May 2008


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Archive for May, 2008

Rational Evil

Friday, May 30th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In my review of Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great” I was discussing the relationship of reason to evil, which has taken me beyond the scope of Hitchens’ book. So I have decided to make this an independent series of posts, and will return to my review of Hitchens’ book when I am done. To summarize for those who have not read my comments on Hitchens’ book that got me here, I looked at how reason, unguided by moral values, can result in great evil, in particular how the secular evolutionary worldview when applied to society and culture resulted in Social Darwinism and Eugenics which supplied the rational underpinning for the Holocaust. 


After the holocaust these sciences were rightly rejected. Yet they were not rejected for the normal scientific reasons. At the time the Judeo-Christian worldview still held great influence even if many were beginning to reject its underlying foundation. As such, these sciences were rejected more for the result they produced than any new scientific discovery that showed them to be wrong.  


More importantly people embraced the Judeo-Christian based concept of Human Rights a concept developed from the beliefs that we are all created in the image of God and are all equal in God eyes. Human Rights stem from this, as not even a King has the right to interfere with what God has given.


As the Judeo-Christian worldview weakened in the decades since WWII, so did the foundation of Human Rights. What does it mean to be equal in the eyes of God, if there is no God? Worst, the underlying rational of secular evolution remained in a question few would dare to seriously ask:  If evolution is true, and we are just animals why shouldn’t we treat each other as the animals we are and order society on the principles of evolution; on survival of the fittest?


To avoid having to deal with this question, a number of strategies have developed over time; all with their own serious problems.  Most seriously, reason itself was depreciated, replaced instead by emotion. Thinking implies thought, questions, examination, contemplation, analysis. Express a thought and people are libel to ask you what you mean, and worse, they might ask you to justify your thoughts, to back them up, with the simple question: Why? Feelings need no justification, they just are. “That’s just how I feel about it” is a perfectly acceptable emotional answer to the question: Why?


As a result, we normally do not ask people what they think about something we ask them how they feel about it.  To be sure, the avoidance of the implications of secular evolutionary thought has not been the only factor in this or the other things we will look at.  Here for example, there has also been the rise of the importance of visual media (which appeal first to the emotions), and the corresponding drop in reading (where symbols must first be process intellectually to be understood). Still, the avoidance of the implications of secular evolutionary thought have not only been a factor but also a unifying principle.   


The depreciation of reason in favor of emotion meant that uncomfortable questions and implications could just be ignored and thus avoided. But the attempt to avoid the rational implications of secular evolutionary thought through depreciation of reason resulted, not too surprisingly, in considerable irrationality.


As the foundation for Human Rights was rejected, equal in the eyes of God, became merely equal, which may sound good to those influenced by modern post WWII thought, but what does it mean to be equal? Equal in what sense?


I am certainly not equal with Tiger Woods when it comes to playing golf, and perhaps it is just my vanity, but I like to think that there are probably a few things where he is probably not my equal. In sports, work, knowledge, background, illnesses, health, in virtually every aspect of life equality is the rare exception if it exists at all. Each of us is different. Each of us is an individual with different strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages. So in what sense are we equal?


For the Judeo-Christian worldview this is not a problem. God transcends all of this.  Thus to be equal in his eyes is far more important and transcends any of the differences among us. To be a better golfer, or have more knowledge of history; to be taller or faster; to have more money or power all may show a lack of equality in these areas, but the equality before God, is an equality of worth that transcends everything else. It can transcend everything else, because it is based in God who transcends everything.


But the secular worldview does not allow for God. Thus there is no transcendant equality, because there is nothing transcendent in which to base such an equality.  More importantly survival of the fittest argues strongly against equality in the first place. Therefore the question, and thus the problem remain.


Normally the question has been answered with dogmatic and undefined statements of equality. We are equal just because we are. But with such an unthinking approach, the differences among us become an ever present danger, lurking in the shadows threatening to bring the whole system down.  Next time we will look at how the attempt to avoid this danger has changed how we look at everything, often with very negative effects.


This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.a

Hitchens – God Is Not Great V

Friday, May 23rd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Last time I discussed Christopher Hitchens’ contrasting of reason and religion in his book, “God Is Not Great. In addition to the problems mentioned last time, Hitchens premise that atrocities, religious or otherwise occur because people are not completely rational is itself flawed. Some evil can be very rational, as modern history has shown.


This is one of the core weaknesses in atheism and thus it is not too surprising that atheists try to avoid its implication, as Hitchens does later in the book. I will discuss Hitchens’ defense when we come to it, but here I want to lay out the problem and why it is so difficult for atheists.


