Challenging Hawking’s Statement on God

Reflecting on the inspiring life of the late Stephen Hawking, John Lennox (Professor emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) is full of praise for Hawking’s greater talent and his extensive contributions as a scientist[1]. Hawking’s work on gravity, and his development of the standard model, have been immense contributions to scientific knowledge and have given many “yet to be proven” theories for physicists to explore. Hawking has taught many famous physicists who are carrying on the work today. Further – he was someone of inspiring personal resilience and determination. He beat the odds that he faced as a result of motor neurone disease.

 

Lennox went on to quote Lord Rees, previous president of the Royal Society, who observed that Hawing “attracted exaggerated attention even on topics where he had no special expertise – for instance philosophy.”[2] There was a downside to his iconic status. Rees went on to say that we shouldn’t attach any weight at all to what Hawking says about God.[3] Rees is referencing Hawking’s atheism that is presented in his book The Grand Design.

 

Lennox makes a further observation: “Outside his own field, a scientist is as dumb as the next guy. Statements of scientists are therefore not always statements of science.”

 

Even though Hawking’s scientific opinions are held in high esteem, when he spoke outside of his field – philosophy and theology – he made some basic mistakes that he never seemed to try to correct. Lennox doubts that any philosophers or theologians ever read The Grand Design before it was published.

 

One of these mistakes is the central premise of his book. “Because there is a law of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”[4] What is wrong with this statement? Lennox observes that it is self-contradictory.

  • Because there is something (the law of gravity)
  • The universe creates itself from nothing
  • But if there is something there is not nothing – therefore this reasoning contains a basic contradiction.

To put it even more simply:

  • x can create y
  • but x cannot create x

 

What’s sad to Lennox is that Hawking claimed to produce a universe from nothing, but did no such thing because what he calls nothing … is not.

 

 

Lennox also observes that both Hawking and Isaac Newton held the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. While Newton didn’t say “I’ve got gravity…so I don’t need God,” he did say, “how brilliant for God to do it this way.” Yet Hawking was different. He saw God as a competing explanation for the existence of the universe. In other words – God fills the gaps in our knowledge, and as the gaps decrease so does the need for God.

Lennox observes that viewing God and science as competing hypothesis, is like saying “Henry Ford is an alternative explanation of the motor car from the laws of internal combustion. This is just nonsense. Ford doesn’t compete with the physical laws in any way – he is simply a different kind of explanation. He is agency, rather than natural law.”

So too with God. God’s not an alternative explanation to the universe from science. Hawking was mistaken. God’s a complementary explanation…the agency that harnesses the physical law he created.

 

Lennox deeply respects Hawking as a scientist, but not as a philosopher or theologian. For what it is worth…I agree with Lennox.

[1] John Lennox, John Lennox Reflects on Stephen Hawking’s Life and Beliefs, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://fixed-point.org/articles/john-lennox-reflects-on-stephen-hawkings-life-beliefs/, this source synthesised and summarised in the blog.

[2] Lord Martin Rees, Professor Stephen Hawking: An Appreciation by Lord Rees, Trinity College Cambridge, published 14th March, 2018, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/professor-stephen-hawking-an-appreciation-by-lord-rees/.

[3] Martin Rees: ‘We shouldn’t attach any weight to what Stephen Hawking says about God’, The Independent, published 26th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/martin-rees-we-shouldnt-attach-any-weight-to-what-hawking-says-about-god-2090421.html

[4] Great Minds: Stephen Hawking -The Grand Design of the Universe, uploaded 12th September, 2010, accessed 11th April, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPvQY8L481o.

Advertisements

Distinguishing Education from Propaganda

education-a-good-idea-an-array-of-school-40382

There’s something about true education that is just GOOD…intrinsically good. We are built with a need to LEARN. To feed ourselves with ideas that are filled with truth and goodness and beauty.

There’s a danger though. We can think we are educating ourselves, when in fact we are taking on board something else that’s called propaganda. What’s the difference between education…and propaganda? How do we tell the difference?

The Oxford dictionary defines propaganda as “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

There’s a lot of this in the public domain today. Sometimes it feels like everyone is out to persuade us of something! Well…I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do persuasion.

