Saturday, February 05, 2011

Unfalsifiable atheism

There are always better explanations for unexplained phenomena than god: fraud and faulty sensory perception cover most of the bases, but mostly, if I see a Madonna appear in a field to bless me, the first thing I'd suspect is brain damage. We have clumsy, sputtering, inefficient brains that are better designed for spotting rutabagas and triggering rutting behavior at the sight of a curvy buttock than they are for doing math or interpreting the abstract nature of the universe. It is a struggle to be rational and objective, and failures are not evidence for an alternative reality. Heck, we can be fooled rather easily by mere stage magicians; we don't need to invent something as elaborate as a god to explain apparent anomalies.
That last point does imply, though, that there is one path that could convince me of the existence of god: major brain damage. I don't think that wacking me in the skull with a ball-peen hammer counts as evidence, however. 

Authority And Certainty

I’ve been interacting with some Catholics in a thread at Kevin DeYoung’s blog. It’s mostly a discussion of issues of authority and certainty. My comments begin somewhere around the eightieth post. The Catholics there haven’t made much of an effort to interact with my posts, but I’ve responded to a lot of their claims.

Protecting Bald Eagle Eggs Over Babies

Representative James Lankford says @ 4:24 ". . . legislators in this chamber have protected bald eagle eggs, migrating insects, snail darters, and rare flowers, but we refuse to protect children. May God have mercy on our nation, and may we awaken one day to the horror of what abortion policies have done to our nation. We would rather protect our fundraising, our leadership, and our convenience, than protect the unborn child."

HT: Prolifeinformation

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites"

Abortion: Because Society Says So!

Note: What follows is a discussion I'm having with a university atheist club president about a woman's right to legally murder her unborn child in the United States. Here's the meat of the interaction thus far. Notice the arbitrariness and inconsistencies prevalent in his attempted push-back. Ultimately, defending abortion on the basis of a right to life is equivalent to defending the murder of six million Jews in Nazi Germany. Don't buy that last line? Then read on.

I initially said,

The disagreement boils down to one issue: What is the unborn and who gets to decide? Here's my argument in syllogistic form:

P1 - If the unborn is a human person, then abortion is murder.

P2 - The unborn is a human person.

C - Therefore, abortion is murder.

You will challenge premise 2. So have at it my friend.

He responded,

"Well, depending on how you define "human" I would not disagree with the second premise (the fetus is alive for example, and it has DNA and such, which if you define DNA as being human, then it is human). I would actually take issue with the first premise. The real premise here is, if the fetus is a person deserving of rights equal to or greater than that of a woman, then perhaps abortion can be considered murder. But I don't think a fetus is deserving of rights that give it some sort of authority over the woman's body.

I think there is another issue also of where we default rights, and by what mechanisms do we default rights. I, by default say that women (and men) have rights to control their own bodies, and therefore you would have to provide the really compelling case that a fetus is entitled to rights over the woman."

I retorted,

"First, just because the unborn has human DNA doesn't make it a human person, it just makes it human tissue. Freckles and moles have human DNA but that doesn't make them human persons. Nobody is protesting dermatological clinics that regularly remove hundreds of skin tags from patients every day, so its obvious to everyone except the most willingly ignorant that there's more at stake here than mere "tissue". I think the reality of abortion speaks for itself:

And if that was too far along in gestation for you, then have a look-see at these:

Second, the claim: “The mother has a right to abort because she has a right to control her own body" is refuted by the fact that the unborn is not her body. Medical science has proven that the unborn has its own separate DNA, eye color, gender, etc. proving that it is a completely separate human being from the mother. Therefore, we don’t kill innocent people just because we think they are in the wrong place or because they inconvenience us in some way.

But assuming your societal-based morality, even though medical science has proven that the unborn is a human being, our society has determined that rights to person-hood are only given to born humans, not unborn humans. That is exactly what you are arguing. Thus, any medical argument from environment is moot to you since society determines what the criteria for person-hood is, not medical science, and certainly not a word from God.

However, the biblical pro-life answer is this: God says that the unborn is a fully human person from the moment of fertilization-conception (Psalm 51:5). Thus, if a person willfully takes the life of the unborn, such an act constitutes murder (Psalm 139:13-16; Romans 13:9). We are not justified in killing someone merely because society says that we can. We must obey God rather than people (Acts 5:29).

