Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Christianity?

We have a right to expect worldviews to correspond to human experience. Worldviews should fit with our experiences easily and naturally. They should address and cohere with what we know about the world and ourselves. Of course, this is not the only test of worldviews. And it is not the primary test. But it is nontheless an important question to ask – can my worldview be lived out in the real world? What are the consequences to the ideas I hold? Can I consistently live the system I profess or do I find that I am forced to live according to beliefs borrowed from a contrary system?

One of the reasons why many reject Christianity is because of the real world consequences they believe lead from it. For example, Christopher Hitchens is popular for arguing that religion poisons everything – creating fanaticism, multiplying tribal suspicion, and causing violence and war.

John D. Steinrucken, however, has recently written an provocative article in the American Thinker arguing for the social benefits of religion. He makes the bold claim that:

“religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. To the extent that the West loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism, then to the same extent, it loses that which holds all else together.

Succinctly put: Western civilization’s survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Steinrucken suggests that secularism “has never offered the people a practical substitute for religion” and that, in fact, “secularists should recognize that we owe much to the religionists”:

“The fact is, we secularists gain much from living in a world in which excesses are held in check by religion. Religion gives society a secure and orderly environment within which we secularists can safely play out our creativities. Free and creative secularism seems to me to function best when within the stable milieu provided by Christianity.

To the extent that Western elites distance themselves from their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage in favor of secular constructs, and as they give deference to a multicultural acceptance that all beliefs are of equal validity, they lose their will to defend against a determined attack from another culture, such as from militant Islam. For having destroyed the ancient faith of their people, they will have found themselves with nothing to defend. For the culture above which they had fancied themselves to have risen, the culture which had given them their material sustenance, will by then have become but a hollow shell.

An elite must, by definition, have a much larger base upon which to stand. For Western civilization, that base has over the centuries been the great mass of commoners who have looked to Christianity for their moral guidance and for strength to weather adversity. The elitists delude themselves if they think the common people will look to them for guidance once their religious beliefs have been eroded away.”

Interesting stuff.  Read the whole thing here.

What does Atheism really mean?

In the April 2010 Reasonable Faith Newsletter, William Lane Craig had this to say about his visit to the University of North Carolina and his debate with Herb Silverman at UNCW, the Faculty Forum on the existence of God.

“Around 1,000 people showed up to hear a very rousing debate. As is typical with secular humanist types, Dr. Silverman had very little of substance to say about the arguments for or against God’s existence (indeed, he presented no arguments against God’s existence, taking the lazy man’s route of re-defining atheism to be just the psychological state of being without a belief in God).”[1]

Atheism has traditionally been defined as the belief that God does not exist. This remains the formal definition in the Philosophy of Religion.[2] Though not usually done, this idea can legitimately be expanded in certain contexts to include the denial of any particular god or gods. The early Christians for instance were called Atheists because they denied the existence of a whole pantheon of Roman god’s.

In recent years there has been a further expansion of the term to what Craig describes above as “the psychological state of being without a belief in God.” The columnist Christopher Hitchens advocated this construal of atheism during his debate with Craig last year (2209) at Biola University. Antony Flew, formally the worlds leading Atheist intellectual recognizes this shift of definition in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion.

“…the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.”[3]

It is said that this shift in definition is taken up to avoid the burden of making an argument. No longer does the atheist have to make an argument, because atheism has changed from being a view to being a psychological state. The first must have a truth-value, while the second is absent any proposition, and therefore has no truth-value.

But have these “atheists” truly escaped the burden of making an argument? I think not for at least two reasons.

First, in moments of honesty you will find that those who claim to be Atheist’s of the new variety are actually undercover atheists of the old variety. Ask any of them in an unguarded moment, “Do you believe there’s a God?” and what answer will you get? There answer will be “No.” They may say “no” in different ways, like “God is a Delusion,” (Richard Dawkins) or “You won’t find me guilty of wishful thinking.” (Christopher Hitchens). Bill Cook, the president of the New Zealand Secular Humanist Society in debate and in print has chosen to define atheism in this new, unorthodox way. In debate Craig caught him out by pointing out that a god merely in the imagination and a god not existing is “a difference without a difference.” A recent Thinking Matters comment stated something comparable to; “I’m not arguing that God doesn’t exist. I just want you to admit that the essential attributes of your God are incoherent.” This is philosophical double-speak. At bottom, these Atheist’s still hold to the classical construal of Atheism, no matter the lip service they give to a having no-belief regarding God.