 

So – what’s the difference between these two? How do we tell healthy education apart from misleading propaganda? Let’s inform ourselves…so we know what we are feeding on.

I heard this discussion with Ken Samples, and found it very helpful.[1]

 

 

Education promotes learning, Propaganda is all about manipulation and distortion

We can learn by ourselves, or a teacher can instruct us. Either way…true learning is something done by an individual. A teacher’s job is to help the student in their self discovery. The teacher’s not there to manipulate or distort the issues. That’s simply passing on propaganda.

 

Education introduces the controversies and disagreements, Propaganda shields people from disagreement

This comes up a lot in religious groups. There are many theories about God, for example. To be an educator, involves exposing people to the truth of that so that we can understand why not everyone agrees.

It’s important that historic Christianity has been challenged on what it believes, because in responding to these controversies, it has clarified what the Christian position is on important issues (like the identity of Jesus).

There’s a danger that Christians can lapse from education into propaganda. Because we want people to believe the truth of the gospel, we can choose to air brush out the disagreements that have occurred in the past. We’re not being malicious – we don’t want to confuse anyone.

BUT – at the same time – we’re still passing on propaganda, not true education.

 

Education teaches the strengths and weaknesses of a position, Propaganda only focuses on the strengths

 

Education teaches you HOW to think, propaganda teaches you WHAT to think

Unfortunately, when we have been fed a continue diet of propaganda, we become people with very narrow views.

The more you educate yourself, the wider the issues open up for you and the more reasonable a position you can adopt and then defend.

 

Education involves talking about consequences, Propaganda just talks about the advantages

We see this all the time in advertising. Because there’s only a short time window in which to sell their product to us, they do the best job of focussing solely on the reasons why we should buy their product.

But there are going to be positive and negative consequences to choosing this product. And education about its value will look honestly at both.

 

Education encourages inquiry and dialogue, Propaganda discourages inquiry and dialogue

When you are listening to someone talk, ask yourself…what is their intention?

Are they saying, “I just want you to accept my view?” Or are they seeking to persuade while at the same time encouraging you to do your own work exploring this area?

A true educator – wants us to do our own enquiry…to engage with these issues and reach our own conclusions. To become people who engage in critical thinking.

 

Education is focused on the individual, Propaganda is focused on the masses

We see this played out in Nazi Germany. There was a concerted program there of making the state big in everyone’s minds, while the individual was actually minimized. What value are my opinions, when everyone else is saying this?

Joseph Goebbels said “Tell a lie long and loud enough, and people will believe it.”

This is the ad populum fallacy…a proposition must be true because most people believe it. Yes – most people believe it. But they just might be very wrong.

 

Conclusion

People are built to take on education. This is good and right. Yet we need to learn to distinguish between true education, and mere propaganda. We need to be able to tell the difference…so we can recognize propaganda when we hear it. And choose to reject the unhealthy ideas and seek what’s true, good and beautiful instead.

As a Christian, I want to help people to grow in discernment, to become fair minded lovers of the truth. This means that I must carefully avoid the trap of propaganda…and instead become a true educator.

 

Image from Pixabay, https://www.pexels.com/photo/good-idea-text-40382/.

[1] Straight Thinking: Education vs Propaganda, Reasons to Believe, January 2, 2018, http://reasons.org/explore/multimedia/rtb-podcast/read/rtb-podcast/2018/01/02/education-vs-propaganda, accessed January 15, 2018.

RESPONDblogs: Did the First Followers of Jesus Believe in an Empty Tomb?

empty_tomb_1

People sometimes look sceptically at the New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection, suggesting the original Christians didn’t claim Jesus tomb was empty. Rather, the idea of Jesus’ physical resurrection evolved over time.

Richard Carrier says the earliest Christian thinking on post-crucifixion Jesus is in Paul’s letters, but Paul doesn’t talk physical resurrection, instead he says Jesus returned to heaven as a spirit. This portrays the empty tomb as a legend from Christians who misunderstood Paul’s teaching. The story “that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century.”[1] The Gospels, written after Paul’s death, contain these legends.

Everybody LOVES a good conspiracy theory. But what does Carrier base his proposed conspiracy theory on? Is his foundation secure? If not, then his theory won’t be any good.

