A Rebuttal to Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape

Sam Harris, who is a best-selling author, outspoken atheist, and neuroscientist is considered one of the “four horses” of New Atheism, with Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Yet his views contrast the views of other “New Atheists” because he endorses objective morality instead of relative morality and he does not endorse determinism. Atheists who endorse determinism are materialists who believe our actions are predetermined in our DNA. Richard Dawkins notes that this does not mean our actions are unalterable. It means only that they obey the laws of physics. His famous quote is “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” Atheists who endorse relative morality do so in recognition of the source of objective morality, which is God.

William Lane Craig (2010, pp. 128) references William Sorley, who was a professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge University and his book Moral Values and the Idea of God to explain that the “best hope for a rational, unified view of reality is to postulate God as the ground of both the natural and moral orders…In Sorley’s view both the natural order and the moral order are part of reality. The question, then, is: What worldview can combine these two orders into the most coherent explanatory form?” Sorley argued that the best explanation is an infinite, eternal mind who is the architect of nature and whose moral purpose man and the universe are gradually fulfilling.

Harris’ 2010 book, which is entitled “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Explain Human Values” is his ambitious attempt to explain his perspectives on humanity’s objective moral standard without God. The intent of the present blog is to offer a critique of his work.

The Elusive Definition of Well-being

Harris (2010) states, “I will argue, however, that questions about values—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.” Yet he never specifically defines the well-being construct he states that we need to maximize. He states “well-being…resists precise definition, yet is indispensable.” Well-being, according to Harris, is whatever leads to happiness and pleasure. Harris adopts consequentialism and notes, “the rightness of an act depends on how it impacts the well-being of conscious creatures.”

On his website http://www.reasonablefaith.org, William Lane Craig offers this critique of Harris’ circular reasoning, “So to ask, ‘Why is maximizing creatures’ well-being good?” is on his definition the same as asking, ‘Why does maximizing creatures’ well-being maximize creatures’ well-being? It is simply a tautology — talking in a circle. Thus, Harris has ‘solved’ his problem simply by redefining his terms. It is mere word play. At the end of the day Harris is not really talking about moral values. He is just talking about what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet.”

So what is conducive with the flourishing of life on this planet? Harris contrasts a “bad life,” which he typifies with the story of an African woman whose son murders her daughter after he is kidnapped by a murderous gang with a “good life” which he typifies as one who is in a wonderful romantic relationship and has a job that is intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding and lives in a peaceful environment. Harris points to Christianity to note an interesting dichotomy. The religious person having a “bad life” may be happy knowing the meek shall inherit the world in the afterlife, while the religious person having a “good life” may be bothered by the way Jesus Christ said that it would be easier to squeeze a camel through a needle than for a wealthy person to go to heaven. Jesus also promised that some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last. Both points demonstrate that happiness in this life may inversely relate to happiness in the afterlife. Perhaps it is for this reason that Harris considers himself an atheist.

The Assumption of Goodness

Harris states, “So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal) because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal) because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good.”

The comparison of morality, which speaks to the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong and good or bad behavior to science, which is the study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through experiment and observation, presents a false analogy. Developing a “rational understanding” of the universe does not equate to stating that humanity universally seeks to maximize its well-being to achieve happiness and pleasure. The comparison does nothing to address the problem Harris faces, which is to explain why maximizing the well-being of individuals and populations through happiness and pleasure both is and ought to be our universal goal.

Do all populations and people maximize their well-being through happiness and pleasure? No. The Schwartz Value Surveys, which are well-known surveys of individual-level and societal-level values across cultures, indicate that humans vary in notable ways. Some seek self enhancement, which is consistent with Harris’ hedonistic philosophy. Others seek self-transcendence of selfish values, which is a focus on benevolence and universalism. Accordingly, Harris’ philosophy cannot be applied across cultures because all don’t seek self enhancement as he does in his pursuit of happiness and pleasure. Furthermore, happiness and pleasure are consequences of our values – not justifications for same.

At the individual level, what maximizes the pleasure and happiness of one person may concurrently maximize the displeasure and sadness of another. Harris demonstrates this with an example of a psychopath who derives pleasure by raping his nine-year old stepson. Such an example demonstrates that the maximization of well-being can have both positive and negative effects on people and societies. Clearly, this ought not to be our universal goal.

Harris adds, “What if the laws of nature allow for different and seemingly antithetical peaks on the moral landscape? What if there is a possible world in which the Golden Rule has become an unshakable instinct, while there is another world of equivalent happiness where the inhabitants reflexively violate it? Perhaps this is a world of perfectly matched sadists and masochists. Let’s assume that in this world every person can be paired, one-for-one, with the saints in the first world, and while they are different in every other way, these pairs are identical in every way relevant to their well-being. Stipulating all these things, the consequentialist would be forced to say that these worlds are morally equivalent. Is this a problem? I don’t think so. The problem lies in how many details we have been forced to ignore in the process of getting to this point.”

In summary, Harris both acknowledges that the world of matched sadists and masochists is antithetical to the present world, yet by using this example, Harris demonstrates that he regards followers of the Golden Rule to be equally capable as sadists and masochists of reaching the heights of moral virtue. He uses the “far-fetched” scenario in which there is “no connection between being good and feeling good” so “rapists, liars, and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints…If evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is…saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks” on the “moral landscape.” In essence, he is stating that if evil results in happiness just as well as good does, then being evil is morally equivalent to being good. He is stating the possibility of a world he knows is “far-fetched” to justify his moral landscape philosophy, which essentially makes his philosophy far-fetched.

His views are consistent with dualism, which is embraced in pantheism and the philosophy of yin and yang. As C.S. Lewis (1952, pp.  44-46) states, “If dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality, we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons – either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it – money, power, or safety…Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness…All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things – resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why dualism, in a strict sense, will not work… Christianity agrees with dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks this is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.”

Free Will and Determinism

Another way Sam Harris distinguishes himself from the other atheists is his view on free will. Some new atheists endorse determinism and materialism, while Harris appears to disagree.