Thus, by rejecting God's word on the issue, our society has legitimized the systematic murder of a certain segment of the human population and given others in said population rights to do this via legal protection in sanitary conditions.

This move is essentially equivalent to what the German Supreme Court did in 1938 when it declared Jews to be "non-persons" and on that basis they legally exterminated 6 million of them. But you cry, "No, what Hitler did was wrong and twisted because it was done to adults" and then we're back again to society determining who gets to live and die and where they must be for it to legally occur and at what age it gets to occur. So if 25 week unborn persons can be murdered legally in the womb, why not at 25 weeks outside the womb? Why is the location of the baby significant to determining rights? Your answer: because society's law says that only born people have a right to life.

So now, what non-arbitrary standard can you provide me that's going to be palpably different than how the German Supreme court decided in 1938?

Thus, society gets to determine who has a right to live and die, not God, and certainly not the babies. Welcome to moral relativism.

My friend, this is what happens when you have an unregenerate mind and don't begin all of your thinking with the Law of Christ.

'Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil . . . woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.' Isaiah 5:20-21"

Planned Parenthood Aids Pimp's Underage Sex Ring

Planned Parenthood receives over $300 million in taxpayers funds each year to not only "help" women, but sex criminals too:

We're for you if you're for us

Politicians and pundits have been debating how to respond to the Egyptian crisis. Who should we throw our support behind?

In the words of one protester, "We believe America is against us." 

It seems to me that there's a simple formula we can apply in foreign policy: We're for you if you're for us.

We shouldn't give any particular faction carte blanche. It's a two-way street. Whether or not we're against them depends on whether or not they're against us.

Building a worldview

One question I'm interested in is the dialectic between empirical evidence and metaphysics. Is it meaningful to speak of empirical constraints on metaphysical views? Or are all empirical considerations entirely relative to one’s paradigm?

I guess that depends on what you think our paradigm should be able to do. If you think our paradigm should preserve the basic structure of our experience and our impressions with as little adjustment as possible, then you’ll favor a metaphysical view that does that.

If, on the other hand, simplicity is your criterion, then you may be prepared to sacrifice more common sense, properly basic beliefs as long as that streamlines your paradigm.

And, of course, something can be simpler in one respect, but more complicated in another. There may be tradeoffs.

Or if your objective is a naturalized epistemology/ontology (e.g. Quine, Dawkins, Churchlands), then you may go to great lengths to explain away appearances to the contrary.

Naïve realism is simple inasmuch as it eliminates the gap between appearance and reality. It takes the deliverance of our senses at full face-value. Does the least disruption to our immediate impressions.

Yet it’s deceptively simple. How can a mountain be objectively smaller at a distance from me, but objectively larger near you? So, to eliminate the paradoxes of naïve realism, we may switch to direct realism. That’s more disruptive to our individual impressions than naïve realism, but less disruptive to our collective impressions (i.e. many different observers).

Or take Berkeleyan idealism. That’s simple inasmuch as it eliminates the gap between appearance and reality. Eliminates the gap between primary and secondary qualities. Ontologically simple inasmuch as one substance (mind) is simpler than two (mind and matter).

Yet there’s a cost to that simplicity. It simplifies in one respect, but complicates in another. Why does the human body have so many useless parts and organs? Here physicalism and dualism have the simpler explanation. We appear to have a physical body because we really do have a physical body. As such, all these parts and organs perform real functions.

Mind you, it’s still possible to come up with a face-saving alternative. Take the brain-in-the-vat. The reason the “world” of the test-subject has this fine-grained detail is because that’s necessary to maintain the illusion of verisimilitude. So it is functional, but in a different respect. Functional to delude the test-subject into believing it’s real, so that his reactions can be studied.

But that’s a complicated explanation in its own right. It accounts for the illusion, but it also pushes the explanation back a few more steps, since you must then explain the aliens.

What about a scientific explanation of human vision? Sensible objects emit photos, which impinge on the eye. Then the brain takes over from thereon out, translating the electrochemical impulses into conscious mental imagery. Making various compensations along the way.