Carrier’s foundation is the idea the earliest Christians didn’t believe Jesus was raised physically, but spiritually. There was no empty tomb; resurrection was just a clever idea to build a movement on. Let’s look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to see whether Carrier’s right.

Paul’s Argument for Resurrection

“They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”[2] Paul’s talking about two types of body, contrasting natural and spiritual bodies. So, is he contrasting a physical body with a ghost-like spirit? Or are our western minds reading this into the text?

Paul’s original greek contrasts soma psychikon (translated natural) and soma pneumatikon (translated spiritual). The word psychikon refers to something as soulish, while the word pneumatikon refers to something as spiritual. Paul’s contrasting soulish and spiritual bodies.

There’s no reference to physical body here. The ancients had ways of contrasting physical and non-physical things, but they didn’t use these words. Ironically, if a 1st century reader saw the phrase soma psychikon and was looking for a physical/non-physical contrast, they would think soma psychikon referred to the non-physical side![3]

If Paul’s not talking in terms of physical vs ghostly non-physical resurrection body, what is he doing? He’s contrasting soulish and spirit empowered bodies.

Here’s another interesting point about Paul’s choice of language. Adjectives with the ending -ikos have ethical meanings, they don’t refer to material composition.[4] So Paul’s not thinking about the resurrection body’s composition, rather he’s talking about its power source.

Carrier thinks Paul’s speaking about a “ship made of steel or wood,” but actually Paul’s talking about a ship “driven by steam or wind.”[5]

Let’s look at Paul’s argument for the resurrection body.

1 –Bodies are Physical

Some Corinthians believed the body was unspiritual and something to escape from. The idea of a physical resurrection body wouldn’t be good news.

Paul responds by teaching a right understanding of the resurrection from the dead, and he appeals to God’s original creative work. Adam and the garden were physical things, and Adam relates to Christ. “The first man, Adam, became a living person. But the last Adam – that is Christ – is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.”[6] He’s saying, we all know soulish bodies exist (soma psychikon), but bodies animated by God’s spirit are also real (soma pneumatikon). Jesus’ resurrection body is an example of pneumatikon.[7]

If Paul didn’t think Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical thing, then why would he bother to link Christ with his original physical creation?

2 – Jesus’ Resurrection Body is Like Our Future Body

He goes on to say that, “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[8] Our own resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s. Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, so ours will be too.

3 – Our Soulish Lives will be Swallowed Up in Spirit Empowered Lives

The aim isn’t to leave our bodies for spiritual existence, the aim is “to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthy reality”[9] and look for a future where God’s intended “pneumatikos state…swallow(s) up and replace(s) [a] merely psychikos life.”[10]

Our current, corruptible soulish bodies can’t inherit God’s kingdom, but our future non-corruptible spirit empowered bodies will.

 

Conclusion

Carrier thinks Paul taught a non-physical resurrection body, and his letter to Corinth “discourses on metaphysical minutiae…resolving some misunderstanding about the nature of the resurrection body.”[11] Yes, but Paul’s not discoursing on the body’s nature, but on what empowers it; soul or spirit? Based on Christ’s resurrection, Paul assumes Christians will have a future body that will be “animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God.”[12]

Carrier misrepresents Paul’s argument, claiming he didn’t believe in physical resurrection bodies. No, Paul assumed Jesus’ physical resurrection and likened it to the Christian’s future, Spirit empowered body.

Carrier’s conspiracy theory about the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection accounts isn’t therefore grounded; the earliest Christians did believe both that Christ was physically raised, and in the future, we will be too.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, eds. Robert M. Price, and Jeffery Jay Lowder (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), Loc. 1259, Kindle.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:44, NLT.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 350.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 1 Cor 15:45, NLT.

[7] Wright, 354.

[8] 1 Cor 15:49, NLT.

[9] Wright, 355.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Carrier, Loc., 1486.

[12] Wright, 354.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

RESPONDblogs: The Case for a Personal First Cause

sky-lights-space-dark

I find myself scratching my head when someone asks, “What caused the universe to exist?” What confuses me is that – often people will lead with a scientific answer to that question. Why is this an odd thing to do? Science is about using natural law to explain effects in nature. Yet before the universe, there were no natural laws…they started at the beginning of the universe. Surely science isn’t the appropriate tool to answer this origin question?

