Category Archives: Polls

Is It Hateful to Say that Homosexual Behavior Is Sinful?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

This whole Phil Robertson (Duck Dynasty) thing has me very confused. I see person after person claiming that what Phil Robertson said about homosexual behavior being sinful was hateful. Hateful? Really?

I used to think that hate was wishing evil upon another person. I am really struggling to understand how Phil Robertson wished evil upon anyone. I have read the GQ interview; it’s not there.

All I can conclude is to just say that homosexual behavior is sinful has now become equated with hatefulness in 2013 America.

Is this correct? Is it hateful to say that homosexual behavior is sinful? Please vote and leave comments.

Are You Progressive, Conservative, or Libertarian?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Arnold Kling, in his book The Three Languages of Politics, argues that there are three dominant political viewpoints: progressive, conservative, and libertarian. Each of these three view the world along completely different axes. Kling explained these three axes in an interview with economist Russ Roberts:

So what I claim is that Progressives organize the good and the bad in terms of oppression and the oppressed, and they think in terms of groups. So, certain groups of people are oppressed, and certain groups of people are oppressors. And so the good is to align yourself against oppression, and the historical figures that have improved the world have fought against oppression and overcome oppression.

The second axis is one I think Conservatives use, which is civilization and barbarism. The good is civilized values that have accumulated over time and have stood the test of time; and the bad is barbarians who try to strike out against those values and destroy civilization.

And the third axis is one I associate with Libertarians, which is freedom versus coercion, so that good is individuals making their own choices, contracting freely with each other; and the bad is coercion at gunpoint, particularly on the part of governments.

When I heard Kling say these things, it really resonated with me. The first thing that popped into my mind was the debate over gay marriage. Progressives see the entire debate in terms of gay people being oppressed. Conservatives see the debate in terms of millennia-old traditions being overturned. Libertarians see the debate in terms of gay people’s freedom to do what they wish.

The problem, says Kling, is that since each of these three groups are speaking a completely different language, they just talk past each other and fail to substantively engage. Coming from a conservative viewpoint, I can definitely see how progressives only want to talk about the oppression of gays, and libertarians only want to talk about the fact that gays should be able to freely do whatever they like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

What’s interesting about the gay marriage debate in France is that a group of Progressives have stood up to denounce gay marriage. Why? Because they claim it will oppress children of gay couples, children who will be denied either a mother or father.

Do these three political languages resonate with you? How do you think the gay marriage debate is playing out among Americans? Vote in the poll and leave a comment.


Is Raping Little Children Just a Matter of Taste? – #2 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some statements about the world are objectively true, meaning they are true for all people, places, and times, regardless of whether anyone actually believes the statements.  Other statements about the world are subjective, meaning they merely refer to a person’s preferences or tastes.

An objective statement would be: “The sum of three plus five equals eight.”  This statement is not a matter of taste, but is an objective fact about the world.  It is true for all people at all times in all places that “the sum of three plus five equals eight.”

A subjective statement would be: “French roast is the worst tasting coffee.”  This statement is clearly a matter of taste, of my personal preference.  It gives information about me, not French roast coffee; you don’t learn anything objective about French Roast coffee from the statement.  It should also be clear that for all people at all times in all places, it is not true that French roast is the worst tasting coffee.

That brings me to my question.  Consider the following statement: “It is wrong to rape little children for fun.”  Is this statement objectively true or subjectively true?  Is the statement referring to a matter of fact about the moral wrongness of raping little children for fun, or is it expressing a personal taste or preference that I have against raping little children for fun, similar to the statement about French roast coffee?

Please answer this question in the poll below and be sure to leave comments explaining why you have answered the way you answered.

How Should Religion and Science Interact?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, philosophers continuously changed their views on how science and religion should interact.  Philosopher William Lawhead describes the continuum chronologically in his textbook The Voyage of Discovery.

Initially, most scientists and philosophers “saw religion and science as co-equal partners in the search for truth.”