Harris says, “As Daniel Dennett has pointed out, many people confuse determinism with fatalism. This gives rise to questions like, ‘If everything is determined, why should I do anything? Why not just sit back and see what happens?’ But the fact that our choices depend on prior causes does not mean that they do not matter. If I had not decided to write this book, it wouldn’t have written itself. My choice to write it was unquestionably the primary cause of its coming into being. Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc., are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world. Human choice, therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will believe. And to ‘just sit back and see what happens’ is itself a choice that will produce its own consequences. It is also extremely difficult to do: just try staying in bed all day waiting for something to happen; you will find yourself assailed by the impulse to get up and do something, which will require increasingly heroic efforts to resist.”

“Most people’s view of the mind is implicitly dualist and libertarian and not materialist and compatibilist … [I]ntuitive free will is libertarian, not compatibilist. That is, it requires the rejection of determinism and an implicit commitment to some kind of magical mental causation … contrary to legal and philosophical orthodoxy, determinism really does threaten free will and responsibility as we intuitively understand them (J.Greene & Cohen, 2004, pp. 1779–1780).”

In summary, Harris rejects determinism. I reject determinism as well, but for different reasons. Some atheists believe their decisions are predetermined in the composition of their DNA, while some theists believe their decisions are predetermined by God. Atheists use the latter as an argument against God, since they say if we have free will and God has predetermined our actions, then we really don’t have free will. They conflate our free will with God’s omniscience and omnipotence, claiming that an all knowing and all powerful God controls our decisions. Yet while God is all knowing and all powerful, He has given us free will so He does not control our actions. How does He know what our actions will be? He is concurrently in the past, present, and future. Therefore, He both sees our actions as we make them and has concurrently seen our actions from His position in the future.

The False Dichotomy between Science and Theism

Harris offers a quote, which I greatly appreciate. “Here is a version of this charge that, I fear, most people would accept, taken from journalist Chris Mooney and marine biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum’s book Unscientific America: If the goal is to create an America more friendly toward science and reason, the combativeness of the New Atheists is strongly counterproductive. If anything, they work in ironic combination with their dire enemies, the anti-science conservative Christians who populate the creation science and intelligent design movements, to ensure we’ll continue to be polarized over subjects like the teaching of evolution when we don’t have to be. America is a very religious nation, and if forced to choose between faith and science, vast numbers of Americans will select the former. The New Atheists err in insisting that such a choice needs to be made. Atheism is not the logically inevitable outcome of scientific reasoning, any more than intelligent design is a necessary corollary of religious faith. A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth. The New Atheists, like the fundamentalists they so despise, are setting up a false dichotomy that can only damage the cause of scientific literacy for generations to come. It threatens to leave science itself caught in the middle between extremes, unable to find cover in a destructive, seemingly unending, culture war.”

The Assumptions of Evolution

Survival of the Fittest as conceptualized by Charles Darwin refers to the survival of the most adaptive. In recent years, studies indicating that social species evolved empathy have helped atheists to explain human empathy and the empathy of animals categorized as social. Yet, as my friend Skye Martens points out, the evolutionary question is ‘why isn’t the human or chimp selfish?’ Atheists answer this question by stating that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. This answer presupposes that we have endorsed another moral value: we ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. We all ought to be collectivists. Yet major studies by cross cultural scholars such as Geert Hofstede and Robert House indicate societies are often much more individualist. The United States, as an example, is considered the most individualist country in the world (Hofstede, 2001), Atheists will also say that if the group doesn’t survive, the species doesn’t survive – but why should people necessarily be concerned with the survival of the species? The answer forces another assumption.

An Interesting Observation

Harris states, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the most widely used reference work for clinicians in the field of mental health. It defines ‘delusion’ as a ‘false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.’ Lest we think that certain religious beliefs might fall under the shadow of this definition, the authors exonerate religious doctrines, in principle, in the next sentence: ‘The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).’

“If we are measuring sanity in terms of sheer numbers of subscribers, then atheists and agnostics in the United States must be delusional: a diagnosis which would impugn 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences. There are, in fact, more people in the United States who cannot read than who doubt the existence of Yahweh. In twenty-first-century America, disbelief in the God of Abraham is about as fringe a phenomenon as can be named.”

I appreciate Harris’ observation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Sam Harris’ conceptions of objective morality based on the well-being of humanity are flawed in a number of important ways. Firstly, he fails to define well-being, yet loosely correlates it to happiness and pleasure and makes the assumption that all of humanity seek to maximize well-being to achieve happiness and pleasure. Secondly, he acknowledges that both good and evil may correspond to the happiness and pleasure of various types of humans (e.g., psychopaths), so the maximization of well-being for some will be at the detriment of those they victimize. Clearly, this is not an optimal representation of the objective morality that we know to be true. Thirdly, he uses a dualist perspective to present a “far-fetched” conception of an evil world of masochists and sadists to explain his philosophy, which merely makes his philosophy just as far-fetched. Finally, his conceptions of evolution, like those of all atheists, are based on false assumptions. In fact, his entire book is based on false assumptions.

Thank you for investing the time.

References

Craig, W.L. (2012). http://www.reasonablefaith.org/navigating-sam-harris-the-moral-landscape#ixzz3yVBsW3DK

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Harris, S. (2010). The Moral Landscape. How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s Consequences. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. New York, NY: Harper One.

 

 

 

Archeological and Historical Extra-Biblical Evidence in Support of Christianity

The intention of the following blog is to provide archeological and historical, extra-biblical evidence in support of God, the Bible, and Christianity. The blog will present this support in the order aforementioned.

Archeological Evidence

“And He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” Luke 19:40.

“The spades of the archeologists have uncovered innumerable facts that confirm the Scripture. More than twenty-five thousand sites have been discovered that pertain to the Bible. Records of tens of thousands of individuals and events have been found. The most recent and continuing testimony of archeology, like all such testimony that has gone before, is definitely and uniformly favorable to the Scripture at its face value, rather than to the Scripture as reconstructed by critics. Dr. William Albright says, There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.’” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 23-24).