 

Perhaps philosophy is a safer starting point when exploring these issues. And using philosophical argument, you can mount a case for a personal First Cause…

 

First – the First Cause is wholly other than the Universe.

We’ve got to try to understand what CAUSED the universe in terms that are unbound BY the universe. Why? Because a cause is always greater than an effect. For example, we may love the characters and the plot of a novel or a movie. But that first cause of that “world” is of another order than that fictional world. The story is fictional – but its cause is real and has thoughts, abilities and a history that goes far beyond the bounds of the fictional world they wrote about.

 

The First Cause of the universe has caused space and time to exist. So, it transcends both. What does this mean?

Changeless – if it is timeless, then it does not react to the passage of time. We change over time. Things change over time. The First Cause is outside of time, and so does not change.

Immaterial – the universe is composed of matter. The First Cause is of another order to that and is not bound by the constraints of matter. It is therefore immaterial. This might sound tricky to accept…but those story characters I mentioned earlier are also immaterial. So are the thoughts about the thoughts that led to the story! So is truth, beauty and Justice. We are quite used to dealing with immaterial realities in our lives.

Uncaused – everything in the universe is caused. The First Cause is other than the universe and so is uncaused. What does this mean? It means that, unlike our experience of nature, there is no antecedent cause for the First Cause. The buck stops with the First Cause. Otherwise, we find ourselves asking…so who caused the First Cause? And that question can go on back and back for ever. No – the First Cause is uncaused. Again – this is very reasonable.  Ocam’s razor isn’t a shaving implement – it’s a problem-solving principle that states something like, “Among competing hypotheses, the simplest one is best.” There’s only one First Cause. Simples.

Powerful – the First Cause is pretty powerful to create a universe that looks beautifully infinite out of nothing…right?

 

Second – the First Cause is a person.

This is where things get tricky for many people. Perhaps we don’t like the thought of natural laws being the result of some super intelligence like God. Certainly, if we are opposed to the idea of God, then I get why we wouldn’t like that. But, I think the proposition that the First Cause is a person…makes a lot of sense quite apart from religious views. Why? Here are two reasons why.

First – the Personal explanation type gives a fuller explanation.

William Lane Craig points out that there are typically two types of explanation of an event. A scientific explanation, talking about the laws and initial conditions for the event, and a personal explanation, dealing with agents and their wills and choices. Both of these are good explanations.

He asks us to imagine a boiling kettle on the stove in the kitchen. And he asks, why’s the kettle on the boil?

The scientific explanation would say, “The heat…increases the kinetic energy of the water molecules…and are thrown off…[as] steam.”[1]

The personal explanation would be something like, “My wife’s making a cup of tea. Would you like some?”

Which explanation do we turn to when explaining the origin of the universe? We cannot use the scientific explanation because the laws and initial conditions that science deals with were caused when the universe began. There was nothing before the universe. That only leaves the personal explanation – an agent willed it. And only persons have wills. So, the First Cause of the universe is a Person.

 

Second – the Personal explanation solves the Temporal Effect and Timeless Cause Dilemma.

This one was tricky for me to grasp. But the dilemma is this. If a timeless cause has caused the effect of the Universe, then why isn’t the universe timeless…or eternal as well as the cause?

Again, Craig invites you to consider two different ways that events are caused:

1 – a brick shattering a window – in this case, one event (a kid throwing a brick) causes another event (the shattering of a window). You can call this EVENT / EVENT causation because it involves related events.

2 – a log floating on the water – this case is different. Here, one state of affairs causes another. Because the water has a certain surface tension, the log floats on it. This could be called STATE / STATE causation. In this causal relation, the effect need not have a cause. The log could have been floating there eternally. If someone threw it into the lake…then that’s EVENT / EVENT causation instead.

 

So – what about the causation of the universe? Here we seem to have a confusing situation – STATE / EVENT causation. The cause of the universe is timeless, but the effect isn’t timeless because it occurred at a specific point in time (around 14 billion years ago). Usually, the state has the same type of effect. But not in this situation.