In simple terms, atheists as a general rule see the conflict between atheism and religion as at its core one between the rational and the irrational, with atheism being on the side of reason.  If humanity would only abandon its irrational, that is religious, past, we could establish a sort of secular utopia grounded on the principles of science.


This all sounds very good and wonderful but in this sense atheists are sort of like use car salesmen selling an old clunker that will hardly make it off the lot, as if it were a new sport car.  It all sounds so nice as long as you don’t look too closely or ask too many questions.  The main difference would be that unlike a shady used car salesman, the atheist is being completely honest for they really believe what they are saying.


As we pointed out last time, reason is merely a tool, and is only as good as the data it has to work on and the framework in which it works. With the right data and the right framework, tremendous evil can be very rational. Atheists are often allowed to avoid this problem because making it involves pointing out how rational evil can be, and thus this often puts the theist in the position of seeming to argue for evil.


However, I believe that such arguments are important for two reasons. First, it shows the serious problems with relying only on reason as the atheist claim we should.  Second, and more important is that these argument are effectively being made today, even if not directly. In short as society is becoming more and more secular we are moving slowing and incrementally in this direction as each small step is justified with this reasoning, even if few are willing to point out where this line of reasoning will ultimately lead.


A key difference between the Judeo-Christian world view and the atheistic worldview is over the view of who we are. The Bible teaches that we are not only creations of God, but that we are created in his image. In fact it is from this view that the entire concept of human rights was developed for what right does anyone have to interfere with what God has given, even if they are the King?


The atheistic worldview, on the other hand, sees humanity as simply another animal, the result of a long series of random mutations and chance happenings that have resulted in human beings. In short we were the result of a process governed by the survival of the fittest.


From the time that Darwin published the Origin of the Species; the concept of evolution by natural selection was embraced by atheists. Not only did they immediately incorporate it into their attacks on Christianity, they also began to look at ways they could apply these new scientific principles to governing humanity. The result was the now discredited sciences of Eugenics and Social Darwinism. 


Where Christianity teaches we are to care for the poor, the weak and the infirmed, Social Darwinism taught that those that succeeded in life must be the fittest. Those that didn’t were being selected out and little or nothing should be done for them as that only weakened society.   The science of eugenics applied the principles of evolution to procreation arguing that by limiting procreate among those that were deemed inferior on the one hand, and the use of selective breeding on the other we could make better people.  In fact, it was the science of eugenics that spurred efforts for birth control and were a major factor in formation of groups such as Planned Parenthood.


Ultimately these new sciences were discredited when Hitler and the Nazi’s took them to their ultimate conclusions in the Holocaust.  While atheists frequently attempt to find a link between Hitler and religion, Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews for religious reasons; he wanted them exterminated because he believed them to be inferior people who were contaminating the pure Arian or master race.


More importantly, his choices were not all that irrational, when seen in framework of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. After all people have selectively bred and or destroy animals for thousands of years so as to enhance certain traits and eliminate others. If the atheists are correct and we are just another type of animal, why not do the same with people?


The answer initially was that people have rights. But human rights are an inherently religious concept grounded in the belief that we are created in the image of God. As that foundation has been weakened the evolutionary rational of Eugenics and Social Darwinism is reemerging and next time I look at this in more detail.


This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Hitchens – God Is Not Great IV

Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” At the core of much of Hitchens’ problems with religion is that he sees it in opposition to reason. This core can be seen in many of his statements, such as when he writes, “Past and present religious atrocities have occurred not because we are evil, but because it is a fact of nature that the human species is, biologically, only partly rational.” (pg 8 ) For Hitchens’ religion comes from the irrational part of our nature and is to be resisted.

There are many problems with Hitchens’ view. For one the idea that “evil” comes from a lack of reason is an overly simplistic one that simply will not stand any serious scrutiny. Reason is a tool of learning, a process or a way of thinking that helps us organize data into meaningful conclusions. But like any tool, such as a hammer, or a gun, whether is it is good or bad, depends on how it is used. Reason can be either good or bad, because intrinsically it is neither. A hammer can be use to build a house, or murder someone. A gun can be used to protect innocent life or take it. Likewise reason is neither moral nor immoral. Reason is amoral.

Another problem is that the results of reason, the conclusions that are reached using it, are only as good as the raw data used and the framework in which it is applied. To use a phrase common in computers: ‘garbage in garbage out.’

A recent and visible example of this problem can be seen in the conclusion reached concerning WMD’s in the run up to Iraq war. While critics of the war charge Bush lied, the simple fact is that the conclusion that Iraq had WMD’s was the rational conclusion given the information that was available at the time.

