Category Archives: Top Ten Posts of 2011

What Are Four Things Science Will Never Explain? – #1 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I’ve been reading physicist Edgar Andrews’ book Who Made God? and he claims that there are four things science will never explain.  Here they are:

  1. the origin of the universe
  2. the origin of the laws of nature
  3. the origin of life
  4. the origin of mind and thought

Andrews understands that when he claims science can never explain these four entities, all sorts of protests ensue.  He says:

Of course, atheists (and even some theists) will immediately cry foul, declaring that just because scientific explanations are not currently available it doesn’t mean they never will be.  Science is progressive and new discoveries are being made all the time, so that what seems scientifically impossible today may be scientifically explicable tomorrow.

I recognize the force of this argument but intend to stand my ground. The claim that, given time, science will explain everything is simply the atheist’s version of the God of the gaps. The gaps in our knowledge can be plugged, they say, by future (but as yet unknown) scientific advances. Thus the ‘God of the gaps’ is simply replaced by the ‘future science of the gaps’ — same gaps, different deity. It’s what philosopher of science Karl Popper called ‘promissory materialism’.

You’ll have to read Andrews’ book to see why he thinks these four will not be explained by science, but the basic reason is that each of these four (universe, laws of nature, life, mind and thought) consist of properties that transcend the material world.  Since science is only able to investigate the material world and not what transcends the material world, science cannot, in principle, ever explain these things.

I highly recommend Who Made God? as a very accessible and entertaining read that posits the God hypothesis as an explanation for the universe, laws of nature, life, and mind, and then presents evidence to uphold the hypothesis.  It might even be a nice Christmas present for the skeptic in your family!

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.

What Is the Law of Non-Contradiction? – #3 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I am constantly amazed that there are people who try to deny the law of non-contradiction, which is the most basic principle of rational thought.  What is the law of non-contradiction?  There are at least three ways to state it:

  1. A thing cannot both be A and not-A at the same time and in the same sense.
  2. A thing cannot both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense.
  3. A statement cannot both be true and not true at the same time and in the same sense.

It is impossible to deny this law without invoking it in your denial, yet time and again I have heard people try do just that!

Why would I spend a blog post writing about this?  Because a person who thinks that this law is not true will become a thoroughly confused individual whose thought life is a complete mess, full of contradictions and inconsistencies.  I have met a few of these people, and they both sadden and scare me.

All of our beliefs, thoughts, and knowledge are built on top of the law of non-contradiction, so when a person tries to deny this foundation, they are bound to go way off track in their pursuit of understanding reality as it really is.

If you have any doubts about this fundamental law of rationality, try and deny it, but then write out your denial in a sentence – “The law of non-contradiction is false” – and ask whether your statement is both true and false at the same time and in the same sense.

If the law of non-contradiction is false, then your statement of denial must be both true and false.  But if your denial is false, then the law of non-contradiction is true!  By denying the law of non-contradiction, you have just affirmed it.  The more you try to deny the law, the more you will affirm it.

Trust me.  You cannot win.

How Did Jeffrey Dahmer Define Morality? – #4 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If morality is not grounded by a transcendent standard, a standard that is above all humanity, then it collapses to relativism.  This concept is not at all difficult to understand, but relativism retains a negative enough connotation these days that atheists, who deny a transcendent, objective standard of morality, are still squeamish about the word.

Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who gained notoriety for eating his victims, understood the connection between God and morality all too well.  Dahmer’s father recounted his son’s moral reasoning in a documentary produced in 1996: “If it all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for a God?  Can’t I set my own rules?  Who owns me?  I own myself.”

Exactly.  If there is no God, you have no accountability to anyone else at all.  You own yourself and you can do with yourself whatever you please.

In an interview in 1994, Dahmer himself explained his thinking.  He wondered that if there were no God and we all came “from the slime,” then “what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?”

