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.

 

 

 

10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” – Matthew 7:7

Original post: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/10-poor-reasons-to-believe-god-exists.html?m=1

The intention of this blog is to offer ten good reasons to believe God exists, which is a response to a blog entitled “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by an atheist on Twitter who calls himself “Mr. Oz Atheist.” First, I shall list my “good reasons” and next I present his “poor reasons.” The reason I am presenting my side in this way is because I agree with Mr. Oz Atheist that some of the reasons he lists are poor reasons to believe God exists.

  1. The Ontological Argument

Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), was the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the originator of 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 seems 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.”

The 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 uses the example of a painting. He asks 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.

  1. The Cosmological Argument

Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force had all of the qualities of our Creator.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, further explains this logic.

  1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
  2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
  3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
  4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
  5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
  6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
  7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

3. The Teleological Argument

The Teleological Argument is an argument for the fine-tuning of the universe. As noted by Robert Lanza (2009), “By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.” Further information on the specific constants can be found in the CODATA 1998 recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States.

A constant refers to an unchanging mathematical quantity that expresses the laws of nature, such as the law of gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the subatomic weak force. Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe (Craig, 2010). The cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, if tweaked by as little as one part of 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting (Craig, 2010).

“The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!” (Craig, 2010, p. 109). Such extreme odds suggest the presence of a divine guide, or intelligent designer: God.

  1. The Moral Argument

All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral. Many aspects of what is considered right and what is considered wrong are shared between humans across the planet. As examples, all mentally sound humans frown upon murder, rape, and a variety of related human atrocities. All mentally sound humans share the norm of reciprocity, in which one feels inclined to give back to one who gave. All mentally sound humans value gratitude, appreciation, love, kindness, and generosity. For a detailed assessment of human morality and why we do what we do, please click http://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

Why? Atheists would argue that we have evolved this way and that communities in which such values emerged were more successful than those in which opposing values emerged. Yet we have examples presently and in history in which such arguments fail. Successes in some ISIS, Boko Haram and historical Nazi communities refute their argument.

Evolutionary arguments also fail, as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do. “On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra. It does not murder the zebra. When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her but it does not rape her – for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

Where did these laws originate? The source of our moral “laws” is our lawgiver, God. Laws do not invent themselves. “There must be an infinite, eternal Mind who is the architect of nature and whose moral purpose man is gradually fulfilling” (Craig, 2010, p. 132). “He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can be higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

Craig (2010) offers the following logic:

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

If God does not exist, we have no source of the objective moral values under which we all operate. Atheists argue that such values are by-products of evolution and social conditioning. Yet Charles Darwin (1871) states, “If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”

“For us to think that human beings are special and our morality objectively true is to succumb to the temptation to speciesism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

  1. Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22

During the time in which I was doubting the validity of Christianity, I found myself sitting next to a pastor on an airplane, who alerted me to Isaiah 53, which was written about seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth. Isaiah 53 is often excluded from Jewish sermons, according to the Jews for Jesus website. Why? The answer becomes obvious after reading the passage.

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jews claim that the passage refers to Israel, the suffering servant. Yet why would “he,” a country be pierced for the transgressions of another country? The claim makes no sense. It equates to saying that Israel will be punished for the actions of Syria. It further refers to Israel as if masculine and personal, which calls to attention the way Israel has been referred to as the true Christ (cf., Galatians 6:16; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15; Exodus 4:22-23). In other words, an argument that the passage refers to Israel is an argument that actually supports the true Christ!

Psalm 22 also predicts Jesus’ crucifixion.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.

4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.

5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.

15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.

17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

  1. Christianity has survived against substantial odds.

Of all of the great kings who ever reigned or of all of the great men and women who ever lived, only one still reigns and will live and reign forever: a Jewish carpenter, Jesus Christ, who was born, raised, and lived in humble circumstances. Yet unlike all of the kings who ever reigned, Jesus had few material resources. He made friends with people of humble means, including fishermen (Andrew, Peter, brothers James and John, and possibly Thomas and Bartholomew), a tax collector (Matthew), a religious zealot (Simon the Canaanite), and tradesmen (Philip, James the son of Alphaeus, and Judas) (AllaboutJesusChrist.org).

When Jesus called on His apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), His apostles turned the world upside down (c.f., Acts 17:6). The chances that men of such humble means could turn the world upside down, fueling the growth of the world’s most practiced religion seem extraordinarily low. Yet with God, nothing is impossible.