One of the greatest sources of evidence for the authenticity of the Old Testament was found between the years of 1947 and 1956 along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea: the Dead Sea Scrolls (Centuryone, 2011). About 15,000 fragments provided the remains of between 825 and 870 separate scrolls. The scrolls included 19 copies of the book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy, and 30 copies of Psalms. The Isaiah Scroll, which was around 1,000 years older than any known copy of Isaiah, was found completely intact. “The Dead Sea Scrolls enhance our knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity. They represent a wealth of comparative material for New Testament scholars, including many important parallels to the Jesus movement. They show Christianity to be rooted in Judaism and have been called the evolutionary link between the two.” (Centuryone, 2011). Recent technological advances have also helped to advance the readability of the Scrolls. See https://cccdiscover.com/oldest-biblical-text-reveals-amazing-reality-about-the-hebrew-bible/?utm_content=buffer18976&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Famed archeologist Sir William Ramsay set out to discredit Luke (who authored the Book of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) when he traveled to Biblical locations recounted in the New Testament. After twenty years of investigation, he converted to Christianity and determined that Luke “should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and they stand against the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment” (Ramsay, 1915/2011).

Roman historian Colin Hemer concurred. He identified eighty four historical and eyewitness details from Luke in Acts 13 through Acts 28 (Turek, 2014). These include the names of small town politicians, topographical features, specific weather patterns and water depths and local slang.

Additional archeological evidence supports the existence of more than thirty prominent people in the New Testament (Turek, 2014). These people include John the Baptist, James the half-brother of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Erastus, Agrippa I, Caiaphas, Bernice, Quirinius, Lysanias, Agrippa II, Felix, and several Herods.

As an example of one piece of archeological evidence, in Jerusalem in 1990, the burial box (ossuary) of the remains of Caiaphas was discovered. The ossuary is now featured in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem (Turek, 2014). Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion.

As a second example, Josephus recorded Quirinius’ governorship from AD 5 and AD 6, yet Luke wrote that Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem because a Syrian governor named Quirinius was conducting a census (Luke 2:1-3). Archeological discoveries have identified Quirinius’ name on a coin, indicating he was the proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC to the death of Herod (Vardaman, 2009). Quirinius’ name was also found on the base of a statue in Pisidian Antioch (Ramsay, 1915/2011).

As third and fourth examples, a piece of pavement was discovered in Corinth in 1929 confirming the existence of Erastus, the city treasurer (Romans 6:23) (Wallace, 2013). Luke mentioned a tetrarch named Lysanias who reigned over Abilene when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:1). Josephus also recorded a man named Lysanias who reigned over the region from 40 BC to 36 BC, which is long before the birth of John the Baptist. Skeptics identified the inconsistencies, yet archeological evidence offered the answers. Two inscriptions were discovered that mentioned Lysanias by name. One, which was dated from 14 AD to 37 AD, identifies Lysanias as the tetrarch over Abila near Damascus during the period of time described by Luke (Wallace, 2013). This evidence suggests the existence of two men named Lysanias: one described by Josephus and the second described by Luke.

Historical Evidence

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” Psalm 118:22.

While historians often request two sources of evidence when piecing together histories, we have an astounding forty-two sources within one hundred and fifty years of Jesus’ resurrection that support accounts of Jesus (Habermas & Licona, 2004).

  1. Nine traditional authors of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude.
  2. Twenty early Christian writings outside of the New Testament: Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Barnabas, Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.
  3. Four heretical writings: Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and the Treatise on Resurrection.
  4. Nine secular non-Christian sources: Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar-Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallas.

Based on these sources, we find that (Turek, 2014, pp. 207):

  • Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
  • He lived a virtuous life.
  • He worked miracles.
  • He had a brother named James.
  • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
  • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
  • An eclipse and an earthquake occurred when He died.
  • He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
  • His disciples believed He rose from the dead.
  • His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
  • Christianity spread rapidly in Rome.
  • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshipped Jesus as God.

Ten authors mention Tiberius Caesar, who was the Roman emperor who reigned during Jesus’ ministry, within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximum, and Luke (Habermas & Licona, 2004).

Furthermore, Jesus fulfilled 330 Old Testament prophecies. These include the following passages (Turek, 2014, pp. 205-206), which determined the Messiah would have the following characteristics:

  • From the seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15)
  • From the seed of Abraham (Genesis 1:2-7)
  • From the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10)
  • From the line of David (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
  • Both God and man (Isaiah 9:6-7)
  • Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
  • Preceded by a messenger and will visit the Jerusalem temple (Malachi 3:1), which had to occur before the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 AD.
  • Pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)
  • Cried out to the Lord in anguish (Psalm 22)
  • Raised from the dead (Isaiah 53:11)

Jesus Christ

William Lane Craig (2008, pp. 302) says, “It is, of course, indisputable that the New Testament church regarded Jesus as the promised Messiah. The title Christos (Messiah) became so closely connected with the name “Jesus” that for Paul it is practically a surname: “Jesus Christ” (cf. the less frequent “Christ Jesus”). The very name borne by the followers of Jesus within ten years of His death – Christians – bears witness to the centrality of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark’s Gospel opens with the words “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1), just as John’s Gospel closes with the explanation that it was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (20:31). The question, then, is whether they arrived at this common conviction on their own, or did it represent Jesus’ own self-understanding?”

C.S. Lewis (1952, pp.  50) presents the answer using his liar, lunatic, or Lord argument: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

 Thank you for your time.

References

Craig, William Lane. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Dead Sea Scrolls. Accessed from the internet August 7, 2017 at http://www.centuryone.com/25dssfacts.html

Habermas, Gary R. & Licona, Michael R. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Kennedy, D. James. (1999). Why I Believe. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Ramsay, Sir William (1915/2011). The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. South Africa: Primedia eLaunch, 2011, originally published in 1915.