This is demonstrated by the fact that this conclusion was reached, not just by Bush, or even just by those who supported the war, but was also reached by many who opposed the war. The conclusion was also reached by intelligent services around the world, again even in countries that opposed the war. In fact many of Iraq’s own general’s though they had WMDs. The problem was not that the conclusion was irrational; rather the problem was that data upon which the conclusion was based was flawed.

Now some would argue that this is not a problem with reason itself, but a problem with the data reason had to work with. Perhaps; and if reason is seen merely as a tool, then there would be little problem. But if reason is seen as a comprehensive worldview in competition with other worldviews, such as those found in religion, then this remains a serious problem for we will never have all the data we would like.

An even a more serious problem is that if reason is just a tool and requires a framework in which to work, how can the framework be chosen? Hitchens seems to ignore this problem and simply assume the atheistic worldview is the only rational worldview and as such religious worldviews are inherently irrational. Yet reason can function just as well using a Christian worldview as an atheistic worldview. The difference in the conclusions is not because, one is being irrational and the other rational, but rather is driven more by the different fundamental assumptions built in to the respective frameworks.

For example, Christians look at all the evidence that points to the existence of a god who created the universe. As a result of all this evidence, the conclusion that there is a God who created the world is a rational and easy conclusion to reach. The evidence is pretty clear that the natural universe is not eternal, but rather had a beginning. Since self-creation is a logical absurdity, something else had to cause the universe to come into existence. When one begins to explore what could create the universe as it is, the conclusion that it was God is not at all hard to reach.

Yet one of the fundamental assumptions of the atheistic worldview is that the material world is the only thing that exists. Given this belief, the only valid evidence would be evidence of the material, which is why atheists so frequently claim there is no evidence for the existence of God. In their worldview the only valid evidence would be direct material evidence sufficient to constitute proof that God exists. Anything else, is deemed insufficient and not really evidence. Thus their claim, that there is no evidence. For the atheist there cannot be, their worldview precludes it.

How do they explain the origin of the universe? Despite the evidence to the contrary, they believe that it must have been by natural means, as that is the only thing their worldview allows, and any problems are simply explained away as a lack of sufficient knowledge.

But there are still more problems with Hitchens’ view for as I will point out next time, evil is not always the result of a lack of reason. When unguided by morality, at time evil can be quite rational.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

Hitchens – God Is Not Great III

Friday, May 9th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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This week I return to my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” Similar to Dawkins and Harris, serious problems abound in the early pages of the Hitchens’ book. Many are simply statements of personal opinion with at best questionable background or support, such as his claims that “Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble, or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism.” (p 7)


Other statements go straight to the heart of Hitchens critique. An example of the latter can be found in his claim that “the believer still claims to know! Not just to know, but to know everything.”(Author’s emphasis) This would be a valid criticism if it were true.  But it is not. In fact not only does this fail as an accurate description of religion in general, or even of Christianity in specific, it would be hard to find believers who would actually make this claim.


Now a few paragraphs later, Hitchens does qualify this statement somewhat, by restating this criticism as “the sheer arrogance to tell us that we already have the essential information we need.” 


While this is a somewhat more defendable statement, its open ended nature, and the general context of the discussion leads to the conclusion that Hitchens is still referring to essential information about everything. 


One problem with this restatement is that “essential” is a somewhat relative term as there are many degrees of essential.  Ask someone what essential knowledge is to live in the United States, and you will likely get completely different answers than if you ask someone who lives in a third world country. Essential knowledge for one, such as how to grow food or find it in the wild, may be completely irrelevant for someone who buys their food at a market.


Yet, if one tries to provide some definition to Hitchens’ use of “essential knowledge” either his argument disappears, or the definition is invalid.  If “essential knowledge” is defined as the knowledge needed for our relationship with God, then I would say that this not only applies to Christianity, but that it has a biblical warrant.  Jude 3 speaks of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  In the Bible we have all the knowledge that we need for our relationship with God. But even here, there are few Christians that would say that we know everything there is to know about the Bible.


But a view of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders Hitchens’ argument somewhat empty, has he spends a great deal of time contrasting this belief in “essential knowledge” with all that we have learned in science.  While we have learned a lot with science, Hitchens would hardly argue that a more detailed understanding of Gravity or knowledge of quantum mechanics is needed for salvation. Thus an understanding of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders his argument a non-sequitur.


Hitchens needs believers claiming to know everything about everything because it justifies what would otherwise be a major inconsistency in his argument.  Hitchens is highly critical of the pre-scientific beliefs of early believers and he sees this as a reason why religion as a whole is to be rejected today.  For example he says “Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman [may have] been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and will be no more of them tomorrow.”(p 7)


Yet when it comes to atheists, such erroneous beliefs are explained away by Hitchens, for earlier atheists were “great and fallible imaginative essayists.”  Atheists don’t claim to know everything about everything, so it is ok if they made mistakes in the past, as that is part of the learning process.