Projections of the number of Christians on the planet indicate growth. According to various contributors to the Lausanne Statistics Task Force, headed by David Barrett, Ph.D., the author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, the ratio of committed Christians relative to non-Christians is as follows:

  • 100 A.D. 360 to 1
  • 1000 A.D. 220 to 1
  • 1500 A.D. 69 to 1
  • 1900 A.D. 27 to 1
  • 1950 A.D. 21 to 1
  • 1980 A.D. 11 to 1
  • 1989 A.D. 7 to 1

Projections from the Pew Research Center’s 2015 Religion and Public Life Project indicate that the number of Christians will increase from around 2.2 billion adherents today to 2.9 billion in 2050. The population of Muslims is also expected to increase from 1.6 billion to 2.7 billion in 2050. Muslim birth rates are higher, which contributes to its growth rate. In 2050, projections by Pew Research indicate a global population of 9.6 billion, so that percentage of Christians (including less committed ones) will be around 30%.

In summary, roughly a third of humanity identifies with Christianity, while 1 in 7 consider themselves committed Christians. Christianity has survived the odds against it, despite its very humble roots, to become the world’s top religion. Other odds against Christianity are discussed below in the context of its illegal status until 313 A.D.

  1. Embarrassing Testimony

In apologetics, evidence of the truth in a statement or source is provided by embarrassing testimony. In other words, if authors were contriving a story or inventing a myth, they would not include testimony about which they would be embarrassed. Instead they would only include information that they could “sell” to followers easily.

Numerous examples of embarrassing testimony are present in the New Testament, including Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22: 54-62; John 18: 15-27), the incident in which Jesus’ mother and brothers’ attempted to seize Jesus to take Him home for being “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21, 31), and the labels used by some to describe Jesus as a mad man (John 10:20), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; John 8:48), and drunkard (Matthew 11:19). A prostitute used her hair to clean Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39), which some might consider to be a sexual advance. Furthermore, given the low status of women during the time of Jesus, the mere fact that women were given the privilege of discovering the empty tomb is note-worthy.

Consider the following Jewish writings, which underscore the low status of women during Jesus’ time (Habermas & Licona, 2004)

“Sooner the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a).

“The world cannot exist without males and without females- happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” (Talmud, Kiddushin 82b).

“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope or gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities 1.8).

“Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid [to offer], also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hoshannah 1.8).

Roman historian Suetonius (~ 115 A.D.): “Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock.”

Such status likely led to the disciples’ initial responses to the women who discovered the open tomb: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).

In summary, the presence of numerous instances of embarrassing testimony in the New Testament provides evidence of the validity of the Bible and the sincerity of its authors.

  1. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Atheists often request evidence that is extra-biblical, as if the evidence provided in the Bible is invalid. When considering that the New Testament has at least nine independent authors and is endorsed by numerous highly respected, scholarly archeologists and historians, the Bible is a valid historical text. Yet, we do have accounts of events and people in the New Testament from external writers.

Examples from Roman historians include the following (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Josephus (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
  2. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
  3. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.

In fact, we have 33 Christian and 9 secular extra-biblical sources within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection that provide support for the New Testament and Jesus Christ (Wallace, 2013).Historians get giddy with only two sources, while we have 42!

Within 150 years of Jesus’ life, extra-biblical testimonies from sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and others (Turek, 2015) inform us that:

  • Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar • He lived a virtuous life • He was a wonder-worker • He had a brother named James • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate • 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 in Jesus • Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God
  1. Early Christian Bravery

Paul started out as Saul of Tarsus, who actively pursued Christians for imprisonments and deaths. He first appears in the Book of Acts as a witness of the stoning of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen. Yet something happened to Paul on his way to Damascus: Jesus Christ appeared to him and he converted, to become one of Christianity’s greatest missionary apostles. Historians don’t dispute that Paul wrote at least six or as many as thirteen books of the New Testament. In these books, he shares his testimony and the way he willingly endured multiple beatings and imprisonments before being beheaded by Nero in Rome.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, also has an extraordinary story. James was initially skeptical of Jesus, as noted when he and his brothers and mother showed up to see Jesus preach (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; and Matthew 12:46). They wanted to stop him, because they felt he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Yet something happened to James after Jesus was crucified. He witnessed the risen Jesus.

Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as the one abnormally born.”

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.) documented the martyrdom of James.

Yet Paul, Peter, and James weren’t the only early Christians to be martyred. As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:

  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)

In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”

Why were the early disciples so brave?

  1. Early Christian disciples saw the risen Christ.
  2. They braved gory deaths to praise and worship Him illegally
  3. Why?
  4. See item #1
  5. The Purpose of Life

We were put on this planet to fulfill our spiritual purposes of becoming more Christ-like and more perfect, yet we were intentionally put here as imperfect, flawed beings. Overcoming our flaws and physical obstacles and limitations helps us to grow spiritually.

We have all had to overcome major challenges and such challenges have likely changed us as people, giving us more depth, empathy, knowledge, and understanding. Headwinds and trials and tribulations make us stronger. If we had faced no challenges, we would have no purpose here. Our purposes are to advance by capitalizing on our spiritual gifts.