The absurdity of their insistence on the new definition, is that if it were so, babies, dogs and cats, even trees should also be considered Atheists. Further still, if Atheism on the new construal were diligently and systematically applied, it would be totally compatible with for Theism being true, and even the more rationally respectable option. So if this truly is what Atheists mean by “Atheism,” why is it that the New Atheist’s rail against the notion of God so much? Misquoting Shakespeare, my history professor said of Dawkins, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

The extreme expression of this linguistic pose is Reggie Finlay, the host of the Infidel Guy Radio program. He will describe himself as an Atheist-Agnostic or Agnostic-Atheist. Agnostic because he recognizes that he cannot know with certainty that God does not exist, and Atheist because he believes that nevertheless Atheism is the more likely than Theism. Findlay says, “I really doubt it [theism].”

To this you may respond, “What reason is there to think that Atheism is more reasonable than Theism?” You would be right to do so. Here is the second reason for why the atheist has not escaped the burden of having to make an argument. Because they implicitly, sometimes explicitly, make the claim that traditional Atheism is the more probable candidate. This claim, like any other positive assertion, needs philosophical justification. Thus the new brand of Atheist is in the difficult position of once again having to support his position with arguments lest he be called irrational.

Attempts of deflection are unsuccessful. Generally Atheist’s appeal to the idea that it is Theism that makes a claim to knowledge that has not yet been demonstrated, so we should not believe God exists in the absence of evidence. This appeal is what is called the Presumption of (traditional) Atheism. It is a poor appeal in two respects.

First off, Atheism also makes a claim to knowledge that cannot be demonstrated. Why then does the adherent of Atheism adopt this psychological state of non-belief in God? Was a coin flipped? Why not non-belief in Atheism? Why not Agnostic-theism?

Second, this appeal relies on idea that all the arguments for Theism, such as the cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological and historical arguments, etc., are unsuccessful. This lays a heavy burden on the Atheist who now has to try and find reasons to either deny (highly plausible) premises or show an informal fallacy of some sort in the arguments for God’s existence. This is an uncomfortable position to be in as it will always be on the back-foot – defensive mode.

The Atheist might try to appeal to make other appeals, such as to the presence of evil in the world. But once they go there, they are once again in the difficult situation of trying to make arguments like their Atheistic intellectual forebears. Arguments that, after years of re-formulation, eventually grew tired and were found not to work. For instance, Christopher Hitchens, whose only argument (or shall we say railing?) is the Problem of Evil, embarrassingly admitted in a panel discussion in Dallas Texas that the presence of evil and suffering in the world could be explained coherently on the Christian worldview.

If my arguments are correct, then one implication is that Atheism is not the default position or a position of intellectual innocence/neutrality. As rational agents we should be able to give account for the justification of our beliefs and the Atheist must accept this fact, no less than the Theist. Personally, I think so-called Agnostic-atheists, non-theists, a-theists, etc., should tie their shoelaces and become either full-fledged Atheists, or kept faithfully to Agnosticism while calling it thus.


[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith April Newsletter 2010, www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8081

[2] Atheism: “the view that there is no divine being, no God.” Penguin dictionary of Philosophy. Edited by Thomas Mautner. Penguin Books (1996)

“Atheism is ostensibly the doctrine that there is no God.” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Edited by Ted Honderich. Oxford University press (1995)

The belief that God – especially a personal, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God – does not exist.” The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. BUNNIN, NICHOLAS and JIYUAN YU (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.” William Rowe (1998). Atheism. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Rowe does go on to say in the article: “Another meaning of ‘atheism’ is simply nonbelief in the existence of God, rather than positive belief in the nonexistence of God. These two different meanings are sometimes characterized as positive atheism (belief in the nonexistence of God) and negative atheism (lack of belief in the existence of God). Barring inconsistent beliefs, a positive atheist is also a negative atheist, but a negative atheist need not be a positive atheist.”