Yet that description is somewhat deceptive, for it charts the process from start to finish, from the outside to the inside. But, of course, a scientist can’t assume the viewpoint of an outsider to the process he describes. He doesn’t see the sensible object emitting photons which impinge on his own eye.

His understanding of the process comes at the tail end of the process, as the end-result of the process he presumes to describe. And if that’s all he’s got to go by, then he’s in no position to retrace the process. He can’t step outside himself to tell us what happens before the brain takes over, then what happens after the brain takes over. For him, it’s the brain all the way. And even the brain is not an object of direct inspection.

So where does that leave us? How much confidence should we vest in that 3rd-person description?

Well, that depends on other considerations. From a Christian standpoint, if God designed our visual system; if God put us in a visible world; if, indeed, God told us the story of how he made us, and how he made our world, then there’s far more reason to trust the prima facie evidence of our senses. We perceive the external world because there really is something out there to perceive. So it all hangs together.

If, on the other hand, you posit a blind creative process (i.e. naturalistic evolution), then maybe we’re like a bird that keeps flying into the windowpane. It can’t tell the difference between clear glass and thin air. And it lacks the mental aptitude to correct for its mistake. It keeps swinging back around and hitting the same windowpane. Bang! Bang! Bang! Until it drops in a heap of feathers. 

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Desiring God After Twenty-Five Years

I consider John Piper's Desiring God the best book I've read outside of the Bible. Justin Taylor has a good post on the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the book, including an interview with Piper.

Resources on 2K statecraft 

"Merit or ‘Entitlement’ in Reformed Covenant Theology"

Klinean statecraft

Green Baggins has been having a prolonged debate over the “Escondido” model of statecraft. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to have a real debate in that venue because Reed DePace gets his pink tutu in a knot when things are going badly for his own team. So I’ll just make a few broad observations here:

1. A Theocratic State

i) Israel was a theocratic state. The classic Anabaptist argument against any carryover of the Mosaic law into the new covenant seizes the theocratic dimension of ancient Israel.

And that’s an argument which has the strengths and weaknesses of a half-truth. It’s true that there were some unique aspects to the status of ancient Israel. Laws which prefigure the Messianic age. The cultic holiness of the land, the people, the Temple, &c.

So there’s undoubtedly a fair measure of discontinuity between ancient Israel and the church, or the old covenant and the new.

However, that analysis is very lop-sided. Not only was ancient Israel a theocracy, it was also a nation-state. Stop and ask yourself what the Mosaic law would look like if Israel were only a nation state, and not a theocracy. What would be absent? What would remain?

It would still have laws on sex crimes, property crimes, violent crimes, and so forth. So it’s simplistic to relegate the whole Mosaic law code to the era of types and shadows. That’s a catchy slogan, but it overlooks the obvious.

ii) Keep in mind, too, that the Mosaic law is the only inspired law code we have. So there’s an obvious value in using that as a frame of reference rather than merely human law codes.

iii) A more principled, potential objection to the relevance of the Mosaic law is that many of its regulations are quite timebound because they are adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of life in the ANE (e.g. agrarian economy, tribal structure, common property). 

At the same time, many Mosaic regulations may also exemplify generic principles which can be abstracted from the specifics of the historical setting.

Indeed, we do the same thing in reference to NT ethics. We need to distinguish general norms from timebound applications. We also need to analogize from the situation of 1C Christians to the situation of modern-day Christians.

So the more responsible course of action would be to evaluate OT laws on a case-by-case basis. There’s no antecedent presumption one way or another regarding their contemporary relevance. We only know by looking inside the box and sorting the contents.

2. The Decalogue

The Confessional tradition of the Westminster Standards codifies the continuing relevance of the Ten Commandments. That, however, carries certain implications:

i) The Ten Commandments can't be confined to personal ethics. They weren't merely, or even primarily, a rule for sanctification. In context, they concern social ethics. Public policy. To restrict them to personal ethics flouts the original intent of the Decalogue. 

ii) The Ten Commandments can’t be put in airtight compartments which isolate the Decalogue from the subsequent case-laws. For the Ten Commandments are just a set of general norms, while the case-laws illustrate specific ways in which the Ten Commandments apply to particular situations. Put another way, the case-laws function as a commentary on the Ten Commandments. How the Ten Commandments were understood to apply at a concrete, practical level. A detailed explication of the Ten Commandments.