Lawhead continues: “Gradually the viewpoint emerged that the claims of revealed religion should be accepted, but only after they have been trimmed down to conform to the scientific outlook.”  Put another way, religious claims must be confirmed by science.

The third stage of development was deism – the belief that the world is wholly rational on its own and that human reason alone can answer questions of nature, religion, and morality.  The deists retained God as the Creator of the universe, but believed that God did not intervene in nature after he created it.

Following deism, “Agnosticism or religious skepticism began to appear in the works of such thinkers as David Hume.  The agnostics urged that we must suspend judgment concerning God’s existence, for reason does not give us any grounds for believing in a deity, although it cannot prove that one does not exist.”

Lawhead explains that “finally, full-blown naturalism or atheism appeared. . . . Its proponents claimed that the philosophical and scientific evidence is stacked against the God hypothesis.  Therefore the rational person will reject it, just as we have the flat-earth theory and the theory that diseases have supernatural causes.”

What is fascinating to me is that all of these views are still held by our contemporary society, hundreds of years later.  That is one reason I find the study of philosophy to be so useful; the ideas never go out of style.  In fact, the same ideas are repeated over and over again throughout history.

What about you?  Which of these five views do you hold about the interaction of science and religion?  Please vote in the poll below and leave comments explaining your vote.

Do We Have Intuitive Knowledge?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Philosophers who study how we know things (epistemologists) have long debated whether we have innate or intuitive knowledge.  This kind of knowledge is often referred to as a priori knowledge.  It is knowledge that one has prior to or independently of sense experience. It cannot be proven by experience.

The debate over a priori knowledge is important to Christians because atheists, agnostics, and naturalists often deny the existence of most kinds of a priori knowledge and claim that we can only know what we observe with our senses.  For example, do we know that raping little children for fun is wrong?  Most people would say “yes” and in a poll I ran last week on the blog, 89% did answer “yes.”  Now, this is hardly a scientific poll, but the results, I think, are still indicative.

This is an example of a priori knowledge, because we don’t come to this conclusion by observing the world around us – we just know intuitively that raping little children for fun is wrong.  Philosopher Louis Pojman lists eleven examples of propositions that have been proposed as a priori knowledge by epistemologists:

  1. If John is taller than Mary and Tom is taller than John, Tom is taller than Mary.
  2. 5 + 7 = 12
  3. Nothing is both red and green.
  4. Some sentences are not both true and false.
  5. If Socrates is a man and all men are mortal, Socrates is mortal.
  6. Every event has a cause.
  7. All bodies are extended.
  8. A greatest possible being necessarily exists.
  9. It is wrong to harm people just for the fun of it.
  10. If I believe I exist, I exist.
  11. Not both p and not-p.

These propositions represent several different categories of knowledge: mathematics, knowledge of “greater than,” laws of logic, morality, deductive logic, causality, knowledge of space, knowledge of God, and introspective knowledge.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga holds that a priori knowledge, besides being true, must fulfill four conditions:

  1. The proposition p must be believed and believed to be necessarily true.
  2. You must be able to form the belief immediately upon understanding it.
  3. The proposition p must not be believed on the basis of perception, memory, or testimony.
  4. The belief must be accompanied with a certain phenomenal feel, what the rationalists call intuition.

What do you think?  Do you think certain kinds of knowledge are built in to human beings, that we just know some things intuitively?  If so, what kinds of things do you think we know intuitively?

I’ve given you 11 examples of what some philosophers have considered to be a priori knowledge, but I’d like for you to vote in the poll below.  The assignment is easy: tell us which of the 11 propositions, once you’ve read and understood the terms in them, are intuitively obvious or self-evident.  I look forward to seeing the results.

What Were the Reformers’ Views on Infant Baptism? – #6 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

According to church historian John Hannah, there were four major Protestant streams that developed during the Reformation in the 16th century: Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anabaptism.  Each of these streams placed great stress on the idea of salvation by faith alone, yet they did not all agree on what infant baptism means or whether it should even be done.