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Vardaman, Jerry. (2009). Unpublished manuscript: The Year of the Nativity: Was Jesus Born in 12 BC? A New Examination of Quirinius (Luke 2:2) and Related Problems of New Testament Chronology. Cited in J. Warner Wallace (2013) Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

 

The Bible Demonstrates the Way God Keeps His Promises

“For thirty-five years of my life, I was, in the proper acceptation of the word a nihilist – not a revolutionary socialist, but a man who believed in nothing. Five years ago my faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus, and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation…Life and death ceased to be evil; instead of despair I tasted joy and happiness that death could not take away” – Leo Tolstoy

To Leo Tolstoy, who is considered one of the greatest authors of all time, atheism was temporary as he discovered the joy of Christianity. Others may not be so fortunate, especially in an increasingly secular developed world in which access to other atheists is conveniently provided via social media.

In my time on social media, I have discovered a good number of atheists who pull Bible verses out of context in an effort to discredit its authors and the source from whom the Bible was authored: God. The intention of this blog is to analyze the truth behind a handful of Biblical passages, which have provided sources of controversy to atheists. Additionally, I will show the way God has used the Bible to demonstrate how He keeps His promises.

God’s Promise: Babylon Shall Not Be Inhabited

Jeremiah (51:42) states: “The sea will rise over Babylon; its roaring waves will cover her. Her towns will be desolate, dry and desert land, a land where no one lives, though which no one travels.” Jeremiah (50:13,39) says: “Because of the wrath of the Lord it shall not be inhabited, for it shall be wholly desolate…It shall be no more inhabited forever.”

According to James Kennedy (1999, pp. 11-12) the site of Babylon is “a dry waste, a parched and burning plain…God said it would never be built again – a prophecy totally contrary to all expectations of the past, where every city of the Near East that had been destroyed had been built again. Babylon was situated in the most fertile part of the Euphrates valley, and yet twenty-five hundred years have come and gone, and Babylon to this day remains an uninhabited waste.”

In Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811, Claudius James Rich states: “For the space of two months throughout the year the ruins of Babylon are inundated by the annual overflowing of the Euphrates so as to render many parts of them inaccessible by converting the valleys into morasses.”

In 323 B.C., Alexander the Great determined that he would make Babylon the capital of his worldwide empire. “He issued six hundred thousand rations to his soldiers to rebuild the city of Babylon. Would God be disproved? History records the fact that immediately after making the declaration to rebuild Babylon, Alexander the Great was struck dead, and the whole enterprise was abandoned” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 12).

God’s Promise: March around Jericho for 7 Days and Jericho Will Fall

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, but critics say the battle never occurred. They state that walls do not fall down because of people marching around them. Yet, as Professor John Garstang, who’s an archeologist and British authority on Hittite civilization says, “As for the main fact, there remains no doubt the walls fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city” (Kennedy 1999, pp. 20). What is unusual is the fact that archeological evidence demonstrates the walls fell outward, when ordinarily walls fall inward.

God’s Promise: The Stones Will Cry Out

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ I tell you,’ He replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” – Luke 19:39-40.

As Millar Burrows of Yale says, “In many cases, archeology has refuted the views of modern critics. In a number of instances it has been shown that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal artificial schemes of historical development. The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 24).

“The archeological confirmation of the Flood of Noah’s time is enormous. Stories of the Nochian Flood have been found in almost every civilization in the world. Among the most interesting are those found in Babylonia and Acadia. They provide substantially the same description except for the perversions that had entered into the later Babylonian version, written about eight hundred years after the Mosaic account” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 23).

God’s Promise: I Will Re-build this Temple in Three Days

“Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’” – Mark 14:61-62. (cf., Daniel 7:13).

The Sanhedrin convicted Jesus on the charge of blasphemy (Mark 14:64; Matthew 26:65). According to Leviticus (24:15), a blasphemer is one who curses God, which is punishable by death by stoning. The Sanhedrin (m. Sanhedrin 7:5) indicates that the blasphemer is only guilty if he pronounces the name of God distinctly. Yet Jesus’ carefully chosen words did not pronounce the name of God distinctly, as He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” and to God as the “Mighty One.” According to Josephus (in Antiquities) blasphemy was interpreted more broadly as acts or words that violate God’s majesty.

The Sanhedrin were convinced that Jesus was a false prophet, which Deuteronomy 13:2-6 defines as one who leads others astray and Deuteronomy 18:22 defines as one who presumes to speak in the Lord’s name a message that does not come true. These definitions likely led the high priest Annas to question Jesus about His disciples and His teaching (John 18:19).

Jesus was punished by crucifixion instead of stoning, so some critics have argued that the punishment did not fit the crime and therefore, the crucifixion did not happen (Green, McKnight & Marshall 1992). Yet Deuteronomy 21:22-23 states, “If someone is guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight.” The Qumran Temple Scroll (11 QT 64.8, 10-11) interprets the passage as crucifixion, “You shall hang him on the wood so that he dies.” Accordingly, the punishment was appropriate according to Jewish standards and the crucifixion was the means by which the offender was punished and killed.

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our inequities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). “After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).

In John 2:19, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (cf., Matthew 26:61, Mark 14:58) Jesus kept His promise and fulfilled Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament prophecies (e.g., Psalm 118:22, Psalm 22) through his death and resurrection.

God’s Promise: Give Thirty Pieces of Silver to the Potter in the House of the Lord

Zechariah 11:12-13 “So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’’ – the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the LORD.”

In Matthew 27:3-8, Judas’ suicide is recounted. “When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this money into the treasury, since it is blood money. So they decided to use the money to buy a potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.”

Acts 1:18 – 19 continues recounting the passage. “(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is Field of Blood.)”

Biblical scholars note that Judas’ body likely decomposed after his death by hanging, which is why his body burst open when he fell onto the ground. Only a decomposed body would burst in such a way that one’s intestines would spill out. Furthermore, Judas symbolically “bought a field,” as the silver coins he returned to the chief priests ended up being used to purchase a potter’s field.

God’s Promise: This Generation Will Not Pass Away

In Matthew 24:34, Jesus states “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

The interpretation of the word “generation” has led some people to believe that Jesus was referring to a generation of people. The original Greek word for generation is “genea (γενεά),” which means generation, race, family, times, or nation. In Acts 14:16, genea translates to times. “In the past times, he let all nations go their own way.” In Acts 15:21, genea also refers to times. “For the Law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” In Philippians 2:15, genea translates as a nation. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” Some scholars believe genea refers to the nation of Israel. The translation to times may also be the case, considering the earth’s age (4.5BY) and the time since Jesus walked the earth is relatively short.