[3] A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro (Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997), s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew.

I am indebted to Jason Kumar for most of these footnoted references as well as excellent editorial advice.

The Great Trinity Debate at Parchment and Pen

The Reclaiming the Mind Ministries site Parchment and Pen is hosting an online debate on the Christian doctrine of the trinity, the claim that God is three persons and yet one substance. The debate began on April 11 and will take place over six weeks. Defending the traditional trinitarian position is apologist Rob Bowman, author of books such as Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ and 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists. His opponent is David Burke, a Christadelphian heading up the Christadelphian forums.

If you’ve given much thought to the doctrine of the trinity and the nature and identity of Jesus, you’re bound to find the exchange a worthwhile one.

Here is the format and arguments that have been posted so far (I’ll update when the posts become available):

Week 1: Scripture and the nature of God.

Rob Bowman on God and Scripture

David Burke on God and Scripture

Week 2: The person of Jesus Christ.

Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ

David Burke on Jesus Christ

Week 3: The person of Jesus Christ (responses and further arguments).

Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ, continued.

David Burke on Jesus Christ, continued.

Week 4: The Holy Spirit.

Rob Bowman on the Holy Spirit

David Burke on the Holy Spirit

Week 5 (begins May 9):  Theological views of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Rob Bowman on the Trinity

David Burke on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Week 6 (begins May 16): Closing statements.

Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement

David Burke’s Closing Statement

You can read Rob’s introduction to the debate challenge here. And also worth reading is Rob and David’s list of resources that are relevant to the debate.

Joe Fleener reviews Who Made God?

In the latest issue of The Gospel Coalition’s online journal Themelios, Joe Fleener has written a helpful review of the 2009 book Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews:

“For rather obvious reasons, one would expect an author with the above qualifications to write a book that only an expert in science would be able to understand. This is far from the case. With chapter headings like ‘Sooty and the universe’, ‘Yogurt, cereal, and toast’, ‘Ferrets and fallacies’, and ‘Information, stupid!’, Professor Andrews combines gentle humour, pointed wit, and simple language with expert knowledge to accomplish his aim. However, in a book like this, it is inevitable that the author will need to use terms and concepts possibly unfamiliar to the average reader. In order to help in this area, each chapter begins with a brief summary of the main concept and a list of new terms with their definitions. As a result, the reader is equipped to follow the argument within each chapter and the overall thesis of the book.

This is a book I would happily give to Christians and non-Christians alike. Professor Andrews has managed to write what, I believe, will be one of the most important books published in 2009 and 2010. As the wave of literature produced by the new atheists continues to grow, the church has been further equipped with a tool to reach those who are confused. Professor Andrews more than adequately deals with the scientific arguments while simultaneously pointing the reader to the sufficiency of God, his Word, and (most important of all) the person and work of Christ.”

Read the whole thing here.

Who Made God? is available at Amazon and in New Zealand bookstores (Grace & Truth Publications has copies available for $24 NZD).

Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference (Day Two)

Here are the videos from the main sessions on day two of the conference (Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict has helpfully posted notes on each of the sessions as well).

Session 4: Thabiti Anyabwile — ‘Fine-Sounding Arguments’ — How Wrongly ‘Engaging the Culture’ Adjusts the Gospel

Colossians 1:24-3:4

  • Paul’s Purpose (1:24 – 2:5)
  • Paul’s Philosophy (2:6-2:15)
  • Paul’s Practices (2:16-2:23)
  • Paul’s Perspective (3:1-4)

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/10940130[/vimeo]

Session 5: John MacArthur — The Theology of Sleep! (Mark 4)

Mark 4

How do we approach evangelism?:

  • Humility
  • Obedience (Mark 4:21-22)
  • Diligently (Mark 4:23-25)
  • Confidence (Mark 4:30-32)

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/10941231[/vimeo]

Session 6: John Piper — Did Jesus Preach the Gospel of Evangelicalism?

Video to come.

