conceivable world, including this one.
I still have much thinking to do before this is settled in my own mind, but after watching this video and mulling it over for a few hours, this is the closest I’ve come to understanding (and finding meaningful) the ontological argument for the existence of God. Keathley's point is key: “Either God cannot exist or he must exist.”
Give the ontological argument another chance. Take some time to think about it, and see how far you get. I’m interested in reading your comments as I’m working through this, but don’t comment if you haven’t watched the video.
I’m skeptical of the possibility of convincing people who don’t believe in God that human beings have intrinsic value (see “Atheism and Universal Human Rights” for more on why I’m skeptical). But Wesley J. Smith keeps insisting it’s possible, and I can’t help but hope he’s right when he says things like this:
Happily, human exceptionalism does not require belief in a transcendent God, or indeed, spiritual allusions of any kind if we understand that what matters morally is not the capacities of the individual—which, after all, are transitory—but our intrinsic natures as human beings—which are innate.
If we can convince people our value comes not from the abilities we’re expressing at a particular moment in time but from the kind of being we are—and that’s a big “if” that Smith doesn’t make a case for in his following argument, though you can read an argument for it here—then a case for universal intrinsic human value can be made.
[A]s recent headlines about Planned Parenthood and the push for assisted suicide demonstrate, now is the time to defend intrinsic human value….
A belief in human exceptionalism…does not depend on religious faith. Whether we were created by God, came into being through blind evolution, or were intelligently designed, the importance of human existence can and should be supported by the rational examination of the differences between us and all other known life forms.
After all, what other species in known history has had the wondrous capacities of human beings? What other species has been able to (at least partially) control nature instead of being controlled by it? What other species builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, communicates in language, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion? What other species has true freedom? Not one….
Perhaps the most important distinction between the fauna and us is our moral agency. The sow that permits the runt of her litter to starve is not a negligent parent, but a human mother doing the same would be branded a monster. The feline that plays with a fallen baby bird before consuming it is not being sadistic; she is acting like a cat! But any human who tortures an animal is rightly seen as pathological.
A common question that comes up after I give my talk titled Why I Am Not an Evolutionist is, “If there are so many good scientific arguments against evolution, why is it so widely believed?”
I recently came across an article by Dr. William Lane Craig where he responds to this exact question. In his brilliant response he makes two key observations, which I will highlight here.
First, Dr. Craig points outs that the mainstream acceptance of the theory of evolution is not for scientific reasons; it’s accepted for philosophical reasons. More specifically, it’s believed because of a commitment to methodological naturalism. Craig says:
I think the short answer is that it’s the best naturalistic theory we’ve got. If, as a result of methodological naturalism, the pool of live explanatory options is limited to naturalistic hypotheses, then, at least until recently, the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution driven by the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection was, as Alvin Plantinga puts it,the only game in town.” [Emphasis mine.]
Methodological naturalism simply means that scientists must assume philosophical naturalism—only natural causes exist—when doing science. Of course, this assumption excludes all supernatural explanations a priori. Therefore, for anyone holding to methodological naturalism, creationism and intelligent design are not on the table as possible explanations. Even if all the scientific evidence pointed away from evolution and towards intelligent design, they would still need to cling to the theory of evolution because it’s the only possible naturalistic explanation. It’s the only game in town.
Second, Craig offers a helpful reminder. He says, “It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the word ‘evolution’ is an accordion word that can be expanded or contracted to suit the occasion.”
Evolution is an equivocal word. This means that it can have more than one meaning. For instance, it can mean anything from simple, biological change over time—change in allele frequency—to universal, common descent of all organisms from a single, common ancestor. The former is accepted by virtually everyone, including the staunchest young earth creationist. The latter, on the other hand, has many highly qualified biologists questioning whether the mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations is up to the task.
So when the question arises as to why evolution is so widely believed, we need to find out what the questioner means by evolution. In one sense, evolution is believed because it’s true; organisms change over time. In another sense, it’s believed because it’s the only theory in play given their commitment to methodological naturalism.