God’s Final Promise

According to Biblical scholars, the Nicene Creed is the most universally accepted and recognized statements of the Christian faith. And the Nicene Creed offers God’s final promise to us.

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.”

Thank you for investing the time.

References

Green, J.B., McKnight, S. & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Kennedy, J. (1999). Why I Believe. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson

 

 

 

Stalin’s and Khrushchev’s Anti-Religious Campaigns

The intention of this very brief blog is to share a post from the United States Library of Congress on the campaign against the religious from the Soviet Union under Stalin and Khrushchev between the 1920s and 1985.

Source: https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/anti.html

“The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. By 1939 only about 500 of over 50,000 churches remained open.

After Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB.

Campaigns against other religions were closely associated with particular nationalities, especially if they recognized a foreign religious authority such as the Pope. By 1926, the Roman Catholic Church had no bishops left in the Soviet Union, and by 1941 only two of the almost 1,200 churches that had existed in 1917, mostly in Lithuania, were still active. The Ukrainian Catholic Church (Uniate), linked with Ukrainian nationalism, was forcibly subordinated in 1946 to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Belorussia and Ukraine were suppressed twice, in the late 1920s and again in 1944.

Attacks on Judaism were endemic throughout the Soviet period, and the organized practice of Judaism became almost impossible. Protestant denominations and other sects were also persecuted. The All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists, established by the government in 1944, typically was forced to confine its activities to the narrow act of worship and denied most opportunities for religious teaching and publication. Fearful of a pan-Islamic movement, the Soviet regime systematically suppressed Islam by force, until 1941. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that year led the government to adopt a policy of official toleration of Islam while actively encouraging atheism among Muslims.”

In summary, churches and other religious institutions in the Soviet Union were decimated under the leadership of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev.

A Christian Response to the Atheist Codex

In the present blog, I will offer responses to a few of the points made by a person on social media who calls himself the Atheist Codex. The Atheist Codex devoted a significant amount of time writing several rebuttals to several of my blogs. Some of the points he made mirror points made by famous atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Others are original to the Atheist Codex. Below I offer responses to seven of his arguments against God. I first present each of his seven points in italics, followed by my responses.

1) Asking “why are we here” assumes there is a why. That is begging the question of a divine creator. While I’d find a “why” quite satisfying, I see no evidence that there MUST BE a “why”. That there must be a why is an assumption (a “How”—yes, that I think there must be. But that’s not the same question).

Humans have a natural desire to satisfy their curiosity and seek purpose and answer the “why” questions of life. In fact, seeking purpose helps us psychologically. People who do not seek their purpose are susceptible to boredom, depression, and anxiety (Taylor, 2013). If they have addictive personalities, they’re more susceptible to alcoholism or drugs, which are two ways people reconcile psychological discord (Taylor, 2013). In the long term, seeking purpose corresponds to greater longevity. A recent study by Hill and Turiano (2014) of more than 6,000 participants over 14 years found that respondents who had died (n = 569) during the study had a lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than those who had lived. These findings occurred regardless of whether respondents were young, middle-aged, or old. In other words, a greater purpose in life corresponded to a lower risk of dying. We are hard-wired to seek purpose and answer the “Big Why” questions of life. Seeking purpose enhances our survival.

2) Science has achieved more in the last 350 years than faith in the 10,000 before that. In part that’s been on rejecting personal testimony. Science, courts of law, any system whereby provable facts carry weight, have reached the conclusion that personal testimony is amongst the least reliable (and I will happily cite sources). Personal testimony is largely rejected by science, and that rejection is a huge part of why science works. Whereas Christian claims of miracles do not appear to differ from Hindu, Muslim, or whatever (even say those of Joseph Smith, ostensibly a Christian whose miracles I assume you reject), whereas Christian claims cannot, in the majority be true (at least to healing and miracles, unless God is smiting one person for every one he heals), there is no independent, quantifiable grounds on which to accept them. That standard is the cornerstone by which science has succeeded to date.

Courts of law routinely collect depositions in both criminal and civil trials. Depositions are defined as the “process of giving sworn evidence” and the means used to provide depositions is via personal testimonies, which form the backbone in court cases. Personal testimonies are also routinely used in court rooms. Since the court system considers personal testimonies valid in decisions that have significant impacts on people’s lives, there is no reason atheists should consider personal testimonies invalid.

Of course, the collection of multiple testimonies is important, which is why the courts collect more than single depositions in court cases. Joseph Smith and Muhammad are examples of single sources of a claim. The apostles and early Christian disciples who witnessed the risen Jesus are examples of multiple sources of a claim. Corroboration helps to substantiate claims – and as Saint Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15, five hundred people witnessed the risen Jesus. Many were still living when he wrote this passage who would have undoubtedly called him out if the claim were not true.

3) There are multiple threads of evidence suggesting that we may live in a multiverse.

The presence of a multiverse does not suggest we have infinite regress. It merely adds years to the date of the present universe and in no way mitigates the need for an uncaused cause of the multiverse, which is God.

4) Science is the single most successful human endeavor in history.

This is the opinion of the Atheist Codex. Authors, philosophers, builders, economists, artists, and entrepreneurs would likely beg to differ.

5) If we are able to say that there is any uncaused cause, why would it be limited only to God? The second you say there can be an uncaused cause, why must it be conscious? What law dictates that?

God has all of the qualities that are required of the uncaused cause that powered inflation of the universe at the Big Bang. God is the omniscient, omnipotent, metaphysical, eternal, active force of the universe. The Atheist Codex suggests that an unconscious uncaused cause is an option, which is consistent with Eastern faiths that believe a passive force exists in the universe. Eastern faiths also believe the universe is eternal.

Yet scientists have overwhelmingly stated the universe is around 13.8 billion years old. What existed prior had to have consciously powered matter, space, and time. A passive force is passive in every way, which means such a force is impotent and unable to actively effect change.