Full manuscript available on the Desiring God website here.

Luke 18: 9-14

– Did Paul Get Jesus Right?

– Aspects of the Pharisee’s Righteousness in Luke 18: 9-14

  • Moral
  • Religious
  • A Gift from God

– Only One Thing Missing:

– Jesus: God’s Righteous One

– Implications:

Implication 1: Jesus’ Gospel Is Also Paul’s
Implication 2: Nothing We Do Is Basis for God’s Acceptance
Implication 3: Our Standing with God Is Based on Jesus, Not Us
Implication 4: Transformation Is the Fruit, Not Root, of Justification
Implication 5: All Our Goodness Is Evidence and Confirmation, Not Grounds
Implication 6: The Gospel Is for Every Person and Every People
Implication 7: Jesus Gets the Full Glory

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/10951333[/vimeo]

Evil and the Evidence for God

“No argument from evil I am aware of makes it likely or even reasonable to believe there is no God. Evil cannot carry that evidential load. But suppose I’m wrong. Suppose evil is evidence to think God does not exist. Does it follow that it’s reasonable to believe there is no God?

Let’s approach this question by way of analogy. Suppose you learn in your European Culture class today that 95 percent of the French population can’t swim. That statistic is some evidence to think that Pierre, your friend from Paris, can’t swim. Does it follow that you should believe Pierre can’t swim? Of course not. What if you and Pierre spent last Saturday afternoon together swimming and chatting about the fine-tuning argument and Albert Camus’ The Plague? Surely, in that case, it isn’t reasonable for you to believe Pierre can’t swim. Your experience with him is much better evidence to think he can swim even though the statistical evidence by itself makes it very likely that he cannot.

The same goes with evil and God. Even if evil is some evidence that there is no God, you might have much better evidence to think that God exists; in that case, it wouldn’t be reasonable for you to believe there is no God.

This line of thought naturally leads to some weighty questions not the least of which are these: Is the evidence for God significantly better than the evidence that evil provides against God? What sources of evidence are there? How should we balance the evidence for and against theism?”

Daniel Howard-Snyder, “God, Evil, and Suffering” in Reason for the Hope Within edited by Michael J. Murray (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) page 114.

Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

In this lecture, New Testament scholar N. T. Wright examines the evidence for the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

[pk_youtube_custom_player width=”450″ height=”253″ align=”center” autoplay=”false” cover=”http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/wright.png” video_id=”z-sXhgOroKQ”]

The lecture was given at Roanoke College on March 16th, 2007.

Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference (Day One)

Over the next few days, several evangelical pastors and thinkers will be gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, for the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference. If you’re like me and stuck in a different part of the world, than hearing about the convergence of erudite, Biblically-minded thinkers like Albert Mohler, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and Mark Dever is difficult to cope with (those of us in Auckland do have the option of the Stand Together for the Gospel conference this weekend, however).

For those of us who are unable to attend, here are several summaries of the day’s first round of talks from those who were there (please make sure you check out the original fuller posts). I’ll update with the audio, when it becomes available.

Session 1: Mark Dever — The Church is the Gospel Made Visible

(notes by Justin Taylor and Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict)

Watch the video here.

Ephesians 3: 8-11

You can lose the gospel by not proclaiming it clearly, but you can also work against the gospel by the life your congregation lives.

1) How is God’s nature and character displayed in the church?

  • Holiness: Distinct lives point to a distinct God. Our lives should be marked by God’s holiness and by the fruit of the Spirit. Our distinct lives should make clear what the gospel is like. There is a difference between sinners and repenting sinners. Holiness is freedom.
  • Love: we are to be distinct from the world by the kind of love we have for others despite the inconvenience it may be to us.
  • Authority: David’s last words (2 Samuel 23:3-4) show us that authority is a good and life giving thing. Ever since the Fall, Satan has been trying to tempt us to think otherwise. He wants us to think that love and authority can’t go together. But God can love us and rule us and correct us because He’s trustworthy.Our right use of authority in our congregation reflects God’s authority.

2) How is the truth about human beings displayed in the church?