 

This is a philosophical dilemma. And the way out proposed by Craig is a personal First Cause who “freely chooses to create a universe in time.”[2] This isn’t EVENT / EVENT causation. And it’s not STATE/STATE causation. Philosophers call it agent causation. And we are very familiar with this concept. Whenever I raise my hand in class to ask a question, my hand goes up as the result of agent causation.

 

 

So – where does this leave me?

The First Cause of the universe cannot be described using scientific means (the laws of physics). And the First Cause isn’t bound by the same constraints we ourselves experience within the universe. The First Cause is an eternal, immaterial, powerful Person. And that…sounds a lot like most people’s description of GOD. And if He’s really there…maybe the Bible’s been right all along. We can get to know who He really is?

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith Christian Truth and Apologetics 3rd ed, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 152.

[2] Ibid.

RESPONDblogs: Do Any Natural Explanations for the RESURRECTION Work?

When it comes to identifying the most plausible explanation for an event…we start by gathering the eyewitness evidence and testimony about this event. And once the evidence has been marshalled, we then begin the job of finding a theory that best fits all the evidence and gives an explanation FOR the event.

This process will throw up many different theories. But the better theories will be the ones with the widest explanatory scope. In other words, the theories which best fit with the most of the available data. We have a problem to deal with when we have theories that require us to throw some established data away. Any explanatory theory that requires us to throw data away is not a good theory.

 

In the 1st Century, over 500 people in and around Jerusalem claimed that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead. It sparked a movement that in 2016 has 2.5 billion followers – CHRISTIANITY. Why did it spark this movement? Because the resurrection of Jesus confirmed the claims of Jesus – that he was the Messiah, God himself, and he had come to begin setting up God’s Kingdom.

I’ve attached below the uncontested historical facts that Christian and non-Christian historians agree on surrounding the death of Jesus and the birth of the Christian Church.

I’ve also gathered the bulk of the natural and supernatural theories that have been proposed over the last 2000 years since the claims of Jesus’ Resurrection were first made. There are 13 theories which try to explain the Resurrection event. What you can see – is that all the naturalistic theories bar one have a big problem. The numbers under each theory indicate which elements of historical data we must throw away if we are to stick with this theory. These theories have poor explanatory scope. They require us to throw established facts away. They are not good theories.

There are only two theories that fit with all the established facts. One naturalistic theory – and one supernatural theory.

EITHER

Jesus was an alien. I don’t find this explanation convincing. Because “Jesus is an alien” in a Star Trek way basically just paints a bullseye around the facts…and fires the Starship Enterprise at it. This explanation ironically explains nothing at all. But personally I like this theory because I love space movies. And I think in a very real sense…that Jesus was alien…but he wasn’t from another Galaxy. He simply wasn’t originally from our Universe.

OR

Jesus was who he said He was and God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead at that point in history to confirm the ongoing narrative that had been running for millennia…and continues to run…about the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It fits with a Judeo-Christian understanding of the past and the Christian expectation for the future. It clarifies it, and it explains it in a powerful way.

 

It seems to me as I look at the data and the possible theories, that the one that best fits the data, is the explanation that the first Christians themselves proposed. That on the first Easter Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead.

 

1 – HISTORICAL FACTS

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. He was buried.
  3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
  4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
  6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection.
  7. This message was the centre of preaching in the early church.
  8. The message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
  9. As a result of this preaching the church was born and grew.
  10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
  11. James, brother of Jesus, who had been a sceptic was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus.
  12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

[1]

 

2 – NATURAL AND SUPERNATURAL THEORIES

[2]

 

[1] Craig Hazen, Evidence for the Resurrection, Biola University.

[2] Ibid.

RESPONDblogs: Just how Strong is the Moral Argument for God?

homersimpson

Have we ever considered that – maybe – the moral fabric of our world points to a creator God? If people were simply the result of mindless, chance events that occurred over a prolonged period of time do you really think that human morality would have grown into the common code that it is now…shared by all people everywhere down through the ages? The moral code feels to me like a far reaching Act of Parliament…handed down from heaven…written on our hearts from birth…that we can run from but we cannot hide from.

I think that human morals provide a strong pointer to the just and loving God that the Bible describes. How do I support my conclusion? What are my premises?

1 – Maybe morality is just the result on an evolving society? I’ve explored reasons why this cannot be the case.