The fact that we all instinctively cry out at Dahmer’s behavior does nothing to take away from the fact that his reasoning is right on target.  He embodied the atheist worldview taken to its logical extremes.  You may not like what Dahmer did, but unless you believe in an objective, transcendent moral standard, he didn’t do anything but act unfashionably.

Are Answers to Ultimate Questions Dangerous? – #5 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Four times in the past year I have heard the following kind of statement from atheists: “Religious people are dangerous because they think they have answers to ultimate questions.”  Twice these comments were uttered by personal friends of mine, and twice I heard them expressed by atheists in debates that I listened to via mp3.  The first few times I heard the comment I didn’t think much of it.  The fourth time, however, has bothered me enough that I need to respond.

What are the ultimate questions that religious people think they know the answers to?  Generally, these are questions like the following:

  1. Where did the universe come from?
  2. How do we know what is right and what is wrong?
  3. Does God exist?
  4. What happens to us after we die?
  5. What is the purpose of our lives?

Atheists seem to be alarmed by the fact that religious people think they have answers to these questions.  The argument is that people who think they have answers to these questions are often dogmatic, uninterested in reason, irrational, arrogant, and exclusionary.  The flip side of this argument is that people who claim to have no answers to these questions are open-minded, reasonable, rational, intellectually humble, and inclusionary.

The first thing that strikes me about this argument is that it is a bit disingenuous for atheists to claim they have no answers.  Many of the atheists I know seem quite sure that their answers to all five of the ultimate questions above are correct.  They can be just as dogmatic, unreasonable, irrational, arrogant, and exclusionary as the most extreme religious fundamentalist.  Just read through the atheist comments on my blog posts, and you’ll have all the data you need.

Secondly, it strikes me as strange that anyone would frown upon a person finding answers to ultimate questions.  After all, these are the kinds of questions that mark the major milestones of human life.  Birth, marriage, and death all inspire us to ask these questions.  Our judicial system and our political discourse wade deeply into these issues.  They are foundational to the human experience and they are what drive us forward in our pursuit of truth.  To tell a person that they should never think they have answers to these questions seems supremely cruel and unreasonable.  It’s like telling a man thirsting for water that there is no such thing as water – he must be content in his thirst.

Is there a legitimate point to be made by atheists?  Yes, but not about religious people, specifically.  The danger, in my opinion, is not that some people think they have answers to ultimate questions.  No, the danger is when a person has answers and they completely shut off their mind and refuse to consider any other views, whether that person is religious or not.  Those kind of people exist on all sides and I agree that they are worrying.

When thinking ceases, the search for truth ceases.  All of us have some false beliefs, and therefore we all need to be corrected.  If we refuse the chance to ever be shown our false beliefs, we endanger ourselves and everyone around us, for truth has consequences.  Here I can agree with my atheist friends.

What Does “An Eye for an Eye” Mean? – #6 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The biblical injunction to take a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – called lex talionis –  is repeated several times (e.g., Ex. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:17-22; Deut. 19:16-21).  Some people have read this punishment to literally mean that bodily mutilation is prescribed.  Is that what the biblical writers meant?

Not according to philosopher Paul Copan, who has written about this issue in his book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Copan points out that the phrase “eye for an eye” is not to be taken literally.  As an example, he asks us to continue reading in Ex. 21 through verses 26 and 27.

If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye.  And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.

Clearly there is no call for bodily mutilation in these verses which immediately follow the call for lex talionis.  Rather, there is a call for just compensation – freeing the servant.

So what is the point of lex talionis?  It is quite simple.  According to Copan, “The point of lex talionis is this: the punishment should fit the crime.  Furthermore, these were the maximum penalties; punishments were to be proportional and couldn’t exceed that standard.  And a punishment could be less severe if the judge deemed that the crime required a lesser penalty.”

Is there ever a case where the call for lex talionis is meant literally?  Yes, when a person is guilty of murder.  In this case, the call for “a life for a life” is to be taken literally and capital punishment is mandated.