  • We were made in the image of God, and that value should be reflected in our churches. We should have relationships across typical boundaries.
  • Our congregational life should also acknowledge that we are fallen. We are not the assembly of the self-righteous. An understanding of depravity sets us up to understand church membership, because we are already redeemed but God is not yet finished. It frees people to confess their sins to one another. We know there’s something not right, and we’re the ones who can tell the truth about that.

3) How is the truth about Jesus Christ displayed in the church?

We are the people who bear his name and his purpose. We are his body, his temple. How do we make Christ visible? Through our teaching and our constant worship. Our lives should display not only Christ’s person but Christ’s work. We demonstrate our love across differences and across denominations.

4) How is the right response of the gospel displayed in the church?

  • We are to teach and model repentance and faith. We repent of our selfishness. The Christian life is personal but not private.
  • Congregations are groups of people acting upon things they cannot see. It is a community based on God’s promises. The Word should be central in our churches. Sermons should be central because they hold our God’s promises to us.

Do you want to see your church do better at evangelism? Then help your church be a better church. Our churches are meant to depict the truth of the gospel. We are to be the appearance of the gospel to the world. This is the clearest picture the world sees of who God is and his will for their lives.

Session 2: R C Sproul — The Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel — What I Have Learned in 50 years

(Notes by Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict, also check out What is the Gospel?, on the Ligonier Blog, which features some of Sproul’s message)

Watch the video here.

2 Corinthians 6:11-7:1

1) The Danger of Messing with “Mr. In-Between”

In the Old Testament, one of the problems the people of God dealt with in every generation was syncretism, which means to blend the elements of pagan religion (worship of foreign gods such as Baal and Asherah poles) and the religion of Israel. This kind of synthesis can be referred to as “Mr. In-Between.”

Examples of contemporary synthesis:

  • Evangelicalism and Naturalism
  • Evangelicalism and Existentialism
  • Evangelicalism and Marxism
  • Evangelicalism and analytical philosophy
  • Evangelicalism and process philosophy

2) The Danger of Messing with the gospel itself

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide were the two doctrines that seemed like the bedrock that all of evangelicalism could build on. But then confidence in Sola Scriptura began to be compromised. And then eventually we hit rock bottom when controversy erupted over Sola Fide.

At the heart of this discussion on the nature of faith is the topic of justification and imputation. Is the ground of my justification something I can get for myself? Or is it something that must be alien to me, that I must get from somewhere else? There is no “Mr. In-Between” here, no matter what some have tried to say.

Evangelicals and Catholics Together represents the ultimate synthesis that obscures the great antithesis of the gospel.

And today, we see attempts to improve the gospel. But the gospel is primarily about Jesus, who He is and what He’s done.

Our greatest challenge is with respect to our personal fidelity to the gospel.

It’s not our gospel. It’s God’s gospel. And there’s no way to improve it.

Session 3: Al Mohler — How Does it Happen? Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel

(Notes by James John Hollandsworth at Light Along the Journey and Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict)

Watch the video here.

Galatians 1:8-9
1 Timothy 6:3
2 Timothy 1:8-14
Jude 3

The New Testament is really clear about the realities of a false gospel. Yet there is seeming ignorance to the danger of false gospels in the church today. But if we love Jesus, we must love and guard the gospel.

Examples of the different trajectories that result in an adjusted, altered, and eventually wrecked Gospel:

1. The modern trajectory: Liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, and the like, where in the name of logic and rationalism the Gospel is stripped of anything supernatural.  It is “demythologized” so that it can be believed by “modern” man.  The result is that “theological liberals want to rescue Christianity, but they instead end up burying it.”

2. The post-modern trajectory: In contrast to modernists that want to establish that Biblical theology is false, post modernists reject objective truth altogether, so that Biblical truth is neither true nor false, but simply has subjective value.  “Truth” is considered to be of value simply in its metanarrative meaning.