“As the scriptures teach and experience proves, it’s difficult to develop courage without danger, perseverance without obstacles, patience without tribulation, compassion without suffering, character without adversity, faith (trust) without need. Soul-making is indeed painful” (Turek, 2015, p. 220) “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” Romans 5: 3.

In closing, I will add one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 50-51):

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. 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.”

References

Anonymous. All about Jesus Christ. (2017) http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/occupations-of-the-12-disciples-faq.htm

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

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man. Reprinted in 1981 by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism. How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.

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

Licona, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.

Pew Research Fact Tank (2014) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/10-projections-for-the-global-population-in-2050/

Pew Forum Religion and Public Life Project (2015) http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious–‐projections–‐2010–‐2050/

Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress.

Wawro, J. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Millennium House.

World Christian Database (2017) http://worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/about/WCD_Methodology.pdf

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold-case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Mr. Oz Atheist offers Ten Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists

These are some of the arguments for God that come up most often. No particular order.

1: Other people believe it.

Although there may be many people who share your belief. There are at least 5 billion people who don’t. At least 1.6 billion people have an alternate belief. You can’t all be right. But you can all be wrong.

2: My parents told me to believe.

They also told you to believe Santa is real (maybe) or the tooth fairy. Not only have your parents lied to you, but their reasons for believing also fall under one or more of the poor reasons listed here. We’ve evolved to listen to our parents because some of their advice is good (don’t touch the fire, watch where you’re walking) but to believe them in everything, without question is questionable.

3: I can’t explain ‘x’ without God.

People used to think that about lightning and earthquakes too. We can explain them now and guess what? No god required. What you don’t understand is not proof that a god exists. For ‘x’ to be proof of god, you need to show that it *is* god, not that you can’t imagine how it isn’t.

4: The prophecies in the bible/scientific revelations in the Qu’ran prove the book is from God.

Biblical prophecy is vague and easily retrofitted. Sure, Israel became a nation, but did it really take a godly prophecy to predict it? Could a hopeful Hebrew have suggested it? Of course. The science in the Qu’ran is inaccurate (eg where sperm comes from, two kinds of water not mixing) The ‘science’ in the Qu’ran is consistent with what was known at the time.

5: It’s called FAITH!

Yeah, it is. As long as you recognise that faith, and good reasons to believe, are different things. As above, at least 1.6 Billion people have ‘faith’ that a different story is true. Faith gets people to fly planes into buildings thinking they’ve got 72 virgins waiting for them. Faith lets people eat a wafer thinking it’s *literally* the flesh of a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. Faith makes people throw virgins into volcanoes thinking it’ll appease the god within. Faith makes people think a man rose from the dead is a better explanation than ‘something else happened’. Faith may make you feel good, but it’s not a pathway to truth.

6: All cultures have developed a god – there must be something in it.

There’s no doubt humans have a hunger for answers. We crave explanations for what we can observe. The scientific method is the best way we’ve come up with to find those explanations. But the scientific method is recent. It wasn’t around 2000+ years ago when gods and goddesses where being invented. A primitive mind thinking that thunder was the result of an angry god is understandable, but gods and goddesses were the answers we came up with when we didn’t know better. We know better now. It’s funny how the number of gods and goddesses we invent has slowed since the scientific method was developed.

7: Without God, we wouldn’t know right from wrong. (Morality)

Says who? This is really just a stab in the dark and could easily be the ‘x’ in point 3. Non-human animals show traits that we call morality. The show compassion, cooperation, and empathy. They have a sense of ‘fairness’ and they look after each other when required. These are evolved traits and are easily shown to be beneficial to the species. No one has demonstrated that a god is required.

8: Evolution is a religion (is false, can’t happen etc.).

Even if this were true (and it’s not) it doesn’t matter. Disproving evolution would in no way prove that gods and goddesses exist. All disproving evolution would do (if it could be done) is show that evolution doesn’t happen.

9: I feel something when I pray/worship.

Sure you do. But people have feelings like that at concerts, and sporting events too. There’s nothing concrete to suggest that this is an internal feeling caused by god or Jesus or whomever. More likely it’s really just your body having a reaction to you having a good time.

10: There MUST be something more…

Saying it, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it so. Sure we may want to see our loved ones when we die. Sure we may get a warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that we’re here for a purpose greater than ourselves and that even after we die we’ll somehow carry on. Some people may even like the idea that our existence makes a god happy and that’s good enough reason to be alive. But wanting all those things to be true, doesn’t make them true. ‘Must’ is a definite position. You need to demonstrate that it’s true not just assert it and expect people to believe. When people say ‘must’ in this context, they’re really saying ‘I really hope there is’.

There’s also Look around you!