So while evolution in an innocuous sense is well-established, belief in evolution in [other senses] is not universal among scientists, and the dominance of neo-Darwinism heretofore is due to the constraints of methodological naturalism and the want of a better naturalistic alternative.
Reflection on moral guilt (see yesterday's post) leads us to discover another feature of moral obligations. Moral guilt seems to alienate people from one another. If one fails to live up to one’s obligation to uphold the laws of the land, alienation from individuals or even from a group of individuals will ensue. For example, someone who takes innocent life will experience alienation from that person’s loved ones, maybe a spouse or child. Such persons will be angry and may direct hatred toward the murderer. In addition, the murderer will be alienated from society-at-large and subsequently locked away. However, such alienation can be alleviated. Moral guilt can be removed by forgiveness from the appropriate party. Implicit in this discussion is the social nature of moral obligations.
The instantiation of moral obligations is internally related to personhood. Moral obligations only obtain between persons. In contrast, we don't have obligations to inanimate objects. If I see a piece of wood lying on the ground, I'm not necessarily obligated to refrain from taking a hammer to it and breaking it into pieces. The proponent of naturalism may reply that if the piece of wood in question were part of someone’s house, then I would be obligated not to destroy it, and thus, I would be obligated to an inanimate object. However, my obligation obtains only in virtue of that piece of wood’s relationship to a person. My obligation is not to the wood itself but to the person, namely the owner of the house to which the wood is attached.
The proponent of naturalism may respond in a second way, arguing we have moral obligations to non-persons because we have obligations to creatures in the animal kingdom. We are obligated to care for and not harm animals. My first response is a question: Are we obligated to animals in the same way we're obligated to human persons? The answer must clearly be no. Certainly there is a distinction between killing an innocent cow to eat and killing an innocent human to eat. If hungry packs of wolves were killing deer populations in a particular region of woods, would we send in the military to intervene? No. Indeed, we refer to such action as killing but refrain from using moral terms like murder. However, when we see human genocide, the world community recognizes an obligation to act.
Secondly, if our supposed obligations to animals are unlike our obligations to other persons, maybe they're not obligations at all. Given a theistic framework, our moral obligation to care for animals is not an obligation to the animals themselves but rather an obligation to the personal Creator who brought them into existence and has charged human persons to rule over and be good stewards of His created order.
The social nature of moral obligations makes sense of the first feature, moral incumbency. Imagine a teenager who is preparing to play scrabble. She opens the box containing the scrabble board and tiles and proceeds to dump the pieces on the kitchen table. However, her attention is quickly diverted by the sitcom playing on the living room television. She wanders in that direction. Now imagine that she returns to the kitchen table and discovers the following words formed by scrabble tiles: “Take out the trash.” If the teenager comes to discover the words were formed by her chance dumping of the pieces on the table, there would be no moral incumbency behind this command. However, if she discovered this was her dad’s humorous way to communicate his commands, the incumbency of her moral obligation to obey dad would press in on her. Thus, moral obligations obtain when there are at minimum two persons involved.
But one more thing must be said. Imagine this teenage girl discovered it was not dad who arranged the tiles but rather her six-year-old brother. The moral incumbency would not come into play because the younger brother is not a person with the requisite authority to make such commands. Thus, a moral obligation has incumbency when a command is issued by an appropriate authority.
Again, we turn to the naturalist for an account. How do moral obligations that arise by a chance collision of atoms obtain in the actual world? How would naturalism account for moral obligations, with their requisite social nature, in virtue of purely material and non-social processes? Impersonal forces cannot give rise to personal ones. Moreover, how could non-rational physical processes be the basis of authority for moral obligations? Thus, another feature of morality further presses in on the naturalist because given naturalism, there's no appropriate personal authority to ground moral obligations.
Given these four features of morality—immateriality, incumbency, guilt, sociability—what's the best explanation? Naturalism can't provide adequate ontological grounding for morality. Our moral obligations go much deeper than naturalism’s accounting. So, if moral obligations can't be properly grounded in a nonreligious view of the world, then we should move in the direction of a theistic worldview that offers us a much more plausible explanation.
 Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford Press, 1999), p. 239.