3. The moral trajectory: These philosophers are repulsed by Biblical concepts such as hell, depravity, & atonement, so they appeal that there is a “higher morality” than the so-called primitive systems of Christianity.  In essence, these philosophers demand that God conform to their own notion of fairness.  “People want God to be fair, but “Perfect” is infinitely superior to fair, & Perfect cannot be interrogated by fair.” (meaning that our imperfect limited concept of fairness as fallen finite humans cannot judge the fairness of an infinite perfect being)

4. The aesthetic trajectory: Embraces only the “good & beautiful” and rejects anything that offends like depravity or atonement, ignoring the fact that our fallen natures cannot be trusted to make accurate assessments of what is truly beautiful about the Gospel.

5. The therapeutic trajectory: Where we only find ourselves as sick, but not sinful, and the Bible is self-help, but not a source of external rescue from hopeless depravity.

6. The pragmatic trajectory: Truth ends up not being a foundation but only a tool to obtain the desired result.  Managerial expertise and methods can produce apparent and quickly gratifying results, but “It produces crowds, but not churches, results, but not regenerations.”

7. The emotional trajectory: When we lean toward teachings and experiences that have positive emotional reward, but lean away from anything that has emotional cost.  This leads to feel-good theology that avoids anything in Christianity that isn’t palatable.

8. The materialist/prosperity trajectory: Prosperity theology follows a trajectory that is not only false but makes God out to be a liar. This is where we come to think that we can have our best life now. This trajectory comes from seeking instant gratification. “It’s only “Your Best Life Now” if you’re an unbeliever.”

Some causes of doctrinal drift:

  • Doctrinal Fatigue:  having to go against the cultural tide and repeatedly defend Biblical theology over and over can lead to just tiring of it.  But fatigue is disastrous to the metal of a bridge, the pilot of a plane, or the pastor of a church.
  • Embarrassment: of the scandal of the Gospel, so that you progressively let go of doctrines that are uncomfortable to unbelievers.  But “The Holy Spirit alone can make the Gospel credible.”

Expository preaching is the best safeguard against doctrinal drift.

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?'” John 6:66-69

How will we respond to this same question that Jesus asked His first disciples?

Antony Flew dies at 87

The Telegraph has reported that Antony Flew passed away last week on April 8th. Flew was a leading British philosopher of the twentieth century, authoring many important philosophical works in the areas of education, political philosophy, linguistic analysis and philosophical theology. He held teaching positions at Aberdeen University, the University of Keele, Reading University, and York University in Toronto. Flew recently provoked controversy when he publicly abandoned his conviction in atheism in favour of belief in a deistic, Aristotelian God (you can read his interview with debating partner and friend, Gary Habermas, here or check out his book There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind to find out more about his journey):

Flew always described himself as a “negative atheist”, asserting that “theological propositions can neither be verified nor falsified by experience”, a position he expounded in his classic paper Theology and Falsification (1950), reputedly the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century.

He argued that any philosophical debate about the Almighty must begin by presuming atheism, placing the burden of proof on those who believe that God exists. “We reject all transcendent supernatural systems, not because we’ve examined or could have examined each in turn, but because it does not seem to us that there is any good evidence in reason to postulate anything behind or beyond this natural universe,” he proclaimed. A key principle of his philosophy was the Socratean concept of “follow the evidence, wherever it leads”.

When Flew revealed that he had come to the conclusion that there might be a God after all, it came as a shock to his fellow atheists, who had long regarded him as one of their foremost champions. Worse, he seemed to have deserted Plato for Aristotle, since it was two of Aquinas’s famous five proofs for the existence of God – the arguments from design and for a prime mover – that had apparently clinched the matter.

After months of soul-searching, Flew concluded that research into DNA had “shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved”. Moreover, though he accepted Darwinian evolution, he felt that it could not explain the beginnings of life. “I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature,” he said.

Flew went on to make a video of his conversion entitled Has Science Discovered God? and seemed to want to atone for past errors: “As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done,” he said.

Read the rest of the Telegraph article here (H/T: Glenn Hendrickson).

Our thoughts are with his family at this time.

Vernon C. Grounds on Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine, than all the philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of the school, He spoke words of life such as were never spoken before, nor since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He has set more pens in motion and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, works of art, learned volumes, and sweet songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times. Born in a manger and crucified as a malefactor, He now controls the destinies of the civilized world, and rules a spiritual empire which embraces one-third of the inhabitants of the globe.