Therefore, to the extent that Confessional Presbyterianism is committed to the contemporary relevance of the Decalogue, it is logically committed to case-laws insofar as they unpack the Decalogue. That’s a corollary commitment.

Of course, that’s still subject to the caveats under (1-iii).

3. Klinean Statecraft

Although some Reformed Presbyterians talk like Anabaptists, a more popular move in Reformed circles is to go the Klinean route, with intrusion ethics, a secularized redefinition of common grace, &c. The leading exponent of this position is Lee Irons.

Debates over 2-k can be very theoretical. But it’s useful to bring this down to earth. Lee’s support for “civil” sodomite marriage is a good test-case of what Klinean statecraft means in real-world terms. And you can take it from there. 

The Bad Faith Of Many Atheist Missionaries

The Atheist Missionary wrote:

For your next post, please explain how human biology permitted Methuselah to live for 969 years.

And later in the same thread, he wrote:

Just answer one simple question: are you aware of one PH.D. expert in the natural sciences who has written one peer reviewed paper to suggest that the human lifespan has ever exceeded, say, more than 150 years?

In a later thread, His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist wrote:

Gentlemen, I have read every single comment on this post, and quite frankly, I don't see that any of you has answered TAM's question. Attacking his character or his knowledge of biology does nothing to prove that Methuselah truly lived for 969 years.

The Atheist Missionary moved the goalposts, then the other atheist commenting in the second thread moved them even further.

If you go back to the original thread, you'll see that Peter's post wasn't about Methuselah's lifespan. I doubt that Methuselah's name even entered the mind of anybody else who read what Peter had written. The discussion of Methuselah began because Atheist Missionary wanted to change the subject. And Gun-Toting Atheist changed the subject again by going from Atheist Missionary's original question about what's biologically permissible to raising the subject of "proving that Methuselah lived for 969 years". Those are two different issues.

We addressed Methuselah's lifespan in the two threads linked above, and most of what we said was ignored by these two atheists. For example, it's common for people to accept a specific claim made by a source based on that source's general reliability. We accept a particular claim that Tacitus made about the Roman empire based on his general credibility, even though we can't independently confirm what he wrote on the specific issue in question. Similarly, arguments for the general reliability of the Bible can be applied to accounts about Methuselah in particular. Neither of the two atheists mentioned above interacted with our arguments for the general reliability of the Biblical documents.

Notice how these atheists ignore what other people have written, change the subject, and apply double standards, among other things. I've written before about the tendency of many skeptics to apply far different standards to themselves than they apply to others. What would they think of Christians who behaved the way they do? What if I responded to an article at Atheist Missionary's blog about Methuselah by changing the subject to the origin of the universe? What if I then changed my argument about the origin of the universe and ignored most of what the atheists there wrote in response to me on the subject? What if I made the number and variety of logical and factual errors Atheist Missionary has in his posts at Triablogue? What if I kept ignoring posts at Atheist Missionary's blog about evidence for atheism, all the while repeatedly making vague comments about a lack of evidence for atheism and assuming a lack of evidence for it in my own arguments?

Is it any wonder that atheism is such a small faith when its missionaries behave that way?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Self-hating feminism

I don’t know how many people remember Molly Yard. I remember her from TV appearances. She’s a revealing study in apostasy and hypocrisy. Like so many apostates, she simply became an anti-missionary missionary.