Lex talionis was a principle which helped protect the poor from the rich, who were prevented from dictating harsher punishments of their own.  Copan adds that the principle “served as a useful guide to prevent blood feuds and disproportionate retaliation (think Mafia methods here).”

In conclusion, “When we compare Israel’s punishments with other Near Eastern legislation, the law of Moses presents a noteworthy moral development.  As biblical scholar Brevard Childs points out, the lex talionis principle ‘marked an important advance and was far from being a vestige from a primitive age.'”

How Do We Investigate Whether a Resurrection Occurred? – #7 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Very few skeptics with whom I’ve interacted have actually investigated the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ (there are some exceptions, but they are few in number).  The typical response is to dismiss all miracle accounts as either impossible or so improbable as to not be worth researching – taking cues from arch-skeptic David Hume.  Some take Bart Ehrman’s lead and argue that a miracle such as the resurrection cannot, in principle, be investigated.

The armchair skeptic has always puzzled me, because investigating the claim of a resurrection seems relatively straightforward.  Thomas Sherlock, a writer in the 18th century, saw this as well, in his book The Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection:

Suppose you saw a Man publickly executed, his Body afterwards wounded by the Executioner, and carry’d and laid in the Grave; that after this you should be told, that the Man was come to Life again; what would you suspect in this Case? Not that the Man had never been dead, for that you saw yourself: But you would suspect whether he was now alive: But would you say this Case excluded all human Testimony, and that Men could not possibly discern whether one with whom they convers’d familiarly was alive or no? Upon what Ground could you say this?

A Man rising from the Grave is an Object of Sense, and can give the same Evidence of his being alive, as any other Man in the World can give. So that a Resurrection considered only as a Fact to be prov’d by Evidence, is a plain Case; it requires no greater Ability in the Witnesses, than that they be able to distinguish between a Man dead and a Man alive; a Point, in which I believe every Man living thinks himself a Judge. I do allow that this Case, and others of like Nature, require more Evidence to give them Credit than ordinary Cases do; you may therefore require more Evidence in these, than in other Cases; but it is absurd to say, that such Cases admit no Evidence, when the Things in Question are manifestly Objects of Sense.

What evidence could be given for a resurrection?  “It requires no greater Ability in the Witnesses, than that they be able to distinguish between a Man dead and a Man alive; a Point, in which I believe every Man living thinks himself a Judge.”

We look at the testimony of those who claimed Jesus rose from the dead and we determine whether they are to be believed or not.  This is what needs to be done before we dismiss, with a wave of our hand, the question of the resurrection.  For those of you wanting to know whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, you’re going to have to carefully inspect the testimony; you are not going to arrive at an answer by sitting in your recliner and pronouncing, “Miracles can’t happen.”

Philosopher John Earman takes David Hume, the hero of modern miracle skeptics, to task for his failure to critically examine the evidence:

Hume pretends to stand on philosophical high ground, hurling down thunderbolts against miracle stories. . . . When Hume leaves the philosophical high ground to evaluate particular miracle stories, his discussion is superficial and certainly does not do justice to the extensive and vigorous debate about miracles that had been raging for several decades in Britain.

Earman concludes with these remarks about verifying miracles:

I acknowledge that the opinion is of the kind whose substantiation requires not philosophical argumentation and pompous solemnities about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proofs, but rather difficult and delicate empirical investigations . . . into the details of particular cases.

If you want to start digging for yourself, might I recommend three books?  The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach  by Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright.

Former Atheist and Dawkins Follower Becomes Christian – #8 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Former atheist Richard Morgan describes his journey to Christianity in a fascinating article at The Christian Post.  Morgan participated heavily in the Richard Dawkins website forums, but what he found there turned him away from atheism to Christianity.