6) God created everything to his design. He knows what we will do, and created us such that we would do it. Thus how do we even have free will other than the a-priori declaration that we do. This would seem contradictory. If indeed we have free will, the ability to act in some way contrary to his design, we’d need to be as smart as he, would we not? If god has no limitations, than there should be no lesson whatsoever which requires giving us a choice, which cannot be taught without that choice. Contradictory? Perhaps. But he’s God, he can do anything.

When a handyman lays tile on a bathroom floor and the tile cracks and acts contrary to the handyman’s design, is the tile as smart as the handyman? When a parent carefully plans out a child’s activities in the summer – and the child decides he does not want to partake in those activities, does that make the child as smart as the parent? In the same way, when God designed us and gave us free will, He knew we would not always do as He intended. He does not cage us and require us to do as He intends. He intends us to be free.

As C.S. Lewis (1943) said, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.”

“Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it, it is worth paying.”

7) The argument that the human body is too “perfect” to not have been designed intelligently is disproved by faults in the human body. There are other arguments for ID (like Irreducible Complexity), so I am not saying this ALONE disproves ID… It does not. But it DOES undermine the argument that the human body is too efferent or too perfect to have evolved. Further, that these inefficiencies can, across multiple scientific disciplines, across multiple species, be easily explained by evolution, and has successfully lead to the prediction of fossils and species before they were discovered, lends strong evidence to the notion we evolved without ID providing counter evidence that we did not (including but not limited to arguments of irreducible complexity, which I can happily address but did not touch on).

Let us be clear: I have never argued that the human body is too perfect to have evolved. The human body is imperfect, which is evidenced by our weaknesses, diseases, and the like. Human imperfections in no way suggest that the Creator of the human body is imperfect. It instead directs us to the reason the Creator created our imperfect bodies, which speaks to (1) our temporary existence on the earth and (2) our spiritual purposes.

We are here temporarily to advance spiritually. Had we arrived in perfect bodies and with perfect minds and without the ability to determine our actions (i.e., no free will), we may as well have been robots. God loves us enough to allow us to fall. When we fall, we get up and we grow stronger.

Everyone knows at least one self-centered, prideful prig who considers himself perfect – and everyone knows what a sheer bore such a person can be. Imagine if the earth were populated with self-centered, prideful prigs. Such a world would be miserable.

Most people would rather befriend humble people who overcame significant challenges. People like Nelson Mandela and Harriet Tubman are inspirations to us all of courage, kindness, perseverance, passion, and love. And these are God’s intentions.

Thank you for your time.

References

Hill, P.L. & Turiano, N.A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological Science, 25(7): 1482-1486.

Lewis, C.S. (1943). The Case for Christianity. B & H Publishing Group.

Taylor, S. (2013). The power of purpose. Why is a sense of purpose so essential to our well-being? Psychology Today. July 21.

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Six Step Plan and Response to Mr. Oz Atheist

The intention of the following blog is to offer a Christian response to an atheist perspective on our purpose in life. The blog begins with an atheist’s perspective and purpose without God, followed by a Christian’s response and purpose with God. The latter includes a discussion on the pursuit of happiness and joy and the predictors of same, since the underlying current in Mr. Oz Atheist’s message speaks to the pursuit of enjoyment. Mr. Oz Atheist, as he calls himself on social media, composed the following blog a couple of years ago.

Mr. Oz Atheist: Purpose without God

“I didn’t ask to be born” The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that’s surviving off more hormones than oxygen.

They’re right too. They didn’t ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we’re even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that’s our starting point.

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don’t just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for.

I have said before that being an atheist doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing to live for, it means I’ve got nothing to die for.

Now please don’t confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn’t* die to save my children, for example. Because I would. Of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing.

But a theist believes that when they die they’ll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason…they’re only a virgin once. Maybe it’s one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I’ll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That’s what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally.

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose.

I don’t understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can’t enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can’t see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it?

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven…what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary.

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it’s finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there’s a last page.

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it’s finished, but my life doesn’t.

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn’t why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I’ll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not.

Yes, maybe a theist has an ‘ultimate’ purpose in life and as an atheist, I don’t, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one.

I’m happy to define my life’s own purpose. I’m happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being.

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said ‘I would die without God in my life’. I don’t see any honour in this. I don’t see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale?

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It’s a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it.

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn’t people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from?

Christian Apologist: Purpose with God

Mr. Oz Atheist has made a couple of assertions which merit a response. First, I note that it is a great shame that any theist has suggested to Mr. Oz Atheist that he kill himself because he does not believe in God. The theist likely believes Mr. Oz Atheist is in quicksand and instead of offering a rope, it appears she or he would rather walk away.

God calls on us to offer the rope:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15

Mr. Oz Atheist additionally states that he is living for the here and now – for enjoyment in this life – and that theists are living for enjoyment in the next. This assertion is true, but he has forced a false dichotomy with the implicit assumption that theists are not also seeking happiness and joy in this life. Of course we are seeking happiness and joy! The difference for Christians is that we are seeking happiness and joy in both this life and the next.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mr. Oz Atheist would likely agree with the following famous quote by Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.” The central purpose of human life, according to one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle, is happiness.

But what makes for happy lives? Studies of happiness over the past few decades have drawn from the seminal articles or books by Cantril (1965), Andrews and Withey (1976) and Diener (1984). The focus of these studies often includes subjective well-being (SWB), which is concerned with “how and why people experience their lives in positive ways, including cognitive judgments and affective reactions” (Diener, 1984, p. 542).