Molly Yard, a political activist for more than 50 years who became the eighth president of the National Organization for Women, died Tuesday night in her sleep. She was 93 and had been a resident of Fair Oaks of Pittsburgh, a retirement/nursing home in Dormont, for the past seven years.
Born in China to missionary parents, Ms. Yard played major roles in the movements for labor, civil rights and women's equality.
An ardent proponent of legalized abortion, affirmative action and the Equal Rights Amendment, Ms. Yard was known as a powerful leader who stood ramrod straight, blue eyes flashing from amusement to indignation.
As NOW's political director from 1985 to 1987, she was instrumental in the successful 1986 campaign to defeat anti-abortion referendums in Arkansas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Oregon.
Also in 1991, Ms. Yard was honored in Paris by the French Alliance of Women for Democratization for her work on reproductive rights; she had been a leader in the effort to get Paris-based manufacturer Roussel Uclaf to make the so-called "French abortion pill" available in the United States.
Born in Shanghai, China, the third of four daughters of Methodist missionaries, Ms. Yard started life with an international perspective on feminism.
She once told the story of a Chinese friend who gave her father a brass bowl as a gift, his way of saying he was sorry she was not a boy. In those days in China, she said, the birth of a girl was a tragedy, and many were destined to live as prostitutes or servants. Sometimes, she said, "the girl babies were just thrown away."
She grew up in Chengdu, the capital of Szechuan province in West China, and came to the United States with her parents when she was 13.
"The rest of us aged slowly over time," Isaacs said. "Molly stayed exactly the same until her stroke, and then she aged overnight."

1. The impetus for her radical feminism was the fact that Chinese girls were treated like garbage.

Yet that didn’t prevent her from becoming a fanatical proponent of abortion, even though abortion in China disproportionately targets female babies, and literally treats their lives as disposable commodities.

2. After her stroke, she was totally dependent on caregivers to provide for her physical needs. But given her view of the unborn, would it not have been more consistent to euthanize stroke victims like Molly Yard? Why should she be a burden on society? 


James Anderson recently did a nifty sequel to his nifty post on Newcomb's paradox:

But it doesn't look like his new post has garnered the attention it merits. Evidently, critics of the previous post fled in abject terror at the sight of his towering sequel–like hapless humans fleeing the Tripods in Spielberg's War of the Worlds!


Flying pigs

Next the Calvinists will be suggesting that pigs can fly.

Specially designed containers are used to ship young breeding pigs by air...To prevent fighting during air transport, pigs should be grouped into groups that will fly together in a container at the farm of origin.   

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Jerry Coyne's wish list

Jerry Coyne said:
Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can't answer but other methods of inquiry can - especially religion. So far, despite loud and frequent denunciations of "scientism," I've never seen anything resembling that list.
For starters:


Finally, fellow scientist and atheist Massimo Pigliucci offers Coyne some advice.

Can There Be Good Without God? - A Friendly Yet Critical Review of the Debate

This past Thursday night (1-27-2011) Shepherd's Fellowship had its second "Worldview Night" by viewing a debate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Theme: Ratio Christi of UNCG (represented by Adam Tucker and Bill Pratt, hereafter noted as "RC") and the UNCG Atheists Agnostics and Skeptics (represented by Joshua Deaton and Robert Eldredge, hereafter noted as "UNCG AAS") debated whether the Christian or an atheistic worldview better accounts for morality and which worldview offers a superior understanding of how morality works in the world.

Location & Time: The event was held in the Elliot University Center (EUC) in the EUC auditorium from @ 7-9 p.m.

Format: This was a debate structured as a panel discussion with each side giving a 16 minute opening statement, then each side lead a question and discussion session with the other for 17 minutes respectively. Both sides then offered 5 minute closing statements, followed by a 10 minute break and 30 minute Q&A period where the panelists answered written audience questions.


  • The accommodations were comfortable, the panelists were easily heard, and the lighting was sufficient for the audience to take notes.
  • We were pleasantly greeted upon entering the lobby of the auditorium by representatives from both sides and received literature from them as well as an explanation of how to use our note-cards and poll cards. The warm greeting and instructions was a nice touch!
  • We had the opportunity to turn in a poll card at the end of the debate indicating whether we had changed our position regarding our general metaphysical orientation as well as our views concerning the thesis of the debate.
Debate Moderation
  • At one point during RC's opening statement, there was so much scoffing going on behind us from a detractor(s), that I couldn't make out parts of what Mr. Tucker was saying. Of course this was a violation of audience conduct rules read by the moderator before the debate. The detractor(s) was several rows behind us and still loud enough to hear intelligibly. However, no one near the front of the audience turned around so I doubt the moderator could even hear it to correct it. Such is the case with a larger venue.
  • In my opinion, the moderator seemed slightly biased towards the UNCG AAS. He allowed Joshua Deaton to take too long to ask his first question and make other off-hand comments that were not germane to certain portions of the discussion. Also, I'm not sure if I heard this correctly (I'll have to go back and examine the audio-video when it becomes available), but I thought that Robert Eldredge at one point blasphemed and said, "Oh Jesus!" I realize that emotions can run high in a debate, but a moderator should work hard to keep such emotional outbursts to a minimum and focus on maintaining socially acceptable behavior, which does not include blasphemy or off-hand comments that are not germane to the discussion at hand.
Panelists Critique: RC