2 – But there isn’t a “one size fits all” morality – right? I’ve discussed why I think this misunderstands what morality is.

3 – I’ve gone on to explore what moral absolutes look like.

4 – And Science, while a useful tool, is not capable of making moral judgments on its own.

5 – All this only really makes sense if there is a God to provide the moral code in the first place.

 

Is there a strong moral argument for God? Yes – I think so.

 

But – so what?

If there’s a moral code imprinted onto each human heart that urges us to look after the poor and the helpless, to care for and respect our children and our elders, to seek justice in this world…so what?

 

 

Here are a couple of thoughts.

First – I think it’s easy to forget just how strong the force of the moral code really is in our lives. The stronger something is – the more important it is to explore its cause and its reason.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Janet and I watched the Netflix series that’s getting a lot of buzz right now. It’s called “Making a Murderer” and it’s a series that documents the life and misfortunes of Steven Avery who has spent most of his life in prison. And the series lays out – using a creative mix of interviews, news clips and recovered footage during the events – that Avery has been sent to prison twice for crimes that he did not commit. And as things stand today – he may never manage to gain his release.

What affect has this had on the people of have watched it? Well – those who I have spoken to, those who I have listened to – have been full of moral outrage on behalf of Steven and his nephew Brendan Dassey. That he would be misrepresented in such a crushing way twice, leading to decades behind bars, makes people angry…and it makes them call for change. Some people take it further…and seek to punish the poor prosecutor Ken Kratz for putting Steven in prison. Kratz seems to have done a good job of punishing himself, if the reports of his impropriety are to be believed!

Director Peter Jackson has written about his feelings on his public Facebook page:

“it’s only by watching the 10 hours of riveting documentary that you will really understand how faulty the U.S justice system currently is, and how badly it needs fixing. That will only happen if you are angry enough to demand it, and “Making a Murderer” does a pretty good job of achieving that!”

This TV show has made a massive impact. Netflix hasn’t released viewing figures…but its impact on social media has been enormous between December and January 2016. The first episode was uploaded to YouTube to encourage non-Netflix subscribers to get on board…and that episode has achieved 1.6 million views since 18th December when it was posted. The official @MakingAMurderer twitter account went from 4000 to 114000 followers over the same period. This show has made a big impact on an international viewing audience, and it highlights just how important the moral absolute of “justice in court” is to the average person.

Our shared call for legal justice in a corrupt justice system points to the creator God who makes sense of our moral outrage. That’s an important point to consider here.

 

 

Second – if God has given us a humane and protective moral code, then that tells us a lot about what his character is like. Because it’s going to reflect the caring protective heart laws we have explored.

Now some would reply – “Stuart, the Bible is the most immoral work of fiction I’ve ever read!” Really? You call the Bible a work of fiction? Are you sure you read it? But I do agree it is full of immoral acts. And I think there are some reasons for this:

1 – The Bible is not completely prescriptive. It does not spend all of its time telling us how we should behave. It doesn’t need to do that because the moral law is written elsewhere (on our hearts). What it does however spend a lot of time doing – is describing the human condition. The immoral problems that humanity wrestles with. The problem is the human heart – the problem is my heart. And the Bible spends a lot of time showing us why we need God’s help.

2 – The Bible was written at a different time in a different culture. For example, the ancient near east was nowhere near as humane a society as the western countries are today. Yet ISIS seems to be trying to take us back into those dark ages. The behaviour of God’s people seems very harsh to 21st century eyes. Yet when viewed alongside the evils of the time that were wrought by other nations…Israel was always progressive in its humanity. An example of this is the way it treated slaves – who were limited in their engagement to 7 years (Exodus 21:2).

3 – When we hear non-Bible scholars accusing God of heinous immoral acts in the Old Testament, you’ve got to ask:

  • where are you getting your sense of morality from in the first place?
  • why do you think you are properly understanding these ancient texts that come from a particular place and time – and are not prescriptive today.

 

 

Humanity is capable of incredible acts of selflessness, love and faithfulness. And I suggest that they reflect the character of the God who made us, who loves us and who has imprinted his goodness onto us.