This distorted view of religion can be seen in much of Hitchens’ criticisms, such as when he asks “How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities?” (p 7) 


Though I would drop the slanting found in words such as “needless” and “contortion,” pretty much the same could be asked of atheism. Just look at the assumptions and efforts they go through trying to explain how life started, some even going to the point of arguing that life was brought to earth by aliens from another planet. 


The history of Christianity can be seen as a people striving to come to a better understanding of, and relationship with, God.  This journey has been full of missteps and even back steps, of wrong turns and dead ends, but on the whole has been marked by a better understanding; and the fruits of this have been seen in what I would argue have been great advancement made by society that came out of Christianity, from the birth of modern science, to the origin of Human Rights, from end of slavery, to the advancement of civil rights.


Throughout the world Christians working through their churches are ministering to those in need, not only in their local communities, but around the world. They have been, and continue to be a tremendous force for good.


This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.    

A Faith Based on Fact

Friday, May 2nd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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I was recently asked about the tag line of this ministry, “A Faith Based on Fact.”   To some these concepts are mutually exclusive. If you are relying on facts then you don’t have faith, if you have faith, there can be no facts. So why do I claim a faith based on fact.

Let me first define my terms. While a precise and full definition would be quite involved, in general, facts are simply those things that can easily be determined to be true.  For example, that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States would be a fact.

In the book of Hebrews faith is defined as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1-3).  The author then proceeds to give a series of examples of faith from those in the Old Testament. These examples all have the same general pattern, by faith someone did something.  For example in verse seven we read, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”  For Noah, that God warned him was a fact because he had experienced it himself. Noah’s faith was not in the certain knowledge that God had warned him, or even in the mere act of believing the warning. Faith was in the fact that he trusted what God said enough to act upon it. He built the Ark.


A belief that does not lead to action is not a saving faith. If someone believes that a bridge is strong enough to support them, but still is too scared to cross it, then they do not really have faith in the bridge. A person who believes in Jesus Christ, but does not trust him enough to follow him, does not really have faith. This is what James is referring to when he says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)


This is not to say that we are saved by our works.  We are not. But it does say that without works there is no saving faith.  This is like a car’s exhaust.  It would be silly to say that the exhaust is what powers a car. But if there is no exhaust the engine is not running and the car is going nowhere.  A living faith powered by the Holy Spirit, will produce works, just like a running car will produce exhaust.


What God is concerned with is that we have faith, that we do trust him enough to live our life based on what he has said and that we act according to his will. Why we have faith is not really that important. Thus for the most part, why the Old Testament Saints had faith is not mentioned in Hebrews 11.  One exception to this is Abraham’s faith in sacrificing his son, for in verse 19 we read that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.”  This shows that faith can not only be based on facts, but on reason as well.


So what then do I mean when I say that Christianity is a faith based on fact?  I mean that there are a whole range of facts upon which our faith is based. It is not a blind faith, where one must flip a coin to see whether or not it is true, but a faith that can be investigated and tested, at least to some extent.  

Few would question that a major foundation for Christianity is the Bible. But why should we trust the Bible? I would argue, and have done so in my books such as Evidence for the Bible  that there are plenty of facts, upon which to base our faith in the Bible.


For example, it is just a fact that most of the cities mentioned in the Bible existed and their locations are known. In fact many of the persons, places, events, and things mentioned in the Bible are established facts. We know for example that Nebuchadnezzar, did in fact conquer Judea and took many of the Jews back to Babylon. This is not to say that everything in the Bible has been confirmed to be accurate and true, but it does provide a basis of fact upon which our faith in the Bible is based. 


In contrast, compare this to other religious texts.  Most are purely theological in basis and as such there is no history to compare with.  A book that makes historical claims similar to those of the Bible would be the Book of Mormon, which purports to describe the history of Jews who traveled to the Americas. Yet unlike the Bible, not a single New World person, place, event, or thing mentioned in the Book of Mormon has ever been found. With the Bible as our knowledge of early history has grown, so has the confirmations of the reliability of the Bible.  Yet for the Book of Mormon, as our knowledge of early Central America has grown, the possibly that the Book of Mormon contains any actual history has correspondingly diminished.


There are solid reasons to believe Bible is the Word of God. That its message of Jesus Christ, his ministry, his death, burial and resurrection is historical. It is a message of salvation that we can not only believe in, but have faith in.


This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.