  • The RC panelists willingly ditched the Bible from the start. This is a typical strategy for those holding to the classical apologetic methodology. The classical apologist does this because he wants to show that you can ground moral realism by invoking a general theism since he believes that (1) it cannot be philosophically demonstrated that the Christian God alone is the necessary grounds for moral realism, and (2) so as to avoid alienating a secular audience and perhaps provoking interest in a general theism so as to provide a framework for later demonstrating the existence of the Christian God via various evidential and rational-philosophical arguments supporting both the reliability of the Bible and the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. However, giving up the Bible in a religious debate clearly contradicts 2 Corinthians 10:5, which states, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5 NAU). We are commanded to defend the faith once for all handed down to the saints, not a deistic god via philosophical argumentation that is detached from Scripture (Jude 3; Col. 2:3-8). Romans 1:19-21 tells the Christian that the unbeliever already knows that the Creator exists, regardless of their degree of truth suppression. None of the apostles ever defended the faith without appealing directly to Scripture or at least alluding to its teachings. My view is that for a professing Christian to give up the Bible in a debate involving God is sinful. It's like a soldier who willingly enters the battlefield and lays down his weapon and boastfully says to his opponent, "I don't need my sword, I can beat you without it even though I'm ordered by my commanding officer to use it at all times."
  • RC asserted that you don't have to believe in God to be moral, but only to ground morality. I understand this argument, but Biblically speaking, it simply isn't true that one can be reckoned moral without faith in Christ. According to God, there are no good people regardless of how well you walk society's moral line (Romans 3:12). This is why we need an imputed righteousness from Christ (Romans 4:4-5; Philippians 3:9). Also, unbelief itself is sin, and final unbelief will land all unrepentant sinners in Hell (Revelation 21:8). Thus, the completely antithesis of what it means to be moral according to God's standards. Thus, no unbeliever can be good according to God. I realize that telling an unbeliever in an academic debate that he can't be moral whatsoever unless he repents and places his faith in Christ isn't the best way to earn respect with the academy, get more debate opportunities, or win the crowd, but it's better to be Biblically correct rather than politically correct regardless of the circumstances. To the wind with academic respectability!
  • Mr. Pratt replied to one of Mr. Deaton's questions with this response: "Christians aren't any more morally certain than atheists." What? (!) You mean that believers can't be sure that adultery, fornication, murder, abortion, or pedophilia is wicked? Regardless of the context or the specific question that was asked of Mr. Pratt, this statement is wrong any way you slice it.
  • In response to a question related to the six days of creation, Mr. Pratt affirmed old earth creationism and stated that it's not a matter of orthodoxy. I agree that a person can be saved and affirm old earth creationism, but Jesus said that the creation of Adam and Eve was from the beginning of the creation, not at the relative end of history, 3.5 billion years after the earth came into existence (Mark 10:6). Affirming old earth creationism also undermines the Adam-Christ parallels in the New Testament (Romans 5/1 Corinthians 15) by denying that animal death entered the world through the fall. It also denies not only the historical interpretation of Genesis 1-11 adopted by the majority of scholars throughout church history pre-19th century, but it also defies a consistent grammatico-historical hermeneutic so as to maintain consistency with secular paradigms regarding the age of the earth.
  • RC did an excellent job pressing the UNCG AAS panelists with the problem of the "Naturalistic Fallacy", i.e., getting an "ought" from an "is". This is one of the fundamental problems for atheism's attempt to justify moral realism and it is one of the major reasons why many philosophically astute atheists are moral relativists. For those not familiar with this classic philosophical problem as expounded by skeptic David Hume, the idea is that what is the case doesn't necessarily tell us what should be the case. In other words, just because people behave a certain way doesn't necessarily mean that they ought to behave that way. On atheism, all you ultimately have are statistical averages as it pertains to moral habits. But statistical averages don't tell us what should be happening, they only tell us what is happening. This is the problem of trying to derive any moral standards whatsoever from science, Sam Harris' views notwithstanding.