Here is an excerpt:

More than the religious debate, it was his interest in evolution that led him to follow Richard Dawkins. Upon finding the author’s actual website, Morgan was excited to communicate with scientists and philosophers who could offer more insight into evolution.

But rather than discussing the nature of evolution in the “oasis of clear thinking,” Morgan was horrified to discover in his first forum that more than half of the people devoted their time saying rude things about believers using extremely foul language.

Eventually Morgan witnessed a Scottish pastor, David Robertson, being attacked and abused constantly on the forum.

“I don’t know how many hours he must have spent just replying very calmly and politely to people who were sending out the most vilest insults and criticisms,” Morgan recalled. “He just kept coming back and occasionally with a few words of Scripture thrown into his general discourse.”

Please go read the article to find out what happened next…..

Was Hitler a Christian? – #9 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Because of some public statements Hitler made about Christianity, some have argued that he was a Christian himself, notwithstanding the fact that all of the the atrocities he committed were blatantly contrary to everything Jesus and his apostles ever taught.  Nevertheless, these people maintain that he considered himself a Christian.

David Robertson, in his book The Dawkins Letters, explains that “if we really want to know what Hitler thought, his actions and above all his private words are the most compelling evidence.”  Roberston, who has studied Nazi Germany extensively, quotes Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge, speaking about conversations they had concerning Christianity.

Sometimes we also had interesting conversations about the church and the development of the human race.  Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened.  He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them.  The laws of nature were his religion.  He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy.  ‘Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,’ he once said.  ‘We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes.  We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures.  And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first.  Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated.  Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.’

As Robertson aptly comments after this quote, “That just about says it all.””

A Few Questions About Hell – #10 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Hell is an important doctrine of Christianity that seems to dismay many Christians and non-Christians, alike.  In a recent blog post, I recounted an example of a woman who is deeply disturbed by the existence of hell.  There is no way to give an exhaustive treatment of this subject in a blog post, but I wanted to make an attempt to answer a few basic questions about hell.

Question 1: Does God send people to hell without their choice?

Answer 1: No.  Those who go to hell after they die have made conscious decisions to reject the knowledge, the light, of God they’ve been given while alive.

Question 2: Do those in hell seek to escape once there?

Answer 2: No.  Hell is what they want, a place where they can be away from God and follow their own desires.  They may not like aspects of hell, but they would prefer to reign in hell than submit in heaven.

Question 3: Does God torture those in hell?

Answer 3: No.  If we are thinking of God inflicting physical torture, like a prison camp warden, the answer is “no.”  The torment that those in hell feel is the absence of a relationship with God.  Since all humans were made for this relationship, than those without it will certainly suffer.  This torment will be terrible, and nothing that anyone wants to experience, but those in hell desire something something that it is impossible for God to give – happiness without Him.

Question 4: Is there any chance that people in hell will repent?

Answer 4: No.  The door of hell is locked on the inside.  God knows each human heart through and through, and He knows that those in hell will never repent regardless of how much they are evangelized.  Hell is where God confirms the choices of those people who reject Him, a rejection that they will maintain forever.

Question 5: Is it fair for those in hell to be there forever?

Answer 5: Yes.  Remember, they will actively reject God forever, so their separation from God must also last forever.

Question 6: Is hell a punishment for those in it?

Answer 6: Yes.  In the sense that the people in hell are there because of their sinful actions, it is a punishment.  They are given what they deserve for their actions.

Question 7: Can those in hell be rehabilitated?

Answer 7: No. Because they will never repent of their rejection of God, they cannot be rehabilitated.

Question 8: Will God send anyone to hell who doesn’t deserve to be there?

Answer 8: No.  God is the ultimate standard of justice, so it is impossible for God to do anything unjust.  It would be the ultimate injustice for God to send someone to hell who would freely love him, so those who are in hell are justifiably there.  No mistakes are made.

I know that this brief Q and A only scratches the surface, but these are some of the most common questions I’ve seen.  I hope that they are helpful to you.