To my knowledge, all the reformers rejected baptism as the cause of a believer’s salvation; again, salvation is by faith.  An infant obviously cannot believe on her own, so if baptism is only a sign of the faith a person possesses, then why are infants baptized?

First, let’s look briefly at Calvinism.  According to Hannah, “Calvin defended the baptism of infants, believing that children of the godly are born members of the church by virtue of the hereditary nature of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision having been replaced in the New Covenant with baptism as a sign.”

For Calvin, since infants were circumcised under the Old Covenant, infants should be baptized under the New Covenant.  Infant baptism does not cause regeneration, but it ensures that the child will be taught what she needs to know about Christ when she gets older, so that she can then exercise her own faith.  If she dies before she can exercise her own faith, Calvin believed that God could still save her, as He is not limited to save only those who exercise faith (although that is the normal way).

The Anglicans closely followed Calvin on the issue of infant baptism.

Luther also held very similar views to Calvin.  He believed that infants, who cannot exercise faith, should be baptized because of the faith of their parents and church family.  The faith of the church family could not directly save the infant, but their faith would later help the child to grow in knowledge and receive her own faith from God.  Again, infant baptism signifies the entrance of the child into the church where she can be instructed.

The last group, the Anabaptists, differ greatly from the other three streams.  The Anabaptists believed that a sign should always follow the thing it signifies, not anticipate it.  Hannah explains further Anabaptist views: “People are born into the world lost and need to be regenerated.  One does not enter the church as a citizen as one enters the state.  In the latter one is naturally born into it; in the former one is spiritually born into it.  The state is not the church; the church is not the state.”

The earliest confession of the Anabaptists states: “Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with him in death. . . . This excludes all infant baptism . . . .”

So what do you think?  Should infants be baptized?  Please vote in the poll below.

Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Thousand-Year Reign of Christ on Earth? – #10 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Book of Revelation, according to some Christians, teaches a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after his second coming (see Rev. 20).  This will then be followed by the creation of a new heaven and new earth. This view is known today as premillenialism.

But there are other Christians, in fact, the majority, who interpret the thousand years in Rev. 20 as a spiritual reign of the church which started at Christ’s first coming and ends at his second coming.  This view is known today as amillenialism.

The proponents of both of these views have an array of arguments to support their positions, but what was the view of the early church?

It seems that up until the third century, the early church was primarily premillenialist.  Writers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian all thought the second advent of Christ was imminent and that he would inaugurate his thousand-year reign on earth.

The tide, however, started to turn with the writings of Origen in the early third century, who adopted an allegorical method of interpreting Revelation.  Origen believed that the thousand years represented a spiritual reign of the church.  His disciple, Dionysius of Alexandria, continued the attack against premillenialism and turned the eastern church away from it.

In the western church, Augustine, in the late fourth century, began to teach amillenialism, siding with the Alexandrians in the east.  His views of eschatology (the end times) were detailed in his most famous work, The City of God.

From the time of Augustine until the Reformation in the sixteenth century (~1,100 years), amillenialism was the dominant view in the church.

The story obviously doesn’t end there, but you now have a brief introduction of what happened in the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity with respect to the millennium scribed in Rev. 20.

What about you?  Which view do you think is more likely correct?  Do you think there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (i.e., premillenialism) or do you think the thousand years mentioned in Rev. 20 is a spiritual reign of the church which ends at Christ’s second coming (i.e., amillenialism)?

How Did Early Christians Know What to Believe?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the early centuries of Christianity, believers were mostly without complete written copies of the New Testament as we know it today.  They may have possessed portions of it, but most Christians were taught doctrine orally.  In order to focus on and remember what was important, the early church composed several creeds.

Creeds are simple summaries of central doctrines that are easy to memorize.  According to Benjamin Galan in Creeds and Heresies Then and Now , the early Christian creeds served three purposes:

Explanation of the faith. Creeds are basic, memorable statements of belief.