  • RC revealed the hypocrisy of the UNCG AAS by showing that while they have no problem accusing the Christian God of being immoral by regulating slavery in the Old and New Testaments, yet they dogmatically affirmed that moral standards are determined by society, biology, and individual reason. But given the atheist's standards for determining ethics, perhaps Bronze age Hebrews lived in a society where slavery was a given, hadn't experienced as much "cultural evolution", and had "reasoned" that slavery was the best option for many who didn't have modern welfare-state conveniences like prison and refugee camps, Medicaid, HUD-housing, and food stamps. Thus, on the atheist's standards, slavery would have been morally obligatory in certain circumstances in ancient Hebrew or Greco-Roman culture.
  • RC also did a good job showing the inconsistency of the UNCG AAS holding to both naturalistic materialism and moral culpability since naturalism implies biochemical predestination and moral culpability implies that people are free moral agents; ideas which are obviously incompatible with one another.
  • RC did a fair job of explaining how Israelite slavery was the result of the effects of sin operating in a bronze age, warrior-class society. However, where they waffled a bit was on the subject of whether slavery was absolutely sinful under both Old and New Covenant eras and the question of why God couldn't have legislated against it in light of the fact that He easily created the universe in six days. I appreciated Mr. Pratt's brief explanation of Hebrew slavery being likened to indentured servitude, for this was indeed the case for Hebrew slaves (Ex. 21:2-11; Lev. 25:39-43); but this didn't apply for Gentile slaves acquired through conquest (Lev. 25:44-46) and both were still considered as "property" of their master, whether Hebrew or not (Ex. 21:20). The Biblical presentation is that if slavery was practiced in accordance with the laws associated with the particular covenant administration that a believer was under (i.e., Mosaic Law = O.T.; Law of Christ = N.T.), then slavery wasn't sinful in and of itself. What was sinful, was the abuse of the system that God regulated (cf. Ex. 21:1-10; 20-21; Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1). However, just as biblical divorce wasn't ideal but was permitted and regulated under both covenants (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:1-12; 1 Cor. 7:15), neither was slavery ideal but was permitted and regulated. The Biblical ideal regarding slavery is found in 1 Corinthians 7:21 and Philemon 15-17. It would also have been helpful to point out that the existence of literal slavery in a fallen world points to the fact that everyone is a spiritual slave, whether to Satan or Christ.
Panelists Critique: UNCG AAS
  • Mr. Deaton's first question during the discussion time was too long and convoluted. It seemed as though the question was purposefully convoluted so as to trip up the RC panelists, though I can't be sure of such. I panned the crowd after Mr. Deaton asked his first question, and while I initially understood the question, I observed many confused faces in the audience who obviously didn't.
  • The UNCG AAS' explanation of how objective moral norms develop (social standards, biology, individual reason) was easily shown to be self-referentially incoherent when they tried to argue against the supposed immorality of the Bible (i.e., slavery, Midianite war-brides of Numbers 31:18ff).
  • The UNCG AAS panelists denied moral relativism but then affirmed the same. Their rationale for moral norms was essentially based upon their own personal preference. Thus, they denied moral subjectivism with their mouths but ended up affirming it when pressed to give a non-subjective grounding for ethical standards.
  • When pressed by the RC as to what constitutes the grounds for determining whether an action is moral or immoral, the UNCG AAS said "whatever promotes peace and happiness." But this is obviously wrong prima facie, for what makes one person happy may sadden or infuriate another. What brings pain may bring pleasure to another. Consider the worn out argument of Nazi Germany; what made the German people happy via the Third Reich's propaganda campaign was determined by social conditioning, reasoning, and supposed biological evolution (social Darwinism) and that amounted to the slaughter of 6 million Jews and 6 million non-Jews. It made the Nazi's happy, it angered, saddened, and infuriated much of the rest of Western culture. What brings peace, welfare, and happiness to some, may kill others.