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.” Numbers 6:24-26, NLT

 

RESPONDblogs: Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

moral_landscape

I regularly watch TED Talks. As a regular public speaker myself, I love to learn from the best speakers. I recently watched a TED talk by Sam Harris which dealt with why Science and not Religion can answer the deepest questions about right, and wrong and human morality. In fact – Harris argues that science’s objectivity can give us better moral answers than religion can.

 

You can watch his talk here.

Science Can Answer Moral Questions | Sam Harris | TED Talks

I have a lot of sympathy for Harris’s arguments. And judging by the standing ovation he received at the end, so did his audience. I feel that Harris plugs in to our intuitive sense of right and wrong in this talk. He appeals to our inner call for justice in the face of injustice towards women and children. His condemnation of religious extremism? I wanted to stand up and applaud him for these points too!

 

But do I agree with him that science can give us any answers on the questions of right and wrong? No – I don’t follow his argument at all. It doesn’t make sense to me. And I’ll tell you why.

 

Harris uses the term “flourishing” as he builds his case. He claims that the scientific method can help us to work out what enables human beings and human society to flourish. Moral behavior, therefore, is simply that which causes the majority of people to flourish. I agree with him that human flourishing is important. And I am sure he’s right that scientific observation can assist in this process. But there’s a big question that is looming over his argument.

 

1 – Harris’s Argument Never Answers WHY?

WHY? Why is it right and good for the most number of people to flourish, and bad to frustrate this moral agenda?  Ah – a reply comes – it’s all about survival. We promote human flourishing to ensure the survival of the species in a Darwinian sense.

 

No – hang on a moment. Survival is not the “ought” that promotes human flourishing. Survival of the fittest is not going to work for you here. Because when it comes down to it, moral good isn’t actually defined as the best for the most people. History is full of examples of that sort of reasoning, where the majority benefit at the expense of the minority. A morality based on the principle, “might is right” is no morality at all. History shows us that it opens the door instead to all sorts of inhuman acts.

 

Why shouldn’t I flourish at your expense? Whether “I” is me personally or my community of my ethnicity or whatever? If I’m unfortunate enough to be in the minority who is not permitted to flourish…then that’s just tough luck to Sam Harris. Agreed – it is tough luck. But is that morally right? I think we would intuitively say – no it’s not morally right. So why is it allowed to happen? Harris’s argument has nothing to say beyond, that’s just the way things are.

 

The problem is, Harris measures morality purely on the basis of observation, watching how people behave. It is locked into human society. It has no way to appeal beyond human society to a higher ideal. Science cannot reach beyond “what is”. It cannot touch on “what should be”. The scientific method was never intended for this purpose. It is the wrong tool for the job.

 

 

2 – Harris’s Argument ASSUMES Moral Values Exist in Order to Work

This is the deeper issue for Sam Harris.

 

His Moral Landscape imports human morality in order to work. He assumes that it is morally good to encourage people, to promote value and purpose and all these things. And he is right – it is good! But the problem is – he is not deducing these things. He is just assuming them. His logical argument “begs the question” over morals and their existence.

“Concepts of sacrifice, nobility and honour must be assumed foundationally, but these are not morally neutral notions….He’s borrowing pre-existent, objective moral notions about worth, value and purpose, while holding a worldview that argues against any pre-existent moral notions.”[1]

 

Harris needs morality to exist in order for his moral landscape to make any sort of sense. But these morals are precisely the things he is trying to explain! Where do these notions come from? Ironically they come from the Christian foundation that he has benefitted from as a citizen of a Western nation. The humane, people valuing society that is promoted through the teaching of the Bible. A million miles from the religious extremist caricature he paints.

 

 

 

So…

 

I applaud Sam Harris as he calls for the protection and the flourishing of persecuted people groups. I’m with him on that. But we part company when it comes to his line of reasoning. Science cannot derive issues of ultimate value to human life. Because by definition it is locked into the human condition.

 

Rather, it seems to me that science needs to import and assume Christian moral values in order to become humane. And so do people. There’s a transcendent source for the moral values that Sam…and each one of us…appeal to. And whether we like it or not…we are ultimately answerable to that source. A Holy God.

[1] J Warner Wallace, Is “Right” and “Wrong” Simply a Matter of “Human Flourishing”, Cold Case Christianity, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/is-right-and-wrong-simply-a-matter-of-human-flourishing/.