Training of believers. Creeds help believers understand who they are, what they believe, and how they should act as Christians.  They are like posts that delimit the boundaries of what it means to be , to believe, and live as Christians.

Identification and correction of false teachings. Even in the first century A.D., false teachers abounded – teachers who claimed to follow Jesus but who promoted a message about Jesus that differed radically from the historical accounts proclaimed by apostolic eyewitnesses.  Early Christian creeds helped believers to distinguish the truth about Jesus from the alternative perspectives presented by false teachers.

Many Christian churches today still recite creeds composed by the early church, although churches in denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention do not.  Whether creeds are recited during church services or not, it is important for all Christians to understand what the early creeds said, because we are inheritors of the contents of those creeds.  If we fail to know what the creeds said, we fail to understand our history as a church.

What does your church do?  Do you recite any creeds during your services?

2010 Reader Survey

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We want to make the blog more relevant to your needs and interests.  To do that, we need to know more about you.   As a result, we have created the 2010 Reader Survey.

Would you please take a few minutes to fill out the survey?  By doing so, you will ultimately be helping yourself because you will be helping us make our posts more interesting and relevant to you.

The survey is easy to fill out and it only consists of 10 questions.   Thanks in advance for your participation!

Click here to take the 2010 Reader Survey.

Are You Skeptical of Global Warming and Evolution?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A recent NY Times article linked people who are skeptical about evolution with people who are skeptical about global warming.  The author noted that there seems to be a correlation, that if you doubt one, then you likely doubt the other.

This really has me thinking about why that is, as there is no obvious connection between them.  I am a skeptic of both, but for different reasons.

My initial skepticism about evolution came from my religious views, because I was taught that only a young earth (which does not accommodate evolution) could align with the creation accounts in the Bible.  As I researched both biblical interpretation and the science behind evolution, I eventually moved to a new position.

I now believe that the earth is probably old and that this fits with literal interpretations of the Bible.  I also understand, though I don’t necessarily agree with, why common descent (the idea that all plants and animals are part of a gigantic family tree) is the dominant theory of the origins of species: it has a lot of explanatory power and there’s not a more developed contender out there right now.

But I think that the evolutionary community has no idea what the mechanisms are that would modify plants and animals to the massive extent we see.  Natural selection and random mutation just don’t cut it.  Other proposed mechanisms likewise remain utterly unconvincing to me.  Evolutionary theorists constantly provide micro-evolutionary mechanisms as examples of how macro-evolution works over long periods of time.  The extrapolations don’t convince me.

What about global warming?  I started out skeptical of global warming because it was being exclusively evangelized by political liberals, whom I generally distrust as people who value intentions over truth.  I moved beyond that initial skepticism and tried to think about it scientifically.  As an engineer, I understand how to analyze data and how to test models, and I fail to see how it is possible to accurately model the global climate over long periods of time, given the multitude of variables that must go into these climate models and the incredible uncertainty of predicting climate changes in the distant future.

My suspicions about the data have proved to be correct as some brave climate scientists have admitted that their models have failed to predict the flat-lining of global temperatures over the last 15 years. The truth is that models of the climate have a long way to go before we can bet the farm on them.

So, what is the common denominator for me?  I started out suspecting evolution for religious reasons, and I started out suspecting global warming for political reasons.

I am conservative politically and I am a believer in traditional Christianity, but these don’t necessarily go together.  It seems like there must be something deeper.  The author Thomas Sowell possibly offers an explanation.  In his book, A Conflict of Visions, he argues that a person’s view of the nature and capability of man drives opinions about political, moral, judicial, economic, and even scientific matters (see my post on his book).  His theory makes a lot of sense; maybe he has found the common link.

I don’t have any certain answers to this question, but I’m very curious to know what others think.  What about you?  Are you skeptical about both of these issues?  Why or why not?  Please register your vote in the poll below and leave us some comments about your choices.