  • Eutyphro's Dilemma - This is an old, worn-out atheistic canard that refuses to die. As Mr. Pratt already answered in a blog article, what constitutes good for God proceeds from God's nature is not above it, under it, or external to it. God's standard is not external to Him (voluntarism), nor arbitrary (Divine command theory), but internal to Him. Morality is thus grounded in the internal, immutable character of God. So, while some of God's laws may change as He changes His dealings with men through various covenants and eras of redemptive history (Heb. 7:12), God's internal character does not change and cannot change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), thus guaranteeing an objective, transcendent grounding for many moral norms (Matt. 22:37-40, Rom. 13:8-10). The atheists' objection showed that they simply didn't understand the solution or didn't want to understand it.
  • Numbers 31:18-20 - Mr. Deaton referred to this text in an attempt to argue that God commanded the rape of Midianite female captives. A few things need to be noted: (1) These were war-brides, not rape victims (Deut. 21:10-14). The word rape is found nowhere in Numbers 31. The punishment for raping a married or betrothed woman in the Old Testament was the death penalty (Deut. 22:25-27). Mr. Deaton made up the idea of Midianite women being raped and then imputed such wickedness to God in an effort to slander the word of God, discredit RC, and to justify his atheism. (2) War-brides were provided for with a home, food, shelter, clothing, etc., all fulfilling God's requirements for holy war when Israel took vengeance on His enemies (Deut. 20:14-15; 21:10-14). Carrying off virgin women from conquered lands as booty to provide war-brides was a much better alternative than leaving them in their conquered lands without a husband to provide for their needs. Again, this was the best option considering that these people lived in a warrior-class culture that didn't have our modern welfare-state conveniences like prison and refugee camps, Medicaid, HUD-housing, and food stamps.
  • The UNCG AAS arguments boiled down to this: If our morality makes us and other people in our society happy, then it's good; if not, then it's evil. However, they fail to notice that while they rail against the Bible for slavery, war-brides, etc., the selfsame standards that they used to shroud their moral relativism actually justifies the very morality that they hate in the Bible.
IN CONCLUSION, though I have truly appreciated some of what my Christian friends said in this debate, and though I do not particularly enjoy writing a critical review of their apologetic efforts, it is a necessary and worthwhile task. I hope that other Christian men would do the same with me were I in the same situation. I also hope that I would have the keen mind and godly character needed to take to heart their constructive criticism in order to become a better servant of Christ. In regards to my critiques of the UNCG AAS panelists, I am sad to say that I have virtually nothing positive to say in regards to their argumentation, though I have appreciated the fact that several of them have been very kind to me in the past and I trust they will do so in the future. In all, our church members who attended were reminded of the absolute necessity of holding forth the word of God as the foundational starting point for all of their thinking, for without that, you do not have access to the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3-8).

Like father of lies, like son 

The Thrilla in Puebla

Dawkins v. Craig

Like shooting fish in a barrel

The Atheist Missionary confidently asserts:
We already know that all life is cerated [sic] from inanimate elements - don't we? We just don't know how the first replicating molecules arose. Once that question is answered (and, rest assured, it will be answered within the next century . . . For your next post, please explain how human biology permitted Methuselah to live for 969 years. This is like shooting fish in a barrel.
So we ask him questions such as:
Besides, what do you know about senescence and aging anyway? Are you conversant in topics like the Hayflick limit, telomerase and telomere shortening, oxidative stress, free radicals like reactive oxygen species (e.g. superoxides, hydroxyls) and mitochondrial damage (e.g. such as in the electron transport chain), pharmaceuticals which attempt to mimic caloric restriction (e.g. 2-deoxyglucose which blocks glucose metabolism), etc.?
The Atheist Missionary admits:
Gentlemen, first of all, let me make it clear that I (like probably 99% of those who visit this site) am not a professional biologist . . . Please don't embarass yourself by naming scientists who are engaged studying how the aging process might be prolonged or by regaling me with biological topics you already know that I am not conversant with.
I'd suggest The Atheist Missionary ponder Prov 16:18 before he opens his mouth again.