Diener (1984) distinguishes two dimensions of subjective well-being: cognitive well-being, which relates to life satisfaction, and affective well-being, which relates to happiness. Diener’s (1984) extensive review examined a variety of demographic variables impacting subjective well-being, including age (findings mixed), race (blacks lower SWB), religiosity (findings mixed) employment (unemployed least happy), education (interacts with other variables), marital status (married people higher SWB), having children (negligible or negative effects), income (income inequality lowers SWB), and gender (interacts with age). More recent studies have indicated that demographic variables are established variables of interest in quality of life studies (Vinson & Ericson, 2014). Other factors also relate positively to SWB, such as optimism, social support, and self-esteem (Quevedo & Abella, 2011). Additional positive correlates of happiness include personal income (Cummins, 2000), health (Salinas-Jiminez et al., 2010), social capital, trust (Growiec & Growiec, 2014), and financial satisfaction (Ng & Diener, 2014).

As Deiner (1984) discovered, the relationship between religiosity and happiness is mixed. One explanation relates to social conformity to prevailing country norms. As Okulicz-Kozaryn (2010) note, people who live in countries where many people believe in God are much happier than non-believers. Considering I reside in a country considered religious (the United States), while Mr. Oz Atheist resides in a country considered less religious (Australia), and we both consider ourselves happy, our happiness is partially explained by our beliefs and social conformity theory. Our happiness is further partially explained by the individual-level variables noted above. Other reasons for mixed findings with respect to religiosity include demographics. For example, women tend to be more religious (Freese, 2004).  Even so, Okulicz and Kozaryn (2010, p.  155) determined that “the major conclusion from the extant literature is that religious faith predicts happiness (it creates purpose in life) and church attendance predicts happiness (it creates a sense of belonging)”.

Within the United States, the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study (2014) differentiated respondents who identified themselves as highly religious (praying and attending religious services at least once per week) with those who don’t on several factors. Highly religious people were more likely to gather with extended family at least once per month, were very happy with life, were more likely to have volunteered, and more likely to have donated goods or time to the poor. These differences persist within a variety of religions and after controlling for age, income, education, geographic region, marital status, and parental status.

Empirical studies, such as those cited above, do not explain one hundred percent of the variation between predictors and outcome variables. Other variables (those not considered or available) account for the unexplained variance. Furthermore, we all know of people who are healthy and wealthy, yet extremely unhappy: “outliers” on a regression line.

So, what are other important predictors of happiness? Given that the above variables are primarily demographic and attitudinal, let us consider higher order variables, following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualization.

According to Aristotle, happiness is derived from the cultivation of virtue and the fulfillment of a broad range of physical and mental conditions (http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/). In other words, aside from the demographic and attitudinal variables cited above, the cultivation of virtue speaks to one’s happiness. Aristotle’s assertion is consistent with the resounding theme of Christianity.

In fact, his assertions, when coupled with Christianity, provide a pathway to achieve tremendous happiness and joy. The truth is, we can never find true joy and happiness apart from the vine which supports us: Jesus. If we try to separate from the vine, as a grape would free itself from a branch, we start to wither and become weak. We lose the strength of the love and light within us. We end up in darkness and find ourselves in a constant state of trying to find light and happiness through any means but that of the source of all light and happiness. The attempts are futile. Yet God lets us live out our desires (cf., Romans 1) and always welcomes us back with open arms as prodigal sons and daughters, or lost sheep. With all of this in mind, I offer six steps to happiness.

Six Steps to Happiness

  1. Seek Jesus through prayer and study.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”  John 8:32

  1. Take delight in the Lord.

 Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

  1. Find and achieve your purpose in life by identifying and capitalizing on your spiritual gifts. What do you do really well? What are you passionate about? How can these gifts be used to help others? If we all do our part, a greater collective happiness will follow.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” 1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms” 1 Peter 4:10

  1. Listen to and obey the Lord. Expect the Lord’s discipline. We all have room for improvement, and as we grow closer to Jesus, we begin to see the areas in which we need to improve the most. The plan is to strive for perfection and to be as Christ-like as possible. Jesus came to set the example. He is the reason for our very existence and our ultimate purpose is to emulate our servant leader.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and; Love your neighbor as yourself” Luke 10:27

Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” Job 5:17.

  1. Build in a pattern of continuous improvement. Once you’re on the path and your eyes have been opened to the love and the light of the Lord, there is no stopping you. Your passion will be ignited and prosperity will come your way.

“And let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3

  1. Expect and embrace adversity. Of course, challenges will come your way as well. God uses challenges to build and shape us spiritually. He promised adversity. The very fact no one is immune demonstrates God’s fulfillment of His promise.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” Revelation 2:10

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” James 1:12

With that, I offer a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which he attributed to George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

In conclusion, the pursuit of happiness is achieved when we learn about, acknowledge, and embrace our spiritual calling.  Fulfilling our purpose with God brings love, light, happiness and joy. It opens our eyes to an array of colors on the planet never realized before. It is as if a rainbow, which once appeared dim and shadowy, is suddenly unveiled in brighter and more spectacular hues than we could have possibly imagined. The sky seems bluer, the roses redder, and the grasses greener.  Our path to heaven is set – and we have cast all fears and doubts into the deep sea.

Joy is the serious business of heaven” – CS Lewis

Thank you for your time.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be accessed here: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2015/10/

References

Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being. New York: Plenum.

Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cummins, R.A. (2000). Personal income and subjective well-being: A review. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 133-158.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.

Freese, J. (2004). Risk preferences and gender differences in religiousness: Evidence from the World Values Survey. Review of Religious Research, 46(1), 88-91.

Greenfield, E.A., Marks, N.F., (2007). Religious social identity as an explanatory factor for associations between more frequent formal religious participation and psychological well-being. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 17, 245–259.

Growiec, K. & Growiec, J. (2014). Trusting only whom you know, knowing only whom you trust: The joint impact of social capital and trust in CEE countries. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(5), 1015-1040.

Ng, W. & Diener, E. (2014). What matters to the rich and poor? Subjective well-being, financial satisfaction, and post-materialistic needs across the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(2), 326-338.

Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2010). Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 13(2), 165-179.

Pargament, K., 2002. Is religion nothing but. . .? Explaining religion versus explaining religion away. Psychological Inquiry 13, 239–244.

Quevedo, R.J.M. & Abella, M.C. (2011). Well-being and personality: Facet-level analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 206-211.

Salinas-Jiminez, M., Artes, J., & Salines-Jiminez, J. (2010). Income, motivation, and satisfaction with life: An empirical analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 779-793.