Vernon C. Grounds, The Reason For Our Hope (Chicago: Moody, 1945), p. 40.

This months Bragging Rights Award goes to Matthew Flannagan

In the April Newsletter from Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig acknowledges the valuable assistance provided by Matt Flannagan’s interaction with the thought of Michael Tooley. Matt Flannagan runs the Auckland branch of Thinking Matters at Laidlaw and is an excellent Christian theologian and philosopher. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago and a Masters with First Class honours in Philosophy from the University of Waikato.

Michael Tooley is a well-respected philosophers of religion from the University of Colorado, who has developed a complex argument against God’s existence. William Lane Craig is an eminent Christian philosopher of religion, whose debates have helped popularise his work, and is acknowledged by many to be the world’s leading defender of the faith (you can read our interview with him in our first issue of the Thinking Matters journal here). These two squared off recently on the question “Is God Real?”

Craig says that in preparation for the debate he prepared a four point response which is indebted to Timothy McGrew (who has also on occasion commented here at Thinking Matters) and Matt Flannagan for their helpful interaction.

It has been noted that this is a huge compliment to the quality of Christian scholarship that New Zealand is producing. For those unfamiliar with the more cognitive side of the Christian faith, if you were the Youth Pastor of your church, a comment like this is comparable to Dr. James Dobson singling you out on the Focus on the Family broadcast, and adding, “Here’s what youth groups should look like.” If you can’t possibly imagine yourself as a Youth Pastor, then imagine your specialisation of service for your local congregation is setting out chairs. This is like the World Assembly of Churches’ Arch-Deacon mentioning you by name as an exemplary Seat-Setter in their monthly magazine.

This is a big deal, and a well-deserved recognition of Matt’s service to the defense of the Christian worldview. The Reasonable Faith newsletter is delivered to its many-many members who are interested in Dr. Craig’s work. The Reasonable Faith ministry is arguably one of the most important apologetic organizations around today.

Thinking Matters sends their congratulations on to Matt and the Flannagan household. For more information on the debate, Matt’s blog has the details here.

Meditation in a Toolshed

Does being a Christian forever disqualify you as an appropriate authority on the truth of Christianity? If I wanted a true account of the Christian religion, would I do better to try see things as a Christian, or as a fair-minded secular religious studies professor? C. S. Lewis provides a helpful illustration in “Meditation in a Toolshed”[1]

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

C. S. Lewis seeks to combat the idea that it is better to evaluate the truth of a worldview (to slightly change the metaphor) by looking in from the outside. Lewis observes that this “modern” idea has been swallowed and assumed without discussion for the last fifty years. If this idea were correct it would be disastrous for the Christian, for how then can one be confident of their religious belief?

Let us go back to the toolshed. I might have discounted what I saw when looking along the beam (i.e., the leaves moving and the sun) on the ground that it was “really only a strip of dusty light in a dark shed”. That is, I might have set up as “true” my “side vision” of the beam. But then that side vision is itself an instance of the activity we call seeing. And this new instance could also be looked at from outside. I could allow a scientist to tell me that what seemed to be a beam of light in a shed was “really only an agitation of my own optic nerves”. And that would be just as good (or as bad) a bit of debunking as the previous one. The picture of the beam in the toolshed would now have to be discounted just as the previous picture of the trees and the sun had been discounted. And then, where are you?

In other words, you can step outside one experience only by stepping inside another. Therefore, if all inside experiences are misleading, we are always misled.

He calls the idea that we should only be confident with just one way of knowing – such as by looking at things – “rot.” He concludes,

. . . we must never allow the rot to begin. We must, on pain of idiocy, deny from the very outset the idea that looking at is, by its own nature, intrinsically truer or better than looking along. One must look both along and at everything. . . we must start with no prejudice for or against either kind of looking. We do not know in advance whether the lover or the psychologist is giving the more correct account of love, or whether both accounts are equally correct in different ways, or whether both are equally wrong. We just have to find out. But the period of brow-beating has got to end.

1. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 212