Vinson, T. & Ericson, M. (2014). The social dimensions of happiness and life satisfaction of Australians: Evidence from the World Values Survey. International Journal of Social Welfare, 23, 240-253.

 

 

A Marriage of the Ontological and Moral Arguments in Support of the Christian God

The intention of the present blog is to offer support for the existence of the Christian God by marrying several ontological and moral arguments. The blog begins with a discussion of the history of the ontological argument, followed by an integration of the moral argument and the example of Jesus Christ.

The Ontological Argument

Centuries ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), formulated the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

“[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

Anselm’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
  3. Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
  4. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
  5. God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

To explain this simple concept, Anselm used the example of a painting. He asked which is greater: the artist’s idea of the painting or the painting itself? Obviously the painting itself is greater as the painting exists not only in the mind of the painter but in reality.

Alvin Platinga reformulated the argument using a conception of God as a being that is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Maximal excellence in every possible world is “maximal greatness.” The properties of a maximally excellent being are omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

Platinga’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
  2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
  4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
  5. Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

Other ontological arguments have been presented, which vary slightly from the above. Each version is not without its skeptics. As an example, skeptics have replaced a maximally excellent being with a maximally excellent achievement (such as the creation of the universe) or conception (such as the perfect island). I don’t find these arguments compelling because the “creation of the universe” is an act and the conception of a “perfect island” is a place, a creation. Both are products of a maximally excellent being, our Creator, of whom nothing greater can be conceived.

Another criticism states that the arguments for God include presumptions about His characteristics (omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good). Conceiving of maximally excellent knowledge is omniscience; conceiving of maximally excellent power is omnipotence; and conceiving that the perfect being is wholly good is a product of our conscience and our innate desire to equate goodness and love with maximally excellent morals.

At issue, however, is that we have defined maximally excellent morals as goodness and not evil. One might argue that we can equally conceive of a maximally supreme evil being, characterized by omnipotence, omniscience, and being wholly evil. For example, it is not impossible for me to conceive of a giant wholly evil monster. I could make the argument that said monster must exist because I conceived of the monster and applied it to the argument. Accordingly, without further explanation, skeptics could build a case against the arguments for a supreme or maximally excellent, wholly good being with its supreme or maximally evil counterpart.

According to C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 43) “There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war…But it has a catch in it.”

If one power is inherently and independently good, while the other is inherently and independently bad, we should have had experiences with both. But we do not. While we are witnesses to people who strive to do good for goodness’ sake, we are not witnesses to people who strive to do evil for evil’s sake. Instead, we are witnesses to people who started out good and something occurred which perverted them, whether it be pleasure, power, money, safety, security, fame, or sex.

Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (Lewis, 1952, p. 45-46). The rebel is the fallen angel: Satan.

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God” (Ezekiel 28:13). You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth” (Ezekiel 28:14-17). “I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (Ezekiel 28: 18-19).

Accordingly, there is no greater conception than that of a maximally excellent, wholly good being. Its counterpart cannot be true. The ontological arguments formulated by Anselm and Platinga are valid. The very fact that humanity values, recognizes, and strives for goodness underscores the existence of the one who made and continues to make that happen.

Furthermore, consider the way pride always comes before the fall. If we were on an unguided planet, the proud and selfish would thrive. They don’t. Pride is the ultimate sin, which led to Satan’s fall. Pride is the sin that leads to all other sins. God admonishes the proud.

The Moral Argument

The very fact that all humans of sound minds have the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong suggests the presence of one who made that happen: a moral lawgiver. All humans of sound minds have the ability to conceive of moral perfection as shaped by the values of love, kindness, honesty, justice, benevolence, and truth. Since we have such conceptions, we have an objective way to judge conduct, which is to consider it against the objective set of moral values that guide society.

Dualism is an outcome of the human understanding of the dichotomies of love and hate, selfishness and unselfishness,  and justice and injustice.

Survival of the fittest theories suggest we would gravitate to and revere selfishness, yet we don’t. Humans revere selflessness and humility. Those of us who have revered selfishness have been humiliated to ensure compliance with God’s preference for humility. We have all stood trial and the prideful have all fallen. We are hard wired to follow the example of our source and to understand that through trials, we triumph and become better people.

The source and giver of this absolute moral standard of love, humility and selflessness is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

“God is the ground and source of ultimate value, and He endows us with His image. Therefore, our lives have objective value, meaning, and purpose. If there is a real purpose in life – a ‘final cause’ as Aristotle put it – then there must be a right way to live it” (Turek, 2014, p. 104).

“In a world without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right or wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong” (Craig, 2008, p. 75). God “is the source from which all your reasoning power comes. You could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

“[God] left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).

Jesus Christ

The shocker occurred when a man appeared among these Jews and said He is the way and the truth, and the life. He performed miracles, healed the weak, forgave people’s sins, and spoke with authority. During His relatively short earthly life, He fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies about Him, such as Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 22. Furthermore, He exemplified perfect love, kindness, humility, mercy, faith, and forgiveness. His perfect example set the standard against which we can judge our decisions.

Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?

‘I am,’ said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-63; cf., Daniel 7:13).

Jesus’ words, coupled with His miracles, posed such a great threat to the high priests that they were willing to trade Him for an imprisoned insurrectionist, Barabbas. His growing group of followers likely threatened to reduce the high priests’ influence.

During the time of Jesus’ arrest, His disciple Peter doubted His divinity and denied Him three times. During His ministry, Jesus’ half-brother James was openly skeptical. Then Jesus was crucified and James and Peter were among five hundred eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). Both became brave, worshipping illegally and openly for years – until they were martyred.

In conclusion and when taken together, the ontological and the moral arguments support the existence of a maximally excellent, wholly good being under whose objective moral standards we live. The exemplification of our objective moral standards is the person of Jesus Christ.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:9-10).

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

Anselm, St., Anselm’s Basic Writings, translated by S.W. Deane, 2nd Ed. (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1962)

Craig, W.L. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1974)

Plantinga, Alvin, The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965)

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.